Cross-examining ZeitounFebruary 25, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
I’ve managed to catch up to the comments on my post about the “apparitions” at Zeitoun, finally. Jayman, naturally enough, would like to rebut my observations, but I think the facts are against him, as noted below.
Oddly, though the Wikipedia entry claims that these apparitions were seen by skeptical observers (including President Nasser), I have not been able to find any first hand reports from these sources.
I don’t think you will be able to do a full-blown investigation of this apparition by merely using the internet. Plus, many primary sources are in Arabic.
If the facts are not available, then they’re not available. Certain facts are available, however. That means there’s some selective reporting going on. And the information that is available is being published by an organization which is receiving a multi-million dollar revenue stream from people believing the apparitions are real. There’s certainly a conflict of interest there, as far as unbiased reporting of the facts is concerned. But let’s see what we can glean from the facts we do have.
I think it’s safe to say that we do have enough facts in hand to draw a reasonable conclusion that Zeitoun was a (highly profitable) hoax. For instance:
There’s an indirect indication, however, in the fact that the police are said to have investigated the apparitions by looking for a projector of some sort. Apparently there was something about these phenomena that suggested a projected image rather than a tangible, physical manifestation. Additionally there was some suspicion that the photographs might have been faked or tampered with in some way.
I think the Wikipedia article is noting that the obvious natural explanations have been investigated.
In other words, there are obvious natural explanations, including projected images and faked photographs. Yes, these possibilities have been “investigated,” but by whom, and how thoroughly? James Randi doesn’t seem to have been invited, nor anyone else with the experience and training to root out this sort of fraudulent activity.
And the local police aren’t stupid: a multi-million dollar tourist/pilgrim trade means a tremendous boost in the prosperity of the whole district, including increased tax revenues and thus better funding for government offices like the police department. Once again, there’s a conflict of interest. I wouldn’t accuse them of anything dishonest, of course, but the fact remains that your ability to discern between A and B is influenced if A means third-world poverty for your entire district and B means prosperity and relative affluence for all (including family and friends). It’s nice that the police made an investigation, but they weren’t really the right group for the job, under the circumstances. Besides, since when is it a crime to use a projector?
Looking at the first indicator, there are a few things which would be consistent with a hoax based on projecting an image of Mary. First of all, the apparitions would be most visible after dark.
How would a projection work when lights were on around the church? Wouldn’t the source of the projection be obvious (especially when they cut power to the whole area)?
As I mentioned before, non-electrical projectors have been around for a lot longer than electrical ones have, so cutting the power would only reduce the amount of light pollution, and make the projection easier to see. And the source wouldn’t necessarily be obvious if you didn’t know exactly where to look. A simple baffle could ensure that light only went in the direction of the actual projection.
And you’d need something to project the image onto: a screen, or a sheet of acetate, or a fine nylon or silk mesh, or a mist, or some kind of smoke: anything that could reflect and/or scatter light enough to hold an image.
Wouldn’t a projector result in a 2D image? You need to posit a system where the apparition can be viewed from different angles without the hoax being found out.
I think the hoax has been found out, at least by those who base their conclusions on the evidence. It would look like a 2D projected image, and it did, which is why the police were looking for a projector instead of seeking a (3-dimensional) actor in a costume or something. If it had not looked like a projection, they would not have been looking for a projector. Plus, if you look at the photographs themselves, you can see that different viewing angles do not produce the change in shape and relative position that would come from shifting your perspective. The two different images of the dove flying over “Mary’s” head are identical, both in their form (and pose) and in their relative distance above her head.
Check it out: Mary has her space helmet on.
You can’t tell on the first or third image, but the head is most certainly in front of the halo on the second image. I even ran the second image through some image analysis software just to be sure.
I was being a bit facetious there. The point is that the “halo” was always painted as a perfectly circular disk behind the saint’s head, but “behind” is determined relative to the painter’s point of view, not the angle at which the viewer approaches the icon. It was a non-literal symbol in any case, and was never intended to suggest that the persons depicted went around with glowing disks behind their heads in real life.
What we’ve got here is a double-whammy: the halo shouldn’t be showing up at all, since it’s an iconographic symbol rather than a literal glowing disk. And even if it did show up, it should appear as an ellipse rather than a perfect circle, unless you happened to view it from exactly the same angle as the original iconographer who originally painted it. But it doesn’t: it’s a perfect circle from all angles. A globe could do that, if it’s around the person’s head (hence the flippant reference to a space helmet), but the stereotypical “halo” ought to be 3-dimensional, which would make it an ellipse from most angles.
Also, it sounds like you are complaining that the apparition is both too much like icons and too little like icons. Of course it couldn’t be an actual icon since there aren’t video icons. Ultimately, Mary’s form is not important in determining whether or not a hoax took place.
No, I’m only pointing out that the images are not merely like the icons, they are the icons, complete with literal representations of non-literal, non-representational symbols like doves and halos. And having looked over the available materials, I have to say that the only videos I’ve found are videos about the so-called apparitions, in which the only video segments showing the “apparition” are zooming and panning shots of photographs. We don’t have any “video icons” to explain.
The reason “Mary’s” form is important is because it highlights the fact that an appeal is being made to superstitious gullibility here. We are expected to connect the appearance of obvious icons as being a genuinely divine apparition, on the basis of familiarity with a number of art works that reflect what the iconographer imagined Mary might look like. Apart from traditional symbols, icons of Mary don’t necessarily look like each other, let alone matching the original appearance of the original Mary.
Therefore it’s highly significant to note that these “apparitions” are literally and unmistakably the images of icons, and not an apparition of Mary herself. You have to appeal to the idea that Mary magically shape-shifted in some way in order to promote the Church’s claims here. But if it were a genuine apparition, why would you need to make excuses for why Mary does not look like the real, original Mary?
I’m out of time for today, so we’ll pick this up again tomorrow.