OF RELIGION Field Guide to the

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 -- not a whole day. They read the Bible and there it said '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 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-bed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah, who told him that he was going to die. Hezekiah did not believe him and asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said, 'Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?' Hezekiah said 'It is nothing for the sun to go ahead ten degrees, but let the shadow return backwards ten degrees.' Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees backward! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! 23 hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in 2 Kings make the missing day in the universe."

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.


... For years a story has been circulated by well-meaning people whose intent is to defend the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible. The story sounds great, and is quite impressive in the telling. The problem is: it is false—from beginning to end. In the May 1991 issue of R&R, I wrote an article documenting the incorrect nature of the account, and urging our readers not to use it. Now, however, the story is being circulated again—most likely due to the fact that it has been published on the Internet. While there are many positive aspects of the Internet and the World Wide Web, one negative aspect is that error can be disseminated rapidly, and widely, with little more than the click of a mouse button. Apparently that is exactly what has happened here.

Some well-intentioned soul posted the story on the Internet. Another saw it, and sent it to a few (or a few hundred!) people via an electronic address book. Those people then forwarded it to others, who sent it to still others. Ad infinitum! Because of the serious nature of the situation (i.e., the fact that false information is being used—albeit probably unwittingly—to defend God’s Word), I have decided to break with our policy of not re-running articles in R&R, and to reprint (with some revision in order to include updated material) my May 1991 article exposing the false nature of this story. As those whose lives and teachings revolve around the importance of truth, we, of all people, should do all we can to avoid the dissemination of erroneous material, regardless of how "good" it may sound, or the "evidential value" it may appear to have. Yes, we should defend God’s Word. But no, we should not use error to do it. "Faithfully teaching the Faith" is not merely an awesome privilege, but an awesome responsibility as well. It is my hope that this article will be of use to our readers in doing just that.]

... This tale became widely circulated in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result of the efforts of Harold Hill, then-president of the Curtis Engine Company in Halethorpe (Baltimore), Maryland. In his 1974 book, How to Live Like a King’s Kid, Mr. Hill devoted an entire chapter to the story (pp. 65-77), and explained how it became so widespread. He stated that on occasion he spoke to high school and college students regarding Bible/science matters, and that the story of NASAs "missing day" was one he "told often" (pp. 65-66). Somehow (even Mr. Hill never knew how), Mary Kathryn Bryan, a columnist for the Evening World of Spencer, Indiana, received a written account of Mr. Hill’s story and ran it in her column. Afterwards, Hill noted, "Various news services picked up the story and it appeared in hundreds of places" (p. 69, emp. in orig.). The account no doubt was afforded a certain amount of built-in credibility when Mr. Hill suggested regarding the space program at Goddard: "I was involved from the start, through contractual arrangements with my company" (1974, p. 65). [As it turns out, Mr. Hill’s connection to NASA was tenuous at best; his company had a contract to service some of the government agency’s electrical generators. He never was connected in any way with mission operations or planning.]

All efforts to confirm the origin of the story have failed. After an article about it appeared in the April 1970 Bible-Science Newsletter, several readers of that magazine wrote Mr. Hill. A subsequent article in the July 1989 Bible-Science Newsletter made mention of the fact that after the 1970 article, some readers finally received a form letter from Mr. Hill in which he stated that he did not originate the tale. In his 1974 book, he acknowledged that he did not witness the incident at NASA personally, and said that he could not remember where he first heard it, but insisted that "my inability to furnish documentation of the ‘Missing day’ incident in no way detracts from its authenticity" (p. 71).

... 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.

Robert C. Newman PhD, Astrophysics

... To detect a day missing in elapsed time, it would be necessary to have a known fixed-point in time before the day that is missing. Moreover, the above story suggests that the scientists found not only that exactly one day was missing, but that 23 hours, 20 minutes of it was lost in the time of Joshua (not after 1250 BC; many conservative scholars put it back around 1400 BC), and the remaining 40 minutes was lost in the time of Hezekiah (about 700 BC). So in this case, we need two fixed-points: one before the time of Joshua and another between the times of Joshua and Hezekiah. These fixed-points must be known with an accuracy of a few minutes both by astronomical calculation and by contemporary historical records in order to detect the discrepancy.

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 281-282):

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-professor, an accomplished astronomer, who made the strange discovery that the earth was twenty-four hours out of schedule! That is to say, there had been twenty-four hours lost out of time. In discussing this point with his fellow-professor, Professor Totten challenged this man to investigate the question of the inspiration of the Bible. He said, "You do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and I do. Now here is a fine opportunity to prove whether or not the Bible is inspired. You begin to read at the very beginning and read as far as need be, and see if the Bible cannot account for your missing time."

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-four hours accounted for. Then I went back and checked up on my figures, and found that at the time of Joshua there were only twenty-three hours and twenty minutes lost. If the Bible made a mistake of forty minutes, it is not the Book of God!"

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-eighth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. In this chapter, Isaiah has left us the thrilling story of the king, Hezekiah, who was sick unto death. In reponse to his prayer, God promised to add fifteen more years to his life. To confirm the truth of His promise, God offered a sign. He said, "Go out in the court and look at the sundial of Ahaz. I will make the shadow on the sundial back up ten degrees!" Isaiah recounts that that king looked, and while he looked, the shadow turned backward ten degrees, by which ten degrees it had already gone down. This settles the case, for ten degrees on the sundial is forty minutes on the face of the clock! So the accuracy of the Book was established to the satisfaction of this exacting critic.

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-Israelist, believing that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel, and an Adventist, who predicted the reign of Antichrist would occur in the seven-year period 1892-99. Among his many writings is Joshua's Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, published in 1890. After some exertion and considerable frustration, I succeeded in locating a copy of the third revised edition, published in 1891. Since then, the work has been reprinted by Destiny Publishers of Merrimac, Massachusetts.

Reading Totten's book brought another shock -- the dramatic story of a skeptic convinced does not appear! Instead, Totten himself, a non-skeptic all along, seeks to show that a total of 24 hours are missing from past time, of which 23 hours, 20 minutes were lost in Joshua's day, and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah ...




Unless otherwise noted, all original material on this Field Guide website
is © 2001-2011 by Pamela Starr Dewey.

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.


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