When it comes to fringe history, there are rarely completely new and novel claims. Sometimes, though, I find myself surprised by how far they go back in time. In his current book Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock finally admits that the lost civilizations he seeks to prove existed is Plato’s Atlantis, and he identifies the sinking of that lost continent with the rising of sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age, resulting from what he alleges is a cometary impact. This claim is nearly identical to the arguments put forth more than a century early by Ignatius Donnelly in his books Atlantis: The Antediluvian World and Ragnarok. Both authors also share one other thing in common: They both identify this rising of the sea with the Flood of Noah, and this Flood with the one reported by Berosus in his account of Xisuthrus and the Babylonian Flood legend.
What surprised me was learning that Ignatius Donnelly was drawing on a tradition of much longer life than I had anticipated. Although I didn’t stumble upon the sources I’m about to mention through Helena Blavatsky, I discovered after reading them that she had included references to both in her Secret Doctrine, which post-dates Donnelly, though it seems she read only the more recent of the two.
Anyway, Donnelly’s Atlantis makes mention of George Stanley Faber’s Pagan Idolatry (1816), but he doesn’t share with his readers the fact that he lifted the whole of the primary claim of his books historiography—that Atlantis was the pre-Flood world of the Nephilim—from Faber, who summed it up thusly:
Atlantis then, like the earth which Adima divided among his offspring, must have been the antediluvian world: and, if so, the ten sons of Neptune, who inhabited it previous to its submersion, must be viewed as shadowing out the ten antediluvian generations. The opinion is confirmed, both by the gradual deterioration of manners ascribed to its inhabitants, and by an old tradition preserved by Cosmas Indico-Pleustes, that it was formerly tenanted by Noah, and that, when it sank, he sailed in an ark to the continent.
Faber previously described the same claim in his Dissertation on the Mysteries of the Cabiri (1803), where we find that he identifies Noah with Atlas and calls him a giant. Blavatsky copied her material from this earlier source as well as Pagan Idolatry.
Further, Faber explains that he was also borrowing, from Jean Sylvain Bailly’s Lettres sur L’Atlantide (1779), a book where (on a different subject) the author speculates that the Aryans rode out the Flood in Tibet—a claim taken up in Nazi archaeology. The relevant material is in the twenty-third letter to Voltaire.
Bailly’s views aren’t all that important since all of the authors acknowledge that their ultimate source is Cosmas Indicopleustes, a sixth century Byzantine monk and chronicler who is most famous for his stubborn insistence that the earth is flat. Before we look at Cosmas, it’s interesting to see how Faber distorts Bailly, and in turn misleads Blavatsky.
Bailly gives his citation of Cosmas (with background taken, he says, from still another source, page 20 of the supplement to the Journal des sçavans for 1707) this way (my trans.):
In the sixth century, the monk Cosmas supported this view, that man had originally inhabited a place beyond the Ocean; he (Cosmas) had traveled in Asia, and he said he had it from a Chaldean scholar.
There’s no mention of Atlantis here, and indeed the whole passage actually refers to Cosmas’s flat earth beliefs given in Book 2 of his Christian Topography, specifically (in Bailly’s phrasing) that “the land where we are is surrounded by the ocean, but that beyond this ocean is another land that touches the walls of heaven.” Bailly, though, seems to have somewhat garbled the account in that Cosmas didn’t attribute this belief to the Chaldean scholar Patricius (as cited in the Journal), who was actually the bishop of Persia. Indeed, in Book 2, Cosmas makes plain that he gleaned his knowledge from the Bible, extrapolating from the shape of the Tabernacle (as given in Letter to the Hebrews) and the prophecy of Lamech (in Genesis) the shape the earth and the paradise beyond the Ocean. For Cosmas, as he says many times in his book, humanity arose in this land beyond the Ocean, where the antediluvians lived, until the Flood carried Noah to our uninhabited world to start anew.
Faber, in identifying the Paradise beyond the Ocean with Atlantis, thus misrepresents both Bailly and Cosmas when he says this:
The force of truth however leads him unguardedly to maintain, for he doubtless did not perceive the consequences of such a position, that the Atlantians were the same as the Titans and the giants; and he even cites an ancient tradition, preserved by Cosmas Indico-Pleustes, that Noah formerly inhabited the island Atlantis, but that at the time of the deluge he was carried in an ark to that continent, which has ever since been occupied by his posterity.
Thus did Blavatsky copy Faber without reading the originals and thus did she accept the claim that Noah was from Atlantis, to which she adds that he “must have been the progeny of the Sons of God, the fallen angels,” thus making Noah into a Nephilim on the basis of a misunderstanding!
All of this is, frankly, bizarre given that by utter coincidence, Cosmas Indicopleustes did in fact discuss Atlantis, and he was, so far as I can tell, the very first to argue, based on similarities between the Atlantis story and the Near East Flood Myth, that Plato’s Atlantis was the antediluvian world of the Nephilim and had been sunk in the Flood! Here is how he put it in Book 12 of his Christian Topography, which none of the above authors noted or cited. Warning: It’s a little long:
In the Chaldaean books of Bêrôsus and certain others it is thus written: that ten kings reigned over the Chaldaeans 2242 myriads of years, but, under their tenth king Xisuthrus, as they called him, there was a great flood, and that Xisuthrus being warned by God embarked in a ship with his wife and kindred and cattle, and that having been brought over in safety, as their story goes, to the mountains of Armenia, he offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Gods after the flood. These writers have thus presented in a new form nearly all the account given by Moses; for men continued to live in the earth beyond [the Ocean] 2242 years for a course of ten generations, and, under Noah who was the tenth the flood having occurred, they passed over to this earth by means of the Ark. For Noah is he whom they call Xisuthrus. But by having changed the days into years, they asserted that those ten kings had lived 2242 myriads of years, since the number of years reckoned by Moses to have elapsed from Adam to the deluge of Noah was 2242. In like manner the philosopher Timaeus also describes this Earth as surrounded by the Ocean, and the Ocean as surrounded by the more remote earth. For he supposes that there is to westward an island, Atlantis, lying out in the Ocean, in the direction of Gadeira (Cadiz), of an enormous magnitude, and relates that the ten kings having procured mercenaries from the nations in this island came from the earth far away, and conquered Europe and Asia, but were afterwards conquered by the Athenians, while that island itself was submerged by God under the sea. Both Plato and Aristotle praise this philosopher, and Proclus has written a commentary on him. He himself expresses views similar to our own with some modifications, transferring the scene of the events from the east to the west. Moreover he mentions those ten generations as well as that earth which lies beyond the Ocean. And in a word it is evident that all of them borrow from Moses, and publish his statements as their own. (trans. J. W. McCrindle)
Cosmas was a little confused and mixed up, taking Timaeus for example for Plato’s source rather than the subject of his dialogue, and Proclus for having commented on Timaeus rather than Plato’s Timaeus. No matter. We see here that Cosmas sees the Atlantis story as essentially a variant on the Near Eastern Flood Myth, and despite his Biblical orientation that leads him to give priority to the Noachian Deluge story, his claims are essentially identical to those of the later writers who weren’t aware of exactly what they owed to him. In short, the later writers were right but for entirely wrong reasons!
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