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Genesis 1:14-19 DAY 4
The Sun's Shadow Moved Back


Hezekiah became ill probably sometime between 705 to 701 BC (See 2 Kings 20:12, NIV note; Isaiah 38). A miraculous sign of the shadow of the sun going backward 10 steps would show Hezekiah that he would indeed recover from his illness. I posit that the shadow of the sun going backward is the result of a solar eclipse. Let us look at what a solar eclipse is.

A solar eclipse is when the moon crosses in front of the sun. The Greek word ekleipsis which means "failure." There are three kinds of solar eclipses. First, there is a "partial solar eclipse" when the moon covers only part of the sun. Second, when the moon is closest to the earth, called "perigee," it covers the sun completely for up to 7.5 minutes. This is called a "total solar eclipse." Third, when the moon is farthest away from the earth in its orbit, called "apogee," it can not cover the sun completely because it is too small, its shadow falls short of the earth, This is called an "annular solar eclipse" because a bright ring or annulus in Latin is seen. A solar eclipse is only seen at new moon.

Astronomers refer to four stages of an eclipse. First contact is when the moon first touches the sun. Second contact is when the moonís eastern edge touches the sunís eastern edge for the start of the total or annular eclipse. Third contact is when the moonís western edge leaves the western edge of the sun. The last contact is when the moonís last contact with the sun ends.

The Greeks noticed a relationship between the moonís monthly cycle and the eclipse year. 223 synodic months equal 19 eclipse years, or 18 years, 11 days called Saros. Any two solar eclipses separated by 18 years, 11 days will be very similar in duration, type length, and shape of its path. There are 42 Saros series going on concurrently (Harrington 1997, 17-18).

A minute before second contact shadow bands will form on the ground. They are like faint ripples similar to ripples seen at the bottom of a swimming pool. The last few rays of the sun are twisted by the earthís atmosphere to produce shadow bands. The bands are about 4 to 5 inches wide and a foot apart. And moving at 20 to 30 feet per second from southwest to northeast (Ibid, 44).

Right before second contact there is the onrushing shadow of the moon. The sky above turns deep blue while the horizon looks like a 360 degree amber sunset (Ibid). Just after third contact look to the east to see the receding lunar shadow race on to another area.

As the moon completely covers the sun, the mountains and valleys on the moon break up the sunlight into what looks like a necklace of sparkling jewels called "Baileyís Beads." They are named after Francis Bailey who described this phenomena "like a string of bright beads" from seeing the annular eclipse of 1836. When the beads fade there will be one last flare or jewel of light called the "diamond ring."

When the sun is totally eclipsed the corona of the sun can be seen. Corona is Latin for "crown." The corona is the outer atmosphere of the sun. In ancient times they were depicted as the wings of the sun. Malachi 4:2 says, "the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings" (NIV). This verse may refer to this, but more likely to the rays of the sun that burst forth at dawn, because the imagery of the next phrase describes this "like calves released form the stall." Psalm 139:9 mentions the "wings of the dawn." When there is a total eclipse bright stars and planets can be briefly seen, and there is a big drop in temperatures.

At the edge of an eclipse many spectacular displays can be seen. Richard Sanderson writes, "With most of the western sky covered by scattered clouds, I was able to get a vivid sense of the umbraís (shadow of the moon) movement as the distant clouds faded out one by one. Because of their varying dimensional appearance; clouds also gave the moonís shadow a three-dimensional appearance; clouds within the shadow appeared as dark silhouettes against those located outside of the path of totality being illuminated by the sun" (Harrington 1997, 55). We now want to look at solar eclipses in history.

Ugaritic Literature

The oldest recorded eclipse is in Ugaritic which probably took place on March 5, 1223 BC. It states, btt ym hdt, hyr `rbt, sps tgrh, rsp (KTU 1.78) which I translate, "In the second month (March) the gates of day were renewed after the setting sun by the gatekeeper Rsp (god of the underworld; which some identify with the planet Mars)." See the journal Nature 338 (1989), March 16, 204 and 238.

Note that the eclipse is described as "the gates of day were renewed after the setting sun." The sun was thought to go through gates at sunrise and sunset. The Chinese described one eclipse as "the day dawned twice" (Stephenson 1997, 219) Today we do not use language like this.

Akkadian Literature

In ancient times Babylonian Astrologers divided the moon into four parts to correspond to countries. It was considered an evil omen for the country where the "moon pulled and drew off its eclipse" (Thompson 1900, lxxxiv). The Akkadian words umu utarra means "the day turns back" (Ibid, xxi). Astrologers used these words when the moon was seen with the sun on the fourteenth day which would indicate the Moon would appear on the thirtieth day of the month resulting in 29 days in the next month (Ibid). These astrologers were part of an important priesthood of high rank which is denounced by Isaiah who says, "Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you" (NIV).

Omen 268

Omen 268 says, "the right of the Moon is Akkad, the left Elam, the top Aharru (Siwan), the bottom Subartu. Jupiter stood in the eclipse" (Thompson, lxxxv). Jupiter is seen during this eclipse which means peace for the king. Akkad refers to Babylon and surrounding area. Elam is to the East of Babylon. Aharru refers to the Levant which includes Palestine and Phoenicia. Subartu refers to Assyria.

Omen 269

Omen 269 says, When the Sun is eclipsed on the 29th of Iyyar, the shadow beginning in the North and remaining on the South, its left horn being pointed and its right horn long, the gods of the four regions will be troubled" (Ibid, lxxxvi). The shadow seems to refer to the moon crossing the Sun from the North to the South. It may not of been a total eclipse for a horn shape is seen. There is a repeated phrase, "when an eclipse happens on, and of the god in his shadow"(Omen 270, 271). This also refers to the dark moon crossing the sun.

Omen 271

Omen 271 says, "When an eclipse happens in the morning watch and it completes the watch, a north wind blowing, the sick in Akkad will recover" (Ibid, lxxxvii). This eclipse indicates the sick will recover which is similar to Hezekiahís sign.

Omen 274

Omen 274 says, "An eclipse has happened but it was not visible in Assur; this eclipse passed the city Assur, wherein the king is dwelling; now there are clouds everywhere so that whether it did or did not happen we do not know. Let the Lord of kings send to Assur, to all cities, to Babylon, Nipper, Erech and Borsippa; whatever has been seen in those cities the king will hear for certain. The great gods in the city wherein the king dwells have obscured the heavens and will not show the eclipse; so let the king know that this eclipse is not directed against the king. Here the king sends out messengers to see what happened in other cities. This seems to be a similar case with Hezekiah. Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:12).

1063 BC Eclipse or 1012 BC Eclipse

Grayson translates, "On the twenty-sixth day of the month Sivan, in the seventh year, day turned to night and (there was) a fire (isatu) in the sky" (1975, 135; Stephenson 1997, 144). The fire may refer to the solar corona. Note the phrase "day turned to night."

763 BC Eclipse

This is one of the most important and best known eclipses. This eclipse is key in establishing historical dates. In the Eponyms of the Assyrian Empire Millard translates, "(eponym of) Bur-Saggile of Guzana. Revolt in the citadel: in (the month) Siwan, the sun had an eclipse (samas attalu)," (1994, 58; SASS Vol.2; Stephensen, 125).

Amos 8:9 may refer to this solar eclipse which says, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight" (NIV; cf. Amos 5:8). Verse 5 mentions the New Moon which is the only time there can be a solar eclipse. This eclipse may be a sign for Amosí ministry and foreshadowed the judgment to come. There was also a great earthquake (1:1).

136 BC Eclipse

There is an interesting solar eclipse in Babylon where even planets are seen during this eclipse. It says, "The 29th, at 24 deg after sunrise, Solar eclipse: when it began on the South and West side, Venus, Mercury and the normal stars were visible, Jupiter and Mars, which were in their period of invisibility, were visible in its eclipse [...] it threw off (the shadow) from West and South to North and East; 35 deg onset, maximal phrase and clearing; in it eclipse, the north wind which was set [to the West? Side blew] (Stephenson 1997, 130).

Merodach-Baladan

Merodach-Baladan means "Marduk has given me a son" (NIV note). It seems certain that Hezekiahís sign took place during his life time. Merodach-Baladan ruled Babylon from 721 to 710 BC. He briefly regained control after Sargonsís death from 705-703 BC, and was finally driven away in 701 BC by Sennacherib. He probably wanted Hezekiah to join his alliance against Assyria.

Sennacherib's Prism
Sennacherib's Prism on the left describing the siege of Jerusalem (Oriental Institute, U of Chicago).

Sennacherib

Sennacherib (704-681 BC.) writes in his campaigns about Hezekiah and Merodach-Baladan. He says, "In my first campaign (703 BC.) I accomplished the defeat of Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylonia, together with the armies of Elam, his ally, in the plain of Kish. That one fled alone to save his life, and the chariots, wagons, horses and mules which he abandoned, my hands captured. Into his palace in Babylon I entered and I opened his treasure-house, -gold, silver, vessels of gold and silver, precious stones, property and goods of his palace I took as spoil" (Luckenbill, 1927, 140-1).

In Sennacheribís third campaign he states, "As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who had not submitted to my yoke, 46 of his strong, walled cities and the cities of their environs, which were numberless, I besieged, I captured, I plundered, as booty I counted them. Him, like a caged bird, in Jerusalem, his royal city, I shut up" (Ibid, 143; ANET, 288).

In Sennacheribís fourth campaign he says, "The front of my yoke I turned, and took the road to Bit-Iakin. That Merodach-baladan, whom I defeated in my first campaign, became afraid at the tumult of my mighty arms, and fled to Nagitu which is in the midst of the sea (Persian Gulf). His brothers, the seed of his fatherís house, whom he abandoned by the seashore, the rest of the people of his land, I carried off as spoil from Bit-Iakin, out of the swamps and marshes" (Ibid, 143-4).

It seems most likely that between the third and fourth campaigns of Sennacherib that Hezekiah became ill. Certainly the stress and depression of Sennecheribís invasion took its toll making him vulnerable to sickness. Isaiah 36-37 tells of Sennacheribís third campaign which was partly waged against Judah and Hezekiah. What Sennacherib does not mention is the 185,000 men that died in the Assyrian Camp causing him to withdraw back to Nineveh (Isa. 37:36-37). Herodotus attributes these deaths to the bubonic plague.

Greek Literature

Herodotus

Herodotus in Book two paragraph 141 writes, "So presently came king Sennacherib against Egypt, with a great host of Arabians and Assyrians—and one night a multitude of fieldmice swarmed over the Assyrian camp and devoured their quivers and their bows and the handles of their shields likewise, insomuch that they fled the next day unarmed and many fell" (LCL, 117, 447). In the Egyptian version of this story an Egyptian priest has a vision that no harm would come to them, and he rallies men to follow him when fieldmice (rats) which carry the bubonic plague swarm over the Assyrian camp at night. Mice are a Greek symbol of pestilence where in the Iliad (Book 1:39) Apollo is called "Sminthian" the mouse-god who sends and stays plagues (LCL 170, 5).

One of the most famous eclipses in ancient times was in 585 BC. Herodotus writes, "day was on a sudden change into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place" (Zirker 1995, 6; Book 7:37). Xerxes was deeply troubled and asked his Magi to interpret this sign. They said the sun represented the Greeks whose cities will be eclipsed. "Having heard this Xerxes continued the march in high spirits" (Selincourt 1954, 458). Pythius the Lydian was "in alarm at the sign from heaven" (Ibid).

Hebrew Text

Hezekiah became ill probably sometime between 705 to 701 BC (See 2 Kings 20:12, NIV note; Isaiah 38). A miraculous sign of the shadow of the sun going backward 10 steps would show Hezekiah that he would indeed recover from his illness. I posit that the shadow of the sun going backward is the result of a solar eclipse. Even if clouds covered the sun, the movement of the shadow of the moon going backward and then foreword would be noticed. There are several possible eclipses of the sun during Hezekiahís life. Letís look at some of these.

710 BC Eclipse

There was a total solar eclipse in 710 BC in which 80% of the sun was covered in Israel. This eclipse would be too early. If we add 15 years, it would take us to 695 BC. Hezekiah died about 686 BC.

705 BC Eclipse

There was a solar eclipse on May 5, 705 BC. At about 5pm. About 66% of the sun was covered in Israel. This eclipse was before sunset. It would seem that the sun was setting early than usual bringing death which would parallel Hezekiahís illness signaling that he is near death. His life would be cut short just like the hours in the day are being cut short. Then the sun comes back out after the eclipse and the light of day is restored as is his health and his life. 15 years of life are added corresponding to the 15 hours left in the day assuming the Egyptian way of dividing the day into 24 hours. 5pm would be about the 10th hour and counting the 10th hour there were 15 hours left in the day. This seems like a possibility, but not a perfect fit. This would place Hezekiahís death at 690 BC instead of the standard date of 686 BC. This is also before Sennacherib invades Judah. Isaiah 38:1 states, "In those days" which refers back to Sennacheribís third campaign in chapter 36 and 37.

701 BC Eclipse

There was a total solar eclipse on March 5, 701 (702) BC. About 68% of the sun was covered in Israel about 8 am. It would seem that the day would be cut short like Hezekiahís life, yet the light like his health is restored. If we add 15 years to 686 BC we come up with exactly 701 BC. This seems to be the best date. Jewish Literature also seems to confirm that Hezekiahís sign was an eclipse. 

Jewish Literature

Josephus

Josephus states, "And when Isaiah had asked him what sign he desired to be exhibited, he desired that he would make the shadow of the sun, which he had already made to go down ten steps in his house, to return again to the same place, and to make it as it was before" (Whiston, 309). Whiston in his notes states, "Josephus seems to have understood the otherwise than we generally do, that the shadow was accelerated as much at first forward as it was made to go backward afterward, and so the day was neither longer nor shorter than usual; which, it must be confessed, agrees best of all to astronomy, whose eclipses, older than that time were observed" (Ibid, 309). This seems similar to when the Chinese said "the day dawned twice."

Babylonian Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud has an interesting story about this. In Sanhedrin 96a R. Johanan says:

The day on which Ahaz died consisted of but two hours; and when Hezekiah sickened and recovered, the Holy One, blessed be He, restored those ten hours, as it is written, Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down. Thereupon he [Merodach-Baladan] inquired of them [his courtiers], 'What is this?' They replied, 'Hezekiah has sickened and recovered.' 'there is such a [great] man,' exclaimed he, 'and shall I not send him a greeting!' (Epstein 1935, 649).

The footnote explains, "The return of the ten degrees is assumed to mean a prolongation of the day by ten hours, light having healing powers" (Ibid). When Ahaz died the sun "set ten hours too soon, to allow of no time for the funeral obsequies and eulogies" (Ibid). The day dawning twice would explain this.

Next - The Moon Turned to Blood
Bibliography