We are less than two weeks away from the premiere of the new season of America Unearthed, bowing at 9 PM ET on November 30, and H2 has made available a description of the first episode. Remember how producers and Scott Wolter indicated that the new series would focus less on religious conspiracies and pre-Columbian white conquest of America? Well, the first episode essentially announces: "No! We want religious conspiracies and pre-Columbian white conquest!" Yes, Scott Wolter is going in search of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and the Ark of the Covenant in the desert southwest.
Oh, and we go back to the Hill of Tara, where Ancient Aliens told us a flock of UFOs landed. Fun!
Here’s how H2 describes the first episode:
Scott Wolter gets a call from a man who has a mysterious stone on his property. He's convinced that it's the "Stone of Destiny"–the stone that Jacob from the Bible rested his head on when he dreamed of a stairway to Heaven. As Scott investigates, he discovers the stone was once kept with something even more valuable. It was once kept with the Ark of the Covenant and both are rumored to have been brought to America. Scott's quest for the truth leads him to a sacred site in Ireland called the Hill of Tara and to a mysterious site in Arizona where a petroglyph depicting what could be the Ark could suggest its final resting place is right here in the United States. And, as for who brought it here, a tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments found with a series of other artifacts could suggest a likely group of candidates–the Lost Tribes of Israel.
How does one even begin? The trouble starts right at the beginning. The stone on which Jacob rested his head is not conventionally known as the Stone of Destiny when referring to the actual object from Genesis, where it is mentioned only once and is known typically as the “stone of Jacob.” The reference in Genesis 28:10-22 bookends the dream in which Jacob has a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven on which the angels moved up and down. Specifically, of the stone it is said:
… he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. […] Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Here is where things get weird, and a little racist. This pillar became known colloquially as “Jacob’s Pillow,” and this name became applied to the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of the kings of Scotland, which legend holds was brought from Ireland sometime in the early Dark Ages. This, in turn, connects the Stone of Scone to the Lia Fáil at Tara, the coronation stone of the kings of Ireland. By the transitive property, Lia Fáil’s title of “Stone of Destiny” in turn became applied to the Stone of Scone, and, by back-formation, to Jacob’s stone. According to modern “Westminster stone theories” like the 2008 claims by Alex Salmond, based largely on speculation, the Stone of Scone is a fake set up by Scottish monks to fool the English, while the real stone of Jacob was secreted away sometime before 1296. This is supported, in turn, by a claim from 1819 that a large meteoric stone was that year found at Dunsinane beside two round bronze tablets with inscriptions relating it to Bethel, suggesting it was the original stone.
So how is this racist?
The legend, which most would rightly conclude is a medieval myth Christianizing a pagan stone, became one of the focal points of British Israelism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and through that to various branches of Aryan supremacy theories. British Israelism is the belief, originating in the 1600s, that the British are the true descendants of the Lost Tribes, with the British monarch the lineal heir of David. British Israelism has traditionally been used to justify the racial superiority of white Anglo-Saxons over non-white peoples through an appeal to special status in the eyes of God, and it is still very much active online today, especially among racial theorists with religious inclinations. In turn, the substitution theory of the Stone of Scone leads to weird British-Israelist claims that Elizabeth II is an illegitimate queen.
In British Israelist ideology, the Lost Tribes became the Scythians (Saka or Cimmerians) of the Beishtun Inscription (column 1, line 6 and column 5, lines 74-75) carved by Darius of Persia c. 500 BCE because Darius says that “Ahuramazda was not worshipped by them,” so therefore they must be Jews. These Scythians, or Cimmerians, called themselves Kumri, which British Israelists like John Rhys argued was cognate with Kymri or Cymru, the names used by Celtic groups such as the Welsh for themselves. Since Hibernia and Iberia also sounded like “Hebrew,” ipso facto the Celts were the Jews, and the British therefore Israelites. It’s a little more complicated than that, but this is the main thread.
We have already seen how Glenn Beck recently used these exact same claims to argue that “Caucasians” are God’s Chosen People, and that America was founded by God’s Chosen.
But Scott Wolter goes farther still down the British Isles religious rabbit hole.
The Bible says nothing about the stone of Jacob being stored alongside the Ark of the Covenant. This might be based on claims that the Ark of the Covenant had been secreted to Scotland by the Knights Templar and entrusted to the Sinclair family. Or it could be derived from some truly nutty religious ranting by a group or person called JAH, who asserts that he, she, or they have “discovered” a text written by the Queen of Ireland in the 500s BCE describing how the Ark of the Covenant and Jacob’s Pillow were taken to Ireland where the pillow became the Lia Fáil and the Ark secreted in Queen Tephi’s tomb at Tara. This, in turn again, is no real discovery but the allegedly ancient words are instead taken verbatim from an 1897 poem called The Book of Tephi by John A. Goodchild, in which the author specifically disclaimed any real connection to truth but instead said it was a fantasy concocted from the Bible and fragments of Irish poetry, of which he admitted much ignorance. Others who advocate the same theory instead base their views on verbatim quotations from an 1880 novel on a similar subject.
But I won’t leave it there. There has to be a historical basis for these British Israelist claims. It certainly does not come from the obvious sources, like the Lebor Gabála Érenn (c. 1150), which in standard form relate that the Lia Fáil originated when the Tuath De Danann brought it in their UFOs (just kidding—it was boats) from Falia, or that Simon Brec brought it from Spain, or that Pharaoh’s daughter Scota brought it from Egypt in the days of Moses. (Goodchild ran all these together to make a multi-stage journey.)
Instead, the story originates in a truly bizarre mixture of materials assembled in 1861 by the Rev. F. R. A. Glover, a British Israelist, and advocated by the American C. A. L. Totten, author of the appropriately named Our Race describing how God favored white Anglo-Saxons as the Chosen People. Obviously, such claims could only emerge after the English had full control of Ireland and Scotland and felt comfortable tracing their lineage to a Celtic group, something that came about only after the Act of Union. Prior to that, the Celts were often demonized as subhuman, rather than heralded as the pure embodiment of Aryan greatness.
Glover’s ideas start with the Apocrypha, where the prophet Jeremiah is said to have hid the Ark of the Covenant in Mt. Nebo, where it would stay hidden and safe from the invading armies during the destruction of Babylon in 587 BCE (2 Maccabees 2:4–7). Because Jeremiah’s followers could not find it, later writers began to claim that Jeremiah fled with the Ark. In 1024, in the poetry of Cuan O’Cochlain (attributed; many think the source text is older), we read that Tephi, daughter Cino Bactir, a king in Spain, died and her fantastic tomb became Tara. He was repeating a claim made by Amergin in the sixth century. Somehow, and I do not know how, British Israelists made Tephi into a daughter of Zedekiah, the last Jewish king before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, and had her marry a Milesian (Scot) and bring the Stone of Destiny to Ireland and call it the Pillow of Jacob. This is very much a purposeful misinterpretation of Cuan O’Cochlain’s discussion of how Tephi married Canthon of Britain, and the Britons’ most important idol, the Etherun or Taran, was left in Spain until her body was restored to that country. Tephi’s tomb in Spain then became the model for another tomb in Ireland, called Tara, after the return of the stone idol.
In the Lebor Gabála Érenn, we read that Milesians invaded Ireland, and someone had the brilliant inspiration to decide that Jeremiah was one of them, when in fact the Irish annals specify that their leader, Ollam Fodlah, was a native king, not one from the Middle East. British Israelists purposely conflated Tephi, known only from the works cited above, with Tea, a native-born queen married to Heremon, son of Miletus, in Spain just before the Milesian invasion. Since the annals preserve her genealogy in Ireland back at least three generations, she was therefore not the daughter of Zedekiah.
The warrant for this is Jeremiah 41:10 and 43:5-7, where a king’s daughters (either Zedekiah’s or Josiah’s; the text is unclear) escape the destruction of Jerusalem. There is no indication they went to Ireland or anywhere else, or that any of them was Tea or Telphi.
All of this is mixed up with the similar legend of Scota, the supposed ancestress of the Scots, whom Irish legends dating back to the 1100s claim was a daughter of Pharaoh from the time of Moses who was exiled, married a prince, and spawned the Scots. Various arguments have been put forward to work Scota and Tea-Tephi into the same myth, or to move Scota from the time of Moses to that of Jeremiah, etc. The Lebor Gabála Érenn however is fairly clear on the point, though some variant manuscripts offers another Scota, daughter of an imaginary pharaoh. It also claims she was married to a Scythian, which pulls us back into the Celts = Scythians = Lost Tribes claim.
In 1301 Baldred Bisset rewrote Scottish history to downplay Irish involvement when he prepared the Scottish submission to the papal curia complaining about English aggression during the Wars of Independence. He rewrote the Scota myth to make her take the Stone of Scone from Egypt with her during the Exodus, and Robert the Bruce made use of this as anti-English propaganda in 1323. This is the only slim line of actual historical detail (though still a myth) connecting either of the coronation stones back to the Middle East—a detail that British Israelists retroactively applied back to the Stone of Destiny in Ireland.
Putting it all together with no mind for chronology or truth, the British Israelists made Jeremiah and Tephi come with the Ark of the Covenant and Jacob’s stone from Egypt to Spain to Ireland, and there hid the Ark at Tara, where it serves to bless the white race with divine protection from the non-white peoples of the world. And not a word of this is actually found in any of the ancient texts from which the story originates.
As various parts of this confabulation were challenged, new claims were invented to support it. None is convincing, and to this very day various racist and anti-Semitic theories use these claims, including one that the Jews, specifically the Rothschilds, are hiding the Ark from good, believing Christians.
Scott Wolter, of course, will simply accept all of this as true legendry and not a nineteenth century concoction. He will further look into whether the Lost Tribes brought the Ark to the desert southwest, and he’s going to use the almost certainly fake Los Lunas Decalogue Stone—which I discussed in great detail back in March—to “prove” it.
So, season two is off to a great start: Racist British Israelist fantasies rehabilitated for your amusement, all while making America the home of God’s own Ark and shining the blessings of Yahweh on the (white) people of America. Perfect.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.