The work of Zecharia Sitchin was brought to my attention in 2001, shortly after I completed my book, The Facade. As a trained scholar in ancient Semitic languages with a lifelong interest in UFOs and paranormal phenomena, I was naturally enthused about Mr. Sitchin's studies, particularly since I had also heard he was a Sumerian scholar. I thought I had found a kindred spirit. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Zecharia Sitchin is not a scholar of ancient languages. What he has written in his books could neither pass peer review nor is it informed by factual data from the primary sources. I have yet to find anyone with credentials or demonstrable expertise in Sumerian, Akkadian, or any of the other ancient Semitic languages who has positively assessed Mr. Sitchin's academic work.
The reader must realize that the substance of my disagreement is not due to "translation philosophy," as though Mr. Sitchin and I merely disagree over possible translations of certain words. When it comes to the Mesopotamian sources, what is at stake is the integrity of the cuneiform tablets themselves, along with the legacy of Sumer and Mesopotamian scribes. Very simply, the ancient Mesopotamians compiled their own dictionaries - we have them and they have been published since the mid-20th century. The words Mr. Sitchin tells us refer to rocket ships have no such meanings according to the ancient Mesopotamians themselves. Likewise when Mr. Sitchin tells readers things like the Sumerians believed there were twelve planets, the Anunnaki were space travelers, Nibiru was the supposed 12th planet, etc., he is simply fabricating data. It isn't a question of how he translates texts; the issue is that these ideas don't exist in any cuneiform text at all. To persist in embracing Mr. Sitchin's views on this matter (and a host of others) amounts to rejecting the legacy of the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian scribes whose labors have come down to us from the ages. Put bluntly, is it more coherent to believe a Mesopotamian scribe's definition of a word, or Mr. Sitchin's?
Zecharia Sitchin's work in other texts, such as the Bible, is equally flawed. This site bears witness to the sorts of errors Sitchin makes in language analysis and translation with respect to the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
What I've said here is very straightforward. It would be quite easy to demonstrate that I am wrong. All one needs to do is produce texts that I say don't exist, and produce verification of Sitchin's translations by other experts (that's called peer review). Since I don't believe such evidence will be forthcoming, I wrote what follows as an open letter to Zecharia Sitchin in 2001. With Mr. Sitchin's passing, I now direct the letter (rewritten on Jan 1, 2011) to his followers and other ancient astronaut theorists whose views are, in many ways, based upon Sitchin's original work.
Dear Ancient Astronaut Enthusiast:
The intent of this letter is in the interest of research, not confrontation. In no way do I intend to impugn anyone's character. What I ask is that you provide answers and data to support your theories. Here are my questions / requests.
1. Can you please provide transcripts of Zecharia Sitchin's academic ancient language work? I would like to post this information on my website, and would gladly do so.
2. Can you explain why Sitchin's work on Genesis 1:26-27 overlooks so many obvious grammatical indications that the word elohim in that passage refers to a single deity (as demonstrated on this website)?
3. Can you explain why Zecharia Sitchin (or you in turn) have not included the comparative linguistic material from the Amarna texts that shows the Akkadian language also uses the plural word for "gods" to refer to a single deity or person (which of course undermines the argument that elohim must refer to a plurality of gods)?
4. Can you explain how the interpretation of the word "nephilim" as referring to "people of the fiery rockets" is at all viable in light of the rules of Hebrew morphology? In other words, can you bring forth a single ancient text where naphal has such a meaning?
5. Can you produce a single text that says the Anunnaki come from the planet Nibiru - or that Nibiru is a planet beyond Pluto? I assert that there are no such texts, and challenge you and your readers to study the occurrences of "Anunnaki" right here on this website. Here is a video where I show readers how to conduct a search online at the Electronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature website. There are 182 occurrences of the divine name Anunnaki. Please show me any evidence from the Sumerian texts themselves that the Anunnaki have any connection to Nibiru or a 12th planet (or any planet).
6. Can you explain why the alleged sun symbol on cylinder seal VA 243 is not the normal sun symbol or the symbol for the sun god Shamash?
7. Can you explain why your god = planet equivalencies do not match the listings of such matching in cuneiform astronomical texts? I recently blogged on this issue and provided a recent scholarly article on the planets in Mesopotamian literature by experts in cuneiform as proof that Sitchin erred in this regard.
8. Can you explain why many of Sitchin's word meanings / translations of Sumerian and Mesopotamian words are not consistent with Mesopotamian cuneiform bilingual dictionaries, produced by Akkadian scribes?
Thank you for taking the time to respond. I will of course post any responses on this site.
Michael S. Heiser, Ph.D., Hebrew and Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Addendum: Well, it took over a decade, but someone out there has published a response to my open letter. It's a poor response, but it's better than the one that never came from Sitchin, so he gets points for that. Here is the response and my inserted replies (double click on the sticky notes in the PDF).