The Myth of a 12th Planet:
A Brief Analysis of Cylinder Seal VA 243
Michael S. Heiser
Ph.D. candidate, Hebrew Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Readers of Zecharia Sitchin’s books, particularly The 12th Planet, will recognize the above seal, VA 243 (so named because it is number 243 in the collection of the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin). This seal is the centerpiece of Sitchin’s theory that the Sumerians had advanced astronomical knowledge of the planetary bodies in our solar system. This knowledge was allegedly given to the Sumerians by extraterrestrials, whom Sitchin identifies as the Anunnaki gods of Sumero-Mesopotamian mythology. In the upper left-hand corner of the seal, Sitchin argues, one sees the sun surrounded by eleven globes. Since ancient peoples (including the Sumerians according to Sitchin) held the sun and moon to be “planets,” these eleven globes plus the sun add up to twelve planets. Of course, since we now know of nine planets plus our sun and moon, part of Sitchin’s argument is that the Sumerians knew of an extra planet beyond Pluto. This extra planet is considered by Sitchin to be Nibiru, an astronomical body mentioned in Mesopotamian texts. Sitchin’s works detail his contention that Nibiru passes through our solar system every 3600 years, and so some believers in Sitchin’s theory contend that Nibiru will return soon. Some followers of Sitchin’s ideas also refer to Nibiru as “Planet X”. Is Sitchin correct – in whole or in part? Is Nibiru a 12th planet that will soon return? Does VA243 prove his thesis? Unfortunately for Sitchin and his followers, the answer to each of these questions is no. This paper will focus on the heart of his theory, VA243. Nibiru is the subject of another paper on my website.
Method and Approach
The study of cylinder seals is actually a very specialized sub-discipline within Sumerology and Assyriology.a It is possible to determine, through the efforts of cylinder seal specialists of the recent past and current experts, to decisively say that Sitchin’s interpretation of this seal is deeply flawed and lacks scholarly merit. In short, his theory is false and is unsupported by the seal itself.
In the discussion that follows, I will demonstrate that VA243 in no way supports Sitchin’s ideas. My reasons / lines of argument for this are:
1) The inscription on the seal (left hand and right hand sides – which are not discussed by Sitchin) says nothing about planets or any element of astronomy. Rather than offering an independent translation, I will defer to authorities on Sumerian seal inscriptions in this regard to avoid any charge of bias.
2) The alleged “sun” symbol on the seal is not the sun. We know this because it does not conform to the consistent depiction of the sun in hundreds of other cylinder seals and examples of Sumero-Mesopotamian artwork. I will describe the typical depiction (determined with certainty because it appears with texts about the sun god [Shamash Akkadian, known as Utu in Sumerian]) and provide image examples. Sources are provided for readers to check for themselves. The “sun” symbol is actually a star (which in Mesopotamian art could have six or, more commonly, eight points). Lest the modern reader retort that “well, the sun is a star,” I offer several images where the star symbol and the sun symbol (which again, is not that in VA243) are side-by-side and distinct from one another. The Sumerians and Mesopotamians distinguished the sun from stars by using different symbols – and associating each symbol with the sun god and other gods, respectively. There is simply no ancient Sumero-Akkadian evidence to support Sitchin’s identification.
3) If the “sun” is not the sun, then what are the dots? The dots are also stars, as is best illustrated by the Sumerian-Mesopotamian depiction of the Pleaides (seven dots together with reasonable astronomical accuracy since they are visible to the naked eye).b The...
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