Still Debunked: Blood Moons

Back in 2014 the infamous Pastor John Hagee applied various Bible prophecies to a series of lunar eclipses that coincided with Jewish feasts over the following year and a half, claiming these "tetrads" were signs of the coming "end-times". It was the latest in a long line of such claims, and despite being repeatedly debunked, 1 2 the idea that lunar eclipses are somehow related to latter-days prophecy has unfortunately entered Christian popular culture.

Whilst it's arguably 2 years late, I've decided to post this as a response to material that continues to circulate on social media, despite the fact that Pastor Hagee's interpretation of prophecy has clearly fallen by the wayside.

Central to Hagee's claims were that passages such as Joel 2 (quoted Acts 2:20) refer to astronomical phenomena that coincide with Jewish feasts:

"The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes." - Joel 2:31 ESV

Similar language is found in and Revelation 6:12, and Hagee claimed that these passages describe a lunar eclipse (the earth passing between the sun and the moon), and that a sequence of these "blood moon" events coinciding with Jewish feasts was a sign that Christ is about to return.

Here are 10 reasons why we need to be very cautious about this interpretation, and similar derivatives:

  1. They're not called "Blood Moons".
    During a lunar eclipse the moon grows darker and can take on a red tint. The name "blood moon" is a modern English term applied to what has historically been called a "harvest moon". Of course, "blood moon" sounds much more dramatic, which is why it is used.

  2. They're not necessarily visible.
    Just because there's a lunar eclipse doesn't mean everyone sees it! It may only be a partial eclipse in some areas, whilst other parts of the world won't see it at all. Certainly, 3 of Hagee's 4 "significant" eclipses were not even visible from Israel. Here's an example from NASA:

    Even assuming the eclipse is visible to a populated part of the earth, weather happens. Rain, cloud, or fog all render the "sign" ineffective if it can't be seen.

  3. They happen a lot.
    There are at least two lunar eclipses in a year, though there may be as many as five. This decade there will be 22. In order to imbue some significance to these events it is necessary to find some other combination of factors that give the appearance of an unusual occurrence, which brings us to the next problem...

  4. Blood moons are only significant if you retrofit the data.
    My colleague once sent an attachment that was flagged by a client's email filter for containing an obscenity. When we ran the offending document through a text filter we found it contained a swear, caused by the arrangement of bits selected by the document's compression algorithm. What are the chances?!

    They're low, but not as astronomically low as you might think. First, we didn't choose the word in advance: any obscenity would have had the same effect. Second, we didn't pre-select this specific document. We had effectively "rolled the dice" hundreds of times already by producing and sending attachments.

    Finally, we didn't pre-select the cASe oF THe wORd: any case combination would do. There are actually a significant number of character combinations that could be detected as obscene, each of which may be unlikely in isolation, but may be probable in aggregate.3

    The event seems vanishingly unlikely if we ask "what are the chances of getting this obscenity in this document", but the correct question is "what are the chances of ever sending a document containing any obscenity in any case?". The latter is far more probable than the former.

    Events taking place on the same date as a "blood moon" are subject to the same fallacy: we didn't predict the event in advance, nor associate it with the specific date. We're effectively retrofitting the data, like the "sharp-shooter" who fires bullets at a blank target and then draws a circle around the tightest cluster of holes to retrospectively add signficance to his shots.

  5. Co-incidence with Jewish festivals isn't surprising.
    The Jewish calendar is lunar. As a result, one in every 6 lunar eclipses will fall on a Jewish feast day. Having a run of these is unusual, but not rainbow-unicorn rare.

  6. Nothing happened.
    Hagee claimed previous lunar eclipse tetrads heralded major events in the Jewish world, such as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1493, the founding of Israel in 1949, and the Six-Day War in 1967.

    No major event has taken place in 2014-15 though, neither in general nor the specific dates of the eclipses:

    Claiming these events are significant is only possible by discounting data that doesn't fit the hypothesis. 4

  7. The link between the sign and the event is pretty loose.
    In point 6 I noted the assertion that a tetrad of lunar eclipses signified the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1493. The tetrad though, took place in 1492.

    Israel's war for independence ended in March 1949, though the first lunar eclipse in the tetrad only took place in April.

    The 1967 tetrad began in April, with the remaining 3 lunar eclipses in October, April 1968 and October 1968. Not a single one was visible from Israel. The Six-Day War was in June of 1967.

  8. You have to ignore the rest of the sentence.
    Specifically, Joel 2:30 describes how God will:

    "...show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke"

    Assuming we accept a literal understanding of Joel, a consistent interpretation of the passage tells us there will be plenty of other local phenomena warning us of the impending day of the Lord.

  9. It's not the only way for the moon to turn red.
    Both the sun and moon look red the lower they are in the sky due to Tyndall scattering. Both phenomena can make the moon look red 5. There is no need to assume that Jesus' return can only be heralded by a Hunter's moon.

  10. Real harm can be done.
    Those who rested a lot of faith on the blood moon tetrad theory were sorely disappointed. Aside from the believers whose faith was harmed, a great deal of credibility can also be lost in the eyes of those who see our manner of life and conduct.

    As a friend of mine once put it: the Bible is exciting enough already - we don't have to make stuff up.

Conclusion

No Christian would deny that God has the power to turn the moon any colour He so desires, and has defined laws of physics that turn it red on a fairly regular basis.

However, Jesus clearly articulated the fact that:

"...concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." - Matt 24:36 (ESV)

...and even makes this statement in a passage where he's quite clearly just been riffing off Joel 2 (see Matt 24:29). If Jesus doesn't know the day or the hour, Pastor Hagee probably hasn't been informed yet either.

So what should you do if someone in your circle of acquaintences shares, likes, or comments positively on this myth? That's for you to decide, but this resource may be one way to convince them to think again.

Comments or questions? Bible Snippets is on Facebook and Twitter (@biblesnippets).

Further reading

  1. Four blood moons debunked, VerseByVerseBT, Youtube.com.

  2. Much later, Pastor Hagee failed to defend his theory in a televised debate.

  3. Another popular example of this phenomena is known as the Birthday Problem: how many people you need in a room for there to be a 50% chance that two were born on the same day: the answer is 23, surprisingly low.

  4. See also Cherry picking blood red moons; L Buckler, Testimony Magazine, August 2015.

  5. Reasons why the moon is sometimes red.

Photo credit: kaveman743 StarStaX_P1030560-P1030653_lighten via photopin (CC)

Nathan

Bible enthusiast, husband, Dad, and tech-head with too many projects and not enough time.