To understand why it’s hooey, I’ve got to explain a little about how we know what we know of the distant past.
Writing has only been around for around 5,000 years and practically every imaginable surface has been used as a place to put writing. We’ve chiseled inscriptions into stone, carved them onto metal, and engraved them on gems.
The Sumerians and Babylonians wrote by putting marks on soft clay tablets with a pointy stick. When the clay tablets dried they were pretty durable but we completely lost track of their civilizations until the remaining tablets were re-discovered and we learned how to read what was written on them in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Egyptians wrote on the leaves of plants. They learned to make the leaves smoother and more uniform by processing them into paper. That wasn’t nearly as durable as the clay tablets but it was easier and, I suspect, cheaper. The Chinese invented paper, too. As best as I can tell at one time or other the Chinese have invented everything.
The cultures that we claim some connection to—the Greeks and Romans—left most of their writings on paper and leather (when leather is smoothed and processed for writing it’s called parchment). Neither paper nor parchment are incredibly durable—lasting a hundred years is pretty darned good unless enormous care is taken. Look at a hundred year old book. Paper leaves have become quite fragile by then. Parchment does better.
Until the invention of the printing press in the West in the 15th century (the Chinese invented that, too), any time you wanted an additional copy of a book or your old copy was wearing out and you wanted to replace it somebody had to copy that book by hand. That made books expensive and rare. From roughly 300 CD to 1200 CE the copying of books was virtually exclusively the province of Christian monks. After 1200 secular scribes began to take over the job. For a period of almost a millennium nearly every work that was copied passed through a Christian filter.
If a book was not copied, its contents were lost forever.
After a couple of hundred years the original reasons for the writing of the book became unimportant. What really mattered in whether a book was copied i.e. preserved was the agenda of those doing the copying or their patrons. Books that they disagreed with or thought were harmful or useless were not copied. They were lost. The very fact of the copying of a book means that the work in question was approved and furthered the agenda of the copyists or their patrons.
Take the example of a single book, Plato’s Republic. The book was written in something like the 4th century BCE. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt in the 1945 the very earliest manuscript of The Republic that was known to exist was from around 895 CE. The version of The Republic in the Nag Hammadi library dates from something like 325 CE. Assuming that the text that came down to the Founding Fathers was derived from the 895 manuscript (a very bad assumption—it wasn’t), the book had been preserved for a half millennium by Christian scribes for Christian purposes.
This would be a good point for a digression-within-a-digression about the Arab copyists who preserved many works of classical antiquity but that would be too big a digression. Suffice it to say that these copyists took copies that had been preserved by Christians and preserved them themselves for their own, presumably Muslim, reasons.
So The Republic has a history something like this. We don’t have a single copy of the work from Plato’s time. For six or seven hundred years it was copied by Greek and Roman scribes for reasons we can only guess at. It was then copied for between a half and a full millennium by Christian, Jewish, and Arab scribes for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim reasons.
That is the history of every single work from classical antiquity that survived until the time of the founding of our republic. We have, essentially, no idea of the entire body of work produced by the ancients. What was known of classical antiquity at the time of the founding our republic consisted of the buildings that still survived that they had built (often highly modified for Christian use), works of art and other artifacts, classical writings that had been preserved by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim scribes for their own purposes and that, presumably, furthered their agenda, and accounts of classical antiquity from Christian and Jewish writers.
The Founding Fathers knew very little of the reality of the classical world (nor do we). What they did know was an implicitly Christianized version of the classical world. They were creating a republic and models of republics were fairly rare so they adopted lots of symbolism from Roman antiquity in recognition of the Roman republic which was itself highly mythologized but that’s a subject for another time.
As a final salvo I’ll just note that the Russians also claim cultural descent from classical Greece and Rome (with significantly more evidence). The notion that both Western rule of law and liberal democracy and Russian autocracy are both heritages from classical antiquity seems strange to me.