The Secret History of the World

Tue May 25 2010

So I was reading Boing Boing the other day, when I ran across this little tidbit about odd books. I wasn’t actually reading Boing Boing itself; I was reading their feed. But there was something about this post that made me want to see the comments.


So among the comments chastising the tres hip Boing Boing for carrying a post about something as outré as a list of odd books (in the Weird category, no less), there is a comment to the effect that “The Secret History of the World looks like great fun!”

Reader, it isn’t.

I love goofy books that purport to explain the secret of origins of things. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail long before The Da Vinci Code came out (so I knew who Dan Brown had been cribbing from). And who didn’t love Foucault’s Pendulum?

The Secret History of the World starts off well enough. In the introduction, Mark Booth, the author (who uses the name Jonathan Black as well– go figure) talks about working in a publishing house where he meets a man who seems to know a lot about the Mystery Schools. At one point Mystery Man offers to introduce him to some people. Our hero demurs partly out of fear, but mostly because he wants to tell us the story without breaking any oaths.

It may be that some people will read The Secret History of the World as a guide to esoteric knowledge. It may come as a shock to some that Christianity has roots in older traditions, or that many cultures share similar stories. Anyone who has looked up at the winter sky and sees Orion must wonder whether other cultures saw a hunter there as well and what they made of it. (OK, not the people in the southern hemisphere, but go with me.)

I was hoping for a story that wove the strands of different traditions together. That’s the book I was hoping to read. Instead we bounce back and forth between the Greeks, the Hindu myths, Sumerians, and, of course, the Judaeo-Christian myths.

That’s when I started to have problems with the book. See, the Hebrew Bible is one of those things I know a little bit about. So it bothered me that he spoke of “the Bible” without clarifying whether he was talking about the New or Old Testaments. There’s a difference you know. When he spoke of “two creation stories,” I thought “Surely he means the different stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.” But no. He meant John 1, which is not really a creation story at all.

Then he gets all excited that Elohim is, OMG, plural! If you press biblical scholars hard enough, he says, they’ll concede that Elohim is plural. This, he continues, is evidence of multiple gods that the church is trying to suppress. Never mind that that particular book predates the church. And never mind that Hebrew has words like mayim (water) that are nominally plural or that it uses plurals to denote superlatives.

It was when he got to the Nephilim, though, that I decided to give up. It wasn’t because he crowed that it was a place where the bible’s pagan roots were showing; everyone knows that. It wasn’t because of his speculation that the Nephilim were fallen angels; everyone knows that, too. No, it was this sentence, which I present verbatim and with its original italics:

The angels who became sexually attracted to human women are none other than the gods of Olympus.

None other. Obviously.