Science Channel Flat-Earther Killed Making TV Show; Plus: Erich von Däniken Gets Another Ancient Text Very Wrong
Over the weekend, pseudoscience television claimed a life. The death of Michael “Mad Mike” Hughes while filming for the Science Channel was not the first death in unscripted TV, but his Wile E. Coyote escapades in a failed effort to prove the Earth flat marked a particularly ridiculous low for the Science Channel and its parent company, Discovery Communications. The Science Channel was shooting a pseudo-documentary series called Homemade Astronauts in which Hughes attempted to launch a homemade rocket 5,000 feet into the air in the hope of using it as a model for a bigger rocket that would let him see the edge of the flat Earth. Just like Wile E. Coyote in the Looney Tunes, his rocket exploded, but since he was not a cartoon character, he died as he lived, utterly irresponsible. The Science Channel and its outgoing chief executive offered their condolences but accepted no responsibility for enabling ad encouraging this staggering act of utter stupidity, which they filmed. In fact, the Science Channel absolved itself on Twitter, claiming it was merely there to “chronicle his journey.”
Meanwhile, a tweet from ancient astronaut theorist and Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken from earlier in the month has received criticism on Twitter thanks to its utterly bizarre disassociation from reality. In the tweet, von Däniken claims that the Egyptians had no idea who built the pyramids. Below is the German text with my translation:
Vor 2000 Jahren schrieb Diodor von Sizilien über Ägypten. Er kannte auch die Werke aller Historiker, die bereits v o r ihm darüber geschrieben hatten. „Keiner weiss, wer die Pyramiden gebaut hat“. So ist es: die alten Ägypter wussten n i c h t,wer der Bauherr der Pyramiden war.
Wow, is that wrong in so many ways. First, Diodorus reported quite clearly who built the pyramids. Writing in Library of History 1.63-64, he says:
Chemmis, the eighth king from Remphis, was of Memphis, and reigned fifty years. He built the greatest of the three pyramids, which were accounted amongst the seven wonders of the world. […] When this king was dead, his brother Cephres succeeded him, and reigned six-and-fifty years: some say it was not his brother, but his son Chabryis that came to the crown: but all agree in this, that the successor, in imitation of his predecessor, erected another pyramid like to the former, both in structure and artificial workmanship, but not near so large, every square of the basis being only a furlong in breadth. […] After him reigned Mycerinus, (otherwise called Cherinus), the son of him who built the first pyramid. This prince began a third, … Etc. etc. (trans. G. Booth)
These kings are, of course, Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, recognized as the builders of the pyramids. Therefore, Diodorus did not say what von Däniken attributes to him.
So how did he end up with such a wrong tweet?
It’s possible that he garbled Diodorus’s statement in 1.64 that “Yet, concerning the first builders of these pyramids, there is no consent, either amongst the inhabitants or historians. For some say, they were built by the kings before mentioned, some by others.” That isn’t quite the same, and I kind of doubt that von Däniken read that far into Diodorus.
We do know from von Däniken’s many references to it, that he is familiar with the German translation of al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat, and that he frequently confuses it for an ancient Egyptian text or one of many other ancient and medieval books. I wonder if he is not misremembering al-Maqrizi’s quotation from Ibn Abd al-Hakam that historians “could find no true knowledge of the pyramids or certain concepts in the work of any of the scholars of Egypt.”
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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