I was reading Ben Stanhope’s blog about Biblical stupidity today when I came across an interesting claim that has an strange echo among ancient astronaut writers. Stanhope, a seminarian, took a trip to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum and was inspired to take a look at some of the most bizarre creationist claims Ham makes on the Answers in Genesis website. One caught my eye: The claim that the prophet Isaiah saw a pterosaur! According to Ham on Answers in Genesis, this is a reference to pterosaurs:
There is also mention of a flying serpent in the Bible: the ‘fiery flying serpent’ (Isaiah 30:6). This could be a reference to one of the pterodactyls, which are popularly thought of as flying dinosaurs, such as the Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or Ornithocheirus.
The warrant for this comes from Isaiah 30:6. Since this text is translated in very different ways, I’ll provide two versions:
The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them. (KJV)
The Hebrew words (sarap me‘opep) can be translated as “snake,” “flying snake,” or “fiery flying snake” because of the multiple meanings of the original word and its relationship to words for burning or fire.
The phrase recurs in Isaiah 14:9, where a new leader is metaphorically a “flying serpent.” I think we can safely dispense with the silly idea that the flying serpent is a pterosaur on the grounds that such beasts were extinct for tens of millions of years and were not serpentine in any way, having hands and feet and bills and other non-snake-like parts.
This is where Stanhope offers an interesting insight that connects us back to the ancient astronaut theorists, who, to the best of my ability to survey their literature, have largely ignored this passage from Isaiah. Stanhope notes that the Hebrew used by Isaiah for “serpent” in these passages is very similar to the words used for the seraphim, implying that these angelic beings were once considered serpent gods. In this case, the scholarly consensus is that it refers to the Egyptian uraeus, or cobra, icon, which was, especially in the Levant, depicted as having either two or four wings. In Egypt, the cobra had a name that also meant “fire,” a reference to its burning poison.
So, long story short, Isaiah was using Egyptian political/religious iconography.
But what gets me is that ancient astronaut theorists have largely failed to find this flying serpent or to connect him to the most obvious flying serpent, Quetzalcoatl. This is especially surprising considering that the fringe writers of the nineteenth century had no trouble doing so, and down to the present Christian writers continue to assert that Quetzalcoatl was Satan’s viceroy in Mexico—or even Satan himself—on account of the serpentine iconography and their shared identification with the Morning Star. John Bathurst Deane, the famed divine who sought to prove that all pagan faiths were distortions of the narrative of the Fall, quickly connected Isaiah’s flying serpent to Mexican religion, though he knew the god only as “an idol” with a snake form. Later writers were much more specific. Barbara Simon, following other authors, asserted that Quetzalcoatl was in fact a distorted memory of the Messiah as described in Isaiah’s prophecy and that therefore the native peoples of the Americas were a lost tribe of Israel—a common theme in the 1830s.
More recently, in Secrets of the Serpent Philip Gardiner, blatantly copying directly from Deane—his primary source—finally connected the dots and amplified Deane to make Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, into the flying serpent from Isaiah 30:6: The “flying serpents … could also be the origins for the flying dragons and why Quetzalcoatl was the ‘feathered’ or ‘plumed’ serpent, amongst others.” Surely those who write of a worldwide alien-worshipping cult should be fascinated by this coincidence of terminology. So why is this not a bigger deal for Erich von Däniken et al.? Obviously, I cannot check every book they have ever written, but I would have expected such a fabulous piece of “evidence” to have wider distribution. Does this mean that many ancient astronaut writers do not actually read the Biblical texts they claim to analyze?
By the way, while I’ve mentioned how many modern Christian writers take Quetzalcoatl for Satan, that wasn’t always the case. Earlier writers, from the Victorian era, had identified Quetzalcoatl with Adam, because both were born in 5199 BCE; Moses, because both made reference to the sun and the earth (Deut. 30:19); Noah; Job; St. Thomas, Judas, and above all Jesus—whose life and teachings he was thought to duplicate significantly. Some even asserted that Aztec paintings contained “the whole story of the passion, the Savior suspended from the Cross, and the Virgin Mary with her attendant angels.” Outside the Bible, he was also identified with a wandering Irishman (because he wore a hood and his Maya name, Kukulkan, sounded Gaelic) or even St. Patrick himself (because at Palenque a three-headed idol “must” have been a three-leaf clover). Finally, some also thought that Jesus was the copy while Quetzalcoatl, whose worship, once thought to be as old as the Flood, originated in India and spread to Mexico in the East and to Israel in the West. Today, ancient astronaut writers call him an alien and lost civilization adherents claim he is from Atlantis or some other vanished world.
Quetzalcoatl: Satan, Jesus, Atlantean, alien, pterosaur. Truly he is a man for all seasons.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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