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In Black Athena Writes Back Martin Bernal responds to the passionate debates set off by the 1987 publication of his book Black Athena. Producing a shock wave of reaction from scholars, Black Athena argued that the development of Greek civilization was heavily influenced by Afroasiatic civilizations. Moreover, Bernal asserted that this knowledge had been deliberately obscured by the rampant racism of nineteenth-century Europeans who could not abide the notion that Greek society—for centuries recognized as the originating culture of Europe—had its origins in Africa and Southwest Asia.
The subsequent rancor among classicists over Bernal’s theory and accusations was picked up in the popular media, and his suggestion that Greek culture had its origin in Africa was widely derided. In a report on 60 Minutes, for example, it was suggested that Bernal’s hypothesis was essentially an attempt to provide blacks with self-esteem so that they would feel included in the march of progress.
In Black Athena Writes Back Bernal provides additional documentation to back up his thesis, as well as offering persuasive explanations of why traditional scholarship on the subject remains inaccurate and why specific arguments lobbed against his theories are themselves faulty.
Black Athena Writes Back requires no prior familiarity with either the Black Athena hypothesis or with the arguments advanced against it. It will be essential reading for those who have been following this long-running debate, as well as for those just discovering this fascinating subject.
In 1987, Bernal published Black Athena, in which he argued that many of the cultural accomplishments traditionally attributed to the ancient Greeks originated, in fact, in Africa, especially among the Egyptians. Bernal also argues that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars of ancient Greece purposefully ignored or distorted evidence of the Afro-Asiatic roots of Greek achievement. He further argues that, because many of these scholars were overt racists and anti-Semites, they wanted those features that are considered to be the cornerstones of Western civilization to be the work of white people, and particularly Aryans. This controversial thesis attracted a great deal of popular media attention. Unsurprisingly, it met also with withering criticism from prominent scholars of archeology, linguistics and literature, the primary disciplines from which Bernal, who teaches government and Near Eastern studies at Cornell, collected his evidence. In this new volume, Bernal makes point-by-point retorts to, for instance, Egyptologist David O'Connor, who argues that Bernal is far too trusting of ancient literary sources; Mary Lefkowitz, a classicist and one of his most persistent critics, who finds very little of value in his work; and Emily Vermeule, an Aegean Bronze Age specialist, who questions Bernal's archaeological methodology. In response to Vermeule's allegations of "exaggerated sensitivity" (Bernal's words), he returns to passages from studies that he quoted in Black Athena as examples of scholarly racism. Many of the pieces here are previously published articles, essays and book reviews, and thus involve and reiterate aspects of his original book. 15 illus.