Forgotten History of the Western People

Review by Michael Tunnicliffe

Published in Djehuty, the Newsletter of the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society, June/July 2003.

Forgotten History of the Western People
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This book provides a survey of many ancient traditions from the ancient near east, the classical world and the British Isles. At the heart of its thesis is the belief that these ancient stories and myths preserve, though sometimes in garbled form, a real and recoverable history. Thus both the biblical accounts and also the stories of the "gods" can be located in real historical events. It involves a restatement of a position adopted by the classical writer Euhemerus. He had asserted that the so called gods were in fact deified humans, and that the myths that accompany them are therefore related to real events. Gascoigne seeks to re-habilitate this approach, rejecting the idea of the myths as purely "nature myths" as well as rejecting the whole scheme of Darwinian evolutionary theory.

As with many works which exemplify this "alternative" approach there is a wide range of material covered, and attempts are made to forge links between very different civilisations. Characters from one story appear in another tradition under different names. Here for instance it is suggested that Noah is equivalent to the Greek god Ouranos, while Osiris is equated with the Olympian god Zeus. In similar vein the story of the Trojan War is thought to have been preserved in Celtic, Saxon and Norse myths. Asgard home of Odin is to be found at Troy.

There is a discussion of early British Christianity and some of the myths and legends surrounding it. Along with the well known stories of Joseph of Arimethea coming to Britain (remember William Blake's Jerusalem) other less well known stories are explored. There is a legend that one of the 12 disciples came to Britain - namely Simon the Zealot. Also that St Peter's successor as Bishop of Rome called Linus was in fact the son of the British chieftain Caractacus. This was all new to me, and whether it is true or not it was a fascinating speculative trawl through unexplored regions!

For Egyptologists it will be the early chapters that are most relevant, with their theory of the origins of the Osiris myth. However Moses and the exodus also inevitably appear. From an ancient Scottish Chronicle comes the information that Joseph's pharaoh was called Nephres of the 17th Dynasty (incidentally this seems to go back to an ancient Jewish source and has been revived by David Rohl who argues that the Pharaoh in question is Khaneferre of the 13th Dynasty). Also the name of the Pharaoh's daughter who found the baby Moses was Theremuth and she was the daughter of an Amenophis. The Pharaoh of the Red Sea is cited as Chenres who it is claimed may be Akhenaten. At the same time as the Exodus an Egyptian princess called Scota leaves to land eventually in Ireland and give her name to the Scots!

When reading this book it is important to keep in mind some of the assumptions the author makes:

  • A rejection of Darwin's theory of evolution. He comments "This book is not a religious book, it is a history book in the pre-Darwinian style" p.3
  • Therefore there is a willingness to work with the kind of "old fashioned" dating of biblical events as expounded by Bishop Usher in the 17th century and still accepted by biblical fundamentalists. On this basis the biblical flood is dated to the 24th century BC.
  • Since we are all descended from Noah and his family it is possible to make links between cultures and stories spread over a wide range of time and space. This is a manifestation of collective memory.
  • Biblical prophecy can be interpreted in terms of present day events. So the European Union is the hated and dreadful Beast of the Book of Revelation

Each of the chapters explores a different culture and this makes the books somewhat disjointed. I would have preferred a summary concluding chapter drawing the threads together rather than the sudden diatribe against the EU. If you are in sympathy with the kind of ideas presented here then this book is for you. Others will regard it as typically speculative "alternative" writing. It certainly goes "against the flow" of much contemporary accepted thought. So definitely an acquired taste but with some fascinating morsels scattered through it.

Michael Tunnicliffe,
Manchester Ancient Egypt Society

Anno Mundi Books