30th October 1207 BC is identified as the date of Egyptian Pharaohs, in particular the date of the reign of Ramesses the Great. Cambridge university researchers proved that the oldest solar eclipse ever occurred on the same date and is also mentioned in Bible.
Using a combination of the biblical text and an ancient Egyptian text, researchers were able to clarify the text from Old Testament Book of Joshua which has bewildered the biblical scholars for centuries.
It scripts that Joshua led the people of Israel into Canaan – a region of the ancient Near East that covered modern-day Israel and Palestine . Meanwhile he prayed, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon. And the Sun stood still, and the Moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies”.
“If these words are describing a real observation, then a major astronomical event was taking place – the question for us to figure out is what the text actually means” said Prof Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy.
“Modern English translations, which follow the King James translation of 1611, usually interpret this text to mean that the Sun and the Moon stopped moving” said Humphreys. “But going back to the original Hebrew text, we determined that an alternative meaning could be that the Sun and Moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining” he said. “In this context, the Hebrew words could be referring to a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, and the Sun appears to stop shining” he added.
“This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand still’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses” he said.
Earlier historians claimed it was impossible to investigate the possibility due to the laborious calculations required. Earlier researchers also only looked at total eclipses, failing to consider that the text may refer to an annular eclipse, in which the moon passes directly from in front of the sun, but is too far away to cover the disc completely, they said.
In order to date the eclipse, the Cambridge researchers Prof Humphreys and co-author Graeme Waddington developed a new “eclipse code” which examined variations in the Earth’s rotation over time.
Historical evidence from the Merneptah Stele, a text from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah, son of the Ramesses the Great, shows that the Israelis were in Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC. And from the calculation of researchers it was determined that the only annular eclipse visible from Canaan between 1500 and 1050 BC was on 30 October 1207 BC, in the afternoon.
The large granite block, held in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, says that it was carved in the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign and mentions a campaign in Canaan in which he defeated the people of Israel.
Prof Humphreys added “Solar eclipses are often used as a fixed point to date events in the ancient world”.
Using these new calculations, the reign of Merneptah began in 1210 or 1209 BC. As it is known from Egyptian texts how long he and his father reigned for, it would mean that Ramesses the Great reigned from 1276-1210 BC, with a precision of plus or minus one year, the most accurate dates available.
“The precise dates of the pharaohs have been subject to some uncertainty among Egyptologists, but this new calculation, if accepted, could lead to an adjustment in the dates of several of their reigns and enable us to date them precisely.”
Previous claims of the earliest recorded eclipse include images carved into stone cairns at Loughcrew in Co Meath, Ireland, more than 5,000 years ago while Greek astronomer Ptolemy claimed that the first recorded eclipse was observed by the Babylonians in March 721 BC.