For the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing chapters from Frank Joseph’s new alternative history anthology, Lost Worlds of Ancient America (New Page Books, 2012). This is my review of Chapters 14 through 18.
With Chapter 14, we begin a new section, “Sites,” though I am at a loss as to how it differs from the previous section, “Physical Proof.” In this chapter Zena Halpern, a longtime alternative researcher with an MA in History, presents a rock from the Catskills in upstate New York on which is scrawled a triangle atop which is a slightly curved line from which six straight lines jut up. It looks to me like a crude drawing of a deer or moose head with antlers, but according to Halpern it must be a Bronze Age Jewish menorah on the basis of…it sort of looks like one if you squint. She claims a seventh projection emerges from apex of the triangle, but this is not readily apparent in the photograph provided. Most of the rest of the article is irrelevant speculation about whether the ancient Canaanite goddess Asherah was the inspiration for the triangle-shape of the “menorah” base. Following this we get some unsupported claims from Barry Fell about a “medieval Jewish community” in Arizona—with no evidence other than some ambiguous petroglyphs—and claims that we should accept the Catskill stone because of other, similar stones such as those of Bat Creek—stones scholars already established as hoaxes. No evidence is presented to establish the age of the Catskill stone. We are expected to accept it as Bronze Age on the basis of Zena Halpern said so. Well, that’s not good enough.
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Chapter 15, another entry by Frank Joseph himself, proposes a worldwide serpent cult based on the image of a snake spitting out (or consuming) an egg. He relates this to the quest for the Seven Cities of Gold based on a bunch of groundless speculations and suggests that since the image of snake and egg occurs in North America and Europe it must be evidence of a connection. He left out the obvious: Snakes eat eggs. The image may well be drawn from life in both the Old and New World and thus require no strange, unchanging cult existing over thousands of miles across thousands of years. The identity of this cult is (as always) a lost white race of Aryan supermen, this time based on the Hopi myth of the Pahana, the “Lost White Brother” whom anthropologists believe derives from the Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl. Contrary to Joseph’s assertions, the “white” of the Aztec myth referred not to skin color (Quetzalcoatl’s skin was often given as black or green) but to his sacred color. Joseph relates this to the Greek Ophite sect, whom he said the Greeks considered snake people and the ancestors of all Greeks. I can find no support for this. The Ophites were a late Gnostic sect from Egypt. In Greek myth, humanity descended from the rock people created when Deucalion and Pyrrha threw stones over their shoulders to repopulate the earth after the Great Flood. This is not the same thing. Joseph appears to be confusing the Ophites, the Gnostic snake cult, with the Orphics, an ancient Greek mystery religion that believed in the creation of the universe from a cosmic egg often depicted with a coiled serpent around it. This is not the same as the serpent mound image of a snake ejecting an egg. The serpent was not part of the Orphic creation myth (though in Damascius' discussion of the Orphic Rhapsodies there is a multi-headed snake in the first generation of gods) but instead was a symbol for the creative spirit within the egg. The god who emerged from the egg, Phanes, is often depicted as wearing a coiled snake, but this, again, is not an egg going into or out of a snake.
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On a related note, in Chapter 16 a tour guide named Ross Hamilton from the Great Serpent Mound site in Ohio claims that the site—a large earthwork in the shape of a snake swallowing an egg—must be related to the European Neolithic peoples because there is a rock at the site that might have been standing at some point and might have been brought from elsewhere. How this translates into Neolithic travelers from Stonehenge coming to set up a single stone and go home, I can’t imagine. Apparently in addition to being too stupid to pile up large clumps of dirt, Native Americans needed white people’s help to put up a stone—a stone, which, of course, lacks any sort of context to help us understand whether the reported find is genuinely old, artificially carved, or any other aspect that might indicate non-American origins. Some kind of evidence would have been helpful.
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Chapter 17, again by Frank Joseph, discusses Ohio’s Mound City, a well-known and well-studied Hopewell site composed of many earthworks and earthen mounds. This site is not wondrous enough for Joseph, who cites Mormon hyper-diffusionist Wayne May’s resurrection of centuries-old theories that the mounds were military fortifications. This theory emerged among Revolutionary War veterans in the 1790s, who saw the mounds as fortifications because they could think of no other explanation. Despite no evidence of large-scale warfare (or populations large enough to field standing European-style armies), the Mormons adopted this idea into their ideology through claims about prehistoric warfare between white people and cursed red people (though the Mormons originally believed the mounds were large heaps of millions of war dead covered over with dirt). May prefers the fortification explanation because it ties in with his efforts to prove the Book of Mormon true. This does not make it true. He then blathers on about other mounds and how those in the image of animals are so rare they need to be compared to (and thus tied to) European earthworks. Whatever; this is just more of the “looks like” school of thought combined with the “non-white people are stupid” school of thought.
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Chapter 18, by geologist Scott Wolter, claims that the well-known Newport Tower, the ruin of a colonial-era windmill built by traitor Benedict Arnold's same-named grandfather and destroyed by the British in the Revolution, is in fact a pre-Columbian European church of the Knights Templar dedicated to the Sacred Feminine. His evidence is not, as might be reasonable, geological but rather astronomical. He thinks the arches line up with the planet Venus at certain times and therefore represents Templar ideology about the sacred feminine as symbolized in the planet Venus. Do I need to explain the number of leaps of logic involved here? Let’s assume that all the alignments, however dubious, are real. How do we get from there to Knights Templar building the tower in the thirteenth century? Surely colonial era people knew about astronomy (and a damned sight more than medieval knights). From this assumption, Wolter claims that on the winter solstice the sun’s rays (a cosmic penis) strike the egg-shaped “keystone” within to give birth to a new religion of goddess worship. Sure it does. Video of this supposed alignment shown on the History Channel in 2009 indicated the sun only partially illuminates the stone, probably due to nothing more than coincidence. Needless to say, not a single medieval artifact has ever been found at the site. It is another case of a structure being built by magic, with workers requiring no food, making no trash, and leaving behind no tools of their imaginary era.
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How much more of this can I take? Can I make it all the way to Chapter 45 of this fact-free nonsense? Or will my brain explode first? Only time will tell.
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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