Aircraft in ancient Mesopotamia
The ancient aeronautical traditions of Mesopotamia (Sumeria, Akkad, Chaldea, Babylonia) are not nearly so well known as that of ancient India; yet the cultures were not all that far distant from one another. There is the ancient Akkadian epic known as Ishtar and Izdubar, as well as two other more obscure writings known as the Sifr’ala of Chaldea and the Hakaltha of Babylonia.
Of the latter, it can be easily ascertained that the Hakaltha is a collection of ancient Babylonian Laws. But what of the lesser known Sifr’ala? The only references always seem to be in direct connection with a little-known scholar known as Y. N. Ibn A’haron, and the content seems to be known only through this individual.* So, if we are to place any reliance on what he has presented we must find out who he is, and if he is indeed qualified to render ancient Babylonian and Chaldean tablets into English.
Assyrian cylinder seal showing winged deity hovering in air
I’ll have to admit, I never knew anything about the man nor his qualifications, even though I have long been familiar with his name (not to be confused with Yohanan Aharoni, professor of archeology at the University of Tel Aviv) as well as his claims. I was suspicious of the name, which sounded to me as if someone was attempting to give a Near Eastern and authoritative flavor to his character, and I took it to be an alias.
A Brief Background of Yonah N. Ibn A’haron
Before giving the Sifr’ala or the Hakaltha any press, some things must first be ascertained regarding the translator and expositor of these writings. Just who is this so-called “Semitic linguist and scholar” who first introduced these highly controversial writings to the Western world? And even more important, what are his qualifications?
I first heard of Mr. A’haron as a young writer and lecturer in the early 1960s. And even though my lectures were centered around prehistoric aeronautics, since I had not heard anything about his background I gave his assertions (and the purported Near Eastern writings) little credibility. Not long ago (July 2009) I received an email from a fan who questioned me about the authenticity of the Sifr’ala, so I decided to do some research in an attempt to discover something about the translator.
Upon delving into the problem I quickly learned that Mr. Yonah N. Ibn A’haron was a learned Jewish Rabbi. He was the recipient of degrees from the University of Yemen and a philologist of “remarkable knowledge and talents”. (Sanderson, 1961) He had worked with the United Nations on several sensitive international projects; and had obtained an M.A. degree honoring his production of the first (and only) Basrai-Aramaic Lexicon. He is said to be conversant with all the basic dialects upon which the greater number of languages of eastern Eurasia are founded.
Rev. Jack A. Jennings, a United Presbyterian minister at Montana State University, described Yonah N. Ibn A’haron as “a rabbi currently working for the federal Office of Education. His scholarly interests have brought him six doctorates, in the fields of rabbinics and South Semitic and Middle Eastern languages, among others.” (Jennings, 1978)
He was apparently well liked as a person, and his knowledge and expertise in the numerous eastern dialects was highly respected among his colleagues (Merejinsky, 1959). Dr. Ivan T. Sanderson, the well-known naturalist and zoologist (whom I quote on my Paleontology page), relied heavily on Dr. A’haron’s widely diversified corpus of linguistic knowledge during a critical research project which involved numerous obscure Eurasian dialects, and as a result of his valuable contributions, has this to say about the man:
“Next, I would like to acknowledge two of the most remarkable young men I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting in scholarship—Rabbi Yonah N. Ibn Aharon and Umberto Orsi. . . from these two regions [eastern Eurasia and the Himalayas] that I could find in the published literature of all languages, including the Russian, I passed this to the Rabbi Yonah N. Ibn Aharon who is one of the few persons conversant with the principal dialects underlying the languages that are spread all over this vast area . . .” (Sanderson, 1961)
So then, it seems we have legitimate reasons to place a considerable degree of confidence in Dr. Ibn A’haron as a linguistic scholar and philologist: training which would have been necessary for him to have discovered and translated the documents in question (viz., the Babylonian Hakaltha and the Chaldean Sifr’ala). But what can we make of the titles of these documents? It appears that hakaltha is Babylonian for something like “The Holy Law,” but what of the Sifr’ala?
THE CHALDEAN SIFR’ALA
Although I’m no expert in the ancient Chaldean language, one thing is sure: ancient Chaldean and Hebrew are related. In such a case, I think it reasonably certain that Sifr is simply the “Chaldean” cognate of the Hebrew word Sepher which means “book”. (The Hebrew title of the book of Genesis in the Bible is Sepher Barashith, or “Book of Beginnings”.) But of the remaining ‘ala of Sifr’ala I am not quite so certain.
‘Ala may be related to the Hebrew ‘eloh (Arabic “Allah”): one of several Western Semitic words for “God”. If so, then Sifr’ala would mean “Book of God,” which is not impossible. There is also a Hebrew word ‘ala which can mean “to conjure”; but “Book of Conjuring” doesn’t seem likely. Judging from its alleged content, I would have expected “Book of Technology,” or something of that order, but I could find no corresponding word in my Chaldee/Hebrew Dictionary.
Be that as it may, I think Rabbi Y. N. Ibn A’haron’s controversial assertions can now be given serious consideration: that is, that an ancient Chaldean writing called the Sifr’ala possibly exists; that it mentions such things as flying machines;** and that, like the Sanskrit writings, it demonstrates that the knowledge of the ancients was more sophisticated than most modern scholars and scientists have been willing to admit. +
In introducing his discoveries, he explained that the 5,000 year old Sifr’ala contained instructions on how to build and pilot an aircraft (Ibn A’haron, 1958)—a sort of Chaldean Viman Vidya it seems! In so doing, the ancient document makes use of a number of technical terms, such as: calibration, crystal indicator, copper coils, graphite rods, vibrating spheres, stable angles, etc. In addition, aeronautical jargon is used, such as: equilibrium, gliding capacity, stability, and wind resistance.
In this ancient text the vehicle is referred to as a marvid. Three spheres were mounted on the underside of the craft [a temple bas relief shows three spheres topside], and copper wire was wound around the main sphere forming an inductive coil. This was attached to the steering mechanism in such a way that the effective number of turns could be varied thereby—also the degree of contact made by the graphite rods (electrical resistors) with the two spheres at the rear of the craft. Thus by the use of one steering control, the craft could allegedly be guided in any direction desired by the pilot.
At a glance, the marvid appears to operate by means of electricity,++ magnetic fields, and induction-induced vibrating spheres, for whatever that’s worth. The mere fact that such things were known (and written about) at such an ancient period is shocking in itself, whether the infernal contraption could fly or not! Unfortunately, just as in the Sanskrit document known colloquially as the Samar, enough key details are missing in the text to prevent a successful reconstruction of such a craft by anyone unauthorized to do so.
THE BABYLONIAN HAKALTHA
As shocking as the above is to modern minds, there is another document called The Hakaltha (Babylonian “Laws”) which, according to the translator, is both older and bolder. Without mincing words, according to his English translation, this ancient document—thousands of years old—makes this following statement:
“The privilege of operating a flying machine is great. The knowledge of flight is among the most ancient of our inheritances: A gift from ‘those from upon high’. We received it from them as a means of saving many lives.” (Translated by Ibn A’haron, 1958)
I am fully aware that for decades one could find this quotation scattered all over the internet, and some of you may deem it “old hat”. But now, after learning about Rabbi Ibn A’haron’s excellent reputation as a scholar and philologist, these shocking words suddenly acquire new life and meaning. We can, therefore, afford to look at them in an entirely different light.
And after seeing some of Ibn’s other translations, I feel I can safely surmise that the term he translates as “those from upon high” (which he has prudently placed in quotes) would no doubt be the Babylonian literal term for “gods”. He studiously avoids the use of the latter because of the common misunderstanding and misuse of that particular English word; and scrupulously followed this policy in several of his translations.
So now, after nearly fifty years, I can view the Sifr’ala and Hakaltha with more confidence: both that these writings actually exist, and that they have been translated properly. It would be even better if the original publication of his translations were readily available, that we might be better informed. For instance, did he include any of the original Babylonian and Chaldean words, and did he make more text available in the original publication than has come down to us? Perhaps sometime in the near future those original articles (Ibn A’haron, 1958) will be republished.
THE EPIC OF ISHTAR AND IZDUBAR
From the great kingdom located in the central regions of the Tigris-Euphrates area known as the Akkadian Empire comes the ancient Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar. Having been first translated in 1871 by the eminent Assyriologist, Mr. George Smith, the original narrative was believed to be inscribed in clay for the very first time ca. 2000 B.C. (Smith, 1872) Since then even earlier fragments have been found. The first such fragment was unearthed at Sippar in 1900 by Bruno Meissner, dating ca. 2370 B.C. Several more fragments of corresponding date have since come to light.
But relatively complete tablets dating ca. 600 B.C. have been unearthed by Smith—twelve in all, only a small portion of the library of King Assurbanipal (Layard, 1848)—which are simply later copies of the earlier ones (Smith, 1872). The poetic translation from which the following excerpts are taken was made by the honorable Sir Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton (1884) well over a hundred years ago.
The name known to us as Izdubar is a literal translation of the ideographs for “Gilgamesh,” and was how the hero of the Gilgamesh saga was known when this translation was made in the late 1880s. A lexicographic tablet was eventually discovered several decades later in which the hero Izdubar was correctly equated with Gilgamesh.
Clay tablet of the Izdubar Epic from Nineveh
In reading this English translation it appears that radiant aerial cars are occasionally described as being the battle vehicles of the “gods” of the Akkadians (in other words, the ordinary foot soldier did not possess such technology: only the “divine” rulers and their family). The content of the Sifr’ala and Hakaltha only adds to the credibility of these old cuneiform inscribed tablets.
In this narrative the “gods” merely sit in their blazing sky-cars at a convenient height above the battle going on below (Cf., cylinder seal), while the common foot soldiers do the fighting. If things don’t seem to be going in their favor, they suddenly streak down from the sky and intervene using their superior weapons.
In our opening quote, the Akkadian army has gathered into marching formation, while an array of divinities (led by Queen Ishtar) oversees the preparations for battle from a position in the sky high above.
At early dawn the shining ranks are massed,
If no more was said, the scholars and mythologists could interpret this simply as a reference to the planet Venus (Ishtar), shining in the early dawn sky during the activities; and that no “celestial cars” (that is, armed aerial vehicles) are actually involved. Once the march begans, the “gods” lead from overhead. These same critics could say that the soldiers were simply looking up as they marched along, watching the heavenly bodies “follow” them through the tree branches. But certain phrases belie such an interpretation.
In the first place, there are sixty of these deities in their radiant vehicles, in spite of the fact that the Akkadians knew of only seven planets (including the Sun and Moon). There is no indication anywhere in the Epic that star constellations are being included.
The sixty gods on chargers of the skies,
Next is their descent from the skies. The sky-chariots of the deities are compared to the stars, but are not actually called stars. They are also compared to clouds (but neither are they clouds). Akkadian records exist that describe Ishtar as an actual living queen, as well as a goddess. Our text not only describes these vehicles as descending from the skies to take part in the battle, but that they sometimes come so close to the ground that a huge cloud of smoke and dust is kicked up beneath them from the power of their exhaust!
Now roars the thunder of great Akkad’s cars,
Amidst these swirling clouds of dust, fire and smoke, the blazing sky-chariots must have appeared terrifying indeed! It appears an aerial attack on the evil Khumbaba’s army occurs. If these are only heavenly bodies merely stationed in the sky overhead, why would they be described as “blazing stars” streaking through the darkened skies leaving “streams of blazing fire”? Do natural planets streak through the dark skies leaving fiery trails behind them?
The Akkad on their foes have fiercely hurled
The mention made of “Nin-rad’s flag” immediately brings to mind the brave “Nimrod” of the Hebrew scriptures: George Smith had already given his opinion that the hero here called Izdubar is the same individual as “Nimrod” of Genesis. (Smith, 1872) The poem seems to paint a picture of one aerial attack after another, in the interim of which the “gods” retreat to the skies to reconnoiter. Then one final glorious sorté is launched, giving Izdubar the final victory over the evil giant-king Khumbaba:
The foe beheld the gods in wrath above
The descent of these gods from the sky, not to mention the use of their blazing weapons, tend to clinch the issue in my estimation. The ancient author of this Epics seems to be purposefully depicting intervening “gods of war” who decide this battle by streaking from the sky to defeat the enemy by the use of superior weapons. Of course this is only “mythology” say the experts. But if this was thousands of years before these technologies ever existed, where would the author have gotten such ideas?
The various weapons mentioned are reminiscent of those described in the Hindu epics, which sometimes consisted of explosions like gun powder or TNT; but other times were more like some sort of “ray” which was focused on the enemy. Our narrative, for example, states that in that decisive battle “Ishtar downward drove the raging car,” utilizing a “blinding ray,” thus spelling the end of the giant-king Khumbaba: “The giant turned his glance—it was his last.” Another villan disappears in a flash of cosmic energy!
Although I have no intention of displaying them all here, records of ancient flying machines of one sort or another exist in association with China, Tibet, Israel, Greece, Egypt, and maybe even the Americas. From where I stand, it seems as if technologically mankind has been in a gradual decline for thousands of years—at least down to the Dark Ages. (Tomas, 1971) It has been only since then that our level of technology has been back on the rise. So where did mankind come by this early storehouse of knowledge? Could it have been left over from a previous highly advanced civilization?
* Doug Weller, an editor on the Wikipedia staff, has made the totally unsupported statement that Mr. David Hatcher Childress (a proponent of ancient aircraft ) invented the Safr’ala, which would be quite an accomplishment, as Mr. Hatcher was born in 1957! He couldn’t have been more than two years old when Dr. Ibn A’haron’s translation of the Sifr’ala first appeared in print. [Back]
** The Akkadian Flood story of Atra-Hasis says that the gods escaped the flood using their rukub ilani (“chariots of the gods”). “The great gods soared aloft” during which their chariots, “like torches . . . . set the land ablaze with their glare.” The Akkadian rukub is related to the Hebrew rekeb (“chariot”), derived from the consonantal root R-K-B with the general meaning “to ride” (Norris, 1868-72). The “fiery chariot” that swept Elijah heavenward was rekeb-esh (esh=”fire” in Hebrew). The Akkadian ilani is plural (related to the Ugarit singular ilu, of which the Hebrew ‘eloh (“God”) is cognate). [Back]
+ Many of us are abysmally ignorant of the high level of knowledge achieved in ancient times, and it is not our fault: it is the fault of this country’s educational system, as well as documentary TV! We are still being told that Galileo was the first to learn that the earth is a globe, that Ben Franklin discovered electricity, and that Columbus discovered America! The ancients utilized telescopes, utilized electricity, and travelled the globe using sophisticated navigational techniques—even used analogue computers thousands of years ago! The internet can educate anyone who is interested (or see below; Andrew Tomas, 1971; 1972). [Back]
++ The primary principles of the use of electricity and its sources are discussed in an ancient Sanskrit work known as the Agastya Samhita. The Sankrit terms for cathod-anode, positive-negative, series-parallel arrangements of single cells to form high-voltage batteries are all discussed. The Sifrala’s mere mention of crystals, copper coils, and vibrating spheres implies a working knowledge of alternating (oscillating) current. Simple direct current (DC generated by a battery) will not cause spheres to vibrate. But apply DC to a crystal and it will vibrate, creating an oscillating frequency (you have such a crystal-oscillator in the watch on your wrist). These people were technologically sophisticated: no wonder they were thought to be “gods”. [Back]
Hamilton, Leonidas Le Cenci (translator), “The Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar,” Babylonian and Assyrian Literature, Colonial Press, 1884.