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. ↩