If you live in the New York City area, you’ve probably at least seen Linda Stasi, even if you don’t know her name. Stasi is a New York Daily News columnist and an anchor on NY1, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) cable’s local news channel. Stasi is also a novelist, writing thrillers with a fringe history edge, and she describes herself on social media as “well-read” and “a celebrated media personality.” To judge by a recent column, she is also startlingly ignorant of her subject matter but possessed of the stereotypical arrogance of the New Yorker who thinks she knows it all. This was on full display this weekend when Stasi published a column defending the ancient astronaut theory. It was one of the worst on the subject published in a major American newspaper in many a year, and it deserves special attention.
Given that it was published on April 1, I would be inclined to put Stasi’s column down as an April Fools prank, but the ancient astronaut section was only part of a much longer news roundup, all the rest of which included verifiable information, suggesting that her love of Ancient Aliens and ignorance of history are completely genuine. She pegs her column to the release of Tom DeLonge’s and Peter Levenda’s book Sekret Machines: Gods, and she claims to be among the 54% of Americans who believe in human contact with aliens.
Things don’t start off very well when Stasi tries to use fallacious reasoning to argue that popular belief in aliens makes them likely to have visited Earth, and that the media’s use of aliens similarly validates popular belief. She even claims that the History Channel’s name gives Ancient Aliens a serious imprimatur that other paranormal shows like the late Ghost Hunters on the SyFy channel lack: “The show is not on SyFy, but on History Channel, for Gods (& Monsters) sake!” I would have thought we were long past the days when a media outlet’s brand bequeathed credibility on the ridiculous, but then again, I am critiquing Stasi because she’s published in the Daily News and not the Weekly World News, for heaven’s sake.
This much is your standard quasi-celebrity ignorant rationalization. But her arguments quickly to descend from the spurious to the outright awful. You see, Stasi has planned an Ancient Aliens-style vacation to Bolivia to visit the ruins of Tiwanaku and Puma Punku, which, because of the show, she thinks were built by aliens. Worse, she wrongly believes that archaeologists claim slaves built the Tiwanaku culture’s ceremonial complexes:
What’s that, you say? It was built by slaves?
This was a new one on me. Let’s leave aside the false argument about life on other planets—after all, one can well conclude that other planets have intelligent life without finding evidence that said life ever came to the Earth. Instead, let’s focus on this strange idea that slaves built Tiwanaku. I hadn’t heard this before, but it comes directly out of the racist manifesto In Quest of the White God by Pierre Honore, where we find this: “As with the pyramids in Egypt, thousands of men must have worked for hundreds of years to erect the enormous buildings of Tiahuanaco, slave labor forced to build on an ever larger, taller, more powerful scale.” And would you be surprised to discover that Stasi also wrongly believes that the pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves?
Look, we all bought into the movie version of how the Egyptian pyramids were built by Jewish slaves with rolling logs and ropes. But in 2010, Hebrew University archaeology professor Amihai Mazar told U.S. News: “Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built.” Oh.
“We” all didn’t buy into that, nor had that ever been a mainstream claim about the pyramids, at least in the last century. The claim was famously made in 1977 by then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin while touring Egypt, and it dates back to Flavius Josephus, who in his Antiquities of the Jews (2.9) claims that the Egyptians tasked the Jews with building pyramids, as well as cities and walls, between the period of Joseph’s famine and Moses’s Exodus. “They set them also to build pyramids, and by all this wore them out” (trans. William Whiston). This claim, indifferently adopted in the Middle Ages (when the pyramids were identified as Joseph’s granaries) was debunked by Perizonius in the 1600s (Aegyptiaca 100.21), based on the inconvenient fact that the Bible said the Hebrews worked in brick, not stone; and George Sandys had said the same thing decades before that (Travels, Book 2). (Sandys, incidentally, was one of the first to identify the Sphinx as an embodiment of the constellation Leo, a key claim of Graham Hancock.) Sandys scoffed at the very idea of Jewish slaves building the pyramids, saying that it deserved “little better credit” than the absurd claim that they were built to store grain.
The allegation that slaves built the pyramids comes from Herodotus, but he didn’t call them Jews.
Somehow, though, this myth of the Jewish slave pyramid-builder is in a major metropolitan newspaper, presented as the “academic” alternative to space aliens and a dogma imposed by a nefarious conspiracy of Hollywood and academia to promote Jewish claims. Why? Oh, right: The Victorians. The Victorian writers, particularly of a religious bent, made frequent reference to the “imperishable work of Hebrew slaves” in describing the pyramids and appropriating them for Judeo-Christianity. This was not the opinion of Egyptologists, or historians, or most scholars of the time, but it is what you find among fringe crazies and religious nut-jobs of the era, and so it is what we have in the popular memory today.
Stasi also scoffs at the idea of people moving blocks of stone. Presumably she thinks tractor beams are the more logical alternative to time and muscle, a bizarre idea from someone who lives in New York City, where gigantic skyscrapers towered overhead long before humans invented the lasers and computers and robots that build such structures in science fiction stories.
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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