This week in the New York Times, novelist Marcel Theroux reviewed The Lion House, a new history of sixteenth century Ottoman imperialism by historian Christopher de Bellaigue, and Theroux’s review is both a case study in how not to review history and an example of how fact-checking and expertise has drained away from the editorial level of journalism. Theroux accused de Bellaigue of fabricating material, and no one thought it worth checking to see if it were true.
Over the summer, Paolo Chiesa published an article in Terrae Incognitae describing a passage in a medieval Italian chronicle briefly mentioning the land west of Greenland which the Norse had named Markland, and it made the rounds of online news sources a couple of weeks ago. Chiesa said that this passage, from around 1340 CE, is the oldest mention of North America known from the Mediterranean region. On its own, this is not earth-shattering news since the northern European peoples had been speaking of these lands since Adam of Bremen described Vinland around 1035 CE. But it does have interesting implications for the notorious Zeno Narrative and its role in fringe history’s elaborate narrative about Henry Sinclair learning of and visiting North America.
Fifteen years ago, evangelical Christian archaeologist Steven Collins claimed that the site of Tall El-Hammam was the Biblical Sodom, presenting evidence that the ancient city had suffered a massive and sudden fiery destruction around 1600 BCE. The History channel’s H2 spinoff network turned that claim into an episode of The Universe in 2014. The idea that Sodom had been destroyed by a comet, asteroid, or some other non-supernatural blast from the heavens goes all the way back to 1743, so it isn’t exactly news.
Last week, I wrote about the recent appearance of Brian Muraresku on Joe Rogan’s podcast to discuss the use of psychedelic drugs in ancient times, particularly in the mixed drink known as kykeon served to initiates during the Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece. Part of their conversation revolved around the 1978 book The Road to Eleusis, whose coauthor, Carl Ruck, consulted with and advised Muraresku in his own work. This past week, I heard from Ruck, who argued that my commentary was incorrect and has asked me to retract my blog post due to the “dismay and distress” it has caused his associates. He copied the email to Muraresku.
War of the Gods: Alien Skulls, Underground Cities, and Fire from the Sky
Erich von Däniken | New Page Books | Sept. 2020 | 214 pages | ISBN: 1632651718 | $17.95
Years go by with the inevitable cycle of the seasons repeating their majestic rounds. After winter, summer. After summer, winter. And with the regularity of the season, so too does Erich von Däniken release a new book, and with the same repetition as the seasons. Each book is the same as all the books before, and each one begins with the ritual of pretending otherwise. War of the Gods, originally published in German 2018 but released in English for the first time this month, starts with a letter in which von Däniken (henceforth EVD) proclaims with great excitement news that he imagines will surprise his readers: “In this book, I present new findings!” Unfortunately, there is an ominous note: “But it is only possible by building on previous experiences.” Each winter brings a different snowstorm but you always know it will snow. So, too, do you know that whatever soupçon of new material appears in War of the Gods will be buried in a blizzard of recycling. He frequently refers to his own books, the books of guests on Ancient Aliens, and to claims made on the Ancient Aliens television show itself, recycling in an endless loop of previous claims tracing back to his own earliest efforts to recycle Morning of the Magicians to his own advantage.
Classicist Peter Gainsford made an interesting case on his blog that the humorous ancient Greek science fiction satire of Lucian called The True History includes a close parody of the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. I can definitely see Gainsford’s point, but my gut instinct is that Lucian wasn’t directly drawing on the Christian text in imagining the fantastical paradise on the Isle of the Blessed where the heroic dead reside. Let’s take a quick look at what Gainsford says in order to puzzle out whether he’s right and whether Lucian had it in for Christianity’s most psychedelic text.
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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