I have been talking about how some authors in the alternative history literature have looked at the Star of Bethlehem as some sort of alien craft or UFO (here and here). Since then, I think I am safe in thinking that Paul Misraki is the earliest person to argued for this idea in his Les Extraterrestres in 1962, then translated into English in 1965. I have also compared his work to that of Rev. Barry Downing and R. L. Dione who also in the 1960s proposed the idea, and it seems they came to their conclusions independently of each other. But then again, they were also inspired by previous writers on UFOs explaining strange lights in the past, including in the Bible, so this isn’t too strange of a situation.
I also noted how Misraki had personal contact and influence on one of the more famous ufologists that looks for flying saucers in the past, Jacques Vallée, who is still writing books to this day. One of his most recent one is Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times (2010), with Chris Aubeck. It’s also one of the few books of his that I can actually preview (see Amazon page). Jason Colavito has already given the book a pretty thorough going-over (1, 2, 3), so you can get an idea of how strong and rigorous the evidence and analysis is in the book.
However, because it’s also one of the few books by Vallee that I can look at online, it’s also one of the few I can easily search to see what he has to say about the Star of Bethlehem and alien travelers. He starts his discussion on page 385.
Vallee notes that the report of the Star is remarkable but also “controversial”. This seems to suggest a level of skepticism of this tale, or at least about the details of its nature. Vallee also notes that numerous explanations have been provided for the Star, but he only names two: the planet Venus and a nova. He also feels uncertain about the nature of the object because the date or even year is unknown.
After this, Vallee talks more in this section of the book about the angelic visitor of Mary, quoting from the Gospel of Luke 1:29-38. Actually, Vallee says he starts at verse 26, but the text he cites comes from verse 29, but this could just be a typo or he is referring to the entire Annunciation pericope. The translation doesn’t fit the many I have looked at (the NLT seems close in some respects), but I also don’t see any obvious changes to the Greek to make it more “alien” per se. Still, this is definitely not much to do with the Star, but because a bunch of medieval/Renaissance painters depict this scene with some sort of light source in the sky that makes it a potential UFO sighting. Because, as we all know, artists a millennium later in symbolic representations of theological tales know exactly what happened in the Galilee.
But then Vallee in the same paragraph talking about the painting of the Annunciation jumps to a 13th century source (the Golden Legend) discussing the light that guided the Magi. That collection of saintly deeds stated that the Star was a newly-created beacon that was then extinguished after it had served its purpose–namely, guiding the Wise Men to Jesus.
Sadly, Vallee doesn’t use this late source to its full potential. In Chapter 14 of this tome, we are told how the Star first appears to the Magi while in their homeland, and how it appeared to turn into a baby Jesus and talked to them. Vallee has passed up a great closer encounter of the 3rd kind!
Nonetheless, it seems that Vallee doesn’t give the UFO-Christmas Star connection much credit, leaving up to something either miraculous or explained by some other means. Rather, continuing on the same page where the discussion of the Star ends, the author (or authors) then bring up the recently recovered Gospel of Judas and how in that story Jesus tells Judas to look up to a luminous cloud, and then Judas is taken up. Now, there has been some controversy in interpreting the Coptic text at this point, and in particular April DeConick argues that National Geographic’s team of scholars did a rushed job and produced a rendition that made Judas into a more heroic or misunderstood character. I won’t weigh in on this, especially since I don’t read Coptic and am not well-versed in so-called Gnostic literature, but one point worth noting is that no one scholar of the text argues the composer was trying to talk about a real event. Or does Vallee think that Jesus transformed into a child before the eyes of the Disciples when discussing Gnostic mysteries? The author of the Gospel of Judas wasn’t writing history but theology. Just like all the other gospels, or so I would argue.
But it is nonetheless interesting that Vallee thinks he has a better argument for a UFO incident with the Gospel of Judas that he does with the canonical Gospel of Matthew’s story of the Star. In fact, there isn’t reference to the Assumption or Transfiguration either.
In fact, the book is a bit light on biblical events as UFOs. There is also nothing on something that Mizraki and Dione bring up, the miracle of Fatima, but this is a 20th century event and so of less interest to this book. Vallee does in other literature talk about this, but Mizraki and Dione spill a lot of ink on the Fatima incident. Downing has little to say on the subject, by comparison. Perhaps this is because Downing has a Protestant background while Mizraki and others have a Catholic one, and Fatima is a quote Catholic miracle? I can’t wait to see Catholic and Protestant AAT folks go at it and say how all those saintly miracles are bogus and yet use the same quality of evidence for the influence of aliens on this world.
Just take the stories of St. Genevieve as one example. Apparently her dead body had the power to stop plagues when a procession was held in her honor (as noted by the Catholic Encyclopedia). There also also the tales of her stopping storms and producing hexes or spells to curse people. Now, I’m not saying she was a Catholic alien…but she was a Catholic alien. Oh, and what about the transformation of St. Christopher from a dog-head into a normal human? Alien genetic engineering? Come ON Ancient Aliens, there is also sorts of crap I can just make up that you can edit in during the afternoon. Get crakin’. On the other hand, if you doubt all of these Catholic saint legends, then shouldn’t you doubt other such miraculous tales? Why accept some and not others?
Unfortunately, the AAT crowd doesn’t have a method for answering that question, and they actively shun the people that actually do: historians. Rather, it seems that whatever can be turned into a tale that fits into the new theology is acceptable. And this seems to all be because aliens are just a little more plausible than supernatural entities, especially to those that are a bit fantasy-prone.
When it comes to these sorts of stories of antiquity and the Middle Ages, Richard Carrier has a good talk on the subject and how to approach these sorts of things and why we are justified and saying they are incredible. Aliens need not apply, Catholic or otherwise.
Also looking at this video, it reminds me that Skepticon 6 is coming up, and they are seeking donations. I want to go, but Springfield, Missouri seems so far away when you have to work five days a week (and now Sunday teaching for me as well). Must find a way…