Ancient Egyptian and Biblical Texts Reveal Oldest Known Solar Eclipse

The verses in question concern the passage in which Joshua leads the Israelites into Canaan. “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,” the text reads.

The meaning had been lost in English renderings, but recent translations by Professor Sir Colin Humphreys suggest they reference an eclipse. “Going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: They stopped shining. In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse,” Humphreys explained.

By reading the hieroglyphs carved in the granite Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian text dating from the reigns of Pharaoh Merneptah and his son Ramesses the Great, historians were able to date  the Israelites’ presence in Canaan to between 1500 B.C. and 1050 B.C.

The breakthrough in comparing the two texts was made by backdating not only total solar eclipses using astronomical patterns but also annual eclipses in which the sun does not completely cover the moon but creates a distinctive ring of fire. From the calculations, which took into account the fluctuations in Earth’s orbit and rotation, Humphreys and his team posited that the only annual eclipse that could have taken place while the Israelites were in Canaan occurred in 1207 B.C.

Ancient Egyptian and Biblical Texts Reveal Oldest Known Solar Eclipse—and Secrets of Ramesses the Great’s Rule



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