As I’ve discussed a few times now, one of the most maddening things about alternative historians and ancient astronaut theorists is the way they insist on literal interpretations of ancient texts. For example, Ezekiel’s vision is seen as a firsthand report of a UFO, Phaeton’s fiery crash of the sun chariot is seen as an eyewitness account of a crashed flying saucer, and of course Plato’s Atlantis is taken for historical fact. Today I’d like to share an example of how this rejection of textual criticism, which is superficially an appealing way to make new discoveries, actively destroys knowledge when applied in practice.
Our example comes from a strange incident in the adventures of Jason, the Greek hero who captured the Golden Fleece after making a great journey to the East. In later Greco-Roman religious practice, this hero somehow acquired a series of temples across the East as well as a mountain in Iran, Mt. Jasonium (Strabo, Geography, 11.13-14). He was also recognized as the conqueror of Armenia before the Trojan War (Strabo, Geography, 11.14; Justin, Epitome, 42.2-3). Taken at face value, as alternative historians prefer, such tales imply either that Jason was seen as a god (or, heaven help us, an alien) or that the Greeks had conquered much of the Near East long before Alexander.
But taking the texts at face value actively destroys knowledge. The real story is so much more interesting.
The origin of the tale can be found in the Persian religious structures called ayazana or ayadana, the exact nature of which archaeology has yet to clarify. They may be related to (or the same as) the fire altars of the Zoroastrians, as mentioned in 2 Maccabees 1.19-34. There is no doubt, however, that they were religious precincts of some sort, since the Persian king Darius was recorded in a Persian inscription as restoring the “ayazana” the usurper Gaumata the Magus destroyed, while this word is translated in the contemporary Akkadian and Elamite versions of the text as the “temples” or “places of worship” (Behistun inscription, 1.61-6 [= 1.14 in linked trans.]).
When the Greeks first visited areas under the influence of Persian religion, they apparently misheard the Median dialect version of the ayadana, *yazona, as Jasonia (sound it out—it’s close if we remember that in Greek Jason was called “Iason”), and they applied their pre-existing myth of Jason’s great eastward voyage to explain the presence of these sacred sites across the East. Similarly, the effort to apply the myth to the geography of the Medes’ territory (now Iran), identified as a land visited by Jason, led to Mt. Damavand becoming Mt. Jasonion (Greek) or Mt. Jasonium (Latin). Thus, Strabo writes “that the memorials of Jason are, the Jasonian heroa, held in great reverence by the Barbarians, (besides a great mountain above the Caspian Gates on the left hand, called Jasonium)” (Geography, 11.13.10). Lest this connection seem speculative, it should be remembered that the Medes’ empire extended into Cappadocia in Asia Minor, almost to the very site at Cape Jason where the most famous Jasonium stood.
After this, it is a short hop to the strange story found only in Pompeius Trogus (as epitomized by Justin) that Jason “set out on a second voyage for Colchis, accompanied by a numerous train of followers (who, at the fame of his valour, came daily from all parts to join him), by his wife Medea, whom, having previously divorced her, he had now received again from compassion for her exile” (Epitome 42.2). Then, to make amends to Medea’s father for stealing the Golden Fleece and treating his daughter badly, he “carried on great wars with the neighbouring nations; and of the cities which he took, he added part to the kingdom of his father-in-law, to make amends for the injury that he had done him in his former expedition” (42.3). This, Trogus and Justin affirm, is the reason that that Jasonia exist across the East, in honor of Jason’s conquest of the entire region. So powerful was this myth that, according to Justin, one of Alexander’s generals destroyed the Jasonia where he found them so the mythic figure could not rival Alexander. Of course this “second voyage” never happened; it was a post-hoc explanation meant to give a mythic background to the confusion of terminology found in Iran and Armenia.
But if we were content to accept the ancient writers at face value, none of this knowledge about early Greek interactions with the East would have come to light. Instead, we would be searching for evidence of pre-Greek temples to Jason that never existed, and evidence of Bronze Age Greek invasions of Armenia and Iran that never happened. This actually happened from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, producing much speculation and few facts. This is how “alternative” readings of ancient texts actively destroy knowledge and retard a real understanding of the past.
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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