Joshua's Long Day

by James Kiefer

A listmember has posted an account of a computer confirmation of the
missing day in Joshua 10 and the missing 40 minutes in 1 Kings 20.
He quotes a 1969 newspaper article which in turn quotes an engineer,
Harold Hill. (Mr Hill has written several books for Christians, such

William Willoughby, at that time religion editor of the Washington
(D.C.) EVENING STAR, inquired of the NASA Spaceflight Center at
Greenbelt, Maryland, where the computer proof is said to have
occurred. They denied all knowledge of it. He spoke with Mr. Hill,
who says that he obtained the story from a reliable source, and is
sure that it is true, but has mislaid his notes and cannot remember
exactly where he read or heard it. Many of us know the feeling, and
will absolve Mr. Hill from the charge of conscious dishonesty (he
has never admitted "making it up," and I find no reason to suppose
that he did), but at the same time will insist that his account is
not acceptable as evidence.

I first encountered the essentials of Hill's story some years before
the Greenbelt facility was built. The book THE HARMONY OF SCIENCE
AND SCRIPTURE, by Harry Rimmer, written in 1936, contains the
following account (281f), which I here condense:

         There is a book by Prof. C A Totten of Yale, written in
        Professor Totten wrote of a fellow professor, an
    accomplished astronomer, who made the strange discovery that
    the earth was tweenty-four hours out of schedule! ... Prof.
    Totten challenged this man to investigate the question of the
    inspiration of the Bible. ... Some time later ... his colleague
    replied: "In the tenth chapter of Joshua, I found the missing
    twenty-four hours accounted for. Then I went back and checked
    up on my figures, and found that at the time of Joshua there
    were only 23 hours and 20 minutes lost."
         ... the astronomer ... read on until he came to the 38th
    chapter of the prophet Isaiah (NOTE by JEK: this recounts the
    same episode as 2 Kings 20).... So the accuracy of the book was
    established to the satisfaction of this exacting critic.

Charles Adiel Lewis Totten is described in WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA.
He was a professor of military science at Yale from 1889 to 1892.
His book (one of many), JOSHUA'S LONG DAY AND THE DIAL OF AHAZ, was
published in 1890. In this book, the skeptical astronomer convinced
by a study of the Scriptures does not appear at all. Totten's
argument, so far as I understand it, goes like this.

    We know from Daniel 9:27 and from various other passages
    (mostly in Revelation) that the public ministry of Jesus lasted
    three and a half years. Since He was crucified at the spring
    equinox, He must have begun to preach at the fall equinox.
    Since he began to preach when He was thirty years old, He must
    have been born at the fall equinox. Since the world was created
    4000 years before He was born, the world was created on
    September 22, 4000 BC. Therefore this day must have been a
    Sunday. But calculating back using a calendar, we find that
    this date was a Monday. Therefore there is a missing 24 hours.
    Since 40 minutes of this are accounted for by the story in 2
    Kings 20 (or Isaiah 38), we see that the "about a day" mentioned
    in Joshua 10 must account for the remaining 23 hours and 20
    minutes. End of proof.

CONCLUSION: It appears that the story began with Totten's
calculations, which you will note are not based on any astronomical
discoveries, bit on some questionable assumptions about Bible
chronology. As references to Totten's work were repeated, persons
who knew that Totten claimed to have calculated that the calendar
was missing a day, but did not know how he had done so, assumed that
the calculation must have been an astronomical one, and so we have
the story as it appears in Rimmer. Later, it became natural to
assume that an astronomical calculation of this sort must have been
done with computers, and since Goddard is one of the chief centers
for astronomical calculations with computers (I know an astronomer
who works there), it was natural to assume that the calculation must
have been done at Goddard. And so the story reached its present
form, probably not through conscious fraud, but through the
willingness of man to repeat the story, adding details of how they
were sure it must have happened.

     Even if I did not have evidence about how the story arose, I
would still find it hard to believe, because it doesn't make sense.
     (1) If I drop a tennis ball from the top of a tall building,
and use the Law of Falling bodies to determine where it will be x
seconds later, my calculation tells me only where it will be it
nothing interrupts the fall. It does not tell me whether anything
(such as a tennis racquet suddenly stuck out the window by someone
on the fifteenth floor) will interrupt the fall.
     (2) If I observe an automobile driving north at 60 miles an
hour past a checkpoint on a long straight highway, I can calculate
that 20 minutes ago the auto was 20 miles south of the checkpoint,
and 73 minutes ago it was 73 miles south of the checkpoint, and so
on, all on the assumption that it has been moving with constant
velocity. If I have a report that it passed a checkpoint 80 miles
south, not 80 minutes ago, but 90 minutes, then I have evidence that
something has interfered with its constant 60-mile-an-hour progress.
Perhaps the driver stopped for gas, or to change a tire, or to get a
speeding ticket from a traffic officer. But if I have no information
except for my observation of the car at the one checkpoint, then all
my calculations about its position at various past times are based
on the ASSUMPTION that it has been traveling north at the same
velocity, with no interruptions. My observation and calculations
tell me nothing about whether such interruptions may have occurred.
     (3) If I use the present positions and velocities of the Sun,
the planets, and their satellites to determine by the Laws of
Planetary Motion where every one of these bodies will be 10000 years
from now, my calculation shows only where they will be if there is
no unanticipated interference. It does not show whether there will
be such an interference.
     (4) If I use the present positions and velocities of the
aforesaid components of the Solar System to determine by the laws of
physics where they were just before Joshua's time, my calculations
will show only where they were at that time, on the assumption that
there has been no interruption, no interference with their motions.
They will tell me nothing about whether there has been such an
     Now, if I have a checkpoint in the past, I might be able to
show a discrepancy. For example, if I had ancient historical records
of a solar eclipse in a given year (preferably between 1200 and 700
BC), observed as total at some given point, and my calculations
showed that the path of totality for that eclipse in fact passed 10
degrees to the west of that point, then I might conclude that
between that observation and the present day something has happened
to slow the rotation of the earth by ten degrees, and I might think
of the dial of Ahaz and say, "Aha!" (Of course, I might also
consider the possibility that the eclipse report was in error.)
However, there do not appear to be any such reports. If anyone knows
of any, I am always happy to learn.

MORAL: When you encounter stories that appear to confirm the truth
of the Christian faith, and you cannot trace them back to a reliable
source, or when there are unanswered questions like "How do we know
this?", it is best, in evaluating them, to err on the side of too
much skepticism rather than too little.

DISCLAIMER: I have read Hill and Rimmer, but my account of Totten 
is second-hand, being derived from several sources, including an
article by Robert C Newman in the 23 August 1974 issue of the UNITED
EVANGELICAL, a fortnightly published by the Church Center Press in
Myerstown, PA 17067 for the Evangelical Congregational Church
(which, despite its name, I conjecture to be a Pennsylvania Dutch
offshoot of Methodism, possibly arising out of the preaching of
Jakob Albrecht or Philip Otterbein -- anyone with better
information?). I have seen Totten's book, but not read it.

NOTICE!!! All this does not mean that the stories in Joshua and 
2 Kings are false. It just means that the alleged computer proof 
does not in fact show them to be true. One can dismiss the
Totten-Rimmer-Hill proof completely and still be a Bible

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