Urban Legend: Joshua's Missing Day Found!

The Legend and a Rebuttal

An Overview of the Urban Legend

NASA scientists have discovered a "missing day" in the history of the cosmos, thus proving the veracity of the account in Joshua 10 of the sun standing still! So those who circulate the claim cited below would have their correspondents believe. This urban legend has been circulating for over thirty years by word of mouth, in print, and now in e-mail chain letters. The intent of the legend is to demonstrate the absolute, literal truth of the biblical account in both Joshua 10:12-13 and 2 Kings 20:9-11 by means of a purported investigation by NASA scientists. The legend is presented first (including a concluding note urging recipients of the chain e-letter to forward it to their friends), followed by a rebuttal.

The Urban Legend


For all you scientists out there and for all of you who have a hard time convincing many of these individuals regarding the truth of the Bible ... here's something that apparently gives evidence of God's awesome creation and demonstrates that He is still in control.

Mr Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore, Maryland, and a consultant in the space program, relates the following development. I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland.

They were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space, where they would be 100 years and 1000 years from now. We have to know this information, so we won't send a satellite up and have it bump into something later on during its orbits, since they're impacted by these astronomical issues. We have to lay out the orbits in terms of the life of the satellite, and where the planets will be, so the whole thing will not bog down.

They ran the computer measurements back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards. They called in the service department to check it out and they said, "What's wrong?"

Well, they found there is a day missing in space over the measurements in elapsed time. They scratched their heads and figuratively tore their hair out. They searched and searched for a solution. But after many days there was no answer to be found.


Finally, a Christian man on the team said, "You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still." While the others didn't believe him, they didn't have an answer either, so they said, "Show us."

He got a Bible and went back to the book of Joshua, where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anyone with "common sense." There they found the Lord saying to Joshua, "Fear them not, I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee." Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell they would overpower them. So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still!

That's right--"The sun stood still and the moon stayed, and hasted not to go down about a whole day!" The astronauts and scientists said, "There is the missing day!"

They checked the computers going back into the time this text was written and found it was close, but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua's day was 23 hours and 20 minutes--not a whole day. They read the Bible and there it was "about (approximately) a day."

These little words in the Bible are important, but they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for 40 minutes, you'll still be in trouble 1,000 years from now. The 40 minutes had to be found, because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits.

As the Christian employee thought about it once again, he remembered somewhere in the Bible where it said the sun went backwards. The scientists told him he was out of his mind, but again they decided to check out the book and there they read these words in 2 Kings.

King Hezekiah, on his deathbed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die. Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said, "Do you want the sun to go ahead 10 degrees?" Hezekiah said, "It is nothing for the sun to go ahead 10 degrees, but let the shadow return backward 10 degrees." Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees backward!

Well, ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in Second Kings make the missing day in the universe!

Isn't it amazing? God and His Word is Truth! References: Joshua 10:8 and 12-13; and 2 Kings 20:9-11. Forward this to as many people who would think this is equally as cool.


First, Harold Hill was indeed a real person and the president of Curtis Engine & Equipment, Inc., in Baltimore, MD. He died in 1986, and he did tell the story that's related in the urban legend. Although he claimed to be a consultant for NASA, in actuality all he did was contract to operate and maintain some diesel engines (his company's business). That hardly qualifies him as a consultant, especially since the implication of his story is that he was consulting on matters related to computer calculations of the telemetry of the sun, moon, and planets. The story of the "Missing Day" is one of several "Urban Legends" tracked by the Web site "Ship of Fools." It appears exactly as it's given above on their site, followed by a brief rebuttal ( http://www.ship-of-fools.com/Myths/05Myth.html), which claims that the NASA Public Affairs Office has issued a denial that NASA ever uncovered a missing day.

Second, the Web site of Curtis Engine & Equipment, Inc., contains the following statement: "Curtis Engine & Equipment, Inc. does not substantiate or continue Harold's personal research. Unfortunately, we have no information concerning the "Missing Day" nor do we have any connections at NASA who would be able to corroborate Harold's claims" ( http://www.curtisengine.com/harold_hill.html).

Regarding the specific claims made in the story, based on my background as a former science teacher, my study of and work with computers and computer programs for more than 25 years, my continuing interest and reading on various scientific subjects, and my seminary training, I have the following comments.

1. Claim: NASA ran a computer program to check the future position of the sun, moon, and planets over hundreds and thousands of years so that satellites wouldn't crash into them.

Fact: No satellite lasts hundreds, much less thousands of years, so there would be no reason to run the program more than 100 years into the future for any satellite, because it wouldn't last that long, especially satellites built in the sixties, when Harold Hill first began telling his story.

Fact: Minor errors in calculations can be accounted for by computers, but chaos theory tells us that complex calculations extrapolated over long periods of time are increasingly and exponentially inaccurate. It's the same reason that the weather can only be predicted a few days in advance with any accuracy, even with today's supercomputers. Calculating the positions of the sun, moon, and planets accurately to within a 24-hour window over 3500 years ago (the traditional date of Joshua) is extremely unlikely. In addition to slight errors in calculation that could accumulate over time, unknown events (e.g., a comet or asteroid crashing into a planet or passing close enough to affect a planet's orbit) could also throw present estimates off by a significant margin.

Fact: NASA would have no reason to run the program backwards to check for problems with satellites (unless they were planning on time travel!). They certainly could have run the program in reverse, assuming it was written to allow backwards extrapolation, but if they did, it wouldn't have had anything to do with calculations relevant to satellites.

2. Claim: While the program was running backwards, calculating the positions of the luminaries in past time, the computer program stopped, indicating an error either in the input data or in the output "as compared to the standards."

Fact: What standards? If the scientists had had standards telling them where the sun, moon, and planets were at points in time past, they wouldn't have needed the program to calculate their positions!

Fact: If the whole universe except for life on earth stopped for a day, then started again, there would be absolutely no way to tell. Backwards extrapolations would assume continuous motion according to the laws of physics, and since there are no "standards" to compare them with (see above), the computer would sail right along without a problem. I have a historical analogy for this. If today is October 24, 2003, what was the date exactly 300 years ago, assuming that years have 365 days, except for leap years, with 366? October 24, 1703, right? Wrong! The date was October 13, 1703. That's because Britain and America, along with other countries, changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, losing 11 days (the change had to do with problems with calculating leap years). The point is that, unless you knew about the historical change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (an existing "standard"!), you'd have no way of knowing that any days were "missing." God could have stopped the whole universe, or parts of it, a million times between the beginning of time and the time of Galileo (who invented the telescope, allowing accurate measurements and the calculation of "standards"), and we'd have no way of knowing.

3. Claim: The elapsed time that was missing in Joshua's day was 23 hours and 20 minutes (see Josh 10:12-13).

Fact: There is no way to get from "about a whole day" in Hebrew to 23 hours and 20 minutes. "About a whole day" could mean about 24 hours or about 12 hours, give or take a couple of hours.

Fact: There is no reason for assuming from a scientific standpoint that 23 hours and 20 minutes were missing. Remember, there are no "standards" to compare the supposed computer extrapolations to.

4. Claim: In Hezekiah's day, God made the shadow of the sun go backwards 10 degrees, or forty minutes (see 2 Kgs 20:9-11).

Fact: Reversing the earth 10 degrees on its axis will result in a day that is 40 minutes longer than normal (10 degrees * 1 day/360 degrees * 24 hours/day * 60 minutes/hour = 40 minutes). The problem is, the Hebrew text says nothing about 10 degrees. The word which the KJV renders "degrees" actually means "steps," probably steps used as a sundial in the present case. In the first place, a sundial wouldn't be divided into steps small enough to measure four-minute periods. Sundials aren't accurate at that small an interval, since the position of the sun in the sky moves slightly day to day according to the time of year (variations in the azimuth). Sundials wouldn't be subdivided into units as small as 1/15 of an hour (4 minutes), the units required for 10 steps to equal 40 minutes. Finally, it is important to note that the misinterpretation "10 degrees" is simply a misunderstanding of the KJV. The KJV translators weren't using the term "degree" in its mathematical sense of "1/360th of a circle" but rather in its more general sense of "an interval." So the KJV translators were right, but Hill misunderstood what they meant when he concocted his story.

Fact: Like the "missing" 23 hours and 20 minutes, the "missing" 40 minutes cannot be proven to be missing, because there are no "standards" with which to compare the computer extrapolations.

5. Claim: Adding the missing 23 hours 20 minutes of Joshua to the missing 40 minutes of 2 Kings yields 24 hours, or exactly one day.

Fact: Since Hill is claiming that these measurements are exact, then they should add up to exactly one day. However, a day is not exactly 24 hours long. The "mean (average) solar day" is indeed 24 hours 00 minutes 00 seconds, but that's just an average. The vast majority of days are longer or shorter, by as much as fifteen minutes, depending on the position of the earth in its elliptical orbit around the sun. The length of a sidereal day (one complete rotation on the earth's axis) is constant (aside from gradual slowing over millions of years), but it is only 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds.

Concluding Remarks

I find such attempts to prove the Bible true amusing, perplexing, and aggravating. They're amusing because of the lengths these people will go to bend the normal meaning of words, invent "facts," and ignore science. These were the same sorts of arguments people made to Galileo when he tried to tell them that the earth wasn't the center of the universe. They're perplexing because I don't understand why some people seem to be so desperate to prove their faith that they'll resort to almost anything not to have to change their views about the Bible. A faith that's based on distortion, misunderstanding, and deceit isn't very well founded. They're aggravating because non-Christians can use urban legends such as this to "prove" how silly Christians are, or how silly Christianity is. Of course, the fact that some Christians do innocently buy into such myths doesn't prove anything about either their intelligence or the validity of their religion. However, it certainly doesn't make Christians look like brain surgeons!

Intelligent Christians need to take a stand against urban legends such as this and against all other attempts to prove the validity of the Bible by means of twisted logic, misrepresentations of science, and fabrications. Faith is one thing; gullibility is another. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he answered, in part, "You shall love the Lord your God with all ... your mind." Forms of Christianity that require people to set aside their mental faculties are an affront to God and an indirect assault on Christianity, and progressive Christians need to take a firm stand against such nonsense.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology