With the publication this month of Nick Redfern's Pyramids and the Pentagon, another in his series of UFO and ancient mystery conspiracy books based on U.S. government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I've decided to examine some of the CIA and NSA files Redfern cites in his many books as important evidence for piecing together the story of government involvement in the exploration of ancient astronauts and other extraterrestrial mysteries. This is the second piece in my series on the U.S. government's FOIA files.
I don’t usually delve into the world of government conspiracies because it is, for the most part, beyond my remit. However, I make exceptions for government conspiracies involving ancient history. That’s why I was interested to see that Nick Redfern, a fixture on Ancient Aliens and its ilk, has a new book out that claims that the military and intelligence services of the US government investigated various alternative history claims including Noah’s Ark, ancient nuclear warfare, and UFO levitation technology used to build the Pyramids. I have not yet read Redfern’s Pyramids and the Pentagon, but I have looked at some of the claims he and his press agent have been making about it.
In lieu of a blog post today, I invite everyone to check out my forthcoming book Cthulhu in World Mythology, which now has an official publication date. My Lovecraftian parody of Chariots of the Gods and Ancient Aliens will be out in September from Atomic Overmind Press. I have a bunch of content up for the book, including an except, photo essay, and collection of Necronomicon fragments. I'll be adding more content as publication approaches!
I am really not sure of the point of Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? Beneath a superficial layer of erudition produced by aping uncritically the more careful work of his sources, Spencer is apparently trying to write a polemic that argues that Muslims originated as heretical Christians (an early medieval belief in Europe) and therefore…what exactly? Even if we take at face value Spencer’s argument, the most generous interpretation of his evidence says little more than that shortly after the traditional date of Muhammad’s death disparate elements combined into the Islam known today, including the Qur’an, the biography of Muhammad, and Islamic law.
This process was complete, even Spencer admits, within 60 years of Muhammad’s death. In this, Islam beats Christianity by a few centuries, since it took about 300 years for Christians to settle on what would and would not be Scripture, and another several centuries to form a rough consensus on whether Christ was or was not identical with God the Father. Judaism took something like a thousand years to develop its traditional form.
I just don’t see how evidence for the evolution of Islam, no matter how interesting on its own, proves the case that Muhammad and Islam are a fabrication designed to impugn Christ.
One of the most important books making the rounds of conservative circles this spring is Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins. This book purports to be a popular discussion of a scholarly debate about whether the Prophet of Islam is a historical figure or a mythic one. The author never quite states but clearly wants his audience to believe that denying the historicity of Muhammad negates the value of Islam.
This is actually a very interesting question: How can we prove whether a given personage actually existed? How can we distinguish between a man to whom legends accrued and a myth to whom bits of history became attached? How would we distinguish, in crude terms, between Alexander the Great (the former) and King Arthur (the latter)?
I don’t think that the late Ivan Van Sertima actually knew how to read. At least that’s the impression I get every time I try to trace back one of his Afrocentrist claims from They Came before Columbus (1976) back to its source. Van Sertima wrote his book when he was a graduate student at Rutgers, and it says little for that institution’s educative training that one of their best-selling graduates simply cannot understand what he read in articles and books.
If you read a “fact” in an alternative history book, you can be fairly certain of one thing: It won’t be true. In They Came before Columbus (1976) Ivan Van Sertima, for whom evidence exists solely as grist for polemic, claimed that the ancient Mexican and Egyptian calendars were substantively similar because a scholar, the Abbé Hervas, had written that
Van Sertima declines to note that the Abbé Hervas lived in the eighteenth century, and his discussion was a private letter sent to the cleric Francesco Saverio Clavigero (also known as Francisco Javier Clavijero Echegaray) and published in 1780 in The History of Mexico (p. 466, 1787 English trans.). He acknowledges this obliquely in the end notes (citing the 1804 edition), but does not mention the fact in the body text.
The year 1976 was certainly a busy one for alternative history. That year gave us The Sirius Mystery from Robert Temple, Twelfth Planet from Zecharia Sitchin, and They Came before Columbus from Ivan Van Sertima (whom I’ll call IVS for short), among others. All of these books, though, attempted to take on the big dog of alternative studies, Erich von Däniken (EVD), whose Chariots of the Gods and its sequels had sold around ten million copies in the preceding decade.
Temple and Sitchin attempted to gain market share by providing more specific information about the exact nature of the aliens; by contrast, IVS proposed a radically different theory: Afrocentrism. He reinterpreted the same hoary evidence to show that Africans had launched global civilization, though with the same caveat as EVD that no incontrovertible product of this advanced culture remained to be found. In They Came before Columbus, IVS attempted to explain why his new alternative theory was better than EVD’s in a weird little passage that seemed to acknowledge the the two men were competitors in the marketplace of bad ideas. IVS’s answer was a false dichotomy.
One of the oldest werewolf stories in all literature comes to us from ancient Greece and relates to the shrine of Lykaian Zeus in Arcadia, where rumor had it human sacrifices occurred. Some form of the tale must be exceedingly old, since it is referenced obliquely in Hesiod, as preserved in the fragments of Pseudo-Eratosthenes' Catasterismi.
The classic version of the story is preserved in Hyginus, the Roman mythographer, and concerns the fate of a king named Lykaon, whose name was taken to be related to the Greek word for wolf, lykos.
This weekend MTV’s surprisingly good Teen Wolf returns for a second season, and watching the preview advertisement blather on about “alphas” and “hunters” made me realize just how much has changed about Gothic monsters over the past half century or so.
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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