Hugh Newman Discovered My Translation of the "Akhbar al-zaman" and Thinks It Shows Giants Ruled Egypt before the Flood
I was disappointed to discover that I have accidentally introduced more bad ideas into the world of fringe history. It seems that almost two years after I translated the Akhbar al-zaman, the availability of the text in English has now led to it becoming more grist for the fringe history mill. But such is the way when it comes to Hugh Newman, the co-author of Giants on Record (2015; review here: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4) and a frequent guest on bad TV shows like Ancient Aliens and Search for the Lost Giants. In a new article for Ancient Origins, it is painfully evident that it is only due to the convenience of my English edition that he discovered my translation of the Akhbar al-zaman, which he proceeds to use as evidence for giants without ever really managing to understand the nuances of the text in question.
Newman begins his article with a piece of a lecture by occultist Manly P. Hall, which I covered back in 2015. This lecture recorded confused, off-the-cuff remarks by Hall concerning what he called the “sultan” (actually caliph) al-Ma‘mun as he opened the Great Pyramid: “He had been told that it had been built by giants, who were called the Shaddai (?), superhuman beings, and that within that pyramid and those pyramids, they had stored a great treasure beyond the knowledge of man.” As I explained in 2015, Hall conflated a few different Arab-Islamic pyramid myths and drew a conclusion left implied in the medieval texts. Specifically, some Muslims believed the Great Pyramid to have been built by Shaddad bin ’Ad (not “Shaddai”), or by Surid, and that these men were from the lineage of Cain and therefore Nephilim-giants. Al-Mas’udi, for example, identified Shaddad as a giant. The implication, therefore, is that the Pyramid was the work of the Nephilim-giants.
Naturally, Newman simply accepts this at face value despite the ample evidence that the story as we have it derives from an application of the story of Enoch’s Pillars of Wisdom to an Egyptian context. He also mistakes Al-Mas’udi for the author of the Akhbar (the medieval manuscript wrongly lists him as the author) and thus wrongly alleges that the book identifies Shaddad as a giant. It was Al-Mas’udi in a completely different book who said that. So far as I recall, the Akhbar does not. But no matter, for Newman not only has apparently read my 2015 article but has also did a keyword search through my translation of the Akhbar al-zaman, which he strip-mined for factoids and still managed to copy wrong, such as when he lists Naqraus as a post-diluvian rather than antediluvian king, or conflates Shaddad with Shaddat, something the Akhbar author specifically warned against in the passage Newman quotes:
The Akhbār al-zamān, also known as The Book of Wonders (ca.900 – 1100 AD), is an Arabian compilation of medieval lore about Egypt and the world before the Great Flood. It claims that the people of ’Ad were giants, so Shaddad was most likely one, and it is said he “built the monuments of Dahshur with the stones that had been carved in the time of his father.” Before this, the giant Harjit had begun its construction. At a later date, Qofṭarīm, another giant, “placed secrets in the pyramids of Dahshur and other pyramids, to imitate what had been done of old. He founded the city of Dendera.” Dashur consists of the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid constructed during the reign of Pharaoh Sneferu (2613-2589 BC). Dendera consists of highly decorated pillars dedicated to the Goddess Hathor.
The book mentions giants 28 times (by my count), and the overall theme is quite clear: the pharaohs of old were of the lineage of Cain and Ham, the Nephilim. But Newman, while admitting that the Akhbar al-zaman is a medieval text, nevertheless declares these made up medieval stories to be “archaic.” They are not. They cannot be traced back in their current form before the early Middle Ages, and their antecedent forms, as I have shown over the years, most likely emerged in Late Antiquity from Christian attempts to merge Egyptian Hermetic traditions with Biblical ones. Even granting the longest timeline the evidence supports, we are still thousands of years after the building of the pyramids.
“It is the opinion of the author that all ancient ‘lore’ is worth acknowledging as many of these traditions were relied on it (sic) to carry knowledge and wisdom through the generations,” Newman writes. The irony is that many of these myths, as fascinating as I find them, are actually anti-knowledge stories, since they displace actual history and replace it with Biblical fan fiction.
Because Newman refuses to share with his readers the Biblical and Quranic backdrop for the Akhbar al-zaman, he gives them the impression that that book is an accurate history of ancient Egypt and not a Muslim revision of a fabricated Christian history of Egypt.
But even at the superficial level, Newman has trouble sustaining an argument, so he enters kitchen-sink mode and tries to argue that the Egyptian pharaohs were giants because some ceremonial objects were oversized for normal humans but the right size for giants, and because Egyptologist Walter Emery thought that he had discovered a race of people with larger skulls who were the “elite” and untainted by the common Egyptian “racial strain.” These big-brained supermen were supposedly the Shemsu Hor, the followers of Horus, listed on the Turin Papyrus and corresponding to the reign of the Gods in other ancient chronologies. The details are unimportant, but suffice it to say that Emery assigned big skulls to the Shemsu Hor by assuming that the gods were non-native race of civilizers, an old canard familiar from many other schemes, usually written by people who want to promote a lost Aryan race. Indeed, Emery, while an eminent Egyptologist, wrote in a famous passage that Egypt and Mesopotamia both inherited their civilization all at once and fully formed from a common ancient source, a claim that Graham Hancock has long used to support the existence of his lost civilization (i.e., Atlantis).
The existence of this super-race is laughably slight, even taking Emery at face value. He is writing here in 1961’s Archaic Egypt:
Towards the end of the IV millennium BC the people known as the Disciples of Horus appear as a highly dominant aristocracy that governed entire Egypt. The theory of the existence of this race is supported by the discovery in the Predynastic tombs, in the northern part of Higher Egypt, of the anatomical remains of individuals with bigger skulls and builds than the native population, with so much difference to exclude any hypothetical common racial strain.
As should be obvious, there is nothing from the archaeological evidence to suggest that the residents of these tombs were the (fictitious) Shemsu Hor of much later king lists, nor do modern scholars follow the older idea that skull size represents population difference. Indeed, research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that there was no evidence of a Mesopotamian population entering predynastic Egypt, and the “bigger skulls” turned out to be within the limits of normal variation.
In short, Newman, like most fringe writers, picks and chooses old material but chooses to ignore modern findings that contradict his chosen fantasy.
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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