Religious Urban Legends:
NASA and the “Missing Day”
Have NASA scientists "confirmed" the Bible stories of Joshua's Long Day and Hezekiah's Sundial?
Overview of the claims of the legend
It is alleged that scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center were bewildered one day to discover that a day was somehow "missing" in history. They had been running computer calculations on future and past positions of the sun, moon and planets. And the computer "locked up" at one point in the past, indicating that it could not continue its calculations because "a day was missing." Someone on the team of scientists remembers the Bible story about "Joshua's Long Day" from the Book of Joshua, and wonders if it may provide an explanation of this amazing find. A Bible is brought out and the story is examined. But the Joshua story would allegedly only account for "23 hours and 20 minutes" of the missing day. Then the religious member of the team remembers the Bible story about the sun dial in Hezekiah's time, and the retreat of the shadow of the sun backward 10 degrees, as recorded in the book of 2 Kings. They calculate this to represent 40 minutes of time, and thus the scientists are amazed that the Bible has "explained" the full 24 hour problem that they had encountered.
Typical text of the Legend
Although the following text is from clear back in 1970, this same exact wording is typical in current email versions of the NASA story. Other versions occasionally contain even more specific details such as the location of the alleged events, but the basic outline of the story remains the same.
The Space Program and The Bible
(Yellville, AR, Mountain Echo, 26 Mar 70)
Did you know that the space program is busy proving that what has been called "myth" in the Bible is true? Mr. Harold Hill, president of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore, MD, and a consultant in the space program related the following development:
"I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts checking the position of sun, moon and planets out in space where they would be 100 years and 1000 years from now. We have to know this so we don't send a satellite up and have it bump into something later on in its orbits. We have to lay out the orbit 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 measurement 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 in the 'info' 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 "It's perfect.' The IBM head of operations said 'What's wrong?' 'Well, we have found that there is a day missing in space in elapsed time.' They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer.
"One religious fellow in the team said, 'You know, one time I was in Sunday School
and they talked about the sun standing still.' They didn't believe him, but they
didn't have any other answer so they said 'Show us'. So he got a Bible and went back
to the book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anybody
who has 'common sense.' There they found the Lord saying to Joshua, 'Fear them not;
I have delivered them into your 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 him. 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
a whole day!' Well, they checked the computers, going back into the time it 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 -
"These little words in the Bible are important. But they were still in trouble because,
if you cannot account for 40 minutes, you'll be in big trouble 1000 years from now.
Forty minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits.
Well, this religious fellow also remembered somewhere in the Bible it said the sun
went backwards. The spacemen told him he was out of his mind. But they got out the
Book and they read these words in 2 Kings 20: Hezekiah, on his death-
Isn't that amazing! Our God is rubbing their noses in his TRUTH. That's right.
Conclusion regarding the validity of the claims of the Legend
This story has been posted as "fact" in recent years on a number of Internet websites. It has been spread across the world via email chain letters. And it has been posted over and over on religious Internet forums. In all these cases, it seems to be offered as a contemporary story. Although no specific date is given, most readers likely assume the events of the story must have occurred recently. But the story, sometimes with the exact same wording, has been circulating for over forty years. Prior to the advent of the Internet, it was spread by such print media as magazines, newspapers, and church newsletters.
And from the earliest days of its circulation, it has drawn criticism as being a hoax. The scientific basis of the alleged "facts" regarding "calculating" a lost day in history with the help of a computer has been refuted over and over by reputable scientists. And there has never been any documentation of the events of the story made available. A number of researchers have attempted to trace down the origin of the story, and some of their conclusions are outlined in the documentation section below. The bottom line of their conclusion is that the alleged event has absolutely no basis in fact.
Documentation regarding the legend
The following short excerpts are from the website of Reason and Revelation: A Monthly Journal of Christian Evidences. See the link above for the complete February 1999 article.
HAS NASA DISCOVERED JOSHUA’S "LOST DAY"? by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
... For years a story has been circulated by well-
... This tale became widely circulated in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result
of the efforts of Harold Hill, then-
All efforts to confirm the origin of the story have failed. After an article about
it appeared in the April 1970 Bible-
... The only conclusion one can draw, respecting the available facts, is that this story is false and should not be circulated. We do a disservice to God’s Word when we attempt to "defend" it with stories such as these that, with a bit of common sense and a small amount of research, can be shown to have no factual foundation whatsoever.
The following short excerpts are from the website of the Christian newsletter Science Speaks. See the link above for the complete article.
JOSHUA'S LONG DAY AND THE NASA COMPUTERS
Robert C. Newman PhD, Astrophysics
... To detect a day missing in elapsed time, it would be necessary to have a known
The only method I know of which could produce such accuracy would be observations of eclipses of the sun, since these are total only along narrow paths and only last for a few minutes at any specific locality. But the earliest dateable eclipse of the sun occurred in the year 1217 BC, after the time of Joshua (see the article "Eclipse" in the 1970 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica). In any case, ancient eclipse observations are not given with a accuracy of a few minutes even by local time, so confirmation of Joshua's long day by science seems to be impossible at present. This strongly suggests that the computer story is a hoax.
In addition, the main features of this story are older than either NASA or electronic
computers! In his Harmony of Science and Scripture, published in 1936, Harry Rimmer
recounts the following story (pp 281-
There is a book by Prof. C. A. Totten of Yale, written in 1890, which establishes
the case beyond the shadow of a doubt. The condensed account of his book, briefly
summarized, is as follows:
Professor Totten wrote of a fellow-
The astronomer accepted the challenge and began to read. Some time later, when the
two men chanced to meet on the campus, Professor Totten asked his friend if he had
proved the question to his satisfaction. His colleague replied, "I believe I have
definitely proved that the Bible is not the Word of God. In the tenth chapter of
Joshua, I found the missing twenty-
Professor Totten said, "You are right, in part at least. But does the Bible say that a whole day was lost at the time of Joshua?" So they looked and saw that the text said, "about the space of a whole day."
The word "about" changed the whole situation, and the astronomer took up his reading
again. He read on until he came to the thirty-
Comparing this account with the NASA computer story, notice that both include the same three numbers: a whole day missing overall; 23 hours and 20 minutes lost at the time of Joshua; and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah. Here, too, we have a dramatic (but rather different) story of how a skeptic is brought to see the truth of Scripture. In addition, there is reference made to a book by a C. A. Totten, which dates back to 1890.
Charles Adiel Lewis Totten is listed in Who Was Who in America (1:1247). He was a
professor of military science at Yale from 1889 to 1892, when he resigned to spend
more time on his religious studies. He was a British-
Reading Totten's book brought another shock -
Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this Field Guide website
is © 2001-
Careful effort has been made to give credit as clearly as possible to any specific material quoted or ideas extensively adapted from any one resource. Corrections and clarifications regarding citations for any source material are welcome, and will be promptly added to any sections which are found to be inadequately documented as to source.