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Did Joshua Really Make the Sun Stand Still?

In a famous episode in the book of Joshua, the title figure declares: “Stand still, O sun, at Gibeon, O moon in the Valley of Aijellon!”; in response, the text tells us, “the sun stood still and the moon halted.” These verses are usually taken to mean that God slowed the progress of the sun across the heavens to give the Israelites more time for their battle against the Amorites. The passage would be cited by, on the one hand, religious critics of Copernicus and Galileo as proof the sun revolves around the earth and by, on the other hand, rationalist critics of the Bible as proof of Scripture’s fallibility. Mark Chavalas argues that it means something else entirely (free registration required):

The phraseology in Joshua 10:12-13 sounds suspiciously like the vocabulary used in Mesopotamian celestial-omen texts. In fact, it is clear that the relative position of the sun and moon played a role in determining military movements [in ancient Mesopotamia]. Kings consulted omen priests who told them whether a particular solar/lunar juxtaposition was propitious for victory. . . .

Many of the technical phrases in these omens concern the “stopping” and “waiting” of the heavenly bodies. From the standpoint of the viewer on earth, [according to the astrologers], the sun and moon “stopped and waited” for each other (that is, they were seen together: a bad omen for the fifteenth day after a full moon). . . . [Such] celestial-omen observation was not just prevalent in Mesopotamia but [also] in northwest Syria at the sites of Ugarit, Mari, and Emar (all in regions with significant Amorite connections). . . .

[T]his context also helps answer an easily anticipated question: why would a follower of the God of Israel ask for an omen, a practice that was considered divination and regarded [by the Pentateuch] as a capital crime? The answer is that . . . Joshua was not asking for a celestial phenomenon for himself, or even for Israel, but probably for the enemy; he must have known what it meant for them to have the sun and moon aligned on the fifteenth day [after the full moon], presumably the day of battle. If they received a bad omen, it would have significantly lowered their [morale].

Read more at ASOR

More about: Astrology, Book of Joshua, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Science and Religion

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen