ASTRONOMY and the BIBLE

Anonymous

(Investigator 159, 2014 November)



INTRODUCTION

The Bible is accurate on astronomy but mostly gives the viewpoint or perspective of observers on Earth.

Therefore stars, planets and shooting stars (meteors) are all "stars". And the Sun rises and sets because that's what people observed. (Psalm 19:6; Ecclesiastes 1:5)

The exceptions are God's supernatural realm and the concepts "above the heavens" and "above the stars" which humans could not observe.


PREVIOUSLY

Genesis 1

I previously explained Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" as being a summary of the creation story that follows.

In verse 2 Planet Earth already exists, covered in water, with no comment about Earth's origin.

Earth before creation is described as dark, water-covered, lifeless, with a "wind of God" or powerful wind over it. I argued (#38; #62) that this description agrees with what a giant asteroid impacting into an ocean would do. In #38 I estimated that a 40-50km-asteroid impact would generate a planet-circling tsunami.

Creation in Genesis tells about Earth being restored after an immense calamity. Bedout crater, 200km wide, in the Indian Ocean, discovered in 2003, may not be the event of Genesis 1:2, but confirmed Genesis by indicating that planet-wide, watery, catastrophes happened.

Marshall (2014) reports that 3.5-3.2 billion years ago asteroids "at least 20 kilometres across and possibly more than 70" blasted craters "400 to 800 kilometres across" and "tsunamis … could have circled the entire planet."

Question: If Genesis is not about the "Big Bang" or the origin of planet Earth, was God involved in those earlier events?

Answer: The Bible calls God "creator" many times without necessarily limiting Him to Genesis 1.


Star of Bethlehem

Using the computer program Skymap I identified (Investigator #81) the Star of Bethlehem as two conjunctions (overlaps) of Venus and Jupiter.

On August 12, 3 BCE the conjunction was the "morning star". On June 17, 2 BCE when the "wise men" reached Bethlehem, the conjunction was the evening star. Reneke (2009) adds that the 2 BCE-conjunction occurred in the constellation of Leo and: "Jupiter was known as the Planet of Kings… Leo was thought to denote royalty and power."

I explained the "star stopping" over Bethlehem as slow-moving clouds surrounding the star. Alternatively, if on a cloudless night an observer near a house looks upwards over the roof at a bright star, the star will seem stationery above the house.


FIRMAMENT

The word "firmament" in some Bibles suggests the sky is a solid dome.

The Hebrew word "raqia", however, signifies something extended or stretched out and not necessarily solid.

"Firmament" comes from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament of the 2nd century BC. The translators were influenced by science in Alexandria which taught that solid crystalline spheres housed the Sun, Moon and stars.

British astronomer Edward Maunder (1908) writes:
Yet again, just as we speak of "the celestial canopy," so Psalm civ. describes the Lord as He "who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain," and Isaiah gives the image in a fuller form,—"that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." … Here, beyond question, extension, spreading out, is the idea sought to be conveyed, not that of solidity.
Jeremiah writes that the (non-solid) sky is so vast it cannot "be measured". (31:37)

Genesis 1:6-8 may imply there is water in Space since this water is "above the sky [or "dome"], hence does not refer to clouds which "cover the heavens" (Psalm 107:8) and therefore are lower down.


SIGNS AND SEASONS

In Genesis 1 the Sun is called the "greater light", the Moon the "lesser light".

Both were to serve "for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years". (Genesis 1:14-16)

Smith’s Bible Dictionary suggests the Moon "served for seasons" via the religious festivals of the Jews — the spring and autumn festivals were celebrated at full Moon.

Stars also marked seasons:
One star or constellation of stars would herald by its "heliacal rising" the beginning of spring, another the coming of winter; the time to plough, the time to sow, the time of the rains, would all be indicated by the successive "morning stars" as they appeared. And after an interval of 365 or 366 days the same star would again show itself... So we read in Job, that God led "forth the Mazzaroth in their season." (Maunder 1908)
"Signs" can refer to predictable eclipses or to unpredictable events. (Jeremiah 10:2; Luke 21:25; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15)

Maunder writes:
…the Hebrews did not suppose that it was a new sun that came up from the east each morning, as did Xenophanes and the Epicureans amongst the Greeks. It was the same sun throughout. Nor is there any idea of his hiding himself behind a mysterious mountain during the night. "The sun," the Preacher tells us, "ariseth and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." The Hebrew was quite aware that the earth was unsupported in space, for he knew that the Lord "stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." There was therefore nothing to hinder the sun passing freely under the earth from west to east, and thus making his path, not a mere march onward ending in his dissolution at sunset, but a complete "circuit," as noted by the writer of the nineteenth Psalm.
The Jewish calendar repeated at 19-year intervals. Maunder explains:
Our calendar to-day is a purely solar one; our months are twelve in number, but of purely arbitrary length, divorced from all connection with the moon…

A year, that is purely lunar, consists of twelve lunations [new Moon to new Moon], amounting to 354 days…

The Jews used actual lunations for their months, but their year was one depending on the position of the sun, and their calendar was therefore a luni-solar one. But lunations cannot be made to fit in exactly into a solar year—12 lunations are some 11 days short of one year … but an approximation can be made … by taking 7 years in every 19 as years of 13 months each. This thirteenth month is called an intercalary month...

ECLIPSES


The 20th century saw 228 solar eclipses (when the Moon covers the Sun) and 147 lunar eclipses (when Earth's shadow covers the Moon).

In a total Solar eclipse the sky goes dark blue and the brighter stars and planets become visible. A lunar eclipse can last 1¾ hours and the Moon becomes red. Bible verses describing the moon "as blood" are often interpreted as lunar eclipses. (Acts 2:20)

According to Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary (1967, p. 81) Solar eclipses visible in Palestine in Old Testament times were:
•    July 31, 1063 BCE
•    August 15, 831 BCE    
•    June 15, 763 BCE
•    May 18, 603 BCE
•    May 28, 585 BCE.
The prophet Amos probably saw the 831 BCE eclipse. 603 BCE coincided with the overthrow of Assyria. And in 585 BCE the Jews went into exile in Babylon and Egypt.

The three-hour darkness at Christ's crucifixion (Matthew 27:45) was not a Solar eclipse since darkness would last minutes, not hours. Moreover, it was Passover and full Moon — the Moon was on the wrong side of Earth to cover the Sun. Astronomer Duncan Steel attributes the darkness to "a dust storm raised by the khamsin, a hot wind from the south…"

Steel writes: "Because Passover is at full moon, and the Crucifixion was on a Friday, only certain dates are feasible, 7 April in AD30 and 3 April in AD33…" (p. 21)


SIGNS

"Signs" in the sky, including the darkening of Sun, Moon and Stars, occur before the "day of the LORD":

And I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire, and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. (Joel 2:30-31; Acts 2:20; Isaiah 13:9-10; Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9; Revelation 6:12)

Jesus foretold that at his return "the stars will fall from heaven…" (Matthew 24:29) Adventists believe this was fulfilled by the Leonid meteor showers which have appeared at intervals. In 1833 and 1866 the meteors or "shooting stars" were spectacular — numerous as "snowflakes".

An alternative explanation is this: The Apostle Peter compares the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-28) by "fire and brimstone" falling from the sky, to a worldwide fire that starts with a "loud noise". (II Peter 2:6; 3:10-13) These verses suggest the impact of a big asteroid, at Christ's return, throwing up molten debris that burns everything:
The stuff re-entering would look like lots and lots of shooting stars like a glowing layer of material above you of several thousand degrees celsius like being under a griller. (The Advertiser, June 12, 1993 "Collision Course")
If this interpretation is valid, what is the "sign" (Matthew 24:3, 29-30) everyone recognizes when the "end" arrives? May I suggest this:

In 1610 Galileo published Siderius Nuncius including a map showing craters on the Moon. In 1965 and 1974 space probes revealed Mars and Mercury covered in craters. In 1994 twenty mountain-sized comet fragments slammed into Jupiter. In 2009 Jupiter got hit again, leaving a "black scar the size of Earth." (Cosmos, Oct/Nov 2009, p. 14) In 1984 something "disrupted" the rings of Saturn (New Scientist, 17 October, 2009, p. 10) — possibility an asteroid. In 2009 New Scientist reported: "Observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope reveal masses of glassy material around the star HD172555 … pointing to the collision of two large bodies…" (15 August, p. 5) A small asteroid exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013, damaging 7000 buildings in six cities and injuring 1500 people. (Wikipedia)

Such discoveries and occurrences could be the "sign" everyone recognizes before Jesus returns. If so, then the dark markings on the Moon (Luke 21:25) visible to the naked eye, which science attributes to ancient asteroid impacts, are part of the sign. People throughout history have seen the Moon's dark areas, never realizing what they portend.


FIGURATIVE VERSES

 
Isaiah and Revelation state:
The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. (Isaiah 60:19)
And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. (Revelation 21:22-23)
The absence of Sun and Moon, with God as their replacement, seems symbolic, symbolizing perpetual blessedness.

The Sun and its light sometimes symbolize:
•    God’s favor (Psalm 84:11);
•    Christ’s coming (Malachi 4:2);
•    The glory of Christ and other heavenly beings (Matthew 17:2; Revelation 1:16; 10:1; 12:1);
•    Authorities (Genesis 37:9-10);
•    The glory of saints (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43)

JOSHUA'S LONG DAY

Joshua 10:12-14 says:
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.

Is this not written in the book of Jashar? The sun stopped in mid heaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.
With the Moon over Aijalon in the west and the Sun in the east over Gibeon, Joshua was not, Maunder reasons, requesting more daylight:

Joshua's observation was made at Gibeon [at] noon... The moon … was about half full … about 5° above the horizon, and was due to set in about half an hour. She had risen soon after eleven o'clock the previous evening, and had lighted the Israelites during more than half of their night march up from Gilgal.

Maunder concludes the "long day" refers to the rapid march of the Israelites to overtake their fleeing enemies and complete their victory:
…the length of the march made between noon and sunset was equal to an ordinary march taking the whole of a day.
Joshua's words "Sun, stand still at Gibeon…" were probably not suddenly blurted out, but climaxed an inspiring speech to his weary army. The rejuvenated troops then marched at double speed. "There has been no day like it before or since…" expresses the army's emotional arousal.

Another interpretation, where Joshua is requesting more light, is this:

Two nights before full Moon the Moon was in the eastern sky above Gibeon before Sunset. A hailstorm dimmed the Sun (Joshua 10:11) above Aijalon in the west at which time Joshua addressed the troops. Instead of blandly stating "Let's pursue the enemy by moonlight" Joshua pointed to the dimmed Sun, calling it the Moon, and to the bright Moon, calling it the Sun. The pursuit then continued under Moonlight. The following evening the fighting had finished and the positions of Sun and Moon approximately repeated. As judged by the troops' feelings and achievements, Sun and Moon had stood still "for a whole day".

Another Sun "miracle" is reported in Isaiah:
"I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz." So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down. (38:8)
Benjamin Scott F.R.A.S. explains:
The going back of the shadow on the dial … is dependent, not on astronomical, but on meteorological causes. The shadow is not invariably dependent upon the position of the sun, but upon the brightest point of light in the sky. If when the sun nears the western horizon a dark impenetrable cloud covers the orb, the shadow will be cast by the bright silver lining of the cloud, which may be near the zenith, and the shadow will repeat nearly a quarter of the circle. In the present century an instance is recorded by the Canon of Metz Cathedral.

In the case under consideration … the prophet is … directed to foretell, as a sign, a natural phenomenon which was about to occur.
(Quoted in BIBLE STUDY MONTHLY January/February 1995 without giving the full reference)

THE MOON

The Moon is associated with a lot of nonsense. For example:
In 1991 mathematics professor Alexander Abian suggested "Blow Up The Moon" to change Earth’s climate to "eternal spring":
Professor Abian, 68, who has taught at Iowa State for 24 years with stints at Oxford University, suggests we take the nuclear-powered rockets that were stored up during the Cold War and send them to the moon… (The Advertiser, April 27, 1991, p. 6)

There will be an end to sharp temperature differences around the planet and consequently an end to cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes… (Discover, January 1992, p. 68)
However, calculations show that to excavate a 150km-wide crater would require 10,000 times more energy than exploding all the world’s nuclear weapons! (Investigator 62) The Moon has many craters this size and bigger from asteroid impacts and was not "blown up".  

Obviously current human technology cannot "blow up the moon".

The Bible indicates the Moon will endure indefinitely:
They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure,
Throughout all generations.
 In his days [when the Messiah rules] shall the righteous flourish;
And the abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth…
(Psalm 72:5, 7 KJV)

SUN/MOON DANGERS

"The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night." (Psalm 121:6-7)

The Sun can "strike" through too little or too much sunshine.

In Australia the Sunlight-avoidance campaign seeks to reduce skin cancers. However, New Scientist says: "On balance, sunlight was found to save more lives than it takes because people in sun-drenched regions are protected from certain cancers by vitamin D..." (12 January, 2008, p. 8) Scientific American in "Cell Defenses and the Sunshine Vitamin" reveals the importance of vitamin D to bones, organs, cells, genes, and immune system. (November, 2007)

Too much Sun can "strike" by dehydration, sunburn, dilated blood vessels, premature skin aging, and blindness. Hoffman (2007) writes:
Long-term exposure to UV rays speeds up the development of cataracts—clouding of the lens that can lead to blindness if left untreated. It also increases your risk of pterygium, a growth that starts on the conjunctiva, the membrane covering the white of the eye, and can spread to the cornea… In the short term you could find yourself with "snow blindness" — a painful sunburn on your eye...
Arnold Lieber in The Lunar Effect (1978) and How The Moon Affects You (1996) found correlations between full Moon and crime, medical emergencies and homicides, but seems refuted by James Rotton (1997) and Abell & Singer (1981).

Light-levels, however, influence behavior. Travelers in ancient times preferred moonlight over darkness (Proverbs 7:20); farmers often worked by moonlight; fugitives faced greater risk from pursuers on moonlit nights; and criminals were more active at night. (Job 24:14-17) The Weekend Australian reported how "grape snatchers" used harvesting machines to strip an entire crop of grapes from a vineyard — by moonlight so as see without using artificial light. (October 2-3, 2010, p. 18)

Some people more likely get violent during full Moon. Of 91 violent patients who had to be sedated at the emergency department of a NSW hospital, 21 presented when the Moon was full. One explanation is that more people ingest alcohol or drugs on the full Moon. (The Australian, December 14, 2009, p. 7)

Researchers in Tanzania investigated 1000 lion attacks:
A lion is most likely to eat you just after a full moon… Other predators, such as wolves, may also be at their most dangerous when the moon starts to wane… (The Australian, July 22, 2011, p. 9)

THE STARS

Paul wrote: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory." This probably refers to observable differences in brightness and color.

The Bible says the stars are uncountable — God told Abraham:
Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them… So shall your descendants be. (Genesis 15:5)
I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. (Genesis 22:17)
Hipparchus in 129 BC produced a catalogue of 1025 stars. Tycho Brahé in 1602 catalogued 777 stars. Kepler in 1627 increased this to 1005. Today Astronomers estimate 200 billion in just our galaxy.

The Old Testament mentions several individual constellations:
•    Kesil (Orion) — Isaiah 13:10; Amos 5:8; Job 9:9
•    Ash (or Ayish) believed to be the Pleiades — Job 9:9; 38:31;
•    Mazzarot — Job 38:32.

"Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?" (Job 38:31) Cords are not literal but refer to whatever maintains stars in their relative positions as viewed from Earth.


PLANETS

Jude calls false Christians "wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved forever." (Verse 13) Wandering stars are planets which "wander" through the background of fixed stars. Planets actually have half their surface lighted by the Sun — "deepest darkness" refers to planets being visible at night.

In the New Testament Venus is a symbol of Jesus: "I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star." (Revelation 22:16; II Peter 1:19)


WORSHIP

Many ancient peoples worshipped the Sun, Moon and stars as gods or goddesses.

Maunder writes:

The heathen idea is that the orbs of heaven are divine, or at least that each expresses a divinity… But if these are gods, then it is sacrilegious, it is profane, to treat them as mere "things" … to be curious about their properties, influences, relations, and actions on each other…

The Bible regards the heavens as God's creation making God alone worthy of worship:
And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping… (Deuteronomy 4:19)

He [God] is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. (Job 9:9)
Another error is astrology which is opposed in the Old Testament (Isaiah 47:13) and which Maunder says "arrested the growth of astronomy":
Under its first leaders astronomy in the Classical age began to advance rapidly, but it soon experienced a deadly blight. Men were not content to observe the heavenly bodies for what they were; they endeavoured to make them the sources of divination. The great school of Alexandria (founded about 300 B.C.), the headquarters of astronomy, became invaded by the spirit of astrology… Thus from the days of Claudius Ptolemy to the end of the Middle Ages the growth of astronomy was arrested…

CONCLUSION

I agree with Maunder:
…when to all the nations surrounding Israel the heavenly bodies were objects for divination or idolatry, the attitude of the sacred writers toward them was perfect in its sanity and truth.

REFERENCES:

Abell, G.O. & Singer, B.1981 Science and the Paranormal, Junction Books, Chapter 6

Alter, D. 1973 Pictorial Guide to the Moon, 3rd Revised Edition, Thomas Y. Crowell

Hoffman, L. Fun in the sun punishing on the eyes, The Weekend Australian, January 27-28, 2007, Health, p. 18

Reneke, D. Was the Christmas Star Real? Australasian Science, Nov/Dec 2009, p. 36

Marshall, M. Seriously big rocks hit Earth's early life, New Scientist, 16 August, 2014, p. 11

Maunder, E. 1908 The Astronomy of the Bible, Richard Clay & Sons

Rotton, J. Moonshine, Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1997, pp 44-45

Steel, D. 1999 Eclipse, Headline.


Relying on science to investigate the accuracy of the Bible — on this website:


http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

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