I realize that I read more science fiction and fantasy than is probably healthy for an individual, but even so, I think I have yet a modicum of intelligence and reason left in my head–which is why I gaped in shock and horror to find a copy of Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet in the back seat of my father’s car when we went to breakfast this morning.
For those of you who don’t know, The 12th Planet (1977) is the first installation of Sitchin’s “Earth Chronicles,” a seven-part series in which he attempts to prove that we are not alone in the universe:
Basically, all those Old Testament stories people have passed off as myths are really, literally true. Fear our celestial overlords! The Nefilim built the pyramids, and they can tear them down too. (Note that Sitchin has collected indisputable proof.)
The book has received some attention recently, probably because the final volume of the Earth Chronicles, The End of Days, was released just a few years ago–and what better to do in our last year of existence (or last week, if you expect to be taken up in the Rapture this Saturday) than read the “nonfiction” ravings of a crackpot writer?
I’m sorry, that’s unfair. Zecharia Sitchin is a reasearcher, of sorts. He is proficient in multiple ancient languages, Sumerian cuneiform purportedly among them. He claims that his assertions in The 12th Planet are based on textual analysis of the original texts–the Hebrew OT, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, those mysterious cuneiform tablets, etc., et al. Of course, the more *respectable* scientists and academics reject Sitchin’s hypotheses as the work of faulty interpretation of ancient texts and flawed astronomical information. Personally, I think he simply suffers from an overactive X-Files Mentality. In other words, he wants to believe.
That back cover blurb alone should be enough to make a reader with the barest amount of sense laugh out loud. Until she realizes that the book is being sold as nonfiction, and that there are those (including the author) who believe every word. Then the reading experience just gets sad–and more than a little creepy.
There are a number of problems with The 12th Planet:
1. Not only does Sitchin employ (more than) questionable methodology in fashioning his claims, believing those claims requires us the readers to shunt aside all sorts of scientific explanations of phenomena for which there is actual evidence. Oh, like human evolution. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:
“The unanswered question is: Why–why did civilization come about at all? For, as most scholars now admit in frustration, by all data Man should still be without civilization. There is no obvious reason that we should be any more civilized than the primitive tribes of the Amazon jungles…
But, we are told, these tribesmen still live as if in the Stone Age because they have been isolated. But isolated from what? If they have been living on the same Earth as we, why have they not acquired the same knowledge of sciences and technologies on their own as we supposedly have?”
Astonishing! I don’t think anyone has ever tried to answer that question before. Except Jared Diamond. Ever heard of Guns, Germs, and Steel? Yeah, it’s that one that won the Pulitzer some years back. Sorry, Zeke.
I won’t even get into that second part, in which Sitchin seems to imply that scientific knowledge is just chillin’ in the aether somewhere, waiting for some “primitive bushman” to pick it out of the air. That’s for another paragraph. What’s truly astonishing is where Sitchin goes from here.
One of the plethora of Discovery Channel conspiracy theory programs will attempt to raise questions about the origins of civilization–did space aliens give us knowledge and sink Atlantis in their rage, or something? Sitchin says yes, the evolution of human civilization is actually extraterrestrial in origin. And, he adds, modern man did not really evolve from the primordial ooze. Male and female the aliens created them, because it would take too long to make apes talk.
That seems to me a total non sequitur, but it’s not like I can read cuneiform. I bet those evolutionary biologists can’t either–so there!
2. The second major problem I have with the whole “ancient astronauts” thing goes beyond Sitchin’s book. My question is: Why is it so hard to believe that humans, with their own minds and their own contemporary technology, could have built the pyramids? Because it’s always about the pyramids. “They’re so geometrically perfect,” a Sitchinite might exclaim, “and how could they move those big rocks?” There are a number of construction method hypotheses, all of them more plausible than the one that requires alien overlords cracking the whip.
Perhaps more disturbingly is the underlying racial prejudices inherent in this argument. I had a professor of archaeology my freshman year who worked on ancient Mesoamerican cultures. He seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it came to the Mayans. Why does everyone think the Mayans are so mysterious? he asked, multiple times during the semester. He was a scientist, and had all sorts of perfectly reasonable (and more than that–empirical) explanations for the mysteries of the Maya. And yet, the dilettantes of pseudoscience and pseudohistory seemed unable to resist groping for the mystical.
Because, of course, indigenous peoples of non-European origin must be primitive bushmen, right?
If it isn’t apparent by now that I’m intensely annoyed by The 12th Planet, let me be clear:
Zecharia Sitchin’s Earth Chronicles Series ranks among the very worst of pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical “nonfiction.” It may be some people read books like his for entertainment, or because they have a case of the X-Files, but I for one think something like The 12th Planet cannot go without even this meager rebuttal. Zecharia Sitchin’s books feed into the worst popular conceptions of ancient civilization, and commit an unforgivable crime: they rape history, underestimating and belittling the fully human people who lived before us.
That’s not okay. And I sincerely hope my father was reading it as a joke.