Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods reached number 3 on the Sunday Times nonfiction bestseller list (it’s currently number 8), making it the most widely distributed fringe archaeology book in more than a decade in Great Britain, though one that strangely has failed to receive many reviews from people not directly acquainted with Graham Hancock. The exceptions are my review (which is currently the top Google match for a search for “Magicians of the Gods review”) and Kirkus Reviews, which called the book “risible” and “shameless.” However, if you look at the book’s press materials, Coronet (the publisher) has excerpted one word from Kirkus to market the book: “Ingenious,” taken from a passage that compares Hancock to L. Ron Hubbard before stating “Hancock’s tale is clunky but ingenious” in its use of “ersatz” discovery in “a mashup of Ignatius Donnelly and Dan Brown.” Kirkus and I are in almost complete agreement, except that their reviewer found the book’s prose more entertaining at a mechanical level than I did.
Star Wars is undoubtedly an inspiration for Ancient Aliens, which frequently uses the movies as an aesthetic touchstone for the graphics they design to depict aliens, so why not actually do an episode on aliens fighting star wars and relate it to ancient myth, just like the movie? That’s the premise of S08E09 “Alien Wars,” though the end result is mostly paranoia and conspiracy rather than grand mythic narrative.
When I launched my campaign to raise money to help me afford to keep my website running, I received a great deal of pushback, largely from fringe believers, who found it déclassé to speak of money or who took the capitalist line that any project that isn’t profitable is necessarily worthless. Since then, Scott Roberts and John Ward have launched a crowdfunding campaign asking for $50,000 to fund their fringe history business startup, and now the latest entry in the field is the team of Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck, who launched an IndieGoGo campaign looking for $42,000 to publish 500 copies of a revised deluxe edition of Wonders in the Sky (2009), their demonstrably false and generally quite unreliable anthology of badly translated and frequently fictitious documents recording premodern UFO sightings.
A few days ago, Minnesota University Press sent me a review copy of a new book by David M. Kreuger called Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America, out this month. The book’s title is a bit of a bait-and-switch since it’s actually an academic investigation into the ways that Minnesotans, primarily of Scandinavian heritage, have employed the Kensington Rune Stone to create and re-create a pseudo-historical narrative that changes in time with surrounding social concerns. I’m about halfway through, and it’s a great read so far. I’ll post more about it after I’ve finished the book. But today I’d like to look at something that Kreuger mentioned in passing, a pamphlet called An Attempt to Shew That America Must Be Known to the Ancients by Samuel Mather (Cotton’s son) and published in Boston in 1773.
Robert Bauval Tries to Save Egypt from Itself with New Book Making It the Center of Global Spirituality
Robert Bauval was born in Alexandria, Egypt, but he is not a descendant of the ancient Egyptians, or modern Egyptians. Instead, his parents were Belgian and Maltese; yet Bauval feels a very deep connection to the land of Egypt, married to the European expatriate’s desire to tell the natives that they are doing their own culture wrong. To that end, Bauval has produced a new book that is apparently being released in October from Inner Traditions, a fringe publisher. The new book is called The Soul of Ancient Egypt: Restoring the Spiritual Engine of the World, written with Ahmed Osman, an elderly Egyptian author who believes Christianity was invented in Egypt and that Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were members of the family of Akhenaten (Moses), with King Tut as Jesus. Their new book is an interpretation of the mystical and spiritual force that Bauval feels animates the ancient land. He released the first chapter to Graham Hancock’s website as a promotion for the book.
Ronda Rousey, the UFC fighter, told Fortune magazine that she is obsessed with Ancient Aliens, adding her name to the long list of celebrities who count themselves acolytes of the ancient astronaut theory. “I love ‘Ancient Aliens.’ Sometimes at the end of the day I just need to sit down and learn about some aliens. For some reason it makes me feel good, and I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, but I love me some aliens.” I’m not sure whether it’s scarier that she thinks she’s “learning” about aliens, or that she can’t even explain why it makes her feel good.
I have a few odds and ends to discuss today, beginning with the exciting news that a new fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been found! The Neo-Babylonian fragment comes from a piece of the epic looted from somewhere in Iraq and acquired by Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdish region of Iraq. It has now been recognized as a previously unpublished portion of Table V, telling the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu fighting the giant Humbaba. The twenty heretofore unknown lines provide two new details: First, that there were “monkeys” present in the Cedar Forest, and second that Humbaba was not a rampaging ogre but rather was depicted as a king of gigantic stature who presided over a sort of natural court. It also adds additional information about Enkidu’s childhood tutelage at the court of Humbaba, whom he returns to kill. The text and translation are available here.
It’s a bit weird to review a show that is undead. Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar was doomed before it began, consigned to a Saturday night burn off after a scathing UNESCO report, but History couldn’t turn a blind eye to its low, low ratings. In one of her first acts as the new head of the network, Jana Bennett moved the show to 5 PM ET, out of prime time, where its vacated slot now houses Pawn Stars reruns. The eight episodes announced for the series in June seem to have been cut down to six, and these were the show’s last hours. Bennett replaces Dirk Hoogstra, who while at H2 became infamous for declaring that there is only “a portion of our viewers that still want” deep factual information, and he led the network into fact-free and low-information programming.
History Channel Bumps Ratings Disaster "Pirate Treasure" Out of Prime Time, Sees "Ancient Aliens" Ratings Fall
Are we seeing the beginning of a retrenchment for fringe history on TV? The History Channel pulled Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar from its prime time lineup effective immediately due to the show’s disastrous ratings. Even longtime History stalwart Ancient Aliens has fallen out of the top 100 Friday cable programs. The last Ancient Aliens episode to chart in the cable ratings aired at 3:04 AM on September 4 and drew just 721,000 viewers, of whom 300,000 were in the 18-49 demographic. Presumably, the new episodes that have aired since have done worse since they did not surpass House Hunters International or afternoon Law & Order: SVU reruns. By contrast, Discovery’s Bering Sea Gold is pulling 1.7 million viewers in the same timeslot.
One of the problems with fringe history is that there isn’t any quality control. Everything from the potentially interesting to the outright fraudulent all gets dumped into the same fetid pool in which fringe authors swim, splashing slime on one another and yelling to their readers to join them since the water is so fine. The internet is making this problem—already present in book form—that much worse as websites compete for clicks and page views with recycled content or a race to the bottom in launching outrageous claims.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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