SUN (Hebrew, "shemesh," and, poetically, "ḥammah" [= "heat"] and "ḥeres").

Early Conceptions of It. —Biblical Data:

The conceptions of the Hebrews with regard to physical phenomena were those that obtained among their neighbors, the sun being considered as a torch or light ("ma'or") suspended in the firmament (Gen. i. 16). It was created on the fourth day together with the moon, the two constituting the great lights; and as the larger of them, the sun was given dominion over the day (ib.; Ps. cxxxvi. 2). The sun had a habitation (Hab. iii. [A. V. ii.] 11), a tent (Ps. xix. 5), a bridal chamber, as it were (Ps. xix. 6), from which it came forth ("yaẓa," "zaraḥ," Gen. xix. 23; Nah. iii. 17; Ex. xxii. 2; Eccl. i. 5) and to which it returned ("bo," Gen. xv. 12, 17; xxviii. 11; Ex. xxii. 25; Josh. x. 27; comp. Eccl. i. 5); hence the East is known as "Mizraḥ" (Josh. xiii. 5; Judges xxi. 19; I Kings x. 33), and the West as "Mabo" (Josh. i. 4, xxiii. 4), while the phrase "from the rising [going forth) of the sun unto the going down [coming back] of the same," designates the whole extent of the earth (Ps. cxiii. 3; Mal. i., xi.; Isa. xlv. 6, where the term "ma'arab," which etymologically means "going back," is used to denote the "setting." "Under the sun" is another idiomatic phrase to connote the earth: it is a favorite expression of the author of Ecclesiastes (Eccl. i. 3, 9, 14; ii. 11, 17 et seq.).

As in the latitudes in which the Hebrews lived the variations in the daily course of the sun are insignificant for practical purposes, the phrase "the time the sun is hot" (I Sam. xi. 9; Neh. vii. 3) denotes a definite portion of the day, from noon to four in the afternoon, after which, the heat decreasing, the sun draws nearer the hour of its "coming back" (A. V. "going down"), which it was supposed to know (Ps. civ. 19). The sun is subject to God's will: were He to so order, it would cease to shine (Job ix. 7). God orders its course (Ps. lxxiv. 16). The sun is benevolent (II Sam. xxiii. 4): it brings forth the fruits of the earth (Deut. xxxiii. 14). The light is sweet; and it is delightful for the eyes to behold the sun (Eccl. xi. 7). But at times the great luminary produces evil: it scorches and consumes (Ps. cxxi. 6; Isa. xlix. 10; Jonah iv. 8; Ecclus. [Sirach] xliii. 3, 4); for from its heat "there is nothing hid" (Ps. xix. 7). It has power (Judges v. 31), which explains why the lovers of Yhwh are likened to the sun rising in its might. Sunstroke was dreaded (comp. Ps. cxxi. 6).

Used as a Simile.

The sun is used as a simile of lasting fame (ib. lxxii. 17). The enduring nature of David's dynasty is expressed by the statement that his throne shall be before Yhwh as the sun (ib. lxxxix. 38 [A. V. 36]). The sun is used also as a symbol of victory and might (Yhwh is "a sun and a shield"; ib. lxxxiv. 12 [11]). Like the dawn, which has wings (ib. cxxxix. 9) and eyelids (Job iii. 9, xli. 10), the sun is credited with wings on which it, as the sun of righteousness, shall carry healing (Mal. iii. 20 [A. V. iv. 2]). The sun is an emblem of beauty also (Cant. vi. 11); it typifies the progress of a good man toward perfection (Prov. iv. 18); and as the great luminary (Ecclus. [Sirach xvii. 31) it is the adornment of the heavens (ib. xxvi. 16).

In the apocalyptic descriptions of the end of time, the sun's darkening at rising is accentuated as one of the tokens of impending judgment (Isa. xiii. 10). At noonday the sun will set (ib. lx. 2; Jer. xv. 9; Amos viii. 9; Mic. iii. 6). On the other hand, in the Day of the Lord the sun will shine seven times more brightly than usual (Isa. xxx. 26); indeed, Israel's sun will no more go down, as God Himself will be an everlasting light (ib. lx. 19-20).


The Bible records two occurrences in which the regularity of the sun's daily progress was apparently suspended. (1) It is reported that at Joshua's command the sun stood still (Josh. x. 12-14; Ecclus. [Sirach] xlvi. 5). This episode is based on an old lay from the "Sefer ha-Yashar," the poetic fragment quoted being, as in all similar cases, older than the prose narrative. Some obscure mythological reference underlies the incident, in which poetic-mythological conceptions and descriptions are represented as actual happenings. The attempt to read into the Hebrew some natural phenomenon—an eclipse or an extraordinary degree and intensity of solar refraction—is preposterous.

(2) In connection with the illness of Hezekiah (II Kings xx. 8-11; Isa. xxxviii. 7; II Chron. xxxii. 24, 31) the sign of assured convalescence is the retrogression of the shadow (the sun) ten steps on the Dial. It has been suggested either that this incident is based on a solar eclipse or that the movement of the shadow was purely an optical illusion. However, the whole episode may be one of the many "miracles" serving to embellish the life of the prophet Isaiah, in imitation of the method applied in the biographies of Elijah and Elisha.

That the Hebrews worshiped the sun, in adaptation of non-Hebrew, Canaanitish, or Babylonian custom, may be admitted on the evidence of such ancient names of localities as Beth-shemesh, Enshemesh, Mount Heres, and Kir-heres (but see Cheyne, "Encyc. Bibl." s.v. "Sun"). A common act of Adoration was throwing a kiss with the hand (Job xxxi. 26-28). Idolatrous solar-worship was prohibited (Deut. iv. 19), the penalty therefor being lapidation at the city gates (ib. xvii. 2-5). Disregard of this law (which, however, probably was as yet non-existent; see Deuteronomy) is reported more especially of Manasseh, who had erected in the Temple altars in honor of the heavenly hosts (II Kings xxi. 3-5, xxiii. 12). Other altars, on roofs, were removed by Josiah (ib. xxiii. 12; comp. Jer. xix. 13; Zeph. i. 5), as were horses dedicated to the sun by the kings of Judah, and sun-chariots stationed at the western entrance to the Temple. These horses and chariots point to Assyro-Babylonian prototypes (Schrader, "K. A. T." 3d ed., p. 370), as the act of sun-worship described in Ezek. viii. 16, 17 (Gunkel, "Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit," p. 141), is generally held to be in imitation of a Persian custom. In Enoch, lxxii. 5, 37; lxxv. 4, and in the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, vi. (see Gunkel, l.c. p. 141), mention is made of the solar chariot. With great plausibility Isa. xxiv. 27, where judgment is pronounced against thesun, which will be "ashamed" (ib. xxiv. 23), is explained as referring to idolatrous worship of the sun (but see end of verse).

E. G. H.Sun and Moon. —In Rabbinical Literature:

The more usual word for "sun" in rabbinical literature is "ḥammah," though "shemesh" occurs also. The sun and the moon were created on the 28th of Elul (Pirḳe R. El. viii.; Midr. ha-Gadol, ed. Schechter, p. 37). Originally the sun and the moon were of equal magnitude; but jealousy induced dissensions between them, each claiming to be greater than the other. This necessitated the reduction in size of one of them; and the moon was assigned the inferior rank (ib. vi.). The moon was thus degraded because it had unlawfully intruded into the sun's domain. This account is based on the phenomenon that the moon is sometimes visible while the sun is still above the horizon (Gen. R. vi. 3, 7). God subsequently regretted having degraded the moon, whose fault was virtually His, He having ordered the world. He therefore pleaded that an expiatory sacrifice be offered in His behalf to atone for His injustice to the moon (ib.). By way of compensation the moon was given the splendid retinue of the stars. Sun and moon are, as it were, the king's two prefects, one choosing the administration of the restricted city, the other that of the larger province. To reward the modest choice of the former, the king appoints for it an official suite (ib. vi. 4).

Originally the sun was designated Jacob's tutelary luminary; but later God assigned it to Esau, the moon being set over Jacob. This did not please the latter (see "Yalḳuṭ Ḥadash," ed. Warsaw, 1879, p. 181), he failing to understand that the sun, though the larger light, ruled over the day only, while the moon, though the smaller, exercised control over both day and night. Esau's luminary indicated that he had a share in this world alone, while that set over Jacob assured him of a part both in this world and in the world to come. For this reason Jacob reckons by the lunar calendar (Gen. R. vi. 3).

It was the intention in the beginning that the sun alone should furnish light to the earth; but God, foreseeing the idolatrous worship which would be paid to the heavenly bodies, decided that it would be better to have two large celestial lights, reasoning that if there was only one the danger of that one being deified would be greatly increased (ib. vi. 1; see also the "yoẓer" for Sabbath, "He called the sun, and it gave forth light," etc.).

Cover of the Sun.

God placed the sun in the second firmament because if He had placed it in the one nearest the earth which is visible to terrestrial eyes, all would have been consumed by its heat (Midr. Teh. xix. 13; Pesiḳ. xxix. 186a). Indeed, the sun was in a sort of cover or bag (ib. 186b [see note by Buber]; Tan., Teẓawweh [ed. Buber, p. 98 and note]; Midr. Teh. l.c. [ed. Buber, p. 168 and note]). In the "future time" God will bring forth the sun from this cover, and the wicked will be consumed by its terrible heat; hence in that time there will be no Gehenna (Ned. 8b; Midr. Teh. xix. 13). But while utterly annihilating the evil-doers, the sun will heal the righteous of all ills, and be for them a glorious ornament (ib.). According to R. Jonathan, the sun moves like the sail of a ship, or like a ship with 365 ropes (equivalent to the number of days in the solar year), or like a ship hailing from Alexandria, which has 354 ropes (corresponding to the number of days in the lunar year). The moon covers in two and one-half days the distance made by the sun in thirty days (Midr. Teh. l.c.). The sun and the moon are loath to set out on their journeys. They are compelled to cover their eyes before the upper light. God, therefore, has to light up their paths before them (see Ps. lxxxix. 16). The same thing happens at their setting, when God has to show them the way by means of torches, arrows, and lightning (ib.). They are ashamed to come forth on account of the worship paid them by idolaters.

But the sun sings in honor of God while pursuing its course. This appears from the verse Mal. i. 11 in connection with Josh. x. 12 (Midr. Teh. to Ps. xix. 11; Tan., Aḥare Mot, ed. Buber, p. 14). Contrary to the opinion that the sun hesitates to rise in the morning and to run its course, the conclusion is drawn from Ps. xix. 5-6 that the day-star performs its joyous task voluntarily.

The Days of the Sun.

The sun ascends by means of 366 steps, and descends by 183 in the east and 183 in the west. There are 366 windows in the firmament, through which the sun successively emerges and retires. These windows are arranged so as to regulate the sun's movements with a view to their concordance with the "teḳufot," Nisan, Tammuz, and Ṭebet. The sun bows down before God and declares its obedience to His commands (Pirḳe R. El. vi.). Three letters of God's name are written on the sun's heart; and angels lead it—one set by day, and another by night (ib.). The sun rides in a chariot (ib.). When looking downward its face and horns are of fire; when turned upward, of hail. If the sun did not periodically change its face, so that heat and cold alternate, the earth would perish (ib.).

According to rabbinical interpretation, Joshua did not really command the sun to "stand still" but to "be still" (Josh. x. 12). At first the sun refused to obey Joshua, urging that as it had been created on the fourth day, while man had not been fashioned till the sixth, it was the superior, and was not called upon to take orders from an inferior. Thereupon Joshua reminded the sun that it had acknowledged its position as a slave by its obeisance paid to Joseph, while even earlier Abraham had been hailed as the owner of all that is in heaven (Gen. xiv. 19, the word "possessor" being applied to Abraham, not to God). Still the sun desired to be assured that even after its silence God's praise would be sung; and it was only when Joshua had promised that he himself would sing His praise that the sun acquiesced (Gen. R. vi., end, lxxxiv. 11). According to the cabalists, the sun stood still also at the command of Moses and of Nicodemus the son of Gorion (see "Yalḳuṭ Ḥadash," p. 102, § 16).

The sun and the moon would not rise when Korah was disputing with Moses. They would not consent to give light to the earth until they were assured that justice would be done to the son of Amram (comp. Hab. iii. 11; Ned. 39b; Sanh. 110a).

The Solar Cycle.

The solarcycle ("maḥzor") comprehended twenty-eight years (as against the lunar cycle of nineteen years). He who beheld the sun at the beginning of the cycle pronounced the blessing commemorating God's creative power (Ber. 59b; but it seems more likely that the reference is to the sight of the sun after cloudy days; see Yer. Ber. ix. 13d). The sun is used in illustrations of the impossibility of beholding God (Ḥul. 60a). The expression "seeing the sun" is equivalent to "being seen by the sun"; i.e., "to exist" (Ned. 30b; B. B. 82a).

"Shemesh" or "shimsha" is used in a particular sense in such phrases as "shimsho shel ẓaddiḳ" (the sun of the righteous), meaning "life." "The Almighty never permits the sun of one righteous man to set without causing that of another equally righteous to arise and shine forth" (Gen. R. lviii. 1, in reference to the birth of Rabbi on the day on which R. Akiba died). "Shimsha" is used also to denote the "righteous" (Gen. R. lxviii.).

E. G. H.Color and Efficacy.

The rotation of the sun causes the emission of beams and rays, as dust is produced by sawing wood. Save for the noise of the multitudes in the towns, the sound which the sun makes in its rotation might be heard (Yoma 20b). The saying "A cloudy day is all sun" is based on the fact that the sun's rays pierce through the thickest cloud. The humidity of the sun is worse than its heat; and the dazzling sunlight breaking through openings in the clouds is harder to bear than the uncovered sun (Yoma 28b). There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud as to the color of the sun. One authority says its natural color is red, as is seen at sunrise and sunset, yet it appears white during the day on account of the dazzle of its rays. Another says the sun is actually white, but that it appears red in the morning, when it passes through and reflects the red roses in the Garden of Eden, and also toward evening, when it passes through and reflects the fire of Gehinnom, (B. B. 84a).

The Talmud adduces the healing efficacy of the sunlight from the verse "But unto you . . . shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Mal. iii. 20 [A. V. iv. 2]; Ned. 8b). Abraham possessed a precious stone which healed the sick; and when he died God set it in the sphere of the sun (B. B. 16b; Yalḳ., Mal. 593). Sunshine on Sabbath is comfortable and welcome to the poor (Ta'an. 8b). Sunshine helps the growth of plants. A plant called "'adane" or "'arane," growing in the marshes, turns its leaves toward the sun and closes them at nightfall (Shab. 35b, and Rashi ad loc.).

Adam when he first beheld the approach of evening thought the world was being destroyed for his sin; and he sat up all night bewailing his misfortune. Eve sat opposite him, crying, till the dawn appeared. When he realized that the night was a law of nature he offered a sacrifice to God ('Ab. Zarah 8a).

Each of the seven planets successively predominates during one hour of the day and one of the night, and exercises an important influence upon the person born in that hour. The one born during the hour of the sun's ascendency will be of fair complexion, independent, and frank; and if he attempts to steal he will not succeed. Mercury is the secretary of the sun; consequently, one who is born during its hour will be bright and wise (Shab. 156a).


An eclipse of the sun is an evil sign for the Gentiles, and one of the moon augurs evil for the Jews; for the Gentiles reckon by the cycle of the former and the Jews by that of the latter. When the eclipse occurs in the eastern horizon, it forecasts the coming of evil to the inhabitants of the East; if in the western, it betokens ill to those of the West; while if it occurs in the zenith it threatens the entire world. When the color of the eclipse is red it betokens war; when gray, famine; when changing from red to gray, both war and famine. When the eclipse occurs in the beginning of the day or of the night it signifies that the evil will come soon; if late in the day or night, that it will arrive tardily. In either case the Jews who are true to their faith need not worry about these premonitions, inasmuch as the prophet has said: "Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them" (Jer. x. 2; Suk. 29a).


The sun and the moon are employed as symbols in the Cabala. Generally, the sun is masculine and represents the principal or independent—technically it is the "giver" ("mashpia'"); Abraham is the sun; so is Samuel, because he was independent, accepting no gift or fee from any one (I Sam. xii. 3). The moon is feminine, and represents the secondary or dependent—technically the "receiver" ("meḳabbel"). Thus the sun means the father; the moon, the mother. Moses and Aaron; the rich man and the poor man; the Torah and the Talmud; Rabbi and Rabina (or R. Ashi), are respectively the sun and the moon (Heilprin, "'Erke ha-Kinnuyim," s.v. ). Samson's name denotes "sun," as he, likewise, was independent. The initial letters of the names Samuel, Moses, and Samson spell "shemesh" (= "sun"). The Messiah is the sun: "And his throne as the sun before me" (Ps. lxxxix. 36).

J. J. D. E.
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