In response to:
Worshipping the Red Mushroom from the December 17, 1970 issue
To the Editors:
I would like to correct some false impressions New York Review readers might have received from W.H.C. Frend’s too generous review of John M. Allegro’s The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross [NYR, December 17]. Dr. Allegro, who is a Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) specialist and not a Sumerologist, has seen fit to construct his theories upon a foundation of garbled, misinterpreted, or even nonexistent Sumerian words. While I am intrigued to see this obscure and difficult language, with which I do daily battle in the course of my researches, associated with items as exciting and modish as phallic worship and psilocybin, to say that Allegro should have known better would be an understatement.
With regard to the specific Sumerian words mentioned in Dr. Frend’s review, it should suffice to say that “malck” does not mean “great,” nor does “rig” mean “shepherd,” and it is therefore inconceivable that they have anything to do with Latin “magnus” and “rex.” Similarly, “gu-tal-en-dun” means neither “ball and socket” nor “penis and vulva.” Finally, Dr. Frend’s conclusion that “Sumerian and Semitic started as different languages” goes without saying.
Not only is Sumerian totally different in structure from all Semitic languages, but it never has been successfully related to any known language, ancient or modern. Numerous authors, mainly nonspecialists, have attempted in the last hundred years to see in this earliest written language many things that are not there. To these authors, and to Dr. Allegro, one might quote the words of a Babylonian scholar of 3,700 years ago, who, knowing well the difficulties of Sumerian studies, chided a less erudite colleague: “Since you are a scribe who doesn’t know Sumerian, how can you carry on this discussion?”
Department of Near Eastern Studies
Johns Hopkins University
W.H.C Frend replies:
I accept Mr. Cooper’s criticisms, but do not want to leave the impression that the book is completely worthless.
April 22, 1971