Today’s blog post covers one of those characteristically roundabout merry-go-round’s of fringe history where a chance encounter with an odd claim accidentally leads to the answer to an unrelated question. In this case, I started with a weird new book that claims aliens brought the moon to earth 12,000 years ago and I ended up answering a different question: Why did Zecharia Sitchin think the Epic of Gilgamesh took place at Baalbek?
I had never heard of Permuted Press before this past weekend, but when I stumbled upon one of their new releases I was shocked to find the author of the flagrantly incompetent tome about aliens delivering the moon to the Earth in 12,500 BCE trumpeting the fact that his book was being released by Simon & Schuster, one of the biggest names in publishing. So I took a look at the claim, and as always there was less to it than meets the eye.
Rob Shelsky is, to be blunt, a crackpot. He self-publishes books of varying quality, most of which are science fiction novels based on fringe history claims, and some of which are putatively nonfiction. By my count, he is currently selling 54 eBooks and digital short stories, ranging from nonfiction to science fiction to paranormal and historical romance. Most have the kind of garishly photo-manipulated cover art more typically associated with Hugo Award nominated trash Space Raptor Butt Invasion. It pains me to even type that sentence, but such is the state of publishing.
Permuted Press is an independent publisher of post-apocalyptic horror and fantasy fiction. Last year, they began a strategic rebranding to “place a bigger emphasis on a wider set of genres outside of zombie and post-apocalyptic,” according to a statement the company’s president sent to its authors. Shelsky has published three novels with Permuted, and they chose his awkwardly titled new book Invader Moon: Who Brought Us the Moon and Why? as one of their first nonfiction releases. Simon & Schuster has a co-licensing deal with Permuted and acts as a distributor for some titles, much the way Penguin-Random House distributes my Cult of Aliens Gods internationally for Prometheus Books.
Anyway, Shelsky’s new book is a real piece of work, a sort of distillation of Ancient Aliens to its least common denominator, and presented with self-confidence that would make Socrates cringe. Shelsky’s brand of aggressive ignorance is laid bare in just the first few pages when he confuses oral history for written history and imagines that Western scholars treat Classical myths as true accounts of the past:
For instance, western historians always refer to the “myths and legends” of the Hindus of India. Where these people see their ancient vedic texts as real historical texts, written ones, no less, we in Western Civilization have seen them as just mere legends, myths, and not “real events.” For us, they are just so many fantasies and fantastical fictions. Tens of thousands of lines of historical texts, and we never even bothered to see if they held any validity at all! (capitalization in original)
Can you spot all the copyediting errors? How about the lack of familiarity with academic literature on the subject of Vedic literature?
Shelsky belongs to the band of merry miscreants who must have really hated high school. Like his competitors Scott Wolter and Alan Butler, he expresses anger that mainstream accounts of history were “pounded into us repeatedly in school,” something like the way a goose is force fed to produce foie gras. If you believe fringe authors, schools are indoctrination factories where the ONE TRUTH is imposed from above. How he squares that with the fact that American schools are astonishing in their diversity, even when teaching to the test, with an ungodly number still sneaking creationism and Noachian flood geology into the science curriculum.
But as to his claims: Shelsky offers a blend of Abrahamic creationist nonsense, Atlantis and lost civilization claims, Velikovsky’s catastrophism, and ancient astronaut theories to imagine a world where a Pre-Adamite civilization reached amazing technological heights under the tutelage of space aliens before said aliens destroyed them all in the Great Flood, caused by their importation of the Moon, a hollow space station, to orbit the world. Thereafter, civilization began again, retaining only fractured memories of the antediluvian glory of the Pre-Adamite races and the Nephilim. Shelsky is not religious and claims his use of Abrahamic mythic terminology is for “convenience,” but it rather baldly lays bare the origins of some of his views on the development of civilization.
His argument for why he believes in a Pre-Adamite lost civilization of high technology is essentially one of confusion: He doesn’t understand the difference between arithmetic and geometric progression. That is to say, he is dumbfounded as to why “civilization” (by which he means technology) increased so rapidly in the last few centuries but remained “stagnant” for thousands of years between 10,000 and 3,500 BCE. “For those 6500 years, were people incapable of innovation, invention, and learning anything new?” He assumes that “progress” (for he follows the old Victorian idea of improvement) must necessarily build steadily given ideal circumstances. This would produce linear improvements in technology over time. He fails to account for the fact that new ideas build upon older ones in ever-increasing fashion, which means that the arc of progress, such as it is, is not a straight line by a curving one, geometrically increasing through time such that the rate of change is always increasing. Until you have a strong base to build from, you can’t have a rapid explosion of new developments. The gradual change during the Neolithic set the stage for the Bronze Age and all that followed, each subsequent period shorter than the preceding one. The difference between arithmetic and geometric progression neatly accounts for the majority of Sheksly’s argument that logic dictates the existence of a “lost” technological civilization.
As for the quality of Sheksly’s evidence: there is none. His book is a mishmash of ideas taken from ancient astronaut and fringe history books, without citation, usually without acknowledgement, and mostly misunderstood. Consider this claim that Shelsky obviously derived from Zecharia Sitchin. He is speaking here of Baalbek, the Roman-era temple complex in Lebanon that he believes to date back to Pre-Adamite times:
We do know the location is mentioned in the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. In this poem/story, he describes the place as a special platform where great things thundered up and down from heaven, leaving smoke and fire, with the sound of roaring thunder in their wake.
Sitchin alleged that the Sumerians knew Baalbek as the “Landing Place” and that the Epic of Gilgamesh recorded the launch of a rocket from the site. The claim appeared verbatim on Ancient Aliens a few years ago, despite the fact that the Epic of Gilgamesh contains no such landing place and no rocket launches. In Twelfth Planet (1976) Sitchin claimed to find this in a dream vision that Gilgamesh had in Tablet IV. In a sober translation it is hardly suggestive of rockets:
My friend, hast thou called me? Why have I awakened? Hast thou touched me? Hath a god passed by? Why art my muscles trembling? Enkidu, my friend, I have had another dream. The dream that I dreamed was very terrible; heaven thundered, earth quaked; day grew dark, darkness came up; lightning set in, fire flared up, sated with destruction and filled with death. (trans. adapted from William Muss-Arnoldt)
Because this occurs on “Mount Lebanon,” the cedar-clad Lebanon mountains, this claim would later become conflated with the Soviet writer Matest M. Agrest’s idea that Baalbek was a launch pad for rockets, even though Baalbek is much closer to Mount Hermon, lying in the shadow of Hermon in the opposing Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Sitchin himself only appropriated Agrest’s idea in 1980, in Stairway to Heaven, having omitted it from Twelfth Planet. It was then that Sitchin decided that the text of Gilgamesh referred to Baalbek, on the strength of the idea that he could simply rewrite the text to suit his needs. He determined that Gilgamesh was seeking Baalbek, not the paradise of the gods, in order to climb aboard their rocket service back to Nibiru. “And there is no doubt left in our mind that in Baalbek we have found Ba’al’s Crest of Zaphon, the target of the first journey of Gilgamesh.”
Oddly, in the same chapter of Stairway, Sitchin also shows his poor reading comprehension. He claimed that the seventeenth century French traveler D’Arvieux quoted the Jews as believing that Nimrod built Baalbek with the help of the Nephilim. Sitchin misunderstood a paragraph in Michel M. Alouf’s 1890 book on Baalbek which in quoted D’Arvieux before reporting the above legend from a different source, an unnamed Arabic manuscript. The footnotes in the French, German, and English editions of the book even say as much in case the text itself was not clear. Sitchin, who pretends not to have read Alouf, borrows Alouf’s citation to D’Arvieux without realizing it applied to the previous paragraph.
This same error probably led Sitchin to identify Baalbek with the Gilgamesh epic. Alouf’s book, in its second edition, included a passage right next to the one referenced above from Estephan II Boutros El Douaihy, a seventeenth century Marionite cleric, that mistakenly claimed Baalbek was situated on Mt. Libanus (Mount Lebanon), and Gilgamesh’s dream occurs on Mt. Lebanon. “Traditions state that the fortress of Baalbek on Mt. Libanus is the most ancient building in the world; Cain, the son of Adam, had it built in the year 133 of the creation, in a moment of frenzy. He gave it the name of his son Enoch and peopled it with giants who were visited for their iniquities by the Flood” (trans. L. Mooyaart). It seems that Sitchin simply accepted this as fact. I do not have access to the French original of the second edition of Alouf, in which the text was first published (only the first edition seems to be online), but given the mistakes the translators made elsewhere, I wonder if he did not confuse mountains in Lebanon, or even the Anti-Lebanon mountains for Mt. Libanus.
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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