In my continuing series on ancients vs. aliens, today I present yet another piece of ancient literature that directly contradicts the ancient astronaut theory. Today’s entry comes from a text believed to be the only piece of surviving Phoenician literature. Let us recall that alternative theorists have had a number of speculative ideas about the Phoenician gods. Immanuel Velikovsky thought the god Baal was the planet Venus buzzing by earth as a comet. David Icke was fairly certain Moloch (more properly Ba’al Hammon) was an alien. More generally, advocates of the ancient astronaut theory, including Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin simply declared that most, if not all, ancient Near Eastern gods were extraterrestrials.
Therefore, it is with interest that we read the work of Sanchuniathon, a quasi-historical figure alleged by the Greek writer Philo of Byblos to have been an ancient Phoenician historian living before the Trojan War. His literal existence is disputed, but the texts Philo drew upon in translating the Phoenician History were quite likely derived from genuine Phoenician texts or traditions, though almost certainly not as ancient as Philo assumed. Philo’s work, in turn, is preserved only in the later work of Eusebius of Caesaria, a Christian who quoted the pagans extensively in his works.
So, here is what Eusebius said Philo said Sanchuniathon said about the true nature of the gods:
But these were the first who consecrated the productions of the earth, and regarded them as gods, and worshipped them as being the support of life both to themselves, and to those who were to come after them, and to all before them, and they offered to them drink-offerings and libations. (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 1.10, trans. E. H. Gifford)
Sanchuniathon then claims that the Greeks are guilty of misunderstanding, interpreting ancient texts wrongly (!):
For it is not without cause that we have explained these things in many ways, but in view of the later misinterpretations of the names in the history, which the Greeks in ignorance took in a wrong sense, being deceived by the ambiguity of the translation. (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 1.10, trans. E. H. Gifford)
So, once again, we have the unambiguous statement of an ancient author that the gods were not aliens. In this case, the author (Philo or Sanchuniathon) believed the gods to be natural forces worshiped by the first conscious beings in their ignorance. The author even goes so far as to chastise the Greeks, and by extension the ancient astronaut theorists, for jumping to conclusions based on misunderstood ancient texts!
Of course, the Phoenician History shows evidence of Greek euhemerist rationalizing, but since the ancient astronaut theory’s whole premise is that ancient texts should be taken at face value to “reveal” true reports of alien intervention, ancient alien theorists need to eat what they are served. Yes, according to the "ancient texts," the gods are really fruits and vegetables, not aliens.
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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