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].

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

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank