The UFO Baptism

My article about UFOs in Rome provoked an interesting discussion among my friends, and I am indebted to one of them for sending me this image:


It was sent as an example of the possibility of UFOs in art, and I’m sorry but what follows is going to have to be a hatchet job on that line of thinking.  When I see something that looks strange, I always want to dig deeper.

So this is Baptism of Christ painted by Dutch artist Aert de Gelde in 1710.  If you do a search on Google you will come up with stuff like an Express article titled “Does the Baptism of Christ PROVE aliens were present at the birth of Jesus?”  The writer shouts the word PROVE at us, to which I have to shout back, “No, it DOESN’T”.

It’s a very bizarre line of thinking, isn’t it.  I mean, some people use the fact that the gospels were written roughly between 60 and 110 years after the event as a way to discredit them (although we don’t do that when, for example, Laurence Rees wrote his definitive work about Auschwitz in 2005), so are we seriously going to accept a representation of an historical event from 1700 years after it happened as PROOF of what occurred that day?  Logic has just left the building.  If you bizarrely want to take a painting of something that happened a very long time ago as evidence of how it actually looked, then here’s one by the same artist that shows the sword of Goliath being presented to David:

Aert de Gelder sword of Goliath

So if I captioned that painting “Does this PROVE what the Sword of Goliath looked like?” would you think I was even remotely sane?  Of course not.  But when we really, really want something to be true, it’s all too tempting to abandon rational thought in favour of something more exciting.

Let’s indulge that strange line of thinking anyway, and look at what is actually in Gelde’s “UFO” painting.  I’ve found the clearest version of it that I can, which at least allows us to peer closely and see that’s a dove in the middle of the circle of light.  That’s a bit inconvenient for the UFO theory, because a UFO accompanied by a dove is an even bigger mental leap, unless you think aliens look like doves, and you’ll find plenty of low res versions out there on the net that hide that uncomfortable truth and help make people believe it’s the bump in the middle of a flying saucer.  So that really does just leave us with a circle, and rays light breaking through the clouds.  The best way I can deal with that is to offer a quote from Paul Screeton and Chris Castle’s excellent Journal of Geomancy article:

Firstly the disk in the sky is so tantalizingly akin to reported UFOs that it could be easily utilized to substantiate the tiresomely tedious welter of paperbacks in the “Was-God-an-Astronaut?” genre. Uncle Erich von Däniken and a horrendous host of bandwagoners have quarried this strata and their banalities have devalued the mercurial link between the UFO syndrome and mysticism. Central beneath the disk is a dove, and the Gnostics, regarded by Christian orthodoxy as heretical for their numerical interpretations, believed that “the divine spirit, represented by the dove entered into Jesus, the man, at his baptism, while the Church held that the spirit and the body of Jesus Christ were indivisible, and looked forward to bodily resurrection”. This prophetic, rather than priestly, notion seems to be specifically pointed at in this painting. It can be added that another disk object, the Holy Grail, is accompanied… with beams of light and sometimes preceded by the flying in of a dove.

Although their article is arguably trying to twist things in another different direction, it is a far more reasonable interpretation, and is actually backed up with a detailed biography of the artist.  Here’s the link to the full text:

Aert de Gelder’s “UFO” Painting (external link)

So the rational explanation is that this is simply what it was intended to represent: heavenly light breaking through the clouds, and a dove.  In fact, the popular image of a “flying saucer”, i.e a round disk with a bump on it, is pretty much a 20th Century invention, and before that a “flying saucer” was something you used for clay pigeon shooting.  Certainly nobody at the time this was painted would have looked at it and thought about aliens.  That taps into an important rule of historical interpretation and the same thing applies to texts and art.  If you look at something from the past and bring your contemporary culture to the party, you will always be led astray.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to The UFO Baptism

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Your closing point makes good sense. We must appreciate how ancient humans would have seen such astonishing events from their perspective. In SF we have advanced heroes like Kirk when he met Apollo and Dr. Who when he met Azal and Sutekh. They could certainly understand why such cosmic interventions would seem like deities that consequently shaped our culture, even if our own modern-era consensus would naturally be different. But these SF heroes deal with it in the present moments whereas ancient humans wouldn’t have that luxury. So they conclude for themselves the realism of the events and for the sake of their own evolutionary growth, it’s to be respected. So it’s indeed wise to not bring our contemporary culture to the party of the ancient past. This would also of course make the Prime Directive in Star Trek all the more understandable.

    Thank you, RP.

    Liked by 1 person

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