Zechariah Sitchin’s Contribution to PaleoBabble

L. A. Marzulli recently asked me to contribute to a newsletter he has created. I naturally agreed since he wanted some thoughts on the work of Zecharia Sitchin. Here’s my short contribution for PaleoBabble readers:

Zecharia Sitchin: Why You Can Safely Ignore Him

Although the name Erich von Däniken may be more familiar, Zecharia Sitchin is arguably the most important proponent of the ancient astronaut hypothesis over the last several decades. One cannot go into a Barnes & Noble and not find his books prominently displayed in the New Age section. Why? Because both Sitchin and his readers have cast him as something von Däniken is not: a scholar of ancient languages and texts. Sitchin’s name therefore carries academic authority in defense of the idea that extraterrestrials visited earth millennia ago, spawning the human race through genetic manipulation and fostering civilization’s major advancements, including Judaism and Christianity. That may sound silly, but tens of millions of readers take it seriously. But should they?

One of the advantages Sitchin has had over his career is the fact that few people could question his “translations” of ancient Sumerian tablets or the Hebrew Bible, or some obscure Aramaic text. He had readers over an academic barrel, not because his work was academically sound, but because these fields are so arcane. Realistically, how many people do this sort of work?

The answer is “not many,” but I’m one of them.  Since 2001 I’ve tried to alert people to the fact that Sitchin is no expert in any ancient language. If he was, certain things would be transparent and true.

First, scholars provide their credentials to the public, not for the purpose of boasting, but to enable the non-specialist to verify expertise. It might sound trite, but this is one of the reasons doctors, lawyers and auto mechanics put diplomas, licenses, and certifications on their office wall. The public needs to know the one rendering a service is competent and willing to be examined for expertise. Sitchin has no credentials and has never offered any. All we have is the foreword to his books describing him as a journalist and an expert in a range of ancient languages. Just because his publisher markets his work well doesn’t mean it’s true. What Sitchin should do is tell us where he got his training so readers can verify his credentials.1

Second, genuine scholars don’t make mistakes in their areas of expertise that a trainee or beginner would commit. The ancient language blunders committed by Sitchin are truly startling. I’ve documented Sitchin’s inability to tell Aramaic from Hebrew, to understand simple Hebrew grammatical features (e.g., subject-verb agreement), and the fact that the Sumerians and Mesopotamians would disagree with his interpretation of their own vocabulary.  This last example is the easiest for non-specialists to follow and judge Sitchin. The Mesopotamian scribes who inherited and utilized the Sumerian script for their own written language (Akkadian) created bilingual dictionaries (called “lexical lists” by scholars) between their language and Sumerian.  Akkadian is very well known (it is related to Hebrew) and so we can get firsthand definitions to Sumerian words.  Simply put, they are at odds with Sitchin’s phony translations.

Third, bona fide scholars are driven by the desire to be accurate. Hopefully the motivation is honesty, but at the very least, scholars know that other members of their guild will see their work and judge its quality. In academia this is called “peer review.” Scholars who want to contribute to their field offer articles and books that will be reviewed and publicly critiqued by their peers. Peer review is critical in fields like medicine since the ideas put forth in medical journals can mean life or death. That may not be the case in ancient studies, but peer review is the primary means to validate quality scholarship. A simple author search in a religion or humanities database available at any college or public library will reveal that Zecharia Sitchin has never put his theories forward in scholarly publications where they can be reviewed by experts in the fields in which he is supposed to be expert. Instead, he writes for the non-specialist who cannot evaluate his work. That Sitchin has no peer-reviewed publications is an indictment on his desire to have his work tested, and perhaps even his ability to write anything that experts would not think ridiculous.

Lastly, real scholars are careful with how they note and represent the work of others. Followers of Sitchin love to point out that he quotes a number of books written by Sumerian and Mesopotamian scholars, but they miss two important items: Sitchin often does not record full titles or page numbers (so he can be checked), and he to date has offered no instances where the scholars whose books he quotes agree with his extraterrestrial interpretations. It is simply dishonest to quote a Sumerian scholar in regard to the birth of Sumerian civilization and then later claim that source backs up his work in other regards. This is to create a façade of academic approval where none exists.

Should you worry about Sitchin’s vast output in defense of ancient astronauts? Only if you prefer to base your worldview on data that contains outright errors, or doesn’t exist, or that has never been subject to the scrutiny of knowing peers. The emperor simply doesn’t have any clothes.

  1. I wouldn’t ask Sitchin to do anything I wouldn’t do, and so I have had my resume online since the beginning.

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  • blop2008

    “Sitchin often does not record full titles or page numbers (so he can be checked), and he to date has offered no instances where the scholars whose books he quotes agree with his extraterrestrial interpretations”

    I have not read one book from Sitchin, but did hear and read about his books in many places online, including Mike Heiser’s site and Coast to Coast AM.

    Anyways, the above quote reminds me of the Watchtower :-) Sad….

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  • stevefairc

    Dear Mike
    I look forward to you one day going on Coast to Coast AM and laying down the academic gauntlet.
    You then telling listeners exact quotes from Stitchins books and you then countering them with pure academic reasoning.
    Is it not time someone of your calibre really speaks to the masses.
    Go for it Mike. Millions will benefit.

  • MSH

    @stevefairc: I’ve actually been on C2C over a dozen times. Only once or twice was the topic specifically Sitchin, though George (Noory) enjoys the topic and frequently throws a question or two on that in my direction no matter what we’re talking about. On my first appearance with Art Bell, way back in 2001 as I recall, Art asked if I would debate Sitchin on his show. I said yes, of course, but we never heard from Sitchin. It’s not hard to figure out why — he has nothing to gain and, like I said in the post, he’s smarter than his supporters.

  • Shooty McBang

    This is the first time that I have visited this site and although the “Sitchin” thread lead me here, I must say that I am not remotely qualified to offer an opinion on Mr. Sitchin or his theories. My particular comment is not about him or his works, but are in the realm of what I consider to be ” beings or entities ” that are not earthly in origin. Please understand that I am not formally educated and in no way want to debate an issue. I am just seeking a little guidance and/or an opinion.

    I live in central California, in the foothills of the Sierras, in a small town called Jamestown. Since the beginning of January of this year(2009), I have been photographing these”things” in the sky. All of these photos are taken from my yard at nighttime. As I am writing this I have well over a thousand still photos and many, many video snippets. They are there without fail every night.

    Now, I have seen them on you tube and other various sites and they are always denoted as “orbs”. But I have yet to see any of them that were depicted as any thing other than light or “energies”. I have on the other hand been able to crop and work with these photos that I have captured, to where there is visible reptile looking creatures in the photo graphs. It is important for me to state that all of the photos that I have done anything to have the original photos to make a point of reference.I have put all of them (except for the ones in the last month or so ) on a disc and would love to have some one that may have some knowledge in this area view them. Earlier in the year I sent some prints to Linda Molten Howe, and I just know she is so busy that the prints may not have gotten her attention.

    I would be more than willing to submit these (any/all) photos for review, If you know any one that may be interested in seeing them. They don’t even have to worry about returning them . I just would like to get a worthy skeptic”s point of view. I could write volumes on these things, but will not take up too much of your time.

    If you would like to contact me, you may do so at the e-mail address that I logged in on. My Name is David Vogt and I thank you for having this forum for topics like this to be discussed.

    Respectfully, David Vogt

  • MSH
  • JM

    Who are you to judge anyone?!

  • MSH

    @JM: So, you *want* to be lied to . . . ?

  • Josh

    I am glade someone in academia has taken it upon himself to debunk this fraud. My father has been completely wraped up in Sitchin’s nonsense for several years now. I kept telling him to go to sitchiniswrong.com, but he never did. I then basically forced him to watch some of your videos on youtube that described how Sitchin made many simple gramatical errors that showed neither he nor any of cronies were correct. I think it might have helped him see the light a little bit. It really is dangerous how people seem to blindly follow snakeoil salesmen. I wonder what your thoughts are on the Ancient Alien T.V. shows that the History Channel plays all the time. Some of that mess isn’t even pseudoscience. They also have a complete lack of rebuttal from rational scientist.

    • MSH

      thanks – but realize that for many, Sitchin is their religion.

  • http://www.charlesfrith.com Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith)

    The subject is nuanced. Both the writer of this article and Sitichins were misinformation and disinformation respectively. The latter is much more serious crime though less so if not a real academic.

    • MSH

      So enlighten us to where things are wrong, rather than giving us such unspecific comments. Otherwise, it comes across as sophistry.