The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that when he visited Egypt, the priests there showed him an ancient manuscript which told the story of a day which lasted about twice as long as a normal day. Now the Egyptians had water clocks at that time so that they could accurately measure the duration of the day, not being dependent on the motion of the sun, moon, and stars, as would other people around the world. Totten’s second account is from the Chinese which we shall present later.
For the Egyptian account, we find that the French classical scholar, Fernand Crombette, translated some Egyptian hieroglyphics which tell of Joshua’s long day. The text starts out with an edict from the king to exempt from taxation those who had been victims of a flood some two weeks earlier. Evidently, the flood had been caused by an unusually high tide. The cause, according to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, was:
The sun, thrown into confusion, had remained low on the horizon, and by not rising had spread terror amongst the great doctors. Two days had been rolled into one. The morning was lengthened to one-and-a-half times the normal period of effective daylight. A certain time after this divine phenomenon, the master had an image built to keep further misfortune from the country.
Hephaistos… grant protection to your worshipers. Prevent the words of these foreign travelers from having any effect. They are impostors. Let these enemies of the sacrifices to the images be destroyed in the temples of the great gods by the people of all classes. Make life harder for these cursed worshipers of the Eternal. Punish them. Increase the hardships of these shepherds. Reduce the size of their herds. Burn their dwellings.
Rameses, our celestial ancestral chief; you who forced these wretched people to work, who ill-treated them, who gave them no help when they were in need: cast them into the sea. They made the moon stop in a small angle at the edge of the horizon. In a small angle on the edge of the horizon, the sun itself, which had just risen at the spot where the moon was going, instead of crossing the sky stayed where it was. Whilst the moon, following a narrow path, reduced its speed and climbed slowly, the sun stopped moving and its intensity of light was reduced to the brightness at daybreak. The waves formed a wall of water against the boats that were in the harbor and those that had left it. Those fishermen that had ventured onto the deck to watch the waves were washed into the sea.
The tide, which had risen high, overflowed into the plains where the herds were grazing. The cattle drowned represented half the herds of Lower Egypt. The remains of abandoned boats broken against the sides of the canals were piled up in places. Their anchors, which should have protected them, had been ground into them. Quite out of control, the sea had penetrated deep into the country. The expanding waters reached the fortified walls constructed by Rameses, the celestial ancestral chief. The sea swept around both sides of the region behind, sterilizing the gardens as it went and causing openings in the dikes. A great country had been turned into a wilderness and brought into poverty. All the crops that had been planted had been destroyed and heaps of cereal shoots lay scattered on the ground.
The Crombette account is significant for a number of reasons. For one, it tells that the moon “climbed slowly,” which would be correct if the moon kept its orbital speed but stopped its daily motion. This is allowed by Joshua 10:13’s weaker statement on the moon: “and the moon stayed,” instead of the stronger “stopped,” for “stay” may mean “to linger or wait to witness an event.” Likewise, Crombette’s interpretation that the moon was going to the spot where the sun had risen is thus explained by having the moon continue its orbital motion and its being located west of the sun, perhaps near last quarter.
Whether or not the tides mentioned in translation were really tides or a storm swell cannot be said. It is possible that the tidal bulge kept moving, but it is unlikely that the narrows of the Nile delta and the narrowness of the canals mentioned caused a bore wave, for then such should always have been the case under normal tidal conditions. It is possible, though unlikely, that the breakup for the tidal bulge may have caused waves which interfered with each other and that Egypt’s dikes might have broken at one or two points by constructive interference, thus the resulting flooding. But it seems more likely that the events mentioned in Egypt were the result of a severe storm swell in the Mediterranean caused by the very storm that formed the hailstones mentioned in Joshua 10:11:
And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Beth-horon, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
Although most commentators insist that Joshua’s long day started at noon or later, the sun is here mentioned low on the horizon. The Bible itself does not mention the time when Joshua spake. For comparison with the Egyptian account, and complementing it, there is a West African story of a long night. In that account, the night lasted way too long because the owl overslept and did not awaken the sun.
The second secular source about Joshua’s long day, which was mentioned by Totten, is based on what seems to be a recently lost ancient Chinese manuscript. In 1810, Gill presents the account:
In the Chinese history it is reported, that in the time of their seventh emperor, Yao, the sun did not set for ten days, and that men were afraid the world would be burnt, and there were great fires at that time; and though the time of the sun’s standing still were enlarged beyond the bounds of truth, yet it seems to refer to this fact, and was manifestly about the same time; for this miracle was wrought in the year of the world 2554, which fell in the 75th , or, as some say, the 67th year of that emperor’s reign, who reigned 90 years.
Now the year of the world 2554 is identical to Bouw’s independently derived biblical chronology for the date of Joshua’s long day. Incidentally, note that a 90-year reign (not Yao’s age) is thoroughly consistent with the 110 to 120 year ages achieved by Moses, Aaron, and Joshua who would have been contemporaries of Yao. The length of time mentioned by the Chinese, ten days, may be too long simply because the Chinese did not have clocks which ran independently of the sun’s motion so that the estimate would be purely subjective. Probably, the duration was exaggerated both by the trauma of the event and in the transmission of the story through time.
Despite the solid-sounding account by Gill, manuscripts which have survived to the twentieth century do not include the long day. The first mention of the long day associated with emperor Yao was by Hübner in 1733. Although Hübner was quoted during that century, no manuscript exists today. Those manuscripts which have survived to this day differ from Hübner’s in at least two ways: first, there is no mention of the 10-day long day, and second, the reign of Yao is reported to be 100 years, not 90.
Although there is no mention of the ten-day long day in current Chinese accounts, there is one in the “Brahman Yast,” one of the books of the Avesta. That reference is not, however, to a past event. Instead, it is a prophecy. The Avesta says that 1600 years from the date of the Persian culture (corresponding to about A.D. 1200), Hushedar will be born and, at age 30, he will command the sun to stand still for 10 days and nights. Obviously, the prophecy never came to pass, still it is strongly reminiscent of the Chinese account and may either have confused Hübner or else may reflect the actual Chinese account used by Hübner.
Tales relating to Joshua’s long day abound in North America. Almost all of the tales in North America tell of a long night. The only exceptions are those related in the chapter on Hezekiah’s sign. Olcott has collected five of particular interest.
1. The Ojibways tell of a long night without any light.
2. The Wyandot Indians told missionary Paul Le Jeune of a long night.
3. The Dogrib Indians of the North-West tell of a day when the sun was caught at noon and it instantly became dark.
4. The Omahas say that once the sun was caught in a trap by a rabbit who checked his traps at the break of dawn, presumably before sunrise. (This may be Hezekiah’s sign, instead.) Finally,
5. the Bungee Indians from the Lake Winnipeg area of Canada also tell of a long night.
The preponderance of long night tales in the Americas would rule out the theory that Joshua’s long day was a miracle which was local to Canaan. It also rules out the speculation that the story migrated around the world, for then it would everywhere be a long day (or a long night), but not a mixture of long days and long nights.
Turning to the south, we find that Central and South America similarly experienced a long night. In the Annals of Chauhtitlan, the Mexican Indians tell of a long night. The Aztecs wrote of an extended period of time when the sun did not rise. According to their legend, there had been no sun for many years.
…So a conclave of the gods was called in Teotihuacan, and there it was decided that one of them should offer himself as a sacrifice that once again the world might have a sun… The sacrificed gods had disappeared in the brazier’s flames, but as there was no sign of the sun, the remaining wonder when it would first appear. At long last, the sun burst forth… But the sun, despite his brilliant light, did not move; he hung on the edge of the sky, apparently unwilling to begin his appointed task.
Likewise, in their national book the Popol Vuh, (which translates into “Book of the Princes,”) the Quiché Mayans of Guatemala wrote about the people’s reaction to a long night with these words:
They did not sleep; they remained standing and great was the anxiety of their hearts and their stomachs for the coming of the dawn and the day… “Oh, …if we only could see the rising of the sun! What shall we do now?” …They talked, but they could not calm their hearts which were anxious for the coming of the dawn.
Now in recent years, it has become fashionable to assail the above translations on the grounds that they are biased towards the Judeo-Christian history of the world. For example, the Aztec god who sacrificed himself was to have the honor of becoming the sun. His condition for rising was that the gods kill themselves, which they ultimately were forced to do. It would seem that this is a creation myth rather than an account of Joshua’s long day, but the nature of Central American folktales is very complex. For example, according to the myth, there had been a sun before, and it had not risen for so long that people feared it dead. So how is it a creation account?
A similar situation exists with the Popol Vuh. According to some, that entire work is nothing more than one long creation myth. But the creation of man comes very late in the Popol Vuh, long after people have existed and had many adventures. The text quoted above from Goetz and Morley lies embedded in a lengthy section which starts with the longing and waiting for the sun, digresses into the origin of fire, and makes mention of the parting of the sea for the newly-arrived forefathers before resuming the story of the long wait for the dawn. If this is a creation account which occurred before the creation of man and which speaks of the creation of the sun, why are there many priests and tribes in existence? Why the reference to the forefathers who existed then if man had yet to be created? Such situations are typical in the literature of that region and time, and it may easily be understood in the light of the purpose of these tales: they exist to tie together salient pieces of history. So it is, too, with the Aztec tale. There was a long night, but the story has been expanded almost beyond recognition. Similarly with the Popol Vuh there is evidence of changes in the tale even over the last few centuries.
As for the charge that early translators were biased, are the anti-Christian translators not equally biased for their view? The fact remains, there is a reference here to a long night, exactly as would be expected if the various accounts around the world of Joshua’s long day were true. Besides the accounts of a long night in North and Central America, there is also at least one story of a long night in Peru. According to Montesinos, the collector of the tale, the sun was hidden for nearly 20 hours in the third year of the reign of Titu Yupanqui Pachacuti II because of sin in the land. Titu Yupanqui Pachacuti II ruled about 1400 B.C.
Stories of a long day and stories of a long night: are there any stories of a long sunrise or a long sunset? There may be some uncollected stories of a long sunrise in Africa, but none have surfaced. There is, however, a story of a long sunset in the Fiji Islands. J. G. Frazer tells of a tradition on the island of Lakomba in the eastern Fiji Islands where there is a hillside with a patch of weeds on it. The story goes that natives will tie the weeds together in order to keep the sun from going down. It is said that the sun did, indeed, stop from setting at one time.
Although there are several other traditions of stopping the sun, most are remotely, if at all, connected to Joshua’s long day. In Australia, for example, if a native wanted to stop the sun he would place a piece of sod in the fork of a tree. Similar traditions exist in Africa and in Central America. A tradition of that nature in Japan meant nothing more than the belief that a man’s friends would wait dinner for him if he was going to arrive home late. Still, underlying all but the last of these traditions is the idea that the sun can, and by implication, did stop at least once upon a time.
A handful of long day and long night tales do not seem to fit. The Hawaiian tale of Maui’s capture of the sun is one, for it implies an arrest of the sun at sunrise. It is similar to the myths from other Polynesian Islands peoples, and those similarities serve to tie it to Peru’s Hezekiah’s sign accounts, not Joshua’s long day.
Three people have a tale of a night which lasted several months: the Japanese, an ancient tribe in Lithuania, and the Cherokee Indians of North America. The Cherokee and Japanese tales are virtually identical and seem to stem from the same source. Both have the sun hiding in a cave for a long time and being tricked out of the cave.
The account from Lithuania was collected by Jerome of Prague when he visited the “heathen” of the area in the early 15th century. There he discovered a tribe which had migrated from the east and which also told tales of a night lasting several months.
There are two possible reasons for these accounts. All could be related to the Japanese account and could reflect either a volcanic eruption which darkened the sky over Japan and Siberia for months on end or else, it could be a tale of the long Arctic night, almost six months long at the pole. A two-month night is experienced about the latitude of Point Barrow, Alaska. Perhaps the accounts relate to these natural events. In any case, they stand in stark contrast with the other long day and long night tales from around the world.