Are there….UFOs...in the Bible?
A Pillar Q-and-A
Members of Congress are expected this month to receive a report from national intelligence agencies about the government’s knowledge of “unidentified aerial phenomena” - more commonly known as UFOs.
The subject made headlines last summer, when a report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, authored by then-Chairman Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), called for a “detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data and intelligence reporting” from various intelligence sources.
But while they are now getting more serious mainstream attention, reported sightings of UFOs are nothing new. They have been the subject of a cult following and dedicated conspiracy theorists for decades.
In fact, some speculation about UFOs even claims that the pages of Sacred Scripture include evidence of ancient contact between aliens and mankind.
In his 2017 book, “Ancient Aliens in the Bible: Evidence of UFOs, Nephilim, and the True Face of Angels in Ancient Scriptures,” Xaviant Haze lays out many such theories on Biblical extraterrestrials. Haze has published a number of works on aliens and other cryptic beings, covering everywhere from ancient India to the early Americas.
Haze argues that the supernatural elements of Scripture were actually alien encounters, misinterpreted by ancient authors who “lacked the proper vocabulary to describe what they were seeing.”
He says Eden was not a terrestrial paradise, but an ancient laboratory where aliens created humans and spliced their own genes into them, thus creating an “image of God.” He says the Nephilim, a race of giants mentioned in Genesis, were descendants of aliens.
The Noahic Flood, Haze argues, was a way of scrapping a genetically flawed humanity and starting over. Even Jesus was an alien, according Haze’s reading of Scripture.
Sure, that all sounds crazy. But with aliens in the headlines this spring, The Pillar decided to take a look at some of those theories, and get the facts. Is there any way that theories about aliens in the Bible align with Catholic theology? Could there actually be UFOs in the Bible?
We talked to Dr. Mark Giszczak of the Denver-based Augustine Institute. Giszczak holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from The Catholic University of America and an S.S.L. from the Pontifical Biblical Commission in Rome. Here’s what he said:
The Pillar: So, does the Bible evidence close encounters of the first kind?
Dr. Giszczak: Uh, no.
The Pillar: Where does speculation about alien life and activity come into contact with Scripture?
Dr. Giszczak: There are some people who have taken a very enthusiastic reading of the first few verses of Genesis chapter 6, which talks about the “sons of God” intermarrying with the “daughters of men,” and producing a race of giants, or the Nephilim. A lot of people have taken this as an indication of some sort of extraterrestrial involvement or interbreeding or something with humanity.
But my own explanation of those verses goes back to St. Augustine. In the “City of God” book 15, he talks about this passage in specific. If you read it in context, he identifies the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6 as the sons of Seth, the sons of the chosen line who have received the kind of blessing from Adam that traces back to the beginning of humanity.
And the “daughters of men” in this category would be the women in the line of Cain, who have inherited the problems that come with the sins of Cain. St. Augustine says there’s no doubt about the fact that these “angels” were men, and not, as some people think, creatures different from men. Scripture is unambiguous in what it declares.
St. Augustine will also point out that it’s not unknown for a small number of people to be born as giants. In fact, in the context when he’s discussing this, he mentions a well-known giant from his own time period in Rome.
He says, “Surely, even in our day, as I pointed out earlier, men have been born with bodies far bigger than what is normal. Everyone remembers the giantess of Rome, who lived along with her father and mother only a few years ago when the Goths were about to sack the city.”
So, he actually knows of certain “giants” in his own historical context, and he says the Nephilim of Genesis are not some sort of other creature. They too are human.
The Pillar: Some theorists express that because angels occasionally show biological needs in Scripture, like eating, they are not angels but instead aliens. What’s the explanation for such passages?
Dr. Giszczak: We believe that God is the creator of all things, and we also profess that he created all things “visible and invisible.” And I think that’s the important distinction. As Catholics, we believe that God created intelligent beings that don’t have bodies, namely the angels, and of course the fallen angels as well. So, the idea that there are other creatures in the universe is not threatening to our faith.
When we see these instances in Scripture where an angel appears in human form and does things like walk around, and eat food, and have a conversation with Abraham or Lot, we shouldn’t be surprised that God has a way of communicating with us by means of these angelic beings that take on flesh, but only in a kind of limited way. It’s not a true Incarnation like the coming of Jesus. These angelic appearances would be bodily manifestations, a way that God can communicate with us in a visible, tangible way. And yet, those bodies are more like pseudo-bodies that will eventually disappear once their job is done.
If you think about the way that God communicates with us, he has to communicate to us in ways that we understand, whether that be with words, with visions, with signs, or with these visible appearances of angelic figures in the Old Testament. That shouldn’t surprise us at all.
The Pillar: But what about angels with bodily needs? If they don’t have true bodies…
Dr. Giszczak: We see that in the Book of Judges, and the Book of Genesis, and quite a few places where the angels appear and eat with the human beings that they’re visiting. We shouldn’t perceive that as the angels being in need of physical sustenance, but rather that they appear in human form, so they take on the appearance of needing food when in fact they are pure intelligences that don’t have bodies, properly speaking, but they just appear with bodies.
The Pillar: So is the act of eating meant to express some kind of symbolic significance?
Dr. Giszczak: Oh, certainly. Eating is very symbolic in the biblical world of a kind of union. If we share a meal together, that means that the food that we’re eating is now part of me, and it’s part of you, and so we have this kind of unity with one another through the act of eating.
This is ritualized in the temple ceremonies, which are described in Leviticus, where you make your offering at the temple, and the priest will eat of the offering, symbolizing God’s partaking of the offering and reception of it, and the worshipper as well, in certain offerings, will also eat of the offering, symbolizing his unity with God.
So when the angels come and they eat with Abraham, for example, it’s a way of symbolizing that kind of communion with God.
The Pillar: Haze, our conspiracy author, claims that the “image of God” in Genesis refers to prelapsarian gene splicing in the Garden of Eden, which he says was a giant laboratory where humans were made, explaining that the Hebrew term for this, tselem, originally means “to cut.” What is the actual origin of the term “image of God”?
Dr. Giszczak: The imago Dei, or the image of God, is our intellectual nature, so it’s the way in which we’re similar to God. If you go back and look at the Hebrew, and you find that key word that’s translated as image, which is tselem in Hebrew, it’s a very interesting word. It’s very interesting that the authors of Genesis chose to use it, because it’s the normal word for “idol.” Why would God refer to Adam and Eve as “image of God,” or “idol of God,” when later he condemns idol worship? I think, to understand this well, we have to explain a little about the context of Genesis 1, which I’ll try to do very briefly.
Genesis 1 is largely, if you will, a liturgical text written by priestly authors. It’s attempting to reveal the whole cosmos as a kind of temple, or sanctuary. If you were to walk into a temple in the ancient world and you would go into the inner sanctum, what would you find there but a tselem, an image of the deity that was being worshipped at that temple.
What I find very fascinating about this is if you conceive of the creation in Genesis 1 as a kind of cosmic temple and the Garden of Eden as the sort of holy of holies of that cosmic temple, then what do you find when you go into the Garden of Eden but an image of God, a tselem, namely Adam, or Adam and Eve.
And in fact, if you go to the early Rabbinic tradition of interpreting what’s happening here, and what the image of God is, and who Adam is, they refer to this tradition and talk about how Adam’s body was radiant with divine light, and how the angels would even be tempted to worship Adam because he was so glorious. He had actually been made into an image, or tselem, of God. So in that way, Adam represents God on earth.
The Pillar: Alien conspiracies are just one of many schools of thought that treat Scripture as only a historical document rather than the inspired Word of God. How do such hermeneutics differ from Catholic hermeneutics?
Dr. Giszczak: I think there’s a tendency to treat the Bible as if it’s a magic book, or a code book that needs to be decoded. This has been a temptation since ancient times, when you think of the Gnostics or the Cabalists or others who have sought to treat the Bible almost like a magic trick.
But the Church teaches that God communicates in a rather human way, with human words, which make sense to human beings, and that he writes Scripture as the Divine Author, but he also uses the human author with all of his powers to compose Sacred Scripture, so that we can say the human authors of Sacred Scripture are true authors, and God is the author of Sacred Scripture, and there’s not contradiction there.
God doesn’t seek to hide meaning in the sacred text that needs to be decoded through esoteric means, but rather he entrusts the truth to the words of Sacred Scripture so that we might receive it with open hearts and in faith. The Christian faith is not a game of speculation or decoding, the Christian faith is the life of faith, hope, and charity, and reading Scripture as a Christian is not about answering esoteric speculative questions, reading Scripture as a Christian is so that we might become more like Christ, and be filled with the Holy Spirit, and be filled with virtue.
So, I think that the distinction to draw between these speculative readings of Scripture and a more authentic Christian approach to Sacred Scripture has to do with what our goal is. Are we trying to answer trivia questions about what might be happening in current events or speculate about the future using the Bible as a kind of secret code? That’s really a Gnostic approach. Or, are we trying to become more like Jesus and grow in faith and holiness, that we might be united with him forever? That’s a Catholic approach.
The Bible is a complicated book. Understanding as much as we can about the archaeological situation, and the international literary situation, and other religions that were present in the area at the time that the Bible was written, all of those types of data help us understand what was going on in the Bible. But I think that that’s a little bit different than these types of approaches that you’re talking about, where these people are taking Scripture as if it’s a kind of secret record of these kinds of confusing or esoteric ideas that the authors of Scripture didn’t really understand.
I think these approaches are not consonant either with the Catholic tradition of Scriptural interpretation, nor with contemporary scholarly conventions. Ancient texts are hard to understand, and we have to do a lot of work to come to understand them, and the Bible is no exception in that. But just because they're hard to understand doesn’t mean that we should resort to conspiracy-laden approaches in attempting to “decode” the Biblical text.
The Pillar: So how can Catholics without academic training seek to approach the Bible faithfully, fruitfully, and with correct understanding?
Dr. Giszczak: The first thing to recommend is to read Sacred Scripture itself. If you want to understand the Catholic approach to Sacred Scripture, I would recommend starting with Dei Verbum, which is one of the dogmatic constitutions of the Second Vatican Council.
Keeping your Catechism with you while you're reading Scripture will help you understand the various passages that you’re encountering in a Catholic way, and obviously picking up a good commentary or study Bible will also be very helpful.