Four Blood Moons, a theatrical one-night event scheduled for March 23, 2015, and based on Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee’s New York Times bestseller of the same name, has garnered attention. I’m featured briefly in the film as a skeptic of Hagee’s central claim that a sequence of four total lunar eclipses signifies that “world history is about to change,” bringing about the rapid fulfillment of a biblical end-times prophecy. I’m also included in a 20-minute panel discussion on the movie that was recorded at Hagee’s San Antonio headquarters.
Hagee knew in advance my views on his claims and I’m impressed that he would allow a “skeptic” of his view to participate. For that, he is to be commended.
The biblical basis for the four blood moons claim as an eschatological event appears in Joel 2:31, which states, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” The scientific basis rests on the fact that often during a total lunar eclipse, the Moon, as seen from Earth’s surface, takes on an orange or red hue (see figures 1 and 2).
My greater concern centers on biblical, rather than scientific, misinterpretations of the blood-moon sign, and I will address those in part 2. First I will address the science and history of lunar eclipses.
John Hagee, Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries, and Larry Huch of Larry Huch Ministries note in their books1 and television broadcasts that in 1493–94, 1949–50, and 1967–68, a series of four (tetrad) total lunar eclipses occurred on the dates for the Jewish Passover and Tabernacles festivals. Each of these eclipse tetrads occurred within a year or two of significant events in Jewish history. In 1492, Columbus landed in America, which later became a haven for persecuted Jews. In 1948, the nation of Israel was founded. In 1967, the Six-Day War brought the Old City and its temple site under Israeli control. Thus, the authors claim that another eclipse tetrad on the dates of the Passover and Tabernacles festivals in 2014–15 is an unmistakable sign that an important end-times event is upon us.
All three authors insist that an occurrence of four total lunar eclipses on the Passover and Tabernacles dates is rare and unexpected. As an astronomer, I beg to differ. First, lunar eclipses are common. Two to five lunar eclipses, including partial eclipses, occur every year. The number of total lunar eclipses ranges from zero to three per year.
Second, lunar eclipses can occur only when the Moon is exactly at the full moon phase. Likewise, the dates for the Passover and Tabernacles festivals are determined by when the Moon is at a full moon phase just after the spring equinox (Passover) and just after the fall equinox (Tabernacles). Lunar eclipses are most frequently spaced about six months apart; so it isn’t surprising that eclipse tetrads occur on the Passover and Tabernacles dates.
Third, unlike solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses can be seen as total from anywhere on Earth’s night side. Since age ten, I’ve resided in locations where 34 total lunar eclipses were visible and have personally witnessed over a dozen.
Fourth, an orange-red hue is the most common color of a totally eclipsed moon. The illumination observed on these occasions is sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere and refracted into Earth’s shadow. This light appears reddish because red light is of longer wavelength than blue, green, and yellow light and penetrates Earth’s atmosphere more easily. If the part of Earth’s atmosphere that refracts light on the eclipsed moon is exceptionally overcast or smoky, the eclipsed moon will be much dimmer and more brownish. The normative color, however, is a copper or reddish hue.
Hagee, Biltz, and Huch do acknowledge that lunar eclipses are common. They claim the sequence of four consecutive total lunar eclipses is rare. But why four? I imagine they would’ve been equally impressed had the events of 1492, 1948, and 1967 corresponded with a sequence of two, three, or five sets of total lunar eclipses. Varying the number in a sequence raises the probability of finding a match with significant historical events dramatically. I found no statistical significance in the claimed correlations2 because of: (1) the subjective nature of what ranks as a significant historical event; (2) the ± 2-year date matches; and (3) the possible variability of the number in the sequence.
Moreover, total lunar eclipse tetrads occurred on Passover and Tabernacle festival dates in AD 162–63, 795–96, 841–43, and 860–61, during which no outstanding events in Jewish history happened. Finally, of the 16 lunar eclipses that occurred or will occur in 1493–94, 1949–50, 1967–68, and 2014–15, only the first and third in the 1493–94 sequence and only the third in the 1949–50 sequence appeared as blood moons in Israel. For the current tetrad, the only location where all four eclipses will be visible as blood moons is a small region in northern Baja California, Mexico.
Unlike Biltz, Huch, and others, Hagee remains ambiguous about what kind of event qualifies as significant both to Jewish history and to biblical end-times prophecy. His ambiguity virtually guarantees that later this year he can claim that his hypothesis has been proven correct. Has there ever been a year since 1948 when some momentous historical event has not occurred in Israel? Assuming a premillennial eschatological perspective and given that the book of Ezekiel prophesies much about Israel’s second rebirth, Hagee won’t have difficulty in finding a correlation. I can name several significant events since the beginning of 2014: the increasing exodus of Jews from Europe to Israel; the rise of ISIS; Israel’s worsening relationships with Iran and the United States; increasing success and prosperity of Israel’s technology sector; and the need for land to accommodate the rising Jewish population in Israel.
These three men have several “outs” if the 2014–15 eclipse tetrad doesn’t usher in events prophesied in the books of Daniel and Revelation, events that precede the second coming of Christ. Eight more total lunar eclipse tetrads will occur in what remains of the twenty-first century. It is simply a matter of time before a correlation occurs. When that happens, such Bible teachers can adjust and rewrite, but skeptics will not be impressed and the cause of Christ will be hampered. By focusing on what scientific and biblical data we do know, believers can better help humanity and honor Christ.
Figure 1: The Moon during a Total Eclipse on April 15, 2014
Credit: Tomruen, Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Figure 2: The Moon during a Total Eclipse on October 8, 2014
Credit: Tomruen, Wikimedia/Creative Commons