Origin of the Species, From an Alien View

If you’re going to ask Zecharia Sitchin, be ready for a 'Planet of the Apes' scenario: spaceships and hieroglyphics, genetic mutations and mutinous space aliens in gold mines.

It sounds like science fiction, but Mr. Sitchin is sure this is how it all went down hundreds of thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia. Humans were genetically engineered by extraterrestrials, he said, pointing to ancient texts to prove it.

In Mr. Sitchin’s Upper West Side kitchen, evolution and creationism collide. He is an apparently sane, sharp, University of London-educated 89-year-old who has spent his life arguing that people evolved with a little genetic intervention from ancient astronauts who came to Earth and needed laborers to mine gold to bring back to Nibiru, a planet we have yet to recognize.

Outlandish, yes, but also somehow intriguing from this cute, distinguished old man whom you may have seen shuffling slowly down Broadway with his cane, and thought, “Is Art Carney still alive?”

So you bring your laptop to his kitchen table, as if to take dictation, and ask what to write about him. He pads slowly to the stove and puts on the kettle.

“Well, you could start by calling me the most controversial 89-year-old man in New York,” Mr. Sitchin says. “Or you could just say I write books. I understand you’ve got to have an opening sentence, but describing my theories in a sentence, or even something like a newspaper article, is impossible. It will make me look silly.”

Mr. Sitchin has been called silly before — by scientists, historians and archaeologists who dismiss his theories as pseudoscience and fault their underpinnings: his translations of ancient texts and his understanding of physics. And yet, he has a devoted following of readers.

His 13 books, with names like 'Genesis Revisited' and 'The Earth Chronicles', have sold millions of copies and been translated into 25 languages. “And Albanian is coming,” he notes, spooning the Taster’s Choice into two mugs.

Mr. Sitchin himself represents a remarkable feat of urban evolution that often goes unnoticed. He lives alone, in the sprawling prewar apartment he has inhabited for 54 years, maintaining his independence by relying on the infrastructure many Manhattanites take for granted.

He works away on his latest book, answers fan mail, and at midday, reaches for his cane, floppy hat and overcoat, and rides the elevator down from the second floor to the lobby. The doorman hails him a cab for the $4 ride to a nearby diner, Cafe Eighty Two on Broadway, for the lunch special, the chicken gyro, where there are other elderly people doing the same.

The Upper West Side is Mr. Sitchin’s Mesopotamia, Broadway a fertile valley. He has Lincoln Center, Zabar’s, Fairway, dry cleaners that deliver and a galaxy of take-out restaurants. For research, the New York Public Library is down on 42nd Street, and the archives of the Jewish Theological Seminary up on Broadway at 122nd Street.

“In Florida, if you don’t have a car, you might as well lay down and die,” he said. “I’ve been all over the Western world and I know of no other place where an older person like myself can survive on his own. I raise my hand, and my chauffeured car — a yellow cab — takes me anywhere. I can call any restaurant or store and get what I need delivered in minutes.”

He slides over a cup of coffee in a mug with a 30th anniversary logo for 'The Twelfth Planet', his seminal first book, now in its 45th printing. It stated his basic theory, based largely on his reading of texts preserved on clay tablets from the pre-Babylonian era in ancient Mesopotamia, the so-called cradle of the civilization of Sumer.

Born in Russia and raised in Israel, Mr. Sitchin studied economics in London and worked as a journalist and editor in Israel before moving to New York in 1952. Here, he was an executive at a shipping company and, with his wife of 66 years (she died in 2007), raised two daughters. He spent his free time studying, leading archaeological tours to ancient sites and spreading his unusual gospel.

Starting in childhood, he has studied ancient Hebrew, Akkadian and Sumerian, the language of the ancient Mesopotamians, who brought you geometry, astronomy, the chariot and the lunar calendar. And in the etchings of Sumerian pre-cuneiform script — the oldest example of writing — are stories of creation and the cosmos that most consider myth and allegory, but that Mr. Sitchin takes literally.

In his kitchen, Mr. Sitchin pulled two Danish out of a Zabar’s bag and began to explain. It starts with the planet Nibiru, whose long, elliptical orbit brings it near Earth once every 3,600 years or so. The planet’s inhabitants were technologically advanced humanlike beings, Mr. Sitchin said, standing about nine feet tall. Some 450,000 years ago, they detected reserves of gold in southeast Africa and made a colonial expedition to Earth, splashing down in what is now the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Sitchin said these Nibiru-ites recruited laborers from Earth’s erect primates to build eight great cities. Enki, who became the Sumerians’ god of science, bestowed some of the Nibiru-ites’ advanced genetic makeup upon these bipeds so they could work as miners.

This is how Mr. Sitchin explains what scientists attribute to evolution. He says the aliens’ cities were washed away in a great flood 30,000 years ago, after which they began passing on their knowledge to humans. He showed a photograph of a woodcarving from 7,000 B.C. of a large man handing over a plow to a smaller man: Ah, the passing on of agricultural knowledge. Anyway, he said, the Nibiru-ites finally jetted home in their spacecraft, around 550 B.C.

“This is in the texts; I’m not making it up,” Mr. Sitchin said, finishing his coffee. “They wanted to create primitive workers from the homo erectus and give him the genes to allow him to think and use tools.”

He showed photographs of ancient Sumerian carvings and etchings showing what he said were alien gods dressed in space helmets and suits. He pointed to something he called Nibiru in diagrams of the solar system.

Quite a theory — has he sold it to Hollywood?

“Oh no, not yet,” he said solemnly. “I’m waiting for Spielberg.”

Source: New York Times