Archive for October, 2009
Same format – my material is indented and prefaced by “MSH”.
HERMANEUTICS: RAPE, ADULTERY AND BLINDNESS
MSH: It’s spelled “hermeneutics”.
Moving to the present, on Sunday, October 3rd, 2009, the History Channel presented the James Fox program, “I Know What I Saw.” This program is now available at the Strong Delusion Web Site. Astronaut Gordon Cooper testified that a UFO landed at an Air Force Base where he was stationed, it was filmed, he saw the film, it was sent by currier (sic) to Washington. He knows our government has been lying to us about UFOs from the beginning. The head of the French government sponsored UFO study testified, with scientific hedging, that his group concluded that some UFOs are extraterrestrials, and hesitantly recommended the United States try telling the truth. For me, there is no question that UFOs are real, although a reality that is beyond our science to understand.
MSH: Why is there no question, Barry? Upon what empirical data is your belief based? Where’s the hard science? It isn’t that science can’t “understand” that UFOs are ET in nature. It’s that science cannot establish the idea as *real* because there is no hard evidence for it! But okay — science can’t “understand” what it doesn’t have evidence for. Some argument.
The James Fox program made it clear that the United States government has been, and still is, covering up this reality from its citizens.
MSH: Really? Where’s the data? Suspicion is not hard data, no matter how strong that suspicion may be in someone’s heart or mind. Feelings aren’t facts. You’ve got the former, but none of the latter.
Here is my question. Why is it that in all the writings I have seen of Michael Heiser, or Guy Malone, or Gary Bates, they never condemn the United States government for its UFO lies?
MSH: I have a better question, why is it that, in all your research about me, you’ve never head the Q&A sessions where I say things like that? Or the interviews? Nice work, Barry. But for the record, if the government has information that it ought to make public, they should pony up. If there is no real national security threat (and I don’t beleive there is, but I’m not privy to that sort of information), then it’s morally wrong to withhold it. I assume Barry would allow that national security caveat as well. You’d have to be loony to think that the government owes us all the information it has on any given subject.
They condemn me for my unproven hermeneutical sins
MSH: Hardly “unproven” – show me a biblical scholar who isn’t institutionalized who agrees with your view. Show me someone familiar with elementary logic that agrees that your “it’s possible” hermeneutic – hiding behind our lack of omniscience as it does — is logically sound and coherent. Needing to prove your hermeneutic is nutty is like needing to prove I won’t be the next President, or the next American Idol. YOU are the one that has something to prove, since YOU are the one making the claim. It doesn’t work in reverse. If YOU make the claim, then YOU have the case to make, not me.
but do not condemn our government for withholding evidence that is extremely important for understanding what God is doing (or not doing, if you buy the demonic argument), in our time.
MSH: Again, you haven’t listened much.
My suspicion is that my critics do not have faith in their own stated convictions. I suspect they know that if the United States released all its known information, their theories about UFOs would be blown away by the truth. That is what I suspect.
MSH: I’ll add this suspicion to your other ones that you subsitute for empirical evidence.
It may be that my theories would be blown away by that truth also, but I want to know. I want my government to stop lying about UFOs. The government is violating my Constitutional right to explore the truth of my Christian faith by its continued UFO lies. I cannot “freely” exercise my religion when government UFO information is locked away in the name of national security, and the History Channel film “I Know What I Saw” documents our government cover-up policy in a very convincing way, except to the doubting Thomas who will not believe until a UFO lands in his back yard.
I have no doubts that UFOs exist, and that they are some kind of intelligent reality from another world. But do these UFOs carry the angels of God, is this the reality that gave us the biblical religion? That is another issue, it is a hermeneutical issue. Do modern UFOs and the Bible go together, or is this “mixing seed,” is this hermeneutical adultery? This is not just my question, it is a question to every person who claims to hold to the biblical tradition. We should be seeking a collective answer, and in a sense I understand that is what my critics, Heiser, Malone and Bates are trying to do, but they do not believe I belong in the collection. I believe Christians should be shouting for our government to release the UFO truth as they understand it. This is one thing we could do collectively. Why don’t I hear this demand from the church?
MSH: Maybe because you’ve been on the sidelines for quite some time since your book. Show up at some conferences and ask those questions (they’re good ones). That way, you’d have something besides “suspicions” to talk about.
Those in the church who are trained in biblical theology ought to be seeking the truth about UFOs, but when I have talked to those who are in positions of seminary authority, or try to publish in main stream religious publications, I am treated as if I were a spiritual leper.
MSH: This last paragraph shows how ill-prepared you are to talk about me. Take a break from reading this. Now go to www.google.com. Put in my last name to your search followed by these keywords: Why Christians should care about ufology. You’ll find that I’ve published an article on just the subject you say we (I) don’t talk about. You have to do some homework.
What is the task of those doing biblical interpretation (hermeneutics)? Jesus gave a very short definition of the hermeneutical task of the trained professional: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Mt. 13:52) No one “scribe” I have studied is sure exactly what Jesus means by this. Welcome to hermeneutics. But the image suggests that the religious life must be a blend of understanding what God has done in the past, and what God is doing now. Study of Scripture deals with the history of God. But we have to open our eyes to see what God is doing in the present.
MSH: Did Jesus also recommend working with no data? I really can’t believe that this has escaped you. For your hermeneutic to be a viable option, the thing that steers it — the belief in the reality of intelligent aliens who visited earth long ago — has to be rooted in REALITY. Without hard evidence for it, it is not rooted in REALITY. I could just as well adopt the belief that a long lost race of bipedal squirrels came here from a distant planet and did all that Bible stuff – my hermeneutic is just as groundless when it comes to reality as yours is. What do I win for that?!
With this in mind, let us consider Jesus at work in the field of hermeneutics. During the time of Jesus, the Pharisee Party believed in the resurrection and eternal life, but the Sadducee Party did not. Some Sadducees tested Jesus with a hypothetical situation in which a woman married a man, he died, she married one of his brothers, he died, this pattern continued for all seven brothers, and then the question: in the resurrection, whose wife will she be? Jesus answered that when we die, we become like the angels, we do not marry. “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” (Lk. 20:37,38)
Jesus took something old, the story of the burning bush, well known to all scribes, and put new light on it. If Michael Heiser had been there, he might have been justified in charging Jesus with eisegesis.
MSH: No, Barry,I wouldn’t have. You see, Jesus is the son of God, but you aren’t. He has the authority to say XYZ about a passage. Are you claiming the same authority? I wouldn’t pick on Jesus’ hermeneutic because of his identity. Unless you have the same set of attribtues as Jesus, it’s another lesson in “Downing illogic” – apples and oranges, anyone?
If you did not accept the authority of Jesus, then you could say, “Come on Jesus, you are just reading your resurrection beliefs into the text. The text tells us God is alive, it says nothing directly about whether Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive, or not.”
MSH: I accept Jesus’ authority — not yours. He wasn’t making anything up. He *knew* what he was saying was true because he had the advantage of divinity. You don’t (they don’t give real divinity out with MDiv degrees, not even at Princeton).
But Heiser’s charge must be faced. It could be that I am “reading UFOs into the Bible,” when such reading is not justified. My claim is that as Jesus “saw” resurrection information in the Burning Bush text, information that he brought to light, so I am saying that modern UFOs are throwing light on biblical UFOs, and new light on biblical angels, including the possibility that the biblical angels use technology. So this is the debate: am I reading false interpretation into the text as Heiser says, or have I discovered new information, in light of UFOs, about the text?
MSH: Again, I’ll trust what Jesus saw because he’s Jesus – you’re not.
If eisegesis (or hermeneutical rape, if you prefer), is one sinful way of dealing with Scripture, there is also a sinful way of dealing with “something new in the household,” signs of God’s presence in our times. That sin is to be deliberately blind to God’s signs. A comical example of this is the story of Jesus healing a man born blind as related in John chapter 9. Jesus spit into clay, anointed the blind man’s eyes, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam. His healing caused a huge uproar among religious leaders about how this could have happened. The religious leaders were so unwilling to believe the evidence in front of their own eyes that they put the healed man through a grilling that exceeded what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke frequently goes through before the United States Senate.
If UFOs are carrying the angels of God right in front of the eyes of millions (14% of Americans or about 40 million have seen a UFO according to a 2007 Associated Press survey), and we in the church continue to be blind to this reality, what will be our excuse in the Day of Judgment? There are indeed false UFO stories, there are hoaxes, there are those who claim to “channel” truth from some higher power. I know the UFO field is full of weeds. But we need the hermeneutical courage to do the hard work of the scribe, and sort through the UFO story, keep the good fish, and throw out the bad, as Jesus explained. (Mt. 13:47-52).
MSH: It’s hard to believe you’re putting forth arguments this flimsy. ”I’m going to base my hermeneutic on my belief in life forms that science can’t tell us actually exist.” “Jesus said something new about a Bible passage, so I can too — and Heiser can’t object because Jesus did it.” And now this one: “People see unidentified objects in the sky — that’s proof aliens are real.” This is anything but clear thinking. It catches me off guard a bit. I would not have expected it, given your educational record. It’s kind of startling to be honest.
Yes, lots of people see things in the sky they cannot identify. I assume (and have said so repeatedly in public) that they are telling the truth. But the issue isn’t the seeing – it’s the processing of what is seen. Without hard evidence (real, ET life forms), it is *at best* a wishful GUESS to conclude the things seen are alien. I know you want them to be; I would love it, too – it would be very cool (assuming they aren’t hostile or demonic). But feelings aren’t facts. You’ve got nothing. And it’s painfully clear.
For Dr. Downing and the ancient astronaut crowd. A wonderful illustration of why peer-review is important.
Same procedure as the previous two posts. My response is blocked and marked by “MSH”.
You do not become a hermeneutical rapist overnight. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to write The Bible and Flying Saucers . Two important elements in my early life plowed the field—I started reading the Bible every day when I was in 8th grade. By the time I was in my junior year in high school, I had been through the Bible once, and started again. I came from a Christian home, both parents were Christians, my mother with a Baptist background, my father Presbyterian. My great grandfather on my mother’s side was a Baptist pastor.
The other element was that I was interested in science, as were my best friends. We talked about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the world of physics seemed to me to be a place where the mysteries of the universe could be found. For that reason, I planned to major in physics in college. But toward the end of my senior year in high school, many things happened that made me feel called to Christian ministry. I was a Presbyterian at the time, and began talking with my pastor about my future. At the same time, my father brought me some books from the local library dealing with flying saucers, books by Maj. Donald Keyhoe. I believed what Keyhoe wrote, but made no connection to my Christian faith.
MSH: Interesting biographical notes.
My view was, in the universe as large as ours, there were probably other advanced life forms.
MSH: Obviously, a common view with nothing empirical in its favor. But that isn’t a sin, nor is it meant to be a criticism. It’s just the way it is. For my part, it would be cool if it turns out to be true (at least if it’s separable from the demonic realm and it if isn’t hostile).
I earned a scholarship in physics to Hartwick College, in Oneonta, New York. Some have asked me why I majored in physics if I was entering the ministry. The easy answer was I needed the money, and would lose my scholarship if I changed majors.
I entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1960, and took the basics: Greek, Hebrew, Old and New Testament studies, theology, church history, preaching, pastoral care. My senior year I took an elective in church doctrine, dealing with the Creeds of the church. We had a small class, not more than eight students I think. The professor was one of the most respected not only in the seminary, but in my National Church.
MSH: This is all standard. But let’s be clear. To those unacquainted with seminary education, some comments are needed. First, and MDiv is a *first* theological degree. That is, it’s an introduction to biblical studies and theology. It’s not a scholarly degree. Barry would not disagree with this. Again, it is what it is. In the old days (and 1960 may qualify) what we now call an MDiv (“Masters of Divinity”) was called a Bachelors of Divinity (it was a first degree). Since many people went to seminary after college, the named was changed–and, in most contexts, the work was bumped up a little to make it worthy of calling it a graduate degree. Still, it is a basic degree that most pastors get. At most you take two years of Hebrew and two years of Greek–more if you take some electives.
One day his lecture went something like this. “The Bible was written in a pre-scientific culture.
MSH: I agree, as anyone who’s read the Naked Bible knows.
In biblical cosmology, there was a three decker universe: heaven above, earth in the middle, hell below. When the Copernican revolution came, that cosmology was destroyed.
MSH: This is a bit of a misnomer. I think Barry’s professor didn’t think deeply enough about the issue, at least from this description. Yes, this cosmology was destroyed if one *presumed* that such a description was meant to tell us scientific fact — that is, if one were a wooden, unthinking literalist, failing to recognize that human beings have to use the vocabulary of human experience to describe the non-human and unexperiencible. Sounds like Barry’s professor didn’t think that far.
Barring these preconditions, the answer is NO, the cosmology wasn’t destroyed. It wasn’t destroyed any more than the idea of heaven or hell is destroyed if those “places” only amount to some extra-dimensional experience. That is, my failure to correctly describe heaven or hell doesn’t lead to the conclusion there is no such thing. It means I did a crappy job of describing it. Same for the biblical authors. The descriptions they give such things, like where God lives (the top of the three-tiered cosmology – “up there”) or where the unrighteous dead *stay* (Sheol – the lowest part of the three tiers – “down there”) are born out of the vocabulary at their disposal. Frankly God knows such things are beyond human expression. It would be shame if Barry’s professor didn’t explain this, but used the incongruity to destroy faith. I don’t know that he did, but I’ve read enough to know it happens and it’s intentional. God works with what’s at his disposal. He didn’t bother telling the people he moved to write Scripture the real scientific answers to how he did what he did. It wasn’t necessary. If he did it today–come here and tell Stephen Hawking how he did what he did–it would be a colossal waste of God’s time. Hawking would simply be too stupid. The ancients used the language they did because they had to — it was what they believed, usually on the basis of experience. Take “afterlife talk” for example. They (and we still do it too) used geographical terms to talk about the afterlife. They used directional vocabulary (up, down, below the earth, etc.) and locational vocabulary (e.g., “in Sheol” – either the grave or sounding like some literal place you could visit). Heaven and hell do not have longitude and latitude. But it’s a mistake to conclude that human language failures mean the ideas are not real. That’s a non-sequitur. Same thing for the round, flat earth of the Bible, with the solid dome over it. God didn’t care to make those ancients who wrote things down in what would become the Bible astrophysicists before he used them. It would have been pointless.
If heaven is no longer ‘up,’ then what? No one today believes in the Ascension [of Christ] do they? And if he has not ascended, where is his body? We may only suppose that his bones lie buried somewhere in the Middle East.”
MSH: Again, this is epistemological garbage. The professor was not parsing things for his students; he was seeding doubt for his own end. Like philosophers who are committed to the historic Christian faith haven;t analyzed this stuff out the wazoo. Give me a break.
No one in the class spoke an objection to this. But I think these words had more affect on my faith future than any other words spoken in any class. I could not get them out of my mind. At first glance, this seemed to be theological heresy—it is. But at the same time, my scientific side could not deny the point the professor was making. Modern science has in many ways made the Bible unbelievable for many people.
MSH: This is unfortunate and quite understandable. The professor wasn’t giving you ways to think better about data, Barry, he wanted you to doubt — and that’s where it ended. If he wanted more, he would have given you more.
There have been two ways for the modern church to cope with this believability problem. The first is the liberal way, the way of my Professor: if something is scientifically impossible, don’t believe it, even if it is in the Bible. But treat it as mythology, then you can talk about it in symbolic terms, and some people will not even know the rules have changed.
And the conservative way. Declare that the Bible is infallible, everything in it is literally true. If science and the Bible conflict, forget science. This pretty well explains the split between conservative and liberal Protestantism. My Presbyterian Church (USA) is known by conservatives to be fairly liberal, and thus we find when Guy Malone is describing who I am, he says I am a “Presbyterian (cough, cough) minister.” I should perhaps not risk doing the hermeneutics of Malone’s ‘cough, cough,’ lest I commit further hermeneutical rape. But my sense is the ‘cough’ is not a sign of praise of my church. Why settle for condemning me when you can condemn my whole denomination? Whatever the sins of my church may be, it has given me the freedom to explore my UFO theology.
MSH: There are more than two ways. You’ve succumbed to the either-or fallacy here. The third way is the way of honesty and letting the Bible be what it claims to be, and not more. I’ve sketched it above. The Bible was written by people with a pre-scientific worldview. God knew that. And yet God chose to come to those people at that time and place, with that primitive worldview, and use them to write and transmit information (the Bible). The Bible never claims to be a science book. It actually never claims to be a history or religion book either. It is a book selectively tailored to very specific and limited ends–the story of God’s intention for humankind, the ruination of that plan, and its reclamation, centered on Christ. Along the way the people who wrote it used the literary norms of the day–the Bible conforms in every way to literary conventions of the time period in things like genre, literary forms, grammar, etc. It is a very human book put together under very divine providential oversight. It never claims that a round flat earth with a dome is truth that is binding on us. Some of its writers simply presume it because that’s what they are. God didn’t make them super-humans to avoid such things. I could go on and on here, as this is one of the things that I think the conservative church gets very wrong. But your professor got it very wrong, too. He didn’t just let it be what it was. He took what it was and judged it by considerations (20th century scientific knowledge) that were well beyond its writer, its intention, and God’s interest level. And you bought it. But I can hardly blame you for the choice. I blame your professor for poor thinking and / or evil intent.
I had a crisis of faith. I wondered what I could say at funerals. Should I go on talking about the resurrection of Jesus, and our promised resurrection, as if our church leaders still believed this? Or fake it? Or should I say, “We used to believe in life after death, but that is gone now. Still, we can be thankful for the life of our dearly departed. Too bad. End of story.”
MSH: This must have been tough; shame again on your professor.
Thomas G. Long is professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He recently published an article in the liberal Protestant magazine The Christian Century. In the article he laments how shallow modern funerals are, because we have lost belief in life after death. “If Christian funerals today are impoverished, we must look primarily to the church’s own history and not look with scorn at the funeral director. The fact is that many educated Christians in the late 19th century, the forebears of today’s white suburban Protestants, lost their eschatological nerve and their vibrant faith in the afterlife, and we are the theological and liturgical heirs. “ (“The Good Funeral,” October 6, 2009, p. 22)
The crisis Long describes was a burning one for me in 1963, as I was graduating from Princeton Seminary. From my point of view, Christianity will die unless its eschatology is believable. (My church at the national level had 4 million members in 1983, and has about 2 million now.) My fears became more public in the “Honest to God and Death of God” theology that broke into public consciousness beginning with the publication of Bishop John A. T. Robinson’s Honest to God in 1963. (Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of books such as Why Christianity Must Change or Die , 1998, has helped push the Robinson tradition of unbelief to a higher level.)
MSH: For the record, Spong is one of the sloppiest thinkers I’ve ever read. He is high priest of things like the either-or fallacy.
These issues would be the focus of the first chapter of my book, The Bible and Flying Saucers , when it was published in 1968. Notice this: if you are part of a church in which the hermeneutical rules are “everything in the Bible is true, no matter what science says,” then the death of God theology is not an issue.
MSH: The issue is misframed here (again, I blame Barry’s teachers, not Barry). It’s not “everything in the Bible is true, no matter what science says”; rather, it’s “general revelation [creation / science] is truth from God and so is special revelation [the Bible]; therefore, both must be true; God knew the writers of Scripture didn’t know squat about science, but he let them use the language of appearance and experience to make theological points; he didn’t care about producing a science book.
Let’s put this another way. Barry, can you show me some passage of Scripture that sets forth a scientific proposition that is claimed as scientific fact? The only one I can think of is “God is the creator” (stated scientifically, this would be something like “all creation came not from itself or from nothing, but had an cause external to itself.” Now, you (and many readers) might think of certain verses in Genesis 1-2, but this omits several considerations. Most important, what is the purpose of Genesis 1-2? Is it to give us science? I say no, and I’m far from alone here in the conservative Christian community. I say, it is to establish who is the creator and who is really God. Genesis 1-2 follows a number of literary norms shared by the ancient near east that tell us there is a literary/theological agenda — not a science agenda. The latest worthwhile treatment of this issue was just published this year by a friend of mine, John Walton: The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.
But being a church that is a joke in the eyes of science becomes the issue (see Gary Bates, Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection ). Intelligent Design advocates such as Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, and Michael Behe, do not want to ignore science, like Gary Bates, but do not want to give up on the Bible either.
In light of my faith crisis, I decided that I needed to do graduate study in the relation between science and religion, and for a number of reasons elected to go to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland to do this. Two theological professors were known for their work in the area of science and religion, Prof. John McIntyre, and Prof. T.F. Torrance, whose son Iain Torrance, is now President of Princeton Seminary. I went to Edinburgh with the intention of exploring the issues of “eschatology, time and space,” I would attempt to understand how modern cosmology destroyed biblical eschatology.
Before graduating from Princeton, I happened to run into the professor who had started my faith crisis, right on the steps of Hodge Hall, my dormitory. He asked what I was doing after graduation, and I told him. (I did not tell him his class led to my faith crisis.) His response to my plan was to say that there were no seminaries in the United States dealing with the issues of science and religion. Science and religion were now totally separate disciplines.
MSH: He wasn’t too bright, was he?
I went to Edinburgh anyway, and eventually produced the dissertation, Eschatological Implications of the Understanding of Time and Space in the Thought of Isaac Newton. The dissertation was well received by Professors McIntyre and Torrance, as well as my outside reader from Cambridge University, and I graduated with my Ph.D. in 1966.
MSH: Sounds quite interesting.
During the fall of 1965 I began exploring connections between UFOs and the Bible. This was not part of my Ph.D. work, but certainly did relate to issues of time and space. I wondered if there might be some connection between biblical angels and UFOs. I reread Exodus, and concluded that the pillar of cloud and fire (Ex. 13:21,22) seemed very much to fit the description of modern UFOs,
MSH: Here’s where we part company. It sounds nothing like UFOs.
and also it moved ahead of the Jewish people like a UFO might. This idea hit me with great emotional power, I thought I should explore writing a book about this. But I made a prayer deal with God: I would finish my Ph.D. dissertation first, then go home and work on a UFO book. After returning to the United States, I wrote The Bible and Flying Saucers in the basement of my in-law’s home while seeking a church call during the summer and fall of 1966. I put the manuscript in the mail to a publisher about February 1, 1967, the book was rejected several times before being accepted by J. B. Lippincott. I began work as an assistant pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Endwell, New York, on February 6, 1967, and was ordained March 5, 1967. Before taking the Endwell position, I explained my UFO research to the senior pastor, Rev. George Rynick, and he was very supportive of my project, and helped the church understand my work. I eventually became senior pastor of Northminster. I was known in the community as the “UFO nut” for a while, but by and large, except for conservative Protestant pastors, it was felt that even if what I was working on turned out not to be true, it was an area I had a right to explore, and an area that needed exploring. I find that attitude still prevails in my church, though I am now retired. And as readers of the Strong Delusion web site know, many conservative Christians still do not like me. (Heiser, Malone, Bates)
MSH: I never said I didn’t like you, Barry. I just don’t like your hermeneutic. I’m a text-geek. There is nothing in the text of the exodus event that sounds like a flying saucer. A bright light? That’s your hermeneutical link here? Good grief. Think about how weak that is. It is truly awful as an interpretive guidepost.
Frankly, on the personal side, reading this makes me sympathetic to you, to your struggle. I wish you’d had better thinkers guiding you on the way. Also on a personal note, I don’t appreciate your assumption that I am somehow part of the Strong Delusion website. I’d never heard of it until your post. I don’t affiliate with anyone in the “Christian UFO community” for the same reasons I don’t affiliate with a Christian denomination. I don’t care about theological filters. I don’t care about creeds. I don’t care about evangelical sub-cultures. I care about the biblical text as it’s given to us. Some of my thoughts would be quite consistent with Gary Bates or Guy Malone. Others would not (and they’d tell you this). I’m a biblical scholar, and so I look at certain things very differently than “normal” Christians. Some things that look simple to them don’t look simple to me at all. But that’s okay.
In 1972 Walter Andrus Jr. invited me to become a consultant in theology to MUFON. Members of MUFON believed UFOs were real, and that our government was involved in a cover-up. Many people who believed UFOs were real read my book, and found both my biblical analysis, and my scientific point of view, plausible. But this plausibility did not extend to Conservative Christians. I published many articles in the MUFON UFO Journal , as well as speaking at many symposiums, and was well received by this scientific community. MUFON was willing to give me a voice which the church would not.
MSH: None of these approving voices could possibly have been very familiar with exegesis. Give me a name that endorsed it who is a biblical text scholar. Or perhaps the book was reviewed in a biblical studies journal? I doubt it. And this is not to say that you aren’t telling us the truth here. I’m sure you are. It’s just to say I’m not impressed with any of these endorsements.
That’s it for now.
I’d never heard of this possibility until I read Nick Redfern’s post on it. If you read the post, you’ll discover why. The information was never published. Thanks to Nick for circulating the information (which of course may be disinformation). I wonder why Stanton Friedman never did so. Perhaps he didn’t know as well.
As before, I’ll preface my comments with “MSH” and indent them. Everything else is Dr. Downing’s.
One way to respond to this kind of charge is to take the texts that Heiser mentions, and show why I think my hermeneutics is not as radical or serious a violation of the text as he charges. But when he does not mention a single biblical text, or any of my work in his condemnation, what am I to say?
MSH: Uh, I think you or anyone familiar with either of us could manage to pick one I wouldn’t agree with. Basically ANY text in the biblical material that has aliens in it would be far afield for any hermenutic that any biblical schoalrs would recognize. If I had to pick, I’d have to blog through your whole book . . . wait a minute, there’s an idea now that I have this blog . . . yes, it would be painful, but perhaps it might be useful. . . .
He does not even define hermeneutical rape. It was not a term used when I was in seminary.
MSH: Read: “Terms I didn’t hear in my classes at seminary are illegitimate.” Come on. Do you really think I *learned* a method of interpretation called “rape exegesis” or some other circumlocution in graduate school? I don’t know about you, but neither my vocabulary or my thoughts were entirely molded by classes in graduate school. Anyway, I defined it in the last post for those interested.
One meaning of his charge might be that I have used the text violently, as he says, that I have “read into the text” what is not there. (The technical term for reading something into the text that is not there is eisegesis, as opposed to exegesis.) Now this seems to be a strange thing for him to say in light of other things he has said.
MSH: Yep – that’s what I meant.
Heiser has published at a blog called The Naked Bible. ( I guess in Heiser’s world, hermeneutical rape is some kind of sexual sub division that goes with Bible nakedness.)
MSH: Gosh, you’re funny, Barry! Folks, how silly is this? No, the blog title has nothing to do with sex. And guess what? Nakedness per se has nothing to do with it either. See, when you’re “naked” you are “without” clothes. So, by “naked” Bible I mean “the Bible with nothing else added.” It isn’t hard to parse, especially if you read the blog.
He has written an article entitled, “End Times Questions for Left-Behinders: How Everyone Cheats on Eschatology.” He discusses how everyone tries to make absolutely certain claims about eschatology, when the hermeneutics of biblical eschatology is very uncertain. He says, The Bible didn’t come with a handbook with the “right” answers to these [eschatological] questions.
MSH: True; it doesn’t.
The view that hermeneutics has an objective part (Scripture), and a subjective part (Interpretation) has always been true. One definition of hermeneutics is “whose meaning is the meaning of the meaning?” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, p. 240).
So, when Heiser is doing the interpreting, he admits there are no right answers. But he has full authority to pronounce that I have given the wrong answer, and he does not even tell me what the question is. This used to be called hypocrisy, but in the current UFO debate, it is called the voice of seminary trained wisdom.
MSH: Readers at this point are directed to the end of the first post on Blogging Through Barry. The question isn’t about certainty, Barry. It’s about coherence. For those who don’t want to click through to the first post, let me excerpt it here:
Anything is possible, right? We can’t infallibly say this is nutty. Yeah, everything’s possible. Yeah, we aren’t omniscient so we can’t say we’re infallible. But is it reasonable? Just because I can think a thought doesn’t mean it’s coherent. Like I’ve said many times on the radio to the question about ancient astronauts (“It’s possible, though, Mike, isn’t it?”): sure, it’s possible, and it’s also possible that I could be the next American Idol. How seriously should you take that “possibility”?
None of us can claim infallibility. But your approach can’t claim coherence, either. You can hide behind the notion that anyone who’d say your ideas are unreasonable is pontificating or being a Popette. But that’s a misdirection of the real issue. It’s about coherence and data that exist, not anyone presuming infallibility.
Hope that’s clear. When you try to claim that you may be right because nothing can be ruled out, you hide behind our lack of omniscience. A poor defense for sure, as my first post explains and illustrates (I encourage readers here to read that). It isn’t about infallibly knowing everything; it’s about your proposal being quite silly and incoherent. People *can* make that judgment. No omniscience required.
Inconsistency in his definition of the flexibility of hermeneutics is only part of the issue. We usually think of rape as a violent male sexual act, and I believe Heiser intends to use the term in this way. But hermeneutics is really more like a female sexual act than male.
MSH: If you believe that then you are mistaken – perhaps willfully. Do some thinking about the word (readers are again directed to the previous post, where I go through the word’s meaning in Webster).
The Word of God (logos)is always understood in the biblical tradition to be like seed sown in a field. Seed is a male property, and understood to be a God property. This is why the God of the Bible is thought of in male terms.
MSH: something abstract like the word of God isn’t thought of in male terms. This is to commit the hermeneutical / linguistic blunder of transferring real gender to grammatical gender. Grammatical gender has nothing to do with biology. Looking at any inflected language will tell you that. For example, in German the word for “little girl” is madchen, which is grammatically NEUTER. The incongruencies between a language’s grammatical gender and biological gender could fill a book (in each language). I’m not sure where Barry is going with this, but this exegetical fallacy is so common that I though it needed a bit of attention.
understanding is developed in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew chapter 13. People go to seminary to study the Word of God, the semen of God. The church as the bride of Christ is seeking to be faithful to”in sexual terms” only go to bed with the God of Jesus Christ, not some other god. “You shall have no other gods [husbands] before me” (Ex. 20:3). Thus men and women are both female in relation to God. (Modern feminist theology has messed up this understanding a lot.) The hermeneutical task for me is to receive the Word of God into myself, and have it impregnate my soul with faith so that a new life springs up inside me, a child of God that more or less lives inside and co-habits with the first-born me, as Jacob, the second born twin son of Rebekah and Isaac, struggled with his first-born brother Esau in the womb, (Genesis 25:19-34). This struggle between the laws of the spirit, and the laws of the flesh, is the battle ground of the Christian life. (See also Rom. 9:6-13; Heb. 12:16) That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the spirit is spirit as Jesus said (Jn. 3:6), and as Paul later confirmed (Rom. 7:4-25). (What I have just done in this paragraph is an example of my biblical hermeneutics.)
MSH: Well, that last line says something. I don’t want to be hard on Barry here, though. Despite the grammatical gender fallacy from which this (slightly) allegorical take flows, we get the idea. This hermeneutic is kind of weird, though, on another level. The parable of the sower’s analogy is *not* like sexual reproduction (the seed idea Barry strikes). Why not? Because when sexual reproduction among mammals occurs, there is life planted. When seeds are planted they must first DIE for life to be produced (cf. John 12:24). But I don’t want to quibble about analogies. It just seems an obvious oversight. My point is that the sexual / impregnation analogy isn’t as sound as it might appear. It’s not a big deal.
If I have sinned in the above paragraph, what kind of sin is it likely to be? It is likely that instead of interpreting the Scripture to glorify Christ (the Jacob figure in me), I interpret Scripture to glorify the Flesh (or Satan, Esau) in me. Because the lusts of the flesh are always there, as Paul says in Romans 7, they tempt me even to use the Law of God, the Semen of God, to promote my own lusts for success, sex, food, money, fame, power, all the forms of the gods of this world. [The devil used this form of temptation with Jesus, quoting scripture to him. (Mt. 4:1-11)]
MSH: God doesn’t have semen; he has no body; these are simply analogies. I think Barry knows that, but I confess I don’t have total confidence there.
Thus the most likely form of sin for me is not hermeneutical rape, but rather hermeneutical adultery.
MSH: Yeah, that works, too.
As the bride of Christ I am tempted to take the seed of God into me during the day, but at night to let the seed of the flesh be sown in my soul by an Evil One, an Enemy of God. (Mt. 13:25) The Law forbid interbreeding of cattle, and of sowing two different kinds of seed in a field (Lev. 19:19), a law which reflected the commandment against adultery (Ex. 20:14). Idolatry represented a sexual analogy to spiritual unfaithfulness, a mixing of good and bad spiritual seed, and so our whole modern idea of religious pluralism, suggesting all religious values are to be tolerated in some kind of egalitarian stew is not biblical. (Ex. 20:4; 2 Cor. 6:14)
In my book The Bible and Flying Saucers , I have dealt extensively with the Word of God, the Bible. Christian conservatives know this, and that is why they condemn me so violently. But my sin, if it is sin, is spiritual adultery, hermeneutical adultery, not hermeneutical rape. My sin is that I have mixed the Seed of God with the Seed of UFOs, and if UFOs are demonic, as my critics charge, then I have claimed that the “UFO Faith” in me is of Christ, when in fact it is seed sown of the devil.
MSH: Again, pretty abstract, but we get your point. Hope you get my point (see the first post). What you do to the text is “to inflict great harm” or “do violence to” the text. I’m guessing people are wondering at this point how allegorical interpretation allows you to say aliens parted the Red Sea. Maybe that’s later in what you wrote and I haven’t gotten to it yet.
This would be a serious sin, I recognize that, in fact I worry about that. But my faith is that I am right, and furthermore, my faith is, that Christ knows I want to be right.
This is an interesting sentence on several levels. I assume Barry is being honest here; I have no reason to think opposite. But it’s flawed thinking to say that because we feel sincere about something that means it’s coherent. Just because you want to be right doesn’t mean you are (or, again, are even coherent). At some point, it ought to strike Barry that, given that no one in the history of the faith has used his hermeneutic (that’s 2000 years – longer if you count Israelite history), that ought to be a little clue that his confidence shouldn’t be as high as it is.
I trust Christ is merciful, and will forgive me in the day of judgment if I am wrong. Christ forgave a woman caught in adultery, he died to forgive his church, I have had the courage to present my UFO faith in spite of almost universal rejection by the church because I trust the mercy of Christ toward me.
MSH: You are to be commended for the courage to do that; I’ll give you that. But what about Christ’s word gave you the confidence to go out on this limb? Perhaps you had some experience that prompted that — but that would be placing experience over the Word and claiming some sort of “private interpretation,” something not praised in Scripture (II Peter 1:20-21).
But I may be wrong about my UFO faith, and I do not want to be guilty of leading the church, the bride of Christ, astray. But if I am right, the church needs to repent of its blindness, and the quicker the better.
MSH: I would agree with Barry here – God will indeed forgive him. And I accept his sincerity again. But this is sidestepping things a bit. Here’s what I mean. If his content amounts to reducing Jesus to less than the incarnate, uncreated Christ of the faith, then his error is quite serious (and that’s just one example). The apostle John said that those who reject the incarnation is actually an anti-Christ (not *the* antichrist, mind you). I haven’t read enough of Barry’s work to know if he crosses that line, but maybe I’ll blog through the whole book at some point. But if he does, Jesus isn’t going to take it lightly. (And being an incarnate alien isn’t acceptable on several theological levels).
So here is my defense to the church that condemns me of hermeneutical rape, blasphemy, or ignores me as someone who is crazy (or has a demon, see John 7:20).
MSH: For the record, I don’t think Barry is crazy, or that he has a demon. I just think his exegesis is awful, having no foundation in any sort of text analysis that anyone else on the planet would do. And, I would add, that his hermeneutical filter – so far as we know – doesn’t even conform to reality (it depends on an intelligent ET reality). In the first post, I asked him to give the ufological community the evidence that they’ve been wanting for decades – whatever it is that makes him so confident that he can interpret the Bible through that filter. If he has none, he has no hermeneutic that is in any way coherent. And to inflict that upon the text with zero justification is to do great harm to it.