Showing posts with label European. Show all posts
Showing posts with label European. Show all posts

Black Athena Debate

Martin Bernal said that the Greek culture has been misrepresented as Indo-European in origin when in fact it is largely African or Semitic. His explanation for this which has been discussed is that history was revised in order to flush out the African contribution to Greek Culture. Bernal contends in the late 1700's the anti-Semitic and anti-African sentiments of the time, resulted in those cultures being eliminated from establishment history. To prove his thesis Bernal defined three models of accepted history. Furthermore Bernal also legitimated his thesis by showing distinct links or borrowings of religion from the Egyptian civilization. Specifically he connected the Cretan Bull Cult of Minos and the Minotaur to origins in the Egyptian god Min who frequently required bovine sacrifices.

The Three Models of History Referred to By Martin Bernal

1. Ancient Model
The Ancient model was the one that was held by the Greeks, citizens of the Mediterranean and Egyptians in ancient times up until about 1790. Essentially he contends that previous to the restructuring of history by German scholars in the late 18th century Greeks recognized their roots in Egypt. The Ancient Model is that previous to the Institution of The Aryan Model Greeks felt that their culture had its roots in Africa. Essentially this model holds that Greece was settled about 1500 B.C.E. by Egyptians and Phoenicians. The supposition is that Greeks directly borrowed their mathematics, governmental system, language, writing, philosophy, and religion directly from African and Semitic sources.

2. Aryan Model
The Aryan Model had its genesis in Protestant North Germany between 1790 and 1830. At this time the new discipline of "Altertumswissenshaft" (Science of Antiquity) was born. The model is rooted in German nationalism and feelings of repugnance concerning the French Revolution. This model holds that Greece was settled by Indo-European stock. The focus of the new model was on the Greek ideal. The Greek ideal was reflective of German nationalism. The constant cultural borrowing and at times thievery of culture inherent to the Ancient Model were inconsistent with the assertions of the German intellectuals. In order to justify a German purity the Greek ideal was modified to show it an exemplar of sorts. By limiting the apparent influence of outside cultures and races in the Aryan Model neatly accomplished its goal. This model also gives faulty Aryan Invasion theory.

3. New Ancient Model
Bernal says that the racism and Anti-Semitism that characterized The Aryan Model are increasingly unacceptable. He proposes that Greek culture in general was heavily influenced by Northern African (specifically Egypt) and Phoenician culture. He also allows for the Indo-european element in the form of periodic invasions. In essence he restores the image of ancient Greece as a culture that has its roots in Egypt but also shaped many of those cultural icons in a fashion that is distinctly Greek. He sees it as a midpoint between the Greek idea of interaction but not origin in Africa, and the racial purity and anti-African tendencies of the Aryan Model.

Not out of Africa Model
Martin Bernal’s book, Black Athena, provoked much discussion ranging from simple academic debates to heated disputes on Afrocentrism, racism and Euro-centrism in classical scholarship. The principal figures in this debate are Bernal himself and Mary Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz published a response to Bernal’s book entitled Not Out of Africa, which was nearly as controversial as the original. Later on, Lefkowitz also published Black Athena Revisited, a collection of responses to Black Athena. The scholarly world was fairly evenly split, in terms of being for or against the argument proposed in Bernal’s book and by many Afro centrists. However, they often disagreed about exactly how one side or the other was wrong. These are a few of the issues raised in the reactions to Black Athena and how scholars responded to them.
Essentially, the argument is that both advocates and opponents of Afrocentrism have used faulty techniques to prove their points. Bernal clearly accuses Lefkowitz of errors , and at the same time acknowledges that the Afro-centrists have made similar errors.

Origins of Ideas
Another interesting idea raised in the aftermath of Black Athena is that of the origins of ideas. This idea was first presented in G. James’ Stolen Legacy in which James proposes that Plato, Aristotle and other major Greek philosophers "stole" their ideas from Egypt. Lawrence Tritle mentions the Afro-centrists’ take on this concept in his review of Not Out of Africa: "[Afro-centrists] adhere to a diffusionist understanding of culture, that ideas are created or born in one place and radiate outward. The idea that cultures in different parts of the world could develop similar ideas independently and contemporaneously seems regarded as an unlikely occurrence: someone must have first ‘created’ the idea which was then ‘given’ to someone else". Tritle says Lefkowitz asserts that ideas cannot actually be "stolen."

The most important reaction to Black Athena is the political opinions generated by its publication. Afrocentrism was a little more political correct than Euro-centrism, and criticizing the Afrocentric point of view was to put oneself at risk of being labeled a racist, as Bernal points out: "Mary Lefkowitz believes that another and more significant reason why her colleagues let her down, was the fear of being labeled as racist." Perhaps in an effort to assure readers of her book’s unbiased nature, Lefkowitz says in her preface to Black Athena Revisited, "the authors of the essays in this book are young and old, black and white, male and female, European and American, and within the United States, from all parts of the country."

In Black Athena Revisited, Kathryn A. Bard gives reason as to why the subject of race might be irrelevant after all: "Ancient Egyptians were Mediterranean peoples, neither Sub-Saharan blacks nor Caucasian whites but peoples whose skin was adapted for life in a tropical desert environment.... Egyptians were the indigenous farmers of the Lower Nile Valley, neither black nor white as races are conceived of today." The modern ideas about race and the stigma often attached to one race or another simply did not exist in ancient times. The Egyptians may not have even been what we consider today to be "black people." Furthermore, as Lawrence A. Tritle notes, why should Egypt "stand for the rest of Africa?" He says, "Just because people lived on the same continent as the Greeks and Romans does not mean that they shared in the cultural achievements of either antecedent."
Martin Bernal argues that Euro-centric archeologists in the 18th and 19th centuries failed to give credit to what he believes was the extensive influence that Egyptian and Near Eastern cultures had on classical Greek culture, specifically in the context of mythology.
Before we can examine he origins of the Cretan Bull cult, we must first go over the evidence which proves it existed in the first place. It is commonly accepted among archaeologists that a bull cult did exist in Crete and had rituals concerning fertility; a ritualistic practice consisted of young women "proving" their fertility by jumping over the horns of a charging bull. In addition, according to Bernal, "the use of explicitly bovine Egyptian religious symbols in Crete in the early 2nd millennium can be seen in the 'horns of consecration', a sacred motif used so frequently that its function sometimes seems merely decorative in Cretan palatial culture".

Bernal hypothesizes that the Greek god Pan is the counterpart of the Egyptian God Min.
"The great god of flocks and shepherds among the Greeks, usually called a son of Hermes, was originally an Arcadian God; and Arcadia was always the principal seat of his worship. From the country his name and worship after wards spread over other parts of Greece; but at Athens his worship was not introduced till the time of the battle of Marathon. He is described as wandering among the mountains and valleys of Arcadia…Pan…was dreaded by travelers, to whom he sometimes appeared, and whom he startled with sudden awe or terror. Hence sudden fright, without any visible cause, was ascribed to Pan, and was called a Panic fear. In works of art Pan is represented as a sensual being, with horns, puck-nose, and goat’s feet, sometimes in the act of dancing, and sometimes playing on the syrinx."
Bernal establishes early associations between Egypt and Crete, before the existence of the bull cult, by examining the ways in which Min and Pan could be connected.

Evidence that Bernal presents for this connection is as follows:

  1. "Diodoros Sikeliotes, an ancient historian, named the gods of the Ethiopians of Meroe…as Isis, Pan, Heracles, and Zeus" . He says that the ancient geographer Strabo also confirmed that they worshiped Pan.

  2. Min was associated with fertility and growth in Egypt, unlike his cult as a divinity of the desert. His dual aspects of a desert deity and fertility are a result of his worship having traveled from Punt to the Eastern Desert to Upper Egypt, and in Upper Egypt he became assimilated to the ancient fertility god of Koptos ( which means Bull of his Mother). Thus, Min became associated with the bull through his assimilation with Koptos.

  3. He explains that the god Min, whose token animal is the bull, became associated with the god Amon, whose token animal is the ram/goat, who then became associated with the god Pan, whose token animal is also the ram/goat. Bernal says that "Pan's derivation from Min would seem to be confirmed, not only by his great phallus, his association with the fertility of stock and his living in the wilderness and the negroid blackness with which he, like his attendant satyrs, was often portrayed". Thus, Min--Amon--Pan.

"[King Minos was]….king and legislator of Crete, and after death one of the judges of shades in Hades…He was the husband of Pasiphae. In order to avenge the wrong done to his son Androgeos at Athens, he made war against the Athenians, and compelled them to send to Crete every year, as a tribute, 7 youths and 7 maidens, to be devoured in the labyrinth by the Minotauros. The Minotaur was a monster, half man and half bull, and the offspring of the intercourse of Pasiphae with a bull."
Furthermore, King Minos was the son of Europa and Zeus, a maiden who was kidnapped and seduced by Zeus when he assumed the form of a white bull.
Bernal's evidence for Minos' origin in Min is as follows:

  1. Minos' role as the judge of shades in the afterlife is consistent with the role of the Egyptian god Osiris, also the "judge of the dead man" (Bernal 170). Minos can be connected to Min through Osiris because of Osiris' connection with Amon, who, by the 7th century B.C. , was "assimilated with Osiris", and then, through Amon's 'fundamental affinity' with Min, can be connected further to Min. Min and Amon "were associated at Thebes since the 11th Dynasty and by the New Kingdom. Amon and Re seem in many cults to have been fused with Min as a single massively endowed ithyphallic figure" . Thus, Minos--Osiris--Amon--Min.

  2. The name "Mn" was used by "an important pharoah early in the 1st dynasty and in later times Mn was universally considered to be the founder of dynastic rule" . Diodoros, an ancient historian that Bernal cites elsewhere, connected the pharoah called Mn with King Minos by saying that "'according to the tradition he claimed that Hermes had given the laws to him…just as the Greeks they say that Minos did in Crete…[Minos] saying that he had received his laws from Zeus…'" . Bernal states that the connection between King Minos and the Pharoah Mn can be taken further to associate, again, King Minos with the god Min by establishing a connection between the pharoah and the Egyptian god, stating that "there were occasions in Egypt when [Mn] and [Min] were worshipped together" . Thus, Minos--pharoah Mn--god Min.

  3. As for the labyrinth of King Minos, Bernal makes a linguistic argument: he states that "from the earliest times, there has ben considerable confusion in Egyptian among the three biconsonantals mr, mn, and nm" All three sounds are associated with cattle, which is an obvious potential connection with the bull cult; in addition, the phonetic nm is also connected with the meaning of "winding wall" in Late Egyptian. Therefore, the biconsonantal nm is associated both with cattle and a "winding wall". Here, then, is linguistic evidence that indicates Egypt as being the origin of King Minos' labyrinth. Thus, mn--nm--labyrinth.

  4. Other similarities between Minos and Min: Minos was renowned for his lechery, which is a trait of the god Min; Min had a white bull consecrated to him, and Minos' wife Pasiphae was impregnated by a white bull; and finally, the depiction of the Minotaur as a man with a bull's head can be compared to the manner in which the Egyptians portrayed their gods as having men's bodies and the heads of animals.

We have seen the arguments, as we can see neither side will agree to the other. No place is an Island in the world as far as movement of people or movement of influences or movement of legends. More Independent view is required to ascertain the facts. But that is impossible now as both sides are not willing to give in on any neutral authority and cling on to their beliefs. Today the issue is more political one than Academic one.


Origin of Indo - Europeans

The whole theory of Indo-European is based on the premise that if Latin, Greek and Sanskrit were similar, it should be branched out of earlier single Language. So next question comes , what is the original home of Indo – European people who spoke this language. Let us see the likeliest candidates.

First we have to see the characteristics of Indo – Europeans. Are they?

  1. Hunter gatherers, Pastoral Nomads, Agriculturists etc

  2. Vocabulary : Animals, Plants, Agriculture etc

  3. Technical sophistication

  4. Culture Level

  5. Geography


Collin Renfrew says Indo-European homeland as Anatolia and they practiced agriculture around 7000BC. one of their groups moved westward to Europe, crossing the Bosporus and another -group, moving eastward, via the region south of the Caucasus mountains and the Caspian Sea, into Iran from where it must have subsequently entered Afghanistan and India. In an alternative scenario, Renfrew thinks that the Indo-Europeans split up after entering Europe and then the eastern branch went to south-central Asia, via north of the Black and Caspian Seas, whence it moved on to northeastern Iran, Afghanistan and India.

Theory fails on two counts

  1. If Indians and Europeans lived together as farmers ,their vocabulary should have common words or words originating from common words. But there are none.

  2. Secondly Hittite language from which the commonness is perceived is a minority language of Elite and basal language is non-European.


Gamkrelidze and Ivanov say Indo-European homeland between Black Sea and Caspian sea. This theory is based on linguistic paleontology. Since there is mountains , rivers, Lakes in the vacabulary. They also added that the Indo-European has lot of semitic loan words.

This theory fails because.

  1. Many scholars have shown semitic loan words as misplaced theory.

  2. Armenian language spoken in the area has large number of non Indo-European words, meaning there is another native language spoken. Which suggest that Indo-Europeans are not from that area.


Kurgan is steppes north of Black and Caspian Sea. There archaeological remains of Burial barrows (Kurgan in Slavic language) have been found. Maria Gimbutas says Indo- Europeans are essentially horse riding warriors who can thrust the weapons and can easily overrun the area. By 4000BC they reached central Europe.

This theory fails because

  1. On the technology and cultural level kurgan were essentially pastrol nomads.

  2. Mounted warriors were seen in Europe around 1000BC only says Renfrew

  3. Linguistically there is no relation between pastrol Kurgan and Farming Indo – European says Kathrin Krell, Mallory and Schmitt


Johanna Nichols says Sogodiana was their homeland, from there they spread to Aral sea and they split into two.

This theory fails on the basis

  1. There seems to be only language spread with no people movement. It is unlikely to have happened when there was No TV , Radio or Internet.

  2. There is no centre to periphery spread, there is no eastern spread of the language which is baffling.

Indian Subcontinent

According to this theory India is the home of Indo- European languages. This theory was put forward in 18th century but has no takers then. Why now? Because new findings have come which has resurrected the theory. They are

  1. Mehrgarh neolithic are farming in wheat , domesticated animals in contrast to pastrol sheep and goat. So the Mehrgarh are Indigenous.

  2. Journey from Early charcolithic to Indus valley civilization is continuous. After studying the skulls there was a Biological continuity as well right up to the present day from early charcolithic days.

  3. Most Important one is finding the Indus valley and Rig veda people are same Mentioning of the River saraswathi which is cradle of Indus valley Civilization.

  4. Geographical evidence of confirms to Rivers , Mountains , Lakes etc.

  5. Boghaz Kuei inscription(1400BC), refers to Indra, Mitra, Nasatya and Varuna as witnesses to a treaty between the Mitanni king Matiwaza and the Hittite king Suppiluliuma.

  6. T. Burrow came to the conclusion: “The Indo- Europeans appear in Mitanni from 1500 BC as the ruling dynasty, which means that they must have entered the country as conquerors from no where else but from India.


Indo- Europeans are from India. Whether the Greek , Latin and Sanskrit (Vedic) are related we will see in another article.


The Homeland of Indo-European Languages And Culture: Some Thoughts

Author: Prof. B. B. Lal