On the advice of Mike Heiser, I read Amar Annus’ “On the Origin of Watchers” from the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19 (2010), and it was a fascinating look at the deep background of the Watchers’ myth in the Seven Sages, or apkallu, of Mesopotamia, best known to most readers from the myth of Oannes (Uan-Adapa) in Berosus—the amphibious fish-man Robert Temple said was a space alien from Sirius. These sages, like the Watchers, descended from heaven to bequeath civilization, angered the gods with their sins, begat gigantic semi-divine apkallu on human women (Gilgamesh being one of their last giant descendants), and were condemned to the underworld. Also interesting was Annus’ footnotes, which noted the similarity with Ugaritic and Phoenician sources (Sanchuniathon) and noted at transfer of motifs between Syria and Mesopotamia to the extent that the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, where Sanchuniathon places the giant sons of the gods and 1 Enoch houses the Watchers, were also the domain of the Anunnaki in the Old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh.
Before we begin today, I have a brief announcement to make: My newest book, Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages is now available to purchase direct from the publisher! The official publication date for the book is July 1, and it will gradually become available on Amazon and other retailers over the next few weeks. McFarland sells the book only at full price; I’m not sure how much of a discount the retailers might offer when the book is available there.
I’m excited that the book is finally in print after several long years of researching and writing it, followed by even longer trying to find a publisher willing to print it. I received my personal copies late last week, and the book looks beautiful.
Now on to today’s topic.
I know that most readers have become somewhat unenthusiastic about my recent posts about the origin of the Watchers myth. But then stories like this come around to remind us why understanding this ancient myth is so important for evaluating the extraordinary claims of fringe believers. For the following story, I had the good fortune to discover a cache of emails that provide a shocking and frightening glimpse behind the scenes as a group of fringe history believers plan their media strategies and reinforce one another’s extraordinary beliefs. Before we can examine these, however, we need to see how the story appeared to radio audiences.
My book review of The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Tradition seems to have gotten a bit off track. I started out reading the book and going along well, but then several chapters in I began to realize that I was spending a lot more time researching the references in book’s chapter notes than I was actually reading the chapters. Each is so short that it can do little more than suggest interesting avenues for research, and I’ve found that the sources the chapters link me to—especially Jan M. Bremmer’s brilliant discussion of the connections between the Watchers and Greek mythology in a piece called “Remember the Titans!”—have been much more enlightening.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the following information, but it is certainly odd enough. In Biblical literature, the world is destroyed in ancient times by the flood, and as apocalyptic theology developed, there came a notion that the other end of time would feature the inverse destruction, as reported in 2 Peter 3:6-7: “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” This imagined inversion of the past in the future has a very long afterlife that feeds into fringe history themes in a surprisingly skewed way.
Yesterday I talked a bit about the Shaver Mystery, the 1945 hoax in which writer Richard S. Shaver claimed that he had descended under the earth, encountered a fantastically ancient race possessed of high technology, and reported the shocking truth only under the guise of fiction. In reality, of course, the hoax was the joint work of Shaver, a former mental patient, and Amazing Stories editor Ray Palmer (who wrote more than two-thirds of the Shaver material and soon after started Fate magazine, the nonfiction title that launched the Kenneth Arnold UFO claims), but I didn’t know when I discussed this yesterday was the debt that Palmer and Shaver owed to H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, whose tales of lost civilizations and underground races (cf. Lovecraft and Heald, “The Mound,” or Lovecraft, Shadow Out of Time) were the direct predecessors of Shaver’s, mitigating and transmitting earlier claims from sources like Bulwer-Lytton’s Coming Race, Frederick S. Oliver’s Dweller on Two Planets, and various hollow earth theories from the Victorian era. From Lovecraft, too, we see echoes in the idea that the ancient people were a space-faring race and that the Elder Race (his words: cf. Lovecraft’s Elder Things, Ancient Ones, and Old Ones) would return from the stars.
Jeb J. Card points me to the June 1947 issue of Amazing Stories which has become available online in its entirety at Archive.org. Published at the dawn of the UFO era, just before Kenneth Arnold’s June 24, 1947 UFO sightings, it preserves a snapshot of just how much science fiction had absorbed and developed pseudoscience and paved the way for the explosion of fringe history to come.
While we here in the United States get Ancient Aliens on our History-branded networks, on Australian television, their History channel is showing a six-part series by photojournalist David Adams in which the 40-year-old Aussie best known in America for his 1999 Journeys to the Ends of the Earth series explores Alexander’s Lost World. Adams is traveling in the footsteps of Alexander the Great to explore central Asia and the cities the Macedonian conqueror founded there. His thesis is that Alexander destroyed the remnants of the Oxus civilization, the Bronze Age culture of what was known to the Greeks as Bactria and to us as the region encompassing Afghanistan. While the show passes under the name of Alexander, it is apparently really about Adams’s love affair with the prehistory of Afghanistan.
In the world of American television, ancient mysteries inevitable descend into efforts to prove that the Bible is literally true. You could choose to read this as pandering to the audience, or you might see it as part of a society-wide convulsion over the decline of traditional Christian religion (which often embraced symbolic, or at least nuanced, interpretations) and the rise of secularism and biblical literalism in oppositional tandem. The underlying theme of all the documentaries that explore such topics is the same: If we can prove the small details of the Bible true, then the larger narrative must be true, and you are warranted in planning for life everlasting. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The Universe: Ancient Mysteries Solved S04 “Star of Bethlehem” is about what you’d expect from a documentary that wants to combine astronomy with the most famous appearance of a star in ancient literature. The documentary opens by asking if the Star is “faith, fable, or fact,” which already puts it a cut above most H2 documentaries. Nevertheless, the promised question of whether the Star of Bethlehem “will return” makes me a bit uneasy. This gets into some strange theological territory that seems a bit beyond an astronomy documentary. In time, the show will debunk this claim, but it will go on to endorse another that is not without its problems so that it, too, can conclude that the Bible is true not just spiritually but factually and historically.
In the annals of fringe history, the Watchers loom large. These are the Sons of God of the Bible, the Watchers of 1 Enoch and the Fallen Angels of Judeo-Christian lore—the creatures who mated with human women and taught the forbidden sciences of metallurgy, astrology, and cosmetology (yes, makeup). Among ancient astronaut theorists, these beings are often identified with the Anunnaki and assumed to be space aliens who genetically engineered humanity and taught science. For the “Nephilim research community,” the scant biblical reference to the Sons of God and their giant sons in Genesis 6:1-4 launched a global dragnet for the physical remains of these antediluvian beings. Even some lost civilization speculators take these creatures as evidence that an Ice Age civilization spread its high technology across the ancient Near East.
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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