This page is an archive from the previous version of The Row Boat, which is why it doesn't look and work the same as the current version. However, these archives are fully functional and integrated with the new system.
Why does this site permit advertising?
Powered by Little Logger
The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Indiana Jones and the Alien Astronauts5/23/2008 21:48:52
Having forgotten the earlier trilogy completely, I went to see the new Indiana Jones movie with some friends last night. I was completely satisfied!
WARNING: major plot spoiler ahead!
And it wasn't just because it had the best nuclear blast scene since Terminator 2—coupled, later on and out of context, with the words of the Bhagavad Gita quoted by Robert Oppenheimer during the first atomic bomb test: "I am death, destroyer of worlds." Nor the us-vs-them Cold War melodrama that Vladimir Putin, in his infinite creepiness, seems to have made speakable again. Nor even the usual Lucasfilm dose of horrible romance and long-lost families, falling in love while being miraculously missed by a platoon's worth of machine gun fire. Perfect melodrama. Nor—still yet—the natives who live among the ancient recesses of Mayan-speaking temples in the heart of Incan Amazonia.
The list goes on. No, what really did it for me was the killer combination—and the mix-mything—of aliens and ancient gods.
The classic "alien astronaut" theory goes like this: Remember those gods the ancients believed in, that taught them language, agriculture, and everything? That they worshiped and constructed great monuments to? Well they were aliens. That's right, the same outer-space aliens we see now in flying saucers and creepy abductions. Missing nothing, this Indiana Jones is actually the purest rendition of the alien astronaut theory I've seen yet: Area 51, Roswell, flying saucers, little green men, the Egyptian pyramids, the pre-Columbian American ones too, and the origins of civilization are all included.
Though we expect Indiana Jones to play in fiction, the alien astronaut theory is actually meant by some to be taken seriously. Zecharia Sitchin (pro, anti, and see my article below) is a free-wheeling scholar who devotes his writing and speaking to demonstrating that aliens lived among the earliest Mesopotamian civilizations and helped to create both the tools of civilization and the human race itself. His books are extremely fun and compelling. They have convinced many, including the eccentric neuroscientist and religion theorist Rhawn Joseph. Some of my relatives fell prey. And, for about a week some years ago, so did I.
What makes the alien astronaut idea so stunning to me is its playfulness with the history of belief. The ancient gods, which people used to believe in at face value but don't anymore, are now explainable with UFOs, the most modern of mythologies. We cannot accept that the gods were gods, but we can accept that they were humanoid aliens from outer space (or, in the case of Indiana Jones, from another dimension, "the space between space"). This, at least since 1947, has seemed like a perfectly sensible explanation to some.
For those of us now dissuaded of the likelihood that UFOs are alien, human-like beings, there is a chance to step back and see the endless circles that human myths make. We explain one only by resorting to another.
The alien astronaut circle is a great story. It makes me happy to see it told.
- - - - -
This is an article I wrote about Zechariah Sitchin a few years ago:
an appreciation of Zechariah Sitchin
What we know about the man himself, Zechariah Sitchin, is not terribly
much. He was born in Russia, grew up in Palestine, studied economic
history at the University of London, then worked as a journalist in
Israel before finally settling in New York. Along the way he composed
eight books, the result of "thirty years of intensive research" in
ancient Near Eastern languages and texts. Biographies tend to use
words like "eminent" and "noted" to describe his stature as a scholar,
though always without specific reference; eminent among whom, noted for
The grand result of this life's work is summarized in THE 12TH PLANET, which begins the EARTH CHRONICLES series, first published in 1976 by Avon Books. Grounded firmly in Sitchin’s arguments about the meaning of ancient writings and images, it tells of a race of extraterrestrials from a planet now located beyond Pluto who participated in the creation of Earth, the birth of the human race, and the first gifts of civilization in Sumeria. They were inspiration for the gods of ancient mythologies; though driven from Earth, they are expected to return as their planet makes its way back into the Solar System. Without them humanity never would have existed. In a sense, Sitchin's work represents a pivotal rewriting of all human prehistory, a reframing of our whole meaning and origin. The trouble is deducing whether he believes a word
of it himself.
Sitchin's publisher, Avon Books, is careful to avoid all the trappings
and signals of academic prestige for Sitchin's core texts. They are
dressed immaculately in mass-market paperback flair, complete with
space-age giant letters on the cover and cramped, nearly illegible
type inside. Mercifully, the thirty-years' journey of gumshoe
scholarship fills only five pages of sources. But a quick glance through the ancient diagrams and cuneiform inscriptions scattered throughout the text and you begin to realize that he can't be making this stuff up.
ALIENS FOR REAL
The more our civilization learns, the less credible our ancestors seem to
have become. Beginning with the rise of German Higher Criticism in the 18th century, when the Bible began to be read as literature and archaeology, divine word transformed into what E.S. Shaffer calls "a system of human significances." The project extended also to all the fanciful stories of the ancients. This century's myth of mythology has been molded in the great
armchairs of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, for whom the mysterious
ancient stories provide a narrative blueprint of the human psyche.
While we in the modern world see forces and natural laws, people of the past saw superhuman gods. But the gods, the modern thinkers reason by simple common sense, must stand for something else, a new category of truth, the mythological. What this requires is a courageous reading in which the old stories are taken to be metaphysical modules that convey through images a meaning independent of the images themselves. Since the advent of this kind of textual criticism, many thoughtful biblical scholars have abandoned the need to worry about the historicity of Eden or the Flood, since whatever truth they may or may not have is irrelevant to the real, mythological meaning. We have come not to trust our ancestors. Yet how could they possibly be trusted, for all the fantastical things they describe and seem to have lived by? In an age that has begun to question the
irreducibility of the human psyche and think up powerful unnoticed realms buried within it, the mythologists trade in our ancestors' common-sense credibility for a genuinely mystical, if bewildered, insight.
Sitchin's great interpretation unravels the mythological universe
somewhat, quite refreshingly. Rather than reenforcing the myth
of mythology as a satisfying explanation for the gods
that modernity has destroyed, he goes right ahead and takes the ancients
seriously for what they say. It's a simple game, but it takes some getting used to for
the modern schooled exegete. If Adam hears God walking around in the
Garden, somebody he called God must have been physically walking
around. If godlike figures depicted in Sumerian reliefs have an odd
covering over their eyes, simple: they are wearing goggles. Nothing these ancient texts say need be taken at anything other than face value, provided of course that one knows what the words originally meant.
It is an act of trust granted to the ancient authors and to the funny
inscriptions pieced together from broken pieces of clay thousands of
years old. Like anybody else we know, these people wrote about what
they saw, plainly and simply. Of course, these are amazing claims. But
now at the dawn of the space age, Sitchin shows, as human science and
civilization begin to catch up with that of our alien ancestors of
antiquity, we can finally sort through millennia of misreading and myth-making.
EVERYTHING IS EXPLAINED
Once the Sitchin-vision switch goes on, suddenly a whole lot of confusing
things about ancient texts make sense. In the prologue to THE 12TH
PLANET he explains the mystery in scripture that got him going on
the journey in the first place, as early as his childhood Bible
lessons. The "Nefilim" of the fourth chapter of Genesis, often
translated as "giants," perplexed him. Eventually, these became the spark that
lit his whole theory. As soon as he began to wonder if perhaps the giants were actually space aliens, an insight only possible in the modern, rocketeering age, answers started falling into place. The gods of the ancient Near East were not supernatural forces or philosophical concepts but beings from another world, one whose fate has always been intertwined with our own.
The existence of these creator beings then explains the use of the
Hebrew "Elohim," a plural form, referring to God. The early chapters
of Genesis include several such plural constructions, often sounding
as if God were a council consulting with itself and issuing commands.
Apparently, as the texts to this day preserve it, the god of Israel
was not always a single being the way later interpreters taught. In
the earliest stories, "Elohim" refers to the same gods that the
Sumerians knew, the alien beings from the twelfth planet. These
stories, Sitchin explains, derive from earlier Sumerian sources closer
to the actual events. The Hebrew Bible, in turn, represents a descendant
of the Sumerian tradition.
He spends a great deal of energy explaining the Flood story, a
classic, widely-recognized correspondence between Hebrew and Sumerian
sources. As it turns out, the flood is caused by the proximity of the
twelfth planet, which thrusts dissolving polar ice caps all at once
into the sea. Frustrated with their human creations, the Nefilim decide to
blast off into space and save themselves, leaving human beings to
perish. Thankfully, a Prometheus-like god named Enki cunningly allows
a few wise people to know of what’s to come and tells them how
to build the great ark that kept our race from dying out
THE 12TH PLANET is bountifully full with these explanations. The
universe they form is strange but eerily plausible, especially upon
reflection about how little we really can gather about these earliest
civilizations. The human race began in Africa, where we were made of a
mix between hominid creatures and the Nefilim themselves in
order to work the gold mines. Excellent conductor that it is, gold was
the material of choice for the gods' advanced space-faring
machinery. This explains why the Ark of the Covenant killed people who
got too near it in the Hebrew Bible; any gold-coated, electrically-charged
device that would. Naturally, the Tower of Babel was a spaceship, which Sitchin argues is the proper translation for the Hebrew "shem," usually read here as
"a name for themselves." Suddenly it becomes very clear why people were
dispersed and their tongues confused; the Nefilim felt threatened by
the ambitions of their slave-race to blast off into space.
BUNKERS AND DEBUNKERS
Like any great prophet, Zechariah Sitchin has his critics. The most
enjoyably insistent among them is the young Dr. Michael Heiser, who
holds actual university degrees in ancient languages and has committed
a great deal of energy and a website (www.sitchiniswrong.com) to
dismantling the EARTH CHRONICLES phenomenon. He has also produced some
work aimed against the popular and apocalyptic BIBLE CODE series. But at one point,
Heiser suggests that his quest is especially personal, even
“I thought I had found a kindred spirit, perhaps even a guide to
navigating the possible intersection of my academic disciplines with
ufology, a discipline unfairly ridiculed by the academic mainstream.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.”
The site begins with a Matrix-esque red pill or blue pill, separating
the "fundamentalist Sitchinites" from those brave souls who are ready
for the truth. Those intrepid enough to click on the former are
treated to an exhaustive criticism of Sitchin's scholarship, including
the grammar of "Elohim" and the meaning of "shem" among others.
Scanned images of Heiser's tax returns are also posted on the site, apparently in response to claims that he is cashing in on tearing Sitchin apart.
To date, Sitchin has yet to respond to Heiser's arguments, though he
continues to post articles on his own site chronicling the emerging
confirmation of his theories. Sitchin's webmaster Erik Parker,
however, has emerged as an independent attack dog, meticulously
engaging Heiser's arguments in his sprawling article, "Behold! There
Are Mistranslations in the Bible and the Word Elohim Can Be Used as a
Plural." Parker, Hebrew-reader and friend of Sitchin, currently works
as a stockbroker, which, he claims, "requires me to do a lot of
Though he's a bit of a brat, Heiser's got a point. Before long, one begins to notice from the text that Sitchin is filled with overconfident leaps of logic and stretchy explanations for very cryptic archaeology. But both of these contribute to the wonderful rhapsody of his voice. Sitchin is also a master of the suggestive rhetorical question, that old standby of paranormal theorists, which he uses with great flourish at climactic moments.
On the other hand, among the Sitchinites, one joins ranks with none
other than the Raelians, the religious cult that made news recently
for its claims about having discovered human cloning. Indeed, the
Sitchin phenomenon participates in a developing mythology all of its
own, the modern notion of seeing flying saucers in gray areas of
understanding. It took off after the 1947 Roswell and Kenneth Arnold
sightings, at the advent of von Braun's space-faring rockets and the
nuclear age. As such, Sitchin is absolutely a man of the modern
interpretation; gods become aliens and divine portents are saucers. In
a wonderful irony, if the mythologists are right and human awareness
is in fact made of mythological archetypes, then Sitchin's world is
indisputably the truer, say as the critics may.
At the very least, what a joy it is to think back to the murky
beginnings of the human race, to recognize how scattered the
remains of it are, and how profoundly wrong all people's
interpretations might very well be. The very imaginative sensation of
"deep time" offers a pleasant thrill, an impossibly mysterious place
that, whatever one happens to think about it, cannot but contain the
original meaning and reality of our race. Sitchin spends his published
life inhabiting that world, and he seems to get by well enough on it.
re: Indiana Jones and the Alien Astronauts - 6/25/2008 21:50:14