The Most Controversial 89-year-old Man in New York

I’ve just been one-upped by The New York Times, and I’m glad of it.

In October, 2008, I did an essay for The Smart Set in tribute to my favorite “ancient astronaut” theorists, the greatest of which is without question Zecharia Sitchin. About him, I wrote:

The idea goes like this: If you read the Hebrew Bible closely alongside other ancient texts, it becomes clear that the gods they discuss are not really supernatural beings, but are instead extraterrestrials with advanced technology. This means, of course, accepting that the Hebrew shem can be translated as “rocket ship” instead of “name.” Or that the desolation laid on Sodom and Gomorrah was the work of an atom bomb. These beings came to Earth, the thinking goes, genetically altered monkeys to create the human race, and revealed the secrets of civilization. They built giant pyramids and ziggurats as way-stations for their interplanetary activities. Like Olympians, they fought amongst themselves using humans as their proxies. And, of course, they promised to return.

Whether you thought gods were fantasies of the foolish or transcendent truth, Sitchin turns your world upside down. Compared to those views, his is clean and simple, free from metaphysics and murky psychology. It assumes only things perfectly understandable to 20th-century folks—rockets, genetics, nukes, and UFOs—that are more suggestive of science than religion. The ancients weren’t, after all, living amidst delusion or special grace. They wrote down what they saw, but only today can we piece together what really happened.

My big reason for doing the article, truth be told, was to have an excuse to try and meet Mr. Sitchin. I knew he lives in New York City, in what I imagined to be the kind of cavernous, rent-controlled, junk-filled apartment that is the natural habitat of old fogies who moved here back when Manhattan real estate was still affordable. I wrote to him, by way of an associate of his who uses email, but unfortunately all I got back were the tiniest replies scrawled on the bottom of the page full of questions I sent. Among them: “For personal reasons, I am unable to grant/do interviews.”

Well, so much for that.

Last night I discovered that The New York Times‘ Corey Kilgannon has gone and done an up-close-and-personal profile of the 89-year-old Sitchin who, on the Upper West Side, “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.” Kilgannon rubs his access to this living legend in my face (by “you” he means “me,” meaning Corey, not Nathan—grrr):

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.”

I’ve got to hand it to him. A job well done. Now go enjoy Kilgannon’s piece, as well as the accompanying video.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.