Book Reviews

THE LONG DAY OF JOSHUA AND SIX OTHER CATASTROPHES, by Donald W. Patten, Ronald R. Hatch, and Loren C. Steinhauer; Pacific Meridian Publishing Company, Seattle, Washington, 1973; 328 pp. Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko. 

The authors of this book are men who are dedicated opponents of the theory of evolution and firm believers in creationism. Their work is intended to be a defense of the Scriptures as over against those who deny the Scriptures in the name of science. However, their main purpose in writing this book is to give scientific credence to the miracles — especially the miracles which involve catastrophes. They concentrate their attention especially upon those catastrophes which are mentioned in the Old Testament. 

These catastrophes are explained in the book by a rather elaborate theory which the authors have worked out concerning the orbits of earth and Mars. It is the contention of the book that up until the time of the destruction of the Assyrian host at the gates of Jerusalem during the days of Hezekiah, the orbits of earth and Mars were of such a kind that in fixed cycles Mars passed very closely to earth — sometimes as close as 60,000 miles or less. This periodic “fly-by” of Mars is the explanation for the catastrophes which the Bible mentions. For example, this “fly-by” of Mars is the explanation for the long day of Joshua and the hailstorm that destroyed the armies of the Canaanites, for the catastrophe at the Tower of Babel, for the troubles which came upon Job, for the ten plagues which came upon Egypt at the time of Israel’s deliverance, for the destruction of the Assyrian host which surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. 

The book is filled with a great deal of data of a scientific, mathematical, astronomical nature to prove the point of the authors. 

We are however, not persuaded of their position. We offer the following objections. 

1) There is no proof as such for the fact that Mars and earth were in different orbits than toddy. 

2) The chronologies of Scripture are often forced badly to fit the necessary cycles which the theory requires. 

3) Many passages of Scripture are given forced explanations so that they can be interpreted as referring to these catastrophes. One example of this is found in the author’s interpretation of Psalm 46 on page 51. The Psalm, according to the authors, refers to the destruction of the Assyrian forces. Vs. 2 refers to “orbital shift”; vss. 3 & 4 to giant tidal waves and crustal deformation earthquakes; vs. 6 to Rabshakeh and to vulcanism; vs. 8 to the burial of the 185,000; vs. 9 to the Assyrian war and to “bolidic explosion.” This is repeatedly done throughout the book. 

4) Non-canonical writings are relied on too heavily. They are used as proof for the Mars “fly-by” and are sometimes given an authority which is almost equal to that of Scripture. 

5) But most seriously, there is a strong tendency in the book to explain the miraculous so scientifically that the miracle is lost. This is serious business. The tower of Babel incident is said to be a catastrophe in spite of the fact that Scripture speaks only of the confusion of languages by God. The calamities which befell Job are also explained by this same theory even though Scripture speaks of them as brought about by Satan under God’s direction. No mention is made of the fact that Job confesses that God has taken all his possessions away from him. Even the plagues of Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea is explained this way; and the authors are forced to crowd all the plagues into a period of seven days or less to fit their theory — even though this is manifestly impossible. The drought which came upon Israel in the days of Elijah is also explained scientifically even though James says that this came about by the prayer of Elijah. (The authors would explain this to mean that Elijah was acquainted with the astronomical phenomena which brought about a Mars fly-by, and simply predicted accurately that such an event was in the offing and would result in a famine.) 

The irony of the matter is that the authors repeatedly plead for a literal interpretation of the Scriptures; yet they themselves often depart from this rule. They expressly state that the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt is not to be taken literally:

Scriptures indicate death on the night of the cosmic fly-by was so wide-spread that in Egypt, the “first-born” of every family died (that is every family which did not have the blood of the lamb on the door). Under these conditions, destruction was so widespread that no count could possibly be made. Some entire communities perished with falling bolides. Earthquakes leveled most structures. 

The word “firstborn” in Hebrew is bekowr meaning elder, chief or firstborn, and comes from the prime verb baker, to burst from the womb. We suspect the death toll throughout Egypt that cataclysmic night was 15% to 25% and that, on the average, “one born” of most families perished. This principle also extended to animals as earthquakes, bolides, meteors, prairie fries, respiratory reactions and shortly, tidal waves, took an unimaginable toll. p. 212,213.

Not only is the word “firstborn” interpreted figuratively in this passage, but the angel of death is also interpreted in terms of earthquakes, bolides, meteors, prairie fires, etc. 

The same is true of the destruction of the Assyrian host. The “Angel of the Lord” is simply defined as being a bolide, which is very similar to a meteor. 

In all this the miracle disappears. And the result is that we have a lot of scientific data in Scripture, but no Gospel. 

It has been said: “A poor argument in the defense of the truth can often do more harm than a good argument against it.” This book strikes me as being an example of that observation. 

The book is interesting reading, and we recommend it for that reason. But it must be read with caution. 

Eerdman’s Handbook To The Bible, edited by David Alexander, Pat Alexander; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973; 680 pages, $12.95. (Reviewed by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema) 

This attractive and well-illustrated book was compiled by the editors and consulting editors through the use of pictures, charts, maps, and diagrams from museums and libraries over the whole world. Well-known Bible scholars were asked to supply information. The need for such a handbook as this is told on the dust jacket: “The Bible is the world’s most frequently read book. But it was written in a world far different and far removed from our own, and even in its modern translations there is much it does not tell us about that world. From the pages of the Bible itself we learn relatively little, for example, about everyday life during the time of Moses, or about geography, climate, weights and measures, or money. And we learn even less about the culture and the character of those early civilizations that surrounded the nation of Israel, and that played so prominent a role in the scriptural account.” 

“The Eerdmans’ Handbook To The Bible has been designed to meet that need. Here, in this comprehensive and fully illustrated reference volume, the reader can see and understand the Bible in its historical context, and will find answers to almost every imaginable question about biblical times and places.” 

This Handbook is divided into four parts: 1) An overview and introduction to the Bible, its translations, and its interpretation. 2 & 3) Brief explanations of the books of the Old and New Testaments, book by book, interspersed with essays, charts, and maps. 4) Key themes, doctrines, persons, and places are listed for easy reference. 

For the student of the Bible who wants to know a distance mentioned in a given text, a weight or measure, or who wants to see a map or topography of the area of his study and illustrations of various aspects of life in Bible times, this book has ready answers. 

Along with Bible history, the Handbook provides a background of the current secular history, with calendars, charts of civilizations, and time lines. For easy reference when studying the book of Proverbs, the authors have listed two pages of important themes in the book, with chapter and verse. Various Bible scholars have written introductions to the books of the Bible, giving the theme and very brief comments about each chapter. If these comments were written by men who heartily embraced the doctrine of Scripture’s infallibility, this Handbook would be a very valuable book. 

However, under the heading “The Origin of Religion” the writer, Robert Brow, tries to give the answer to the question of the origin of religion. He concludes that Adam and Eve were the first people, but “were they half-stooping gorilla-faced cave dwellers beginning the long ascent to civilization? The Bible is silent.” In the same vein, Israel is treated as one of the ancient civilizations, against the background of evolution. 

About inspiration Peter Cousins says that “the Bible is both divinely inspired and fully human.” He adds that the writers of Scripture did all they could to make the Bible an accurate record. With this philosophy of a pervading human factor in the Scriptures, theHandbook continues to undercut the element of the wonder in Scripture. And it does this insidiously. For example, the book states plainly that the first chapters of Genesis are historical. A few sentences later we read, “The problem is the degree of symbolism used in describing these events.” And still later we find out that the order of creation on the six days is not necessarily chronological. Moreover, the element of the miracles disappears in the book. The flood was not universal. The ninth plague was a dust storm. A map of Israel’s leaving Egypt shows no crossing of the Red Sea. The earth opened naturally (by a storm) to swallow Korah and his company. The fall of Jericho was a war of nerves for the men of Jericho. And Elijah may have used the “kiss of life” on the widow’s son. 

The truths in the New Testament epistles are treated briefly and rather superficially. However, in supplemental paragraphs, cardinal doctrines are treated in more detail. In a discussion of election (Romans 9-11) the author speaks of God’s choice of some men, but says, “If God selects some men for forgiveness, does He select others for destruction? Paul is much more cautious about this (‘What if . . .?’).” These examples show the superficial and distorted view of the higher critic regarding Scripture. 

Some of the information in this Handbook is nicely arranged and attractively presented. This book can be useful for the information which it furnishes, but it is badly marred by its unbelieving approach to the truth of Scripture. If the book is used, it must be studied with an extremely critical eye and must be used with much spiritual discernment and discretion.