First posted on June 26, 2012
NASA’s computers have discovered a missing 24 hour period in the distant past that corresponds exactly to the 23 hours and 20 minutes that the sun stood still in Joshua 10:12-13 and the 40 minutes lost in Hezekiah’s day (2 Kings 20:11 and Isaiah 38:8). Or so we are told in the story which originated in the 1960’s, has been printed in numerous religious periodicals and is still circulating via the internet.
Here are eleven reasons why Christians should not believe this story:
1. No computer can discover whether there was a day missing in the distant past. To believe that a computer can search back in time to Joshua’s day and calculate that the “about a day” mentioned in the Bible came to exactly 23 hours and 20 minutes requires some magical thinking.
2. The degrees of a circle have never been used to measure the passage of time. (The story claims that the ten degrees mentioned in 2 Kings amounts to the missing 40 minutes – 10/360 x 1440 minutes in a day.)
3. The Babylonians developed the idea of dividing a circle into 360 degrees during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, 100 years or more after the account in 2 Kings.
4. The Hebrew word translated degree in 2 Kings 20:11 means step.
5. This is also the original meaning of degree.
6. The Hebrew word translated dial in 2 Kings 20:11 is the same as the word translated degree. The meaning of the passage is that the shadow went 10 steps backwards on the steps of Ahaz.
7. A dial is not necessarily circular. The word comes from dies, the Latin word for day and simply means a scale for measuring something and can be circular or linear.
8. The account in 2 Kings 20:11 records that the shadow went 10 steps back. There is no mention of the sun moving.
9. Mechanical timepieces to accurately measure the passage of time are a recent invention. At some point, possibly through Babylonian influence, the Jews began dividing the day into 12 hours from sunrise to sunset. Since Jerusalem is 1,000 miles north of the equator, the length of a day, and therefore of an hour, varied with the seasons. The time measured by 10 steps will also have varied with the seasons. Thus it is impossible to know precisely how much time this was without knowing the precise date and how many steps there were in total.
10. NASA denies the account, stating that they have no reason to use their computers to try to calculate time thousands of years into the future or into the past. Even if it were possible, such information would be completely irrelevant to their operations.
11. The story originated with Mr. Harold Hill, president of the Curtis Engine Company, which had a contract with NASA to service and maintain electrical generators. He had no internal knowledge of the workings of NASA, was not a “consultant to the space program,” and did not witness the events he described. He simply took an older “lost day” legend and embellished it a little more each time he spoke at a Sunday School convention. The whole story may be a sad attempt on his part to make himself seem more important than he really was.
The most probable interpretation of the account in 2 Kings 20 is that King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, had caused a monument to be built, consisting of steps ascending on both the east and west sides, with a pillar at the top. The height of the pillar was precisely calculated so that the shadow at dawn would touch the bottom on one side, ascend the steps until noon, then descend the steps on the other side in the afternoon. This was located in the courtyard of the palace where Hezekiah could see it from his bedroom window.
Others think it was a staircase adjacent to the palace, so aligned that time could be told by the afternoon shadow descending step by step. In either case, this was a personal sign for King Hezekiah. There is no mention of the sun moving backwards in the sky, or of others witnessing the sign.