Pretty much sounds like your typical, modern-day UFO sightings, right? Wrong. These are vivid accounts of stories from the Old and New Testaments.
"If UFOs are some type of intelligent power from another world, they may have been around for millions of years and may have been involved in the development of the biblical religion, and I do believe that is the case," said the Rev. Barry Downing, a retired Presbyterian minister.
In his 1968 book, "The Bible and Flying Saucers" (Marlowe), Downing suggests that extraterrestrials in technologically advanced spaceships played a major part in events depicted in the Bible.
Downing, who served 34 years as pastor of the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Endwell, N.Y., has tirelessly researched this material for decades. As a student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, he specialized in the relationship between natural science and theology and is listed in "Who's Who In Theology and Science."
The theory that many of the miraculous events of the Bible could be explained by the intervention of aliens first struck Downing in the early 1960s.
"When I was in seminary, the conflict between science and religion had become fairly clear, and some of the more liberal professors basically said, 'We can't believe in things in the Bible, like the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we can't believe in the angel world -- this is all mythology.'
"But when you dismiss these things as mythology, you end up with a god with no power, and nobody's going to bother with a god with no power."
It was during his years at the University of Edinburgh that Downing started thinking about the possibility of visits from outer space. And he wondered how that might to apply to the concept of the angels in the Bible.
Let's consider a few biblical stories that Downing has closely examined and see how they measure up to what we know as UFO encounters.
Probably the best-known and most dramatic of these has to be the parting of the Red Sea -- a miracle that saved the Israelites, who were fleeing their lives of slavery at the hands of the Egyptians.
Downing cites the "pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night" that led the Jews during their Exodus from Egypt.
"This object hovers in the air and then leads the Jewish people up to the Red Sea, and hovers over the Red Sea during the parting of it, and I believe, uses its propulsion system to split the waters of the sea so the Jews can cross.
"When the Jews got on the other side, the Egyptians came in with their chariots and got in a good long way before something strange happened. According to the Bible, Moses raised his hands in the air and the walls of water collapsed, which I take to be the power was turned off."
But if this story really happened, can it be explained in modern scientific terms?
At the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., software engineer Carl Drews recently suggested that the Red Sea event was more a miracle of nature than divine intervention.
"The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics," Drews said. "The wind moves the water in a way that's in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in."
Drews and his team of researchers speculate that a very strong 60-mph wind -- blowing for 12 hours -- could have resulted in the water parting, if you will, upstream and downstream, which might have opened a dry walkway for the Israelites.
Maybe not, says Downing.
"I believe that some type of force field was used by the pillar of cloud and fire to push the water back," he said. "The wind theory is OK if you leave the pillar of cloud and the fire out and if you leave out huge amounts of details. But if you actually want to pay attention to what the Bible says, then the wind theory doesn't work."
Downing explains that the events of the Exodus and other amazing biblical happenings were described by people who had limited knowledge of science.
"The Jewish people didn't know about Einstein's theory of relativity or about force fields and so, the language they use is like a stunning glance: The Lord in the pillar of cloud and the fire looked down."
Downing says another possible UFO encounter happened to the prophet Ezekiel. In the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible, Ezekiel says: "Now, as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them -- their construction being as it were, a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in four directions without turning as they went.
"The wheels also had a size and height and a dreadful appearance, and the whole body was full of eyes round about all the four. And wherever the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them, and when the living creatures were lifted from the earth, the wheels also were lifted with them."
Click the PLAY button to view a video of the Rev. Barry Downing.Ezekiel's description rings true to Downing, who says it sounds like accounts of modern UFO sightings that include reports of alien beings.
"What we have is a picture of four flying saucer-type vehicles with four astronauts that were floating in the air beside each of these vehicles," Downing said.
"I think that a lot of the miracles were done by what we would call advanced technology, but the biblical people had no clue about technology -- a chariot wheel was advanced technology for them."
And, of course, there's the famous story of the Ascension that tells of Jesus taken up to heaven as his apostles watched from the ground.
"The disciples are gathered together and they see him carried up into the sky in a cloud -- the word 'cloud' really comes to understand some type of heavenly transportation system," said Downing.
Downing maintains that Jesus' kingdom of heaven sounds like "a possible interplanetary or intergalactic civilization, and that there's some kind of heavenly organization of which he was a part and which is there, and toward which we will go when we die. But, in the meantime, he's trying to teach us behavior patterns that are expected when we get to that place."
Downing doesn't think the current secular culture can accept the premise, not only of UFOs and aliens in the Bible, but in today's world, as well.
"I don't think our culture wants to deal with the idea that we've got a power here that's greater than we are."
Downing's views about possible alien visitation include a radical theory of the origin of humans.
"I think if the aliens are there and are doing the abductions and biological experiments on people that we read about -- if they're this far advanced in terms of air travel, and if they've been around for millions of years, why can't we suppose that, maybe they've shaped life on Earth?
"And if this is true, guess what? We are a designed species, and this would mean intelligent design really is the story. Darwin is out, to some extent, and it means a lot of vested interests get hurt on the scientific side by this.
"What would it do to world religions in general? You'd have a lot of bloody noses on both the scientific and religious side with where this would go."
Sponsored Links But the retired minister says his belief in extraterrestrial visitors doesn't conflict with his belief in the Trinity of Christian faith.
"God, the father, is what I would call the God who is other than we are and is largely inaccessible. If this God is so unlike us and, by and large, beyond us, then how does this beyond-us God reach out to us in love, and the biblical answer is through mediators," he said.
"I trust that there's an invisible and unreachable God the father, who I know only through a combination of things, including the revelation of the Old Testament of angels, or mediators, or through what I would call the extraterrestrial reality we now have flying around us, and doing what I think it's done for many centuries."