I’m very excited that I just received Irving Finkel’s new book, The Ark before Noah, a study of the history of the Flood myth in the Near East and its transmission to the Hebrews. I’m interested to learn Finkel’s new conclusions about when and how the Flood myth entered into Hebraic lore. The book’s centerpiece is the new cuneiform tablet describing the construction of a round ark, a detail hitherto unknown from other extant Mesopotamian cuneiform texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Epic. It’s going to take me a while to read the book, but after I finish it I’ll report back on what I thought of his conclusions.
I’m not sure, however, what to make of the news that HBO has commissioned a new series about ancient aliens in Egypt. Fortunately for all of us, the new program, called Pharaoh, will be presented as fiction. However, because the show will air on HBO, it’s sure to catapult the ancient astronaut theory still higher in the public consciousness when, inevitably, every TV critic in America and around the world compares the show to Ancient Aliens and discusses the possibility of actual extraterrestrial contact in ancient times.
The series was created by David Schulner, who previously bastardized The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as NBC’s failed series Do No Harm and had a hand in turning Count Dracula’s trip to London into the world’s most boring business meeting in NBC’s failed series Dracula. He’s developing Pharaoh through Universal TV, an arm of NBC Universal, which apparently hates the past. The new show will be executive produced by Ridley Scott, who went to the ancient astronaut well in 2012 with Prometheus and has previously expressed his desire to use his projects to promote the ancient astronaut theory: “NASA and the Vatican agree that is almost mathematically impossible that we can be where we are today without there being a little help along the way,” he told Variety in 2011. “That’s what we’re looking at (in Prometheus), at some of Eric von Däniken’s ideas of how did we humans come about.” Even though NASA and the Vatican have never agreed that ancient aliens were necessary for assisting humankind, Scott shows no signs of backing away from his desire to promote the ancient astronaut theory through art.
Scott is also producing a TV miniseries version of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus alongside Prometheus 2.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of using ancient astronauts in fiction. H. P. Lovecraft raised the theme to art, and they have shown up in The X-Files, the Showtime revival of The Outer Limits, were hinted at in The Twilight Zone (“Third from the Sun,” among others), and most famously took center stage in Stargate and its spinoffs. Few readers will fail to notice the similarity in scenario between Stargate and Pharaoh.
But we are living in different times now, when Ancient Aliens is a television mainstay and conspiracy culture has seeped into the American mainstream in large measure due to the unholy alliance of UFO culture and right-wing anti-government conspiracy culture in the 1990s. We are living in an era when fringe historians like Philip Gardner can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction and believe that the Necronomicon was a real book of alien lore, and when American attitudes about public policy are shaped as much by NCIS and Zero Dark Thirty than by the actual events dramatized under those banners. The debate over torture a decade ago seemed to reference 24 as often as the Geneva Conventions.
Frankly, though, I wouldn’t have given the existence of a show like Pharaoh a second thought if it were on Syfy or BBC America or some other channel where such programming is expected (I mean, did you see the travesty that is WGN’s Salem? No? Neither did anyone else.), but under the imprimatur of a cable channel that holds itself out as the arbiter of quality, I worry that the concept of the show is going to get more discussion and more publicity than the subject matter warrants. Just as Game of Thrones spawned a cottage industry of discussions of medieval England and fantasy literature, it’s more than possible that Pharaoh could have the not-unintentional effect of doing what Prometheus could not and making ancient astronauts the subject of mainstream discourse. I mean, just think of how much ink has been spilled over AMC’s Walking Dead zombies to the point where many people genuinely believe in a coming zombie apocalypse; surely, ancient astronauts will earn the same treatment on a channel even more beloved of the media elite.
If nothing else, the news of the HBO show virtually guarantees more renewals for Ancient Aliens, and probably at least one special episode devoted to “Aliens and Pharaohs.”
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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