On Friday, I reviewed the latest episode of Ancient Aliens, and in that review, I noted that new talking head Ashley Cowie, the erstwhile host of Syfy’s Legend Quest, stated that there were “legends” that a golden Inca sun disc had been removed from the Coricancha temple in Cuzco and taken to a “mountaintop village” called Paititi. Many readers likely remember Paititi from when Josh Gates sought it out in Expedition Unknown a few years ago. In most versions of the story, it is a city possessed of fabulous treasure, or even made of gold, but the oldest surviving documents fail to indicate any such connection to lost Inca treasure, though they do speak of having plenty of precious metals, so much that they make pots and pans from “precious metals,” though this probably refers to copper. The legend of the sun-disc being there, so far as I have been able to tell, does not date back before the twentieth century, so I described Cowie as “telling a lie” by implying, in context, that such stories go back to the Conquest. As it happens, my conclusion, while not wrong, is incomplete.
Today I thought I would introduce you to Leon of Pella, a shadowy figure who played an outsized role in spreading the doctrine of euhemerism from the Hellenistic era down to Late Antiquity. For a writer of outsize influence, what is most interesting about him is that we don’t really know anything about Leon at all, and that includes even his name. Nevertheless, whoever Leon was, he helped contribute to a number of controversial views about Egyptian history and the ancient past.
Ancient Aliens has been working hard to find ways to refresh its old formula, and this season the producers have struck upon twin strategies. First, each episode is now framed around a field piece starring one of the show’s most important talking heads, and, second, the show has made its peace with creationists, nationalists, and other unsavory types, gleefully adding their claims to the core ideas of the ancient astronaut theory. We saw this when the show embraced creationist claims about “OOPARTS,” and in “Voices of the Gods” producers embrace the extreme claims of Hindu nationalists, melding together old claims about India from UFO literature with bonkers efforts by the government of Prime Minister Modi to celebrate India’s supposed prehistoric technological past based on dubious readings of Sanskrit texts. The show also leaves aside the vexing problem that so many of these claims originate not among native Indians but rather among white Europeans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who sought to celebrate Aryan heritage by looking for the “oldest” Aryan myths, legends, and sciences among the oldest layers of Indian civilization, a layer then presumed to be a “pure” representation of ancestral Indo-European culture.
Congressman Asks NASA Panel about Ancient Martian Civilization; Plus: Creationists Chide Flat-Earthers for Taking the Wrong Parts of the Bible Literally
In Congress, another depressing scene took place yesterday when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) stopped a House Science Committee hearing cold by asking a NASA representative if Mars had an ancient alien civilization. Rohrabacher seemed to think that Mars was capable of supporting humanlike life within the past few thousand years (i.e. during the “ancient astronaut” timeframe) and at one point started to speak of “some people” who believed in a lost Martian civilization, but the NASA representative cut him off before he could offer a complete thought allowing us to judge how deep Rohrabacher’s involvement with the ancient astronaut theory really goes.
Over the past few weeks I’ve talked quite a bit about the Alexandrian chronographers Panodorus and Annianus, and I have discussed some of the sources they used in compiling their influential discussion of world history, one that included the Fallen Angels as a key pivot point in antediluvian events. To that end, it’s interesting to note that the two authors seem to differ from their source material a bit. It is widely assumed, for example, that Panodorus relied on the so-called Book of Sothis, a forgery wrongly assigned to the Egyptian priest Manetho, for his Egyptian chronology, not least because this forgery has distinctly Judeo-Christian elements, identifying various pharaohs with their Biblical counterparts and identifying the first king of Egypt as Mizraim, the son of Ham, son of Noah. This is noteworthy primarily because Eusebius, in his Chronicle, makes that same identification, but does not attribute it to Manetho.
Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Endorses Robert Schoch's Lost Ice Age Civilization; Plus: A Medieval Account of the Sphinx's Secret Chamber
Note: This post has been edited to correct information about Edgar Cayce.
Gwyneth Paltrow receives frequent criticism because her lifestyle brand, Goop, actively promotes all manner of quackery in the name of “wellness.” But I was shocked and surprised to see that Goop has now extended beyond dubious wellness cures into the realm of pseudoarchaeology. Goop interviewed “maverick” geologist Robert Schoch, who gave Paltrow’s moneyed hausfrau readers a summary of his usual claims about an Ice Age Sphinx and a lost megalithic civilization, with the added speculation that civilization rises and falls because “subtle changes in the [Earth’s] electromagnetic/geomagnetic field can modulate mental abilities in humans.” He added that “academia” is financially invested in maintaining the current paradigm of history, which is why his radical revision hasn’t caught on.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been examining the fragments of Abenephius, a largely unknown figure said to have been a medieval rabbi from Egypt. The fragments preserved by Renaissance polymath Athanasius Kircher represent an otherwise unattested Jewish treatise on the mysteries of ancient Egypt, but no one knows whether the text is authentic or something Kircher made up.
After researching the alleged medieval Egyptian rabbi Abenephius over the past couple of weeks, I became curious about the question of what exactly Jews and Christians of Egypt would have known about Hermes, Enoch, and the other related characters whose apocryphal adventures formed the basis of so much later fringe history. This led me to learn that the Jews of Egypt had indeed been interested in Enochian literature, but that they had been extinguished in the middle of the second century CE (177 CE to be specific), not to reappear again until the 300s, at which point their interest in Enoch and Hermes goes unrecorded. One would think they almost certainly would have produced their own texts reacting to Enochian and Hermetic texts because their Christian neighbors were obsessed with apocryphal texts; however, the period from 70 to 600 CE saw the suppression of the Enochian tradition among the Jews almost completely, reemerging only after around 700, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
My son was particularly fussy last night, and I am currently operating on only two hours’ sleep. I am too tired to do much writing this morning, so I will keep this brief. Since I heard from a few of you that you find the material about the fragments of the lost treatise on Egyptian mysteries by the (presumed) Egyptian Jewish author Abenephius to be interesting, I wanted to call your attention to a particularly unusual fragment from the supposedly medieval author, in which the author provides one of the more bizarre mythological identifications that I have come across: “Mithras was the first king of Egypt, and he was said to be Misraim, the son of Ham, the son of Noah, the first of all mankind who carved on stone pillars the sacred mysteries of nature” (quoted in Kircher, Historia Obelisci Pamphilii 2.10, my trans.). That’s a new one on me!
While I am sure that the fragments of the otherwise unattested writer Abenephius that I translated and wrote about last week are probably not as interesting to you as they are to me, I’ve been puzzling a bit over the question of authenticity. As I wrote last week, the material found in the excerpts recorded by the Renaissance polymath Athanasius Kircher is not terribly original, but at the same time it is not exactly what one would expect Kircher to have made up, either, since a forger would have been more likely to produce something more … exciting? … well, interesting anyway. However, one question that came to my mind is if we know the degree to which the fragments reflect material from a specifically Jewish context. Previous analyses, taking the text at its Arabic face value, have attempted to fit the fragments into an Arab-Islamic context, possibly because many scholars have chosen to assume that Kircher’s identification of the author as “Abenephius the Arab” superseded his original identification of him as an Egyptian Jew named Rabbi Baracahias Nephi.
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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