How Lunar And Solar Eclipses Shed Light On Biblical Events -- By: Rodger C. Young

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 26:2 (Spring 2013)
Article: How Lunar And Solar Eclipses Shed Light On Biblical Events
Author: Rodger C. Young


How Lunar And Solar Eclipses Shed Light On Biblical Events

Rodger C. Young

In the closing days of his life, Herod the Great was presented with a crisis called the golden eagle incident. Herod had placed a golden eagle over the entrance to the temple. Although he professed that it was an offering dedicated to the Lord, it was regarded as a desecration of the temple by two rabbis, Matthias and Judas, who provoked a group of more than 40 individuals into pulling down the eagle. Herod’s soldiers captured and executed many of the participants; Matthias and Judas were burned alive. After relating this sordid incident, Josephus comments that the night after Matthias and Judas were executed by burning, there was an eclipse of the moon (Antiquities 17.6.2-4/17.149-67).

This is the only reference to a lunar eclipse in all the writings of Josephus. Perhaps a modern historian would not have mentioned it, judging that an astronomical event like an eclipse is independent of the activities of man, unless it preceded some important occasion such as a battle and so influenced a decision such as whether or not to go to war. In the ancient world, however, an eclipse was regarded as an omen or portent whenever it happened. For Josephus, the eclipse in the night after Herod put to death the two protesters was a sign of displeasure from God. This is shown by the fact that Josephus describes, immediately after the mention of the eclipse, Herod’s physical suffering, a suffering from which he could find no relief until his death at some time between the eclipse and Passover. In the Antiquities passage, the eclipse and Herod’s torment signified the same thing: God’s solemn judgment on Herod after he put to death individuals more righteous than himself.

Jonah And The Bur-Sagale Eclipse

Another famous eclipse, this time of the sun, may have played a part in the account of Jonah and the Ninevites. The time of Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh can only be estimated very generally from the Bible. 2Ki 14:25 says that Jeroboam II, king of Israel, restored the northern and eastern borders of Israel according to the word of the Lord spoken by the prophet Jonah, son of Amittai. Jeroboam II began a coregency with his father Jehoash in 793/92 BC and reigned alone from 782/81 to late summer or early fall of 753 (Thiele 1983: 116; McFall 1991: 45; Young 2005: 245). Assuming that Jonah’s prophecy of restoration came early in the reign of Jeroboam, Jonah’s ministry would have been in the first half of the eighth century BC, i.e. from about 793 to 750 BC. During this time the Assyrian Eponym Canon records an eclipse of the sun that occurred in the eponym of Bur-Sagale, in the month of Simanu. Modern astronomical calculations date t...

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