THE PROBLEM(S) WITH SITCHIN…AND HIS DETRACTORSJanuary 11, 2011
I often get asked the question "What do you think of Zechariah Sitchin?" In fact, I get aksed that question so much that I am going to attempt to deal with it here. Throughout my ancient technology books I have referred to Sitchin a great deal. There is no denying his views have been influential both upon me and many others. That said, I do have problems with his work, and they are major, but in the main they may be broken down into three classes: (1) idiosyncratic translations; (2) his "big picture;" and (3) failure to follow up legitimate insights. Let's take the last two first, and deal with translations at the end, because there is where I have some problems with his detractors as well.
The "Big Picture":
Most everyone familiar with the late Zechariah Sitchin's works are familiar with his uncanny ability to ferret out the obscure, all in aid of a grand scenario that included colliding planets, Annunaki-bearing rocket ships from Nibiru bearing gods who come to Earth, genetically engineer a slave species (that's us incidentally) to mine gold which they could reduce to a powder and spray their atmosphere (on Nibiru of course) in some sort of ancient chemtrails operation. As I've attempted to outline in my book The Cosmic War I have problems with the whole "catastrophist" reading of such references in ancient texts to begin with, with colliding planets, planetary explosions, and so on. Beyond that, however, there is the persistent inability of Sitchin to envision any technology or physics more advanced than rocket ships and nuclear weapons. In some sense then, my books could, I suppose, be taken to be a sort of "response," or rather, alternative examination of such texts, to show that there might be other possibilities of interpretation. Certainly I wouldn't maintain my own scenario(s) dogmatically. They are exercises in interpretation, as if to say, "If there are technologies implied in these texts, they do not necessarily have to be rocket ships and nuclear weapons." There are other possibilities.
Failure to Follow Up Legitimate Insights
This to me was always one of the fundamental problems with Sitchin (not to mention the most fundamental of them all, translations). For example, Sitchin in his book The Wars of Gods and Men makes a long, somewhat torturous and involved argument that the Lugal-e refers to the Great Pyramid as a weapon. Having made this rather astonishing observation, Sitchin never followed up on it, perhaps because the type of weaponry implied did not fit the rocket ships and nuclear weapons that became a part of his model. There are other such insights, for example, his attempt(s) to relate or identify the various gods in respective pantheons on the basis of his translational work. But he avails himself little of the insights of de Santillana or von Dechend, or Lockyear, and other such studies which approach that problem not so much from the standpoint of philology but astronomy. To me, this was always one of the most frustrating aspects of reading Sitchin. And this leads us to my final, and largest problem:
Anyone who has read Sitchin will initially be impressed with his apparent knowledge of ancient and obscure languages, and his apparent ability to recast translations of standard words (Dur-an-ki comes to mind here) in the service of his larger model. Sumerian and Assyrian and Akkadian cuneiograms that resemble cylinders with points, for example, are sometimes understood to be "rockets," and so on. While it is true that such cuneiograms are very evocative in their symbolic possibilities, Sitchin would have done better simply to utilize standard academic translations (which he references in his bibliographies) and to argue his case rather than twist the translations themselves.
By the same token, however, it seems to me that to attempt to discredit Sitchin (or anyone else for that matter that resorts to translational "reconstruction") simply on the basis of thumping one's academic credentials and saying that "you must trust me here because I'm an expert" is rather like the scientific magisterium which often does the same thing when it thumps its equations and says certain things are impossible because they do not fit some standard academic model of what is possible, and what is not. Such approaches or arguments from authority simply - in my opinion - will fall on deaf ears since most people are not in the position of doing tensor calculus, or for that matter, Assyrian or Akkadian, on a daily basis. Anyone who has studied such languages knows how deep and complex they are and how multi-layered meanings are possible in them. It might even be said that, so far as Sumerian is concerned, that we see that language "through an Akkadian glass darkly." (That remark, incidentally, is that of Dietz Otto Edzard, in Sumerian Grammar, Brill, 2003, p. 7.)
One can, for example, come up with fascinating explanations of the technological possibilities implied by ancient monuments and texts based on those standard models of physics (see, for example, the fascinating work of Edward Malkowski or Chris Dunn); or one can, as I attempt to do in my various books, utilize less-well known and even disputed models of physics - torsion explanations of gravity for example - to explain the same things; while the resulting explanations will be different, both approaches seem legitimate to me as we're all trying to unravel a puzzle that appears to challenge the standard models of history that reign within academia. Philology alone will not get rid of the technological and historical problems posed by those monuments, or for that matter, some ancient texts.
My personal approach therefore has always been somewhat different than a philological one, and that has been to assume, for the sake of argument, that such "Sitchinesque" scenarios might be implied by standard translations, or, for that matter, idiosyncratic ones, and then to argue on the basis of the technological and scientific possibilities that those represent. Cast in this fashion, one has to deal with the "larger picture" implied and the issues it represents, rather than with the minutiae of philology exclusively. My approach has been to raise the issues, not for a philological response, but for an apologetic one. In that sense, then, philological arguments certainly are not excluded, but become part of the puzzle, rather than a be-all and end-all "trump card" to be played whenever such issues are implied. But by the same token, such an approach excludes the response "you must trust what I say because I'm an expert in this narrow area." Such a response is not an argument, it is only the basis for an argument, and no one, in my opinion, regardless of their expertise in this or that subject area, can afford an attitude of pride of position simply because of their given expertise.
But lest I be mistaken here, no one should be dismissed because of their given area of expertise either. I have been repeatedly attacked in certain quarters because my academic background is patristics, a field demanding a lot of languages, philosophy, history, law, science, and so on. As if that disqualifies me from forming opinions about certain things and arguing those opinions. Thus to say that philologists have nothing to contribute to the discussion of the possibilities of ancient technologies, or the stories contained in ancient texts and their vast implications, would be of course an absurdity. It would be like the geneticist telling the philologist that the latter can form no legitimate opinions on the implications of certain ancient texts because their area of expertise is not that implied by the ancient texts! It is time for everyone to calm down, and to start treating each other - specialist and non-specialist alike - with respect and courtesy, and that includes treating the late Mr. Sitchin with some respect as well, notwithstanding the many difficulties of his work. None of us can afford to stand on academic credentials nor should they even enter the discussion. When the academy starts offering PhDs in "Atlantology" with all the scientific, archaeological, philological, and mathematical discipline such a degree would require, then and only then can any of us afford to "stand on our credentials," and even then, I suspect, there would be no place for such an attitude.