Friday, January 11, 2019

Vimanas and Nephilim: On the planet of the ancient aliens

”Ancient Aliens Debunked” is a three-hour presentation by Chris White, scrutinizing many of the claims made in the History Channel series “Ancient Aliens”. White is backed by Michael Heiser, a somewhat free-wheeling Christian writer and Biblical scholar. The presentation (which is surprisingly well produced) is available for free on several YouTube channels. It´s not explicitly Christian, but such a perspective does shine through in the two last sections, which discuss the Flood and the Nephilim.

“Ancient Aliens” is an extremely popular TV series promoting the Ancient Astronaut Theory, according to which space aliens visited Earth in the past and decisively influenced human evolution and history. The “theory” was popularized by Erich von Däniken during the 1960´s and 1970´s. Däniken is indeed featured in the series, still going strong after all these years. Another prominent advocate, the late Zecharia Sitchin, is referenced. The series is narrated by Giorgio A Tsoukalos, a Swiss TV personality and probably a friend of Däniken´s (who is also a Swiss national).

I believed in the Ancient Astronaut Theory when I was about 12 years old, but today, I regard it as one of the more silly alternative theories. Essentially, its proponents travel around the world (usually the Third World), gasp at various ancient monuments, pronounce them “impossible” cuz reasons or something, and then draw the conclusions that aliens must be responsible. These speculations have been repeatedly and convincingly debunked ever since Däniken published his best-selling “Chariots of the Gods” back in 1968. Yet, here we go again: “Ancient Aliens” frequently features *literally the exact same silly arguments* as 50 years ago, which in my mind at least means that we´re dealing with deliberate ignoramuses. How many times must experts on Mayan iconography point out that the relief on Pakal´s tomb does not, repeat not, repeat not, show an ancient astronaut but Pakal´s death and journey to the underworld, and that its symbolism is well-known and consistent with other Mayan art from the period? There simply is no mystery there. According to “Ancient Aliens Debunked”, the rabbit hole goes even deeper. White believes that Ancient Astronaut theorists deliberately distort the evidence, making them charlatans and conmen rather than simpletons ignorant of archaeology. Clearly, I didn´t knew half of it…

The presentation speaks for itself, but a few sections stand out (at least they do to me). Thus, we finally learn what Ezekiel´s bizarre vision actually was – that one has long confused even myself (and perhaps a few Bible translators). It wasn´t a UFO-like object, but God´s chariot (the famed Merkabah) known from other Hebraic sources. It´s appearance is no mystery. But sure, I suppose some Däniken fan could claim that the chariot must have been powered by electricity and drawn by animal-human hybrids, so perhaps this won´t hurt the ancient alien scenario as much as White and Heiser hopes! Another good section deals with the Mahabharata, the claims about “vimanas” in particular. It turns out that the “vimanas” weren´t flying machines at all, but the palaces of the gods. They sure could fly, but they had no resemblance whatsoever either to modern human technology or to UFO observations. I could be wrong, but I don´t think anyone has reported seeing a hovering Vishnu temple in the night sky over New York (or New Delhi) lately! Even worse, the single best evidence for the existence of vimanas is a “channeled” text from the 1940´s, in other words a crude forgery, even apart from the fact that none of the contraptions shown in it are aerodynamic enough to take to the skies. (But, once again, I suppose you could argue that they must therefore have been powered by some unknown force, say Vril or Voor).

Another interesting section deals with “UFOs” in medieval art. In reality, we are dealing with anthropomorphic depictions of the sun and the moon, or simply with the Annunciation. This becomes clear if we put the “UFO” paintings in their proper historic and artistic contexts. I was somewhat disappointed to learn that none of the famed crystal skulls were authentic, not because I believe they are alien, but because it would be great fun if they were Mayan! And then there´s the Annunaki. It´s not entirely clear whether Zecheria Sitchin was a conscious fraud or simply a lovable old man stuck in his own delusions, but it seems that he literally couldn´t read ancient Sumerian! Heiser has debunked Sitchin before, indeed he has an entire website devoted to the subject. Essentially, nothing you ever read in Sitchin´s “Earth Chronicles” is true. Since the ancient Sumerians were an interesting and important civilization, I think Sitchin may have posthumously made them a real disservice by painting the entire field as crackpot.

The two sections which really stand out are the ones where the narrator´s Christian worldview slowly comes into focus. He accepts the reality of a world-wide flood – an idea I, as a newly minted Atlantomaniac, also find interesting and plausible. He even accepts the idea that angels may have mated with human females and given rise to the famed race of Giants. That one is much harder to believe! This, I think, is the Achilles Heel of this material: the ancient astronaut theorists might ask what is the *real* difference between angels and aliens? Note that White and, I suppose, Heiser believes that the “angels” weren´t spiritual or ethereal beings. They have solid bodies, can eat earthly food, and even look a lot like humans. They mated with humans by “changing their habitation”, an expression which the narrator believes refers to bodies. (I admit I never heard this intriguing idea before!) Thus, by discarding the angelic bodies and letting their spirits incarnate in fully human ditto, the Watchers became capable of begetting offspring with “our” women. The Nephilim or Giants were, of course, also physical creatures. It´s somewhat ironic that White believes in the most weird and extreme Biblical passage! That being said, I commend him for his honesty in laying all the cards on the table…including the wild cards.

Do we know everything about the human past? Of course not. We probably never will. However, the evidence to back the concrete claims of the Ancient Astronaut Theory simply isn´t there. Even apart from the whole thing feeling very very retro…

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