Researchers have identified the date of the earliest recorded solar eclipse. which took place on Oct. 30, 1207 BC. The finding, based on a Biblical text, could have consequences for understanding the ancient world’s chronology.
A research team, whose study was published in the Royal Astronomical Society journal Astronomy & Geophysics, would be able to pinpoint the dates of the Egyptian pharaohs — particularly the dates of Ramesses the Great’s reign, with the help of their new finding.
Biblical Text From The Old Testament Book Of Joshua
Biblical scholars have been puzzled over centuries about a biblical text from the Old Testament book of Joshua. The text said that after Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, he prayed to the sun to stand still at Gibeon and the moon in the Aijalon Valley.
Thereafter, the sun stood still and the moon stopped until the people took revenge on their enemies. Canaan was an area in the ancient Near East that coordinates with modern day Palestine and Israel.
Colin Humphreys, a researcher from UK’s University of Cambridge, explained that they started the study with the notion that if the text was a description of a real observation, then the actual meaning of the text had to be figured out. He further added that English translations of the text, as per the King James translation of the 17th century, usually interpret it to mean that the sun and moon stopped.
The researcher, however, explained that after studying the original Hebrew text, the team could determine another meaning of the text. The original said that the sun and moon had stopped doing what they normally — meaning they had stopped shining. Therefore, the research team felt that the Hebrew words could actually be a reference to a solar eclipse, where the moon passes between the sun and the earth, and the former appears to stop shining.
The researchers also said that their interpretation was backed by the fact that the Hebrew word that was translated to “stand still” had the same root as a Babylonian word used to describe eclipses in ancient astronomical texts.
Incidentally, the Merneptah Stele, an Egyptian text on a large granite block that dates from the reign of Ramesses the Great’s son, Pharaoh Merneptah, is an independent source of evidence pointing that the people of Israel were in Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC. The inscription was carved in Merneptah’s fifth year of reign and describes a campaign in Canaan where the Pharaoh defeated the Israelites.
Annual Solar Eclipse
The Merneptah Stele and the Biblical text from the Old Testament book of Joshua have been used before too by historians to date the possible eclipse. However, the earlier interpretations were not a success as the researchers associated with those were only considering total eclipses in which the sun’s disc appears to be totally covered by the moon and not annual eclipses in which the moon overshadows the sun in a ‘ring of fire’ appearance.
To conduct the study, Humphrey and the team of researchers, developed a new eclipse code that considered the variations in the rotation of the Earth over time. Subsequently, the scientists were able to understand that the only annual eclipse visible from Canaan in the time period 1500 to 1050 BC took place on the afternoon of Oct. 30, 1207.
If the researchers’ arguments are accepted, it would imply the solar eclipse to be the oldest one to have been recorded to date. Furthermore, the finding would help researchers to date the reigns of the pharaohs Ramesses the Great and Merneptah to within a year.