I was tempted just to leave the page of this post blank, but some might miss the joke and think there was a malfunction.
Those of you who don’t think biblical illiteracy is a problem will want to read this essay by Micah Hanks: “The Torah’s Teachings on Alien Life.” That title understandably caught my eye, since I have a PhD in Hebrew Bible.
Those of you who know what the Torah is (which wouldn’t include the essay’s author) will no doubt wonder why no passage in the Torah is quoted in the piece. Instead, we get citations from the medieval kabbalistic Zohar1 and the Sefer Habris (a presumed 12th century text). Those books aren’t in the Torah. The Torah is made up of the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Torah was composed and put into its final form long before the medieval period.
The closest the article gets to ANY portion of the Bible is Judg 5:23 (also not in the Torah), part of which reads: “Cursed is Meroz … cursed are its inhabitants.” Meroz, we are told by Mr. Hanks and his source, a rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, is the name of a star, and so this verse is proof of ET life (the star had inhabitants).
Where does this idea come from? Let’s put our thinking caps on, folks.
For a little context (hey, there’s an idea — look at a verse in its context!) here’s Judges 5:19-23 in the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation:
19 Then the kings came, they fought:
The kings of Canaan fought
At Taanach, by Megiddo’s waters—
They got no spoil of silver.
20 The stars fought from heaven,
From their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept theml away,
The raging torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with courage!
22 Then the horses’ hoofs pounded
As headlong galloped the steeds
23 “Curse Meroz!” said the angel of the Lord.
“Bitterly curse its inhabitants,
Because they came not to the aid of the Lord,
To the aid of the Lord among the warriors.”
In the story, Israel (the Lord’s people) are fighting against Sisera, their enemy). And so, the “stars” helped Israel but Meroz did not.
Here’s a short note from Wikipedia on Meroz in kabbalistic thought (borrowed in this instance from the Talmud):
According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 16a), Meroz is a certain planet in the stellar sphere, and because the mention of it in Judges 5:23 is preceded by the phrase, “the stars in their course fought against Sisera” (v.20), it thus follows that Meroz must be defined as a celestial body.
So, because of the word’s position in the verse – that it is mentioned next to the word “stars” – it must be a celestial body. That’s hardly sound thinking. And look at the verse. The “stars” did in fact fight for Israel and so they weren’t cursed – and so, neither would their “home planet” be getting cursed, if Meroz was their planet. Meroz is thus distinguished from these “stars.” That is, Meroz has nothing to do with these “stars” (which is why it’s cursed – the stars were favorable toward Israel; Meroz was not). The passage actually means the opposite of what Micah Hanks and Rabbi Kaplan are saying. The fact that two words appear near each other does not produce meaning — you actually have to read the text. In this case, Hanks and Rabbi Kaplan have very obviously misread it.
Meroz is a sight for which there have been a number of archaeological proposals, but which has not received a definitive identification. That’s not a mystery that lends to it being a celestial body, either, because of the preceding paragraph — Meroz is distinguished from the stars.
So what are the stars? Many scholars (and I’d be in this group) think the plainest reading of this text — which mentions the stars “in their courses” — is a reference to astrology or astrological reasoning. That is, the text reflects the belief that, to borrow a modern expression, “the stars were aligned” in the favor of Israel in this battle. That is, something in the heavens — some portent or sign — was perceived as foretelling victory or assisting in victory. Since Israel, like its neighbors, believed that her God (Yahweh) was the force behind the signs in the heavens (having created them; cf. Gen 1:14-16) and could telegraph his intentions through them.
Support for this view comes — guess where — the same chapter from which Meroz is proof-texted. Judges 5:21 tells us that a flood (and scholars believe it to be a flash flood because of regional geography) was what won the day for Israel. And so, the idea in context would be that signs in the sky (rightly or wrongly – 2nd millennium BC people didn’t know meteorology like we do) led to a weather / climate event that produced a flood that wiped out Sisera’s army. Israel won because of that event — but the slackers from Meroz never showed up, so the angel of the Lord (Yahweh in anthropomorphized form) curses them.
It’s not complicated.
Honestly, why must we force aliens into the Bible? If you like the idea (and I think it would be cool if there was ever any proof), just like the idea. Don’t distort the biblical text.
- While some of its ideas are Talmudic – also a post-biblical era – the scholarly consensus is that the Zohar is medieval or later. ↩
You write: “Honestly, why must we force aliens into the Bible? If you like the idea (and I think it would be cool if there was ever any proof), just like the idea.” I guess there’s no easy answer to this, but I’d like to suggest some thoughts. Someone who likes the idea of aliens, and maybe “paleo-contact”, will probably be ridiculed in our society. So he has a strong motivation to legitimate his ideas. Tradition is, well, /traditionally/ a powerful source of legitimacy. And the Bible is a very obvious and strong source of tradition in our culture. So that’s a possible answer to the question “why must we force aliens into the Bible”. Another perspective: People are usually not just interested in the idea of extraterrestrials, and that’s that – they are interested in larger topics: humankind’s place in the world, truth, religion. Cosmology. Searching for meaning, they look to sources of wisdom and certainty: holy scripture, science. But the closer you look, the more experts you consult, the stronger you are thrown back on yourself. You have to make sense out of the world on your own. People just cling to the straws they are used to, even if they re-interpret them according to deviant cultural traditions like ancient astronaut thinking.
agreed; I get this; it still seems so contrived and dishonest.
”aliens” = angleic beings/ hosts of heaven
their habitat is outher space/ ”heaven”(second heaven)so they are ALIENS for earth humans(cuz earth is NOT their natural habitat/ home/ place to live) 😉
so ya.. the Bible IS TALKIGN ABOUT ”ALIENS”…
Wrong; aliens as we all speak of them are described as corporeal beings that need to draw nutrition (physical sustenance), are subject to physical laws (hence spaceships), need to perpetuate their species (as natural beings), etc. Angels are not described this way in the Bible. This is not at all how they are conceived.
Micah Hanks here… thanks for linking to my post, and as a person who is familiar with discussions about biblical literacy, the Torah, and other esoteric subjects, I for one would have gotten the joke about leaving the page blank. 😉
That said, I stumbled onto your site by absolute chance while researching an unrelated topic, and found that something I wrote was the subject of your grievance above (though you referred to it as an “essay,” and I thank you for that, it really is just a blog post). Hence, I trust that you won’t mind if I add to the thread here with a bit of the commentary on the matter from my own perspective… and commentary which *does not* advocate “ancient astronaut theories” in any way.
First, I’d refer folks to this article at Torah.org, which I reference in the blog posting: http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/extraterrestrial.html#
The general justification the author is trying to make (and the same notion I was trying to outline) is that culturally today, opinions on the existence of extraterrestrial life, as filtered through adherence to various religions, are beginning to change. Thus, many religions (most notably the Catholic Church, as discussed in popular media) have publicly stated that they have chosen to broaden their views on the matter of whether a traditional God could have also allowed for life to exist in other parts of the Universe, and furthermore, whether free will and other religious or spiritual concepts might be afforded them too.
In fairness, you may not have read my entire blog post (I often find that folks will glance at the title of something I’ve written, and then attempt to trash it, without reading any further), but the final paragraph is stated thusly:
“Do the theological perspectives of Judaism really differ from that of Christianity, or perhaps other faiths such as Hindu and other traditions, when it comes to the study of alien life? Furthermore, is there any knowledge that might be gained in terms of the study of extraterrestrial intelligence by applying a largely theological interpretation, or would this merely better us in hopes of deepening our spirituality, perhaps in a cosmological sense?”
Again, the fundamental premise here is that, in terms of the potential existence of alien life, human thought is changing, and in modern times, this is beginning to be reflected in religious interpretations around the world… which I find interesting. Perhaps it is more of a sociological phenomenon, if anything.
Now, to address your comment about “why must we force aliens into the Bible?” Let me be very, very clear: I am not a proponent that any mythic or religious experiences described in the Bible, or in other religious documents, must (or should) be related to corporeal beings we would call “aliens” visiting our planet in ancient times. I presume you know very little about my personal feelings toward the matter, and that’s not your fault… but if anything, I would argue that it is, as you have said, “contrived and dishonest” to make that kind of assertion about my general thesis, when it’s not at all where I was going with my blog post. Again Mike, I don’t want to come across like I’m attacking you here… but I will maintain that, since this is not my viewpoint or interpretation of religious texts, it is an unfair criticism on your part to assert that this was my logic, and thus build your argument it.
Let me further state that while I am interested (passionate, if anything) in the discussion of alien life and UFOs, I draw no distinct correlation between the two, something that troubles many “ufologists” I have known. Where have we found concrete evidence that links unidentified objects seen flying through our skies with alien beings from other worlds? I will not commit to belief in that premise, based on the theories of those armed with just as few answers as I have on the matter. I will not discount, however, the UFO sightings themselves: for more on this, one can simply visit the websites of intelligence agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and others (in countries outside the U.S. just as well) for official documentation on interest these organizations have shown in the UFO subject in the past. National security was taken into consideration by these agencies in their approach toward the UFO subject, hence their well-documented interest in such unexplained phenomenon. But again, to assume we’re dealing with extraterrestrials in those instances requires a tremendous leap in judgement, without any real facts to support it.
Thus, I call myself primarily skeptical in my approach toward the study of UFOs and related subjects (although at times I write articles and blogs that are geared toward a popular audience that deal with these topics). Some assert a connection between events described in religious texts and an “ancient alien” hypothesis; this has been espoused by popular writers such as Erich von Daniken (whom, unlike many these days, I have met and spoken with personally). They have used ancient holy texts as evidence for early instances of “UFO contact”; however, my view on this is quite the opposite. In pure logical terms, these are (again) mythic interpretations that have been filtered through various different cultures (and their various perspectives regarding spirituality) for centuries now. Our understanding of these things today must rely on our own philosophical and scientific treatment of the subject in modern times, paired with the discussion of what people’s cultural beliefs and values were at the time of the authorship of such holy texts. This in no way proves that “aliens” were visiting Earth in ancient times… although to be fair, perhaps we could also state that my logic here does little to disprove such a theory, either. I simply find it far less likely that aliens had anything to do with all this.
One alternative possibility, to me, might be that ecstatic visionary experiences were occasionally attained through meditation, or perhaps in a rare number of instances, even through the use of hallucinogens (see Terrence McKenna’s “Food of the Gods” for a thorough study on this subject, albeit one that is somewhat speculative at times). This, to me, would seem a more plausible justification for the otherwise quite “visionary” experiences recounted by some Hebrew prophets, holy figures, etc, which describe things beyond our normal conception of reality.
Altogether, I was very glad to see my article linked here, and while I fully support your right to differ with my interpretations, perhaps we could agree on one thing: is there such a need to be quite so snarky about it… especially since my actual opinions on the matter were somewhat mischaracterized? If anything, I agree that there’s no need to bring “aliens” into the equation when explaining ancient texts; my blog post was citing justifications given by another scholar on this matter. And furthermore, my own wildest speculation in this regard is that a potential variety of human/nonhuman encounter, or at very least an innately psychological “hallucinatory” experience, might involve the appearance of non-corporeal beings (though I wouldn’t call these “angels”, etc). No need to call them “ancient aliens.”
With that, I wish you all the best, and perhaps we can correspond more on this at some point in the future; I value the insight gained from both reading and discussion of your critique posted above, and I’ll take a look at some of the other fine posts and content on your website while I’m here.
Micah A. Hanks
Author, “Magic Mysticism and the Molecule”
“The UFO Singularity”
Micah – glad to hear you’re not an advocate of the AA nonsense. Few things I can think of are as data-starved as that.
I’m well aware of the religious perspectives of Judaism and the Roman Catholic Church. Since the latter has produced more commentary than the former, this blog is stilted in that directed. My response to your piece didn’t deny that there was a variety of perspectives within these faith traditions, or that perspectives are changing (I’d actually dispute that here, though – Jews and Christians have always been open to “other worlds” so that isn’t new).
I accept your note about your own personal take on the Bible not being evidence for ETs. But I still say your piece created that impression for readers — making it seem that the Bible could be read that way. I think that would be an irresponsible and uninformed hermeneutic. But if you want to clarify that you don’t share that hermeneutic personally, I’ll take you at your word.
On the UFO and alien question, it seems to me that they are clearly different, but related, items.
I also have to say there is no data for the prophetic “ecstatic” experience and what McKenna said. (as in zero). Frankly, a close reading of the Bible would show that few prophets had any sort of weird experience. That is not to say none did; it is to say this whole categorization is over-stated and inserted into the biblical narrative. Generally, I find this whole “experience” approach to religion pretty odd, though it is quite common. Yes, there are claims of religious experience, but that isn’t theology or even theological tradition. For myself, I have never had a single odd experience (and so, nothing close to “ecstatic” or visionary) and yet I’m a biblical theologian by training. Most people I know (scholars or otherwise) who are committed Christians or Jews would be in that camp. So any “analysis” of the merits or demerits of theology based on experiences is terribly misguided. For many (and maybe even most) it has nothing to do with experience; it’s propositional – a set of ideas whose coherence must be weighed against other ideas.
Thanks for taking so much time to reply!
How could a guy named Micah get the Hebrew Bible so wrong?
I look forward to the lines you come up with.
This hypothesis has been officially Heiser-ed,
henceforth it is declared null and void.
Its theoretical foundation cleaved in two by a wielded theological broadsword,
follow up theories in support of space traveling Bible-nauts are automatically and soundly de-nounced upon submission.
Any attempt to compare God’s holy throne with an Unholy Mother-ship (Sporting a Quad Warp Drive powered by lightning etc. etc.) will be sorely taught a lesson in proper Exegesis and finally Heiser-ed.
Thus you have been warned.
Had to chuckle!
PhD in Bible? THAT is the joke.
Do you know anything about the lives of the Torah Giants who reduced the Talmud to writing? You need to supplement your PhD with some basic Emunah and Yirat Hashem.
Don’t call me. I’d be ashamed to be seen near you.
My PhD is in Hebrew and Semitics. From a major university. What’s yours in?
I’ve only written about ten thousand words on that subject, so I probably don’t know. The Torah-alien (as in ET) stuff is bunk.
What’s the Hebrew word for extraterrestrial?