Why do you bother speaking at conferences and doing radio shows that cover weird subjects?
I’ve done a lot of interviews and do them for a couple of reasons. I’m a believer that scholars should serve the public interest. Too many scholars ignore strange subjects and bogus research that fascinates people whose worldview revolves around such ideas. They claim they’re too busy or it’s not important. I can’t think of anything much more potentially paradigm-shifting than the question of whether there is extraterrestrial life or whether aliens came to earth in antiquity (i.e., the ancient astronaut strangeness). The issues takes you into religion, politics, physics, metaphysics, etc., and potentially redefine reality as we know it. I don’t like seeing people base their worldviews on ideas that are demonstrably wrong. People should not be duped, and scholars and scientists who know better should not stand on the sidelines allowing them to be duped.
Spiritually speaking, I want to minister to those whose experience has caused them to feel abandoned by their church or synagogue because their spiritual leadership isn’t intellectually equipped to help them, or fears real interaction with the supernatural. And if there is a scientifically verifiable ET reality that can be divorced from demonic entities, and that reality has intersected with our own, the public has a right to know about it (at least at the “yes” or “no” level). The Church also needs to understand how its theology can accommodate it (since it’s spent so much time laughing at it or ignoring it).
I’ve found there are, broadly, four kinds of people in the “UFO community” at large:
(1) The nuts and bolts scientists and serious researchers. These are folks dealing with questions of interstellar travel, propulsion systems, and the scientific possibility of ET life. The category also includes serious investigators doing the grunt research in classified / de-classified documentation relating to UFOs and rounding up first-hand witness testimony (some in category #4 like to think they are among this number, but they aren’t). The religious dimensions of the issue are barely on their radar. Some have already dismissed God because of their faith in non-theistic Darwinism. Some in this category are also politically active for the cause. Some are trained academics.
(2) The UFO or abduction experiencer (or wannabe experiencer). There are three subcategories to this one:
- The experiencer with a Christian testimony who wants to keep their faith. is the person who wants to keep their Judeo-Christian faith but is struggling with that. These are the people who have some experience and have tried in vain to get help from their pastor or other Christian friends to process the experience, to fit it into their faith worldview. They may or may not leave the organized church, but they surely are left on their own to deal with the experience. They rely on alternative sources of information and fellow experiencers to make spiritual sense out of it. They are vulnerable to nonsense like that of Zecharia Sitchin since some see it as the only way to make sense of things from their Bible. They are also vulnerable to redefining their faith in Gnostic terms.
- The experiencer who rejects the faith afterward, and who becomes antagonistic toward the faith. These people often operate out of anger toward the Church and may become openly hostile toward it. The reason is typically that pastors and Christian friends marginalized their experience or gave otherwise inept responses to questions — about the larger religious implications of a (presumed) alien reality or certain biblical passages that the experiencer now has questions about. This includes wannabe experiencers who vicariously come to hate Christianity because of what they read or hear from the experiencers who reacted in that way.
- The experiencer whose processing of an experience (or prior worldview) is now best described in modern terms as monistic (“all is one”), pantheistic, gnostic, etc. (“new ager”). They define God as a force or some other impersonal entity that permeates everything, including us. The aliens are here to enlighten us that we can evolve toward gods like they did / are doing. Along the way they can save us from ourselves (they warn us about nuclear weapons and global warming). Some in this category fancy themselves as avatars. This is the ancient astronaut believer (the ancient astronaut researcher is in category 4). They don’t care about things like logic and real data. They do truth by intuition and anomaly (99 of 100 data points one direction, but the one that doesn’t, or is an outlier, must be the truth … they just feel it.
(3) Military and Intelligence community folks (mostly ex-) who are either curious and like to lurk, or who are still getting paid for information and disinformation. (Yes, these people are really there; I’ve met them).
(4) The anti-Christian hucksters – people who see the UFO / ET issue as the platform they’ve wanted for years to vent their hatred toward Christianity and make money while doing it. These are the self-styled pseudo-scholars in the movement (usually with respect to ancient texts that they can’t actually translate). This crowd treats those of the Judeo-Christian faith with contempt and ridicule. These are the people whose bluff needs to be publicly called.
I’m guessing most of you in the Christian realm (academic or not) will consequently understand why I do this. If not, please feel free to email me and tell me why I should let the people in this community continue on in their Christ-less or God-less worldview, or why I should refuse to help them in their spiritual struggle. I do what I do to minister to or confront people in all the categories, whatever applies.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience? Has he ever seen a UFO?
No. (Does watching my kids grow up count?)
Are you available for speaking?
Yes, but only occasionally. You would have to contact me about it. My schedule is tight. I do not require an honorarium, though it is appreciated. I do require all expenses paid.
Is is true that Art Bell asked you to debate the late Zecharia Sitchin when he was the host of Coast to Coast AM?
Yes, this is true. The request was made in 2002 as I recall. I of course agreed immediately. As far as why Sitchin never agreed, I think the answer would be that he wasn’t stupid. He had nothing to gain and a lot to lose. But it was nice of Art to ask.
Do you do any teaching or writing on the Bible that is available online?
Yes. I blog on biblical studies at my Naked Bible blog. I have a podcast for biblical studies (Naked Bible Podcast) and one that discusses the religious / theological messaging of science fiction films and TV shows (Cinematic Theology). There are also some videos of classes I have taught where I go to church.
Are you a rabbi or ordained?
No, and no. I’m also not Jewish, either by faith or ethnicity.
UFOs and The Facade
Do you review other UFO books?
Yes, if they are published and if I’m interested. I don’t review manuscripts sent to me in any form. Here are titles of interest I have reviewed in the past:
Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection, by Gary Bates (Master Books, 2005)
Lights in the Sky & Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials, by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark (NavPress)
Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story, by Nick Redfern (Paraview-Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2005)
Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times, by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck (Tarcher / Penguin, 2009)
Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs, by Mark Pilkington and John Lundberg (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010)
Final Events and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife, by Nick Redfern (Anomalist Books, 2010)
Do you believe aliens really exist?
No – not if we’re talking about aliens the way most do (an intelligent biological life form from a planet other than earth that has to draw nutrition, reproduce, and poop, and must use technology that conforms to the laws of physics to move around the universe). I know of no credible scientific confirmation that such extraterrestrial life either has existed or does exist. Equations (like the overblown Drake Equation) are not evidence for aliens. Every element in the equation is a guess (i.e., has no real data support). I reject the idea that the Bible affirms aliens (disguised as angels). ET life forms would be biological entities that need to perpetuate their species, draw nutrition, and are subject to dimensional laws of physics or else they would die. The Bible does not describe angels this way. Until science verifies (rather than speculates about) an intelligent ET life form, I see no reason to affirm their existence. But I’m not theologically alarmed by the possible existence of intelligent extraterrestrials. Some researchers think aliens are manufactured by some other intelligence (human or demonic). Some anecdotes I’ve read would support that, but an anecdote (or regressed memory) isn’t reliable data in my view. The amount of published research demonstrating the flaws of hypnotic regression is considerable, and implanted memory is always a possibility.
Do you believe aliens are literally abducting people?
No, and this would extend from my answer to the previous question. However, I do think most people who claim to have had this experience are not lying or hoaxing. I believe they experienced something, but I see no reason to conclude alien abduction is the correct way to parse the experience.
My research into what is called “alien abduction” leads me to conclude that there are a range of possible explanations:
(1) Direct demonization of people. I think this is rare, though. The CE4 Research Group has made this the focus of their work with abductees.
(3) Abductions by military personnel (i.e., MILABS) who implant an alien screen memory into the victim’s mind, using technology that has been known (and further developed) since the 70s. One researcher to watch here is Leah Haley. Leah has recently concluded, after years of work with abductees, that it has nothing to do with extraterrestrials.
(4) Abductions where the victim’s mind replaces their actual traumatizer with the alien – traumatization where the victim responds by what is known in psychology as dissociative identity disorder (DID) – what used to be called multiple personality disorder). In other words, “alien memories” may be deliberately implanted.
I am well aware of the work of scholars in alien abduction research, like the late Dr. John Mack of Harvard and Dr. David Jacobs (Temple University) on the subject, but what I’d need to believe we were really dealing with aliens would be (a) actual evidence there are real aliens and (b) some sort of hybrid offspring — again, tested and verified by a credible laboratory. I don’t expect any such thing to be brought forth. I also think that the recent Emma Woods incident (see here — it is a large file) has tarnished Jacobs’ work beyond the inherent criticisms of repressed memory therapies.
I still believe the best academic reading available on the subject of alien abduction are the papers from the 1992 MIT Conference on the alien abduction phenomenon: Alien Discussions : Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference Held at M.I.T.
Do you believe there is currently some sort of secret government program (or other program) designed to produce literal alien-human hybrids (i.e., modern nephilim)?
No. I think the idea is nonsense. In any event, it’s a claim that demands empirical evidence (e.g., some sort of biological proof). The fact that xeno-transplantation exists in labs today is not proof of this for two simple reasons: (1) Logic – that a scientific capability exists is quite different from a particular application of that ability — those are two different things. Wireless technology exists; the idea that my neighbor is using his iPhone to talk to aliens in the Pleiades is a different situation altogether. (2) You’d need alien (or “demonic”) DNA for this presumed hybrid. So where’s the proof for that? You can’t use something that doesn’t exist to argue in favor of something else you believe exists.
How do you handle the plural pronouns in Gen 1:26 (“Let us create humankind in our image…”)? Doesn’t that verse show we were made by aliens like von Daniken and Sitchin insist?
Have you received any recognition for this research in ufology?
Yes. FATE Magazine named me to its list of “The 100 Most Influential People in UFOlogy” in 2005.
In your opinion, what are the best (i.e., most credible) books on UFOs?
Here are my “must reads” for the subject of UFOs:
UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Coverup, 1941-1973, by Richard Dolan
UFOs and the National Security State: The Coverup Exposed: 1973-1991, by Richard Dolan
These volumes by Dolan are unquestionably the best for documenting the U.S. government’s burning interest in UFOs and its deliberate duplicity in informing the public about that interest. Rich is an academic (runner-up for a Rhodes scholarship as a grad student) and a careful researcher. If I had to pick one book to recommend to someone who said “convince me UFOs are worth looking into,” Rich’s first book would be it, or perhaps the shorter work by Leslie Kean below.
The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence, ed. Peter Sturrock, PhD.
Also quite good. If you think there is no physical evidence for UFOs, you are uninformed. This book isn’t about fuzzy photographs.
Passport to Magonia : On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds by Jacques Vallee, PhD
The above title by Vallee is one of his early efforts at dealing with his view that “aliens” may not be truly extraterrestrial – but entities of a spiritual or inter-dimensional nature. The following three titles by Vallee are a trilogy and, as you can tell by the titles, reveal his less-than-optimistic verdict about the “goodness” of the visitors. Vallee’s works are especially significant since he has no religious axe to grind.
Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact by Jacques Vallee, PhD
Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact by Jacques Vallee, PhD
Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception by Jacques Vallee, PhD
UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel (Putnam, 1970)
A classic by the author of The Mothman Prophecies. Like Vallee, Keel argues strongly that UFOs are a demonic presence–and he is not a Christian.
A fascinating look at how the government systematically used now-deceased electrical physicist Paul Bennewitz to perpetuate disinformation about UFOs. Various government agencies fed Bennewitz him lies to keep him believing in an imminent alien invasion until he was completely discredited and utterly insane. Eventually, author and UFO researcher Bill Moore was recruited to help in the disinformation campaign.
In your opinion, what are the best (i.e., most credible) websites and blogs for UFO research? Besides his own blog, UFO Religions, of course)
My answer here is about which sites are doing research and which ones are waxing eloquent about aliens(for which there is no proof). Here are the web resources I find most useful:
This is the motherlode for genuine government documents relating to the UFO phenomenon. The site consists of its owner’s scanned Freedom of Information Act requests, the scanned responses, and text-conversions of those scans. Literally tens of thousands of pages (most of which are unspectacular) demonstrate both the military’s disingenuous attitude toward the UFO phenomenon and its own documented experiences.
Leslie Kean’s UFOs on the Record Research Site
CUFOS (Dr. J. Allen Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies)
This site reports on UFO news. There’s pretty much a sighting a day, every day, though who knows what they actually are. It also provides good coverage to UFO research news of importance.
What do you think about the work of Zecharia Sitchin and the idea of ancient astronauts?
Not much. I can’t think of a more data-starved belief than ancient astronauts (non sequiturs and anecdotes are not data). As for Zecharia Sitchin, I actually don’t think he knew any ancient languages. He probably knew modern Hebrew, but reading ability and grammatical analysis (exegesis and philology) of ancient texts is entirely different. Think about it. You can sight-read English if you’re reading this now — but can you analyze the grammar? Can you talk intelligently about verb tenses, syntax, modifiers, etc.? Reading and academic analysis are quite different. I don’t believe Sitchin could do any such thing in any ancient language. His books suggests that much. I have a whole website devoted to Sitchin’s nonsense, and have blogged a number of times about the myth of ancient astronauts. I also appeared in a free three-hour documentary (2012) devoted to debunking the ancient aliens mythology passed off as research on the History Channel (affectionately thought of as the Fantasy Channel). I highly recommend that documentary. For a list of links that address many common false proofs for ancient aliens (e.g., the “helicopters” in Egyptian hieroglyphs), go here. Jason Colavito’s blog is also excellent for debunking the ancient astronaut fantasy.
Biblical Studies and Divine Council, Ancient Studies
Are you really a scholar in biblical studies and ancient languages? What are your credentials?
Yes, I really am. You can read my CV here.
If elohim is a plural word, how can it describe the singular God of Israel?
The Hebrew word elohim is morphologically plural (that is, it’s “shaped” as a plural, or “spelled” as a plural). However, in roughly 2,200 cases (by far over 90% of the biblical occurrences), the word elohim is used as a proper name for the ONE God of Israel. We know this because it’s a cold, hard fact from the text. In those 2,200 or so cases, elohim is the subject of a SINGULAR verb (all languages have subject-verb agreement) or is referred to by a SINGULAR pronoun (him, his). Don’t take my word for it; you can see the data for yourself here.
What this means is that, most of the time in the Hebrew Bible, although elohim has plural FORM, it’s MEANING is singular. It all depends on the sentence in which it’s found and the surrounding grammar and context. We have words like this in English. If I say “sheep”, by itself you can’t tell if I am referring to one sheep or more than one sheep. I need to put it in a sentence where the grammar tells you what is meant. “The sheep is lost” refers to ONE sheep since “is” = a singular verb form. “The sheep are lost” refers to more than one sheep because the verb form is plural.
How do you handle the plural pronouns in Gen 1:26 (“Let us create humankind in our image…”)? Doesn’t that verse show we were made by aliens like von Daniken and Sitchin insist?
What is your view of Genesis 6:1-4? Do you accept the Sethite View? What do you think about the nephilim?
I don’t accept the Sethite interpretation (that the sons of God in Gen 6:1-4 are the line of Seth marrying with the line of Cain). It simply has no merit. It cannot account for the morphology of the Hebrew term nephilim (see here for that). It is contradicted by the New Testament (Jude, 2 Peter 2, which presuppose an angelic sin that is compared to the sexual transgressions of Sodom). This view was not held by anyone, Jew or Christian, prior to the 3rd century A.D. and is internally contradictory. There are a number of decent critiques of this view on the Internet (e.g., here; note that inclusion here does not necessarily mean endorsement of the entire articulation). The best thing I can offer on the nephilim issue are the chapters in my book, The Unseen Realm May 2015).
Nephilim are clearly cast as giants in the Old Testament, though I do not believe any such people were taller than unusually tall people of today (see here). Skeletal remains of alleged giants are unpersuasive, since they are typically fakes and, more importantly, have never undergone scientific analysis. Without the science, there is no more validity to them than reports of aliens.
Where can I learn more about the divine council? Are there any good books on it?
The best academic (but readable) introduction to the divine council is my book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham, 2015). I’m not saying that to sell books. I’m saying it because it’s true. The reason I wrote the book was to introduce readers to the divine council of biblical theology and make scholarly discussion of that topic accessible to the non-specialist. The Unseen Realm, however, is for people who have reasonable experience in Bible study (and Bible study isn’t Bible reading). For people who only occasionally read the Bible (and then basically the New Testament), I have also written a “lite” version of Unseen Realm called Supernatural. Lastly, there is also my divine council website. It contains a couple of articles I’ve had published elsewhere.
There are also other dictionary articles in the following sources that will be in any Christian college library and many public libraries (see below):
“Assembly, Divine” in Anchor Bible Dictionary
“Divine Council” (by yours truly) in InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings
“Divine Council” (also by yours truly) in InterVarsity Press’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: The Prophets
“Council” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible
“Sons of God” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible
Beyond these, the bibliographies in the articles found at my divine council website will provide more resources, many of which are advanced, scholarly monographs and journal articles.
Do you believe the Bible teaches ghosts are real? Aren’t ghosts demons?
I believe the biblical text makes a distinction between disembodied human spirits and disembodied non-human spirits (see here for the data). The latter would fall into the “demon” category as we think of it, though the Old Testament only uses the word “demon” twice, and not specifically in the context of mediums (“mistress of the ‘ob, in biblical parlance). But a malevolent non-human spirit seems conceptually the same as demons of later biblical literature. As far as disembodied human spirits go, other than the case of Samuel (1 Sam 28:13), there is no proof that God sends them back to interact with humans (and that would be his choice; human solicitation of the disembodied human dead was forbidden in the Bible). It may be that God allows a departed loved one to “say goodbye” to other loved ones, but that would be up to God. We have no way of correctly parsing such experiences (and I have heard about several of these first hand, from pastors and other friends and relatives), so we should not assume we can know what’s going on in light of the little said on the subject in the Bible. My advice is let such an event be what it is and not pursue it or make it part of one’s faith.
Do you do any teaching or writing on the Bible that is available online?
Yes. I blog on biblical studies at my Naked Bible blog. I have a podcast for biblical studies (Naked Bible Podcast) and one that discusses the religious / theological messaging of science fiction films and TV shows (Cinematic Theology). There are also some videos of classes I have taught where I go to church. I also offer online courses in ancient languages and biblical studies at my MEMRA institute.
Where can I find quality English translations of ancient Near Eastern texts (i.e., Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Ugaritic, Phoenician, etc.)?
There are several scholarly but accessible translations (anthologies of texts). Some are expensive.
The Context of Scripture: Canonical Compositions, Monumental Inscriptions and Archival Documents from the Biblical World, 3 Vol Set – This 3 volume set includes the major texts (from various genres) across the broad range of ancient Near Eastern literature.
The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures – This used to be a two-volume set; this is the combined in one volume edition. Like the item above, it contains translations from a broad range of ANE texts.
The Harps that Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation – This is a collection of Sumerian poetic texts (which includes creation epics) in English translation
Before The Muses: An Anthology Of Akkadian Literature – This is the best collection of Sumerian-Akkadian literature in English translation. It used to be two volumes. This is the combined into one volume edition.
From Distant Days: Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia – This is a condensed version (coverage not as full) of the above (Before the Muses).
Ancient Egyptian Literature: An Anthology – Just what it sounds like; its focus is Egyptian literature only.
Miriam Lichtheim’s three-volume anthology of Egyptian literature can still be found:
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom
- Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period
For Ugaritic, it’s hard to beat Wyatt’s Religious Texts from Ugarit: 2nd Edition (Biblical Seminar)
Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition – also very good for Ugaritic texts