free web hosting | free website | Business WebSite Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting
Black Athena Ten Years After II


towards a constructive re-assessment


by Wim van Binsbergen

to homepage

this paper's Contents | Part I (sections 1-3) | Part III (sections 7-8)

 

4. Ideology and cultural history

4.1. intercontinental interaction

Black Athena’s exposure of Eurocentrism is based on his work concerning the ancient cultural and religious history in the eastern Mediterranean, and concerning the perception of the Ancient Near East in the European intellectual tradition since Antiquity (more in particular the history of ideas and sociology of knowledge of North Atlantic classical studies since Romanticism).

                        At one level of analysis Bernal restates and popularises, with synthetic scholarship, what many archaeologists, Assyriologists, Egyptologists, Semitists including Arabists, students of the history of science and the history of ideas, students of the history of magic, divination and astrology, students of Hermetic and Gnostic texts, of comparative religion and mythology, have begun to realise in the course of the twentieth century on the basis of increasingly overwhelming and comprehensive evidence. The roots of North Atlantic civilisation, including what used to be portrayed as the classical Greek genius — allegedly incomparable and without historical antecedents — have long been shown to lie to a considerable extent outside Europe, in north-eastern Africa (Egypt) as well as in the rest of the Ancient Near East: Ancient Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria, Anatolia, Palestine, Crete, the Indus civilisation with which Mesopotamia had such extensive contacts. Of course this insight adds a most ironic commentary to North Atlantic cultural hegemony as enforced by military and economic dominance in the Late Modern era: it reduces Western European civilisation to upstart status.

                        Even if Europe’s great cultural indebtedness to the Ancient Near East (Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa) is no longer the rather carefully constructed secret it was a hundred years ago, given the hostile reception this insight received right up to the 1980s (and perhaps even still, as far as language and the classics are concerned) Bernal can only be admired for the courage and persistence with which he emphasised and popularised this crucial insight. Although his analytical attention is focused on the third and second instead of the first millennium BCE, he is simply right in reminding us of the consistent first millennium record that claims extensive spells of travelling and studying in Egypt, Mesopotamia, perhaps even India, for such major Greek intellectuals as Plato, Pythagoras, Plutarch, and many others. Recent research[1] is beginning to explore the Greek intellectual indebtedness to the very Achaemenid civilisation whose proud military confrontation, at Marathon and Salamis, virtually — and largely through the impact of Herodotus’ long-winded interpretation of the Persian wars in his History — marks the beginning of European geopolitical consciousness as an ideological self-definition against ‘the East’.

4.2. Afroasiatic roots granted — but must we reduce classical Greek thought to the flotsam of intercontinental diffusion?

Spengler boldly states in his Untergang des Abendlandes,[2] one of the earliest and most uncompromising attempts, among European scholars, to escape from Eurocentrism:

‘Europe as a concept ought to be struck from the record of history’.

His great admirer, Toynbee,[3] although in his later years more optimistic than Spengler as to mankind’s chances of working out some sort of intercultural compromise, knew the civilisation of the West to be only one among a score of others, waxing and waning at the tide of time.

‘L’Occident est un accident’,

the French Marxist thinker Garaudy[4] reminds us half a century later, in a plea for a dialogue of civilisations. Recently, intercultural philosophy has emerged (around the work of such authors as Kimmerle and Mall)[5] in order to explore the theoretical foundations for a post-racial and post-hegemonic cultural exchange at a global scale. Meanwhile, a more pragmatic axiom of cultural relativism has been the main stock-in-trade of cultural anthropologists ever since the 1940s; it has guided individual field-workers through long periods of humble accommodation to local cultural conditions very different from their own, and on a more abstract level has battled for a theory of cultural equality, emphasis on culture in planned development interventions, etc. Much like all other civilisations, the West has developed an ideology of chauvinist ethnocentrism, and in recent centuries it has had the military, ideological, technological and economic means of practising this ethnocentrism aggressively in almost every corner of the world; unlike many other civilisations, however, the West has also produced intellectual movements — I mean: the science, technology, art, international law, philosophy, of the twentieth century CE — that in theory critique and surpass Western ethnocentrism, and that in practice observe a universalism that hopefully forebodes the emergence of a global world culture in which individual cultural traditions may meet and partly merge. Many would agree that there (besides hunger, disease, infringement of human rights, war and environmental destruction) lies one of the most crucial problems of the future of mankind.

                        In my opinion this universalism owes a specific original debt to the creativity of classical Greek culture.

                        The problematic of cultural creativity in a context of diffusion is far from lost on Martin Bernal,[6] whose self-identification as a ‘modified diffusionist’ precisely seeks to capture the difference between the obsolete model of mechanical transmission and wholesale adoption of unaltered cultural elements from distant provenance, and the far more attractive model that insists on a local, creative transformation of the diffused material once it has arrived at the destination area:

‘In the early part of this century, scholars like Eduard Meyer, Oscar Montelius, Sir John Myres and Gordon Childe[7] maintained the two principles of modified diffusion and ex oriente lux. In the first case, they rejected the beliefs of the extreme diffusionists, who maintained that ‘master races’ simply transposed their superior civilizations to other places and less developed peoples. They argued instead, that unless there was a rapid genocide, diffusion was a complicated process of interaction between the outside influences and the indigenous culture and that this process itself produced something qualitatively new.’[8]

                        Here we encounter, once again and not for the last time in this volume,[9] the argument of transformative localisation as a necessary complement of the argument of diffusion. Despite his occasional Egyptocentric lapses into a view of diffusion as automatic and one-way, Bernal often shows that he is aware of the tensions between diffusion and transformative localisation:

‘While I am convinced that the vast majority of Greek mythological themes came from Egypt or Phoenicia, it is equally clear that their selection and treatment was characteristically Greek, and to that extent they did reflect Greek society.’[10]

Even the most implacable critics of Martin Bernal (and I shall discuss them at length below) can rest assured: despite their indignant allegations to the contrary, there is no indication that he tries to reduce Greek culture to the flotsam of intercontinental diffusion.

                        As far as the development of critical, universalist thought is concerning, admittance of the innovative creativity of the destination area simply means that the Greeks, like we all, did attempt to stand on the shoulders of their unmistakable predecessors in the Ancient Near East. Admittedly, part of the production systems, the language, the gods and shrines, the myths, the magic and astrology, the alphabet, the mathematics, the nautical and trading skills, of the ancient Greeks were scarcely their own invention but had clearly identifiable antecedents among their longer established cultural neighbours. However, citing such eminent authorities as Cassirer, Cornford, Snell and Frankfort c.s.,[11] Peter Gay in his masterly reassessment of the Enlightenment (which was among other things a rekindling of the ideals of classical civilisation) points out that this indebtedness to the Ancient Near East does not seem to apply for ‘sustained critical thinking’, in other words philosophy as a deliberately distinct realm of human symbolic production.[12] This particularly includes syllogistic logic, which could be argued to be one basis of universalism.[13] The point made by the Egyptological archaeologist Trigger appears to be well taken as far as Egypt-Greece cultural exchanges are concerned:[14]

‘That the ancient Egyptians, like the peoples of other early civilizations, did not distinguish as we do between the natural, supernatural, and social realms renders improbable Martin Bernal’s (...) efforts to trace the origins of classical Greek religion and philosophy back to Egyptian sources.’

In his (generally very positive) review of Black Athena I & II, Trigger makes a similar point:

‘...Bernal, along with a growing number of anthropologists, expresses opposition to an evolutionary view of human history. He traces the origins of Greek religion and philosophy to Egyptian sources. It is probable that some schools of Greek philosophy were influenced by Egyptian ideas much as modern Western philosophy is by Hindu and Buddhist thought. Yet it is impossible to find in the surviving corpus of ancient Egyptian writings evidence of the divergent basis postulates, scepticism, materialism, and human-centeredness that characterize post-Ionian Greek philosophy.[15]

The evidence from the Ancient Near East, however, has also been read to support the opposite view, and polemics concerning the Afroasiatic roots of Greek philosophy and science have gained prominence in the Black Athena debate.[16]

                        Much further research needs to be undertaken before this question can transcend the phase of excited, identity-boosting claims and counterclaims, and develop into a valuable branch of historical intercultural philosophy. Meanwhile Bernal’s caveat should be born in mind: Dodds’ famous study of the Greeks and the irrational, as well as more recent work by von Staden,[17] have called our attention to the massive irrational dimensions of ancient Greek civilisation.

‘Mary Lefkowitz’s conviction that there is a categorical distinction between a rational Greece and an irrational Egypt only holds if you believe that reason only began with Aristotle’s formal binary logic[18] and Euclid’s axiomatic geometry, neither of which existed — as far as we know — in Ancient Egypt.’[19]

The development of philosophy was neither a Greek prerogative, nor a sufficient condition (although arguably a necessary one) for the development of modern science as a global concern. Schools of logic have developed not only in Greece but also in ancient India and China. The examples of medicine, alchemy and engineering, both in the Ancient Near Eastern/ Hellenic/ Hellenistic / Late Antiquity / Arabic / European tradition, and in China, make clear that science does not spring just from logic but also from the systematic practical, trial-and-error-based knowledge accumulated for centuries at the interface between artisanal and intellectual pursuits. A radical re-reading of the historical evidence (which inevitably has an ethnocentric bias) concerning the subtle ramifications of long-distance contacts across the Old World since the Neolithic, will help us understand the intercontinental contributions leading to the emergence of modern science, technology and philosophy in the West and subsequently on a global scale. One such a radical re-reading has been Joseph Needham’s Science and civilisation in China.[20] Although this most impressive project[21] scarcely features on the pages of Black Athena,[22] it greatly appealed to young Martin Bernal, in scope, in anti-Eurocentric orientation, and as an exercise in universal scholarship — and it may even have tilted the scales for him to read Sinology rather than African Studies or History of Science. Repeatedly, and to my mind convincingly,[23] Needham stresses the possible, likely, or certain contributions of China to European intellectual and technological achievements; Yellow Athena? Nor was the West Asian and North African contribution to modern world-wide science limited to some initial, pre-Greek formative period: Aristotelian logic, Aristotelianism, the subsequent Hellenistic philosophy including Stoicism and Neo-Plationism, and most of Hellenic and Hellenistic science (projects, incidentally, to which Egyptian and Levantine scholars made important contributions at the time) in general would never have been revived in the West in the early second millennium CE unless through the extensive mediation and elaboration of Arabic thinkers (Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina, foremost), with Maimonides and other medieval Jewish scholars acting as intermediaries.

 

4.3. diffusion, subsequent transformative localisation, and the questionable search for origins

This brief and inconclusive discussion of the contested origins of Greek thought should not obscure the fact that in the field of scholarship there are limits to the extent to which origins truly matter, truly illuminate the past and the present. This is particularly clear from the vantage point of anthropology, which Frazer once defined as a science of origins,[24] but which since the structural-functional revolution affecting that young discipline in the 1930s and ’40s, (until quite recently) had lost all interest in origins, geographical distribution patterns, even in causes, instead largely limiting itself to a contemplation of synchronic interconnectivity of diverse socio-cultural phenomena within typically a narrow geographical horizon. And even a more properly historical approach to social and cultural phenomena and their changes would insist that origin and diffusion is not to be equated with subsequent transformative localisation, leading to performance in maturity.

                        Let me give one example. Islam at its earliest stage was largely a creative peripheral reformulation of, already mutually interrelated, Jewish, Samaritan, Gnostic and Christian strands of religious thought and practice; but it soon grew into a world religion in its own right, up to the point where current anti-Islamist prejudice in the North Atlantic region among nominal Christians is scarcely mitigated by the sense of shared historical roots.

                        The same reasoning applies to Bernal’s central show-piece, the Greek goddess Athena herself. Considering the wealth of iconographic and semantic detail which Bernal adduces (even regardless of the contentious Ht Nt-Athena etymology itself, which receives ample discussion in this volume), it is quite conceivable that the link between the Greek goddess Athena, patron goddess of the major city of Greek civilisation in its heyday, and her Egyptian counterpart Neith, did go rather further than a mere superficial likeness cast in terms of the interpretatio graeca. Bernal urges us once again[25] to take the testimony of such ancient writers as Herodotus seriously, as evidence of the possibility that the Greek Athena merely represented the grateful adoption, into some Northern Mediterranean backwater, of splendid and time-honoured Egyptian cultural models — adoption as a result of colonisation and military campaigns, of Hyksos penetration, or of trade. The extensive arguments back and forth, in the Black Athena discussion, over the blackness of ‘Black’ Athena, the Africanness of blackness, the Africanness of Egyptians, the blackness or whiteness of Egyptians and Greeks, form its least inspiring and, frankly, rather embarrassing part, wholly determined as they are by the ideological and political connotations — so restricted and specific in time and space — of the concept ‘black’ in North American multicultural discourse of the 1980s and 1990s CE, four millennia after the point in time when the Egyptian/ Greek cultural exchanges in question are to have taken place. The important point is both to acknowledge the Egyptian, or in general Ancient Near Eastern, essential contributions to Greek classical civilisation (the argument of diffusion), and to recognise at the same time that Athena outgrew her presumable Egyptian origin, increasingly severing such Egyptian ties (in the form of actual cultic and social interaction with Egyptian) as she may once have had, integrating in the emergent local culture, and transforming in the process (the argument of subsequent localisation). She ended up as an important cultic focus and identity symbol of local cultural achievements which were, in the end, distinctively Greek. For an understanding of Greek Athena we need to know both her presumable Egyptian background and her local history in Greece.[26] Especially as the goddess of the mind, of mental processes, Athena at best characterises both the indebtedness of Greek and ultimately Western civilisation to the Ancient Near East, and, on that basis, the Greeks’ subsequent own achievements; as the patron of weaving and warfare she is particularly appropriate to preside over scholarly arguments (‘yarns’) claiming and contesting both intercultural dependence and subsequent emancipation from such dependence.

                        There is something thoroughly disconcerting in the emphasis on origins, as attends the debate on Black Athena and many other discourses on charters of identities confronting each other, not so much in the distant past (although that is where the actors project them), but in the world today. Origins are almost by definition too humble than that they are clearly perceptible to empirical research. At best the question of origin reduces a given socio-cultural phenomenon to the transformative combination of a number of earlier such phenomena, while the examination of the latter’s own origins is left for a later project. In this sense, the scholarly literature abounds with book titles on origins, and legitimately so. The quest for origins however implies that whoever undertakes it, is satisfied as to the preliminary question of the classification and the unit of study of his chosen subject; if different decisions are taken on these points, the quest will yield totally different results or will have to be called off altogether. A case in point is the quest for the origin of the Amazons: as long as these were classified as an ethnic group, all sort of likely candidates for identification were produced, especially in extreme south-eastern Europe; once it was realised that perhaps the most likely candidates for the Amazons are the females within, imaginarily threatening Greek males from inside the repressive confines of classical Greek society itself, the quest could be abandoned.[27] Another, even more pertinent example is that in terms of phenotype: much of the meta-scholarly excitement of the Black Athena debate is due to an anachronistic classification, smuggling in a late twentieth century CE folk classification in terms of Black and White, of race, into the analysis of cultural phenomena among ancient actors who employed very different classifications.[28] Implicit refusal to admit the essential role classification plays in defining origins, means that reification and the quest for origins often go hand in hand. Often then the ostentatious search for origins is not truly historical but merely programmatic, and theoretical primordial constructs (which because of their lack of empirical grounding are prone to ideological one-sidedness anyway) pose as historical ‘firsts’. This is one of the reasons why most anthropologists would no longer be enthusiastic about Frazer’s definition of their discipline.

                        With their ideological overtones and their invitation to conjecture, quests for origins are particularly cherished in the context of the identity formation of social groups, classes, racial groups, ethnic groups, nations. The exclusivist, racist variant of Afrocentrism is a good example of how the very language of identity (as in ethnic and religious attempts at self-definition) tends to succumb to the essentialistic suggestion that it is some primordially established, fixed quality or nature at the beginning of time, which determines present-day qualities and performance — instead of seeing the latter as being realised in a dialectical, contradictory, and largely unpredictable historical process: a process, not of remaining an essence, but of becoming — usually becoming more than one thing at the same time, fostering multiple identities while constantly switching from one identity to the other, and being conscious of the arbitrary nature of all socially upheld identity anyway.

                        Thus the pursuit of ‘origins’, however legitimate as an academic activity under certain conditions, ultimately even risks to be co-opted into the camp of Blut und Boden — not necessarily with Nazist overtones, but at least of a frame of mind brooding on tangible essences about which one does not argue lest one is forced to admit the historically constructed and optional nature, of an identity one hoped could pas for primordial, unalterable, God-given, uncompromising. It is ultimately the frame of mind in which people feel justified to kill over ideas.

                        One of the ironies of Black Athena is that Martin Bernal, seeking to explode the Eurocentrist myth of origin (‘the Greek miracle’), was tempted to extend his analysis beyond a mere critique of classicist scholarship since the 18th century CE, and felt compelled to produce his own account of the origins of Greek/ European civilisation — with the obvious danger of producing merely another myth of origin. What enables him to construct for himself an analytical meta-plane from which to observe and interpret the historical actors that fill his historiography? How does he descend from that meta-plane in order to become himself a producer of historical knowledge, launching his ‘Revised Ancient Model’ stipulating massive Afroasiatic, or more specifically Egyptian, cultural and linguistic influence upon the genesis of classical Greek civilisation — in addition for allowance (hence ‘Revised’) for immigration of Indo-European speakers from the north? How does he avoid (or does he?) the methodological and ideological pitfalls into which he claims his historical actors have fallen? These are crucial questions in any assessment of Black Athena, and they lead us to consider, in the following sections, Bernal’s sociology of knowledge, the debate his books have generated, and his epistemology.

 

5. Martin Bernal and the sociology of knowledge

In order to contrast between rival theories and between their producers, Martin Bernal frequently deploys two conceptual tools forged in the 20th century CE: Kuhn’s notion of the succession of scientific paradigms;[29] and what Bernal insists on calling ‘the sociology of knowledge’ as if there were only one — in his case essentially Mannheim’s[30] perceptive elaboration of Marx’s awareness of the class determinants in the production of scientific and other knowledge.

                        Bernal uses these tools with enviable economy. ‘The’ sociology of knowledge is claimed to enable us to understand why scholars propounding wrong, obsolete or ethically undesirable (e.g. racialist) theories should do so, by revealing the interest groups to which these scholars belong in terms of class, gender, race, education, generation, academic discipline, academic establishment versus academic periphery, specific institutions and academic schools at rivalry with each other in the national and international scene, etc. The notion of the succession of paradigms, on the other hand, is invoked — reticently in Black Athena I, more confidently in Black Athena II — in order to highlight the revolutionary and irreversible nature of the breakthrough produced by the Black Athena thesis, as well as to justify that such a breakthrough could or should come from someone like Bernal, by professional training an outsider to the ancient history of the eastern Mediterranean. Below, when discussing the Black Athena debate, I shall come back to Bernal’s claims concerning paradigms.

                        The one-sidedness of Bernal’s position with regard to any sociology of knowledge becomes clear once we realise that, with all the personal detail concerning the circumstances of the author’s embarking on the Black Athena project,[31] the two Black Athena volumes are silent as to whatever systematic ‘sociology of knowledge’ their own author might find himself to be determined by — and what (in the face of the oppressive influence such a sociology of knowledge is claimed to have had on the authors he faults) he has done himself to transcend that determination.

                        Significantly, Martin Bernal presents his autobiographical details as ‘a study in the sociology of knowledge’ but he fails to raise them above the anecdotal level. Clearly he is under the impression that with the anecdotal account he gives of himself and his Werdegang, against the setting of the 1970s and ’80s in the introductions to both Black Athena I and II, he has given us all we need in this respect. However, a proper sociology of knowledge is of course more than a programme, and more than a scenario of good guys and bad guys. It should investigate the contradictions inherent in the production of academic knowledge under relevant social conditions. For contemporary knowledge production such conditions include: state patronage; organisational structures and institutional rivalry; personal career insecurity; a partly immaterial and in general disintegrating and declining reward structure in terms of income and social prestige; class aspirations; the problems of recruitment and socialisation involved in perpetuating an academic discipline which (contrary to an ethnic group, a class, a village etc.) is not demo­graphically a self-reproducing unit; intra-generational and inter-generational control over resources and rewards; pressures towards conformity; yet scope for individual freedom, transgression, and innovation; the leverage offered by new ideologies and social movements from outside the discipline (e.g. feminism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism); and patterns of ‘dropping out’ through routinisation, absenteeism, career shifts etc. Bernal has a sharp intuition for such themes, and interesting material towards the sociology of knowledge of ancient history and related disciplines in the twentieth century CE is presented throughout Black Athena I, the preface to Black Athena II, and in his contributions to the present volume. Yet the sociological analysis itself remains to be written. Unfortunately, the more the Black Athena project has allowed the Sinologist Bernal to insert himself in the scholarly circles where ancient history is being produced, rapidly[32] shedding the outsidership that characterised his initial position in the late 1970s, the less likely he becomes as the future author of such an analysis.

                        Bernal is obviously unique as an intellectual producer. This is borne out by his successful expansion, after his initial training in Sinology and modern, intercontinental intellectual history, into a totally new set of disciplines in mid-career, and by the phenomenal if often conflictive response he gained as a result. Likewise, Bernal’s ancestry is rather more unique even than that of other social actors in that it contains several intellectual giants and was rather more than average conducive to marginality:

Martin Bernal grew up as the son of J.D. Bernal, a famous British crystallographer cum Marxist historian of science. His maternal grandfather was Sir Alan Gardiner, millionaire and the greatest British Egyptologist of his generation. Growing up in the Bohemian fringe of the British upper-class, his father’s Irish background, his maternal grandmother’s half-Jewish background, and his milieu’s general preoccupation with intellectual excellence left their traces in Martin Bernal’s biography. So did anthropology and Africa: before marrying J.D. Bernal, Margaret Gardiner had a relationship with the anthropologist Bernard Deacon, who however died during field-work in Melanesia; much later young Martin as a freshman lived for a year at the house of Meyer Fortes, the leading Africanist anthropologist of his generation. The family’s tea plantation in Malawi earned young Martin an extensive stay in Africa and introduction to an African language, Chi-Nyanja, in 1957. His father was a close friend of the biologist and historian of Chinese science Joseph Needham, and took his son to visit this universal scholar.[33]

                        Sociology, also sociology of knowledge, consists in the subsuming of individual actors under broader social categories, their dynamics and interactions. As such a sociology of knowledge of the individual Martin Bernal would be a contradiction in terms. Yet one might pursue a number of directions towards the sociological framing of Bernal as an academic actor. I can see a number of strands which I shall identify by italicised paragraph headings.

                        The upper-class symbolic veiling and subjective transcendence of exploitation. While material appropriation and exploitation (both domestic and in a North-South, colonial context) constituted the economic base for the British upper classes, the symbolic veiling and subjective transcendence of such material relations under a cloak of indirectness, expertise, respectability and sublimation has been a major incentive in the production of culture including scholarship. Of course, such a project can only work if its class nature and psychological strategy remains hidden from the consciousness of the actors involved. Its scope can only be understood on the basis of an assumption of these actors’ integrity as cultural, including intellectual, producers taking on extraordinary responsibility for the production of emphatically disinterested knowledge, on behalf not just of their own class but of society as a whole. Thus Black Athena I stresses how familiarity with the classics became the mainstay in the gentleman’s education — although its author himself, in the mid-20th century and only marginally upper-class, went to a progressive coeducational school. But in the same way, colonial expansion and its attending class interests become translated in the study of exotic languages and cultures, remote in place and/ or time — as throughout Bernal’s family and social circle. When directed not to dead civilisations but to living colonial subjects, such a study is likely to result in the appreciation of, and identification with, the people concerned; although initially ineffectual from a political and economic point of view, this may ultimately erode the premises of North-South domination — a development of which the production of anti-Eurocentric Black Athena is the final consequence.

                        The burden of empire. Having built part of their security on territorial expansion and productive exploitation of the African and Asian continent in the course of the 19th century, in the next generations — with the redefinition and subsequent loss of empire, though not necessarily of the wealth it had afforded them — the British upper classes were forced to redefine their identity; after dumping the Malawian tea plantation that featured as a major asset in his maternal family’s wealth, Afrocentrist-inclined Black Athena is the final stage in such a process, also in Martin Bernal’s own perception.[34]

                        A sense of inter-generational continuity and obligation. Martin Bernal grew up among the giants of British intellectual life. He was early on socialised to the highest standards of intellectual prominence and heroism, of world-wide responsibility, of scholarship as a family obligation. The British upper classes shared this concern with academic professional circles with which, despite massive differences in wealth and birth, they entertained a Wahlverwantschaft, as expressed in close friendships and marriages — including presumably that of J.D. Bernal and M. Gardiner. The exalted family standards as regards scholarship were scarcely met by marginal Martin Bernal’s inconspicuous Cornell professor­ship, outside the world’s few great centres of Asian studies. This realisation may have been at least one ingredient in the mid-life crisis leading to Black Athena. The dedication of Volume I to the memory of J.D. Bernal, and that of Cadmean Letters to the memory of Alan Gardiner, would then appear to be a triumphant declaration: to the world, that Martin Bernal was coming into his own; and to the ancestors, that the son was discharging his obligation, even if this meant invading several disciplines totally new to him.[35]

                        The stimulating effect of the transatlantic brain drain. From a European academic vantage point, one of the striking features of the Black Athena debate is that it is unmistakably American, despite its British-born protagonist.[36] Although Martin Bernal continued to frequent Cambridge academic circles during the preparatory stages of Black Athena,[37] his first papers on his newly chosen theme were virtually all situated within a U.S.A. context,[38] — where he was working at Cornell, where the after­math of the Vietnam war dominated intellectual life, and where Blacks, i.e. African Americans, were becoming increasingly vocal — insisting on a university curriculum that would represent them and their intercontinental antecedents truthfully or at least: positively. Racialism, African roots, Black curricula, were already becoming established concerns of institutional and academic politics in the U.S.A. when, in the 1970s, European countries, utterly unprepared, were only going through the first waves of immigration from Africa and the Africanised Americas. Subsequently, after the end of the Cold War, the U.S.A. Black population and their socio-cultural aspirations were pressed into service by the dominant right-wing white community in order to constitute one of their much needed enemies within, now that the major external enemy, communism, had dissolved. The fact that North American white classicists dominate the Black Athena debate suggests that a major, if implied, concern for them has been preservation of the purity of their imported European culture, referring to a distant homeland far to the east (!) across the Atlantic; their Ex oriente lux simply has different mythical and geopolitical parameters than for British-born Martin Bernal. It is in the North American context that he hit on the one ideological issue, race; that allowed him to make the transition from Sinologist to ancient historian of the eastern Mediterranean; to discharge, in the process, the accumulated obligations which his nationality, class and family history have structurally imposed upon him; and to turn his own marginality into a positive force by passionately and creatively fighting the ideological exclusion of Africa and Asia, and of their diasporic descendants in the West.

                        Even from the vantage point of an increasingly ‘multicultural’ (i.e. phenotypically diverse) continental Europe with mounting racial tensions, it is difficult to appreciate the way in which race — a concept so utterly compromised by modern history, and dismantled by modern science — is an issue in U.S.A. public culture today. Outside specialist circles, the sheer existence of Afrocentrism as an established ideological option has even scarcely registered with the continental European intellectual public — another reason why e.g. the Dutch response to Black Athena has been so slow to gain momentum.

                        And this does not even exhaust the extent to which the Black Athena debate reflects an American academic culture which, despite the obvious American academic hegemony in many fields, still has not become fully standard in Europe. Further features include the stress on corporate action, corporate responsibilities, explicit pro­fessionalisation, formal labelling practices through public debate and mass gatherings, on the part of academic disciplines and of academia at large — in other words the visual and group-wise, organisational articulation of the academic forum. This pattern is rather different from the cherished model of public aloofness and small-scale, informal intra-academic exchanges, which is more or less standard in many European countries. The fact that France is rather an exception to this pattern suggests that we are not just talking here of subcultural free variation on both sides of the Atlantic, but about the way in which a national culture’s sense of self-imposed mission, in other words a state’s hegemonic cultural aspirations (which are massive in the case of both the U.S.A. and France today) are reflected in academic production patterns. If the European academic producer often aims at sheltered production to be assessed among selected peers, the American (or in general, hegemonic) pattern instigates the role model of the academic producer as the belligerent hero who seeks, and finds, public exposure and recognition, and who in the process satisfies the collective demand for new, topical intellectual issues to be initiated, used up, and replaced.

                        While these Americanisms may have offended some of Martin Bernal’s British upper-class values, they must also have appealed to his family-instilled sense of social obligation as discharged through scholarly excellence and fame. He has utilised these characteristics of the American academic scene with the same capacity for absorption and mastery as is demonstrated in his polyglot language skills and his stunning display of erudition, which show him to be the scion of an intellectual dynasty he is.

 

6. The Black Athena debate

The above goes a long way to explain the scope of the Black Athena debate and the peculiarly insistent stance of its protagonist. In addition there may be something of a band-wagon effect producing a ‘Black Athena industry’ (including the present collection...), but the vehemence of the debate reveals that, instead of opportunism, profound emotions and convictions are involved on all sides. Understandably so, considering the scope of Bernal’s project. The publication of Volume II in 1991 meant not only a further increase of the number of disciplines involved in the debate, but also a marked change of tone. As long as the Black Athena project remained (as in Volume I) essentially a review of the image of Egypt in European intellectual history, with — as was the author’s stated intention — mere truncated and only lightly referenced previews of the expected findings of the next volumes, the project was by and large welcomed for its solid foundation in scholarship, and critical sense of Eurocentric and racialist prejudices informing previous generations of classicists now long dead. Glen Bowersock, the leading American classicist, proved far from blind to the oddities even of Volume I, yet he could declare:

‘This is an astonishing work, breathtakingly bold in conception and passionately written. It is the first of three projected volumes that are designed to undermine nothing less than the whole consensus of classical scholarship, built up over two hundred years, on the origins of ancient Greek civilization. (...) Bernal shows conclusively that our present perception of the Greeks was artificially pieced together between the late eighteenth century and the present. (...) Bernal’s treatment of this theme is both excellent and important.’[39]

However, when Volume II was published four years later, it addressed the specifics of eastern Mediterranean ancient history — a topic constituting the life’s work of hundreds of living researchers. And it did so in a truly alarming fashion, less well written than Volume I, invoking yet more contentious Egyptian etymologies for ancient Greek proper names and lexical items, insisting on the cultic penetration not only of Neith but of specific minor Egyptian gods to the Aegean, relying on mythological material as if whatever kernels of historical fact this might contain could readily be identified, claiming physical Egyptian presence in the Aegean by reference to irrigation works, a monumental tumulus, and traditions of a Black pharaoh’s military campaign into South Eastern Europe and adjacent Asia, playing havoc with the established chronologies of the Ancient Near East, attributing the Mycenaean shaft graves to Levantine invaders identified as early Hyksos yet bringing Egyptian culture, and reiterating a sympathy for Afrocentrist ideas which meanwhile had become rather more vocal and politicised in the U.S.A. It was at this stage that many scholars parted company with Bernal and that genuine and justified scholarly critique was combined with right-wing political contestation against the unwelcome, anti-Eurocentric, inter­cultural and intercontinental message of the Black Athena project as a whole — a development formalised and meant to be finalised by the publication of Black Athena revisited in 1996 under the editorship of Mary Lefkowitz and Guy MacLean Rogers.

                        Moreover, a peculiar feature of the debate has been that Martin Bernal has remained the single main producer in the Black Athena industry, not only with his two fat tomes and a modest number of independent articles, but particularly as the author of a large number of often quite lengthy responses,[40] which take up major and minor challenges of his stated views. Two more such responses were specifically written for the present volume,[41] and an entire volume of them is now underway as the answer to Black Athena revisited.

                        One thing which the editors of Black Athena revisited have certainly managed to bring about, is a state of alarm and embarrassment among all scholars and lay people seriously interested in pursuing the perspectives which Martin Bernal has sought to open in the Black Athena volumes. How could one honestly and publicly continue to derive inspiration from an author whose work has been characterised in the following terms by a well-informed critic like Robert Palter:

‘...those today who are seriously concerned with formulating a radical political critique of contemporary scholarship (...) might wish to think twice before associating themselves with the methods and claims of Bernal’s work; (...) for his lapses in the most rudimentary requirements of sound historical study — traditional, critical, any kind of historical study — should make one wary of his grandiose historiographical pronouncements. (...) In the absence of adequate controls on evidence and argument, the view of history presented in Black Athena is continually on the verge of collapsing into sheer ideology.’[42]

Sarah Morris praises the critical self-reflection Black Athena has brought about among classicists, but finds this too dearly paid for:

‘On the other hand, it has bolstered, in ways not anticipated by the author, an Afrocentrist agenda which returns many debates to ground zero and demolishes decades of scrupulous research by excellent scholars such as Frank Snowden. An ugly cauldron of racism, recrimination, and verbal abuse has boiled up in different departments and disciplines; it has become impossible for professional Egyptologists to address the truth without abuse, and Bernal’s arguments have only contributed to an avalanche of radical propaganda without basis in fact’.[43]

Mary Lefkowitz says she does not doubt Bernal’s good intentions yet finds him criminally guilty of what must be, especially in her eyes, the greatest crime: providing apparently serious, scholarly fuel to what otherwise might have remained the Afrocentrist straw fire:

‘To the extent that Bernal has contributed to the provision of an apparently respectable underpinning for Afrocentric fantasies, he must be held culpable, even if his intentions are honorable and his motives are sincere.’[44]

                        Yet all this cannot be the entire story, and it is probably only a one-sided version of whatever story. How else to account, for instance, for the praise which the prominent Egyptologist and archaeologist B.G. Trigger piles on Black Athena? He sees Martin Bernal’s project certainly not as a mere exercise in consciousness-raising meant for Blacks in search of identity,[45] but as a serious contribution to the history of archaeology — one of his own specialisms[46] — and as a stimulating pointer at the possibilities of innovation in that discipline, which he considers to be bogged down by processual scientism.[47]

                        Yet even Trigger stresses Bernal’s methodological inadequacies, rejects his contentious chronology particularly with regard to the Hyksos, and criticises the way in which he tends to take ancient myth as a statement of fact. And given the large numbers of both Egyptian and Greek myths, he argues, it is easy for any scholar to take his pick and claim historical connections between selections from both sets. Moreover, as an Egyptologist Trigger appears unconvinced by Bernal’s argument in favour of the possibility of extensive Asian and European campaigns by Senwosret I or III.

                        The Black Athena debate can be seen to operate at two levels:

     that of the political agenda of the editors of Black Athena revisited, which revolves on the grossly irresponsible denial[48] of the multicultural, intercontinental and multicentred origins, both of classical Greek civilisation, and ultimately of Western European and modern global civilisation; character defamation is among their lines of attack.[49]

     and that of the majority of contributors, who — whatever their political convictions — are merely doing their jobs as scholars, justifiably defining and defending, not so much the political and economic resources, but the methodological and theoretical principles, of their respective disciplines.

                        The factual, chronological and methodological chords struck by Trigger as a thoroughly sympathetic reviewer reverberate, with dissonants and fortissimi, throughout Black Athena revisited and the other venues of the Black Athena debate. Many complain of the defects and even of the absence of methodology in Bernal’s writings.[50] Many are appalled by what they consider to be Bernal’s confusion of culture, ethnicity and race.[51] They suspect him of a nineteenth-century, lapidary belief in physical displacements of people through migration and conquest as prime explanatory factors in cultural change. They blame him for an unsystematic and linguistically incompetent handling of etymologies. While Bernal positively prides himself (to the extent of claiming to have authored a Kuhnian paradigm shift) in championing modes of interpretation which were far more favoured in the beginning of the twentieth century than towards its end, many critics do not so much find fault with his specific points but simply — and clearly for disciplinary, internal, rather than political and external reasons — refuse to recognise his approach as legitimate, up-to-date ancient history.[52] As John Baines has pointed out,[53] the notion of paradigms may be scarcely applicable in the field of ancient history:

‘Despite the extended applications of Kuhn’s term that have appeared since the publication of his book [Kuhn’s, i.e. The structure of scientific revolutions, o.c.], ancient Near Eastern studies are not a ‘science’ or a discipline in the Kuhnian sense. Rather, they are the sum of a range of methods and approaches applied to a great variety of materials from a particular geographical region and period; even definitions of the area and period are open to revision. So far as the ancient Near East relates to ‘paradigms’, these are, for example, theories of social complexity and change, or in other cases theories of literary form and discourse. This point is where Bernal’s aims depart farthest from those of many specialists in ancient Near Eastern studies.

Specialists in eighteenth and nineteenth century CE intellectual history have little difficulty showing that some of Bernal’s allegedly racist villains were in fact heroes of intercultural learning and tolerance.[54] His Afrocentrist-inspired views of Ancient Egyptian science have been severely attacked by Palter.[55] Several find his treatment of what he alleges to be the undercurrent of Egyptian knowledge in European culture since Late Antiquity incompetent.[56] Many critics question whether Bernal’s stated intention of trying to understand Greek civilisation is sincere: all they can see is an obsession with provenance, with intercontinental cultural displacement, and with late 20th century CE identity politics, but certainly no coherent and empathic appreciation of the inner structure, the moral and aesthetic orientations, religious experience and life world of the Ancient Egyptians, Levantines and Greeks.[57]

                        These are very serious points, although not necessarily destructive for the Black Athena thesis as a whole. An examination of Bernal’s epistemology may help put them in perspective.


to homepage

this paper's Contents | Part I (sections 1-3) | Part III (sections 7-8)


[1]Cf. Kingsley, P., 1996, ‘Meetings with Magi: Iranian themes among the Greeks, from Xanthus of Lydia to Plato’s Academy’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (London); Kingsley, P., 1994, ‘Greeks, shamans and magic’, Studia Iranica, 23: 187-198.

[2]Spengler, O., 1993, Der Untergang des Abendlandes: Umrisse einer Morpho­logie der Weltgeschichte, Munchen: DTV; first published 1923, München: Beck; p. 22 n. 1:

‘Das Wort Europa sollte aus der Geschichte gestrichen werden.’

And he goes on in the same footnote:

‘ ‘‘Europa’’ ist leerer Schall. Alles, was die Antike an großen Schöpfungen hervorbrachte, entstand unter Negation jeder kontinentalen Grenze zwischen Rom und Cypern, Byzanz und Alexandria. Alles, was europäische Kultur heißt, entstand zwischen Weichsel, Adria und Guadalquivir [in other words, way outside Greece] . Und gesetzt, da?Griechenland zur Zeit des Perikles ‘‘in Europa lag’’, so liegt es heute [early 1920s, when the final sections of Greek territory had only just been wrestled from the Ottoman Empire — WvB] nicht mehr dort.’

[3]Toynbee, A., 1988, A study of history: A new edition revised and abridged by the author and Jane Caplan, London: Thames & Hudson; this edition first published 1972.

[4]Garaudy, R., 1977, Pour un dialogue des civilisations: L’Occident est un accident, Paris: Denoël.

[5]Kimmerle, H., 1983, Entwurf einer Philosophie des Wir: Schule des alternativen Denkens, Bochum: Germinal; Kimmerle, H., 1991, ed., Philosophie in Afrika: Afrikanische Philosophie: Annäherungen an einen interkulturellen Philosophiebegriff, Frankfurt am Main: Qumran; Mall, R.A., 1995, Philosophie im Vergleich der Kulturen: Interkulturelle Philosophie, eine neue Orientierung, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

[6]Also see the ‘third distortion’ of his work as identified in: Bernal, ‘Responses to Black Athena: General and linguistic issues’.

[7]In Black Athena II, p. 21, 527, Bernal would also identify Arthur Evans, J.D.S. Pendlebury, and S. Marinatos, as modified diffusionists — like himself.

[8]Bernal, ‘Phoenician politics and Egyptian justice’, 241. Cf. Black Athena II, pp. 523f.

[9]Cf. Wim van Binsbergen, ‘Alternative models of intercontinental interaction’.

[10]Black Athena I, p. 489, n. 59.

[11]Cassirer, E., 1941, ‘Logos, Dike, Kosmos in der Entwicklung der griechischen Philosophie’, Göteborgs Högskolas Arsskrift, XLVII, 6, Göteborg; Cassirer, E., 1953-7, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vols., New Haven: Yale University Press, English translation by R. Mannheim of Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, Berlin, 1923-9; Cornford, F.M., 1957, From religion to philosophy: A study in the origins of Western speculation, New York: Harper and Row; first published 1912, London; Cornford, F. M., 1952, Principium Sapientiae: The origins of Greek philosophical thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Snell, B., 1955, Die Entdeckung des Geistes: Studien zur Entstehung des europäischen Denkens bei den Griechen, Hamburg: Claassen & Goverts; Eng. tr. The discovery of the mind: The Greek origins of European thought, New York: Harper & Row; cf. Onians, R.B., 1951, The origins of European thought: About the body, the mind, the soul, the world, time, and fate: New interpretations of Greek, Roman and kindred evidence also of some basic Jewish and Christian beliefs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Frankfort, H., Frankfort, H.A., Wilson, J.A., Jacobsen, T., & Irwin, W.A., 1957, Before philosophy: The intellectual adventure of Ancient Man: An essay on speculative thought in the Ancient Near East, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, first published 1946. More recently, the work of Jean Bottéro has been remarkably penetrating on the point of Ancient Near Eastern rationality, e.g. Bottéro, J., 1974, ‘Symptômes, signes, écritures: En Mésopotamie ancienne’, in: Divination et rationalit?/i>, Paris: Seuil, pp. 70-195; Bottéro, J., 1992, Mesopotamia: Writing, reasoning, and the Gods, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, espec. ch. 8: ‘Divination and the scientific spirit’, pp. 125-137. Also cf. Larsen, M.T., 1987, ‘The Mesopotamian lukewarm mind: Reflection on science, divination and literacy’, in: Rochberg-Halton, F., ed., Language, Literature and history: Philological and historical studies presented to Erica Reiner, New Haven (Conn.): American Oriental Society, p. 203-225. These studies do suggest possible continuity between the Ancient Near East and later Greek rationality such as also been stressed by G.S Kirk (1960, ‘Popper on science and the Presocratics’, Mind, NS, 60: 318-39) with regard to the Presocratics; but they scarcely warrant the claim (as in James, Stolen legacy, o.c.) that the highest developments of Greek philosophy (Plato and Aristotle) were not a predominantly local and original, Greek achievement.

[12]Gay, P., 1973, The Enlightenment: An interpretation, vol. I. The rise of modern paganism, London: Wildwood House; first published 1964; p. 464.

[13]It is only one among several bases for universalism. E.g., if the Gilgamesh epic continues to move us emotionally across a stretch of nearly five thousand years, this implies another kind of universalism — one catered for by literary, not logical, techniques, evoking not the capability of specialised thought to encompass the whole of mankind, but implicitly addressing the communality of mankind as sharing in the experience of the human body and its vulnerable and ephemeral nature, of human society, and man’s capability of language.

[14]Trigger, B.C., 1995, Early civilizations: Ancient Egypt in context, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, first published 1993; p. 93.

[15]Trigger, ‘Brown Athena’, p. 123; emphasis added.

[16]Cf. Black Athena I, p. 216, 477, n. 95; Preus, A., 1992, Greek Philosophy: Egyptian origins, Binghamton: Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Research Papers on the Humanities and Social Sciences; Lefkowitz, Not out of Africa. The claims affirming Afroasiatic provenance partly go back to the Afrocentric James, Stolen legacy. Outside Afrocentrism, cf. West, M.L., 1971, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

[17]Dodds, E.R., 1951, The Greeks and the irrational, Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press; von Staden, H. 1992, ‘Affinities and Elisions: Helen and Hellenocentrism’, Isis, 83: 578-95.

[18]Sic; the credit for this variety of logic should rather go to George Boole (1815-1864 CE), which however leaves the status of Aristotle’s syllogistic logic unaffected in this connection.

[19]Bernal, M., Review of Not out of Africa.

[20]Especially: Needham, J., with Wing Ling, 1961, Science and civilization in China, vol. 1. Introductory orientations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; first edition 1954; Needham, J., with Wing Ling, 1956, Science and civilization in China, vol. 2. History of scientific thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; many more volumes have been published.

[21]Although even more ambitious, profound and scholarly, it was in a way similar, and complementary, to the project to which Martin Bernal’s father, originally a crystallographer, devoted his later years; cf. J.D. Bernal’s Science in history, 4 vols., Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

[22]Black Athena II, pp. 312, 313.

[23]Cf. his magnificent discussion of Taoism, or of the Chinese influence on Leibniz’s binary mathematics; Needham c.s., Science and civilization.

[24]Frazer, J.G., 1922, ‘The scope and method of mental anthropology’, Science Progress, 64, April 1922: 586.

[25]For a recent refutation of the ‘liar’ thesis which has haunted the image of Herodotus in the European classical tradition, cf. Pritchett, W.K., 1993, The liar school of Herodotus, Amsterdam: Gieben.

[26]Cf. the final, long footnote in: Wim van Binsbergen, ‘Alternative models of intercontinental interaction’.

[27]Blok, J.H., 1995, The early Amazons: Modern and ancient perspectives on a persistent myth, Leiden: Brill.

[28]Cf. Snowden, ‘Bernal’s Blacks’, o.c.

[29]Kuhn, T.S., 1970, The structure of scientific revolutions, International Encyclopaedia of Unified Science, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2nd ed., first ed. 1962.

[30]Mannheim, K., 1936, Ideology and Utopia, trans. L. Wirth and E. Shils, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. A similar trend is also manifest in the work J.D. Bernal produced in the field of the history of science.

[31]Black Athena I, p. xiiff.

[32]Cf. his adjunct professorship in Near Eastern studies as early as 1984, three years before even Black Athena I had been published.

[33]Cf. Gardiner, A. H., 1986, My early years, ed. J. Gardiner, reprint, Isle of Man: Andreas, originally published 1945-55; Gardiner, A. H., n.d., My working years, London: Coronet Press; M. Gardiner, Footprints on Malekula: A memoir of Bernard Deacon; M. Gardiner, 1988, A scatter of memories, London: Free Association Books; relevant passages in M. Bernal, Black Athena I and II, and Cadmean letters; M. Bernal, ‘Afroasiatic loan words in Greek’, oral presentation, conference on Black Athena: Africa’s contribution to global systems of knowledge, African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, 28 June, 1996; the author’s extensive conversations with Martin Bernal, 29/7/96 (Haarlem, The Netherlands) and 26/10/96 (Binghamton, N.Y., U.S.A.); Arno Egberts, ‘Consonants in collision: Neith and Athena reconsidered’ (this volume).

[34]In his oral presentation at the Leiden 1996 conference on which the present volume is based, Martin Bernal revealed that one of the main driving forces behind writing Black Athena was simply: embarrassment at having benefited, as a member of his mother’s family, from the capitalist exploitation of the African people in the context of this Malawian tea plantation, which he not only visited as a boy but for which later he also bore corporate responsibility before getting rid of it as, in the political views of his mature years, an ethically unacceptable asset:

‘First I should indicate another motive to my taking up this topic. It is guilt. My mother’s family owned a tea plantation in Malawi, where, over the years, I spent a number of months. The first non Indo-European language I attempted to learn was actually what was then called Chinyanja and what is now called Chichewa in Malawi. Since the nineteen fifties I have always had an interest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed if there had been African Studies available in Cambridge at the time I went to study there I would have chosen these rather than Chinese, although I was very positively attracted to China and Chinese studies. I think there was something profoundly Eurocentric in my choosing these two topics, in that one of the things I wanted to find out what was the nature of European culture and identity by looking at others, in order to filter out what was common to humanity. Anyhow, at the age of nineteen I was thinking in terms of Africa very clearly.’

[35]Cf. Black Athena II, p. xx:

‘I have been heavily influenced by my father. However, this has been more by the general features of his thought, his broadness of historical vision and sympathy for the underdog, than by the specifics of his Marxism.’

[36]Cf. Levine, M. Myerowitz, 1992, ‘The use and abuse of Black Athena’, American Historical Review, 97, 2: 440-64.

[37]Black Athena I, p. xv.

[38]Bernal, M., ‘Speculations on the disintegration of Afroasiatic’, paper presented at the 8th conference of the North American Conference of Afroasiatic Linguistics, San Francisco, April 1980; Bernal, M., 1983, ‘On the westward transmission of the Canaanite alphabet before 1500 BC’, paper presented to the American Oriental Society, Baltimore (April); Bernal, M., 1985, ‘Black Athena’, in: Van Sertima, African presence.

[39]Bowersock, G., 1989, [Review of Black Athena I], Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 19: 490-91.

[40]Bernal, M., 1989, ‘Response to Professor Turner’ In: Myerowitz Levine & Peradotto, pp. 26-30; Bernal, M., 1989, ‘Response to Professor Snowden’ In: Myerowitz Levine & Peradotto, pp. 30-32; Bernal, M., 1990, ‘Responses to Critical Reviews of Black Athena, Volume I’, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 3, 1: 111-37; Bernal, M., 1992, ‘Response to Edith Hall’, Arethusa, 25: 203-14; Bernal, M., 1992, ‘Response to Mary Lefkowitz, ‘‘Not Out of Africa’’ ’, New Republic, 9 March, 4-5; Bernal, M., 1992, ‘A Response to John Coleman (Part II)’, The Bookpress, 2, 2: 2, 13; Bernal, M., 1993, ‘Response to S. O. Y. Keita’, Arethusa, 26: 315-19; Bernal, M., 1993, ‘Response, The Debate over Black Athena’, Journal of Women’s History, 4, no. 3: 119-35; Bernal, M., 1994, ‘Response to Robert Palter’, History of Science, 32, no. 4: 445-64.

[41]Bernal, ‘Response to Josine Blok’ and ‘Response to Arno Egberts’.

[42]Palter, R., 1996, ‘Eighteenth-century historiography in Black Athena’, in: Lefkowitz, & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 349-401, p. 350f.

[43]Morris, S.P., 1996, ‘The legacy of Black Athena’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., p. 167-175.

[44]Lefkowitz, M.R., 1996, ‘Ancient history, modern myths’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 3-23, p. 20.

[45]Pace Cartledge, P., 1991, ‘Out of Africa?’, New Statesman and Society, 4 (164): 35-36.

[46]Cf. Trigger, B.G., 1980, Gordon Childe: Revolutions in archaeology, London: Thames & Hudson; Trigger, B.G., 1989, A history of archaeological thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[47]Trigger, ‘Brown Athena’, o.c.

[48]E.g. MacLean Rogers, G., 1996, ‘Multiculturalism and the foundations of Western civilization’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 428-445, p. 429.

[49]Cf. MacLean Rogers, ‘Multiculturalism’, p. 441:

‘it is hard in retrospect not to see the entire enterprise of Black Athena as a massive, fundamentally misguided projection upon the second millennium B.C.E. of Martin Bernal’s personal struggle to establish an identity during the later twentieth century’,

as if an author and his work are to be disqualified by the very fact that he is sensitive and responsible enough for the crucial dilemma’s and contradictions of his social situation and historical period to make themselves felt in his personal life. With the same futile argument one might disqualify Freud’s genius on the grounds of having shared the neurosis of fin-de-siècle Vienna, and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein for having lived, in their personal lives, the philosophical struggles their works expound. It is in the nature of prophets to personally suffer and express the ills of their age; cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/ Boston: Kegan Paul International, ch. 4. For this very reason I have been careful, in my above discussion of the sociology of knowledge, to insist on structural contradiction, not individual motives.

[50]Yet such criticism often turns out to be difficult to substantiate, e.g. the utterly unconvincing two methodological case studies by Palter (‘Eighteenth century historiography’, o.c., pp. 388f). However, E. Hall (1996, ‘When is a myth not a myth: Bernal’s ‘’Ancient Model’’ ’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 333-348) con­vincingly shows the methodological naïvety of Bernal’s handling of mythical material. Meanwhile, Bernal prides himself, and not entirely without justification, precisely on the explicitly theoretical nature of his approach and his attention for factors relating to the sociology of knowledge, which, he argues (Black Athena I, pp. 433f) constitutes the main difference between his work and e.g.: Morenz, S., 1969, Die Begegnung Europas met Ägypten, Zürich & Stuttgart: Artemis.

[51]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.

[52]Baines, o.c., p. 39; Thus also Muhly, J.D., 1990, ‘Black Athena versus traditional scholarship’, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 3, 1: 83-110, who summarises his methodological objections in Bernal’s own words:

‘it is difficult for the scholar without a discipline ‘‘going it alone’’, to know where to stop’ (cf. Black Athena I, p. 381).

[53]Baines, o.c., p. 42.

[54]Palter, o.c., on Kant, Goethe and Lessing; Jenkyns, R., 1996, ‘Bernal and the nineteenth century’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 411-419; and on Herder: Norton, R.E., 1996, ‘The tyranny of Germany over Greece? Bernal, Herder, and the German appropriation of Greece’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 403-409. For a penetrating discussion of this dimension of Bernal’s work, cf. Blok (this volume).

[55]Palter, R., 1996, ‘Black Athena, Afrocentrism, and the history of science’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, o.c., pp. 209-266. However, see the short but convincing argument for Egyptian/Greek scientific continuity by the great historian of science and magic W. Hartner (1963, ‘W. Hartner’ [ Discussion of G. de Santillana's ‘On forgotten sources in the history of science’ ], in: Crombie, A.C., ed., Scientific change, New York: Basic Books, pp. 868-75): e.g., Hellenist Greek astronomers tell us that Egyptian astronomers (whom we can demonstrate to have been pre-Hellenist) have calculated the lunation to a figure which, as we know now, is within 13 seconds of the correct astronomical value!

[56]Jenkyns, o.c., p. 412; Baines, o.c., p. 44; also: Lefkowitz, Not out of Africa.

[57]Jenkyns, o.c., p. 413; Baines, o.c., p. 39.

to homepage

this paper's Contents | Part I (sections 1-3) | Part III (sections 7-8)

 

page last modified: 03-05-01 11:08:20      
Easy Submit Add Me!