SITCHIN'S SCHOLASTIC APPROACH
© Ian Lawton 2000
Having read The Twelfth Planet some years ago at a very early stage in my own research career, and in keeping with my avowed approach of not accepting the research of others at face value, I began my search for intelligent appraisals thereof. I emphasise 'intelligent', because as usual on the Internet I found many fawning tributes, many of which proceeded to expand into all manner of 'para-babble' about visitors from elsewhere and channelled messages about 'The Ancient Ones' returning which, while they may or may not be true, are usually presented in so evangelistic and faith-is-all-you-need a fashion that the more discriminating reader is left cold. I also came across similarly stomach-turning bigotry from those of orthodox persuasions, to whom any mention of advanced ancient civilisations and visitors from other planets raises their stridency and vitriol levels to unparalleled heights.
However in the midst of all this I did find a few commentators providing snippets that were sufficient to set me off on the right course. And the first criticism I found was that Sitchin’s level of scholastic ability is not all it might seem. Although it does not flow particularly well, The Twelfth Planet contains so many apparent gems which appear to provide an explanation for the evidence of man’s level of advancement in antiquity, that you tend to read it in a frenzy of excitement. 'At last the answers for which we have all been searching!' is the initial reaction of many readers, and was certainly mine.
But when you go back and look again, you can se that the few who have dared to criticise his work have a point. Although The Twelfth Planet, for example, contains many references and a reasonable bibliography, many of the more contentious assertions are presented with little or no source information. This is especially true of his textual quotes from Mesopotamian literature, which are usually his own interpretations and not taken direct from the work of other scholars. Therefore merely locating the same passage in the orthodox translations can be exasperating; and if and when you do find them, they often bear little resemblance. Similarly much of his pictorial evidence based on carvings and reliefs on tablets and stelae is in the form of hand-copied drawings; this is fine if they are properly referenced to the original piece in a museum collection, but often they are not. This makes them similarly exasperating to trace when attempting to ensure they can be relied on as accurate representations of the original.
To the non-professional researcher these criticisms may seem unduly harsh and pedantic. But as soon as one gets a sniff that all is not well with Sitchin, and that there is a good chance he is at the very least mistaken in some of his interpretations, they become all too relevant when evaluating his work. The Twelfth Planet is littered with textual extracts which, as well as being poorly referenced and therefore sometimes untraceable even after significant amounts of detective work, is consistently so much at odds with orthodox translations that alarm bells ring all the time.
We saw in a previous paper that even expert Sumerologist Thorkild Jacobsen admitted relatively recently that the study of the Sumerian language, while not exactly in its infancy, still allows professional scholars to produce translations which 'may diverge so much that one would never guess that they rendered the same text'. On the face of it this gives Sitchin considerable support. However there are a number of factors which mitigate against this in his case.
First, much of his 'evidence' (where it is possible to establish the source) comes from Akkadian texts which do not suffer the from the same degree of uncertainty - and yet his translations of these still diverge.
Second, even where he uses orthodox translations they are usually regarded as obsolete and, even more important, he can be extremely selective in his extracts. Nowhere is this better demonstrated that in the evidence he uses to suggest that the word shem, translated by modern scholars as 'name' or 'reputation', derives from a root which indicates that it means a 'sky chamber' of some sort. This is such a good example that I have devoted the entirety of the next paper ('What’s in a Shem?') to a case study thereof, for those who wish to review the detailed support for my criticisms. In my view this case study indicates that, at least in some cases, Sitchin shortens and even omits intervening lines from extracts which when considered in full render his interpretation meaningless in the context.
Third, at least one professional linguist who has taken the trouble to examine Sitchin’s work has come up with massive criticisms of his understanding of the Sumerian and Akkadian languages. These are contained in some newsgroup postings from several years ago made by a professor of Near Eastern Studies at a well-known American University. (I refuse to name him because in the course of a brief correspondence with him he made his views on Sitchin’s work abundantly clear, stating that he did not want his name associated with what he regards as 'rubbish', and nor did he want to be bothered by further correspondence from people he regards as cranks. I fully respect his wishes, and have only provided the scant information about him above in order that I cannot be accused of making this important evidence up.) The gist of his criticisms of Sitchin (or at least those that are scholarly and linguistics based) is that he demonstrates a consistent lack of appreciation of even some of the most basic fundamentals of Sumerian and Akkadian grammar, even to the extent of regularly failing to distinguish between the two entirely different languages, and mixing words from each in interpreting the syllables of longer compound words. As an example, he analyses Sitchin’s interpretation of the name Marduk as 'son of the pure mound',[i] and suggests that he has mixed the Akkadian word maru, which means 'son', with the Sumerian words du and ku, meaning 'mound' and 'pure' respectively. But, he asserts, such words from different languages were never mixed, even in a proper name; they would have used a combination of words all taken from one language or the other. Our source provides countless other examples of this type of confusion, for example in Sitchin’s translation of shem, mu, naru, Enki, Enlil, Eridu, Ishkur, and Tiamat, which seem to provide compelling evidence that the bulk of his interpretations are spurious and incorrect - apparently made up from bits and pieces of different languages and with letters and syllables swapped at will. Since these examples all came from just a few chapters of The Twelfth Planet (before our source decided he had better things to do with his time), and there were hardly any translations that were not distorted, the conclusion our source drew is that none of Sitchin’s translations and interpretations should be implicitly trusted.
Fourth, even where Sitchin’s alternative interpretations might have some degree of foundation, the implications which he derives from them can be highly implausible for other reasons, unrestricted paradigms notwithstanding. A prime example of this is his literal interpretation of the Epic of Creation, in which his argument that this is a literal description of the formation of our solar system is supported by assumptions which, from the perspective of cosmology and astronomy, are highly dubious. Once again this is a subject to which we will return in a separate paper.
Fifth, he shows a great deal of imagination in weaving the web of a story from all this 'evidence', which has resulted over the course of the entire Earth Chronicles in the creation of a highly detailed account of events on earth over several hundred thousand years. In doing so he makes an incalculable number of assumptions, the incorrectness of any one of which would invalidate whole sections of his work. As a case in point, he relies heavily on assumptions about relationships between members of the Sumerian pantheon. For example, he repeatedly uses the underlying theme of a rivalry between members of the Enki-ite and Enlil-ite clans as an explanation for a whole series of events spanning many millennia. And yet we have seen that it a previous paper that it is in most cases impossible to definitively identify any god’s parents, spouse, offspring etc. because of the extent to which they vary in the different texts. It is certainly highly dubious to make definitive assumptions about certain gods coming from a particular branch of the family tree. In my view this false assumption, combined with many similar examples too numerous to mention, undermine his detailed work to the extent that in large part it arguably becomes highly imaginative fiction - fascinating to read for the uninitiated, probably far more so than my own efforts which are relatively dry in comparison - but primarily fiction nevertheless.
As a final example of the quality of Sitchin’s work, The Twelfth Planet contains a hand-copied drawing of a cylinder seal which is accompanied by the following description:[ii]
That radioactive materials were known and used to treat certain ailments is certainly suggested by a scene of medical treatment depicted on a cylinder seal dating to the very beginning of Sumerian civilisation. It shows, without question, a man lying on a special bed; his face is protected by a mask, and he is being subjected to some kind of radiation [my italics].
Anyone who cares to look this drawing up will see an ordinary looking table, a body wearing a mask with a face on each side, and three wavy lines above the body which could just as easily be flames or water (which was often depicted in this way). To use the words without question is, without question, exaggerating a highly dubious and subjective interpretation. This is also a prime example, of which there are many, of the complete lack of any reference as to the location and source of the original seal. Indeed none of his books contain a separate reference section or footnotes. This is not normal practice for a supposedly scholarly reference work.
It is also interesting to note that British researcher Alan Alford, whose Gods of the New Millennium [iii] was probably the major book that followed up on Sitchin's work, has since comprehensively rejected the idea of 'flesh and blood gods'.[iv]
I should perhaps say a few words about my motivation for going to some lengths to expose what I perceive as the weaknesses of a fellow researcher's work, instead of perhaps just ignoring it and moving on. The reason is that, over the last quarter of a century, Sitchin's books have made a considerable worldwide impact, and have persuaded a great many people that the 'gods' were flesh and blood visitors from elsewhere. This idea has become extended by many into the belief that they will return to 'save' the human race. I believe this is a fundamentally dangerous proposition which merely perpetuates the mistaken view that mankind must look outside of itself for its eventual salvation or destruction - when in fact our fate lies entirely in our own hands via faith in our own divinity.
[i] Sitchin, The Twelfth Planet (Bear & Co, 1991), Chapter 4, p. 105.
[ii] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 42; the reference is to Figure 15 therein.
[iii] Alford, Gods of the New Millennium (Hodder and Stoughton, 1997).
[iv] For example, see the interview with Alford in May 2000 on The Daily Grail web site.