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SUN (Heb., שֶׁמֶשׁ; poetical form חַמָּה; Isa. 24:23; 30:26; Song 6:10, et al.). A deity for Israel's neighbors, the sun is for Israel "the greater light to rule the day", created on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:16). In Joseph's dream, the sun and the moon personify his parents (Gen. 37:9–10). In Joshua 10:12–14, the sun is said to have stood still to give the Israelites time to defeat the Amorites.


In the Bible, the sun is either feminine or masculine in gender. As a deity it is masculine in Mesopotamia, and feminine in Ugarit, South Arabia, and other places. The Hittites worshiped a god and a goddess of the sun. Under the Sumerian name Uta or the Semitic Shamash, the sun, as the god of justice, was worshiped especially at the temple of Ebabbar in Sippar, in northern Babylonia. In the stele of Hammurapi's code from Susa, Hammurapi is depicted standing before Shamash who is seated on a throne (see Pritchard, Pictures, 175, no. 515).

The rare word for sun חֶרֶס (Job 9:7; cf. har ḥeres in Judg. 1:35, identical with ir shemesh in Josh. 19:41) has no known cognate in the Semitic languages.

The cult of the sun, very popular in Palestine – as is attested by place-names such as Beth-Shemesh, En-Shemesh, Ir-Shemesh – was forbidden in Deuteronomy 4:19 and 17:3. It was, nevertheless, introduced into Judah by Manasseh (II Kings 21:3, 5). King Josiah abolished the cult (II Kings 23:5) and destroyed the horses and chariots of the sun placed "by the kings of Judah at the entrance of the Temple" (23:11).

See Host of *Heaven; *Moon; *Sundial.

In the Aggadah

The usual word for "sun" in rabbinic literature is ḥammah, although shemesh also occurs. The sun and the moon were created on the 28th of Elul (Pd-RE 8). Although they were originally equal in size, 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 chosen to be degraded because it had unlawfully intruded into the sun's domain. This is based on the phenomenon that the moon is sometimes visible while the sun is still above the horizon (Pd-RE 6; Gen. R. 6:3). Originally, the sun was designated as Jacob's tutelary luminary but later God assigned it to Esau, the moon being designated for Jacob. For this reason the Jewish people reckon by the lunar calendar (Gen. R. 6:3). It was God's original intention that the sun alone should furnish light to the earth. However, when He foresaw the future idolatrous worship of the heavenly objects, He decided that it would be better to have two large celestial bodies so that the danger of one becoming a central deity would be minimized (Gen. R. 6:1). For this reason, the sun and moon stand in judgment daily before God, ashamed to go forth, pleading "People worship us and anger the Holy One, blessed be He!" (Mid. Ps. to 19:11). When Joshua bade the sun stand still it first refused, but complied when Joshua said, "Faithless servant! Did not my ancestor [Joseph] see you in his dream, bowing down to him?" (Gen. R. 84:11).

God placed the sun in the second firmament because placing it in the one nearest the earth would have consumed all beings by its heat (Mid. Ps. to 19:13). Indeed, the sun is kept in a sheath. In the future, God will draw forth the sun from its sheath and the wicked will be consumed by its intense heat. Hence during that period there will be no Gehinnom (Ned. 8b). Simultaneously, the sun will heal the righteous of all ills, and will be a glorious ornament for them (Ned. 8b). 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 in accordance with the tekufot ("seasons") of the year. The sun bows down before God and declares its obedience to His commands. Three letters of God's name are written on the sun's heart, and it rides in a chariot. One set of angels leads it by day and another set leads it by night (Pd-RE 6).

The rotation of the sun causes the emission of beams and rays just as dust is produced by sawing wood. The sound which the sun makes during its rotations would be heard were it not for the din of the city of Rome (Yoma 20b). The rabbis differ as to the color of the sun. One holds that its natural color is truly red as it appears at sunrise and sunset, yet it appears white during the day because its powerful rays dim the sight of man. Another says the sun is actually white, but it appears red in the morning when it passes through and reflects the red roses of the Garden of Eden, and also toward evening when it passes through and reflects the fires of Gehinnom (BB 84a). The Talmud deduces the healing efficacy of sunlight from the verse "But unto you… shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings" (Mal. 3:20; Ned. 8b). Abraham possessed a precious stone which healed the sick. When he died God set it in the sphere of the sun (BB 16b). Sunshine on the Sabbath is considered a blessing for the poor because they have the leisure time to enjoy its rays (Ta'an. 8b).

An eclipse of the sun is an evil sign for the gentiles while an eclipse of the moon augurs evil for the Jews. When the solar eclipse occurs in the eastern horizon it forecasts bad tidings for the inhabitants of the East; if in the western horizon 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 symbolizes 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 evil will come soon; if late in the day or night, then it will arrive tardily. Jews who are true to their faith need not worry about these premonitions since the prophet already said: "….be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the nations are dismayed at them" (Jer. 10:2; Suk. 29a).


Ginzberg, Legends, index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.