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Black Athena’ Revisited

In response to:

Anxieties of Influence from the June 20, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

Jasper Griffin writes in his review of Black Athena Revisited [NYR, June 20] that “from the standpoint of scholarly inquiry and academic discussion as we know it, there can, I think, be no doubt that all the positive assertions of his [Bernal’s] two large volumes have been refuted.” If this is the case, there are a few puzzles:

1.Why did the editors of a book devoted to my work not follow academic convention and inform me that it was being prepared?

2.Why, when an uncomfortable contributor told me about it and I offered to join in the discussion, was this refused?

3.Why were my published responses to many of the authors not included?

4.Why were the only two reviews published by experts in Egypto-Greek relations, Stanley Burstein, in Classical Philology and John Ray in the Times Literary Supplement not included? Was it because they were generally positive about my work?

5.Why did the editors of Black Athena Revisited reject the article they had commissioned from Eric Cline, the leading American expert in Egypto-Aegean relations in the Bronze Age? Was it because it was not negative enough?

6.Why did the editors deviate from their general practice of using published reviews of my work, by not requesting those on the linguistic aspects of the project, by Gary Rendsburg and John Ray, two scholars who know Ancient Egyptian and understand language contact? Why instead did they commission a piece from two Indo-Europeanists with no knowledge of Egyptian and little understanding of contact between unrelated languages? Is it that the former were too open to my ideas?

These questions suggest that the refutation of “all the positive assertions” of my work that Jasper Griffin sees in Black Athena Revisited, was not, as he suggests, the result “of scholarly inquiry and academic discussion as we know it.” Rather, it appears to have been a predetermined attempt to end discussion of the issues raised in Black Athena.

Martin Bernal
Department of Near Eastern Studies
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Jasper Griffin replies:

Martin Bernal’s reply leaves untouched the main point, which is that a large number of qualified persons have subjected his assertions and arguments to detailed analyses and criticism. Take two central points, the alleged blackness of the ancient Egyptians, and the alleged influence of the Egyptian language on Greek. On the first, the experts I cited show in detail that (subjectively) the inhabitants of Egypt thought of themselves as different from the peoples to the south of them who can properly be called “black,” and also that (objectively) they were in fact not marked by the same cranial and other characteristics as those peoples. On the second, the experts show, with detailed discussion, that the procedures followed in Black Athena to produce Egyptian roots for Greek names and words are pre-scientific and non-scientific. These are matters which are capable of being settled by argument and evidence, and the books I reviewed produced argument and evidence in convincing form. It is really beside the point to reply by complaining about the people who wrote and compiled them.

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