Today I learned that no good deed goes unpunished. As most readers know, I maintain a growing library of important texts related to fringe history and pseudo-archaeology. Since there is no full public domain translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay thousands in licensing fees to use a modern one, I put together my own version from public domain material and my own editorial emendations and additions based on more recent translations. I started from the base of William Muss-Arnolt’s translations, published in 1904, and added in translations of fragments that were discovered and translated in the 1910s and 1920s. Because Muss-Arnolt’s material was in the wrong order, incomplete, and often wrong, I took a pretty strong editorial hand, and about 50% of the text is mine, though I tried to echo Muss-Arnolt closely enough that it isn’t always easy to tell. I don’t claim it as my own translation because, obviously enough, I don’t read cuneiform to work from the primary sources. That’s also why I don’t sell it for a profit; I don’t feel it is enough of my own labor to charge for. But it also isn’t in the public domain. I wrote half of it.
So imagine my surprise to discover that after generously making this available for free online that Wikisource copied the whole thing to their site, and from it, dozens of booksellers have created eBooks and print-on-demand volumes featuring my translation, attributed to Muss-Arnolt. (I licensed it, once, to a non-profit for educational purposes.) Basically, everybody is making money off of it but me.
But if my work had managed to find a second, third, and a two-thousandth life at the hands of long-tail e-book mass producers, this unauthorized reincarnation pales before Graham Hancock’s latest pronouncement. This past weekend, Hancock announced that he now believes in reincarnation: “Maybe we are meat robots, all matter, no spirit. A lot of people believe that. But its only a belief, not a fact. I think we’re all spirit and these bodies are the avatars we need to function in the material realm. Reincarnation makes a lot of sense to me.”
It is clear that Hancock sees himself as a spiritual guru in the making, and now he has a dogma to complement his theology. Over the past few years, he has described how he has come to believe that divine beings lurk on the other side of the veil of consciousness, gods accessible through drug use, particularly the herb ayahuasca. But now this belief in a polytheistic pantheon is tied to a pantheistic belief that the universe itself is a divine agent and invested in each individual’s spiritual development: “Why would the universe invest in creating this incredible ride if we only get one chance to learn the lessons it teaches? I think we come back, again, and again, and again until, maybe, finally… we get it.” Basically, Hancock is now a Buddhist with occult and hippie tendencies.
I am somewhat intrigued by the notion Hancock has developed of a teleological purpose to existence. While, yes, this is a common enough philosophical conceit, it also seems to reflect the same set of faulty ideas he brings to his study of ancient civilizations. He genuinely seems to have difficulty with randomness, chance, and fallowness. He, for example, finds it impossible to believe that humans could live a hundred thousand years without constructing cities filled with high technology, and in this light, it becomes obvious that the reason for this is that he believes that humanity has a specific purpose. And if that teleological purpose is to achieve a certain level of culture, then it is inevitable that he must project that into the past.
Similarly, he has difficulty with the concept of cultures rising and falling on their own, the victim of internal and external forces with no grand plan behind them. Here, too, he sees teleological plans at work. A conspiracy of guiding gurus—the Shemsu Hor or Atlantean priests—must be behind it. And he is especially unnerved by the randomness of natural disasters. That must be why he has become obsessed with the idea of a comet destroying Atlantis. It is the shattering moment of randomness that explains the failure of his teleological ideology, and he is attempting to render that random, soul-shattering horror safe by suggesting that the ancients were able to predict the return of the same comet cloud and the date of the next disaster. By making random events into part of a well-documented divine plan, something that can be predicted and accounted for, he can restore his own faith that there is a guiding force beyond a material world that he seems to fear might be home to no god.
How long will it be, though, before he claims to know (or to be) a reincarnated member of his lost civilization?
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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