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Black Athena Revisited’

In response to:

'Black Athena' Revisited from the July 11, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

In his letter to the editors [NYR, July 11] Martin Bernal asks a series of questions about our edited volume, Black Athena Revisited, which are designed to support his theory that our book is the result of a “predetermined attempt to end discussion of the issues raised in Black Athena,”

The editor of the University of North Carolina Press asked us to put together a volume of responses to Black Athena by early July of 1993. Our primary editorial aim was to cover as many of the different historical issues raised by Black Athena as possible. We chose some of the essays from among the sixty-eight reviews and articles dealing with Black Athena that had appeared by the summer of 1993; at the same time we also invited several experts to submit new essays concerned with topics that had not been treated in sufficient detail.

We also would like to respond to Bernal’s specific questions.

  1. Bernal complains that he was not informed that our volume was being prepared; but, as Bernal’s e-mail (see below) to Mary Lefkowitz proves, Bernal was fully aware of the existence of our volume by November 16, 1993.

  2. It is quite true that Professor Bernal invited himself to contribute to our volume by e-mail on November 16, 1993; we respectfully declined to accept Professor Bernal’s self-invitation to contribute to a volume of responses to his own work.

  3. Bernal asks why his published responses to many of the contributors to Black Athena Revisited were not included in our volume; we were asked to prepare a collection of responses to Black Athena—not to collect Professor Bernal’s responses to his critics.

  4. Professor Bernal complains that we did not include essays by Stanley Burstein and John Ray in our volume; references to Burstein’s and Ray’s reviews can be found on pages 464 and 492 of our bibliography; both reviews are discussed in the volume.

  5. Professor Bernal asks if we rejected an article from Eric Cline, an assistant professor at Xavier University, because it was not negative enough about Bernal’s work. We invited Professor Cline to submit an article for consideration to be included in our volume in late December of 1993. Professor Cline, due to other professional obligations, only was able to send us a “preliminary” version of his article on August 11, 1994.

Unfortunately, to keep to our production schedule, we had to send off our manuscript—which had grown to nearly 1,000 pages—to UNC Press by July 11, 1994. Furthermore, the preliminary version of the article which Professor Cline sent to us was hardly an unqualified endorsement of Bernal’s work.

  1. Finally, Professor Bernal asks why pieces by G. Rendsburg and John Ray dealing with the linguistic aspects of Black Athena were not included in our volume. For Ray’s review, see above; citation of the essay by G. Rendsburg appears on page 493. At the same time, Professor Bernal does not mention that two of our contributors, John Baines, Professor of Egyptology in the University of Oxford, and Frank Yurco, an Egyptologist affiliated with both the Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago, are not less skeptical about Bernal’s linguistic arguments than are the two Indo-Europeanists whom Bernal criticizes. Both prominent Egyptologists and Indo-Europeanists judge Professor Bernal’s linguistic method to comprise little more than a series of assertive guesses, bordering on the fantastic.

Thus, no better evidence supports Bernal’s theory about the origins of Black Athena Revisited than his theory about the origins of Greek civilization. Indeed, it is revealing that not one of Bernal’s questions about the genesis of Black Athena Revisited addresses any of the criticisms of the historical assertions or arguments of Black Athena made by the contributors to Black Athena Revisited or by Jasper Griffin [NYR, June 20], who concluded in his review of our volume that “all of the positive assertions of his [Bernal’s] two large volumes have been refuted.”

Guy MacLean Rogers
Mary R. Lefkowitz
Wellesley College
Wellesley, Massachusetts

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