Comparing Rimmer’s account with the NASA computer story, notice that both include the same numbers: one day missing overall, 23 hours and 20 minutes at the time of Joshua and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah. Here, too, we have a dramatic tale of a skeptic’s coming to see the truth of Scripture. The parallels between the two are obvious, but we must go back to Totten, too.
Charles Adiel Lewis Totten is listed in Who Was Who in America (1:1247) as a professor of military science at Yale from 1889 to 1892, who 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 from 1892 to 1899. Among his many writings is Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz, published, as Rimmer reports, 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 surprise: 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 is missing from past time, of which 23 hours and 20 minutes were lost in Joshua’s day and 40 minutes at the time of Hezekiah. Totten does not actually reproduce the calculations by which he seeks to prove his “case”; he merely gives the results. On pages 39, 59, and 61 of the third edition, the fact emerges that Totten relies on an assumed date of creation—the autumnal equinox, September 22, 4000 BC (p. 61)—as the “known” fixed point before the long day of Joshua. Taking the first day of creation to be a Sunday, by his understanding of Scripture, and finding that by calculating back from the present, September 22, 4000 BC would fall on a Monday, Totten concludes, “It can come so by no possible mathematics without the interpolation or ‘intercalation’ of exactly 24 hours” (p. 59).
Totten’s presentation obscures his method of discovery. Apparently, he started with a missing 24 hours, then decided from the ten “steps” mentioned in the Hezekiah incident to assign 40 minutes to that event (since the Sun moves about 10 degrees in 40 minutes), leaving 23 hours and 20 minutes to Joshua. But Totten has mentioned no fixed point between the times of Joshua and Hezekiah, and therefore he has no way of showing, independent of the biblical material or otherwise, that just such a division of the total time is warranted. Totten’s work provides no objective support to the scriptural accounts.
Totten does cite the source for his exact creation date: it was calculated by the British Chronological Association. This group, headed by premier chronologist Jabez Bunting Dimbleby, used to publish an almanac entitled All Past Time in which they claimed to be able to account for every day since creation. Their 1885 almanac suggests that they established their chronology by adding up the numbers given in the Old Testament, using a liberal supply of speculation regarding ancient methods of keeping the lunar and solar calendars aligned. The work is dauntingly technical, but a few minutes’ reading convinced me that their method of interpreting Scripture is often arbitrary. In light of archeology and a plethora of research data, few conservative Christians—even among those who believe the earth is much younger than geologists are willing to concede—would now accept the 4000 BC date as the precise date of creation. Totten’s scheme depends entirely on knowing that date.
In summary, Totten’s work has no foundation independent of the Bible, and it is questionable whether he has properly understood Scripture in regard to his one fixed point, the date of creation. Sometime between Totten’s work in 1890 and Rimmer’s in 1936, a story seems to have taken shape, a story in which Totten becomes a bystander and a skeptical astronomer becomes the calculator. Since 1936, the story seems to have been updated with the addition of “space age” features, NASA’s Space Flight Center scientists replacing the lone astronomer and computers to speed up the tedious calculations.
Does this story about a story have any lessons for us? I think so. All Christians like to see skeptics turn to Christ, and we may be tempted to “bend” the truth a little to make a stronger argument. Perhaps we rationalize that the end (eternal life) justifies the means (a little shading of the truth). I strongly disagree.
In the long run, when the truth comes to light, such distortions, even if they’re not deliberate, only give unbelievers a basis for claiming that the Bible writers might have been guilty of the same thing: distortion. Our attempt to “help” God thus becomes an argument for unbelief. My hope is that Christians will demonstrate such zeal for truth that unbelievers will become convinced that we really have it. We would do well to lovingly but firmly rebuke the Rimmers and the Hills and others who damage our credibility. They (and we) must be careful in checking sources, especially for material favorable to our position. We have no need to invent stories to make Christianity look good. Excellent evidences for the truth of Christianity are available in abundance. Those who refuse to investigate it or choose to reject it will have no good answer on the day of judgment. Let’s not supply them with a ready excuse.
This article was originally published on reasons.org in January 1997.
Learn more about Joshua’s long day and other Bible mysteries.
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Will we find the remains of Noah’s ark or the Ark of the Covenant?
Dr. Hugh Ross addresses these questions and several more Bible controversies in Mysteries Examined, a three-part DVD with nearly four hours of content, including Joshua’s Long Day, Quantum Apologetics, and Unraveling Starlight and Time with philosopher-theologian Kenneth Samples. Order your copy of Mysteries Examinedtoday.