According to ancient astronaut pundits, we are supposed to believe that ancient myths and legends are literal records of extraterrestrial intervention, while alternative historians argue that these same myths and legends instead record the intervention in the human past of an advanced, lost civilization on the order of Atlantis. Both groups, of course, selectively interpret myths and legends to support their preconceived points of view.
But what does it really mean to say that we must take myths and legends literally? Let’s look at a few and then compare them to the stories these speculators won’t tell you about.
Recently, Philip Coppens made the case that we should take as evidence of extraterrestrial dispensation the Famine Stela, a Ptolemaic-era monument recording a dream supposedly experienced by the architect Imhotep two millennia earlier, in which a god tells Imhotep that he (the god) will give Egypt rocks aplenty. This, Coppens said, is proof of the alien origins of architecture. We are also told by Erich von Däniken and others that the Book of Ezekiel is a literal record of the descent of a flying saucer in Biblical times. Giorgio Tsoukalos tells us that a fourteenth-century Arab text’s description of the supernatural inspiration for Egypt’s Great Pyramid five thousand years earlier is proof of an extraterrestrial master-plan.
On the other hand, Atlantis theorists from Ignatius Donnelly on down inform us that Plato’s Timaeus and Critias are to be taken as history, not allegory, and followed to the letter to find Atlantis, except where such literalism interferes with the selective changes they wish to induce to fit Atlantis to their pet theory. Graham Hancock tells us that pre-Columbian legends of savior gods are to be taken as literal records of the lost white race of Atlantis visiting the Americas (whereas ancient astronaut writers prefer to see them as aliens, and earlier Christian missionaries as wandering European saints or the devil in disguise).
While no two theorists agree on exactly what such myths mean, all agree on one thing: ancient people are not capable of making things up, or reporting false information. Their stories are derived from real life and are therefore a reliable guide to the past.
So what do these theorists make of the following stories?
These tales misattribute known constructions to wrong builders. But, you may say, so what? This is Roman material, so it isn’t relevant. Let’s have a few more.
Pshaw! Arabs. Not relevant to aliens or Atlantis, despite Jacques Bergier’s claim that the Qur’an’s story of Iram of the Pillars was an extraterrestrial act of explosive destruction.
Fine, let’s have some more, and this time let’s include both prehistory and supernatural power, ancient alien writers' favorite themes:
(All of the above examples, excepting Stonehenge, are drawn from Lord Raglan’s The Hero, wherein he provides full citations for each.)
So, I ask ancient alien speculators and lost civilization hypothesizers this: If these folktales, myths, legends, and traditions proved wrong in the face of known historical facts, what warrant do we have for assuming that your selections from myth, legend, and tradition are true? If you do not believe the fairies built the British dolmens, or Charlemagne’s wife built Roman amphitheaters, how can we trust a medieval Arab writer that the pyramids were inspired by sky beings, or a Ptolemaic stela that an Egyptian god bequeathed the rocks used to build the first pyramid? In short, why do you get to pick and choose what the rest of us should accept as true, and based on what objective criteria?
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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