MARTIN BERNAL BOOK: “BLACK ATHENA”

October 26, 2006 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Books, Globalization, History, Literary, Middle East, Philosophy | Leave a comment

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Black Athena

Black Athena

Black Athena

: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (Rutgers University Press 1987, ISBN 0-8135-1277-8)
is a work by Martin Bernal. It expounds a controversial hypothesis that ancient Greece, and hence Western civilization, derived much of its cultural roots from Afroasiatic (Egyptian and Phoenician) cultures.

The work was published in three volumes:

  • Volume I, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985 (1987)
  • Volume II, The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence (1991)
  • Volume III, The Linguistic Evidence (2006)
  • Since Bernal specialized in the study of the evolution of the Chinese language, in Black
    Athena
    he takes a language-oriented approach to understanding cultural influences, and
    rejects to some degree archaeological evidence and historical accounts.

    Conflicting views

    According to Bernal, there are two main theories of the origin of Greek civilization: the “Aryan theory” and the “Phoenician theory”. The Aryan theory is that the early settlement of Greece was from the
    north-west (i.e. central Europe) which he further sub-divides into two versions:
    “Strong” and “Weak”. The Strong theory holds that the area of Greece was uninhabited before the arrival of the Aryans. The Weak theory holds that the area had natives before the Aryans arrived.

    Bernal rejects the Aryan theory of colonization based on supposed lack of evidence. He cites Greek historians to prove that the Greeks of the time of Socrates,
    Plato and Aristotle believed that Phoenician civiliation colonized Greece. Based on this, he creates a new theory of Greek origins, namely, that Greece was colonized by northern invaders mixing with a colony established by Phoenicia. In the midst of this theory he takes pains to convince the reader that Egyptians and Phoenicians were mostly of African instead of Mediterranean descent.

    Origins of research

    Going on to explain the historiography of Egypt and North Africa, he shows the reader many examples of great “Western” leaders expressing interest or open admiration of Egypt and the Near East.

    While it is widely accepted that the Classical Greek
    language arose from the Proto-Greek language with
    influences from the Anatolian languages that were
    spoken nearby, and the culture is assumed to have developed from a comparable amalgamation
    of elements, Bernal emphasizes African elements in Ancient Near Eastern culture, and the denunciation of
    the alleged Eurocentrism of 19th and 20th century
    research, including the very slogan Ex Oriente Lux of Orientalists
    which, according to Bernal, betrays “the Western appropriation of ancient Near
    Eastern culture for the sake of its own development” (p. 423). The book had enormous
    impact on African American Afrocentrist movements, because of its de-centering impact
    on classical images of the West.

    Bernal proposes that Greek evolved from the contact
    between an Indo-European language and
    culturally influential Egyptian and Semitic languages. He cites as examples many Egyptian or Semitic
    roots for Greek words, including some words with currently accepted Indo-European
    etymologies. Bernal places the introduction of the Greek
    alphabet
    (unattested before 750 BC) between 1800 and 1400 BC, and the poet Hesiod in the tenth century.

    Reception

    Black Athena

    has provoked a series of published works
    debating it (positively and negatively), including:

    Mary R. Lefkowitz and
    Guy MacLean Rogers
    (eds.), Black Athena Revisited, 1996.

  • Martin Bernal, Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics,
    2001.
  • Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University: The Black Athena Controversy
    and the Responsibilities of American Intellectuals
    1999.
  • Some subsequent writers have been heavily critical of what they consider to be Bernal’s
    confusion of culture, ethnicity
    and race; and what they take to be unsystematic and
    linguistically incompetent handling of etymologies (MacLean Rogers, G., 1996, Quo
    vadis?
    , in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 444-454; Snowden, Bernal’s
    ‘Blacks
    ; Brace, C. L., D. P. Tracer, L. A. Yaroch, J. Robb, K. Brandt, and A. R.
    Nelson, 1996, Clines and Clusters versus ‘Race’: A Test in Ancient Egypt and the Case
    of a Death on the Nile
    , in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 129-164; Baines,
    J., 1996, On the aims and methods of Black Athena, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean
    Rogers, o.c., pp. 27-48.)

    Bernal has said that he, if not his publisher, always preferred the title African Athena.

    Selected publications

    What follows is a is list of relevant publications listed on the now inactive www.blackathena.com website.

    • 1976 Chinese Socialism Before 1907, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
    • 1987 Black Athena The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization 1: The Fabrication
      of Ancient Greece 1785-1985
      . London: Free Association Books. and New Brunswick:
      Rutgers University.
    • 1988 “The British Utilitarians, Imperialism and the Fall of the Ancient
      Model,” Culture and History 3: 98-127.
    • 1989 “Classics in Crisis: An Outsider’s View In,” Classics: A Discipline
      and Profession in Crisis?
      Ed. P. Culham and L. Edmunds. University Press of America.
      Pp. 67-76.
    • “Black Athena and the APA.” in “The Challenge of Black Athena”
      Special issue of Arethusa. Pp.17-37.
    • 1990 “Responses to Critical Reviews of Black Athena: Volume I: in the Journal
      of Mediterranean Archaeology
      3/1:111- 137.
    • Cadmean Letters: The Westward Diffusion of The Semitic Alphabet Before 1400 B.C.

    • Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

    • 1991 Black Athena 2: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence. London, Free
      Association Books; New Brunswick: Rutgers University.
    • 1992 “Animadversions on the Origins of Western Science,” Isis
      83, 4 (December): 596-607.
    • 1993 “Response”, to “Dialogue: Martin Bernal’s Black Athena.” Journal
      of Women’s History
      4.3, (Winter):119-135.
    • “Phoenician Politics and Egyptian Justice in Ancient Greece.” in Kurt Raaflaub
      ed. Anfänge politischen Denkens in der Antike: nahöstliochen Kulturen und die
      Griechen. Schriften des Historischen Kollegs
      . Kolloquien 24. München: R. Oldenbourg
      Verlag. Pp.241-252.
    • “Reply to L. A. Trittle,” Liverpool Classical Monthly 18.2: whole
      issue.
    • 1994 “Response to Robert Palter,” History of Science 32:1-20.
    • 1995 “Race, Class and Gender in the Formation of The Aryan Model of Greek
      Origins.” South Atlantic Quarterly. 94.4. (Fall): 987-1008.
    • “Politically Correct: Mythologies of Neo-Conservatism in the American
      Academy,” New Political Science. 38/39:17-28.
    • 1997 “Responses to Black Athena.” Black Athena: Ten Years After.
      Special edition of Talanta vols. 28 and 29. pp.65-99;165-173 and 209-219.

    External links

    Ex Africa Lux? by T. A. Schmitz includes a discussion of the 1990s controversy in the USA
    surrounding the book (PDF)

    Ancient Histories and Modern
    Humanities
    by John R. Lenz (Drew University)

    With
    Black Athena into the third millennium CE?
    by Wim van Binsbergen

    The Black
    Athena Debate
    from The World Ages Archive,
    a website operated by Meres J. Weche, who says “The aim of the World Ages Archive
    is to provide an extensive web-based reference for the study of ancient chronological
    revisionist, catastrophist…”

    Afrocentrism
    from the Skeptic’s Dictionary

    See also

    Afrocentrism

    Greek substrate
    language

    Martin Bernal

    Martin Bernal

    is a scholar of modern Chinese
    political history who claims classical civilization in Ancient
    Greece
    actually stems from Afroasiatic and Semitic cultures, not just from Europe. He calls this the Revised
    Ancient Model
    , based on Classical historians’ recognition of an Egyptian and
    Phoenician cultural heritage. This model contrasts with the Aryan Model, which
    posits Indo-European speakers from the north and indigenous Greeks as the main cultural
    source of Classical Greece.

    The Revised Ancient Model, he argues, has roots in the classical civilization he
    studies, while the Aryan Model stems from racism developing in
    the late 18th and 19th centuries. His theories are contested by some classical scholars,
    including Mary Lefkowitz of Wellesley College, a prominent critic. He has claimed
    that this resistance supports his position on the historiography of Classics.

    Martin Bernal,

    who was never trained in the classics, is
    Professor Emeritus of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Cornell University but is said to have retired from
    teaching in 2001. He also taught Government Studies at Cornell. He is author of the three
    volume series, Black Athena, as well as the book Cadmean
    Letters
    , devoted to the origins of the Greek Alphabet.
    His earlier work focuses on China.

    He is the son of J. D. Bernal and Margaret Gardiner,
    the daughter of noted Egyptologist Alan Gardiner.

    Works

    The details of the revised three-volume Black Athena series are as follows:

  • Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985, Bernal, Martin
  • Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume II: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence, Bernal, Martin
  • Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume III: The Linguistic Evidence, Bernal, Martin (pub. 2006)
  • References

    Other books related to the controversy are:

    • Black Athena Revisited
    • by Mary R. Lefkowitz

    • Heresy in the University
    • : The Black Athena Controversy and the Responsibilities
      of American Intellectuals
      by Jacques Berlinerblau

    • Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics
    • by Martin Bernal, David Chioni Moore
      (Editor)

    • Civilization or Barbarism
    • : An Authentic Anthropology by Cheikh Anta Diop

    • Blacks in Antiquity
    • : Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience (Belknap Press)
      by Frank M. Snowden

    External links

  • Bernal reviews Lefkowitz’s “Not out of Africa”
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Bernal

    The details of the revised three-volume Black Athena series are as follows:

  • Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985, Bernal, Martin
  • Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume II: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence, Bernal, Martin
  • Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume III: The Linguistic Evidence, Bernal, Martin (pub. 2006)
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