A Response

The following piece was my "parting shot" in the debate between me and Mary Lefkowitz set up by Harper Collins in May 1997. I wrote it a few days after her "parting shot" appeared. Not trusting my own computer skills, I asked the computer assistant in our building to send it to the debate. He told me that it had gone through successfully. After two weeks and near the end of the month we had set aside for the debate, it had not appeared. I, therefore, had it sent again. However, I was told by the organiser that Mary Lefkowitz objected to the publication of my letter because I had had too long in which to prepare it. So she had the last word.

I feel it would be helpful to readers (and me) to have my last word in the electronic debate. The points made here were not taken up in the 2nd edition of Not Out of Africa.


Reply to ML's Reply to my Reply to her Response to my Review.


M.L. points out correctly that there are favourable references to my work in BAR. However, for every favourable one, there are scores if not hundreds of unfavourable ones and I do not accept that this ratio represents the balance of responses to BA, even among Classicists and Ancient Historians. It is true that the two scholars with the most relevant expertise, Burstein and Ray have serious criticisms of my work but M.L.'s statement that "their writings can hardly be considered as endorsements of BA," is difficult to sustain when the first described BA as:

A serious work that deals in a serious way with many of the principal issues of Aegean History in the second millennium B. C. and one can ask little more of any historical work.

The second concluded his review:

Demands to be taken seriously… every page that Bernal

writes is educating and enthralling. To agree with all his

thesis may be a sign of naivety, but not to have spent time in his company is a sign of nothing at all.







For reasons of space, I did not give details of my conviction that an orthodox training not in linguistics but in Indo-European linguistics does not always prepare one for handling problems of linguistic contact, especially those between languages belonging to different language families. This combined with their failure to learn the rudiments of Ancient Egyptian made Jasanoff and Nussbaum far less competent to pass judgment of my work than Ray and Rendsburg who had already published reviews of BA. I merely promised the details in my forthcoming review of BAR in Classical Philology. (This was later cancelled by the editor but they will be included in Black Athena Writes Back. Duke U.P. Forthcoming). For the same reason of space, I shall merely give three examples here.

In the first place, J.& N. maintain (BAR 188) that in convincing etymologies, voiced stops in Semitic and Egyptian were "systematically represented by voiced stops in Greek," and that the same was true "mutatis mutandis"" for unvoiced ones. A glance at the Greek transcriptions of Hebrew names in the Septuagint, or at the Egyptian ones in the section on transcriptions and acknowledged loans in Erman and Grapow's standard Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache would have shown them that this was completely untrue. Just to give a couple of well known examples, the West Semitic gåmål became the Greek kamelos and the Egyptian god Inpw was rendered Anubis in Greek.

Later (BAR191), they give as a prime example of what they see as my "almost complete disregard for phonetic consistency" my seeing the Egyptian 3 the "vulture 'aleph" as giving the Greek "r," "l" and "ø." However, there is no doubt that at least until the end of the Middle Kingdom and probably somewhat later, this sign was used to transcribe both "r" and "l" in Semitic names and that during the New Kingdom, it lost its consonantal force. Thus, it should be no surprise if the borrowings took place over a long period that all three values should be reflected in Greek.

At a more basic level, J. & N. fail to examine the linguistic aspect of the Aryan Model. This holds that the Prehellenes abandoned nearly all of their morphology and phonetics to their alleged Indo-European speaking conquerors, while retaining a significant proportion of their vocabulary. Today, it is generally accepted that speakers give up vocabulary long before more fundamental linguistic features. Thus mid or late 20th century linguists could not have proposed such a peculiar form of linguistic contact.

The Politics of NOA.

I insist that "Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History" is a political title. Both the title and the contents of the book make much broader claims than merely seeking to show that "that there is no evidence that Greek philosophy was stolen or in any significant way dependent upon Egypt or any other country in Africa." This is her position now, as during the course of these debates, ML has agreed that Egypt had a significant impact on Greek medicine, science, art and architecture, prose literature and the Hellenistic mysteries. None these derivations were suggested in NOA.

ML argues that political attitudes and behaviour are irrelevant to academic discussions. In my last reply, I argued not merely, that providing a political context was helpful to understand the peculiar behaviour of the editors of BAR, but I also set out my reasons for maintaining that these factors are always significant because scholarship is inevitably socially embedded. Nevertheless, as I believe that this is only one factor in scholarship, that is why the bulk of my arguments with ML have been concerned with specific historical problems.


ML is happy to concede "Eastern wisdom" to the Egyptians and Orientals but not "philosophy." In my review of NOA, I pointed out how slippery the latter term is and also that the earliest references to the word philosophia are associated with Pythagoras and particularly with his legendary stay in Egypt. I should also add that my etymology of sophia "wisdom" from the Egyptian sb3 "teach"" and "teaching, instruction," has been accepted by Rendsburg as "very convincing" and was not taken up by J & N.

We agree that Plato had a great respect for Egyptian culture and ML uses this fact to argue that if he had borrowed substantially from Egyptian thought he would have boasted about it. However, there were countervailing forces. In BAI (pp.107-8), I cited the ancient testimony to the effect that Plato did not admit the full extent of his borrowing from his image of Egypt in the construction of his Republic because of his fear that the Athenians would find him too pro-Egyptian.

On the question of Egyptian prototypes for the philosophical/mystical Hermetic Texts:

They are not all "lost' as ML appears to think. As I noted in my review, there are Demotic papyri containing substantial sections of a dialogue of Hermetic type between Thoth and a disciple.


In NOA (p.157). ML was adamant, not only that the Greeks had not borrowed from Egyptian mystery systems but that the Egyptians themselves had never had a mystery system of initiations Now, she writes that she distinguishes:

between public mystery systems in the Greek world and special initiation ceremonies restricted to the Egyptian priesthood.

The latter is just what the Ancients and Afrocentrists claimed.

Elsewhere in the book, however, pp. 93-4 on she makes precisely the opposite case:

Because the Egyptian priests had access to special knowledge, and lived differently from the rest of the population the Greeks imagined that they had been initiated into something like their own mystery cults. But in reality the festivals of the Egyptian gods were open to

the public and not restricted to special groups of initiates.

there were both mysterious initiations and public religious festivals.

There remains the problem of whether the Ancients, the Afrocentrists and some modern French scholars were right to see Egyptian influence as having been central to the institution of the Eleusinian mysteries. Given ML's acknowledgment of the close relation between funerary rites and initiations of the living, the extent to which Greek views of death between the Mycenaean and Archaic ages were influenced by Egypt, becomes relevant. Professor Vermeule does not merely--as ML suggests--see "artistic similarities" between Egyptian and Greek representations of death. She sees Greek derivations from Egyptian views and parallels between:

The Isles of the Blessed and the four islands of the Egyptian paradise where the blessed dwell… the hippopotamus devourer, the reeds, the ferryman, the fiery river, the fields of grain, gold fruit and clear water, and easy life of bodily enjoyment, Maakheru (maj rw) and makares, the weighing of souls and the ba-soul.

Thus, on grounds of competitive plausibility, there is every reason to follow the ancient belief that the Eleusinian mysteries were heavily influenced by Egypt from the start.

I certainly concede that some of the Founding fathers liked the "ideals of democracy," even if they were so terrified of the Athenian form that they did not dare use the word. There is no doubt that two or three had read Plato and Aristotle, though as Richard points out (124-5) both men thoroughly distrusted Athenian democracy. But as he makes clear, for the FFs the Classical model was Republican Rome and the mainstream of their politics came from Sidney, Harrington and Lock, who expressed no admiration of Ancient Greek political forms (232).

Roots and Influence,

There is undoubtedly a contradiction between my suspicion of Romanticism in scholarship and the use of the word "roots" in the title "…The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization." Thus, I am perfectly happy to accept the word "influence." Furthermore, I do not claim--and have never claimed--that Ancient Greece was merely a projection of Ancient Egypt and the Levant. It was wonderful and original civilization in its own right. Nevertheless, I insist that the Semitic and Egyptian "influences" on Greek Civilization were so massive and pervasive that it cannot be understood without constant reference to them. ML. has asked me to quantify "massive." This is no more reasonable than asking her to quantify "minor" or "insignificant." However, as mentioned above, ML. now agrees that Egypt had a significant impact on Greek medicine, science, art and architecture, prose literature and the Hellenistic mysteries. For myself, I am now more convinced than ever, that approximately 40% of the Greek vocabulary comes from Egyptian and West Semitic and that Herodotus was correct when he argued that nearly all the names of the gods and much of Greek religion derived from Egypt. I also believe that the Phoenician city states provided the prototypes for the Greek poleis. Together, these seem to me, to merit the terms "massive" and "pervasive."

See "Phoenician Politics and Egyptian Justice in Ancient Greece" pp.241-261 in Kurt Raaflaub ed. Anfänge politischen Denkens in der Antike: Die nahöstlichen Kulturen und die Griechen Munich1993.


Historical Method,

I am glad to see that ML no longer draws a distinction between her "warranted facts" and the "myths" of others. In addition to this common ground, the reason why this debate is possible at all, is that none of us--ML, the Afrocentrists or me--are relativists. We all believe in that in the writing of history, one can be nearer of further from what actually took place in the past. What is more, I think we all agree that the ultimate goal is unattainable. In this framework, there is not a great difference between her "contextualised evaluation of all the available evidence," and my "competitive plausibility." This is because the plausibility depends on convincing others that one has evaluated all the evidence. I find "competitive plausibility" preferable because without it, and "waiting until all the evidence is in"--which it never can be-- leaves conventional wisdom in place and this may well be less likely or plausible than a new model or paradigm.

As social environments and attitudes change, what is an acceptable historical explanation in one age can become unacceptable in another. This is how I see the displacement of the Ancient Model by the Aryan one in between 1820 and 1850. Nevertheless, some histories have better predictive value than others in terms of newly discovered historical and archaeological evidence and last longer than others. Thus, to a greater or lesser extent they can transcend their social and personal matrices.

The question of who should choose between competing historical interpretations and on what bases, is-- of course-- extremely difficult, if not ultimately insoluble. In the introduction to BAI I (pp.5-10), I consider the problem and in particular the relative weight one should give to the views of the specialists who tend to know more but have a vested interest in the status quo and the "cultivated lay public" with less knowledge, but equal intelligence and greater objectivity.




I am disappointed that ML has not asked to be included in Profs Asante and Karenga's *Truly out of Africa. I believe that having competing arguments under one cover is beneficial heuristically for the reader and commercially for the publisher. The latter makes me wonder why Lewis Bateman and the other editors at the University of North Carolina Press did not want me to participate in BAR?

I have been asked to contribute to a volume of criticisms of NOA by non-Afrocentrists. When I told the editor, ML's colleague at Wellesley Professor Selwyn Cudjoe that it was conditional upon her being invited to respond, he was mildly offended and said that it had never crossed his mind not to do so.

Having said this, I am a firm believer in "better late than never" and I am delighted that ML should have agreed to debate these issues in public and now thanks to Harper-Collins, on the Internet. Furthermore, in the course of these debates her position has become much more moderate. If this, rather than the author of NOA and the editor of BAR, is the real ML, I believe that we really can do business.