As most of you know, Curse of Oak Island returned for its fourth season on Tuesday, and I still can’t bring myself to care about digging holes and brokering an end to the long-simmering feuds between old geezers who fight over who knows best about which hole to dig and how deep and for what reason. But despite my misgivings about what is, at heart, a program about old men hanging out and bonding over a futile but expensive task—the fringe history version of having a golf foursome—the premiere episode struggled a bit to keep things fresh after so many years of looking in vain for some undefined treasure. To find an exciting new angle, they returned to an old one, and recapitulated the first season finale of America Unearthed, which visited the same New Ross location in search of the same artifact, the Ark of the Covenant.
As regular readers will recall, according to a Facebook broadcast this fall, Scott F. Wolter of America Unearthed and J. Hutton Pulitzer, formerly of Curse of Oak Island, planned to announce their belief that they knew the burial site of the Ark of the Covenant near Oak Island. It seems Curse stole their thunder by remaking Wolter’s first excursion in search of the Ark near Oak Island. Indeed, after the episode aired, J. Hutton Pulitzer took to Facebook to announce that (a) many things on Curse of Oak Island are “changed” or “enhanced,” (b) it was the “best” and most “absolutely amazing” episode ever produced by the “brilliant” Kevin Burns, and (c) Pulitzer would no longer be making public criticisms of the show because he does not want conservatives to have to deal with any more negativity in the wake of all the anti-Trump hatred that he said has taken too much of an “emotional toll” on him and others of his political bent:
In short, I do not want to detract from your entertainment. Right now, we all need to ESCAPE and BE ENTERTAINED. Now, maybe more than any time in history before - we need to be entertained and distracted. When all week you will see toxic and deplorable news targeted at our new President and trying to make him and his elected staff look like haters and racists, you NEED, better yet, you DESERVE, that one or two hours of entertaining escape every week.
It sounds rather like Pulitzer and Wolter discovered that criticizing powerful TV producers and the most important network for fringe history is not a useful strategy for marketing one’s own TV show. (For his part, Wolter tweeted that he was “not watching” but nevertheless “enjoying” the show.)
So, to sum up: Lies are good as long as they help Trump supporters cope emotionally with liberals. Poor little snowflakes. Fortunately, fringe history has plenty of “entertaining” ethno-nationalism of its own!
I have previously outlined how the New Ross location, a colonial-era site, came to be mistaken for a medieval castle by fringe historians looking to extend the timeline for European colonization of America, and it was thus subsumed into the burgeoning myth of Henry Sinclair, the medieval minor noble mistakenly fingered as the fictitious Prince Zichmni of the Zeno Narrative. The Zeno Narrative, which was itself a nationalist propaganda effort to vault Venice above Columbus’s native Genoa in the race to America, is widely admitted to be a Renaissance hoax, and even if it were genuine, a plain reading of the text does not report a voyage to Oak Island but rather a trip to Greenland, the location which the narrative claims was the farthest location Zichmni reached, and where he made his final home. It was fringe historians—Frederick Pohl specifically—who falsely claimed that the text’s Greenland was really Nova Scotia, removing the narrative yet another step from reality. Pohl, of course, famously argued that Native Americans worshiped Sinclair’s party of white Europeans as gods and credited them with all good things. Thomas Sinclair would argue that the Sinclair superior sperm permanently improved the Native population through an injection of masculine whiteness. The version Scott Wolter offered was identical except that it attributed the improvement to fictitious Holy Bloodline Jesus genes.
Anyway, this week’s episode focuses on secret codes that supposedly tie the Knights Templar and the Sinclair family to Oak Island. This is all very strange since there is no documentary evidence that the Knights Templar escaped Europe by ship—it’s a myth invented in the nineteenth century by Eugène Beauvois, a man so monomaniacally obsessed with proving that white Europeans invented New World culture that in 1891 Popular Science sighed that the International Congress of Americanists witnessed Beauvois promulgating his claim to the assembled experts “for the seventh time”—and it wasn’t the last. Even after ransacking records for more than a century, the only scrap of evidence for this claim is a single line, under torture, delivered by one Templar knight and admitted by him to be rumor and hearsay. And it doesn’t even say that the Templars took off for America. Beyond that, I explored last week the fact that the Templar association with the Ark of the Covenant was only invented in the 1990s, as a substitute for earlier associations, famously among the Nazis, of their association with the Holy Grail.
This week’s “expert” is Zena Halpern, a fringe historian who writes on diffusionist claims. She worked on “translating” gibberish from the fabricated stones from Burrows Cave (and publishing with Burrows Cave advocate and ex-Nazi leader Frank Joseph* in his publications), and she has gone by many descriptions—from historian to Hebrew expert to Knights Templar expert. In that last guise that she appears by phone (due to illness) on Curse to claim that she has documents linking the Templars to Oak Island. Sadly, we have only Halpern’s word that one of the modern papers (some of which were allegedly found in a mysterious book) bearing a secret code included “a mention dated 1178 to 1180 that the Templar voyage to the northeastern part of America took place and that the Templars had made landfall on an island of oaks When I found the map, which is dated 1347, I began to put the pieces together.” Sadly, the map “dated” 1347 is a hand-drawn doodle, which we are asked to believe is a photocopy of a hand-drawn copy of an undefined original. (Even if it were a copy of an old map, it is not “dated” 1347. The text of the map clearly states in French “the landing, one thousand three hundred forty-seven,” which is an incorrect way of giving a date in 1347 and makes no sense in context.) The 1178 map is also a doodle, and the date may have been back-formed from the Ulpius Globe of 1542, which identified Cape Breton as Cavo de Brettoni with the number 1178 beside it. (I have not confirmed that the number appears on the globe; Templar researcher Gerard Leduc reported it.) None of the evidence is medieval, and is worthless.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because in his 2013 book From Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers Wolter described an identical modern “copy” of a medieval map, also in French, also showing Nova Scotia, and also linking Oak Island to the Templars. (The year on the map back then was 1179.) And who was passing that map off as a real one? Oh, right: Zena Halpern. When she worked with Wolter in 2009 and 2010, she also gave him more apparently forged documents, including the infamous “C-document” narrative, written in the fake Theban language, of Templars taking treasure to upstate New York, also a modern “copy” of a medieval text. She offered a bunch of other rocks inscribed with ancient writing, to the point that it strained even Wolter’s gullibility. Halpern refused to let anyone see the original documents, only her hand-drawn copies.
So, to be clear: Zena Halpern’s conveniently suspicious discoveries helped shape the odd ideas Scott Wolter used on America Unearthed by convincing him the Templars brought the Ark to America, and Wolter then did an episode of America Unearthed on the Templars or other Europeans bringing the Ark to America (a couple in fact), after which Curse of Oak Island relitigated the same material by going back to none other than Zena Halpern.
That’s too much incest for me to take. Surely someone must have noticed that her “documents” exist only in copies that Halpern herself made, under various changing stories.
In the rest of the episode, a fellow named Doug Crowell claims that he solved the secret code found on various documents, and it revealed, he said, the words “gold” and “Joab.” Joab was a general of King David, so naturally he concludes that the Israelites might have been in on the conspiracy to move the Ark to Oak Island. Somehow, this leads to a discussion of the Templars again and to the fringe idea that their secrets passed to Henry Sinclair, who as a vassal of Norway had secret Viking knowledge of Nova Scotia and used it to spirit Templar treasure to America, though somehow the Norse chose not to follow.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is 35 years old this year. Curse of Oak Island only proves that the remake is almost always worse than the original.
* Scott Wolter and David Brody contacted me to say that it was inappropriate to note that Halpern published articles with Joseph because Halpern is Jewish and in poor health. They stated that Halpern is deeply upset by this. I am sorry that this hurt her, but the person who is responsible for that pain is Frank Joseph, who hid his past from those whose work he happily used to his advantage.
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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