While Last Week Tonight took the week off for Easter, host John Oliver made a brief video message focused on internet conspiracy theories. Speaking of conspiracies, Oliver called them “science fiction for people who don’t understand they’re watching science fiction.” Oliver’s fake conspiracy theory involving Cadbury’s chocolate and cream eggs quickly entered into familiar territory for us, building toward the Freemasons and the Illuminati, as all good conspiracies inevitably must. All it was missing were a few Reptilian aliens, who, most likely, lay eggs.
Regular readers will remember that former Top of the Pops presenter Jamie Theakston has become a one-man rival to the History Channel cavalcade of crazy for Britain’s Yesterday Channel as host of Forbidden History, now in its third season. (Reruns air in the U.S. a year later, dubbed with an American narrator’s voice, on the American Heroes Channel.) Theakston began by imitating Scott Wolter’s America Unearthed, but he’s now more of an all-purpose mystery-monger in the third season, which covers everything from Hitler suicide conspiracies to the hunt for King Arthur.
The season premier, which aired a few weeks ago in Britain, went in search of the Ark of the Covenant, a treasure sought by Graham Hancock, Scott Wolter, and hundreds of others over the last two centuries. The first few minutes recaps the Biblical record of the Ark, and it gives air time to the usual crew of suspects from past series, including Andrew Gough, the ignoramus who runs Heretic Magazine and has repeatedly proved himself ignorant of most facts related to the subjects he spouts on about. This year there is a new talking head, Heather Elizabeth Osborn, described as an “author and historian.” She’s actually a Capricorn Radio host who speculates on fringe topics. Thanks to her appearance on Forbidden History, and its affiliation with AHC, a division of Discovery Communications, she now bills herself as a “TV personality and subject expert for Discovery Channel shows.” Guess what? I was on AHC’s Codes and Conspiracies, so that makes me one, too! Osborn is employed by Gough at Heretic Magazine and also runs a goddess training program that takes paying customers on pilgrimages to ancient mystery sites. Another new talking head this year is Richard Felix, who is apparently famous in Britain as a TV ghost hunter. You know: experts! Gough, Osborn, and Felix all believe that the Ark still exists because gold, they say, doesn’t rot. And they all say it in nearly identical language. This type of Stepford punditry becomes increasingly unnerving during the hour.
But back to the plot: Theakston starts the program’s actual investigation of the Ark with a summary of Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal (1992), which argued for a factual basis for Ethiopian legends that the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia, as recounted in the medieval Kebra Nagast. That’s not just me criticizing; the book is name-checked during the show and shown on screen. According to Ethiopian Christians, the original Ark is now housed in a church in Axum, and Theakston retraces Hancock’s steps to the church. He first visits the island in Lake Tana where Ethiopians claim the Ark rested for 800 years before moving to its final location. The show must have a bigger budget this year since they sprang for some computer graphics to imagine how the Ark might have been positioned on a rock on the island. A priest on the island shows some pitted bronze artifacts that he claims are Temple treasures—a sacrificial bowl and a priestly breastplate—from 800 BCE, though no one on the show offers any proof of this. The pieces look too recent to be that old. He also shows off a broken shofar. “This is proper Jewish history right here,” Theakston said, though no one on the show knows the object’s name, merely calling it a “trumpet.” Gough thinks that shofar is most closely akin to the trumpet used to bring down Jericho’s walls, which suggests that he’s never been to a Jewish synagogue. Shofars are not especially rare since they are used for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to this day.
Theakston says that he is amazed to stand where the Ark once stood, even though we earlier saw the Dome of the Rock, built atop what was once Solomon’s Temple and, if any of the story is true, the only place we can be sure the Ark once sat. Millions of people have stood where the Ark allegedly rested in Jerusalem. Oh, well.
Between segments on Lake Tana and Axum, the various talking heads offer Erich von Däniken’s argument that the Ark was actually an electrical device (a notion repeated by Graham Hancock, attributing it to a lost civilization, rather than aliens), and Orion Mystery coauthor Adrian Gilbert shows up to add that he thinks that the intense sunlight of the Middle East was its source of power, giving it “an intense charge.” For him, the Ark wasn’t necessarily technological but perhaps just a really nasty solar static shock generator.
As we move the segment on Axum, the show returns to summarizing Graham Hancock’s book, describing the priesthood in Axum and the legends associated with the Ark in the Church of St. Mary of Zion there. The current high priest shows up to say something I can’t understand because he isn’t speaking English and the Viasat History broadcast of the show that I was able to view neglected to include what I presume would have been Yesterday’s original subtitling, presumably so its affiliates in different countries could add their own subtitles in their various Nordic and Slavic languages.
Gough notes that the church has too little security to have the actual Ark, and he fantasizes about how he could storm the church, Rambo-style, if he really wanted to since there aren’t enough guards. Osborn doubts the legend, too, because she is reading from the same talking points and repeats them nearly verbatim. Gilbert also doubts that the Ethiopians have the original Jewish Ark, again in almost the same words, though perhaps, he offers, they have a replica from Elephantine that Egyptian Jews there used in Antiquity. The producers clearly coached the talking heads, but they were a bit heavy-handed in doing so, lending a sense of repetitiveness to the proceedings. Indeed, the same material gets recycled several times in the hour, and it could easily have been cut down to about 20 minutes just by removing the repetition of the same claims spouted by different talking heads. More than half of the last ten minutes is just one head after another saying it’s unlikely that the church in Axum has the Ark under guard by only one frail monk. At some point they switch to demanding that the Ethiopians let scientists see whatever is in the church.
Theakston achieves nothing, sees nothing, and essentially wasted the entire hour summarizing Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal. The talking heads throw stones at Hancock’s claims, though, and come to the almost certainly correct conclusion that the Ark isn’t in Ethiopia. This is a bit self-serving, though. If we knew where it was and what it was (i.e., not magical), then they wouldn’t make money getting people to pay them for wacky fringe ideas about the Ark’s relationship to flying saucers and Atlantis.
Forbidden History would probably be a better show if it dumped the ignorant fringe pundits who couldn’t site a primary source if they were seated in a library and instead focused on the quest aspect of Theakston’s adventures. It would make it more like America Unearthed than Ancient Aliens, but it would also make it a stronger and less heavily pre-scripted program.
If you are all good girls and boys, tomorrow we can see what clown car of crazies have to say about vampires when Theakston visits Transylvania in search of Dracula.
3/28/2016 01:57:34 pm
Is there a requirement that you have to be female to attend the goddess training class or can anyone become a goddess?
3/28/2016 02:25:58 pm
Getting in touch with your sacred feminine side? :)
3/28/2016 09:13:47 pm
I'm considering organizing tours for would be BroGods.
3/30/2016 02:27:07 pm
Its the only thing feminine that will let me touch it.
10/26/2019 08:06:31 am
If you 'identify' as a women you'll be fine mate.. You should turn up in a dress for good measure. 😂
3/28/2016 09:11:56 pm
Typical Bruce Burgess. Something that could have taken 45 seconds to cover instead lasted for 45 minutes.
3/29/2016 06:27:42 am
I love the unconventional choice of words John Oliver employs.
3/29/2016 05:45:34 pm
I heard that Katy Perry-JonBenet Ramsey thing a couple weeks ago on Tosh.0. Must be a new conspiracy theory making the rounds.
3/31/2016 02:24:33 pm
In your faulty attempts to stalk my information online, Jason, you seem to have overlooked and failed to mention that I am a professor, which is actually how I make my living—how convenient. So I find it laughable when you say that I or my colleagues are “ignorant fringe pundits who couldn’t site a primary source if they were seated in a library.” And by the way, you misspelled site—the correct usage should be written as ‘cite’--- so now we have further evidence of your ignorance. I teach my students on a daily basis how to ‘cite’ sources and how to write appropriately—I would be happy to sign you up for one of my courses so that I can flunk you for your ignorance and the immature spin of your questionable ‘work,’ making a living by trying to be snarky without all the ‘facts.’ I would say your academic accomplishments, research, or library expertise would fail to measure up to my own, considering the fact that I spent years doing research in the British Library, with 11 years of education for my degrees, a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, a list of academic honors, awards, and scholarships, and have taught at some of the most competitive universities in the US. I am listed now as a TV personality because I will also be featured in another TV show, which, of course, you missed with your ‘investigative talents.’ And if I sometimes provide pilgrimages focusing on the history of various sites in terms of ancient Goddess associations, so what? I did my PhD work on the subject, and I find it hilarious that you are under the delusion that you have greater intellect. While I have made my life’s work from teaching and writing to help others, particularly those who are disadvantaged and giving women and minorities a voice in this world, I see that you have done nothing but make it an uglier place to live, appealing to the base-level of humanity with your audience. Congratulations on doing nothing beneficial for humanity, but making your paycheck with the same-old indoctrinated patriarchal journalism—the sensational spin of the male voice, without much to say but a load of name-calling nonsense. If you actually knew anything about literary theory and the misuse of power in writing, you would understand that. As an academic, a researcher, and a writer, I have never had any respect for you or your work, so how amusing that I made the Sauron’s gaze of your slimy radar, which is really quite easy to debunk for its lack of rationality or logic that you attempt to sell.
3/31/2016 03:01:33 pm
Isn't it against the rules for a feminist to engage in dick-measuring contests?
4/1/2016 07:07:49 am
.....evidence of your ignorance. I teach my students on a daily basis how to ‘cite’ sources and how to write appropriately—I would be happy to sign you up for one of my courses so that I can flunk you for your ignorance and the immature spin of your questionable ‘work,’ making a .....
4/4/2016 02:39:36 pm
Ph.D = Piled Higher and Deeper
4/5/2016 04:13:53 pm
So, you found the Ark, or not?
10/4/2018 12:44:43 pm
Lmao, i was curious myself
4/9/2016 04:45:03 am
Since you have opened the door to this question, a cursory search of your name shows that Jason was justified in having only vague information on your background, There is no evidence that you have gained a PhD from anywhere. In your own online biography all you say is that you pursued PhD research on goddess mythology and literature. At what university? Did you take more than one course? Who was your supervisor? Did you complete your thesis? These are all routine but important points for anyone claiming to be an academic, let alone a Professor. Charging people money to train priestesses and run tours does not constitute professor, by any normal use of the term. But perhaps, your use of the title refers to your time as a Dean of a college in Chicago? Again, which college? What subjects did you teach?
4/17/2016 08:04:25 am
The more posturing there is about it, the less there is behind supposed academic merits. That's a very reliable rule, and that paragraph was a whole lot of posturing. Titles, publications, honors and awards mean nothing on their own, particularly of the person claiming them is so suspiciously unwilling to go into detail about them. The academic world is a prime scam market, and I say that having the inside perspective myself; unless the sources that are supposed to have bestowed these merits are named and can be assessed for their renown, they mean less than nothing. They conjure up suspicion rather than trust, because anyone who knows academia is acutely aware of all the diploma mills, worthless journals, disreputable institutions, and countless abysmal publications. The only way to judge academic merit is by evaluation the work itself, and you, despite using a lot of words to try and defend yourself, failed to point to any.
4/17/2016 08:06:12 am
Responsibility is my middle name
12/28/2017 05:51:49 pm
"While I have made my life’s work from teaching and writing to help others, particularly those who are disadvantaged and giving women and minorities a voice in this world,"
6/9/2016 05:36:16 pm
Responsibility is my middle name
12/28/2017 05:55:05 pm
"genuine " hey like you! NOT!
6/9/2016 05:39:31 pm
Typo noted on "She does not have to provide details or prove anything."
7/14/2016 08:38:50 pm
...And yet, thru all of diatribe, there is only emotional spouting from both the self titled historian and her husband. How about that list of credentials? Not One mention...the reasons perhaps more obvious, though I cannot help but wonder why supposed work at so many institutions? Are not good instructors kept by the by institutions to bolster their faculty? (As a foot note, I am not a Colavito satellite...I was brought here by a link as I searched for a listing of the self proclaimed historian credentials myself....found nothing btw...). Though I do not doubt that the title of Author is solvent, I am not holding my breath for the validation of Historian. Speaking speculation on a subject does not make one an authority on said subject, nor does being a writer (having researched perhaps for one or two titles involving historical subject matter) quantify one either, and as such only leads me to believe that the position of commentator on a television program subject was only achieved by association with "historian emeritus" Mr. Gough.
12/2/2016 10:23:20 pm
John Oliver is a snarky jackass. Basically, everyone's dumb except him. He has no expertise in anything. He's just a jerk ripping other people's contributions.
12/5/2016 05:48:03 am
He doesn't generally claim to have any expertise in the topics he reports on, though, which is the big difference to all those self-proclaimed "experts" on other shows and channels. He has a team of writers for the research and the jokes, and they often rely on the work of journalists for their facts. He's very open about admitting that, and never claimed he's doing anything more than presenting what his team has worked on.
12/19/2016 05:53:11 pm
I thought Ron Wyatt found it. I don't know who made up all this mumbo jumbo
1/25/2020 11:06:52 am
Wow. Heather and Gary made all of you look like idiots.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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