Did the sun actually stand still in the sky?
I know the children of this generation would say that there is nothing in the laws of physics that could account for such a thing except maybe some sort of planetary disaster, in which case we wouldn’t be here talking about it. Well, my philosophy is never say never. But I don’t expect the sun to stop (or in modern terms, for the earth to stop revolving around the sun). Nevertheless, I have to ask myself if science can account for suffering, for the flexibility that can be observed in the universe, for my life, or for a butterfly.
I’m not sure the biblical author of Joshua 10 in the Hebrew Bible meant for us to believe that the sun appeared to stop in the sky. Perhaps the story was included because it contains a paradox that is first of all, intriguing and unforgettable, and secondly, useful for a teaching a student how to analyze such a paradox. The paradox is, of course, that there is no way to determine if the sun “stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day,” if the movement of the sun is the sole measure of time.
But then again, maybe the author wants us to believe the sun actually stopped (or stopped and slowed).
It would seem that this story of the sun stopping was popular well before the Yahwist author wrote it down or edited it. That the tale predates the Yahwists is fairly evident because the text says the Israelite leader Joshua “spoke to the Lord” (Yahweh), but right after that in the text Joshua speaks not to the Lord, but to the sun and moon, as if the sun and moon were gods or goddess to be addressed:
“Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.’”
One possible conclusion is that the tale originated elsewhere and the names of Joshua and the Lord were pasted in. Or Joshua was in the original story addressing The Sun and The Moon, and the Lord was not in the original because the Lord was not yet known? Is it possible that Yahweh was formulated after the time of Moses and Joshua, closer to the time of King David when much of the Hebrew Bible was written? Perhaps the reference to Yahweh was pasted in sometime in this later era.
The biblical author cites a “Book of Jashar,” and whether this was a similar account or what, we can’t know, but the author seems to be relying on it to convince us that the sun did indeed stop. Interesting that Jashar is almost the same word as “Joshua” and so the author is citing an earlier work that has virtually the same name as the book he is writing?? It looks very much like the Book of Jashar was edited into the Book of Joshua.
In the Book of Joshua, Yahweh is given credit for stopping the sun in order to give Joshua and his warriors more time to kill their victims. Joshua was not a hero to the people of Old Palestine (Canaan) whose lands he was invading and stealing. The Book of Joshua alleges he wiped out whole cities in genocidal blood baths and he was not a hero to them, nor is he a hero to me. Nor do I think that any god worthy of the name would assist in such horrific crimes. One can just become queasy reading the rest of chapter 10 – how many thousands of men, women, and children were butchered in this genocide?
If the sun stopped, it was in absolute horror.
(And yes, I do realize we can’t know the purpose of the biblical author and how much of the killing is actually history and how much is just legend.)
If Joshua was so persuasive that he was able to convince his young males (many likely teens) that he had supernatural powers to stop the sun-goddess (or sun-god) in the sky, then possibly he was able to convince them to do whatever he wanted. The moon maybe had not come up yet (still resting in his/her “valley”), but maybe they were convinced the moon was stopped also. Today’s teens would not be quite so naive.
There are vitally important lessons in Joshua 10 for all to learn but it still has not brought peace to the Earth.
If ever the current inhabitants of the land lived together in peace and harmony, respecting the human rights of all concerned and sharing the land and water, wouldn’t that be an even greater wonder than the sun standing still in the sky?
NRSV used in this post.