Is There Scientific Proof of Joshua’s Long Day?

By Wayne Jackson

Some “stories” take on a life of their own. No matter how frequently they are debunked, they survive. Such is true with reference to the supposed astronomical “proof” for the biblical narrative regarding “Joshua’s long day.”

When the Israelite army was involved in the conquest of Canaan, God supernaturally intervened on a certain occasion by lengthening the daylight period of a particular battle day, and thus allowing the Hebrews to achieve a great victory (Josh. 10:12-14). Skeptical critics, of course, scoff at this account, because they, ipso facto, reject the miraculous.

About a century ago, a story made its way into the public’s attention. Professor C.A. Totten of Yale University produced an account of how a colleague of his, an astronomer, had discovered “scientific” confirmation of “Joshua’s long day.”

Supposedly, by studying the records of ancient equinoxes, eclipses, transits, etc., this scientist had discovered a “missing day” in history, which he was later able to explain by combining the account of Joshua’s extended day, together with the record of the backward-moving shadow on Hezekiah’s sundial (Isa. 38:7-8). He thus had discovered a “demonstration” that the Scripture record was scientifically accurate in this regard.

Totten’s testimony has been repeated often. It was incorporated into Sidney Collett’s little volume (valuable in many respects), All About the Bible (New York: Fleming Revell, 1933, pp. 285-286), and then later (1936) the story was published in Harry Rimmer’s popular book, A Harmony of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956 ed., pp. 281-282).

In 1970, the narrative took on a new, more modern twist. Articles began to appear in various publications affirming that a gentleman named Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Co. in Baltimore, and a “space consultant,” was in possession of data out of the Goddard Space Center that provided essentially the same information as found in Totten’s story of eighty years earlier.

This account has been repeated recently in a great number of church bulletins, and via the e-mail circuit over the internet. It is passed along by good people who have read the story elsewhere and, believing its credibility, want to share it with others.

When weighed in the balances of evidence, though, it is found wanting.

A number of creationist scholars went to work in dead earnest back in the 1970’s to try and nail down the facts of this case. In a recent article titled, “A False Trail for Joshua’s Long Day,” which appeared in The Christian News (June 19, 2000, pp. 1,5-6), Dr. Erich von Fange has shown how bogus this entire episode is. For example, in brief:

  1. Inquiries at the Goddard Space Center revealed that no one there knew of Harold Hill or any computer work that related to the biblical account of Joshua’s long day. One official went on record as stating that the Hill story was, in von Fange’s words, “a complete fabrication without a shred of truth.”
  2. Other scholars noted that Totten’s original thesis was seriously flawed, involving chronological data that is now known to be inaccurate. There was a lack of any mathematical calculations corroborating his claims, and there were a number of additional problems, of a very serious nature, as well.

In the final analysis, Dr. von Fange concluded:

“We cannot read the mind of Totten and Hill or know their motivations in telling their stories. We do know that the story is false, even though we have no doubt whatever about the truth of these biblical events. The events really happened. It is unfortunate that some people believe that spreading this kind of misinformation helps the spread of the Gospel.”

Christians have plenty of evidence at their disposal which supports the veracity of the sacred Scriptures. We do not need to defend the faith with a “broken sword.”

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.