Between “fake news” and “alternative facts” and gag orders on scientists, it feels a bit like we’re watching the lights go out one by one in the intellectual world. I read through the news coverage of Sunday’s National Geographic Channel documentary Atlantis Rising, and it was astonishing how little anyone cared about the fake experts, ethical problems, and misleading claims. I couldn’t find a single critical review. Have we really become so inured to fakery that there is no outrage left to spare when a respected name like National Geographic openly engages in it? A supine media, beholden to celebrity, plays along, and as long as the fake experts are out-and-out lunatics like on the History Channel, everyone smiles and nods and pretends it’s OK as long as James Cameron gives his multimillion-dollar seal of approval. To be fair, when NatGeo did the same thing back in 2011, the only reason there was critical uproar is because the archaeologists seen in the film at alleged to the media that Richard Freund had hijacked their findings. By contrast, when NBC aired ancient astronaut documentaries in the 1970s, there was outrage in newspapers, magazines, and even academic journals. Today, we simply expect that everything on TV is a lie that the rubes will believe and the sophisticates will ignore.
This brings me to a story that Microsoft has been promoting in the news feed they stick in their web browser, and which has consequently been making the rounds on social media. A British man self-published a book claiming to have found Alexander the Great’s last will and testament, and he convinced British newspapers to write about his book. The Daily Mail turned their article into a video, and it ended up circulating through Microsoft’s online properties. At no point did anyone involved stop to ask whether the man’s claims were actually true.
David Grant holds a master’s degree in history and claims to have spent ten years contemplating the death of Alexander the Great, which is ten years longer than Alexander spent dying, and sveeral times longer than Alexander’s successors took to deal with his passing. From that decade of study, he came to the conclusion that … wait for it … history as we know it is wrong, academic historians are beholden to an outdated paradigm, and he has discovered the true last will and testament of the Macedonian king.
This last will and testament isn’t too hard to find. It’s part of the Alexander Romance, a collection of fantasies and fables about Alexander assembled in Hellenistic times and reworked many times thereafter. Grant identifies the testament of Alexander included in this romance—long dismissed as a fiction—as the king’s real will. Three different major recensions of the text exist, including a Greek version, an Armenian version with some additions, and a Syriac version that is abridged and somewhat revised. Needless to say, the three versions contradict one another in places.
According to press accounts, Grant argues that the version of the will included in the Alexander Romance is based on a real will that Alexander made but which his successors suppressed. In his account, they did so in order to seize power for themselves. Their enemies, however, leaked the original will and rewrote it in ways designed to favor certain claimants over others, and the fictionalized version ended up in the Alexander Romance. As you can imagine, the evidence is far from convincing. The author openly admits that “The answer lies in part in our analysis of the Macedonian king and in our interpretation of the authority a Will would have carried in the unique position Alexander would have found himself at Babylon in June 323 BCE.” Mostly his case rests on a series of assumptions and parallels with other known texts and events. The book, however, is 850 pages long and not available to me for review, so I do not have the complete story.
For most of modern times, scholars have believed that the testament of Alexander in the Romance is a fiction created anywhere from a few years to a few decades after the king’s death and circulated as part of a political pamphlet, not dissimilar to other hoax testaments like the much later Donation of Constantine, or other hoax documents of Alexander, like the fake letters to Aristotle and Olympia in the Romance itself. Views on the authenticity of the testament have varied, but most believe it was intended as political propaganda (notably Waldemar Heckel), while others suggest it is simply pious fiction created as part of a tract on the death of Alexander. In the middle twentieth century, W. W. Tarn in his massive volume on Alexander explained in detail all of the historical errors, fictitious people, and improbabilities that lead scholars to conclude that “Alexander’s fictitious Testament is not historical evidence for anything.”
However, as Richard Stoneman wrote in his 2004 revision of his 1997 biography of Alexander, not all of the lore associated with Alexander’s death and testament has been seen as fiction: “More recent scholars, notably Schachermyer, Badian and Bosworth, in a return to the view of Wilcken, have argued for an acceptance of the ‘Last Plans’ as a genuine memorandum of Alexander’s.” The Last Plans are a list of orders, recorded by Diodorus (18.4.1-6), supposedly contained in a written memorandum found after Alexander died, including plans to build a giant tomb for his father bigger than an Egyptian pyramid.
In short, Grant isn’t really overturning scholarly consensus so much as taking it beyond the bounds of evidence. There is no evidence that Alexander left a will, and had he done so it should have had more on an impact on history immediately following his death. For that reason, most scholars believe the Romance to record a fictionalized piece of propaganda. It is entirely fitting for the era of fake news and alternative facts that we should encounter an argument for accepting propaganda as history.
2/2/2017 11:27:39 am
This isn't too surprising. How many times have you had to explain the Zeno Narrative is a hoax, Jason?
2/3/2017 01:45:28 am
actually this time it's even worst. The show is so bias towards all the other theories that it makes it so ridiculous. so unprofessional, i don't know where did they find all those people to interview. Richard Freund is not an archaeologist, i don't care what his resume says. he has only one agenta in his life; make anything ancient seem Jewish. throw in the fact that Simcha Jacobovici, the director, is a Jew himself; so they complete each-other. don't get me wrong, i have nothing against the Hebrews, just don't like nationalistic themed documentaries.
2/2/2017 12:19:06 pm
It is sad to say, but that is the world we live in. Most media, except for the educational channels, are chasing rating. News, in most markets, is a part of the entertainment package. I used to have a lot of respect for the National Geographic Channel, but that ended years ago when they began to show quasi-reality crap. It is not surprising that they now will show a piece of shit like "Atlantis Rising".
2/2/2017 12:45:51 pm
I agree with Clete, production companies are after ratings which translate into dollars from advertisers. I picture the executives, wearing their $4,000 suits, all sitting around a massive conference table explaining to each other these shows are not meant to be educational, but entertainment. Even if told there was a certain segment of the population who believed the programs I doubt it would change the minds of even one executive, so long as the show has good enough ratings and is generating revenue. NatGeo is simply following the revenue chasing model of History Channel, Discovery, Learning Channel...etc.
2/2/2017 01:33:01 pm
Like Jason Colavito I cannot imagine that his Generals could have overlooked such a "Testament" if genuine.
2/2/2017 04:28:45 pm
Here I clicked hoping that someone had found a reeeaaaallllllly old desk and instead its' just more mythinterpretation.
2/2/2017 06:36:53 pm
It's true, I personally saw the 5 1/4 inch floppy on which Alexander had saved his will.
2/3/2017 07:47:18 am
In tech. that is ancient.
2/5/2017 09:52:44 pm
That's a fake. I actually have the original 8-inch floppy. So there!
2/6/2017 06:35:00 pm
Visiting aliens gave Alexander an upgrade.
2/2/2017 07:04:27 pm
One of things to remember about Alexander the Greats times is the murderous faction riddled nature of the Macedonian court. Alexander's ancestors included Kings, like Alexander's father, who had been murdered, civil wars and murderous court politics / intrigues.
2/3/2017 12:59:14 pm
I tend to agree. I'm not particularly opposed to the idea that he would have given some detailed instructions to his successors, and that what has been passed down could be some version scrubbed in the aftermath of his death by the myriad factions all vying for a piece of the pie. Seems like a fun "what-if" intellectual exercise.
2/2/2017 09:16:19 pm
Thanks Jason. I had never heard of this last will before. As for fake news, it's always been around, it's called propaganda, it just is easier for all sides to deliver it now. Thing is real science and history are more interesting than ufos and lost Templars but for the producers too hard to create content. Most are not scientifically trained and lazy...harder to write a show on quantum mechanics than bigfoot
2/3/2017 01:08:04 am
PS, the Daily Mail didn't turn the article into a video. The video was prepared by me (in an exceedingly limits budget, as writing the book wiped me out) and can be found at www.alexanderstestament.com. They simply cloned it.
2/3/2017 02:04:54 am
I saw the documentary 'Atlantis Rising' few days ago and here is what I thought about it; from the filming point of view everything was done professional, especially the use of the drone. from the academic ... oh boy, where do I start. first of all, the director, simcha jacobovici, also known as the 'naked archaeologist' should stick with his directing job and not be the presenter or even worst -the narrator of the show, terrible voice-over. throw in the 'archaeologist' Richard Freund and you have completed the picture of the quest to make everything ancient Semitic out there.
2/3/2017 08:19:04 pm
No one but you can waste your time.
2/4/2017 06:46:45 am
You're entitle to your own time wasting opinion. I can read Plato in his original language, and you're reading it in English which was translates from Latin which in turn was translates from ancient greek. Here is the passage that says it was in Malta:
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