On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.
- Joshua 10:12-13
In 1632, Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems defended Copernicun heliocentrism (the idea that the sun is at the centre of the solar system and that the planets, including the Earth, orbit around it). After facing the Inquistion, Galileo was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
At stake, apparently, was the word of God. If Joshua could command the sun to “stand still” this would imply that the sun — not the Earth — moved. Thus, heliocentrism was wrong and worthy of the Inquisition.
Of course, it is obvious from our vantage point that it was not the word of God that was at stake at all, but an overly and absurdly literalist reading of the word of God. St. Augustine had it right all those years ago:
One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send you the Paraclete [Comforter] who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon. For He willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians.