It’s only fitting to begin today with a brief notice of the death of H2, the History Channel spinoff that gave the world America Unearthed and made Scott Wolter into a fringe history star. The unpopular and little-watched network ceased broadcasting last night as it turned into the new Viceland channel, trading aliens and conspiracies for marijuana and Millennials. H2 went out the way it came in three years a few months ago, with a day-long marathon of Ancient Aliens reruns. Its most lasting legacy is probably America Unearthed, the show that gave aid and comfort to white nationalist interpretations of history and prompted racists across the country to champion the program as evidence for various conspiracy theories involving pre-Columbian white colonization of the Americas, and a U.S. government conspiracy to allegedly rewrite history in favor of ethnic and racial minorities. Good riddance, H2. You will not be missed.
"Expedition Unknown" Host Josh Gates to Flee Country if Trump Elected; Plus: Trump Vows Tighter Libel Laws
Whenever I discuss anything that touches even remotely on politics, people get mad, and I get angry emails about it. These are almost always from conservatives. When I complained, for example, that Pres. Obama and Sen. Harry Reid, both Democrats, helped make a UFO museum a Smithsonian-affiliated “National” museum, I received not a single outraged letter, but even a passing reference to a conservative politician unleashes a deluge of complaints about bias and how discussing the contemporary influence of false narratives about the past should be off limits except to conservative pundits, who have some unique connection to revealed truth.
Jezebel Writer Attends ConspiraSea Cruise, Experiences the Full Range of Fringe, from Goofy to Scary
Regular readers will remember that Sean David Morton, the self-professed psychic and accused fraudster, appeared a few times on Ancient Aliens while masquerading as a dual doctorate holder in theology and some bullshit pseudo-psychological subject. You will also likely recall that he appeared on the show two years after being sued by the government for defrauding clients out of millions of dollars by claiming he could psychically predict stock market swings. He was just charged with income tax fraud because he refuses to pay tax on the money he collects from his clients and his other activities. Anyway, if you didn’t have enough evidence that Morton is a terrible human being, Jezebel writer Anna Merlan has some choice bon mots from Morton’s lecture and MC duties during the ConspiraSea conspiracy theory cruise in an exceptionally detailed account of the event.
On Facebook this week Graham Hancock praised a new book called The Dawning Moon of the Mind for challenging the academic consensus on Egyptian religious development by revealing a sophisticated philosophy behind the ancient Pyramid Texts. I don’t think anyone ever doubted that the Pyramid Texts reflect sophisticated religious development, but according to author Susan Brind Morrow, a poet from upstate New York who studied Egyptology in college and once worked in archaeology, Egyptologists understand the Pyramid Texts all wrong.
Fringe Believers Allege Russians Moved an Ancient Angelic Plasma Emitting Box from Mecca to Antarctica
“I love the poorly educated!” Donald Trump proclaimed at a recent rally, and it was perhaps a rare moment of unintentional honesty. As much as I dislike discussing politics, it’s hard not to see in the rise of Trump the culmination of trends that surfaced in fringe history before infecting the mainstream of politics. While for many Trump appears as a clownish combination of Dr. Evil, Lex Luthor, and Mussolini, it’s increasingly difficult to deny that Trump hold an enormous appeal to the discontented, the fearful, the xenophobic, and racists. A recent New York Times survey found that almost 20% of Trump supporters opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, and another third were unsure whether they supported freeing the slaves. White supremacist David Duke even urged his racist supporters to volunteer for and vote for Trump. “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage,” Duke told his radio program’s predominantly white listeners yesterday.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where everything is magical and sparkly and full of rainbows. At first I thought that Shirley MacLaine’s new claims about Atlantis put her squarely in the corner of unicorns and rainbows, but after reading a bit more about her magical mystery tour of the remnants of Atlantis it seems much more like the goofball claims are cover for deeper concerns that I have no real interest in exploring.
Most of you will remember Richard Thornton, the conspiracy theorist who appeared in the pilot episode of America Unearthed and has since used that TV appearance to drive his quest to create a revisionist history of precolonial North America. Thornton believes that the Maya had a colony in Georgia, for example, and he claims that the U.S. government has attempted to smear him as a gay sex predator to stop him from revealing the truth. Now Thornton claims that he has new evidence that white people were present in the pre-Columbian American South.
Back at the start of the year, I made a very brief reference to the claim that the true father of Jesus was a Roman soldier named Pantera, Pandera, or Panthera. The claim originates in Jewish anti-Christian lore and first appears in the historical record in Origen’s Contra Celsus 1.32, where the Church Father relates with disapproval the fact that the pagan philosopher Celsus had said of the Virgin that “when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.” This particular tale also appeared in the Jerusalem Talmud and the satirical Jewish anti-Gospel called the Sefer Toledot Yeshu. Some Late Antique Jewish texts call Jesus the “son of Pantera,” and imply that the story originated in the first century CE. What I didn’t know is that James Tabor, advocate of the Talpiot Tomb, takes this seriously!
In the latest edition of the Skeptical Inquirer journalist Massimo Polidoro explores some of the fringe speculation about Mary Magdalene that grew up in the wake the Da Vinci Code hysteria of the early 2000s, mostly by asking whether a Templar church painting of the Madonna’s soul rising to the heaven in the form of a baby is really Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ child (it’s not). In so doing, Polidoro interviews Mario Arturo Iannaccone, an Italian historian who wrote a book a decade ago about Mary Magdalene called (in Italian) Mary Magdalene and the Shadow Goddess: The Sacred Feminine, the Spirituality of the Goddess, and the Contemporary Imagination. Iannaccone has some interesting things to say about Mary Magdalene, and his book reinforces much of what I and other who have looked at fringe claims about her have concluded.
The 1909 Arizona Gazette Grand Canyon hoax entered the pantheon of fringe history claims mostly due to the advocacy of David Hatcher Childress, whose report about the early twentieth century account of a fictitious lost civilization in the Grand Canyon went viral on the early internet in the late 1990s. Today, however, not only do fringe believers accept the story as true, they come up with new and inventive ways of expanding on the newspaper account into fact-free confections that freely mix and match material from other fringe claims.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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