Before I get into today’s topic, I thought I’d share this letter to the editor a Minnesota zooarchaeologist wrote to the Star Tribune complaining about the uncritical and fawning profile of Scott Wolter that ran in the paper was the subject of my blog post yesterday.
I also want to let you know that I received a review copy of a major new academic anthology on The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions, which promises to be a fascinating look into mainstream ideas about the semi-divine beings so beloved by ancient astronaut theorists, lost civilization scholars, and Nephilim researchers. I can’t wait to read it.
Last weekend when I reviewed The Universe’s episode on “Heavenly Destruction,” I mentioned that Immanuel Velikovsky had a rather unique take on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In an article on the topic published in KRONOS in 1981, the catastrophist claimed that the planet Jupiter had once been close enough to the earth that it expelled massive electric discharges that blasted Sodom and Gomorrah off the face of the earth. A similar catastrophe resulted in the destruction of the Tower of Babel when the planet Mercury flew too close to the earth and discharged some electricity there, too.
This seemed like your run-of-the-mill kooky claim, but it’s interesting to look at the logic Velikovsky used to generate his idea. He argued more or less:
In Worlds in Collision (1950), Velikovsky made a similar claim about the Pillar of Fire from Exodus, attributing it to showers of flame from Venus mistaken for Marduk-Jupiter. Obviously, the claim violates the laws of physics as we know them today.
Jupiter’s name comes from the Latin, of course. Jupiter was the chief of the Roman gods, and his name comes from an elided form of Deus Pater > ’Iu Pater > Iuppiter, God the Father. In turn, this derives from the proto-Indo-European name Dyeus peter, referring to the god of the shining daytime sky. He survives also as Dyaus, the Vedic sky god; as Tyr, the Norse god; and of course as Zeus, the chief Greek god. But this deity was not a storm god at first and only became so after 1200 BCE, during the period when the Greeks merged Zeus with the Near Eastern storm god, probably due to influence from Tarhun (Teshub), the chief of the Hittite pantheon. His parallel gods in Norse and Vedic myth were not the storm gods of their pantheons (Thor and Indra respectively).
So that line takes us nowhere. Instead, we have to turn to where the Romans got the idea to name the planet after their chief god. That, in turn, comes from Babylon, where the planet had already been named for Marduk, the chief Babylonian god. Eusebius, citing Alexander Polyhistor citing Berosus, explained that Marduk was Jupiter, or rather, more specifically, Belus—the Greco-Roman name for Marduk, taken from his title as Baal, or Lord—was identical with Zeus-Jupiter.
Marduk was associated with lightning and storms. He uses lightning as a weapon in the Enuma Elish, for example, and he rides in a storm chariot. So why did he become assigned to the planet Jupiter? One of the obvious reasons is that Jupiter is the third brightest object in the night sky, behind the moon and Venus. Jupiter’s apparent twelve-year trek around the ecliptic became an important way Babylonian astrologers marked the zodiac, making the planet the “ruler” of the zodiac and thus the cosmos. The Enuma Elish reports that the Babylonians believed that Marduk established the celestial station of Nibir (or Nibiru), where Jupiter was opposite the sun, and thus the cosmic throne ruling over the zodiac.
But here we hit a wall. There is no indication that the Babylonians or their predecessors ever considered Jupiter to have once been closer to the earth, to have shot out lightning, or to have literally been the god flying across the sky, at least no more than Marduk was also thought to literally be present in his cult statue in his temple at Babylon.
It is perhaps interesting to note that Zecharia Sitchin took this same information and twisted it into his wandering planet theory. Sitchin explicitly cites George Smith, the Victorian translator of the Enuma Elish, as a key source, and we find Smith writing in his Chaldean Account of Genesis (1876): “I have translated one of these names nibir, ‘wandering stars’ or ‘planets,’ but this is not the usual word for planet, and there is a star called Nibir near the place where the sun crossed the boundary between the old and new years, and this star was one of twelve supposed to be favourable to Babylonia.”
In Twelfth Planet we can see exactly how Sitchin misunderstood the concept of a planet as a wandering star and twisted it into the idea of a wandering planet: “The Sumerians called the planet NIBIRU, the ‘planet of crossing,’ and the Babylonian version of the epic retained ... astronomical information…” Thus the idea that there was a wandering star that reached the summit of the heavens every twelfth year curdles into a giant planet hurdling about the universe.
Both Sitchin and Velikovsky wanted to literalize mythology and remove it from the realm of symbolism and astrology, despite the explicit claims in the source texts to astrological symbolism.
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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