In last Friday’s Ancient Aliens review I let pass a brief discussion of time travel in the Hebrew Bible because (a) I wasn’t familiar with the story and (b) assumed that the producers of the show would have done the minimal amount of research to quote the Bible correctly. The story concerned the prophet Jeremiah and what was essentially an early version of the Rip van Winkle story. I didn’t think this was really worth commenting on, but after discussing it with Mike Heiser on Twitter, I learned from Heiser that the story isn’t in the Bible at all. Naturally, I decided I had to investigate yet another case of Ancient Aliens fraud.
Here is the case of biblical time travel as given in Ancient Aliens S04E09 “The Time Travelers”:
Pretty much nothing in this statement is true. It also wasn’t true when von Daniken first made the claim in 1977’s According to the Evidence: My Proof of Man’s Extraterrestrial Origins, though back then he apparently knew more about the story than he does now. Let’s begin at the beginning.
First, this story is not found in the Bible, Hebrew or otherwise. The story is contained in 4 Baruch, also known as Paraleipomena Jeremiou (Things Left out of the Book of Jeremiah), a pseudoepigraphal work—meaning it was not written by the person named as the author. It was written probably in the second century CE, and the story contained in it is not found in other pseudoepigraphal texts of Baruch (such as 2 Baruch, on which it is dependent), indicating this story was created at a very late date. Let me stress: this book is not part of the Bible. The story is meant as a fantasy, allowing the author to fill in the back story of what transpired during the period in which Abimelech is gone, and it continues on to describe how the figs were brought to Babylon and used to end the Babylonian captivity. The entirety of the text is designed to console the Romanized Jews about the loss of the Temple and to prophesy its swift reconstruction following Hadrian’s expulsion of the Jews in 132.
Note: Today von Daniken claims that source is the Bible, but in 1977 he claimed the source was “The Remains of the Words of Baruch, or as it is also called the Addendum to the Prophet Jeremiah,” which he called “ancient Jewish scriptures.” This appears to be a variant translation for an alternate title of 4 Baruch, The Rest of the Words of Baruch, the title used by J. Rendell Harris in editing the text in 1889 but not otherwise common. Von Daniken’s description would be accurate if the text were (a) Jewish (it’s a Jewish-Christian hybrid), (b) scripture (it’s not canon), or (c) ancient (it’s nowhere near as old as, say, Genesis).
The story is also told in a different but related apocryphal text, the Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon (possibly third or fourth century CE), in which Abimelech sleeps for 70 years beneath a mountain (!) and picks both grapes and figs. This, therefore, was not von Daniken’s source as these details do not appear in his description.
Second, there is no wind or noise. Abimelech states clearly that he fell asleep in hot weather and then woke up. The text states clearly that he was “preserved” by the spell of an angel, just like King Arthur, Odin, and Cronus in a widespread European myth of the sleeping king. (There were other sleeping hero myths in the Near East as well.) Perhaps significantly, Abimelech’s name means (in one translation) “my father is king” and was the title of Philistine princes.
Third, there were no soldiers; and fourth, it was not 62 years but 66.
Here is the relevant text, condensed a bit because it is very long. The whole thing, including both the longer and shorter versions of the text, can be found here.
This is little more than a Rip van Winkle fairy tale pressed into the service of Jewish politics circa the second century CE. If you don’t believe this book is a fantasy, perhaps the rest of the text can make the case: A magic eagle takes the figs to Babylon, where they have gained the supernatural power to raise the dead. Later, Jeremiah dies and is resurrected. During his “death” he becomes convinced of the truth of “messiah Jesus, the light of all the ages” and delivers a prophecy of the coming of Christianity. Then the Jews stone him to death.
So, unless we are prepared to believe in magic eagles and death-defying figs (a spaceship delivering alien technology, I suppose), I don’t see any reason to reinterpret Abimelech’s sleep as Einsteinian time dilation. If we do that, then why not Sleeping Beauty or Snow White? Snow White was even in a glass coffin, which is clearly a cryogenic chamber. Did the medieval European peasantry have cryogenic chambers? Folklore says YES!
So why do ancient astronaut theorists ignore fairy tales but embrace pseudo-historical fables?
And, more importantly, why does it take this much research to explain just one 30-second lie on Ancient Aliens?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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