James Alexander Macdonald.

Colenso and Joshua : or, The miraculous arrestment of the sun and moon considered online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryJames Alexander MacdonaldColenso and Joshua : or, The miraculous arrestment of the sun and moon considered → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

J. A. Macdonald

ColenfO and Joehua





EM 15







Author of " The Principia and the Bible," etc.



Price Sixpence.

.&M 13










Author of "The Piuncipia and the Bible," etc.





The record of the celebrated astronomical miracle of Joshua is
given in our authorized version of the Scriptures in the following
words : —

" Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day ivhen the Lord
delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he
said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon ;
and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood
still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged them-
selves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the Book of
Jasher ? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and
hasted not to go down about a whole day" (Jos. x. 12, 13.)

Since the revival of the Pythagorean System of Astronomy,
by Copernicus, this passage has been constantly urged by
sceptics as a conclusive disproof of the Divine Inspiration of
the Bible. Their argument is, that " the account given of this
miracle supposes the earth to be the centre of the system, and the
sun moveable; and as this is demonstrably a false philosophy,
consequently the history was never dictated by the Spirit of


To this the votaries of Inspiration have usually replied, that
in reality it was the earth, and not the sun that " stood still,"
but that Joshua used the language of the vulgar, or the language
of appearances, forasmuch as revelation is not given to teach
astronomy, but theology : and had he spoken in the more
precise language of philosophy, he would have been unintelligible
to the people.

This view is advocated by Archdeacon Pratt, in his " Scripture
and Science not at Variance," as the following quotation from
page 25 of that work will shew : — ■

" The accomplishment of this miracle is supposed by some to
have been by arresting the earth in its rotation. In what other
words, then, could the miracle have been expressed 1 Should
it have been said, ' So the earth ceased to revolve, and made the
sun appear to stand still in the midst of heaven 1 ' This is not
the language we should use, even in these days of scientific
light. Were so great a wonder again to appear, would even an
astronomer, as he looked into the heavens, exclaim, ' The earth
stands still ! ' 1 Would he not be laughed at as a pedant I
Whereas, to use the language of appearances, and thus to imitate
the style of the Holy Scriptures themselves, would be most
natural and intelligible."

This explanation, however, is far from being satisfactory to the
mind of the Bishop of Natal, who thus handles the argument : —

" It will be observed that Archdeacon Pratt does not commit
himself to maintaining the above view ; he says, ' It is supposed
by some to have been accomplished thus. But he argues as if
this explanation were possible, and not improbable ; that is to
say, he lends the weight of his high position and mathematical
celebrity to the support of a view which every natural philosopher
will know to be wholly untenable. For, not to speak of the
fact that if the earth's motion were suddenly stopped, a man's
feet would be arrested while his body was moving at the rate (on
the equator) of 1,000 miles an hour, (or rather, 1,000 miles a
minute, since the earth's diurnal rotation on its axis must not
only be stopped, but also its annual motion through space), so
that every human being and animal would be dashed to pieces
in a moment, and a mighty deluge overwhelm the earth, unless
all this were prevented by a profusion of miraculous interferences
— one point is at once fatal to the above solution. Archdeacon
Pi; \rr quotes only the words, ' So the sun stood still in the midst


of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day,' and
although this is surely one of the most prominent questions, in
respect of which it is asserted that ' Scripture and science are at
variance,' he dismisses the whole subject in a short note, and
never even mentions the moon. But the Bible says, '• The sua
stood still and the moon stayed (Jos. x. 13); and the arresting
of the earth's motion, while it might cause the appearance of
the sun ' standing still,' would not account for the moon

The prelate then concludes his observations by moralizing as
follows : —

"It is impossible not to feel the force of Archdeacon Pratt's
own observation (page 30), ' The lesson we learn from this
example is this : — How possible it is that, even while we are
contending for truth, our minds may be enslaved to error by
long-cherished prepossessions ! ; "

We observe here, —

1. That 1 r. Colenso does not dispute the possibility of a
miracle. There is no intimation to this effect in the foregoing
observations, or indeed in any part of his book ; but on the
contrary he explicit] y states, (page 10) that "The notion of
miraculous or supernatural interferences does not present to
his mind the difficulties which it seems to present to some."

2. Nor does he appear to object to the assumption of Arch-
deacon Pratt, viz., That, abstractedly considered, there would
be no impropriety in Joshua using the language of appearances.
Indeed, this could scarcely be seriously disputed, forasmuch
as this language is commonly adopted in our ephemerides and
scientific works, without in anywise misleading those by whom
they are consulted.

3. The real point of his objection seems to be, that the suppo-
sition of the .vrchdencon necessitates a prodigious multitude of
secondary miraculous interferences. Thus, —

(1.) Were the motions of the earth to be suddenly arrested
so as to cause the apparent motion of the sun to cease, millions
of interpositions would be necessary to preserve the inhabitants
of the earth from being knocked about and dashed to pieces, and
to keep the sea from flowing over the land — in fact, to neutralize
or suspend the vis inert ice of everything upon the surface of the

(2.) Then seeing that the " moon stayed," a further inter-


ference would be necessary, for, having an excursory motion of
her own, the arrestment of the motions of the earth would not
make her appear to " stay." It would therefore be necessary to
arrest the motion of the moon as well as that of the earth.

(3.) But forasmuch as every body in the solar system in-
fluences every other body, with a force ' directly as their masses
and inversely as the squares of their distances,' disturbances
must inevitably be introduced into the system unless prevented
by further miraculous interference. The arrestment of the
earth and moon, therefore, would involve the simultaneous
arrestment of every planet and satellite related to our sun. To
prevent these disturbances by any other means would neces-
sitate interferences equally stupendous and universal.

(4.) Finally, the arrestment of the projectile motion of the
planets and satellites would also require the suspension of gravi-
tation, else the satellites must drop down upon their primaries,
and the primaries with their satellites all find their way to a
common centre in the sun.

These are the consequences apparently legitimately involved
in the explanation espoused by the Archdeacon, in considera-
tion of which Dr. Colenso regards the miracle as not only
"improbable," but "impossible," and such that "every natural
philosopher will know to be wholly untenable."

The question, however, does not properly belong to the
" natural philosopher," but to the theologian ; for an individual
may be an admirable physicist, yet an unscrupulous sceptic in
matters of religion. And we venture to affirm that no sound
theologian would for a moment maintain the " impossibility"
of any exertion of Divine j,ower which does not involve con-
tradiction or absurdity. Dr. Colenso himself acknowledges that
" the notion of miraculous or supernatural interferences does
not present to his mind the difficulties which it seems to present
to some." He does not dispute the possibility of a miracle, ab-
stractedly considered ; the stupendousness of the miracle in the
present case, then, apparently, is that which to his mind renders
it "impossible." But surely, to employ the expressions of Dr.
Adam Clarke, " God is such an infinitely free agent that He
can, when His unerring wisdom sees good, alter, suspend, or even
annihilate all secondary causes and their effects : for it would
be degrading to the perfections of His nature to suppose that
He had so hound Himself by the laws which He has given for


the preservation and direction of universal nature, that He could
not change them, alter their effects, or suspend their operations
when greater and better effects, in a certain time or place, might
be produced by such temporary change or suspension." It may
be fairly argued that a miracle upon the most stupendous scale
would be as easy to Omnipotence as one upon a platform the
most circumscribed. Therefore if the possibility of a miracle,
under any circumstances, be admitted, there can be no miracle
against which "impossibility" can be logically objected, providing
only that contradiction and absurdity be avoided.

The whole subject is now narrowed down to the question of


It will be argued that " It scarcely seems to quadrate with our
ideas of probability, that the whole universe should be arrested,
and all its gigantic forces suspended, simply that a Hebrew army
upon a particular occasion might crush an army of idolaters."

But after all, " our ideas of probability" may be very erroneous ;
and the purposes of the miracle were doubtless of far greater con-
sequence than simply the "crushing of an army of idolaters."
"I consider," says Dr. Adam Clarke, "that the miracle wrought
on this occasion served greatly to confirm the Israelites, not
only in a belief of the being and perfections of God, but also in
the doctrine of an especial providence, and in the nullity of the
whole system of idolatry and superstition." And if these views
are legitimate, as we can scarcely dispute that they are, surely
here were ends sufficiently noble to justify the probability of
almost any miracle.

Forasmuch, however, as the Divine proceedings everywhere
evince an economy of power, and as these purposes, however
noble (and eternity alone can reveal the magnitude of their im-
portance) might, for ought we know to the contrary, be effected
without interrupting the motions of the whole cosmos, it may be
proper carefully to review the entire question in quest of a yet
more satisfactory solution.

What if it should appear, after all, that Joshua never com-
manded either the " sun" or the " moon" to stand still, but simply
the solar and lunar light to remain ?

The record of the miracle, as rendered in our English version
of the Bible, certainly represents the Hebrew captain as com-
manding the " sun" and the "moon" to " stand still ; " but this
may be satisfactorily proved to be an error in the translation.


The original expresses no snck thing, but simply that Joshua
commanded the light of the sun and the light of the moon to
shine on. This may have escaped our translators, they not being
in quest of philosophy, but divinity ; they were also doubtless
prepossessed in favour of the Ptolemaic system of the world,
that being in the ascendant in the days of King James I. But
if we can make this point clear, the usual objections will be com-
pletely met. For in that case it is evident that nothing whatever
is predicated respecting the motion either of the " sun" or of the
"earth"; for the light might be biipernaturally sustained in
Gibeon, and in the valley of Ajalon, and the motions of the
universe proceed without interruption. Any objection which
prejudice may urge against the use of the u language of ap-
pearances," will also be obviated in this explanation.

There are three distinct Hebrew words, viz., shemesh (t#ft£f),
cham ah (HDn), and cheres (DIPT), which are in our version
promiscuously translated sun. There are also tico words, viz.,
yarach (m 1 ), and levanah (njn^)? which are indiscriminately
rendered moon. Kow there is no reason to imagine thaC
Revelation gives us two or three distinct words for precisely the
same idea. And though there is no distinction made by the
translators, there is a very marked distinction observed by the
Hebrew writers ; for they invariably couple the same pairs of
these words. Thus, shemesh and yarach are constantly asso-
ciated, and so are chamah and levanah ; but we never find
shemesh associated with levanah, nor do we find chamah
associated with yarach. This circumstance is so significant that
it suggests at once that while one couple denotes the bodies of
the sun and moon, the other expresses the light which emanates
from them. And this hint will be found to receive abundant
confirmation from a careful consideration of the places in which
the words occur.

(1.) In the overwhelming majority of the passages in which
the shemesh is mentioned, it is described in our version as rising
and setting ; but the terms in the original convey a widely
different sense. The first is zerah (lilt), and literally signifies
to spring out, or be diffused abroad; and the second, boa
(Mli), properly denotes to go in, or go off. This criticism will
be found abundantly sustained by reference to the lexicon of
the truly learned Mr. Parkhurst. Forasmuch, then, as the
shemesh is in scores of passages said to "spring out" or, "be


diffused abroad," viz., in the morning upon the face of the earth,
and to " go in," or " go off" in the evening, it is obvious that the
term must denote the solar light. For it will scarcely be con-
tended that the sacred writers believed that the body of the
sun "springs out" and "diffuses itself'* every morning, and
collects again its scattered substance every evening.

It is further worthy of observation that while the shemesh is
said to " spring out" and " diffuse itself" in the morning, and to
"go off" again, viz., at the evening edge of the earth, this is
never said of the chamah — the second Hebrew term in our
version translated sun.

Of the cheres, the third term, and which is properly rendered sun, it
is explicitly asserted that it " riseth not " — "He comniandeth the sun,
and it riseth ?iot," or more literally, is not diffused, or dissipated. (Job ix.
7.) And this is truly wonderful, that whereas common fuel is soon con-
sumed, the body of the sun has for thousands of years supported the solar
flame, and yet retains its magnitude undiminished.

And if the shemesh is thus proved to denote the light of the
sun, its companion term, yaeach, will be naturally understood to
denote the light of the moon.

(2.) Moses speaks of the shemesh, tarach, and cocabeem,
which the Lord " hath divided unto all nations under the whole
heaven." (Deut. iv. 19.) Nothing can be more evident than
that the fluxes or rays of the sun, moon, and stars, are expressed
by these terms. "Moses surely never could have meant that the
bodies of the " sun, moon, and stars " were thus " divided," as
our translation would teach. There is no difficulty when the rays
of light emanating from those bodies are understood ; but the
other interpretation makes palpable nonsense of the passage.

(3.) Speaking of the manna in the wilderness, Moses says,
" When the shemesh waxed hot, it melted." (Exod. xvi. 21.)
Saul said to the men of Jabesh Gilead, " To-morrow by that
time the shemesh be hot, ye shall have help." (1 Sam. xi. 9.)
And Neheniiali said to the Jews, " Let not the gates of Jerusalem
be opened until the shemesh be hot." (Neh. viii. 3.) Now it
must be evident that the shemesh in these passages denotes the
rays of the sun. These are heated by friction when they fall
perpend' cularly upon the earth at noon. It will scarcely be
imagined that the sacred writers dreamt that the solar orb itself
"waxed hot" as it mounted to its meridian altitude.

(4) The Psalmist says, " The shemesh shall not smite thee by
day, nor the tarach by night." (Psalm cxxi. 6.) In Isaiah



also we read, " Neither shall the heat nor the shemesh smite
them." (Isa. xlix. 10.) And we are informed that "the
shemesh beat upon the head of Jonah." (Jon. iv. 8.) Surely
nothing can be more evident than that the shemesh and yarach
in these passages designate the rays of the sun and of the moon.
For while there is the greatest propriety in understanding that
these might " smite " the inhabitants of the earth, it would be
most unnatural and incongruous to understand this of the solar
and lunar orbs.

(5.) In blessing Joseph, Moses mentions " the precious fruits
brought forth by the shemesh, and the precious things put
forth [Marg. thrust forth] by the yarechim." (Deut. xxxiii.
] 4.) Few would be simple enough to contend that the bodies
of the sun and moon exerted any influence upon the growth of
vegetables ; but that the solar and lunar rays enable the earth
to " put forth, " or " thrust forth " its foliage, will not be con-
tested. The shemesh and yarechim here, therefore, obviously
denote not the bodies of the sun and moon, but their fluxes.
And it is a most significant fact that the latter term is in the
plural form (DTT'T), and is therefore rendered moons in the
margin of our Bible. In commenting on this expression, the
learned Spearman well observes : — " This shows that it cannot
be the body or orb of the moon ; for this is but one and singular ;
but the fluxes or streams of reflected light are several, and are
severally reflected to us from the several phases of the moon."

(6.) The Psalmist says, " Thou hast prepared the matjr ("yiND) anii the
shemesh (Psa. lxxiv. 16). Here it is evident that the shemesh is some-
thing different from the maur. But the luminaries upon the fourth day
of the Creation week made to rule over the day and over the night, and to
give light upon the earth, are by Moses styled maureth. (Gen. i. 14—19.)
What then can the shemesh be in contradistinction to the maur, but the
light, for the production of which the solar orb is the instrument ?

"(7.) Again the Psalmist speaks of a '■ tabernacle," or tent set in the
heavens for the shemesh whence it issues forth as a bridegroom from his
chamber, to make its excursions to the extremities of the heavens. (Psalm
xix. 4 — 6.) The heavens themselves are not the tabernacle of the
shemesh, but something " set in them," which is compared to a "chamber."
If then this is the solar orb, the shemesh issuing from it can be nothing
else than the solar light.

(8.) It is also remarkable that the yarach is said to have no fixed tent in
the heavens. — "Behold the yarach, and He hath not fixed its tent. (Job
xxv. 5.) For the orb which reflects the lunar light revolves in company
with the earth round the sun, and from this complex motion is to the inhabi-
tants of the earth sometimes luminous, sometimes partly dark, and
sometimes totally so. Therefore, unlike the shemesh, the yarach has no
fixed tabernacle.


(9.) The etymology of the words under consideration will
also be found to strengthen and confirm the argument.*

Having now fully shown that the s hemes h and yarach
properly denote the light of the sun and the light of the moon,
it will be time to observe that these were what Joshua com-
manded to " stand still." The solar and lunar light, therefore,
and not the " sun" and "moon," were concerned in the miracle.
What Joshua required was light, that he might push his victory
to a complete issue, and render it impossible for the enemy to
rally and meet him again in the field. The light, accordingly,
was supernaturally sustained in Gibeon and in the valley of
Ajalon, without in any way necessitating the arrertment of
motion either in the earth or sun. The motions of the universe
might proceed in the same orderly succession during the con-
tinuance of the miracle as before its commencement.

Sufficient has been said to show that the normal meaning of
the terms shemesh and yarach is solar light and lunar light •
and, therefore, should these terms appear in any passage to
denote the solar and lunar orbs, it must be understood as in
metonomy. I have examined every place in which the words
occur, and deem it right to say that in a few passages out of
about one hundred and twenty they appear to be so applied.
But even were the occurrences in this sense considerably more
numerous, that would in nowise conclude that the terms should
be so construed in the history before us. It is sufficient for our
argument that the terms are commonly used to denote the light
of the sun and moon, which we have amply proved, and the
onus lies upon those who impeach the inspiration of the
Scriptures to show that this is not the sense in which they are
employed by Joshua.

There happens, however, to be a circumstance distinctly noted

* The following comprehensive note is taken from the lexicon of Mr.
Parkhurst, under the root QJf: — "As a N. fern. rjDn> tne solar flame,
or fire, as distinguished both from DIPT' ^e oro °f tne bUU > an( ^ from t^£Dt£^>
the light flowing from it. And from this latter reason it is, in the only
thre* 1 passages where it is used in this sense, constantly joined with
j"73^7, the white of the moon, never with fTT- f he stream from it Occ.
Cant. vi. 10.; Isa. xxiv. 23 ; xxx. 26. And "")")ftn> the light n?37i"T, of
the white illuminated disc of the moon shall be as the light, nQHiT °f the
solar fire, and the light, nDnn> of the solar fire shall be seven-fold.''

We nowhere read of the light of the shemesh. Such an expression
would be manifestly tautological, and therefore improper.


in the record which surely ought to set this question at rest for
ever. "We read that Joshua commanded the shemesh to "stand
still " in Gibeon, and the yarach in the valley of Ajalon. What
he arrested, therefore, clearly, was in those specified places,* and
not removed millions or hundreds of thousand of miles away in
the heavens. It will scarcely be pleaded that Joshua imagined
that the solar orb was in " Gibeon," and the lunar orb was " in
the valley of Ajalon." The rays of those luminaries, indeed,
were in those places ; these, therefore, and these only, he, under
the Divine afflatus, commanded to remain.

It may be proper here to observe that, beside the obvious
theological reason for arresting the lunar light as well as the
solar, viz., to confound idolaters who worshipped the moon and
her fluxes as well as the sun and his rays, there may also have
been a reason of utility. For it would seem that if the body of
the sun was visible at all, it was on the point of disappearance
behind the hills of Gibeon. and therefore the lunar light would,
probabty, be of considerable service to the combatants in the
vale of Ajalon. The rendering in our version of the expression
bachatsi hashamayim (D\!2ttfn ^fQ), "in the midst of heaven,"
would suggest that the sun was in the meridian of Gibeon.
But, to quote again from Dr. Adam Clarke : " If, with Mr. Bate,
we translate (n^PT) chatsah, to part, divide asunder, it may refer
to the horizon, which is the apparent division of the heavens
into the upper and lower hemisphere ; and thus the whole verse
has been understood by some eminently learned men, who have
translated it thus : And the sun stood still in the (upper) hemis-
phere of heaven, and hasted not to go down when the day was com-
plete ; that is, though the day was then complete, the sun being
on the horizon — the line that to the eye constituted the mid -heaven,
yet it hastened not to go down — was miraculously sustained in
its almost setting position ; and this seems still more evident
from* the moon appearing at that time, which it is not reasonable
to suppose could be visible in the glare of light occasioned by a
noon-day sun."

# The same objection brought against the miracle of Joshua has also
been urged against the miracle upon the sun-dial of Ahaz (Isa. xxxviii. 8 ) ;


Online LibraryJames Alexander MacdonaldColenso and Joshua : or, The miraculous arrestment of the sun and moon considered → online text (page 1 of 2)