Posts Tagged ‘‘The Histories’’

Egyptians Issue Polite Invitation to Musk to See that Aliens Didn’t Built the Pyramids

August 4, 2020

Here’s a rather lighter story from yesterday’s I, for 3rd August 2020. Elon Musk, the billionaire industrialist and space entrepreneur, has managed to cause a bit of controversy with Egyptian archaeologists. He’s a brilliant businessman, no doubt, but he appears to believe in the ancient astronaut theory that alien space travellers built the pyramids. He issued a tweet about it, and so the head of the Egyptian ministry for international cooperation¬† has sent him a very polite invitation to come to their beautiful and historic country and see for himself that this is very obviously not the case. The report, ‘Musk invited to debunk alien pyramid theory’, by Laurie Havelock, runs

An Egyptian official has invited Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX tycoon, to visit the country and see for himself that its famous pyramids were not built by aliens.

Mr Musk appeared to publicly state his support for a popular conspiracy theory that imagines aliens were involved in the construction of the ancient monuments.

But Egypt’s international co-operation minister corrected him, and said that laying eyes on the tombs of the pyramid builders would be proof enough.

Tombs discovered inside the structures during the 1990s are definitive evidence, experts say, that the structures were indeed built by ancient Egyptians. On Friday, Mr Musk tweeted: “Aliens built the pyramids obv”. which was retweeted more than 84,000 times. It prompoted Egypt’s minister of international co-operation Rania al-Mashat to respond: “I follow your work with a lot of admiration. I invite you & SpaceX to explore the writings about how the pyramids were built and also check out the tombs of the pyramid builders. Mr Musk, we are waiting for you.”

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic, posted on social media, saying Mr Musk’s argument was a “complete hallucination”.

Hawass used to be head of their ministry of antiquities, and a very senior archaeologist. He was on TV regularly in the 1990s whenever there was a programme about ancient Egypt. And he doesn’t have much truck with bizarre theories about how or why the pyramids were built. ‘Pyramidiots – that what I call them!’ he once declared passionately on screen.

The idea that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids because it was all somehow beyond them has been around for some time, as have similar ideas about a lost civilisation being responsible for the construction of other ancient monuments around the world, like Stonehenge, the Nazca lines and great civilisations of South America, Easter Island and so on. Once upon a time it was Atlantis. I think in certain quarters it still is. And then with the advent of UFOs it became ancient astronauts and aliens. One of the illustrations Chris Foss painted for a book cover from the 1970s shows, I think, alien spacecraft hovering around the pyramids.

There’s actually little doubt that humans, not aliens, built all these monuments, and that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids for which their country’s famous. Archaeologists have even uncovered an entire village, Deir el-Medina, inhabited by the craftsmen who worked on them. This has revealed immensely detailed records and descriptions of their daily lives as well as their working environment. One of the documents that has survived from these times records requests from the craftsmen to their supervisors to have a few days off. One was brewing beer – a staple part of the ordinary Egyptians diet – while another had his mother-in-law coming round. I also distinctly remember that one of the programmes about ancient Egypt in the 1990s also proudly showed a tomb painting that at least depicted the system of ramps the workers are believed to have used to haul the vast stones into place. And the great ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, in his Histories, states very clearly that the pyramids were built by human workers. He includes many tall tales, no doubt told him by tour guides keen to make a quick buck and not to worried about telling the strict truth to an inquisitive foreigner. Some of these are about the spice and rich perfumes traded by the Arab civilisations further west. He includes far-fetched stories about how these exotic and very expensive products were collected by giant ants and other fabulous creatures. But no-one tried telling him that it wasn’t people, who built the pyramids.

On the other hand, the possibility that aliens may have visited Earth and the other planets in the solar system isn’t a daft idea at all. Anton ‘Wonderful Person’ Petrov, a Russian YouTuber specialising in real space and science, put up a video a few weeks ago stating that it’s been estimated that another star passes through the solar system once every 50,000 years. A similar paper was published by a Russian space scientist in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society back in the 1990s, although he limited the estimated to a star coming within a light-year of Earth. That’s an incredibly small distance, and if there have been other, spacefaring civilisations in our Galaxy, they could easily jump off their solar system to visit or explore ours. We can almost do it ourselves now, as shown by projects that have been drawn up to send light-weight probes by solar sail to Alpha Centauri. In addition to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence using radio telescopes to comb the skies for a suitable signal, there is also planetary SETI. This advocates looking for the remains of alien spacecraft or visitors elsewhere in our solar system. It’s advocates are serious scientists, though it suffered a major blow to its credibility with the furore over the ‘Face on Mars’. Which turned out not to be a face at all, but a rock formation as its critics had maintained.

Aliens may well have visited the solar system in the deep past, but it was definitely very human ancient Egyptians, who built the pyramids. Because, as Gene Roddenberry once said about such theories, ‘humans are clever and they work hard.’ Wise words from the man who gave us Star Trek.

Let’s go out in space to seek out new life and new civilisations by all means, but also keep in mind what we humans are also capable of achieving on our own down here.

Radio Programmes on the Anniversary of the Birth of Israel Next Week

May 8, 2018

This year it’s the 70th anniversary of the birth of Israel, and Radio 4 are broadcasting a number of programmes next week marking the occasion. At 8.00 pm Tuesday, 15th May 2018, there’s Present at the Creation. The blurb about it in the Radio Times runs

On 14 May 1948, a few hundred people crammed into the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to hear a proclamation that would change the course of history-the establishment of the state of Israel. Jonathan Freedland meets the last two surviving eyewitnesses of the ceremony and gets a rare glimpse of the original document containing the declaration. Contributors include Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath and Israeli novelist Amos Oz, both children on this momentous day.

Then at 11.00 am Thursday morning, 17th May 2018, the foreign affairs show Crossing Continents is on ‘Shades of Jewish in Israel’. This tackles the very controversial issue of Israeli racism. The blurb for this runs

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has seen itself as a safe haven for Jews from anywhere in the world who are seeking to escape persecution. But now that policy is under threat. As Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are finding, a debate has arisen about who is “Jewish enough” to qualify. David Baker investigates claims that decisions are being made not on the basis of ancestry or religious observance but on the colour of people’s skin.

And then at the same on Friday, historian Simon Schama is giving his personal view of the foundation and history of Israel. It’s entitled Israel at 70: A Personal Reflection, and the blurb runs:

Simon Schama was three in May 1948 when the state of Israel was born, and here he offers a personal account of the nation’s troubled and often bloody history, featuring contributors from Israeli and Palestinian historians and writers, a rabbi, entrepreneurs, and people working across borders for the exchange of resources. (p. 131).

The additional paragraph about it on page 130, by Simon O’Hagan, also states

Simon Schama presents this programme from the perspective of a British Jew who was three years old when the state of Israel came into being in 1948, and who feels that the Israel story and that of his own life have always been intertwined. He has, he says, followed Israel’s evolution with a mixture of “pride, anxiety, joy, and sometimes profound exasperation”. Arab voices share time with Jewish voices, and the tone of the programme is exemplary. Israel, Schama says, was made from a “dark crucible”, while for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, its formation was “Nakba”-“The Catastrophe”. The existential threat to Israel has never gone away, but there’s a striking note of optimism with which Schama concludes. An extremely moving half-hour.

Some of the Black African Jewish communities are likely to be extremely old. Herodotus in his Histories records an instance where the Jewish squaddies in garrison in Southern Egypt deserted, and headed over the border to Nubia. When their commander called out ‘What about your wives and children’, they pointed to their crotches to show that so long as they had everything down there, they’d also have wives and children.

The Falashas, who were a sect of Ethiopian Jews famously rescued from persecution by Israel in the 1980s are the most famous of the African Jewish communities, but there are many others. The kings of Ethiopia traced their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Each Ethiopian Orthodox church has an ark, though this term can cover any kind of box, so don’t get your hopes up about the Ark of the Covenant. These facts have been cited by some historians as indicating that the country may well have been Jewish before it converted to Christianity.

Tony Greenstein has reported on and discussed the immense racism in Israel against Black African Jews, as well as African asylum seekers trying to reach Europe, as part of his campaign to show just how racist the country is.

Simon Schama’s programme could also be interesting. Very interesting. The Palestinian Nakba is part of history. Amox Oz talks about it in his book, The Israelis, though it’s definitely not widely known. And I’ve no doubt the Israel lobby in this country, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the rest of them would very much like that to stay. It’ll be interesting to hear if the programme mentions that the Palestinians were subject to a series of terrible massacres, and that 400 villages were destroyed. Or if the Beeb will simply go along with the old Zionist lie that they all left in terror of their own accord, and there were only a couple of massacres. Either way, I expect the Israel lobby will be listening very closely, ready to accuse the Beeb and Schama of ‘anti-Semitism’.

The Beeb probably feels that Schama may well have a better chance of escaping this smear. He’s a very well respected historian, and has presented his own ‘History of the Jews’, now being repeated on BBC4. I wish him the best of luck with that, as the Israel lobby and Likudnik politicians have also smeared very definitely self-respecting Jews and Beeb foreign correspondents as anti-Semites when they’ve mentioned awkward facts. Like Israel’s massacres of the Palestinians, or those of its Christian allies in Lebanon. As Mike pointed out, Natalie Portman was accused of it after she was awarded the Genesis prize for being such an excellent role model for Jews. Portman wouldn’t go to Israel because of the dodgy situation at the time to collect it, and so Likud and the rest of them went berserk. She was accused of being self-hating, part of the BDS movement – she isn’t, and made that very plain-and one Likudnik Member of the Knesset demanded that she be stripped of her Israeli citizenship.

Likud and the Israel lobby in Britain demand absolute obedience to the narrative they want to present, even when it contravenes well-established historical fact. And no matter how big or respected someone is, no matter if they’re Jewish or gentile, and how sincere they are fighting racism and real anti-Semitism, they will attempt to smear and destroy them.

These programmes sound fascinating.
The Israel lobby and their smears on the other hand, are utterly despicable.

The Ancestors of Democracy in Ancient Iraq?

March 14, 2015

Ancient Greece is rightly venerated as the place where western democracy began. However, Daniel E. Fleming, in a book published in 2004, suggested that the origins of western democracy may lie even further back and to the east, in ancient Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq. In his book Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, Fleming examined 3,000 letters from the archives of the ancient city of Mari, finding in them evidence for collective leadership and early democratic ideas and vocabulary in the city’s myths and literary traditions.

I haven’t read the book, but I think I can see where Fleming is coming from. The cities of the Babylonian Empire were ruled by three different layers of government. There was the governor, appointed by the emperor; the city’s local ruler, the mayor; and the karim, or chamber of commerce. This last could be the popular assembly of a limited kind that provided the proto-democratic element in the Babylonian political system.

The Babylonians were also rather like us, in that they also expected their rulers to act in their interests, and had a cynical contempt for them when they didn’t. There’s one Babylonian story about a citizen, who gives the mayor a golden cup, expecting a suitable favour in return. When he doesn’t get it, the citizen arranges a series of four incidents, in which the mayor has the living daylights beaten out of him in consequence. Okay, so it isn’t democracy so much as a bribe, but it does show that there were limits placed on the actions of their rulers, and the citizenry considered it their right to mete out appropriate justice when their rulers didn’t govern on their behalf.

Aside from this, since Edward Said’s Orientalism, there has been a move by some historians to challenge the simplistic notion of a free, democratic West versus a despotic East. Said traced this idea back to Herodotus’ The Histories, and the Father of History’s account of the Persian War as a battle between Greek democracy and Persian absolute monarchy. Sasan Samiei, for example, in his book Ancient Persia in Western History: Hellenism and the Representation of the Achaemenid Empire , wrote a measured attack on this view, in particular examining and contrasting the works of Goethe and Gibbon.

Said’s Orientalism was an attempt to challenge what he viewed as Western imperialist attitudes towards Arabs and their cultures, attitudes, which justified American and European imperialism and domination. The same attitudes have been seen as influencing Frank Miller’s 300, about the Spartan victory over the Persians at Marathon. Clearly histories like Samiei’s are important as they challenge the assumptions about the Near East and the Arab and Iranian worlds, which see them as a terrible ‘Other’ implacably hostile to the West and democracy, and which partly justify Huntingdon’s theory of renewed ‘culture wars’ between the democratic, free West, and a despotic, Muslim East.

And I wondered if Fleming’s book also didn’t provide another key to explaining the destruction of the priceless Assyrian artefacts by Isis a few weeks. They weren’t just trying to destroy the remains of a civilisation they considered to be pre-Islamic and therefore idolatrous. They were trying to destroy the reminders that Iraq had a history and culture going back thousands of years, in which democracy, rather than the rule of force, may have played a part. This last might provide a point a rapprochement between the West and Iraqi Islam. ISIS despise the West, and would like to provoke us into further attacking Iraq and its people further, in order to create more chaos. This would, they hope, further cut the rug from under the moderates and radicalise more of the people against us. Smashing those artefacts was part of that process, in the hope it would incense the West, as well as destroy the ancient, and possibly democratic legacy, of that ancient civilisation.