They reinterpret a biblical passage as the oldest documented solar eclipse, which helps date the reign of Ramses II

The reinterpretation of a passage from the Book of Joshua by researchers at the University of Cambridge suggests that what it describes is a solar eclipse, which occurred on October 30, 1207 BC. In such a case, it would be the oldest documented solar eclipse. Three others have been proposed before that date, but there is no conclusive evidence.

For example, the oldest proposed is that of October 22, 2137 BC, known as the eclipse of Ho and Hi, the drunken astronomers. Legend has it that they were so drunk to see the eclipse and report it to the emperor that he executed them.

If the new interpretation is correct, the fact would have interesting consequences, because it would help to date with greater precision (with a year or so of error) the reigns of Ramses II, who would have governed between 1276 and 1210 BC (versus to those hitherto established: between 1279 and 1213 BC), and his son Merenptah.

Furthermore, if the data is correct, they would also help extend the calculation of clock errors accumulated due to changes in the Earth’s rotation rate back some 500 years (from 700 to 1200 BC).

The biblical text in question tells how Joshua, after leading the people of Israel to Canaan, ordered the sun and the moon to remain still: and the sun stood still, and the moon stood still, until the nation took vengeance on its enemies.

According to most Bible translations, the interpretation of this text is that the Sun and the Moon stopped moving. But now the researchers think that in reality what could have happened is that both did not stop, but stopped doing what they normally do, shine. In this context the words of the Bible could refer to a solar eclipse.

Previous historians have already suggested that it could be a description of an eclipse, and even tried to date it using another document, the Merneptah stele, an Egyptian text inscribed on a granite block from the time of said pharaoh, in which it is mentioned that the The Israelis were defeated in Canaan in the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign. But they were unsuccessful in dating because they only considered the possibility of total eclipses.

Tour of the annular solar eclipse of October 30, 1207 a. C., which passed directly over the land of Canaan in the afternoon / photo Colin Humphreys – Graeme Waddington

Now what the new study proposes is that it was actually an annular eclipse, and the confusion would arise because in Antiquity the same word was used to describe both events.

The researchers took into account variations in the Earth’s rotation over time to determine that the only annular eclipse visible from Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC was that of October 30, 1207 BC In case their calculations and arguments were correct, it would be the oldest documented solar eclipse so far.

With these calculations, the reign of Merneptah would have begun in 1210 or 1209 BC (compared to the current convention of 1213 BC) and therefore the beginning of the reign of his father Ramses II would be delayed to 1276 BC, being the most exact dates available, with an accuracy of plus or minus 1 year.

The results of the research have been published in Astronomy & Geophysics of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Solar eclipse of 1207 BC helps to date pharaohs (Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington) / Eurekalert

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