Moonlight Musings

Sam Shamoun & Jochen Katz

This is a brief reply to Sami Zaatari’s charge that the Bible contains a scientific mistake since it claims that the moon actually emits light.

In the first place, the Bible writers were no more mistaken than modern writers and meteorologists today who happen to speak of the moonlight or the light of the moon. The Bible authors employed observational or phenomenological language, just as we all do even today, to describe their environment and surroundings. Hence, when a meteorologist speaks of the time of sunrise or sunset we automatically realize that s/he is using such language to describe the sun from our vantage point, i.e., that from the perspective of the person on earth the sun does appear to rise and set. In a similar manner, the Bible writers can speak of the light of the moon without this being a scientific error since they are describing the moon from their perspective, as they observe it.

To help illustrate this point, note the context of one of the passages cited by Zawadi:

"And it came to pass in the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers. Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will therefore spread out my net over thee with a company of many people; and they shall bring thee up in my net. Then will I leave thee upon the land, I will cast thee forth upon the open field, and will cause all the fowls of the heaven to remain upon thee, and I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee. And I will lay thy flesh upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with thy height. I will also water with thy blood the land wherein thou swimmest, even to the mountains; and the rivers shall be full of thee. And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I WILL COVER THE SUN WITH A CLOUD, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD. I will also vex the hearts of many people, when I shall bring thy destruction among the nations, into the countries which thou hast not known. Yea, I will make many people amazed at thee, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for thee, when I shall brandish my sword before them; and they shall tremble at every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of thy fall. For thus saith the Lord GOD; The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon thee. By the swords of the mighty will I cause thy multitude to fall, the terrible of the nations, all of them: and they shall spoil the pomp of Egypt, and all the multitude thereof shall be destroyed. I will destroy also all the beasts thereof from beside the great waters; neither shall the foot of man trouble them any more, nor the hoofs of beasts trouble them. Then will I make their waters deep, and cause their rivers to run like oil, saith the Lord GOD. When I shall make the land of Egypt desolate, and the country shall be destitute of that whereof it was full, when I shall smite all them that dwell therein, then shall they know that I am the LORD. This is the lamentation wherewith they shall lament her: the daughters of the nations shall lament her: they shall lament for her, even for Egypt, and for all her multitude, saith the Lord GOD." Ezekiel 32:1-16

The prophet addresses the Pharaoh and warns him of the judgment which Yahweh would bring upon his land, indicating that God is speaking from Pharaoh’s vantage point. The writer is basically describing these events from the observation of those looking at it from the earth, specifically from the view of those living in the land of Egypt, i.e. that God would spread a cloud over the horizon in order to prevent the sun from shining upon them. This in itself provides a sufficient basis to conclude that the inspired writer is using observational or phenomenological language when he speaks of moonlight.

Moreover, the inspired author is using language reminiscent of the Exodus, specifically of the judgments that fell upon the Egyptians during the time of Moses:

"Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, ‘Go, worship the LORD. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.’ But Moses said, ‘You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the LORD our God. Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the LORD our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD.’ But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he was not willing to let them go. Pharaoh said to Moses, ‘Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.’ ‘Just as you say,’ Moses replied, ‘I will never appear before you again.’" Exodus 10:21-29 NIV

The author is essentially using the judgment language of Exodus to highlight that God was going to judge Pharaoh much like he had done so before, but this time he would use the king of Babylon to do so. As such, the passage need not be viewed literally, i.e. that God wasn’t going to actually darken the land but that such language is simply apocalyptic imagery used to speak of impending judgment. In fact, most of the texts mentioned by Sami are referring to specific judgments that God would bring upon specific nations, and as such are using apocalyptic imagery to highlight this fact.

This leads us to our second point. What makes Zaatari’s article rather intriguing is that the biblical texts that he quoted can be understood in a manner which actually demonstrates how scientifically accurate the Holy Bible truly is:

"For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: THE SUN SHALL BE DARKENED IN HIS GOING FORTH, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine." Isaiah 13:10

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall THE SUN SHALL BE DARKENED, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:" Matthew 24:29

"But in those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN SHALL BE DARKENED, and the moon shall not give her light," Mark 13:24

Zaatari highlighted a specific part of the texts, namely the portion that says that the moon will not give its light. Yet he failed to highlight the other part which explains why it will not, NAMELY BECAUSE THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED! One can make the case that the biblical authors correctly saw the connection between the sun being darkened and the moon not giving any light since they seemingly knew that the moon has no light of its own but simply reflects the light of the sun. Thus, when the sun is darkened the moon has no light to emit!

He also quotes the following reference:

"Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun SHALL BE SEVENFOLD, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound." Isaiah 30:26

This, too, can be understood in a manner that is consistent with science. The text connects the moon becoming as bright as the sun with the sunlight being made seven times brighter, which makes perfect sense. After all, if the light of the sun becomes brighter this naturally results in the moon reflecting a brighter light!

Furthermore, there are extra-biblical Jewish sources that explicitly say that the moon reflects the light of the sun such as the first century Jewish philosopher Philo’s From Questions on Genesis (92):

"Why it is said that the days of man shall be a hundred and twenty years? (Genesis 6:4).

"God appears here to fix the limit of human life by this number, indicating by it the manifold prerogative of honour; for in the first place this number proceeds from the units, according to combination, from the number fifteen; but the principle of the number fifteen is that of a more transparent appearance, since it is on the fifteenth day that the moon is rendered full of light, borrowing its light of the sun at the approach of evening, and restoring it to him again in the morning; so that during the night of the full moon the darkness is scarcely visible, but it is all light." (Quoted in Glenn Miller’s article, Did the Messianic Jewish Believers use the OT deceitfully or ignorantly in the New Testament?; source)

The following excerpt is taken from Abraham Cohen's Everyman's Talmud:

The other legend tells that Abraham had to be hidden away soon after his birth because astrologers had warned King Nimrod that a child was about to born who would overthrow his kingdom, and advised that he be killed while still a babe. The child lived with a nurse in a cave for three years. The story continues: ‘When he left the cave, his heart kept reflecting upon the creation of the Universe, and he determined to worship all the luminaries until he discovered which of them was God. He saw the moon whose light illumined the darkness of night from one end of the world to the other and noticed the vast retinue stars. "This is God," he exclaimed, and worshipped it throughout the night. In the morning when he beheld the dawn of the sun, and the moon darkened and its power waned, he exclaimed: "The light of the moon MUST BE DERIVED FROM THE LIGHT OF THE SUN, and the Universe only exists through the sun's rays." So he worshiped the sun throughout the day. In the evening, the sun sank below the horizon, its power waned, and the moon reappeared with the stars and the planets. He thereupon exclaimed: "Surely these all have a Master and God!"’ (Ibid., [Schocken Books, New York], p. 2; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Cohen has a note to this story:

This passage is quoted from the Midrash Hagadol, ed. Schechter, 1. 189 f. This is a late collection of Midrashic material, but this story, although not found in the Talmud or standard Midrashim, occurs in the Apocalypse of Abraham, which belongs to the middle of the first century of the present era, and so falls within the Talmudic period. (Fn. 2, p. 2; bold emphasis ours)

Interestingly, comparing the above quoted story from the Apocalypse of Abraham – which explicitly declares that the moon derives its light from the sun – with the version found in Sura 6:75-79, we find that this particular scientific information got lost in the Quran! It makes only the trivial observation that the sun is "greater" than the moon (S. 6:78).

In fact, examining the Quran and other Islamic source materials more closely in regard to their teaching about the moon, we discover that these texts actually claim that the moon has a light of its own:

In conclusion, the verses selected by Zaatari provide no reason to reject the Bible as teaching wrong science. On the contrary, there is little doubt that if those verses had been found in the Quran, then Sami Zaatari and other Muslim apologists would have presented the above observations, i.e., the connection of sunlight and moonlight, as being strong proof of its divine inspiration, a scientific miracle!

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