Tag: Mecca

Ancient Signs in the Sky: Did a Meteorite Change the Course of Christianity 2,000 Years Ago?


Detail, The Conversion of St. Paul. Paul and companions are knocked to the ground during the profound event.

Excerpt from ancient-origins.net

Did an ancient meteor have such a life-changing impact on witnesses of the day that it shaped a religion and altered the course of history? Astronomers theorize that the dramatic flash and boom that converted Paul the Apostle may have been an exploding meteor.

In the Christian Bible, it is written that a man named Saul experienced an event so extreme that it changed his views in an instant, and he became one of the most influential evangelists in early Christianity.

Saul was said to have been a vehement persecutor of the followers of Jesus and was traveling in search of disciples of Jesus for punishment. It is written in the fifth book of the New Testament, Acts of the Apostles, that Saul was on the road to Damascus, Syria, when a bright light appeared in the sky. So intense was the light that he was blinded for three days. What he heard was described as a great thunderous sound, or a divine voice. He and his companions are said to have been knocked to the ground by the force of the event. The experience was so profound that Saul changed his name to Paul, took up missionary journeys across the Mediterranean, and became instrumental in spreading Christianity.

The Conversion of Saint Paul – Paul and his companions are knocked to the ground by a resounding boom and brilliant light. Did a meteor cause this ancient event?
The Conversion of Saint Paul – Paul and his companions are knocked to the ground by a resounding boom and brilliant light. Did a meteor cause this ancient event? 


William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in the U.S. has connected Paul’s experience with similar accounts of exploding meteors, such as the well-recorded Chelyabinsk meteor which broke up over Russia in 2013, injuring over 1,500 people. The eyewitness descriptions and physical reactions to meteors or fireballs in the sky seem to parallel what is recorded about Paul.

Meteor trail over Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Meteor trail over Chelyabinsk, Russia. Wikimedia Commons


If true, then it’s possible that an act of nature may have been contributory in the spread and evolution of Christianity in its early days, and therefore shaped the course of history.

In a study published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, Hartmann cites major events like the meteors or asteroids over Chelyabinsk, Russia and Tunguska, Siberia as offering “opportunities to compare reactions of modern eyewitnesses to eyewitness accounts of possible ancient fireball events.” There are consistencies among the many accounts suggesting the biblical descriptions of Paul’s experience closely match known modern events, reports NewScientist.

In the biblical accounts, Paul was blinded for three days due to the intense light from the sky; it was “brighter than the sun, shining round me,” according to the text. This matches the Chelyabinsk meteor, as it was calculated to be shining around three times as bright as the sun. The blazing fireball made shadows move around the ground as it travelled.

Paul and his companions were said to have been knocked to the earth, and this also corresponds to the shockwave generated by the powerful Chelyabinsk meteor as it blasted out windows, knocked people off their feet, shook cars and buildings, and collapsed roofs.
The divine voice is said to have either boomed like thunder, or questioned Paul’s behavior (the exact sound is debated). Meteors create great, explosive booms and roars which can be scary or painful even for those who know what they’re experiencing.

To the ancients the incredible and unfamiliar natural celestial events were interpreted through cultural understandings of the day – which is to say, they were considered divine or damning.

The Chelyabinsk meteor gave off small amounts of radiation, enough to cause sunburn and temporary blindness in witnesses. Harmann suggests that Paul could have suffered photokeratitis, a temporary blindness from intense ultraviolet radiation, and this explains the return of his sight after healing.

Paul having his sight restored after being blinded by a celestial light that might have been a meteor.
Paul having his sight restored after being blinded by a celestial light that might have been a meteor. 


Hartmann told NewScientist, “Everything they are describing in those three accounts in the book of Acts are exactly the sequence you see with a fireball.”

IBTimes writes that the Acts of Apostles text describes three events of bright lights “from heaven” which took place around Damascus during the 30s B.C. If meteorites can be found in Syria, and accurately dated to the relevant timeframes, it might give support to the published theories.

Hartmann’s research aim is not to discredit Christianity, but to demonstrate how the interpretation of ancient events may have shaped how we exist today, spiritually and culturally.

This wouldn’t be the first meteorite in history to have potentially inspired worship or acted as an agent of change. In antiquity meteorites were seen as messages from the gods, or profound omens, and many cultures saw fallen meteorites as religious icons to be worshiped or as objects of protection. Jewelry and art has also been created from the space rocks.

Each year devout Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, circling the Kaaba, or black stone, and give a nod or a kiss to the meteorite that is said to rest inside the Grand Mosque. The worship of the Black Stone goes back to pre-Islamic shrines, when Semitic cultures used unusual stones to signify sites of reverence. According to Muslim belief, the stone originates from the time of Adam and the Islamic prophet Muhammad set the Black Stone in place after it fell from the skies.

A 1315 illustration inspired by the story of Muhammad and the Meccan clan elders lifting the Black Stone into place. Was the black stone a meteor from space?
A 1315 illustration inspired by the story of Muhammad and the Meccan clan elders lifting the Black Stone into place. Was the black stone a meteor from space?


In a more modern example, after the dramatic Chelyabinsk event over Russia in 2013, the ‘Church of the Meteorite’ was set up, and the followers hold rites on the shores of Lake Chebarkul where pieces of the space rock fell.

Some scientists regard the Conversion of Paul theory as speculation, but seem to welcome further evidence.
Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office told NewScientist, “It’s well recorded that extraterrestrial impacts have helped to shape the evolution of life on this planet. If it was a Chelyabinsk fireball that was responsible for Paul’s conversion, then obviously that had a great impact on the growth of Christianity.”

Indeed, “Some scholars call Paul the second founder of Christianity” says Justin Meggitt, religious historian at the University of Cambridge. Without the fireball, and without Paul’s conversion, perhaps Christianity would be different than it is today.
“Christianity probably would be very different without him,” Meggitt concludes.

Illumination from 1450 depicting Paul's conversion – the bright light and sound come from the sky. The event was said to change Paul, and may have changed history.
Illumination from 1450 depicting Paul's conversion – the bright light and sound come from the sky. The event was said to change Paul, and may have changed history. Public Domain
Featured Image: Detail, The Conversion of St. Paul. Paul and companions are knocked to the ground during the profound event.

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Circular thinking: Stonehenge’s origin is subject of new theory




Excerpt from theguardian.com

Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has long been a source of speculation and debate. Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric monument was in fact “an ancient Mecca on stilts”.

The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, the theory suggests.

Julian Spalding, an art critic and former director of some of the UK’s leading museums, argues that the stones were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost – “a great altar” raised up high towards the heavens and able to support the weight of hundreds of worshippers.

“It’s a totally different theory which has never been put forward before,” Spalding told the Guardian. “All the interpretations to date could be mistaken. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge the wrong way: from the earth, which is very much a 20th-century viewpoint. We haven’t been thinking about what they were thinking about.”

Since Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in the 12th century that Merlin had flown the stones from Ireland, theories on Stonehenge, from plausible to absurd, have abounded. In the last decade alone, the monument has been interpreted as “the prehistoric Lourdes” where people brought the sick to be healed by the power of the magic bluestones from Wales and as a haunted place of the dead contrasting with seasonal feasts for the living at nearby Durrington Walls. 

The site pored over by archaeologists for centuries still produces surprises, including the outline of stones now missing, which appeared in the parched ground in last summer’s drought and showed that the monument was not left unfinished as some had believed, but was once a perfect circle.

Spalding, who is not an archaeologist, believes that other Stonehenge theorists have fallen into error by looking down instead of up. His evidence, he believes, lies in ancient civilisations worldwide. As far afield as China, Peru and Turkey, such sacred monuments were built high up, whether on manmade or natural sites, and in circular patterns possibly linked to celestial movements.

He said: “In early times, no spiritual ceremonies would have been performed on the ground. The Pharaoh of Egypt and the Emperor of China were always carried – as the Pope used to be. The feet of holy people were not allowed to touch the ground. We’ve been looking at Stonehenge from a modern, earth-bound perspective.”
“All the great raised altars of the past suggest that the people who built Stonehenge would never have performed celestial ceremonies on the lowly earth,” he went on. “That would have been unimaginably insulting to the immortal beings, for it would have brought them down from heaven to bite the dust and tread in the dung.”

Spalding’s theory has not met with universal approval. Prof Vincent Gaffney, principal investigator on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Bradford University, said he held “a fair degree of scepticism” and Sir Barry Cunliffe, a prehistorian and emeritus professor of European archaeology at Oxford University, said: “He could be right, but I know of no evidence to support it”.
The archaeologist Aubrey Burl, an authority on prehistoric stone circles, said: “There could be something in it. There is a possibility, of course. Anything new and worthwhile about Stonehenge is well worth looking into, but with care and consideration.”

On Monday Spalding publishes his theories in a new book, titled Realisation: From Seeing to Understanding – The Origins of Art. It explores our ancestors’ understanding of the world, offering new explanations of iconic works of art and monuments.

Stonehenge, built between 3000 and 2000BC, is England’s most famous prehistoric monument, a UNESCO World Heritage site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire that draws more than 1 million annual visitors. It began as a timber circle, later made permanent with massive blocks of stone, many somehow dragged from dolerite rock in the Welsh mountains. Spalding believes that ancient worshippers would have reached the giant altar by climbing curved wooden ramps or staircases.

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