Claim: NASA scientists discovered a "missing" day in time that corresponds to Biblical accounts of the sun's standing still in the sky.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1999]
Did you know that the space program is busy proving that what has been called "myth" in the Bible is true?
"I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at GreenBelt, Maryland. They were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space where they would be
They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards. They called in the service department to check it out and they said, "What's wrong?"
Well, they found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time. They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer.
Finally, a Christian man on the team said, "You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still." While they didn't believe him, they didn't have an answer either, so they said, "Show us."
He got a Bible and went back to the book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for any one with "common sense." There they found the Lord saying to Joshua, "Fear them not, I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee."
Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell they would overpower them. So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That's right — "The sun stood still and the moon stayed — and hasted not to go down about a whole day!" (Joshua
The astronauts and scientists said, "There is the missing day!" They checked the computers going back into the time it was written and found it was close but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua's day was
They read the Bible and there it was "about (approximately) a day" These little words in the Bible are important, but they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for
As the Christian employee thought about it, he remembered somewhere in the Bible where it said the sun went BACKWARDS. The scientists told him he was out of his mind, but they got out the Book and read these words in
Hezekiah, on his deathbed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die.
Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said "Do you want the sun to go ahead
Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees BACKWARD!
Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! Twenty-three hours and
Origins: Folks have been awestruck by the "missing day" legend since at least 1936, when the story emerged into popular culture via a book by Harry Rimmer, titled The Harmony of Science and Scripture. In it, Rimmer cited an 1890 book as his proof of the calculations behind the tale. Scholars dismissed Rimmer's claims as baseless, but despite the authoritative debunkings of the time and in the years since, the legend thrives. Indeed, the Internet has given it new legs; spreading it to new audiences is as easy as clicking the 'forward' button.
Although the notion of a "lost day" in time has been circulating for well over a century, the version cited here, which has been bedevilling NASA since the 1960s, achieved pre-eminence through the tireless efforts of
The Public Affairs Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, responded to the prevalence of Hill's fictitious story by issuing a press release that noted (among other things):
[Harold Hill] worked briefly at Goddard early in the 1960s as a plant engineer, a position which would not place him in direct contact with our computer facilities or teams engaged in orbital computations.
10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves 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
20:9 And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
20:10 And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
20:11 And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.
The next difficulty is the interpretation presented in this legend of the statement in
We can only speculate, but it seems likely that once the originator of this legend decided upon an interpretation of
Regardless of the amount of time involved, the discovery of a "missing" period of time remains implausible. If the sun had indeed stood still for a day a few millennia ago, we would have no way of determining that fact through astronomic observations today. We have no frame of reference, no cosmic calendar or master clock to check against to see if we're overdrawn at the Bank of Time. The concept described here would be like giving someone a non-functioning clock and asking him to determine how much time had elapsed since the clock had stopped running. One could note the positions of the hands on the dial and make a reasonable guess about what the time of day was when the clock stopped running, but without knowing whether that time was A.M. or P.M., and without knowing the calendar date on which stoppage occurred, one could not possibly make any reasonable estimate about how long ago the clock stopped.
Even the putative reasons offered for the scientists' performing the calculations described in this legend make little sense. We need not know about any "missing time" in the past in order to be able to launch spacecraft today. Even if the sun really did once stand still for a day, that would have absolutely no effect on where the sun, the moon, or the other planets are going to be one hundred or one thousand years from now. If we put a new battery in our stopped clock, all we have to do to get it back on track is to set it to the correct time; we don't need to determine how much time the clock "lost" while it wasn't running to be assured that it will display the correct time in the future.
The appeal of this legend isn't difficult to see: the tale confirms not only the existence of God, but also the literal truth of the Bible. Moreover, it pits the scientists versus the believers, with the believers emerging victorious and the (presumed godless) scientists left ground into dust by the very science they'd so long and so loudly upheld. David (in the form of the pure-hearted believer) takes on the Goliath of Science who continally bleats for independently verifiable proof of the Almighty, and for once the faithful are able to deliver up on a silver platter what's been asked for.
To those who've given over their hearts to God and the Holy Word, this is a deeply satisfying legend. Faith is, after all, the firm belief in something which cannot necessarily be proved, a quality that can leave believers (especially those who find themselves in the midst of
That recognition, and that satisfaction, is what this legend provides. Intoxicatingly heady stuff, that. No wonder this tale has survived from generation to generation and withstood the ravages of countless debunkings. Nonetheless, its factual details are wrong, the scientific processes it describes are dubious, and its premise of a "missing day" depends upon some very selective and questionable intepretations of scripture.
Authenticity matters little, though: our willingness to accept legends depends far more upon their expression of concepts we want to believe than upon their plausibility. If the sun once really did stand still for a day, the best evidence we'd have for proving it would be the accounts of people who saw it happen. That is what the Bible is said to offer. Some people accept that as sufficient proof, and others don't.
Last updated: 25 June 2014
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2000. ISBN 0-252-02424-9 (pp. 137-148). Hill, Harold. How to Live Like a King's Kid. South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, 1974. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 65-77). Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker. More Rumor! New York: Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 0-14-009720-1 (pp. 44-46). Rimmer, Harry. The Harmony of Science and Scripture. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1936 (pp. 266-280).