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Biblical astronomy

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Biblical astronomy offers much evidence of the scientific foreknowledge that was possessed by God's people in ancient times. Numerous references to astronomical events and phenomena can be found throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Job. The majority of these assertions weren't scientifically proven for hundreds, or even thousands of years, further supporting the infallible truth of God's word.

Time and time again Scripture records that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. If one believes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and the ultimate truth, then everything recorded in its pages is undeniable, including any facts concerning astronomy and science as a whole. By examining scriptural references of astronomical miracles, constellations, the formation and structure of the earth, and even the estimated age of the universe, it soon becomes apparent that the Bible is more than a book of history and poems. It contains scientifically proven facts and even heavenly wonders that to this very day puzzle the minds of the world's best astronomers. As the Master of the cosmos, God created a universe so vast and incredible that man will study and explore it for all time and still be awed at its beauty and mysterious intricacy.

He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.(NIV) Job 8:7-9
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.(NIV) Psalm 19:1-6

Contents

Scientific Foreknowledge

Main Article: Bible scientific foreknowledge

Numerous cosmic facts found in the Bible that have since been proven by astronomers:

The shape of the earth
Isaiah 40:22a reads, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth..." and, as any astronomy student knows, the earth appears as a circle in space because of its spherical shape. The creation of the horizon to separate light and darkness, as mentioned in Job 26:10 (NAS version), also states that God "has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters..."; because the earth is round, the boundary must be a circle.[1]

The suspension of earth in space
"[H]e suspends the earth over nothing" (Job 26:7). Despite this verse's poeticism, it does indicate that the earth does in fact float in space. Pictures taken in space have confirmed that the earth literally hangs upon nothing in the cosmos. The biblical truth of this fact is particularly interesting when one considers the beliefs of other peoples and religions as to how the earth was supported in space. For example, the Tartars believed that a giant bull supported the earth, while Vedic priests taught that twelve mighty pillars held up the planet; modern astronomy has since proven such beliefs inaccurate.[1]

The expansion of the heavens
Referring back to Isaiah 40:22, the second half of the verse tells that "He [God] stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in." This verse directly implies that the universe is expanding and has increased in size since its creation. Astronomers discovered in the 1920's that nearly all the galaxy clusters were moving away from one another, indicating that the entire cosmos is being stretched. Before this discovery, secular scientists, and perhaps even some Christian scientists as well, purported that the universe was infinite and completely unchanged. The accuracy of the Bible in presenting this idea in ancient times is truly remarkable![1]

The age of the cosmos
Scripture teaches that God created the entire cosmos in six days (see Exodus 20:11), and the extensive genealogies and historical events documented in the Bible place this creation around 6,000 years ago. The majority of secular scientists however, adhere to the big bang theory which dates the age of the universe as billions and billions of years old. Although this theory is often taught as undeniable truth, numerous astronomical evidences point to a much younger age of the solar system and the universe.[1]

Constellations

Similarities among the constellations from various cultures point to a single ancient origin.

Main Article: Constellations

Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?.(NIV) Job 38:31-32

Constellations are some of the most ancient astronomical observations. Interestingly, there are marked similarities in constellation names and the images they form, which extend across the globe. Dr. Jonathan Henry proposes that these commonalities point back to the dispersion after Babel, and that the constellations are representative of shared historical events like the global Flood. The pervasiveness of flood legends all over the world is well-supported, found in various cultures like that of the Mayans, Egyptians, and Scandinavians. Some secular researchers claim that the similarities of the constellations were a result of "a kind of convergent cultural evolution that happened spontaneously in many cultures"; that is, widely dispersed and entirely unique civilizations all develop the same general interpretation of the stars all around the same time period. One must understand however, that stars within a constellation have no actual connection to one another until the shape of the constellations is imagined by the viewer. Thus, it is next to impossible that people groups in very different regions of the world all “imagined” the same general images in the stars. Estimates of the date and location of the origin of the ancient constellations are consistent with the height of Assyrian power (in both the biblical period and physical location on earth allotted to Babel.) Examination of Roman, Greek, and Indian planispheres, or sky maps, further support this fact in that they incorporated previously known information; the Indian and Greek ones are so similar that they are nearly identical. [2]

Naturally, over time the similarities in the ancient constellations would be altered, allowing for differences, but without diminishing the common threads of general interpretation. For example, according to Babylonian tradition, the star Sirius is part of a bow and arrow image; in China, this star is in a constellation resembling a dog that is being targeted by a different bow and arrow constellation; in the West, Sirius is a star in the Big Dog, or Canis Major, constellation. The constellation of Orion as a hunter, or as one with a bow and arrow, is recognizable in Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, Norwegian (Norse), Mexican, Iranian, and Indian art and legends, albeit with slight modifications. The Pleiades too, were known as "The Seven Sisters" from the aborigines in Australia to the native peoples of ancient Europe, Africa, and America. This commonality is especially interesting in that very often only six of the prominent Pleiades are visible, and the fact that they are referred to as The Seven Sisters is most unusually considering that the seven stars of the Great Bear constellation are far brighter. Concerning the Great Bear constellation, scientists estimated that the association of the Ursa Major star group as a bear may go as far back as the 'ice-age Euro-Asia' (the location of Babel would have existed in this general region); also, the constellation's association with a bear in regions of the world where there are no bears, like in Egypt, further prove the theory that the interpretation stems from a common origin. Another fact that indicates an origin of the major constellations near Babylon is that the most ancient ones are only seen in the northern sky and are absent around the southern pole. Therefore, the creators of the oldest constellations must have been in the northern hemisphere. [2]

The constellation Orion is one of the most ancient and recognizable constellations in the heavens, famous for its "belt" of three stars.

Rising evidence has raised speculation that the major constellations are "corrupted memories of significant events happening early in history" or, perhaps more specifically, the global flood during the time of Noah as recorded in Genesis 6-9. Michael Ovenden of Glasgow University noted that early depictions of the massive constellation of Argo the Ship often set it upon a mountaintop with the Centaur emerging from it and sacrificing an animal upon the altar. Corvus, a raven, is also seen eating the flesh of Hydra, the water-snake. In these pictures, even the location of the Milky Way galaxy appears as smoke rising from the altar. Genesis 9:12-13 reads, "And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.' " Some speculate that the bow of the constellation Sagittarius, which points in the direction of the cloudy Milky Way, is directly linked to the bow mentioned in this verse. Even the Pleiades are associated with a flood by the natives of Australia and the Jews. The aborigines viewed the Pleiades as givers of rain, but because the aborigines were not an agricultural people, there is no logical explanation as to why they would draw that association except from tribal tradition. A Jewish legend tells of the Flood, saying: "The upper waters rushed through the space left when God removed two stars out of the constellation Pleiades"; an explanation for this connection however, remains unknown.[2]

Some propose that God placed the stars in such a way as to display the gospel prior to the compilation of the written Word, but there is very little biblical evidence to support this theory. Rather, the majority of biblical references to the constellations act as reminders of God's omnipotent control of the heavens. Psalm 147:4 and Isaiah 40:26 speak of God naming and controlling each individual star, asserting the unrivaled power of God over all of the cosmos. As to the existence of an actual "gospel in the stars," controversy reigns. Proponents like Frances Rolleston and Joseph R. Seiss refer to Genesis 1:14-15, in which God sets the stars in place that they may "serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years." Dr. Jonathan Henry however, counters this position, pointing out that these verses speak only of stars, not of constellations. He believes that projecting a "gospel in the stars" into these verses is a form of eisegesis ("the reading in of a concept not mentioned in the passage but present in the mind of the reader"). Advocates also invoke the names of ancient stars that have biblical themes as proof of God's divine placement of specific stars in certain constellations. One must recall however, that, as the Bible does not reveal what God named the stars, man designated these stars with their given names, and that the translations of these names vary.[2]

Supporters for a gospel in the stars typically associate each of the twelve ancient zodiac constellations with a symbolic part of the gospel story. Libra for example, which depicts scales, is seen to represent that sin must be paid for, that justice must be served; sacrifice is ascribed to the constellation Aries, which is an image of a ram; the virgin in the constellation Virgo is identified as the Virgin Mary. These explanations seem relatively reasonable, but others, like how Cancer (a crab) symbolizes the gathering of the redeemed or how Sagittarius (an archer) portrays the element of demonism, are not as straightforward. Looking to the constellations for biblical messages is something that must be done with extreme caution because there is a wide variety of interpretations, and such searches are dangerously close to that of astrology. Thus, the debate continues as to the correct interpretation of Genesis 1:14-15 and the role of the constellations and stars in the heavens. In the end, the Bible is the only infallible source of the gospel, and Christian doctrine is not founded on elements in nature, but rather on the written Word of God. [3]

Pleiades

The Pleiades star cluster with individual stars labelled and an estimate of the distances between the major stars.

Mentioned by name three times in Scripture (Job 9:9, Job 38:31, and Amos 5:8), the Pleiades are a cluster of stars gravitationally bound together and found in the constellation Taurus. The word pleiade means "the congregation of the judge or ruler", and is the Greek Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew word kimah for "accumulation" or "heap". The Arabic name for the brightest star in the cluster, Al Cyone, can be translated to mean "the center", giving some astronomers the mistaken notion that it resides at the center of the universe. [4] Most commonly, the Pleiades are known as the "seven sisters"; each of the seven prominent stars in this cluster is named after a female character in Greek mythology: Alcyone, Maia, Merope, Celaeno, Electra, Asterope, and Taygeta. When the cluster is visible, six to seven of these stars can be seen with the naked eye, although the Pleiades contain hundreds of stars. The Pleiades are near the ecliptic plane of the sun, planets, and moon; thus, all celestial bodies travel close to the Pleiades at some time during the year. Several of the stars within the cluster form a shape similar to that of the Big Dipper, a pattern which makes the cluster easily recognizable. The only month in which the Pleiades cannot be seen is May, the month in which the sun is found in the sign of Taurus. The best month to view the Pleiades is in December, where they can be viewed throughout the entire night. [5]

References to the Pleiades are found as far back as 2350 B.C., in Chinese records, and in European records as far back as 1000 B.C. by the poet Hesiod and the author Homer. In addition to the aforementioned biblical passages from the Old Testament, the Bible also alludes to the Pleiades in Revelation 1:16: "In his right hand he [the Messiah] held seven stars..." Interestingly enough, Hindu, Jewish, and Greek folklore all record the disappearance of a previously visible star within the cluster sometime around the end of the second millennium B.C., an event supported by astronomical evidence. The cluster's seemingly close proximity to other astronomical bodies at various times of the year also played a key role in ancient (and even current) superstitions. To both the northern and southern hemispheres, the rising and setting of the Pleiades signify the beginning of the planting season in the spring and the time of harvest in autumn. They also indicate the start of the seafaring season. [6]

The Nebra Sky Disk is considered to be one of the oldest artifacts depicting ancient astronomy, proving invaluable to archaeologists and astronomers alike.

Author Paul W. Puckett postulates that God showed Moses the Pleiades to indicate the start of the biblical year near the time of Passover, as mentioned in Exodus 12:2 ("This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.") Therefore, the annual appearance of the Pleiades, as well as that of the crescent moon in close proximity to the cluster, acts as visual signs of the beginning of the new biblical year. [5]

In 1999, several treasure hunters uncovered an ancient disk near Nebra, Germany. Experts have examined it and believe it to be at least 3600 years old, making it one of the oldest astronomical artifacts and calendars known to date. Named the Nebra Sky Disk, this disk shows the Pleiades, the crescent moon, and, what most believe to be, the sun. If the disputed object is indeed the sun, then the astronomical observations recorded here are valid only in the event of a solar eclipse. The Nebra Sky Disk further supports the conclusion that ancient peoples noted the cycles of stars and constellations in the heavens and tracked time by these reckonings. [5]

Miracles

The Long Day of Joshua

On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: ‘O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!(NIV) Joshua 10:12-14

Throughout the world, many cultures hold legends telling of a day in ancient times when there was a long day, or a long night. Author Richard Riss has noted several writers that have uncovered such traditions. For example, David Nelson relates that the Chinese tell that the sun remained fixed above the horizon during the reign of their King Yao, the reign of which corresponds with the time of Joshua the son of Nun, leader of Israel. Riss also quotes T.W. Doane as Doane juxtaposes biblical stories and their parallels in other religions; Doane recounts both Indian and Buddhist legends of the sun standing still or being prevented from rising. Harry Rimmer, in The Harmony of Science and Scripture (published in 1940), refers to a long day as recorded by ancient civilizations such as: the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Egyptians.[7] The Maori people of New Zealand tell of a myth in which their hero Maui slowed the rising of the sun, and in a Greek myth the sun's course is disturbed by Apollo's son Phaethon. [8]

Some hypothesize that the impact of a large asteroid or meteor could have altered the rotation of the earth enough to account for Joshua's long day miracle.

In the controversial book Worlds in Collision (published in 1950), Immanuel Velikovsky supports the historical authenticity of a long day by citing the Mexican Annals of Cuauhtitlan (or the Codex Chimalpopca) that recount a cosmic catastrophe in which the night was prolonged sometime in the ancient past. Further, Velikovsky purports that for such an event to occur, that either a strong magnetic field affected the terrestrial axis of the earth or a comet interrupted the earth's regular rotation. V.L. Westberg presented another theory, hypothesizing that a huge asteroid or meteor crashed into the earth, slowing the earth's mantle rotation by one revolution; in this theory, the continual rotation of the inner molten core eventually returned the earth to its correct speed.[7]

Scientists have attempted to explain the long day of Joshua for centuries, and the result has been confusion, controversy, and heated debate. Some modern interpretations of this cosmic miracle include an unusually prolonged solar eclipse and even the presence of a cloud shading the sun. Some even suggest that this biblical passage is merely poetic language and that no physical miracle actually occurred. Most scholars however, conclude that the sun and moon really did appear to stand still. It ought to be noted that the Amorites worshiped the celestial bodies, and that God's control over them proved his power.[9]

In general, there are three main categories of scientific suggestions of how the sun could have "stood still:"

  • Unusual refraction (bending) of sunlight and moonlight--This theory is supported by the concept that Joshua required not a physical day but merely a prolonged period of light. God promised to Noah in Genesis 8:22 that while the Earth remaineth … day and night shall not cease; some conclude that this implies that the earth's rotation on its axis will not be halted until the end of time (although this does not rule out a potential slowing down of the earth's rotation)
Some astronomers have suggested that a potential wobble of the Earth's axis of rotation could be the result of an ancient orbit closer to Mars.
  • A wobble in earth’s axis of rotation--This theory involves a slow wobbling of the earth’s axis that resulted in a circular or ‘s’-shaped path in the sky, so that to an observer on the earth’s surface, the sun and moon would appear to be standing still. In this explanation, the earth’s rotation doesn’t decrease in speed. Some suggest that this wobbling was the result of the closeness of the orbits of Mars and Earth; however, this model requires an ancient orbit for Mars incompatible with its current orbit, so there exists no solid proof of this particular suggestion in support of the general theory.
  • A reduction in the earth's rotational speed--This theory requires the simultaneous slowing of the rotation of the oceans, earth, and atmosphere to prevent devastating tidal waves and the build-up of heat in the inner core of the earth due to the friction of the “still-rotating liquid layers.”[8]

A widely-circulated story claimed that NASA scientists discovered a missing day in the astronomical calculations while calculating the orbits of the sun and earth. This claim however, has proven to be unfounded and unsupported by documented evidence. Harry Rimmer for example, in his book The Harmony of Science and Scripture (referenced previously) alludes to this "missing day" by relying on the works of two prominent scientists, Sir Edwin Ball and C.A. Totten. However, Rimmer gives no bibliographic references concerning Ball or Totten, and other writers have been curiously unable to validate Rimmer's claims. Further investigations into the origin of this story have also revealed a lack of proper documentation, authorship, or accuracy. A NASA representative has responded to the influx of inquiries stating: 'Although we make use of planetary positions as necessary in the determination of space-craft orbits on our computers, I have not found that any “astronauts and space scientists at Greenbelt” were involved in the “lost day” story." In fact, the NASA consultant accredited with the story, Harold Hill, is not and has never been known to NASA. Thus, mounting evidence seems to indicate that this story, however convenient to supporting the biblical account of Joshua's long day, is dubious at best. Most creationists consider it an urban myth not properly supported and entirely false. [10]

Sign to Hezekiah

Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, 'What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?' Isaiah answered, 'This is the LORD's sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?' 'It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,' said Hezekiah. 'Rather, have it go back ten steps.' Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.(NIV) 2Kings 20:8-11
(also found in Isaiah 38:87-8)

The movement of the sun's shadow ten steps back on a sundial would roughly equal five to six hours on a sundial; in essence, time ran backwards for Hezekiah as a sign that he would recover from his illness. The sun then, appeared to move toward the east rather than towards the west for a period of time. Explanations for such a miracle are mere speculations, as nothing like this phenomenon has ever occurred at any other point in history. Some propose that the event was local only to that region of the earth; this explanation is supported by a reference in 2 Chronicles 32:31--"...envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land..." Another hypothesis concerning this miracle is the temporary reversal of the earth's rotation.[9] Similar to a theory about Joshua's long day, some speculate that the backward movement of the sun's shadow resulted from some sort of light refraction isolated only to the land of Palestine.[8]

Some scholars believe that a solar eclipse could explain the sign to Hezekiah and the movement of the shadow.

One of the strongest explanations of Hezekiah's sign is a solar eclipse (when the moon passes between the earth and the sun); such an eclipse would have caused the moon's shadow to move backward and then forward once more. After determining the time of Hezekiah's reign by cross-referencing biblical names with archaeological evidence, it has been discovered that there were three solar eclipses during Hezekiah's lifetime. The eclipses of 710 and 705 B.C. are often discarded as Hezekiah is estimated to have died around 686 B.C., and in 2 Kings 20:6 God promises to prolong Hezekiah's life by fifteen years after his illness. Thus, the solar eclipse in 701-702 B.C. appears the most logical date if, in fact, this cosmic occurrence was the sign sent by God. The Jewish historian Josephus also took note of this miracle, and commentators on his writings have suggested that Josephus was asserting that "the shadow was accelerated as much at first forward as it was made to go backward afterward, and so the day was neither longer nor shorter than usual...", a fact observed in other well-documented eclipses. References to Hezekiah's recovery and the remarkable sign accompanying it are also found in the Babylonian Talmud, where a footnote suggests that ten hours had been added onto the day to signify healing, and to restore the correct reading of time that had been cut short according to a story that the day of Ahaz's death lasted a meager two hours.[11] Whatever the case may be, attempting to understand God's miracles in the cosmos is an intriguing pursuit, though one unlikely to undeniably prove a specific mechanism by which these phenomenons were accomplished.

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Does the Bible say anything about astronomy? Dr. Jason Lisle, War of the Worldviews. 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Constellations: legacy of the dispersion from Babel Dr. Jonathan F. Henry. Journal of Creation 22(3), March 30, 2010.
  3. Is the gospel spelled out in the stars? Dr. Donald DeYoung, Ph.D. (Physics) as excerpted from Astronomy and the Bible, pgs. 69-70. Published by Baker Book House. Supplied by Eden Communications (used with permission). Copyright © 1997. www.ChristianAnswers.Net
  4. Seven Stars Submitted by: research-bpr@philologos.org. 23 March 1998. Philologos. Bible Prophecy Research.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Moses, the Pleiades, and the Nebra Sky Disk-- What did Moses see, and when did he see it? Paul W. Puckett. 29 March 2010. docstoc.com. © Docstoc 2010.
  6. The Pleiades in Mythology pleiade.org. Pleiade Associates.
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Long Day of Joshua Richard M. Riss. Christian Evidences. 30 Nov. 1996. 30 March 2010
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Joshua’s long day--Did it really happen—and how? Russell Grigg. First published in Creation 19(3):35–37, June 1997. creation.com. © Creation Ministries International
  9. 9.0 9.1 Can we explain the “long days” of Joshua and Hezekiah? Dr. Donald DeYoung, Ph.D. (Physics) as excerpted from Astronomy and the Bible, pgs. 53-54. Published by Baker Book House. Supplied by Eden Communications (used with permission). Copyright © 1997. www.ChristianAnswers.Net
  10. Has NASA Discovered a “Missing Day”? Bert Thompson. First published in: Reason & Revelation (A Monthly Journal on Christian Evidences) May 1991, 11(5):17–19. Copyright © Apologetics Press, Inc. answersingenesis.org.
  11. Genesis 1:14-19 DAY 4-- The Sun's Shadow Moved Back Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies. 30 April 2008. bibleandscience.com.

External Links

  • Astronomy & the Bible Powerpoint presentation (with some audio) by Robert C. Newman, Director of the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute.
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