As I reported yesterday, after reruns of Pawn Stars pulled in less than a million viewers following Tuesday night History Channel powerhouse Curse of Oak Island, the network decided to staunch the ratings bleeding by plugging in the episode of Ancient Aliens originally scheduled to air last week on H2, S07E13 “The Great Flood.” The nice thing about this is that History’s ratings are reported by Nielsen while H2’s are not. This means that when ratings are released around 3 PM ET today, we’ll have our first glimpse at how many people are watching original episodes of Ancient Aliens in a very long time. I’ll update this post when the ratings are in. [Update: Nielsen is delaying the release of the ratings due to the Christmas holiday.]
The conceit of this episode is that world flood myths are a true and reflect an actual event from ancient history. This seems like a great time to promote my edited reprint of Sir James George Frazer’s collection of flood myths, which I published under the title, not coincidentally, The Great Flood. It is, for perhaps understandable reasons, my best-selling reprint. It’s available as a print book or as an e-book if you need something to do with your Christmas gift cards!
Anyway, after the opening credits, we start with the Biblical account of the Flood and its parallels in Mesopotamian, Hindu, and Mayan sources. Kathleen McGowan Coppens is on hand to summarize the Genesis account of Noah, and various other talking heads summarize other cultures’ flood myths. The narrator concedes that most believe that the Flood is a myth; however, the narrator cites “1200 different cultures around the world” who share a flood myth of some kind as evidence that the event really took place, and are unconnected. This is only partially true; as Frazer noted a century ago, there are a few independent flood myths which gave rise to many different variants among cultures. The biblical version, in particular, has heavily influenced many, and due to the work of missionaries made many non-Western flood stories conform more closely to the Western version. This is especially true in Native American flood myths, where Christian and non-Christian Native informants told different versions of the same flood story. Guess which one was closer to the Biblical version.
The narration tells us that a team of scientists called the Holocene Impact Working Group claims that thousands of years ago an asteroid struck the Indian Ocean, and the resulting tsunami could have caused ancient flood myths. Evidence of this, they say, is the appearance of marine fossils in high places—a claim so old that even Leonardo da Vinci rejected it as unscientific in his notebook (entry 987). This is one of those claims that is just barely possible but not probable. The Holocene Group previously appeared on History’s The Universe in 2012, and geologist Jody Bourgeois explained why their claims don’t hold water in Geology back in 2009.
Andrew Collins tells us that “many ancient texts” refer to a period of fire before the Flood, which he likens to an asteroid breaking up in mid-air. These texts are mostly all versions of the so-called Prophecy of Adam, probably best known from Flavius Josephus, who spoke of “Adam’s prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water” (Antiquities 1.70, trans. William Whiston). That these were traditionally understood as two different events is clear from 2 Peter 3:3-7, which speaks of the Flood as the first destruction and fire as the destruction to come. These were always meant to be two separate events, as confirmed by Berosus, who spoke of them distinctly (Seneca, Natural Questions 3.29). However, late sources ran them together, first by suggesting that the prophecy predicted fire or water (Ṣa‘id al-Andalusi, Al‐tarif bi-tabaqat al-umm 39.7-16), and then that both happened at the same time. It is only in the late Middle Ages that we read of stars crashing to earth just before the Flood (Al-Maqrizi, Al-Khitat 1.40). From such stories and imagination Edmund Halley suggested in the late 1600s that a comet had caused Noah’s Flood. This is an old story.
Collins tells us that a layer of Ice Age charcoal known as the Usselo Horizon consistent with a global conflagration is therefore proof of the Flood because the conflagration occurred with the Flood. The Usselo Horizon has been correlated with the Clovis Layer in North America; however, it is not uniform around the world—or, indeed, present outside Western Europe and North America. This Ice Age charcoal is also used as evidence of the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis currently advocated by Graham Hancock as the cataclysm that destroyed an Atlantis-like civilization. Recent research suggests that the charcoal layer is the result of massive wildfires, but not of a meteor, comet, or asteroid impact.
At Johns Hopkins University, scientists discussed asteroid deflection technology to prevent an extinction like the one the killed the dinosaurs. The show then asks whether extraterrestrials were redirecting asteroids to destroy the earth. “We are talking about technology that equals ours today,” Giorgio Tsoukalos says, revealing his paucity of imagination when it comes to aliens, before allowing that perhaps their technology could be somewhat better than ours. Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadock claims—without stating his source—that “legends” describe an asteroid swinging to earth from “behind the sun” to strike the ocean. I don’t recall reading that anywhere, much less his claim that the Flood was “an attack, an assault on humanity.”
Now, naturally, we can’t go through a whole episode about the Flood without reference to the Fallen Angels (the Watchers), so our next stop is of course Mt. Hermon, where in 1 Enoch the Watchers descended to Earth from heaven. We examine the ancient temple atop Mt. Hermon and its stele, which in Greek says “According to the command of the greatest and holy God, those who take an oath proceed from here.” This has long been associated with the oath the Watchers swear on Hermon in 1 Enoch 6:4: “And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing’” (trans. R. H. Charles). But rather than see this as a Jewish reflection of a pagan cult, the show assumes that 1 Enoch is true and therefore the Flood was designed to wipe out the Nephilim, the offspring of human women and (extraterrestrial) Watchers.
This is all very familiar material and has been covered on the show many times.
Now we are at the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay) in India, where two sunken cities were discovered more than a decade ago. These cities are not old enough to have anything to do with the alleged Flood, but the show pretends that they are 9,000 years old, based on fantasies promoted by Hindu fundamentalists. Stylistically, the sites are closer to Harrapan culture, around 2000 BCE. The 9500-year-old date comes from controversial carbon dating of a piece of wood, which most archaeologists believe is actually a piece of an ancient forest subsumed by the Arabian Sea and not associated with the city.
Next we view Göbekli Tepe in Turkey because Andrew Collins is on, and this is his hobbyhorse. Robert Schoch, the fringe geologist, believes that the site was destroyed by a Flood, though there is no actual evidence for this. He believes that the stone circles were covered over to protect them from a Flood, not, as archaeologists assume, to symbolically close them. Schoch does not explain why each circle was sealed at a different time if there were only one Flood.
Following this, we look at Gunung Padang in Indonesia, a megalithic site on a hill (claimed to be a pyramid) and advocated by both Frank Joseph and Graham Hancock as a remnant of a pre-Ice Age civilization based on extreme dating produced by the Indonesian government under the direction of an official who holds fringe beliefs about Atlantis. The dates were obtained from vegetation layers within the hill, not from anything associated with the megaliths themselves. Western archaeologists believe the site is medieval.
Sabina Magliocco, a professor of folklore at California State University, Northridge claims that the story of Atlantis is a “sacred narrative” that was “preserved” by Plato rather than a story that he made up out of thin air, as nearly all Classicists assume. She also claims that Atlantis had a “great, advanced civilization,” which does not appear in Plato at all. Their culture is described as pretty much identical to other fantasy lands of Greek myth. She then claims that Atlantis “was one of the continents destroyed by the Great Flood,” which also does not appear in Plato, though the wording of the end of the unfinished Critias suggests Plato was drawing on the Greek Flood myth of Deucalion as his model for the end of Atlantis. (It is, however, a key claim in Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis.) How could she get so much wrong?
Schoch therefore concludes from all of this that there was a “cycle of civilizations” destroyed by a “catastrophe” around 10,000 BCE—though even he seems to recognize that there is very little evidence for an actual global flood. He then asserts that a Dark Age followed until around 3000 BCE.
In this segment we look at the Dead Sea Scrolls to review the contents of the Genesis Apocryphon, which Kathleen McGowan Coppens summarizes. This is a little complicated, so let’s simplify it. Coppens claims that alien baby Noah “lit up the room with his eyes,” but the fragmentary text actually says “he lifted his face, and his eyes shone like the s[un].” It is not clear whether this is metaphorical. However, the rest of the claim is true: Noah’s father wonders whether his wife had been impregnated by a Watcher: “Then I considered whether the pregnancy was due to the Watchers and Holy Ones, or (should be ascribed) to the Nephil[im], and I grew perturbed about this child” (trans. John C. Reeves). This is a late text, one that is obviously looking to expand on the Genesis narrative. Genesis, though, says at 6:9 that he was “perfect in all his generations.” Thus, in the Genesis Apocryphon no less an authority than Enoch himself tells Noah’s father that the baby belongs to him and is not from the Watchers. Despite this, the ancient astronaut theorists agree that Noah is probably an alien. They then entirely undercut this by claiming that Noah has “genetic” purity uncontaminated with Watcher-alien DNA. Later, he will be named some kind of better quality of alien.
Jason Martell is upset that the gods stopped interacting with people and breeding giants before the Flood. Rob Simone, credited hilariously as the author of the Epic of Gilgamesh, offers some speculation about the need to expunge alien influence to develop the human potential, and the show does not acknowledge that Simone is actually an L.A.-area ufology radio talk show host and that his Epic of Gilgamesh is a short compilation of public domain texts. Big deal. I did that, too, but I don’t claim it’s any great achievement.
Now we’re off to hunt for Noah’s Ark! We look at a large cemetery near the modern Mt. Ararat in Turkey, and Coppens suggests that the ancient cemetery—which she claims dates back 10,000 years—was a holy site because it was believed to be buried by Noah was to be assured of resurrection. OK, but how do we reconcile the date of the cemetery with Biblical chronology? The numbers don’t fit if we assume that the genealogies in the Bible are true. And if we don’t assume they are true, why would we assume the Flood story is literally true? Oh, well. We’re already discussing the size of the Ark now and how many animals could really have fit into it. Giorgio Tsoukalos suggests that the Ark actually preserved DNA, not animals. (If they knew their stuff, they would know that the Gilgamesh version of the Flood story actually mentions taking the seed of living things!) This whole thing is rather silly since it presumes the correctness of the Biblical narrative rather than any other version of the Flood myth around the world. (The Greeks, for example, put no animals on Deucalion’s ark.)
Finally, we look at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault where since 2008 samples of plant seeds have been kept against the possibility of cataclysm. The narrator, citing a relatively close buzz by an asteroid in 2013, reminds us that heavenly cataclysms are inevitable and that we should cower in fear from destruction from the sky. The narrator asks whether extraterrestrials will (a) cause an asteroid strike or (b) fail to prevent such a catastrophe. David Childress tells us again to be afraid of what the aliens (calling them “extraterrestrial gods”) will do, and William Henry informs us (following Charles Fort) that we are the aliens’ property and they will wipe us out. Linda Moulton Howe and Giorgio Tsoukalos both claim that the aliens are actively working for our survival because we are their children.
The narrator concludes with a compromise position, allowing that the aliens may simply be planning to watch how we deal with a cataclysm as some kind of test, and then the narrator reinforces the message of fear by reminding us yet again that destruction is imminent. In short: Merry Christmas; you’re all going to die.
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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