ExoTheology & Space-Age Interpretations of the Bible

(religious implications of an inhabited universe)

riding a “planet going around a nuclear fireball”

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.

– Douglas Adams in his speech The Four Ages of Sand

Found this in someone’s signature, in a “Bad Astronomy and Universe” forum, one discussing interstellar travel and the time dilation effect. Great quote.


Human life span and Genesis 6:3 (“his days shall be 120 years”)

Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:3

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (Genesis 6:3 ESV).

What about this? Has anyone lived past that age? Is that our maximum age?

Of course, it’s possible this verse ought not even to be interpreted as pointing to human life span. I was reading Genesis 6:3 in the NET Bible the other day. (I love it when I read a new translation and it leads me to a new interpretation.) Anyway, instead of interpreting the verse as meaning that human beings as individuals will not live past 120 years, the NET translators have it as, in essence, “human beings will get 120 more years before they’re destroyed as a whole (in the flood)”: “So the Lord said, ‘My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years'” (Ge 6:3 NET).

But the more I read various commentators, the more I came to think that it’s much more likely the traditional interpretation is accurate — i.e., that eventually (after the great life-spans of the pre-flood patriarchs) human life span will max out at 120 years.

Then I saw this video (below). Check it out. At minute 1:16, one Dr. Kasten says,

Nobody lives past 120… yet.

Turns out that’s basically true. The one person who lived past 120 (Jeanne Calment) is the exception that proves the rule.  Of the “100 Verified Oldest People,” only nine lived beyond 115, and only one (Jeanne Calment) lived beyond 120. Most lived to 113-115.

I also guess someone could say that the verse would be more fulfilled if we human beings averaged 120 years. But of course life expectancy has varied so much from century to century and from place to place. And I think it’s unlikely that the biblical writer thought of “120 years” in the sense of an average — 1) since the whole concept of average would not be one he would likely have used much, and 2) the whole sense of “My spirit shall not abide in man forever” (ESV) implies duration of life once it’s started.

But what has been our average life span? Currently the world average is 67.2 years, according to this Wikipedia article. It’s actually sad how short out life spans have been over the centuries.

So I guess someone else could say that this verse is not fulfilled because for most of recorded history, our life span has been significantly less than 120 years. But it makes more sense that the Biblical writer is saying that 120 years will be the maximum human life span, since so much of what has kept our life-spans shorter has been non-genetic factors. As the writer of this same wikipedia article points out,

In general, the available data indicate that longer lifespans became more common recently in human evolution. This increased longevity is attributed by some writers to cultural adaptations rather than genetic evolution, although some research indicates that during the Neolithic Revolution natural selection favored increased longevity. Nevertheless, all researchers acknowledge the effect of cultural adaptations upon life expectancy. [Bold mine]

Anyway, this verse sure implies that the biblical writer(s) had access to some advanced scientific data — either that or he/they guessed well and his the number “120” right on.

Judges 5:23 Meroz = “clear proof … for extraterrestrial life”?

In a previous post, I noted that, according to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, both the Talmud and the Zohar interpret Meroz (a place mentioned in Judges 5:23) as a star — and, more than that, a star with inhabitants (presumably on a orbiting planet). As Kaplan puts it, “the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.”

That possible connection fascinated me, so I did a little research. So far I can’t find any support from mainstream scholarly sources for any connection between Meroz and the heavens. They all put it as a town in northern Palestine, though they are uncertain exactly where it was or much else about it.

Here’s the passage, Judges 5:19-23 (NRSV).

19 “The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
they got no spoils of silver.
20 The stars fought from heaven,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, with might!
22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come to the help of the Lord,
to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

For example, Avraham Negev says of Meroz: “Eusebius (Onom. 128:4–6, 12–13) states that in his time there was a village by the name of Marous, Merrous, 12 miles from Beth-Shean, near Dothan, and mistakenly identifies it with Meiron.” [Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).]

There’s not much help either in Hebrew lexicons. Here’s the entry in Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon: “מֵרוֹז (prob. for מֶאֱרוֹז, مَأْرَزُ refuge, from the root אָרַז, ارز to draw in, to betake oneself), [Meroz]” [Gesenius, Wilhelm and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003.]

The author of the Wikipedia entry on Meroz points again to the Talmudic view: “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. This mysterious ‘Meroz’ may not only be the name of a star, but also may allude to an unidentified group of outworld inhabitants somewhere in the second heaven (outer space) to which failed in their willingness to assist the righteous in a war against the wicked, and hence cursed by the angel of God.”

Ah! At least here there’s some possible reason [in the Biblical text itself] for the idea that Meroz is a star – i.e., the reference in verse 20 to how “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (NRSV).

But most commentators seem to be taking verse 20 as poetic, as a poetic way of saying that the Israelites got help from the weather (which in turn they interpreted as God or heaven helping them). The Open Bible (1998) says, “A poetic description of a miracle of weather on Israel’s behalf. Out of the heavens came torrential rains causing flash floods.” And the KJV Bible Commentary (1997) says, “The intervention of heaven is poetically phrased as the stars in their courses which fought against Sisera. Jehovah is viewed here as controlling the process of nature itself, a common Israelite belief throughout the Old Testament era.”

Good ol’ J. Vernon McGee disagrees and takes it all a bit more literally: “I don’t believe this is merely a poetic expression. My feeling is that it could truly be said that heaven, that God was against this enemy. [Thru the Bible Commentary, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Jdg 5:20.]

So, in the end, I still can’t find any connection between “Meroz” and “star.” Probably, if I knew more about the Talmud and the Zohar, I might understand why those sages might make that connection. I’ll keep looking.

NIV 2011 translators point out that “alien” now means “extraterrestrial being”

Here’s something (only) tangentially related to space-age interpretations of the Bible. I wanted to find out what changes the translators had made for their 2011 update of the 1984 NIV. And the first thing I came across was this example of the changes they made due to changes in the English language.

Who would have guessed in the 1970s that, within a few decades, an ‟alien” would mean, thanks to the influence of ET and other movies and TV shows, an ‟extraterrestrial being”? In the updated NIV, ‟alien” has been replaced with ‟foreigner” or similar words in order to communicate the intention of God’s Word accurately to contemporary English readers. See, for instance, Genesis 23:4: ‟I am a foreigner and stranger among you . . . ”

Torah reaches extraterrestrials (from a Midrash for Col. Ilan Ramon and other shuttle astronauts lost in 2003)

This is the ending to a midrash written for Col. Ilan Ramon and the six others who died when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, back in 2003.

What a wonderful thought. I love this.


[Ramon] took this Torah up into space, for to him, “This scroll symbolizes, more than anything, the ability of the Jewish people to survive everything, including horrible periods, and go from darkest days to days of hope and faith in the future.”

And though neither he, nor this Torah, nor his six crewmates, returned to earth, we can be assured that all seven souls returned to God, who created them, and that the letters of the Torah, written in deep black ink, soared among the stars and cast a heavenly light among all of God’s creations, chanting “The earth is Adonai’s and its fullness, the world and those who inhabit it.” [Psalm 24:1] And that somewhere, somehow, in a galaxy far, far away, some extra-terrestrial bar mitzvah tutor is teaching some extra-terrestrial being: “Mercha tipcha munach etnachta, mercha tipcha mercha sof pasuk. That’s how it goes. Trust me. I got it straight from this Torah scroll that came whizzing by me early one morning, much to my surprise.”

And that’s where Moshe interrupted God: “You really expect me to believe this story? That one day, human beings are going to ascend to your holy mountain, that they’ll actually fly into space, like the angels?” And God shushed him: “Moshe, my dear boy. After I freed you from Egypt, split the Red Sea, provided manna for you in the wilderness, when are you going to learn? With God, all things are possible!”

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan on extraterrestrial life

I found an article pointing to some Jewish perspectives on the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life: “Extraterrestrial Life” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, posted on torah.org.

Kaplan discusses the range of sages’ views on extraterrestrial life.

One Rabbi figures there’s nothing in Jewish thought that precludes ETs and quotes, as Kaplan says, “the Talmudic teaching (Avoda Zara 3b) that “God flies through 18,000 worlds.” Since they require His providence, we may assume that they are inhabited.”

Another Rabbi figures that since the universe was created for human beings “no other creature can exist possessing free will,” and without free will, why exist? (I’m not sure I get the logic which goes from “the universe was created for human beings” to “no other beings with free will exist.” I guess this Rabbi is assuming that ETs with free will could not benefit man in any way (assuming this Rabbi’s understanding of the universe as created for the benefit of humanity). But why not? ETs could serve us well in multiple ways. Read more of this post

Simon Conway Morris: extraterrestrials will likely be like us

Professor Simon Conway Morris on the question of what ET life will be like (dissimilar or similar to us)…

Aliens according to some people will be genuinely alien. […] I think evolution is by and large constrained. […] [after minute 3] I would argue that effectively life has so few options that in fact if you want to learn how to swim, how to fly, how to walk, if you want to learn how to breathe, if you want even to learn how to reproduce, even things which go down to rather settled business about why we have sexes and things like that, even the nature of the chromosomes on this planet actually have various sorts of predictabilities about them. And I’m taking a gamble here[…]. But I think that when we do detect alien life, it will be well, strikingly embarrassingly, well, it’ll be like us.

If creation is credible, resurrection is credible as well

In “The Mystery of the Resurrection,” Regis Nicoll critiques the view (in this case, of Lisa Miller, a journalist) that the resurrection of Jesus (or of anyone) is incredible. In the end, Nicoll emphasizes, if one cannot accept the miracle of creation, in the first place, one will have a hard time as well acceptin the possibility of resurrection (i.e., re-creation).

After pointing out that Miller seems to find reincarnation more plausible, Nicoll gives this great response:

If Ms. Miller is as appreciative of reincarnation as that statement would suggest, one wonders why the ability of an unintelligent karmic force to transmogrify a human being into a beetle, buffalo or rose bud is any more credible than the ability of super-intelligent Being to raise a decayed corpse or cremated ashes into a reconstructed body.  [emphasis mine]

He then goes on to point out that, even though Christians as a whole are tending to believe less in a physical / literal resurection and more in a spiritual / symbolic one, that tendency is contra to the long-term traditions of biblical interpretation (since the time of the early church), pointing to the examples of Job’s, Daniel’s, King David’s, the prophet Ezekiel’s, and of course Jesus’s belief in a real resurrection, and to the examples of accounts of actual resurrections (Elijah raising the Shunammite’s son; Jesus raising Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son; Paul raising Eutychus, and Peter raising Dorcas).

Recognizing and admitting that these resurrections were not permanent, were not resurrections to an immortal life — these bodies were raised “with the same abilities and limitations as they had before” — Nicoll emphasizes that Jesus’ resurrection is something “wholly different.” It is

The resurrection is the reconstitution and reanimation of remains that have decayed beyond all recognition and, sometimes, widely dispersed in the ecosphere. As Tatian, the second century Christian apologist wrote, “Even though fire may destroy all traces of my flesh… I am laid up in the storehouses of a wealthy Lord.”  [emphasis mine]

Nicoll ends by re-emphasizing that the miracle of resurrection is really no different from the miracle of creation in the first place. If one cannot accept the latter, it’s not suprising that the former would seem incredible as well.

The resurrection is one of Christendom’s deepest mysteries and, yet, no different in kind than the mystery of creation—whereby, man was formed from the dust of the earth, and the earth, ex nihilo, by the utterance of God. Consequently, folks who are put off by the resurrection of the dead will likely find the creation of the living a difficult pill as well. [emphasis mine]

It suggests that the real objection to the resurrection mystery is not so much over the process, but over what the process implies. Someone who is able to reassemble, refurbish, and reinvigorate our remains is Someone who can assert cosmic authority over us and make demands of us. And that is Someone some people would rather not think about, for now.

Really nice article.

a Muslim version of 1 Corinthians 15

This is kind of a Muslim version of 1 Corinthians 15. Interesting extra-Quranic stories.

From Washington: ‘How will God judge over six billion people?’
By Afis A. Oladosu

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful.

“WHEN is this your “judgment day” by the way? How many people will be judged on this memorable day? Everyone, who ever lived since Adam? Or only those, who came after Jesus the Christ, since there were no Christians before his coming to create them on earth? As of last count, the Chinese alone now number some 1.5 billion souls – alive, be it noted!

How many judges will this your God need for the Chinese alone (since they were never Christians anyway, so they are already doomed even before their trial – what a fair God!) on that faithful day, this famous “judgment day” sold to my Nigerian brothers and sisters of the Christian faith (like the 70 promised virgins of the Moslems heaven!) Or will your God do all the judging by himself – with no assistant judges? And why wait till “judgment day” before delivering “judgment” since we already know pretty much who is going to heaven anyway?

Read more of this post

“the Bible has absolutely nothing to say about an invisible place that the dead go to called heaven”

Yes! I love it.

Why the rush in going to heaven?
April 15, 2010 9:32 am
Patrick Hall wrote:

Most Christians are in a pretty big hurry to get somewhere else. Maybe you’ve heard of that somewhere else. It’s often referred to as “heaven.” Supposedly this place has pearly gates and really soft toilet paper.

Maria Shriver, apparently an expert on Christian doctrine, wrote a charming little bit of heaven-fluff aimed at grieving children. It’s utterly unimaginative and objectionably boring depiction of the Christian “hope” is as follows, “Great grandma’s body is in the wooden box, but remember, her soul – all the things that made her a wonderful person – has already been taken up to Heaven by the angels.” How sappy can you get?!

Yet this is what Christians have been promulgating as our great “hope” for at least the past 200 years.

What could be more boring than an invisible place where the dead float around without bodies? Think of all the awesome stuff you did today. For me, today’s awesomeness included a double scoop of Marble Slab peanut butter ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle bowl, and a gloriously interesting, absurdly long, deeply personal lunch with one of my favorite parishioners – a lunch full of good food and laughter and even a tear or two.

Read more of this post

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