It’s been a long time since we’ve had an ancient astronaut claim in the “classic” style, so I was delighted to see that The Black Vault is getting rather excited over a 1716 book that it says “clearly has a flying saucer shaped craft depicted in it’s (sic) cover art.” This turned out to be a fun, old-school example of ignorance bubbling up into ancient astronaut theories.
For those of you who don’t know, The Black Vault, run by John Greenewald, Jr., is an online clearinghouse for declassified government documents related to the paranormal and conspiracy theories. Greenewald has run the site since 1996, and he served as a talking head on the Unsealed: Alien Files television series, where he speculated baselessly on ancient astronaut claims. I once described his discussion of ancient astronauts and ancient history as “sub-Childress levels of banal commentary about subjects he plainly doesn’t understand.” Things haven’t changed much over the three years since I wrote that.
In a blog post yesterday, Greenewald (whom I presume to be the author of the Black Vault’s articles) said that he received emails from a man who wished to remain anonymous. He had found, so he said, an old book that depicted a flying saucer on its title page. Skeptics dismissed the picture as an illustration of Psalm 84, but he was convinced that it actually shows a flying saucer.
Most of my skeptical friends dismissed this as a religious reference to the shield of God as quoted in Ps 84. But an associate who spoke Latin found a reference in the book that describes the sighting of a UFO in the classical saucer shape. I think this is important since there is a general dismissal of historical illustrations that are easily interpreted as some type of flying craft (Jung notwithstanding).
Greenewald “confirmed” that the book in question is real and asked his readers to explain what the object in the illustration actually is.
The same material had been posted the Unexplained Mysteries forum in mid-August and seems to be the origin point for this particular claim.
Take a look at the title page image from the Liber de Coloribus Coeli, published in 1716. The book was written by Johann Caspar Funk (1680-1729), and it is a discussion of weather events and how they affect the color of the sky. The volume was produced in Ulm, a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.
The artist illustrating the title page was kind enough to label the image, so there is no question about what it represents. It clear states that it is a picture illustrating Psalm 84 v. 12. Here, the numbering is off, and it is actually showing an image from the preceding verse, verse 11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Verse numbering varied, so perhaps it refers to a German edition with different numbering. This text appears in the Vulgate and Septuagint as Ps. 83:12, but oddly enough is completely mistranslated in the Catholic Douay Bible English translation of the Vulgate of 1609-1610 as “For God loveth mercy and truth,” despite the Vulgate having the correct text.
What we see in the picture is the Holy Spirit in the form of a shield bearing the image of the sun. Note that the shield is protecting the small bird on the rock from arrow-shaped lightning bolts coming down from a stormy sky. This is not just the artistic whim of the illustrator. We see written next to the shield the motto “Defendor benigne” (“benignly I am protected”), which belongs to the publisher, Daniel Bartholomäi (or Bartholomae or Bartholomaeus) (1674-1761), who used it in his publications as his mark and motto. The motto reinforces the image in referring back to Psalm 84, which it paraphrases, and the bird is either the swallow or the sparrow protected by God in Psalm 84:3: “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself.”
This image has nothing to do with Johann Funk and is instead the mark of the publisher, who used it on some of his other publications as well, taking the place of the monogram he used elsewhere. (The monogram appears in miniature in the lower right of this image.)
I regret that I don’t know more about Bartholomae to know why he chose that particular Psalm for his logo, but there is no doubt that the image illustrates a biblical text and not a flying saucer. Nevertheless, the picture itself tells us exactly what it is, and it is only the biblical ignorance of ancient astronaut theorists that prevent them from recognizing and understanding symbolism when they see it.
As for the claim that Funk’s text contains a description of a flying saucer, I am unable to confirm it or refute it. The book is hundreds of pages long, and I obviously cannot read the entire thing in hopes of finding a single word or sentence in it. In a quick scan, I found a few references to discs in the sky, but they referred to the appearance of the sun’s disc or the moon’s. But since the author talks of many and varied weather phenomena, including refractions and mirages, there might well be a mention of flying objects in the sky somewhere. The trouble is that the person making the claim—Greenewald’s correspondent—is remembering something someone told him secondhand after leafing through the book “many decades ago,” and there is no way to know whether that memory is accurate without reading every word of the book. If the claimant would like to say where in the book that reference is, I’d be happy to look at it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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