A meteor sighting on the Road to Damascus?

Did Saul perceive a meteor event as a religious experience that caused him to convert to Christianity? It’s possible but doubtful we will every know for sure.

Falling meteor may have changed the course of Christianity – space – 22 April 2015 – New Scientist.

NEARLY two thousand years ago, a man named Saul had an experience that changed his life, and possibly yours as well. According to Acts of the Apostles, the fifth book of the biblical New Testament, Saul was on the road to Damascus, Syria, when he saw a bright light in the sky, was blinded and heard the voice of Jesus. Changing his name to Paul, he became a major figure in the spread of Christianity.

William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, has a different explanation for what happened to Paul. He says the biblical descriptions of Paul’s experience closely match accounts of the fireball meteor seen above Chelyabinsk, RussiaMovie Camera, in 2013.

His paper is published here: Chelyabinsk, Zond IV, and a possible first-century fireball of historical importance – Hartmann – 2015 – Meteoritics & Planetary Science

The well-recorded Chelyabinsk event, the Tunguska event, and the re-entry of the Zond IV vehicle offer opportunities to compare reactions of modern eyewitnesses to eyewitness accounts of possible ancient fireball events. The first-century book, Acts of the Apostles, gives three separate descriptions of a bright light “from heaven,” which occurred probably in the 30s (C.E.) near Damascus, Syria. The details offer a strikingly good match to a Chelyabinsk-class or Tunguska-class fireball. Among the most impressive, unexpected consistencies with modern knowledge is the first-century description of symptoms of temporary blindness caused by exposure to intense radiation, matching a condition now known as photokeratitis. An analysis of the re-entry of debris from the Russian Zond IV over the eastern United States in 1968 shows how actual perceived phenomena in an unfamiliar natural celestial apparition are often conceived by the observer in terms of current cultural conceptions, and it is suggested that this happened also in the first-century case.

The story of Saul/Paul’s experience of seeing the blazing light, falling to the ground and hearing noise correspond to a meteor event. Other experts call Hartmann’s piece “informed speculation”. There is always a hazard when taking descriptions in ancient tales at face value. It could just be a story. But if it does require a natural explanation, this isn’t a bad one since we know such things happen. It would be difficult to find evidence of the exact meteor.

Hartmann’s goal of the study was to provoke people to think seriously about what this would mean for religion and humanity. “My goal is not to discredit anything that anybody wants to believe in,” he says. “But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that’s something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.”

I’d say lots of superstitious beliefs were based on misunderstanding of natural phenomena. LOTS! And it’s still going on today as you can read at DN everyday.

  17 comments for “A meteor sighting on the Road to Damascus?

  1. Steve
    April 24, 2015 at 4:52 PM

    “But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that’s something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.” This is the scariest and mind blowing thing I’ve read all day.

  2. Christine Rose
    April 24, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    So leaving aside the contradicting versions of the story in the Bible, it fits an epileptic seizure really well. I mean, really, really, really well. Much better than it fits a meteor. I’m not aware of any contemporary accounts of a meteor at the right time and place, which would be a little unusual if the meteor was that impressive.

  3. Daran
    April 24, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    It would be possible if meteors talked.

  4. bob cranmer
    April 24, 2015 at 11:16 PM

    Never heard back from you Sharon. I’m not surprised,  those who try to bully usually become cowards when faced with a real challenge.
    From: Bob Cranmer [mailto:bob@cranmerconsultants.com]
    Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 1:20 PM
    To: ‘shill@centerforinquiry.net’
    Subject: Sciencey
    Dear Sharon,
    I just read your article “Faking Science Cred at a Sci-Fi Con: Not Smart” and was humored by your supposed expertise as a “scientist”. Being a DEP geologist, who primarily writes about coal fly ash and sink-holes, hardly makes you any more of an “expert” on this subject than the guy in the white lab coat. You may be in a position to question the scientific analysis used (or not used) in the many cases of paranormal or “supernatural” encounters, but unlike other debates you know that science has no counter-data or explanation, other than discounting it as chicanery or phenomena based upon the psychological.
    As long as the scientific community continues to discount the paranormal investigative analysis of it will remain at the level of Benjamin Franklin experiments with electricity. But we both know to do so seriously will never happen. For to validate that the “supernatural” does in fact exist would undermine the entire foundation upon which modern science is built. Therefore, despite the evidence, this is a field of study best left alone.
    After watching a segment of a youtube presentation, you obviously spend many hours reading and doing your own research in an attempt to discredit, but I see no real qualifications that place you in a more professional category than the paranormal types you berate.
    I don’t claim to be a paranormal investigator, expert, nor do I make a habit of attending any of these conferences or conventions. But in light of the lofty opinion of your own “expertise” and your somewhat juvenile past attacks on my credibility, I’d be happy to have an open dialog with you in public and we’ll discuss the basis and validity of your skepticism. I have no personal issue with you or your internet hobby but I remain somewhat perturbed with your patronizing attitude and style.
    I hope you’re (as you put it) cool with that, as I’m certain that I can “sound sciencey” too.
    My regards,
    Bob Cranmer
    Cranmer Consultants
    412-736-9213 (cell)

  5. Tom
    April 25, 2015 at 3:54 AM

    Paul never said that he had a vision on the Damascus Road; he said that at some point Christ was revealed in him, no time, no location. He also said that God marked him out to be an apostle before he was born.
    Only Acts a well known source of pseudo history has this tale of the Damascus conversion.
    This is yet another feeble attempt by a christian to give some authenticity to a fable.

  6. Bonnie
    April 25, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    If it were a meteor bright enough to temporarily blind one person, it seems it would have affected everyone in the group – Paul wasn’t alone at the time. Of course, the story could have changed quite a bit by the time it was written down. I still go with the epilepsy theory.

    Christian joke: what color was Paul’s horse? If a person says the Bible doesn’t say what color, it is then pointed out that the Bible doesn’t say he was riding a horse – no horse was mentioned in the narrative. Later artists show him falling off a horse.

  7. Enkidu
    April 25, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    Epilepsy, a meteor, mental illness . . . the important point is that there are a plethora of commonplace rational explanations that fit, so jumping to a miraculous explanation is irrational.

  8. Jan
    April 25, 2015 at 1:10 PM

    Miracles and Realism. Dostoyevsky, the great Russian author wrote: “In my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith….If a miracle stands before him as irrefutable fact, he would rather doubt his senses than admit the fact. Even if he does admit it, it will be as a fact of nature previously unknown to him.”

    Now, of course, Dostoyesvky himself was a believer who always — and profoundly– struggled with his faith. Unfortunately, he was also a bigot and a jingoist…but a great writer.

  9. April 25, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    Umm, I don’t think the author of the study is Christian. I think he’s pointing out that a faith is based on misinterpreted events.

  10. April 25, 2015 at 4:04 PM

    I’m going to approve this ridiculousness so the world can see what a reputable person you are including those that are searching for info on your consulting business.

    YOU made a ridiculous claim that you lived in a Hell House. YOU are required to prove such a claim. Instead, you harass people that question you. Nice…Banned.


  11. Tony
    April 25, 2015 at 6:35 PM

    In light of Mr. Cranmer’s smug missive, I find his company’s motto, “Success is Built on Relationships,” to be more than a tad ironic.

  12. Enkidu
    April 25, 2015 at 11:48 PM

    Of course, when confronted by a “miracle”, that is, something which can have no rational explanation, one would have to wonder . . . how can I know something can have no rational explanation? I know people hallucinate, so me hallucinating a miracle is a rational explanation. Me misunderstanding something or misinterpreting something is a rational explanation.

    Giving up and calling it a miracle is no explanation, it’s giving up the search for an explanation.

  13. Lagaya1
    April 26, 2015 at 12:06 AM

    Didn’t you make a big enough fool of yourself the last time you commented, by inappropriately judging Sharon by her looks? I’ve read Doubtful News for years, and I’ve never seen anyone comment in such a way. Maybe your judgment in other areas is also lacking?

    Consider that for a while. It could save you some future embarrassment.

  14. Rich
    April 26, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    If Dostoevsky was intending that as a much more elegantly worded version of the “closed-minded skeptics” snort, then it’s ironic that I agree with it as a pretty solid way of proceeding through life. Doubt your senses (rather than OMG it’s a ghost there was no-one there when I took it! ORBS!) and if it does turn out to be an actual weird occurrence then it will be a new fact of nature.

  15. Rich
    April 26, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    “those who try to bully usually become cowards”
    “supposed expertise”
    “lofty opinion of your own ‘expertise'”
    “your somewhat juvenile past attacks”
    “your internet hobby”
    “your patronizing attitude and style”

    “I have no personal issue with you.”


  16. Rich
    April 27, 2015 at 2:36 AM

    About forty minutes after I posted this, my brain tapped me on the shoulder and said “Shill – S. Hill, you idiot.”

    I thought he was accusing you of being a front for Big Skepto. Momentary lapse.

  17. terry the censor
    April 27, 2015 at 4:15 PM

    > But we both know to do so seriously will never happen. For to validate that the “supernatural” does in fact exist would undermine the entire foundation upon which modern science is built.

    Bob, have you heard of the Society for Psychical Research? For over a century, the US and UK factions of this group studied the paranormal, often lead by famous philosophers and scientists.

    Your argument is demonstrably wrong.

    And let me remind you, whining is not a part of the scientific method.

Comments are closed.