Friday, May 16, 2014

Biblical astronomy

One objection unbelievers raise to Joshua's Long Day, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Crucifixion darkness, is the (alleged) absence of extrabiblical confirmation. If these were global events, visible worldwide or visible outside the Holy Land, we'd expect extrabiblical records. So goes the argument. 
Of course, how global these events really were is, itself, a matter of interpretation. But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all three events would be visible outside the Holy Land. Does the absence of documentation commensurate with the extent of the phenomena cast doubt on the historicity of the Biblical record? Let's take a comparison:
On July 4, 1054 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a "guest star" in the constellation Taurus; Simon Mitton lists 5 independent preserved Far-East records of this event (one of 75 authentic guest stars - novae and supernovae, excluding comets - systematically recorded by Chinese astronomers between 532 B.C. and 1064 A.D., according to Simon Mitton). This star became about 4 times brighter than Venus in its brightest light, or about mag -6, and was visible in daylight for 23 days. 
Some older sources had speculated that this supernova might have been as bright as the Full Moon (or mag -12). The reason for this assumption was probably the intention to fit its 23-day visibility with older model lightcurves. 
It was probably also recorded by Anasazi Indian artists (in present-day Arizona and New Mexico), as findings in Navaho Canyon and White Mesa (both AZ, found 1953-54 by William C. Miller) as well as in the Chaco Canyon National Park (NM) indicate; there's a review of the research on the Chaco Canyon Anasazi art online, including the full-size version of our photo, which was obtained by Ron Lussier. A similar photo of this possible Supernova Pictograph was obtained by Paul Charbonneau of the High Altitude Observatory. 
As Simon Mitton points out in his book (Mitton 1978), evidence for the plausibility of this interpretation arises from the fact that on the morning of July 5, 1054 the crescent moon came remarkably close to the supernova, as seen (only) from Western North America. 
In 1990, Ralph Robert Robbins of the University of Texas announced the discovery of additional records in pottery of the Mimbres Indians of New Mexico. The plate probably representing the supernova is e.g. shown on page 68 of Robert Garfinkle's book Star Hopping. As the author lines out, the art style of this plate was used only before 1100 A.D., and carbon-14 dating indicates that this plate was created between 1050 and 1070 AD, so that very probably the supernova is depicted, as a 23-rayed star. 
Strangely enough, it seems that at least almost no records of European or Arab observations of the supernova have survived to modern times.

Either this highly conspicuous, widely observable event wasn't generally reported, or most of the reports were lost. This, despite the fact that ancient observers took a keen interest in celestial prodigies and portents. 

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