This week’s episode of America Unearthed, S02E10 “Lost Relics of the Bible,” concerns itself, sometimes literally and sometimes thematically, with the Lost Tribes of Israel, who vanished from history following the Assyrian conquest of Israel in 722 BCE. According to myth, all Jews trace their origins back to one of Jacob’s twelve sons, but ten (by tradition) of these groupings disappeared. The Jewish historian Tudor Parfitt—who believed he found the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant among the Lemba tribe in Africa—declared in The Lost Tribes of Israel: The History of a Myth (2004) that the Lost Tribes were a pious fiction, and one designed to reinforce ethnic and colonialist claims: “...this myth is a vital feature of colonial discourse throughout the long period of European overseas empires, from the beginning of the fifteenth century, until the later half of the twentieth.” And now again today.
And so we begin our quest for Lost Tribes and other wandering Jews, but to understand why anyone would think God’s Chosen People were hiding out in America, we have to trace the European and later American efforts to create an acceptable history for the Americas.
When Europeans realized that the lands where Columbus had ventured were not in fact Asia as the Admiral had claimed but were instead something new, European scholars tried to figure out how to incorporate two massive continents and a plethora of unknown islands into their preexisting worldview. Since this was the Renaissance, there were two primary models available for incorporating the New World into the framework of the old: Classical learning and the Bible.
Classical models were popular, and a goodly number of writers tried to identify the Americas with unknown lands beyond the Pillars of Heracles alluded to in Classical writers like Pliny, Diodorus, and Ptolemy, or even hypothetical “opposite” continents some philosophers had speculated were necessary to keep the earth balanced. (These imaginary lands, called Terra Australis, gave rise to maps that show what modern fringe theorists wrongly think are Antarctica before the ice.) This was, for example, the view of Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, who though Diodorus’s magical island (Library 5.19) was in Mississippi. Both Francisco López de Gómara and John Dee adopted Plato’s Atlantis as the most likely Classical reference to the Americas. The Spanish historian Gómara identified Atlantis with Mexico (“in Mexico they call water atl, a word that seems like, if it is not already, from the island”), safely within the Spanish-controlled area. Dee, a Welshman, naturally claimed that the Appalachians and New England were Atlantis, “nowe named America,” since those were territories controlled by the English sovereign, who also reigned over Wales.
But the Classical model had stiff competition from the Biblical model, which had the benefit of serving colonial interests by generating fictive reasons justifying the mass conversion of Native Americans to Christianity. According to the Biblical model of history, all human beings descended from one of Noah’s three sons—presuming Native Americans were humans. Some Spanish friars though they may have been created by the Devil to mock Europeans, while the French essayist Montagne wondered if they were a separate creation. Others seriously considered that the Native Americans were a people from before the time of Adam who somehow survived the Flood.
In short order, though, most decided that Native Americans were both humans and part of the great family tree of Noah (as the Church insisted they must be to make it worth saving their souls). Therefore, they had to be connected back to the Old World. There was active debate as to which of Noah’s sons gave rise to the Native Americans: First Japeth and then Ham were proposed as their “father,” but neither was satisfactory. Japeth was the father of the Europeans, and the Natives were clearly inferior to Europeans. Ham was the father of the Africans, but the Spanish quickly determined that Native Americans were not as good a slave as the Africans, nor as dark of skin. Ham was out. That left Shem, father of the peoples of Asia, and by 1650, most authorities had agreed that the Native Americans were descended from Shem.
This led to two conclusions: First, to be Asian meant that the Native Americans had crossed to the New World from Asia—a coincidentally correct conclusion. Second, if they were Semitic, then it made it possible that the Native Americans might just be a people who were lost to the ages: the Lost Tribes of Israel! In this, limited geographic and ethnographic knowledge, combined with Biblical inerrancy, made the myth all but inevitable.
Spanish writers speculated about whether Native people were the Lost Tribes almost from the beginning. Peter Martyr said as much in 1511 (the 1555 English translation of his Decades made calls America the “Spiritual Israel”), and two Catholic missionaries of the 1580s made the same claim. However, these speculations found little favor in Britain, where colonial interests first required a more directly British connection—hence John Dee’s promotion of “Welsh” Indians to justify English claims to North America.
The Portuguese Jew Antonio de Montezinos claimed in 1644 to have met Lost Tribes of Jews living among the Inca in part of Peru near Quito (now Ecuador), and the news spread fast when a rabbi in Amsterdam published the claim a book called The Hope of Israel in 1649 after having spoken to Montezinos and become convinced that the Messiah would soon return now that the Lost Tribes had been found. The author, Menassah ben Israel (who had been born a Portuguese Marano Christian during the Inquisition), petitioned Oliver Cromwell to let the Jews back into England in anticipation of the end of the world, which he and Cromwell apparently had penciled in for 1666. Menassah laid down the foundation of everything that would follow with the claim that America was originally peopled from the Mediterranean and that the current Native Americans all but exterminated the pure Old World race, who were left but few in number:
I doe like of, in part, the opinion of the Spaniards who dwell in the Indies, who by common consent doe affirme that the Indians come of the ten Tribes. And truly they are not altogether mistaken, because in my opinion, they were the first planters of the Indies; as also other people of the East-Indies came by that Streight which is between India, and the Kingdome of Anian. But that people, according to our Montezinus, made warre upon those Inhabitants the Israelites, whom they forced up unto the mountaines, and the in-land Countries, as formerly the Brittaines were driven by the Saxons into Wales.
Oh, and, of course, these remaining lost Jews were “white, and bearded men […] who had never commerce with the Spaniards; and whom you cannot affirme to be any other than Israelites…” Thus Native legends of white gods and Spanish accounts of light-skinned Natives were really tales of these lost Jews—the very template for every crazy fringe history diffusionist claim down to the present, including Ignatius Donnelly and Graham Hancock and all their lost white race fantasies.
But why should the great colonial rivals of England, Spain and Portugal, have the honor of playing host to God’s Chosen Ones in their American lands? Surely England, as the future home of the Fifth Monarchy—the world empire that would herald Christ’s return—should have the Lost Jews under its protection. Therefore, also in 1649, an English cleric named Thomas Thorowgood published a widely-read pamphlet for use in New England called Iewes in America; or, the Probabilities That the Americans are of that Race in which he expanded Montezinos’s claims from simply some Natives in Peru to all Natives everywhere in the Americas, placing a goodly number under English control to give England its glorious due just before the Millennium he believed was about to dawn, when the Lost Tribes converted and the Fifth Monarchy would pave the way for Jesus to return. This book set the stage for all later claims for Lost Tribes in North America, given its intent to provide instruction of New England missionaries. He compared Native Americans, particularly the Aztecs, to the Jews and found what he thought were stunning similarities. I swear I am not making these up.
He further adduced that the Natives lacked a single word for God, which must be due to the prohibition on the speaking of the Jewish name for God, the Tetragrammaton.
Thorowgood rejected the claims of a Brazilian colonist that the Apostles had preached the Gospel in America before 150 CE. Instead, he felt that the Native Americans had never heard the Good News and therefore were doomed to suffer and die because, as was the common belief of that era, Jews had killed Christ and were living under the punishment of God.
“And now if all these parallels will not amount to a probability, one thing more shall be added, which is the dispersion of the Jewes.” Since Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the Jews were scattered to the winds, it stood to reason that if none of the Lost Tribes could be found in Europe, Africa, or Asia, they must have walked to America. It also stood to reason that since Natives today are degenerate Jews that they must have been greater and more civilized in the (Jewish) past—an idea that fed into the mound builder myth.
Obviously, not everyone agreed. Indeed, this view was a decided minority down to the American Revolution, even more so after the failure of the Millennium to arise in 1655 or 1666 as predicted. That the Native Americans were their own people and responsible for the villages, mounds, and other works found in their lands was so self-evident that it required no discussion or explanation in the travel narratives produced down to about 1775. The mounds in particular were simply “Indian” works. But after the Revolutionary War something changed. The United States needed a new past not tied to Britain’s, and suddenly the old claims about non-native builders of the mounds seemed like a great place to look for new ancestors, effectively taking English propaganda and turning it on its head to provide succor for American claims to greatness.
There were active claims for many other origins—Noah Webster, interestingly enough, argued that Bronze Age Scots had built the larges to the mounds of the United States based on their similarity to Scottish tumuli—shades of Scott Wolter! “But as all primitiv (sic) inhabitants of the west of Europe were evidently of the same stock, it is natural to suppose they might pass from Norway to Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland, and from thence to Labrador; and thus the North American savages may claim a common origin with the primitiv Britons and Celts.” He further believed the Ohio earthworks were the result of Carthaginians, Vandals, Goths, and Tartars fortifying themselves against reciprocal attacks.
If there was one thing everyone in the late 1700s and early 1800s agreed on, however, it was that Native Americans were too stupid, lazy, poor, and inferior to make big piles of dirt. (The Comte de Buffon famously declared Native Americans not only weak and stupid but possessed of abnormally small penises—he thought the entire Western Hemisphere was a degenerate shadow of the Old World.) Only Europeans were capable of such amazing feats as building mounds. Well, almost everyone agreed: Thomas Jefferson recognized these claims for the Eurocentric fantasies they were and tried to squelch them by excavating a mound near Monticello in the 1780s to demonstrate that it was a Native construction. His work, while praised, was nevertheless ignored in favor of more fanciful and politically useful theories. Gen. George Rogers Clark, too, was so incensed at the stupidity of such claims that in 1788 he went out to ask Native Americans what they knew about the mounds of the West. “They say they were the works of their forefathers; that they were as numerous as the trees in the wood; that they affronted the Great Spirit, and he made them kill one another,” he reported. “This is their tradition, and I see no good reason why it should not be received as good history—at least as good as a great part of ours.”
It wouldn’t be received that way because there were too many other forces at work, enough to require a full book—which I am actually in the process of writing right now (I’m about 2/3 of the way through)—to explain. Instead, let’s focus on Lost Tribes, widely popular as an explanation for the Indians thanks to James Adair’s History of the American Indians (1775), though Samuel Farmer Jarvis cautioned that the obvious Judaism of the Natives is probably only due to their shared decent from Noah.
Despite a plethora of reports like Clark’s, far too many asserted, as George Imlay (an advocate for westward expansion into Native territory) and Jonathan Heart did in the 1790s, that Native people had no knowledge of the mounds, no tradition of their use, and no clue how they were made. Heart felt that just as the mammoth had gone extinct and left nothing behind but a few bones recently uncovered, so too might a lost white race have vanished behind the tide of Native savagery. This left an opening for Lost Tribes.
The story breaks down at this point into dozens of competing versions of the Lost Tribes theory whose differences are too manifold to go into here. The thrust of it was this: If America were to be taken serious on the world stage, it had to have a prehistory to rival Europe’s, and it could not be seen as a degenerate land of small penises as Europeans envisioned it. Suddenly, America’s mounds sprouted an amazing history. Now they were the works of the Jews, the Chosen People of God, and therefore America itself was touched by the hand of the divine.
Representative of this trend was the Rev. Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews (1823, rev. ed. 1825) which recapitulated much of what was already the popular understanding of American history in service of a pernicious argument: When Jerusalem fell and the Jews scattered, prophecy declared that the Lost Tribes must be an outcast people, forgotten to modern man and ignorant of themselves (Jeremiah 3:6-25) and who had walked for a year and a half north and east from Babylon (2 Esdras 13:44-45). Only America would fit the bill, and no other humans save the Native Americans so perfectly matched the expectations for a lost race of degenerate Jews.
Israel brought into this new continent a considerable degree of civilization; and the better part of them long laboured to maintain it. But others fell into the hunting and consequently savage state; whose barbarous hordes invaded their more civilized brethren, and eventually annihilated most of them, and all in these northern regions!
Up until this point, however, no pre-Exile Judaic artifacts had been dug out of the mounds, despite nearly fifty years of looting. No one had really expected to find them prior to the 1770s, and so they were not found.
Now, however, there was an incentive to seek God’s special providence and blessing for the new land, to show it had independent connection to the Divine. In View of the Hebrews Smith reported that an employee of Joseph Merrick had found a document later known as the Pittsfield Parchment just below the surface of the Merrick farm in Massachusetts in what he suspected but never checked to see was an “Indian grave.” This parchment was old and stained and written in Hebrew letters—obviously the work of the Lost Tribes for people not yet aware that Paleo-Hebrew, not Modern Hebrew, was the alphabet in use at the time the Lost Tribes allegedly vanished. This became conflated with a supposedly genuine Native tradition that there had once been an unreadable book buried with a long-dead chief. The object was probably a colonial era artifact left behind by a Hessian soldier in the Revolution or a German prisoner during the War of 1812. The artifact, whatever it was, disappeared after being sent to the American Antiquarian Society and garnering the non-interest of scholars. But the precedent had been set: Indian burials contained the artifacts of the Lost Tribes.
The very same year that Ethan Smith published his book, Joseph Smith (no relation) invented Mormonism, and many believe he took this incident as his model, for he too claimed to have found a book written in a lost language (“Reformed Egyptian”) and dug out of Hill Cumorah, a glacial formation in upstate New York that Smith and the locals wrong believed was a Native American burial mound. We need not go into the whole history of Mormonism, but the conclusions Smith drew in the Book of Mormon and related texts were unmistakable: Just as Ethan Smith had claimed, here too Lost Tribes of Israel were the first inhabitants of the Americas and the mounds were the funeral pyres of their noble dead, killed by the Native Americans, fallen Jews cursed by God with dark skin for lapsing from monotheism (Alma 3:6-7; 4 Nephi 1:10; 2 Nephi 5, etc.).
Both Smiths also shared other commonalities: Ethan thought Quetzalcoatl had been modeled on stories of Jesus; Joseph decided he was Jesus. Ethan claimed a copper breastplate with two jewels exactly like Urim and Thummim came out of an American mound, while Joseph claimed to have found the true Urim and Thummim with a gold breastplate at Hill Cumorah. Either way: Jews!
From this point, suddenly Jewish artifacts started to bubble up out of the ground all over America, most quite obviously manufactured by those seeking to support Mormon beliefs or to justify seizure of Native lands by reassigning them to an older, non-Native source. We have already seen Scott Wolter discuss the Newark Decalogue Stone found in Ohio, which all but fringe historians recognize as an anachronistic fake. It was hardly the only artifact manufactured at the time; the Michigan Relic are perhaps the most famous for their sheer number and the audacity of the fraud, but other examples include the Grave Creek Stone, the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, and of course the Tucson Lead Crosses. The last case is the most interesting because Scott Wolter examined those hoax crosses, declared them genuine and promptly ignored the Latin and Hebrew text detailing in plain, if ungrammatical, language their origin with Jews who fled Rome in favor of reassigning them to imaginary “proto-Templars.”
Today the most popular of these hoaxes is the Bat Creek Stone, which was found in 1889, allegedly in a Native mound, but wasn’t recognized as “Hebrew” for decades. Cyrus Thomas published its picture upside down in the 1890s and thought it Cherokee writing. Only in 1960 did Brandeis professor Cyrus H. Gordon declare the inscription Paleo-Hebrew. Gordon was an interesting figure; he believed that the Greeks and the Hebrews descended from a common culture and that the Jews regularly voyaged to America in Antiquity. He also “authenticated” the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, which as I mentioned, is almost certainly a recent hoax.
Radiocarbon work on other artifacts dug from the same mound at the same time gave dates in the early centuries CE. This was problematic because it’s far too late to have been contemporary with the Lost Tribes (though in theory an artifact could be buried any time after its creation), and the Hebrew alphabet in use in those years was the modern one.
Careful work done in 1993 demonstrated conclusively that the stone was a fraud, and in 2004 the discovery of a Masonic Paleo-Hebrew illustration from 1870 that conforms to the Bat Creek inscription in too many details to be coincidental sealed the book on the stone as far as academia was concerned. The governing conclusion today is that John W. Emmert, a Smithsonian agent who conducted the 1889 excavation, forged the stone by disguising Paleo-Hebrew text copied from the 1870 Masonic text in order to create “Cherokee” writing so he could impress his boss, Cyrus Thomas, by discovering pre-Columbian Native writing.
Nevertheless, both J. Huston McCulloch and Scott Wolter dissent from these conclusions. McCulloch, who as criticized my previous analyses of the stone, asserts that the inscription contains Paleo-Hebrew features not seen in the 1870 illustration (though such features appear in other texts published at the time and Emmert was trying to make Cherokee not Hebrew writing). And Wolter … well, he has his own ideas. In 2010 he examined the stone under a microscope and reported the results in Ancient American, the fringe history magazine. I evaluated his claims back in 2012:
Wolter looked at the stone under a microscope in 2010 and concluded that because the edges of the carved letters were rounded and did not contain any quartz silt, they were therefore weathered and “had to have been made prior to the excavation of the mound by John Emmert.” I’m not sure I follow why it is that the utter lack of orange-colored silt in the carved characters is proof that the stone had been buried in a red clay mound for hundreds of years. The argument seems to be that a fresh carving would have broken into the stone’s orange silt interior and left debris, but that greatly underestimates the ability of a hoaxer to do such simple things as carve carefully and wash and polish the stone prior to burying it.
And remember: I wrote that in 2012, before I had ever seen America Unearthed and when I knew nothing of Scott Wolter. His analysis was predicated on the assumption that “academics” and “skeptics” had been suppressing the truth. As such he seemed willfully blind to the idea that the artifact could have been intentionally forged, and he did not factor this into his analysis.
Thanks in large measure to the fringe history explosion of the 1960s-1980s, new candidates for pre-Columbian Jewish sites sprang up. Barry Fell had the unfortunately habit of finding Old World languages, including Hebrew, in any random scratch marks. In 1988, a man in Ohio looked at some old charts of a now-vanished earthwork near Milford and saw nine parallel mounds connected at one end. He thought they looked like a Hanukkah menorah and thus was born a modern myth when the irrepressible J. Huston McCulloch picked up the claim and discussed it in Ancient American magazine in 1996. (See a pattern?) I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental that Ancient American magazine is owned by Wayne May, a Mormon hyper-diffusionist who works to prove the literal truth of Joseph Smith’s vision of prehistory.
The idea of a menorah mound in Ohio had never occurred to earlier researchers—even Lost Tribes theorists—because they had known that the Jewish Temple menorah had seven branches, not nine. The nine-branch menorah was for Hanukkah, used only after 165 BCE, and then only for a very minor holiday of little traditional importance until Americans turned it into a rival to Christmas in the twentieth century. For Jews to sail across the ocean to make a monument to Hanukkah in the early centuries CE would be like Americans going to the moon to build a monument to Labor Day. I’ve discussed this earthwork in much greater detail here.
We open with shots of Jerusalem’s Old City and on-screen text discussing the disappearance of the Lost Tribes in 722 BCE, who the show says could have traveled to America. Then the opening credits roll without so much as perfunctory reenactment of Jews heaping dirt into a giant hill. Scott Wolter is seen looking at various material from past episodes as he recounts his geological credentials to remind viewers why we should trust him with rocks. He discusses the Bat Creek Stone as one of his prior successes, which he examined (poorly, as discussed above), and which he plans to revisit for this episode. Wolter asserts that the Bat Creek Stone contains Hebrew writing, and he asserts it is—of course!—a “land claim.” The man is nothing if not consistent. He finds land claims everywhere, and one of his leitmotifs is the desire to determine which European or Mediterranean group is the oldest legal claimant to America. It is a strangely legalistic framework for investigating history.
Wolter meets with a friend named Leslie Kalen to discuss the Bat Creek Stone and Hebrews in America. Kalen describes herself as a Cherokee, and she claims that some Cherokee feel they are Jews, but this isn’t a pre-Contact belief but rather one that emerged as a result of European Lost Tribes claims.
Wolter discusses Cyrus Thomas’s early work looking into the origins of Americas mounds, and he dutifully discusses the claim that Emmert planted the Bat Creek Stone to appeal to Thomas’s one-time belief that the mounds were Cherokee. They predate the Cherokee, as Thomas discovered, but Wolter declines to share the fact that Thomas’s 1894 report on the American mounds delivered the most devastating blow to the lost race theory ever written, as well as correctly identified the mounds as the work of pre-Contact Native groups. Wolter delivers one of his patented rants to the museum official, Tim Baumann, who tried to explain this history to him, and we go to commercial with Wolter asserting that “bad science” is hiding the truth about the real history of the mounds—that they are Jewish.
After the break we get on-screen recapping followed by oral recapping—at ridiculous length this time, easily three times the required length—from the McClung Museum in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Bat Creek Stone is housed.
Wolter refuses to believe the stone is a hoax. He asks Baumann about scratches that were added to the stone sometime after 1894, and, as in 2010, he plans to use these to compare to the older carvings using 3D microscopy. According to Wolter, this is the first time he is using a 3D microscope to examine the stone. He sees debris in the scratch, indicating it has not been polished and is, obviously, recent. The carved letters lack deposits, and Wolter concludes this means it is old. However, he is leaving out the idea the stone was intentionally polished by the hoaxer, removing any debris. Wolter concedes to Baumann that the inscription could have been faked but declines to explain why that wouldn’t apply here. I’m not letting him off that easy since Wolter concedes to Baumann that he can’t provide an absolute date for the stone. The more he talks, the more obvious it becomes that he is describing his feelings, not science.
He asserts that a double-cross symbol on the stone, which he calls the Cross of Lorraine, represents the Crucifixion. So the stone is from Jews for Jesus?
Without explaining anything, Wolter instead reasserts that the Newark Decalogue Stone is real, and he also claims that the Los Lunas Decalogue (discussed above) is real. He then asserts that the Tucson Lead Artifacts are authentic (his word) and placed on a trail of the Hebrews in America—but get this: He now acknowledges the Hebrew on the artifacts and calls them Jewish. In the episode he did on those lead artifacts (S01E10 “The Desert Cross”) he purposely ignored the Latin and Hebrew texts and called the artifacts “Proto-Templar”! He can’t even keep his own fake history straight! Why doesn’t he mention the Ark of the Covenant he spent the season premiere looking for? Is it because he doesn’t think the Jews brought it here but rather the Templars? If so, that episode was a waste of time, too. The contradictions and inconsistencies mount.
We go to another commercial with Wolter asking Baumann his opinion on the authenticity of the Bat Creek Stone.
When we return, we have another on-screen recap and then Wolter’s question to Baumann again. No oral recap this time! Baumann tells Wolter that he will not endorse the stone but remains open to Wolter’s analysis. Wolter tells Baumann he has convinced himself, and he’s going to go look for more Lost Tribes and wandering Jews.
He drives to Ohio to meet J. Huston McCulloch, whom Wolter identifies as an expert historian, though he is actually an economist and diffusionist. They meet at some Hopewell mounds in Ohio, which gives me the uneasy feeling that the men are trying to imply that the mounds are associated with Jews rather than Native Americans. The two decide that the Jews who made the Bat Creek Stone were not the Lost Tribes, for the mound in which it was found was too recent. Instead, they might have been Jews who fled the Roman destruction of the Second Temple. At this point, Wolter’s analysis of Bat Creek has gone from a tentative relative date to an impossibility of a hoax—something he just finished admitting the evidence did not support.
McCulloch shows Wolter the earthworks near Milford that contain nine parallel mounds, and both men assert that the earthwork is a Jewish Hanukkah menorah and an oil lamp. “What else could it be?” the two men said together. As I pointed out above, this is as close to a ridiculous claim since other mounds were built in parallel, and the Hanukkah menorah was utterly insignificant in that time.
Wolter lies about Jefferson’s interest in the mounds in 1803, after they were first surveyed. He found them interesting as Native constructions, not Lost Tribes. He never asked Lewis and Clark to look for them, and Wolter is wrong to claim Jefferson tried to prove a pre-Spanish culture in Louisiana, especially since Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory, not the Louisiana Territory and has nothing to do with purchasing Louisiana—not from Spain, as Wolter asserts, but from France. As I wrote back in January in examining McCulloch’s claims for the menorah mounds, also called the Little Miami River earthworks (and many other names):
Thomas Jefferson received the 1803 survey maps by William Lytle (produced, almost certainly, for the Northwest Territorial Survey) and was intrigued by Little Miami River earthworks. He requested more information about “those works of Antiquity,” but Anthony F. C. Wallace, writing in Jefferson and the Indians (1999), dutifully forestalls America Unearthed’s speculation by emphasizing that Jefferson’s correspondence makes plain that he considered the earthworks to be the work of Native Americans—not Aztecs or Vikings or Jews—and that this view did not change after he read [Hugh] Williamson’s  book [discussing these mounds]. Although Jefferson would confess to being shocked late in life to learn that the mounds of the Midwest were “so numerous,” he never wavered from his view, born of his own firsthand excavation of a burial mound near Monticello and reported in Notes on the State of Virginia, that the mounds were the work of Native Americans.
In short, both McCulloch and Wolter are intentionally distorting Jefferson’s priorities, interests, and views in service of a conspiracy. For the book on Jefferson and the mound builder myth I’m writing, I’ve read Jefferson’s correspondence, his letters to Congress on the issue, and his private papers, and there isn’t anything in them that would support Wolter’s view. It’s a straight-up untruth.
After the next break, Wolter reviews what he had discussed so far. He thinks that the descendants of the Lost Tribes may have been responsible for the menorah-shaped mounds. This would be a neat trick since the Lost Tribes were more than 500 years vanished when the Hanukkah menorah was invented. Who was feeding them information? Why did the Jews back in the Old World not record such contact?
At his lab in Minnesota, Wolter interviews a rabbi named Michael Adam Latz, who discusses Columbus bringing Jews with him on his voyage on the chance he might run into some Lost Tribes. Some irrelevant material about European persecution of Jews in the 1490s is introduced, but this is at least 1300 years after the period of interest, so I’m not sure what the purpose of this discussion is. Latz discusses the conversos, or crypto-Jews, who converted outwardly to escape persecution, many of whom took up residence in New Mexico in the 1500s to escape scrutiny at home, and then I realize what this is: It’s the story I suggested America Unearthed cover last year. Hey! I got one, except that no one on this show bothered to actually go find any conversos descendants (who, yes, still exist and practice Jewish rites), and in what one could reasonably read as a rebuff to me, Wolter dismisses this entire fascinating story of cultural survival in the wilds of America in favor of pressing the rabbi for more Lost Tribes claims. Latz dutifully pretends to provide photographs on his tablet computer of rock art in New Mexico.
So Wolter travels to New Mexico after again asserting without evidence that the Los Lunas Decalogue is real and not, as is likely, a college prank, and he plans to look at some rock carvings that may or may not be evidence of Jews. We then go to commercial.
After the final break, we get another recap of the entire hour, before we return to Conchas Lake, New Mexico and the petroglyphs that aren’t even Hebrew, just symbolic. The area is known for Formative Period Native American rock art, but this explanation doesn’t satisfy Wolter. He again, oddly, asserts that the Tucson Artifacts are Jewish and not, as he claimed last year, proto-Templar. The rock art he sees is absolutely typical of Formative Period (and later) rock art, including the archetypical pecking technique for making the art. Wolter claims that his own ignorance of Native American rock art styles is evidence that the art is not Native American in what has to be the single dumbest conclusion he has drawn in this hour. Just because Wolter does not know what the rock art of early tribes from the region looks like does not exempt it from being Native American. Wolter claims that the rock art is much older than modern graffiti, to which: no shit! The Formative Period stretches back to 200 CE.
Wolter hears from his informants that the rock art is Old Negev, a script allegedly used by the Jewish laborers before the time of Abraham, a reference that bothers me. I’m disturbed by the assertions thrown about, not only because not even a hint of evidence is shown that the geometric and natural designs were actually alphabetic but also because Wolter wonders whether the tribe of Judah, the ancestors of Jesus, were responsible. He cautions that just as Catholics use Latin for the mass (which they haven’t done since the 1960s outside Rome, but hey!) later Jews could have used this script. What disturbs me is that “Old Negev” doesn’t show up in standard sources. It’s most fully documented in Mormon literature, and I can only find references to it in conjunction with Brigham Young University archaeologist James Harris, who claimed to have found the script in Israel in 1994 and then others claimed it existed on all six continents as part of a global, ancient Jewish world culture.
I don’t know enough about this, but the fact that I can’t find any non-Mormon or non-fringe material on Old Negev suggests to me that all is not right with this claim, especially since recent standard works on the development of Hebrew make no mention of it—and no linguist would use the mythical figure of Abraham as a reference point.
At any rate, Wolter discounts the Lost Tribes as early Americans because they are too old to fit his evidence, so he instead concludes that the Jews came in the early centuries CE based on an array of hoaxes and misunderstandings shown in this hour.
Next time: We conclude Wolter’s three-part search for the oldest white Americans with the hunt for Solutreans in America!
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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