7 SITCHIN’S SUPPOSED SCHOLARSHIP
© Ian Lawton 2020
I first read The Twelfth Planet in the mid-1990s, which was a very early stage in my own research career. I was immediately hooked. It asks seriously provocative questions about every aspect of humanity’s development in antiquity, and then provides even more provocative and outrageous answers. There are undoubtedly huge swathes of people who, like me, have long held a general sense that ‘there’s more to all this than meets they eye’. For me, as with so many others, this was fuelled by reading Erich von Däniken’s seminal Chariots of the Gods several decades earlier, and it had smouldered ever since. Then I discovered The Twelfth Planet and my alternative fire was well and truly lit. The book actually doesn’t flow particularly well, but it contains so many seeming gems that one tends to read it in a frenzy of excitement: ‘At last, the answers to everything we’ve been searching for!’
But then I was approached to write a first book about the infamous monuments at Giza in Egypt, and before long I and my co-author Chris Ogilvie-Herald were knee-deep in pyramid research. I began that undertaking with much more of an alternative than an orthodox leaning, not only because of Sitchin but also other alternative authors like Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval, who seemed to be equally thorough in their questioning of orthodox opinion. But as Giza: The Truth progressed I gradually began to realise how proper research works. You can’t just take things at face value. If you’re going to have any credibility as an author and researcher you have to do work for yourself, not least in checking what other authors are saying and, wherever possible, going back to the original source of any piece of information to check its authenticity and accuracy. This is, of course, standard research scholarship – although quite how its basic principles had managed to pass me by when studying economics at University College, London, I’m really not sure. Of course most readers don’t have time to do such checking – which is why it’s so important that someone who does have the time and inclination, like me, does do it.
In any case, when I saw copious endnote references and bibliographies in the books by Hancock, Bauval et al, I initially assumed they must be adopting a similarly thorough approach. But that’s when I had my first big shock. For whatever reason I needed to check a couple of facts out – and the more I dug, the more I realised that I often couldn’t put any reliance on their presentation of supposed ‘facts’ at all. Now let’s be clear that any author, whether in the orthodox or alternative camp or anywhere in-between, will always be somewhat selective in how they present their information and arguments. It goes with the territory, however much we pretend to ourselves that we’re being as unbiased and neutral as we possible can. That is exactly why there’s a complex and thorough system of ‘peer review’ amongst scholarly communities in all fields of research. But what I increasingly came to realise was that such a process was sadly lacking and sorely needed in the field of alternative history. It became clear to me that there’s such a thing as being unconsciously selective, and then there’s being deliberately and knowingly selective – to the point of bordering on distortion and, in some cases, even deliberate falsification of evidence. Sadly I found there was a great deal of the latter going on in alternative circles.
This of course meant that at some point I had to go back and re-evaluate Sitchin’s work. In fact I’d already had a major alarm bell while researching Giza: The Truth. This was when I discovered, as mentioned in the Preface, the entirely unfounded accusation he had made against Colonel Richard Howard Vyse in suggesting he’d faked the ‘Khufu quarry marks’ in the Relieving Chambers in the Great Pyramid, which provide some of the best evidence for an orthodox date for the monument. If you consult Vyse’s extensive original diaries in the British Library, and investigate the quarry marks in situ – as I did – you realise just how profoundly disingenuous Sitchin’s accusation was.
So I returned to The Twelfth Planet sadder, and considerably wiser. The first thing that hit me now I had some research experience was how, although it contains many apparent in-text references and a reasonable bibliography, there are no proper endnotes at all. This should raise huge alarm bells for anyone who isn’t completely inexperienced and naïve in these matters, as I originally was. What is more, many of the more contentious assertions are presented with little or no source information – and 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. This means that merely locating the relevant passages in orthodox translations can require exasperating hours of detective work and, even if you do manage to 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 – which is fine if they’re properly referenced to the original piece in a museum collection or whatever, but often they’re not. This makes them similarly exasperating to trace when attempting to ensure they can be relied on as accurate representations of the original.
To be fair and balanced about this, we did see in chapter 3 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 that ‘may diverge so much that one would never guess that they rendered the same text’. On the face of it this gives Sitchin some potential support. However there are a number of factors that militate against this in his case:
1. Even when his ‘evidence’ comes from Akkadian texts that don’t suffer from the same degree of uncertainty, his translations still diverge massively from those of orthodox scholars.
2. On the rare occasions that he does use orthodox translations they’re 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’, derives from a root that he interprets as a ‘sky chamber’ of some sort. This is such a good example that I’ve devoted the entirety of the next chapter 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 that, when restored to their full length, render his interpretation meaningless and impossible given the proper context.
3. One professional linguist who did take the trouble to examine Sitchin’s work came up with massive criticisms of his understanding of Ancient Mesopotamian languages. These were made anonymously in some newsgroup postings in the early 90s by what turned out to be a professor of Near Eastern Studies at a well-known American University, with whom I had some brief subsequent correspondence. The gist of his criticisms was that Sitchin 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 analysed Sitchin’s interpretation of the name Marduk as ‘son of the pure mound’. He suggested that Sitchin had mixed the Akkadian word maru, which means ‘son’, with the Sumerian words du and ku, meaning ‘mound’ and ‘pure’ respectively. But, he asserted, such words from different languages were never mixed, even in a proper name, because the Ancient Mesopotamians only ever used word-combinations taken from one language or the other. Our source provided countless other examples of this type of confusion, for example in Sitchin’s translations of shem, mu, naru, Enki, Enlil, Eridu, Ishkur and Tiamat, which seemed to provide compelling evidence that the bulk of his interpretations were spurious and entirely 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 he found hardly any translations that weren’t distorted, the conclusion he drew was that none of Sitchin’s translations and interpretations could be implicitly trusted.
4. Another professional linguist has more recently been extremely eloquent and detailed in his condemnation of Sitchin’s supposed scholarship and, more important, has openly published his criticisms on his website. Michael Heiser has a PhD in Ancient Semitic languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, among other things, he deconstructs Sitchin’s linguistic interpretations of words such as Nibiru, Anunnaki and shem, and the context in which they’re used. He concludes: ‘I can tell you – and show you – that what Zecharia Sitchin has written about Nibiru, the Anunnaki, the book of Genesis, the Nephilim and a host of other things has absolutely no basis in the real data of the ancient world.’
5. Even where Sitchin’s alternative interpretations might have some degree of foundation, the implications that he derives from them can be highly implausible for other reasons. A prime example of this is his 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 that, from the perspective of cosmology and astronomy, are highly dubious. Similarly the idea of a ‘Planet X’ being able to support physical lifeforms when its supposed orbit is so very far from the Sun. Once again these are subjects to which we’ll return, this time in chapter 9.
6. He shows a great deal of imagination in weaving the web of a story from all this ‘evidence’ that, over the course of the entire Earth Chronicles series, has resulted in a highly detailed account of events on Earth over several hundred thousand years. But 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, repeatedly using the underlying theme of a rivalry between ‘Enki-ite’ and ‘Enlil-ite’ clans as an explanation for a whole series of events spanning many millennia. Yet we’ve seen in a previous chapter that in most cases it’s impossible to definitively and consistently identify the relationships between different members of the pantheon and their offspring and so on because of the extent to which they vary over time in different texts. It is certainly highly dubious to make definitive assumptions about certain gods coming from a particular branch of the family tree.
As a final example of the quality of Sitchin’s work The Twelfth Planet contains a hand-copied drawing, apparently of a cylinder seal, which is accompanied by the following description:
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.
I have taken the trouble to reproduce this drawing in Figure 3. I would have liked to consult the original cylinder seal, or a picture thereof from a reliable, scholarly source – but I couldn’t, because of the complete lack of any reference as to the location and source of the original. Be that as it may, what we see in the drawing is surely a perfectly ordinary looking table, a body wearing a mask with a face on each side, and three stylised wavy lines above it that could represent flames or, even more likely, water – which was often depicted in this way. For Sitchin to use the words ‘without question’ in relation to his extraordinary, dubious and highly subjective interpretation is, without question, totally and utterly misleading and unmerited.
Figure 3: Cylinder Seal Drawing from ‘The Twelfth Planet’
 I refuse to name this source because in the course of a brief correspondence he made his views on Sitchin’s work abundantly clear, stating that he didn’t 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 what scant information I have so that I can’t be accused of making this important evidence up. The newsgroup postings themselves are long gone.
 Sitchin, The Twelfth Planet, chapter 4, p. 105.
 See his superb website www.sitchiniswrong.com.
 Sitchin, The Twelfth Planet, chapter 2, p. 42; the reference is to Figure 15 therein.