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Eclipsing the Sun, and reaching the Limit, in religious texts

[ by Charles Cameron — two footnotes in the study of religions ]

There are plentiful references in prophetic and apocalyptic writings to eclipses of the sun, but I’d like to suggest that religious texts suggest an alternative to darkness as the result of a solar eclipse — the “divine light” knowwn to mystics.

Thus in the commentary to Howard Schwartz‘ novella The Four Who Entered Paradise we find:

It is significant that elsewhere this primordial light is said to have had the power to “eclipse the light of the sun,” just as the primordial Adam was so splendorous as to “eclipse the light of the sun.” And in size this primordial Adam extended “from one end of the universe to the other,” like the light that enabled him to see “from one end of the universe to the other.”

When we read “signs of the times” which include eclipses of the sun, we might do well to remember this possible interpretation, referring to a spiritual rather than a physical eclipse.

Consider, for instance Revelation 21.23:

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.


Likewise, the Prophet Muhammadwas was enabled to see Jibril at the lote tree, which marks the farthest boundary near the garden, the boundary beyond which human knowing, physical and spiritual, cannot penetrate, beyond which Jibril dare not fly lest his wings burn. Sura 53. 10-18:

So did Allah convey the inspiration to His Servant what He (meant) to convey.
The heart in no way falsified that which he saw.
Will ye then dispute with him concerning what he saw?
For indeed he saw him at a second descent,
Near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass:
Near it is the Garden of Abode.
Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!)
(His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong!
For truly did he see, of the Signs of his Lord, the Greatest!

Muhammad also visits “the farthest mosque” — but being unable to recall its details, is given another vision of it, from which he is able to describe it…

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