When a carved stone structure is uncovered at an archaeological dig site in the river valley of Mesopotamia in modern day Iraq , there is no user manual to accompany it. So scholars have to use context and circumstance to develop an understanding of the structure. This is not to suggest that there is not valid or substantial work coming out of the efforts of ancient world scholars. But, as in every period of history, whenever new discoveries of source material are made, this scholarship that is constantly evolving today to incorporate new evidence, or older evidence reinterpreted.
In part, this is why studying the ancient world is so fascinating — it is so far in the past, but our understanding of it could change significantly at any moment. Averill: When Bernal insinuated himself into this conversation about the roots of Greek culture, he inevitably ruffled feathers. He was not the first to challenge what he and his circle considered the Eurocentrist production of knowledge, and a whole host of Black scholars had been protesting the whitewashing of history for decades before Bernal.
Cheikh A. Diop, Frank Snowden Jr, St. Clair Drake, WEB DuBois, William Leo Hansberry, and Carter Woodson, to name a few, wrote on this subject and sought recognition of or a rewriting of history to include the African roots of civilization in their fields. Averill: And they had made similar assertions to what Bernal says in his text half a century ago. Sarah: Martin Bernal was born in in London. His doctoral dissertation was titled Chinese Socialism to In , Bernal moved to the United States, and took a post at Cornell University, where he remained until he retired in Leslie Bernal who taught at my alma mater, Wells College.
And so this whole thing was a thing at Wells- this whole controversy. Averill: Early in his Cornell career, he made a radical shift in his research focus. According to Bernal, he first got interested in ancient Mediterranean history because of his Jewish ancestry.
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I started looking into ancient Jewish history and— being on the periphery myself—into the relationship between the Israelites and the surrounding peoples, particularly the Canaanites and the Phoenicians. I had always known that the latter spoke Semitic languages, but it came as quite a shock to learn that Hebrew and Phoenician were mutually intelligible and that serious linguists treated both as a dialect of a single Canaanite language. During this time, I was beginning to study Hebrew and I found what seemed to me a number of striking similarities between it and Greek.
But nowhere in Egypt could I hear anything about the other Heracles, whom the Greeks know. I have indeed a lot of other evidence that the name of Heracles did not come from Hellas to Egypt, but from Egypt to Hellas and Heracles is a mythological figure or god and is shared by both the Egyptians and Greeks.
It would seem, too, that the Egyptians were the first people to establish solemn assemblies, and processions, and services; the Greeks learned all that from them. In Black Athena, Bernal pits this Ancient Model — which he says was widely accepted and understood in Europe until the midth century — against the Aryan Model, which he charts as rising at the end of the 18th century. He argues that both racism and Romanticism dominated European thought, and that the focus of various emerging disciplines — from the phrenologists to the biologists to the anthropologists and historians — focused on categorizing peoples and races.
In this wave of scholarship, there was a marked shift away from the traditions of Herodotus and his contemporaries with regard to understanding the roots of Greek civilization, toward one that centered Greece as the root of civilization in the world.
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Sarah: In the lead-up to the Aryan model, Bernal examines the shifting attitudes of Europeans toward Egypt specifically but also Asia and Africa more broadly throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to a few key notable figures like Isaac Newton, Bernal focuses on the criticism and rejection of the work of Charles Francois Dupuis, is that okay? Sarah: a French professor of rhetoric, who argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a mythical character.
Dupuis similarly challenged the myth of Greek cultural beginning. On both counts he was deemed absurd and dismissed by Christian writers and those, according to Bernal, who were proponents of the Aryan Model. Averill: Though the shift was largely gradual, Bernal contested, by the end of the 19th century, it was codified. He pointed to the way that 19th century scholars of the humanities and social sciences categorized peoples of African descent as inferior, and the ways that racism and Romanticism refocused the origins of civilization around Greek legacy.
Sarah: So this was mega racist in that period, Certainly consistent with what we, modern scholars, understand about the period. It certainly lines up. Sarah: Not by coincidence, this coincides with the continued oppression of people of color in the United States under Jim Crow and segregation laws. Within this rampant ideological slant, stuff like the Holocaust happened. And yet, the scholarship and historiographical traditions of this Extreme Aryan Model of academia, which whitewashed history in the most insidious ways, were not challenged or reshaped or thrown out.
Bernal argued, then, not that the Aryan Model is wrong though it certainly left glaring omissions and propagated some particularly racist ideas about the past but that a new model — a Revised Ancient Model, which is proposed in the second volume of the series — would mitigate the historiography that had so clearly been impacted by the sentiments and institutions of the 19th century. Thus it is extremely implausible to suppose that the models were not influenced by this idea. Averill: in academia. By which, we of course, still believe. Not, perhaps, as overtly or purposefully as it had in the Extreme Aryan Model period, but the on-going denial of this connection between Egypt, the Phoenicians, and the emergence of Greek civilization perpetuated the institution that denied people of African descent their place in history.
Sarah: Ultimately Bernal wrote the volumes supporting this thesis. In his second volume, where he stepped back from comparing the Ancient Model to the Aryan Model, and instead proposed a Revised Ancient Model for the modern scholar, relied on Archaeological and Documentary Evidence, published in But some of his other examples, like the presence of arguably Egyptian-influenced pottery and architecture in early Greek settlements seems feasible at the least.
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He responded to critics in — the same year he retired from Cornell, in Black Athena Writes Back. And he published the third and final volume of the series in In book 3 he focused specifically on the issue that drew him to the topic at the first: language. Averill: So, now that you get the sense of where Bernal was coming from, I want to return to this fact that, you know, this inspired an immense backlash from the ancient scholar community. Five years later, after numerous attacks from the various sides of this controversy, she wrote a monograph expansion of her article subject.
Averill: Yeah. She asserts that the Egypt in those accounts never existed, and that the Freemasons and other Egyptophiles from the first part of the 19th century — like Bernal — incorrectly interpreted these sources to name the Egyptians as the root of Western civilization. We had this conversation years ago because the Freemasons were all obsessed, it was Egyptomania, and they were arguing even then that Egypt was the root of all Western civilization.
Averill: The third camp in this controversy. You have like Mary Lefkowitz, um, and her contingent of ancient scholars. Sarah: Which, I should interject, can be a bone of contention among scholars. Africana studies, African-American studies scholars who I had mentioned in the beginning, who had been making similar arguments throughout the 20th century. She calls in Not Out of Africa for all those invested in this discussion to learn about Egypt, and Greece, about Africa, rather than making wild assertions like that Socrates was African — and further, for academics to put a stop to legitimizing these kinds of stories, even if it seeks to repair a deeper socio-political problem of racism in society.
Averill: Additionally, scholars in the fields of study of the ancient world were offended by Bernal and Asante of Temple University and ben-Jochannan, and their loud and insistent assertion that the entire lot of the Classicists were straight up racist. Nothing cuts a feminist like Lefkowitz more than telling her that she is racist.
When Lefkowitz attended a lecture Yosef A. The Jewish conspiracy kind of stuff… anti-Semitic…. She writes:. Averill: Lefkowitz recognizes the reason that these scholars have appropriated the history to empower an oppressed population. People of color are still widely and grossly underrepresented in the academy. And the continent of Africa and its peoples and its history are equally grossly underrepresented in our curriculum and history departments.
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In one class we spent four weeks on ancient Rome. In another with a different professor, we spent at least that many classes talking about various barbarians of the Steppes in Eurasia. And that is a reflection of the individuals who taught those classes — professors who were experts in Ancient Rome or modern Russia, respectively, and thus tailored the course to what they know best. The family relationships are undoubtedly correct, but to my knowledge, no Afrocentrist has ever argued that there was a genetic relationship between Egyptian and Greek.
What they and I maintain is that Ancient Egyptian culture had a massive impact on that of Greece and that this is reflected in a substantial number of Egyptian names loan words in Greek.
For example, while Chinese is even more distant genetically from Korean and Japanese than Egyptian and Semitic are from Greek, Korean and Japanese are filled with Chinese loan words. At another point she writes: Vague similarities do not prove any connection between words. The sound qualities of vowel consonants alike change when words are assimilated from one language to another, and even loan-words are transformed: for example, the Latinized Greek word episcopus becomes bishop in the mouths of Saxon converts in the 9th century A.
The last clause may impress her readers with her learning, but in fact, it undermines her basic argument. If words as apparently dissimilar as episcopus and bishop can be related, it shows that given semantic parallels, "vague similarities" should be taken into account. Furthermore, the net must be cast still more widely when, as is the case with Egypt and Greece, contact between two cultures has been carried on for many thousands of years and there will be many different phonetic correspondences.
She goes on to say that: "Linguists have long since noted the relatively few words of Egyptian origin that have made their way into Greek.
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It should also be pointed out that it is precisely this historiographical or ideological aspect of my work that has been most widely accepted. The aim of impressing and intimidating through language appears at the very beginning of the book in the Latin dedication to her colleague Guy MacLean Rogers. The lines are left untranslated and without any indication of their source.
They come, in fact, from an ode by Horace I vii about the legendary Greco-Trojan hero Teucer, who after being banished from the Greek Salamis sailed to establish a new and greater Salamis in Cyprus. Tomorrow we will take again our course over the mighty main. Mary Lefkowitz only quotes the italicized lines. It is what, when applied to Afrocentrists, is called "vindicationalism.
Her sense of belonging to a small band of defenders of reason against the forces of unreason, or the demon "Political Correctness," antedates her encounter with Afrocentrism.
Before , she was the scourge of what she saw as feminist nonsense in Classics. Mary Lefkowitz, along with Jeane Kirkpatrick, Peter Diamondopoulos and some three dozen others, sits on the advisory board of the N. The main concern of all of these organizations and journals is to turn back what their members and contributors view as the tides of liberalism and multiculturalism that have engulfed not only society but also education and the highbrow media. This imagery resembles the sense of isolation and persecution experienced by many Black Afrocentrists, which explains the latter's intolerance towards interventions from hostile outsiders like Mary Lefkowitz.
gelatocottage.sg/includes/2020-07-22/3580.php However, there is a fundamental difference, in that the Afrocentrists really are in a social and academic ghetto, while she and her allies are in one that is largely imaginary. Unlike the Afrocentric Black scholars -- or even white liberals -- they are amply funded and have access to many prestigious journals. Thus, she and her conservative comrades have every opportunity to carry out research, publish their results and participate freely in academic debates.
Despite all this, however, she is just as intolerant as the extreme Afrocentrists. Let me take a personal example. She and her colleague Guy Rogers mentioned above have organized the publication of a book entitled Black Athena Revisited. This massive work of some pages is largely made up of reviews of Black Athena , selected for their hostility to it.
I immediately e-mailed Mary Lefkowitz saying that I looked forward to seeing the pieces, so that I could prepare my response. She answered that they "had decided not to have a response" from me.
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I wrote back that it was very unusual in respectable scholarly studies not to include responses from the living subject of a book when he or she wanted to respond. She said that most of the pieces had appeared already and I had published responses to them. Before turning to her major attacks on Afrocentrist claims, it is necessary to consider two important issues of approach and method.