More Ralph Ellis Conspiracy Nonsense: The Final Debunking

Ralph Ellis has seemingly fallen off the deep end (or into the rabbit hole).  If you thought his previous rants were crazy–but still masochistic enough to read more of the same (or if you are still curious about his position), then you’ll want to see what Steve Caruso has been dealing with for the past few days.  I repost it here into categories to easily follow with some additional commentary:

On Ellis’ ePub Claims

Mr. Ellis has made several glaring errors in Greek throughout his book.  I have drawn attention to this, as have others.  At one point he has βάρβαρος written out as βαρβαροσ (no accent mark).  For those unfamiliar with Greek, the sigma at the end of the word should be what is known as a final sigma (ς) not a standard sigma (σ).

Mr. Ellis has made the argument that his ePub wouldn’t allow it.  Therefore, he thinks this is an unfair criticism.  But is it?  I believe Steve says it best:

Also, it is not “baseless criticism.” If you are not only author but editor and publisher getting it correct falls squarely upon your shoulders. It is this attention to detail that is *essential* for any kind of publication and what peer review and the traditional publishing process seeks to ensure.

If you couldn’t get it printed in Hebrew or Greek, then the accepted practice is to default to a common transliteration scheme, of which there are several.

To use the wrong script or wrong letter forms in a publication, one might as well submit a paper to an SBL session in l337 $3@k.

But I would like to elaborate.  Ellis originally published his work on the website Lulu.  As someone who has worked with Lulu previously (and am familiar with how publishing works on their site), you have exceptional free-range to do anything you want.  Lulu not only makes you the one fully responsible for your own book (formatting, style, font, script, cover design, cover type, etc…), Lulu allows you to upload your file as a PDF or Word document, where you can embed fonts and use unicode and all that good stuff that one does when they want to get their work right.  Lulu also offers editors to review your work (for a cost), but since you profit upwards of 50% or more on your publications through the site, one should easily be able to afford that option.  Mr. Ellis should be aware of this.  If he isn’t, or if he doesn’t quite understand how Lulu works, then he has no one to blame but himself if he makes a mistake.

Mr. Ellis wants to continually make this the problem of someone other than himself.  But is that fair?  No, of course not.  Anyone who takes their work seriously should strive to make it the best they can; they are essentially working to convince you that their perspectives are correct.  Certainly, mistakes happen.  We’re only human.  But Mr. Ellis does not want to take responsibility for his mistakes–it is telling when one cannot graciously accept criticism when it is deserved; it is more telling when that person actively seeks to blame other people for their mistakes, because being wrong would shatter their frail delusional world views.

But this is also why scholars publish through peer review and academic presses, rather than self-publishing.  This sort of mistake would have been caught prior to publication had Mr. Ellis thought to go through the rigorous review process–though he may not have wanted to do so, as actual scholars (credible people in the field with strong proficiency in the languages) would have to critique his work and suggest numerous corrections which, ultimately, would have made him look (and feel) foolish.

Mr. Ellis and His Incredible Shrinking Knowledge of Ancient Languages

I’ve brought this up before: Mr. Ellis lacks a grasp of even the very basics of the ancient languages of which he purports to have knowledge.  Here is a screen grab from his book (available as a preview online, for free, here).

ellis2As you can see, this snippet includes the amateurish ‘βαρβαροσ’ mishap.  But what’s more, he suggests that the Latin for beard is ‘barbar’ and that this is somehow connected to the Greek βάρβαρος.  But is it?  Again we see Mr. Ellis does not lack the appropriate knowledge of Latin or Greek to tackle this subject.

First and foremost, the Latin for barbarian is barbaria (nominative case, feminine, 1st declension; essentially a cognate of the Greek).  This can be declined as such:

Sing.

Nom: barbaria
Gen: barbaraeDat: barbarae
Acc: barbariam
Abl: barbariā
Voc: barbaria

Plur.

Nom: barbarae
Gen: barbariārum
Dat: barbariīs
Acc: barbariās
Abl: barbariīs
Voc: barbarae

See a ‘barbar’ there?  No?  Me either.  But what about ‘beard’ in Latin?  Well, Mr. Ellis was close; it isn’t barbar, it is barba (nominative, feminine, 1st declension).  But don’t get your hopes up, as ‘barbar’ is not one of the ways to decline this noun.  In fact the same way one declines barbaria is the same way one declines barba (as they are both feminine, 1st declension nouns).

Sing.

Nom: barba
Gen: barbae
Dat: barbae
Acc: barbam
Abl: barbā
Voc: barba

Plur.

Nom: barbae
Gen: barbārum
Dat: barbīs
Acc: barbās
Abl: barbīs
Voc: barbae

So from whence does Mr. Ellis get ‘barbar?’  The odd thing is that 1st declension is basic Latin 101.  I mean you learn this the first week.  Even the Latin authors don’t use βαρβαρ for beard, but to mock  The only thing I can think of is that Mr. Ellis went to Wiktionary and mistook Catalan for Latin.  There is just no excuse for it.  The word ‘barbar’ does not exist in Latin.  It certainly doesn’t mean ‘beard’ in any case.

But it isn’t just Greek and Latin that Mr. Ellis gets wrong.  Here are some mistakes he makes in his interpretations of the Semitic languages (Mr. Ellis is italicized and quoted, Steve Caruso’s responses are indented).

Mr. Ellis: Likewise, there is no obvious relation between Yakob and James, and yet we know that they are the same name. If you did not have the intermediate forms, how would you know that Yakob was James?

Steve Caruso: Actually, we do. Yakov and James are related thusly:

יעקוב – /ya’-qov/ (Hebrew/Aramaic). The initial name. It means transliterated into:

Ἰάκωβος – /ya-kô-bas (Greek); ע dropped due to it lacking in Greek, -ος ending due to Greek nominative grammar. Transliterated into:

Iacobus – /yah-ko-bus/ (Latin); it split here heading towards the French Jacques /zhaq/, however to get to “James” we must follow a prolific LAtin variant:

Iacomus – /ya-kã-mus/ (late Latin); the B nasalized into M lightening the second vowel which stopped next as:

Iames /yeimz/ later, James /zheimz/ – (French); the the C elided and then dropped due to how Old French into later French constructed syllables. The J in later French stopped sounding like Y and took on the sound /zh/. From here we go finally to:

James /dzeimz/ (English) – Direct transliteration, but different pronunciation as in English of the time J was pronounced /dz/, A in that position in a syllable was pronounced /ey/ after the Vowel Shift, and final S when voiced becomes /z/.

Each and every form along the way here is attested in extant manuscripts and their inter-relation is listed in each era via cognates and other means of cross-identification.

Do you have this paper trail for your perturbations with hundreds of examples? :-)

Mr. Ellis: In reality Yeshua is not the original form of Jesus’ name, because Jesus was not a Judaic Jew.

Steve Caruso: Follow this with me:

ישוע /ye-shu-a’/ – (Aramaic). Meaning “He will save.” Cognate to the Hebrew יהושע /ye-ho-shu-a/ meaning “YHWH will save.” Where the Hebrew forms of many Jewish names are theophoric (specifically Yahwistic) Aramaic forms of these names are not. This was transliterated as:

Ἰησοῦς /yê-sus/ – (Greek). What happened here? Greek cannot express ש /sh/, so it became σ /s/. Greek cannot express ע /`/ within this portion of a word (sometimes χ was used, but it wouldn’t work here with how the vowels fall) so it was dropped. The long ו was represented with the diphthong ου /u/, and the nominative ending -ς /-s/ was added. This then became:

Iesus /yê-sus/ – (Latin). A direct transliteration from the Greek. Each letter equivalent (except for the dropping of ο as in Latin the same sound is merely represented by u; to use /ou/ would give a glided diphthong). It sounds the same. From here it became:

Iesus /yê-sus/ and later Jesus /yê-sus/ – (German). Sounds the same as in Latin and Greek. J in German takes on the sound /y/. From here it landed as:

Iesus /yê-zus/ and later Jesus /dzi-zus/ – (English). Identical spelling, completely different rules of pronunciation. The phonetic value of J settled as /dz/ in English. E in this position within a syllable and word goes from /ê/ to /i/. Finally S becomes voices as /z/ when stuck between vowels.

If, as you contend, we’re starting from “Izas” then we start with the Persian ایزد‎ /i-zad/.

What did that turn into in Greek?

Ἰζάτης /i-za-tês/ – The د was transcribed as τ which is common (as opposed to θ which is commonly used to transcribe softer dentals). Plus the nominative ending -ης /-ês/.

Ἰζάτης /Izates/ bears no resemblance (superficial or etymological) to Ἰησοῦς /Iesous/. Even if you were to shorten it to Ἰζάς /Izas/ it would look even further from Ἰησοῦς /Iesous/.

What about in Hebrew and Aramaic? We find in Bereshit Rabba that Izates is referred to as זוטוס /zotus/ (I’ll even perhaps give זוטיס /zotes/). Not even close.

Jesus is only confusable with Izates when working from selective English transliteration and no euphemism or other device can bridge this wide gap.

Bingo.  Aside from Steve’s gracious deconstruction of Mr. Ellis’ lack of knowledge of Hebrew and Greek here, I want to know what a ‘Judaic Jew’ is–does anyone?  I have never heard this term used, so did he just make it up?  The only thing that remotely makes any sense is that Mr. Ellis is implying that Jesus was not from the region of Judea, but then does he falsely presume that Jews living outside of Judea did not use Hebrew names?  If so, that is one hell of a stretch.  He’d also be wrong, since we have many inscriptions which were written by Jews in the Diaspora that contain Jewish names in Aramaic or Hebrew, but also those which contain Jewish names in Greek–including Ἰησοῦς–and Latin.  Again, this is pretty basic stuff.  What is odd is that Mr. Ellis seems to have just jumped to random conclusions without checking the archaeological evidence (which includes these inscriptions).

greekjewishinscription

Like this one…

inscriptionjesusgreek2

…and this one.

And we have plenty of indications that names varied in families.  Some parents bore Hebrew names while their children bore Greek names.  It depended upon location, level of assimilation, level of acculturation, and other socializing factors that Mr. Ellis does not account for in his various speculations and conspiracies.

These are from William Horbury & David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge University Press: 1992).

These screen captures are from William Horbury & David Noy, Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

So I’m not sure what it is that Mr. Ellis is trying to accomplish with his shuffleboard linguistics, but whatever it is, he is completely wrong on all counts.  And keep in mind, this is only from one section of his book; when you look at the rest of his online content, it is all similar to this nonsense.

Mr. Ellis as a Scholar

Let’s examine his scholarship so far.

Language specialty? No.
Logical Argument? No.
Strict Analysis?  No.

What about his knowledge of scholarship in the field?  Well he fails here too.  Mr. Ellis relies upon dated scholarship (over 100 years old in some instances), like Joseph Thayer (died in 1901), whose work is dated. He thinks this is perfectly acceptable.  It isn’t (and here’s why you should trust nothing prior to 1950 that isn’t validated by modern, contemporary scholarship).

Mr. Ellis’ discussion of βαραββας as βάρβαρος is extremely fringe–it is also wrong (even though the similarities are only superficial–Barabbas is a transliteration of the Aramaic Bar Abbas).  Here is another snippet from Mr. Ellis’ online content about the subject:

The stupid!  ZOMG, the stupid!

In other words, Ellis might as well have said, “I’m just going to make a link here that doesn’t exist and base it entirely on speculation and circumstantial presumptions.” Also note: he gets the ‘final sigma’ right here, so his excuses about ePub’s not accepting Greek font seems to fail.

Those ‘many other commentators’ that argue it means ‘barbarian’?  I can think of no one (see the discussion on Bar Abbas here).  Either Mr. Ellis invented this himself or he is drawing from another conspiracist like him, but I found nothing by any leading scholar on the notion that Barabbas means barbaros.  That doth not bode well.  And his conclusion about the Syriac gospels is just silly; Matthew clearly states that Jesus Barabbas was the full name (no need to go the Syriac gospels) and this is supported by textual critics like the late Bruce Metzger:

Snippet from Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d Rev Ed., Hendrickson Publishers: 2005)

Snippet from Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d Rev Ed., Hendrickson Publishers, 2005)

Note the fact that some of our earliest witnesses relate Jesus Barabbas as ‘son of the teacher/father’.  Early Christians made this connection as early as the author of the Gos. Matthew, which says they were interpreting it this way–there is absolutely no discussion by any early author or interpreter (let alone modern) who sees Barabbas as ‘barbarian’.  Mr. Ellis is sorely lacking in any supporting evidence–just speculation.  And that ain’t evidence, no matter how you paint it.

Mr. Ellis’ Delusional World

At the end of the day, these are pretty amateurish mistakes at best–at worst they are they ramblings of a conspiracy nut who can’t be bothered to fact-check his own work.  What Mr. Ellis doesn’t seem to realize is that by publishing content online and also publishing a book (much of which is online) he has made himself a public figure.  In other words, Mr. Ellis has openly presented his ideas to the world and as a result, his work is now under scrutiny.  It can be critiqued, reviewed, analyzed, or rebuked.

Yet for some reason, Mr. Ellis does not think he deserves to be criticized, nor does he believe his work should be scrutinized.  And this is problematic.  Here are some examples:

Mr. Ellis:you are reviewing a book without having read it, and that is – well – highly unprofessional.

But the bottom line here, is that this Greek font business is yet another baseless criticism, and yet Verenna refuses to withdraw it even after being advised of his error.

This is not my invention, the venerable theologian Joseph Thayer suggest this. You cannot criticise me for quoting a respected theologian.

Mr. Ellis does not seem to realize (though he has been told repeatedly) that I have not ‘reviewed his book’ but commented entirely on his online content.  I have made this clear in every blog post I’ve written about his work from the very start.  His inability to comprehend this basic point is troubling and leaves me with little question this is part of the reason why so many of his conclusions are unsound–if he were more careful with his source material, maybe he’d not be a conspiracy theorist.

Additionally, yes Mr. Ellis, we can criticize you and your work.  As I’ve stated before, you wrote the book and all the online content (I presume), and so you are entirely responsible for it.  You did not submit this to an editor, blind peer review, or even a collection of essays.  You didn’t submit this to anyone with any knowledge of the subject–even basic knowledge–to fact-check and proof your work.  So you cannot use the excuse and blame others for your mistakes.

Take these criticisms seriously and maybe you’ll get somewhere.  Right now, no one in the field is likely to take you or your work very seriously until you take some personal responsibility for your own failed conclusions and shoddy scholarship.

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Some People Need to Fact-Check Better

I’ve said this over and over again; around this time of year, some internet meme will develop about Jesus or Easter or the resurrection and produce some lame fabrication full of untruths and atheists and skeptics  will spread it around social media without doing a shred of fact-checking.  This year, it is this atrocity:

562304_10151521973955155_571208390_n

This image contains many inaccuracies.  Do not rely upon a simple internet search, which yields additional misinformation (indeed, it seems that the creator of this meme is merely copying, almost verbatim, from these websites which are just as clueless).

  • Easter was not ‘originally the celebration of Ishtar’; Easter has always been associated with the equinox, with the dawning of spring; it signifies a change–not in fertility and sex–of seasons and the hope of new beginnings.
  • Despite the images intimations, the name ‘Easter’ did not originate from ‘Ishtar’.  This is a subtle, yet effectively deceptive tactic to get you to think there are similarities between the two due to the similar sounds in English. But comparing two words from different language groups is about as useful as comparing a word in German to a word in Korean for the same reason.
  • The word ‘Easter’ most probably originated from an Anglo-Saxon word Eostre, the name of a goddess of spring and of dawn.
  • The background of the hares are not associated with fertility (which seems to be an association based upon popular belief–not evidence), but may have been associated also with Eostre.
  • Ishtar is also considered a goddess of war; the problem with memes like this is they neglect important information.  In this manner, Ishtar has zero relevance to the Easter tradition–not in name, not in her communal functions.  Certainly this would not have been a good choice for Christians from late antiquity who were arguing for abstinence and celibacy, even in marriages!

The real irony here is that Ishtar is actually somewhat relevant to the Christian tradition of Easter for a completely different reason (i.e., Jesus’s resurrection).  Indeed, the narrative known as the ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World’ is an excellent superficial (key word) comparison of the death and resurrection of a Jesus from antiquity–one that would have been somewhat familiar to Jews living in the region of ANE:

The pure Ereckigala seated herself upon her throne, The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgment before her. They fastened her eyes upon her, the eyes of death. At their word, the word that tortures the spirit. The sick “woman” was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a stake.  After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubur…fills the heavens with complaints for her…. Before Enki he weeps: “O Father Enki, let not thy daughter be put to death in the nether world….” Father Enki answers Ninshubur: “What has happened to my daughter!  I am troubled, what has happened to Inanna…! What has happened to the hierodule of heaven! …Surely Inanna will arise.”  …Inanna arose.  Inanna ascends from the nether world. (Trans. Samuel N. Kramer, ‘Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World,’ in James B. Prichard, ed., ANET, pp. 52-57)

Some important questions need to be asked:

1.Who would have had access to these myths?
2.Who would have been able to read them?
3.Who would have understood them?

It is easy for someone to claim that Inanna is the precursor to the resurrection narrative of Jesus, but such claims are unfounded.  Without any evidence, these are simply correlations–but correlations aren’t causations.  Proving links between two texts can be an almost impossible task (though conspiracy theorists seem to do it anyway).  Even strong cases are sometimes proved irrelevant simply because one text could not have been accessible to the authors of the other text.  So similarities alone do not prove a link. The only thing that can be said is that the motif of a dying and rising deity had existed prior to the figure of Jesus and would have been known by at least some Jewish communities (Inanna cursed Tammuz to the underworld, of whom the author of Ezekiel 8.14 speaks).

So enough of these crazy conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated memes.  There is no basis for these sorts of claims.

Edit: Of course I think everyone needs to fact-check; But so far only atheists have been bold enough to post this image on social media without doing any additional fact-checking. And then when I would challenge these atheists, they would do only a meager Google search and post up whatever results fit the image without checking those results against legitimate sources (like the ODoCC).  So yes, I’m calling them out. You can’t sit there and arrogantly claim enlightened status if you’re just going to forward along dumb memes without making sure they’re accurate first. That is just not right.  You berate Christians for taking things at face value, after all.  Take heed.

Ralph Ellis, Jesus, and his Myth of the King Jesus of Edessa

(This is Part II of the discussion.  For background and Part I, see here)

Mr. Ellis, thanks for responding to my article criticizing your online content and free online chapter of your new edition of your self-published book. I appreciate you supplying me and my readers with more of your superficial “links” between the lay construct you’ve created, an ‘Izas Manu’, and the figure of Jesus. I’ve decided to break down your comment in a post of its own. Frankly, your ignorant misconceptions and amateurish mistakes don’t impress me, but they may mislead people who don’t know any better; one can hardly call this ‘scholarly’ and I’d like to demonstrate exactly why your conclusions are terrible.

You write (and I’m limiting it to this selection because the rest of your conclusions follow from these basic premises):

The historical Izas was called King Izas Manu(el) VI of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews).

The historical Izas-Manu’s father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa.

The historical Izas was a revolutionary who fought the Jerusalem authorities and the Romans.

First of all, your primary argument–that Jesus is actually Izas Manu (a creation whom you equate with three different people)–is patently ridiculous. You are basically suggesting that at least four historical kings (Izates bar Monobaz, Abgar V the Black, Abgar Ma’nu VI, and Abgar bar Manu VIII the Great) from two distinct provinces with separate kings (Edessa in the province of Osroene vs. Arbela in the province of Adiabene) are one and the same person and place respectively. You seem to completely ignore the fact that both of these places exist miles apart (roughly 360 miles/579 km apart, actually). The Tigris river flows between them. The modern town of Edessa (Şanlıurfa) is in Turkey while Arbela (Arbil) is in Iraq. Additionally, these individuals are not one and the same. Abgar bar Manu lived about 200 years after Abgar V and over 120 years after Abgar VI. Your attempt to squeeze these individuals into one figure is beyond questionable. This bizarre conflation dooms your whole argument. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Anyone with eyes can see that this is not the same location.

Here is where your fabricated ‘Izas Manu’ falls apart. You see, Queen Helena was the mother of Izates bar Monobaz–not Abgar VI (again, we’re talking about two different locations separated by 300 miles) and not Abgar bar Manu (two-hundred years separate the two). Let’s break this down together, historical king by historical king, so you can see just how deluded are your conclusions:

  • Helena was not ‘Queen of the Jews’ (also use ‘de facto’ properly next time). She was a Queen and she converted into Judaism. Her son, Izates, converted soon after, but neither of them were Jews by birth, but Persians who became Jewish. So your claim that he was ‘King of the Jews’ is not just wrong, it is absurd. The ‘king’ at this time was Herod Antipas, and that was only in the North, in the region of Galilee–Pontius Pilate ran the southern region of Judea, including Jerusalem; and even Herod wasn’t really a ‘king’, but more of a de facto (see how it is used there?) king–anyone with a basic grasp of the political dynamics of the period could tell you that.
  • Now, Abgar V (note: that says V as in 5, not VI as in 6) reigned in Edessa for a while, but was not crucified. He was a contemporary of when Jesus was supposed to have lived (between the turn of the first century to the middle of the first century, dying around 50-ish) and a very late fictional, pseudepigraphic tradition claims that he called Jesus to him for a conversation after hearing of his deeds and miracles. Also the father of Abgar V was not ‘Abgarus’. Additionally, Moses of Chorene tells a tale of Abgar V going to war with Herod, but this story is late (c. 5th century) and is a fiction (Josephus would have mentioned it, having not been a fan of Herod himself). Additionally, Abgar V does not go to war with Rome.
  • Abgar Ma’nu VI could not be the individual you claim when you state that “The historical Izas was crucified…[and] taken down [from the cross] by Josephus Flavius” since Josephus was living in Rome, as a court historian, probably on the Palatine Hill–far, far away from Edessa (and Palestine, for that matter). In 70-71, when Abgar Ma’nu VI became king, Josephus was on his way to Rome. And in 90-91 when Abgar VI’s rule ended, Josephus was sitting comfortably (probably–chairs back then and all) in his house, paid for by the empire, in Rome, writing his histories and autobiography. He died ten years later. So, no, Abgar VI could not have been crucified and taken down by Josephus–by the way, ‘Flavian’ is the name Josephus adopted after the Jewish War in 70, after he had been granted full citizenship by Titus. Abgar had not yet started his reign when this occurred.
  • Abgar VII is important as he is the one who went to war with Rome, but he did so in the second century, long after Josephus had died and some 40 years after the first Jewish War. This is not the Abgar you’re looking for.
  • Finally, the one Abgar who is alleged to have been killed because of his beliefs, Abgar VIII the Great, was not even a contemporary of Josephus or Jesus. As I said, he lived in the third century and was the first from the Abgar dynasty to become a Christian (and he is remembered as such). His mother was not Helena, he was not the son of Abgarus, he was not crucified and taken down by Josephus, and he never launched a war against Jerusalem.

Now none of this is idle speculation on my part. We have tons of early source material and contemporary attestation, including a discussion from Josephus on Izates and Helena (who died c. 100 CE) and the sarcophagus of Helena herself (with an inscription calling her Sadan–probably a Persian name–dated to the first century CE).

abgar x

The coin image on the cover of Mr. Ellis’ book.

Interestingly, you make a fatal error on the cover of your book, illustrating further your incompetence and your lack of understanding of the distinctions between these individuals. The coin you so boldly declare to be “the coin image of Jesus” is not Abgar the V (the first century Abgar), nor is it Abgar Ma’nu VI (whose VI you use for your Izas creation), nor is it Abgar the Great (Abgar the VIII who is said to have converted to Christianity in the third century)–all of these are the ones who you are conflating, but alas, it is none of them. No, this coin you present on your cover is none other than Abgar the X. Finally! We found an Abgar you don’t intentionally conflate with the rest! This Abgar the X came to the throne following the assassination of Gordian the III; this all occurs decades after the death of Abgar the Great. Your mistake is confusing the two–probably after doing a Google image search for ‘Abgar’ without realizing that there had been more than one (something an amateur might do, but not someone trained in the field by those pesky academic institutions you find so limiting). Let me draw it out for you with pictures:

Abgar X coins

This is the coin minted under Abgar X (242 – 243 CE). On the left is Gordian III and on the right is Abgar X.

1680214

Abgar VIII the Great is on the right holding a scepter, Septimius Severus on the left (197 – 212).

The differences may be subtle to those like you who are untrained (or who lack sense). Abgar VIII holds a scepter in his coin, also there is no star present. Septimius Serverus has a full beard. Your coin from your cover, along with the Abgar X coin, both depict Abgar X without a scepter, star behind his shoulder. Notice also the style of clothing Abgar X is portrayed wearing? A necklace or collar followed by a row of buttons clearly distinguishes this Abgar from the other. Likewise, Gordian III is depicted without facial hair. Additionally, a star is present in front of Gordian III on this coin. So the coin you currently have on your cover does not, in any way, present Abgar VIII (who you probably want–though who can know with this twisted cacophony of kings you’ve molded together into the one you’ve fabricated). Here is a closeup of your coin and an Abgar X coin:

abgar compare

Notice it is an attempt at the exact same design as the Abgar X coin. Stars are there, but no scepter–a dead giveaway.

But you should know all this, shouldn’t you? With your supposed 25+ years of study? Especially since I found the website where you snagged that image of the Abgar X coin:

abgar coin taken from

Also, I’m fairly certain this is a modern reproduction of a real Abgar X coin (i.e., it’s a fake). So not only did you snag the wrong Abgar, but you also used a fake coin. Good job, Mr. Ellis.

And if you bothered to read (or do any research whatsoever), you’d see even the listing for this coin suggests that it is Abgar X, not Abgar the VIII (though maybe you didn’t know the difference until you read this post). Just in case you want to claim that isn’t the same coin, here is a side-by-side comparison:

abgar compare 2

Even the ‘wear’ on the coin is identical. The placing of certain letters with the star, the criss-crossing pattern on the crown, etc… this is the coin.

This is what happens when you fabricate something by meshing multiple historical figures together. ‘Izas Manu’ never existed in history, Mr. Ellis. He is a figment of your imagination. You simply cannot take four separate individuals, over the span of hundreds of years, and lump them together into one without someone calling your bluff.

What have you really done here? Let me quote you again, this time breaking down the different figures in your claims:

The historical Izas (Izates II) was called King Izas (Izates II) Manu(el) (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII) VI of Edessa (not Izates II).

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a defacto King of the Jews (because his mother, Queen Helena, was the defacto Queen of the Jews) (not any from the Abgar dynasty).

The historical Izas (Izates II)-Manu’s (Abgar Ma’nu VI, Agbar bar Manu VIII)father was the same King Abgarus of Edessa. (No one. Ever.)

The historical Izas (Izates II)was a revolutionary (no one) who fought the Jerusalem authorities (Abgar V) and the Romans (Abgar the VII).

Do you see what I’m saying? Of course you do. You have to know this already. There is absolutely no way you can really be this clueless; no one with a brain would dare believe that taking a whole group of people and lumping them into one fictional persona is an innocent endeavor. No one would call that travesty a ‘scholarly book’. It has to be a gimmick; something fraudulent is happening here with what you’re doing. And I’ll gladly expose it for the world to see. It has to be a stunt to sell books and con people out of their hard earned cash or, simply put, you have to be certifiably crazy.

I’ll put it to the reader in an analogy. This is akin to me saying that there was a real guy named Herod Caligula(rus) and then stated that Herod Caligula(rus) went on a vicious rampage in Jerusalem and called upon Jupiter Maximus ten plagues to wipe out the first born sons of Israel, only later to repent after getting drunk off blood-wine and taking his place as King of the Roman Empire.

See how crazy that is? That is exactly how crazy Mr. Ellis’ claims are and, as such, they can be dismissed.

Giorgio Tsoukalos on the Preston and Steve Show

As a former resident of Philadelphia, WMMR is my all time favorite radio station, and the Preston and Steve Show is my favorite morning radio show.  I listen to it every morning on my way to work and, while I sometimes may disagree with what they say, often I find they are fair and rational and funny–very, very funny.  But when I heard this morning that Giorgio Tsoukalos was going to be on the program, I was curious because (a) he is either a charlatan or an idiot and (b) his hypotheses are ridiculous and I don’t think respectable radio shows like the Preston and Steve Show should be giving this guy any legitimacy.  More on this below.

So I tuned in during work hours (with permission) so I could listen to the interview.  And lo and behold, Preston and Steve (and everyone else on the program) were giving this guy all sorts of validation.  As someone who is working towards becoming a historian, as someone who spends countless hours fact-checking and researching and learning ancient languages to better understand the social and cultural evolution and development of these civilizations, Giorgio Tsoukalos is an affront to it all.  And people actually buy into his trash.  They buy his filth and eat it up like it were some gourmet meal.

I took some notes and I’d like to share them with you, my readers, below, and then I’d like to say a few more things about this interview.

1. Nazca Lines

Tsoukalos brought up the Nazca lines.  And while he is talking about this he is saying things like ‘well who did they make these images for?’ and ‘they didn’t have balloons to go up there and see these things’ and other nonsense like that.  The stench of this man’s bullscat is sickening.  First, just because we don’t know how something happened doesn’t mean we can just leap to the conclusion ‘therefore aliens’. This is not how historians and archaeologists find answers.  Making this incredible leap it is how we substitute fiction and myth for answers.   It is no different than when a fundamentalist Christian will say ‘we don’t know, therefore god did it.’  It is intellectually lazy because it basically suggests that we should just stop looking for answers and blindly accept the ‘aliens guided the process’ argument based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

What is worse, however, is that we do know something about the Nazca lines and who made them: they were made by people.  Humans who have the ability to conceptualize, plan, and execute an idea.  What Tsoukalos is actually saying is that they don’t believe humans could have conceptualized such a feat and put it to action without some exterior force guiding them.  But again this is silly.

We know that ancient civilizations–even primitive ones–were full of smart people who were both mathematically inclined (i.e., they started to develop an aptitude for advanced math, which of course was part of their evolutionary processes, both culturally and physically, which made them more apt at engineering these great feats).  And we know that they used a large manual labor force to build.  The Nazca lines took years to make with a large labor force and quite likely the engineers behind the process used grid layouts to create them (much like how crop circles are made today).  There is no need to fabricate an alien authority or overlord, when humans are more than capable of developing and using these tools themselves, probably for religious purposes (based on the archaeological and anthropological findings in the area, it seems like this area was a religious  mecca for the Nazca).  This is discussed in more detail below.

2. Cultural Explosion:

Another falsity that Tsoukalos brings up is that there was this supposed cultural explosion around the world.  But he is grossly misinformed (or he is just lying).  Despite what he says, cultures around the world were not ‘jump started’; real archaeologists and historians see a gradual progression of development. Culture did not just spring forth from the ground ex nihilo, but had humble beginnings and took thousands of years.

Again, Tsoukalos is just inventing things here or he doesn’t actually know the facts.  Not only did there exist a gradual progression of development but this development happened at different times, in different ways, through a series of different evolutionary processes.  Let’s just take one example (of the many I could provide), the pyramids.

He has been quoted as saying that the alien astronauts ‘gave us the nudge’ we needed to build them.  But in fact this is just more speculation.  Anyone with a background in Egyptian engineering can show a direct linear progression from what were essentially burial mounds to more complex structures, all the way to the pyramids.

Starting from the top left to the bottom right, the progression of the pyramid was a slow one, taking hundreds of years. Originally, just a simple burial mound was the custom. But as the culture grew and civilization expanded, they built mastabas over them. These mastabas became more complex and grew taller, with step-pyramids and finally the bent pyramid, ending with the pyramid design we are familiar with today.

Again, the slightest bit of research is all it takes to discount his entire theory!  In fact the construction of the great pyramids used the engineering features that worked in earlier pyramid types (like the function of building a wide base at the bottom to a narrow base on top, or using the ‘step’ pattern from the ‘stepped-pyramid’ design to construct the bent-pyramids and great pyramids).  See below:

You can see the ‘stepped’ features in this Bent-Pyramid design, under the smoothed finish.

Again, the same construction features, except with that final ‘pyramid’ shape.

The unfortunate thing about Tsoukalos’ perspective is it essentially presupposes that humans are incapable of cultural evolution which flies in the face of all known human history, which rests entirely upon the development of culture and social groups.  It presupposes that we needed another being (instead of ‘Ra’, Tsoukalos uses ‘alien’, but one might as well use ‘leprechaun’ or ‘fairy’ or ‘snarfwidget’ because they are all speculative, intellectually lazy examples of people just inventing an outside intelligence to take credit for human evolutionary processes).

But then he and his ilk take it to the next level by suggesting that, since pyramids exist on different continents, built by different people, then there must have been some ancient alien presence guiding it all.  But they don’t take into account the various differences in cultural stages throughout every continent.  They presume that since the end result is ‘pyramids’ they all were built around the same time, which is simply false.

Take into account the largest pyramid in the world, the Great Pyramid of Cholula.  Initial construction began in the 3rd century BCE (about 2200 years ago), and was built over the course of hundreds of years, with various phases of construction occurring throughout, finally completed in the 9th century CE (1200 years ago).   This is a relatively late pyramid, despite its magnitude, when compared to the Great Pyramid of Giza which was constructed over 4500 years ago, which is over 2300 years before construction began in Cholula!   And subsequently the majority of other ‘pyramid-types’ from around the world came later and later.  The only exception are the ziggurats of many ancient Near Eastern civilizations, some of which were built as early as the fourth millennium BCE.

But Tsoukalos, et al, will not tell you about the problem of dating; they want you to falsely believe that the pyramids were comfortably built by civilizations across the globe all around the same time.  This is the trouble with these sorts of crazy hypotheses.  They suggest the exact opposite of what is archaeologically known about these structures.

Tsoukalos likes to use the word ‘primitive’; we were just too ‘primitive’ to do anything right.  They insist that we were so unsophisticated and backwards that we couldn’t possibly have built these amazing structures ourselves.  However the record suggests the opposite is true. Indeed, one has to wonder where Tsoukalos learned the English language.  ‘Primitive’ has a lot of definitions, but all of them are fairly technical and specific.  At the point when we started building pyramids, during the 3rd millennium BCE, the Bronze Age, man was far from primitive.  ‘Primitive’ humans may be those humans who lived during the stone age or before.  But at the time of the 3rd millennium BCE, man had already developed a strong cultural structure for themselves.  Written language, beer, agriculture, metalwork, advanced conceptual thinking and story telling, laws, mathematics (base 60), astronomy, and so on.  And perhaps most important, we did not just suddenly ‘appear’ like this.  Man didn’t one day gain these skills sui generis, that is to say, humanity hadn’t just started to gain culture, it was entrenched in it.   That we gained this sophistication over a long period of time and built these structures after a steady, but noticeable, cultural progression is nothing new to anyone who has done the slightest bit of research.

This is most obvious when looking at archaeological discoveries.  We didn’t go from the stone age to the iron age over the course of a few generations–it took thousands of years, mainly with the innovation of new ore smelting techniques (going from the Copper Age, to the Bronze Age, to the Iron Age).  And within these ages are various sub-phases of cultural development.  For example the ancient Near Eastern bronze Age spans as thus: Early Bronze Age I – Late Bronze Age IIB took 2100 years and the progression, while slow, was noticeable enough to determine which stage of cultural evolution occurred at which point and belonged to which designation within said age.  And throughout the world, these stages happened at different times, at different rates, all of which depended upon a variety of factors (there is no such thing as a ‘universal bronze age/iron age’).

This absolutely destroys the case for ancient astronaut theory as laid out by Tsoukalos.  If there had been an alien hand guiding us, you would see something completely different.  The archaeological record would show a universal change at the same time rather than a series of slow progressions over time in various locations.  One would expect exactly what these people are claiming; one would expect to find pyramids being built at the same time, in the exact same manner, in the exact same way, functioning exactly the same way.  But we don’t.  The pyramids in South America don’t at all resemble the pyramids in Egypt; nor do they serve the same function (i.e., Mesoamerican pyramids functioned as step-pyramids with a temple at the top, whereas Egyptian pyramids were burial structures for royalty).  Why?  Because they were not constructed by aliens nor were they built by humans with the guided hand of aliens.  They were constructed by various types of peoples, from all over the world, at different times, for different reasons, to serve different purposes.

3. Ancient Astronaut ‘Reasoning’

During the interview, Tsoukalos states that he is giving us ‘his facts’.  It may be that Tsoukalos is giving us his approximation of facts, within his own delusional worldview, but in reality he doesn’t have ‘facts’.  What Tsoukalos has is a series of speculative claims based upon pseudo-correlations between poor understandings of the past.  His case is so terrible that he has no factual grounding to stand on.  It is just all fiction.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to realize this or he is intentionally being dishonest.  The way Tsoukalos forms his conclusions is quite similar to other pseudoscholarship, like the absurd Hold Blood, Holy Grail people, or the Zeitgeist mythers who draw crazy correlations with limited (or without any) supporting data and then propose these bizarre special-case scenarios and claim, after they are done, that what they have is a ‘fact’.  Bob Price breaks this down beautifully while engaging all the flaws and fallacies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in his The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth is Stranger than Fiction (New York: Prometheus, 2005), 23-4:

Despite their indefatigable research, motivated no doubt by true scholarly zeal, these authors seem unacquainted with inductive historical method.  They proceed instead, as they themselves recount the evolution of their hypothesis, more in a novelistic fashion, just like their recent disciple Dan Brown.  That is, Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln constantly connect the dots of data provided by medieval chronicles and such, linking them with the cheap Scotch tape of one speculation after another: “What if A were really B?”  “What if B were really C?”  “It is not impossible that…”  “If so-and-so were the case, this would certainly explain this and that.”  These are the flashes of imaginative inspiration that allow fiction writers like Dan Brown to trace out intriguing plots.  It is essentially a creative enterprise, not one of historical reconstruction.

Indeed, Price hits the nail on the head (even if you don’t agree with everything else he says).  The same should be said for Tsoukalos and his ilk on the History Channel who produce shows like Ancient Aliens.  Tsoukalos’ points seem cogent and reasonable if you have absolutely no background knowledge of the past, if you do no followup research, if you let him guide you along his fictional narrative.  And it is a narrative, don’t let his flashy hair distract you from this.  Case in point:

His whole position is based on ‘possibility’ but ‘possibility’ is a lose term to use when you have no supporting data, and your position instead contradicts every other known fact or data point out there.  Then such a thing is not possible.  Then you’re just wrong.

Tsoukalos and others like him also seem to suffer from extreme cases of pareidolia where they see images that resemble, artificially, modern objects or modern concepts and then presume, from that point, that these must be depictions of modern technology in antiquity.  And they argue, much in the way Price demonstrates above, that since modern technology couldn’t exist in antiquity, these must be depictions of alien technology that the ancient ‘primitives’ simply didn’t grasp.  See the problem with such an argument?

Here are some more ‘arguments’ from Tsoukalos:

Anyone who suggests that ‘we were building pyramids’ at the time that Sumeria was ‘being created’ (even if he meant ‘was being settled’, this would still be wrong since the region of Sumer was settled at least 1300 years prior to the first pyramids) should not be talking about history.

4. Conclusions: Caveat Emptor

I have always felt as though the Preston and Steve Show did their best to weed out the trash from the lot.  Of course I know that ratings come first, and yes Ancient Aliens is a ratings-grabber because, like most bunk controversial hypotheses, they sell.  But I was incredibly disappointed today in the overall thrust of the show.  I was expecting some hard-hitting questions.  I wanted to hear someone go, ‘Ok, come on!  You cannot be serious!  Aliens?!’  Instead I heard a lot of parroted agreements from the team.

Sensibility died a little today.  And the tragedy here is that real historians, who work in museums, or educate our students in academic institutions, or who spend time in far away countries (or even this one) doing digs to discover the truth, are completely ignored by the Preston and Steve show.  Did they bother inviting on a credible scholar of ancient Near Eastern history (like anyone at ASOR?! ) to participate in the conversation?  It isn’t like there aren’t a handful of excellent universities in the area (Rutgers, UPenn, Temple, Ursinus, etc…); they could have invited any number of experts on the show with which to discuss this issue.  Did they invite Bob Cargill onto the program?  Cargill, for those who don’t know, is a scholar who not only opposes ‘Ancient Astronaut theory’ but also appeared in the first season of Ancient Aliens but was cut out of following seasons because, I can only assume, he made more sense than Tsoukalos who produces the show.

I will still listen to Preston and Steve, that won’t stop over this.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But I wish they would do something to make amends for this error.  They should bring on someone to set the record straight.  Thousands of listeners tuned in to listen to Tsoukalos spout his bullscat and many probably will believe what he said without question, because in our society most people don’t bother fact-checking their sources (which is why there are still people out there who think The Onion is a real news source–seriously).  Tsoukalos had a free pass to spread his fiction to those listeners and I believe that Preston and Steve have a duty, an ethical obligation, to rectify this.

And to those who are yet unconvinced of my opinions on ‘Ancient Astronaut Theory’, I issue this caveat emptor: believe what you want, it is a free country.  But history is not a boring subject you fell asleep in during High School.  History the the chronicle of all of society’s memories.  It is a compendium of humanity–what it means to be ‘human’.  As a historian, one is tasked with maintaining these memories–just as your brain is tasked with keeping your memories intact, undamaged, available for use–for your future survival.  History may not repeat itself, but people who fail to heed the past are doomed to repeat it.  What Tsoukalos is doing, what he is suggesting you do, is replace that humanity.  To remove what it means to be human and substitute it with ‘Alien’.  His version of the past will destroy the substance of humanity, and in its place will be little green men.  Think I’m being overzealous here?   Maybe.  But let the buyer beware.

Further Resources:

Animal Planet’s Mermaid Special and History Documentaries

If you are like me (and have a masochistic interest in watching pseudo-scientific documentaries) then you probably watched Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found over the weekend. And if you were like me, you probably knew that it was fake. You could tell just from the commercials, before the documentary aired, that there was something completely bunk about it (like the fact that it claims mermaids are real, for instance–usually sends up red flags for me). They even made a rather subtle disclaimer:

Although they were not very clear on which parts were fiction and which were based on ‘real science’. See below for details.

However, if you weren’t like me, you probably thought the documentary made a very compelling case and were convinced by its conclusions. Well, sorry to say, you were fooled (FOX News seems to think the doc was genuine). As reported by MSNBC:

If you were unnerved over the holiday weekend by Animal Planet’s special “Mermaids: The Body Found,” take a deep breath. It’s OK to go back in the water again, and you can quit eyeing your copy of “The Little Mermaid” suspiciously.

The two-hour program is fiction, but it’s presented in documentary style, with actors playing scientists who claim to have found the body of a mermaid on a Washington state beach.

via TV & Entertainment News – Reviews, Rumors, Gossip – The Clicker | TODAY.com Blogs – Were you fooled by Animal Planet’s mermaid special?.

While I was watching the documentary, the producers did some very interesting things. They used CGI to produce long segments of content (specifically about the ‘Aquatic Ape theory‘), they used real science (complete with DNA analysis, cellular analysis, the link between dolphins and humans, certain interesting evolutionary attributes of humans, and gave it credibility by using agencies like NOAA), drew upon real coverups (like the Navy’s coverup of sonar equipment testing which led to several beachings like the one in North Carolina), counted on the value of internet information (i.e., viral videos and the trust many people have in internet underground media), and also attempted to link mermaids culturally using archaeology and art history. They even used an image of a cave painting (completely CGI’d, of course) where humans and mermaids were either fighting or working together or something, but it is based on real cave paintings.

The CGI’d Mermaid cave art (left) is structured on cave art from places like the Lascaux Caves (middle) and San art in the Karoo, South Africa (right).

Behind the guise of credibility, the falsity–that mermaids are real–was neatly presented in a manner through which many of us have become accustomed: sound bites and edited clips. While I watched the production, I was on the net reading responses. Some were skeptical right away, as they rightly should have been. Many of the claims were debunked during the airing (like the fact that IMDB listed actors who played the roles of the scientists) and the website linked to the film, which has a fake DOJ/Homeland Security Seize order (determined to be fake just by looking at the name of the file under the page info). A quick Google search yielded no reference to a mass beaching in Washington or in South Africa during the years mentioned in the film. No intricately carved spearheads made of stingray tails and spines were found.

And while some were skeptical, many–too many–were persuaded (read the comments, some commenters believe that the government paid people to talk down the show!). They were persuaded even when the documentary presented itself as a fiction (at the end of the doc). Twitter is still blowing up with comments about how ‘mind blowing’ the doc was; it is downright upsetting that so many have bought into this fiction without even verifying their information. The most Wikipedia said about it during the airing was that it was a ‘mockumentary’, with no real discussion about the film until some time later the next day. Comments on blogs and on hype videos were full of people just accepting the conclusions of the film. And it reminded me of an episode of Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (because I love this show, even if they play up/hype the fakes a little for production value) where they faked a video of a lizard man and posted it on Youtube, and people claimed they had seen this very faked lizard man, and that clearly the thing was real (even though the team fabricated the whole thing).

This is why shows like Ghost Hunters are popular. When you produce a show well, and focus on your audience by feeding them semi-factual information and information which seems like it should be possible, they will more than likely accept your conclusions. Films about the historical Cain and Abel, the Shroud of Turin, Jesus nails, Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, Mary Magdalene, Atlantis, and others use this very same formula to produce believable stories which, unfortunately, are based mostly (or wholly) on fiction. Ancient Aliens is another presentation just like this. They prey on their audiences ignorance.

In the end, I enjoyed Mermaids: The Body Found, because I knew what I was going to be watching–I knew it was fiction and just made for entertainment. I thought a lot of the (faked) evidences were cleverly conceived and tied together. It was entertaining, the acting was decent (sometimes it was excellent) and if Mermaids did exist (don’t worry, they don’t) you would expect this sort of evidence to exist–you would need exactly this sort of extraordinary evidence in order to prove it. So I thought that was very interesting. The paranoid operative who remained anonymous was a good touch–really hammered home the fun factor for me. But I worry about those who are not as skeptical as I am; those who would watch it and accept it at face value instead of doing any additional research. That this happens with a documentary about mermaids–mermaids–is worrisome. Because when it comes to figures like Moses, or Adam and Eve, or even Jesus, I know people will be less likely to challenge what they see and more readily acclimated to accept what they see at face value.

So hopefully, maybe, this docufiction will be a lesson to everyone. We’ll just have to wait and see.


UPDATE (5/31/12):
Right now the twitter feed is blowing up at #mermaids; right now the show is re-airing and people still think, three days later, that it is a real documentary.  I’m talking hundreds of people on twitter really bought into this, without doing the slightest bit of research.  Hopefully someone is reading this and will pass this article along.

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