This is Chapter 70 from The Man Who Mastered Gravity, now available from Amazon and fine booksellers everywhere.
Flying Saucers in the Bible
Chapter 70 is a departure from the rest of the book. In all the previous chapters I have endeavored to be as faithful as possible to the actual facts of this story; For the most part those facts have been conveyed to me by the principals involved. Where there has been any kind of dialog, those conversations have been reconstructed based on the correspondence I have shared with those individuals.
In this chapter, I’m making a lot of stuff up. Still, the gist of the dialog here is based on another first-hand account.
In October 2004, I had an opportunity to spend some time in the company of Linda Brown’s friend and former classmate, the woman who goes by the nickname “Tula.” Tula, Linda, and I spent a crisp fall evening on the deck of condo overlooking Ohio’s Buckeye Lake. Yes, that’s the same lake where Townsend Brown took Josephine sailing nearly eighty years earlier — the day he spoke of great ships that one day would just ‘sail away’ from the earth, as easily as their boat had pushed away from the dock.
During a conversation that last many hours and covered a multitude of topics, Tula recalled a particular conversation she had while she was living with Townsend, Josephine, and Linda in the penthouse of the Drake Hotel. What follows is an attempt to recreate that conversation many years after it happened. The dialog is mostly fabricated, but the gist of the conversation described here is based on Tula’s rather vivid recollection of that evening with Townsend Brown.
I met Tula in October 2004.
Linda and I were on our research trip to the Zanesville are. Tula lived not far away and joined us on a deck overlooking Buckeye Lake – the same lake where Townsend Brown, sailing with Josephine on their first date almost eighty years earlier – told his future wife that someday great ships would “just sail away” from the Earth” as easily as their boat pushed away from the dock.
Tula had a vivid recollection of the time she spent with the Browns at The Drake in the summer of 1966. The story that follows[i] is reconstructed from our hours-long conversation that night.
After a sumptuous dinner of Josephine’s “killer spaghetti” at the Drake penthouse, Linda and Josephine cleaned up the kitchen while Townsend and Tula settled into the living room to continue discussing a recent UFO sighting in Virginia.
“Do you think these things are real?” Tula asked, as she took a seat in the overstuffed chair next to Townsend.
“Yes Tula. I do,” he said. “And I think that they have been observed here on Earth for a very long time. The Bible even mentions them – events that are described as flaming chariots and pillars of clouds or columns of light in the night sky.”
“But that doesn’t mean they are flying saucers, does it?”
“What else could they be?” Townsend asked, “unless you really believe in flaming chariots and pillars of fire?”
“Can you give me a for instance?” Tula asked.
“Sure, let’s see, there must be a Bible around here somewhere.”
“You’re kidding me,” Tula said. “You’ve got a Bible?”
“It’s here somewhere,” Townsend said as he scanned the bookshelves, finally pulling a well-thumbed volume off the shelf.
“Genesis is probably a good place to start,” he said, smiling at his own pun. “These stories could not possibly have been invented out of whole cloth. They must have had some basis in, well, something. Maybe they happened just the way they’re told in these chapters and verses. Or, maybe, what really happened was so foreign to the authors’ experience that they had to reduce it to terms that they could understand.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at it this way: we’re living in a world that is technologically very advanced by the standards of the people who wrote the Bible. Most of the world we live in now has evolved over just the past two or three hundred years. We’ve had electricity, which we take so much for granted, for only the past hundred and fifty years. Before that, the world was not all that much different from the world of the Bible. Machines that move under their own power and machines that can fly are commonplace to us. It’s a short leap for us to flying saucers, or at least to flying things that might come from another world. But to the ancients, all such technologies were completely foreign to their experience.”
“You’re kind of jumping ahead there, aren’t you? We don’t have any proof yet that we’re being visited by space aliens. That’s all pure speculation.”
“That’s true,” Townsend replied. “We don’t have any solid proof, even today, that our planet is being visited by emissaries from other worlds. But before Columbus showed up in their waters, the natives of this hemisphere had no way of knowing that there was a whole other civilization just across the water, or how advanced that civilization was. Who’s to say that, despite our apparent advances today that there isn’t another civilization just across some unseen horizon, and that their civilization is as advanced by our standards as the fifteenth- and sixteenth- century Europeans were advanced by the standards of the natives of North America?”
“OK. But how do you get from that to flying saucers in the Bible?”
“Just by reading what the Good Book says, and then layering what we know now over what we read.” Townsend stopped flipping pages in the Old Testament, in the book of Exodus.
“Try this. Exodus, chapter 13, verse 21. It’s talking about the Hebrews wandering around in the desert after their escape from Pharaoh’s Egypt.”
And Jehovah was going ahead of them in the daytime in a pillar of cloud to lead them by the way, and in the nighttime in a pillar of fire to give them light to go in the daytime and the nighttime.
“What does that sound like to you, Tula?” Dr. Brown asked.
“I don’t really know, but they must have thought that it was something solid and tube shaped or they wouldn’t have called it a pillar.”
“Ah, Tula, you’re catching on. Not all of what appears in the sky is disc or saucer shaped. The sighting in Virginia a few days ago was shaped like a triangle. And many other sightings are of things that even we don’t know how to describe, so when I say ‘flying saucer’ to you I just mean the whole class of strange things.”
“I still don’t see how you get from a ‘pillar of fire’ to a flying saucer?”
Townsend admitted he was using the term ‘flying saucer’ to cover a multitude of inexplicable phenomena. “Nowadays, rockets launching things into outer space are almost commonplace. And if you saw a rocket taking off for the first time, and you had no idea what it really was, how would you describe it to somebody?
“As a pillar of fire and smoke?”
“Exactly. You know from your own experience that machines can fly, so it’s much easier to make the mental leap to something that flies but is just slightly outside your experience. To these ancient tribes wandering in the desert, ‘clouds’ and ‘fire’ were about the extent of their grasp of technology. So that’s the sort of terminology that they would use to describe something which might be entirely more plausible to us. And that’s hardly the only example.”
Townsend flipped some more pages, stopping in the Second Book of Kings. “Ever heard of the prophet Elijah?”
“The Old Testament prophet?”
“Yes, who predicted the eventual arrival of both Moses and Jesus. Do you know how he left the Earth?”
“Let me guess. In a chariot of fire?”
“Exactly right. Let me read this to you, from Second Kings, chapter 2, verse 11. It’s just another day in the desert. Elijah and his son Elisha are out for a stroll when…
… it came to pass that as they were walking along, speaking as they walked, why, look! A fiery war chariot and fiery horses, and they proceeded to make a separation between them both, and Elijah went ascending in the windstorm to heavens.”
“You think Elijah was abducted by a UFO?”
“Now Tula, he gently chided, “don’t get sarcastic. We’re just trying to look at ancient stories through a contemporary lens. Based on what the ancient Hebrews knew, it shouldn’t be surprising that what we call a ‘UFO’ they might have called ‘a chariot of fire.’ We have the advantage of at least being familiar with flying objects, identified or otherwise.”
“OK, I see your point. But you’re taking on some pretty powerful myths here.”
“Oh, that’s just the beginning. That’s just the Old Testament.”
“You mean there are flying saucers in the New Testament, too?”
“Well, flying somethings. Like the one that carried Jesus to his final reward.”
“Jesus was abducted by a UFO, too?”
“Appears that way,” Townsend said, now flipping through the Scriptures to find the New Testament. “Assuming you buy the theory for the first two examples. Here it is. Acts. Chapter 1, verse 9. A couple of days after Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb, and the resurrected Jesus has completed his teachings:
And after he had said these things, while they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision.”
“I’m afraid so. Except, what kind of cloud do you know of that can lead a tribe of wanderers around in the desert by day or night, or carry a prophet off into the heavens? Certainly not any strato-cirrus or cumuli-nimbus that I know of.”
“I’m still not convinced these clouds and chariots were flying saucers from another planet or something.”
“Look, Tula, I’m not sure either. I just know that there are numerous ancient myths that can be seen in different light when viewed from a modern perspective. You’re entirely right, we don’t know what UFOs are. We don’t know if they’re visitors from another planet, phantoms from another dimension, creatures from a parallel universe, or just super-secret military aircraft that the government isn’t telling us about.”
“Or maybe they’re something the Russians have developed that we’re way behind on?”
“That’s entirely possible too. I’m just saying…”
“That there are more things in heaven and earth…”
“You got it, Horatio.”
[i] This chapter recreates a conversation many years after it happened. The dialog is mostly fabricated, but the gist of the conversation described here is based on Tula’s rather vivid recollection of that evening with Townsend Brown, and has passed muster with Linda Brown, who was also present.