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Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, vol. 1, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece: 1785-1985.

This is the first of a three-volume opus on the origins of Classical Greek civilization and on how the "Ancient Model" (= the view of the ancient Greek authors) gave way to the "Aryan Model" (= the prevailing view of modern academia). The ancient Greeks acknowledged their indebtedness to Near Easterners, such as the Phoenicians and Egyptians but, between the eighteenth century (ca. 1785) and our own time (ca. 1985), a Eurocentric consensus has tended to supplant the testimony of the ancients.

The clearest illustration of what has happened is the change in attitude toward the alphabet. The ancient Greeks never called their system of writing the "Greek alphabet" but instead the "Phoenician letters" or the "Cadmean letters," after Cadmus, the Phoenician prince who, according to tradition, conquered Thebes, established a dynasty there, and introduced the Cadmean/Phoenician alphabet. The ancient Greek tradition is supported by the identity of the oldest Greek letter-forms with the script already used in Northwest Semitic inscriptions; by the modern excavations of the "Palace of Cadmus" in downtown Thebes; by the large trove of ancient Near Eastern seals found there, and so on. Since the derivation of Greek writing from the Phoenician letters is undeniable, the Eurocentrists have formulated a way to minimize it. They maintain that a true alphabet must indicate vowels as the Greeks do, and not only consonants as the Phoenicians did. Thus they attributed the invention of the alphabet to the Indo-European Greeks instead of to the Semites. However, it is now known that just as Semitic Linear A and Greek Linear B are written in the same Aegean syllabary, the later Semitic Eteocretan and coeval Cretan Greek inscriptions are written in the same alphabet--vowels and all. The Cretan/Aegean sharing of the same script was regional, and not the monopoly of the Greeks or Semites. The many varied Greek borrowings from the ancient Near East have been denied or down-played by the extreme followers of the "Aryan Model." Influential Classicists like Julius Beloch took the view that while we must, in general, respect the veracity of the ancient Greeks, the latter were nevertheless mistaken when they attributed priority of elements in their culture to barbarians such as Semites and Egyptians. Hebrew influence was unwelcome because of prevailing anti-Semitism. However, the Phoenicians were not Jews, but a neighboring people using Northwest Semitic dialects closely related to Hebrew. Accordingly, anti-Phoenicianism was not "religious" but "racist"--a forerunnner of the kind of anti-Semitism that developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Bernal documents the transition from the Ancient Model to the Aryan Model more thoroughly than any of his predecessors, such as V. Berard, C. H. Gordon, and M. Astour.

As long as evidence against the Aryan Model dealt with individual details, or consisted of mere hypotheses, the Classics establishment could tolerate the "heresies" without panicking. But with the publication of the thesis that pre-classical Greek culture and pre-prophetic Hebrew culture were parallel structures built on the same east-Mediterranean foundation, the stage was set for the battle to defend the consensus of the Classics establishment from that challenge. Bernal's sweeping condemnation of what has happened even in prestigious bastions of learning is basically true even though not every defender of the Ancient Model has the requisite knowledge or judgment to support his viewpoint validly, nor does every professor of Classics commit the sins of the establishment. Bernal knows this perfectly well and he should not be expected to bury his important message under a heap of qualifications and exceptions. He can be criticized for errors in detail, especially in identifications that require a control of esoteric Semito-Egyptian linguistics, but it would be a gross error in this brief review to obscure the message and significance of an important book by a long list of phonetic criticisms. I must, however, add something on one topic that is crucial: the Northwest Semitic character of Minoan Linear A, the firmest and most basic link between pre-Hellenistic and Canaanite cultures.

The long-known Semitic nature of Minoan is now succinctly but clearly demonstrated in the Festschrift of Prince Mikasa of Japan: Near Eastern Studies (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1991), 56-62. While enough data have been available in reputable professional journals for over three decades, the Semitic decipherment of Linear A has been simply swept under the rug. The standard corpus of Minoan inscriptions is the five-volume Recueil des inscriptions en Lineaire A, by L. Godart and J.-P. Olivier (Paris: Geuthner, 1976-1985). The authors omit any mention of the fact that the language has been identified, analyzed, and described, with passages not only translated but identified with formulae in the corpora of Northwest Semitic epigraphy.

The Minoan language of Crete survived (in Greek letters) into archaic, classical, Hellenistic and even Greco-Roman times. The texts in that last phase of Minoan are appropriately known as the Eteocretan inscriptions. The fullest corpus of this phase is Yves Duhoux, L'Eteocretois: Les Textes, la langue (Amsterdam: Gieben, 1982). The subtitle is half true because, while the book provides a real edition of "les textes," its treatment of "la langue" is beside the point, since Duhoux does not know any Semitic language and has no basis for finding Semitic readings right or wrong. While he does not identify Eteocretan with any particular branch of Indo-European, he concludes "l'indo-europeen presente une parente typologique indeniable avec l'eteocretois". Duhoux is respectful to those with whom he disagrees; he lists in his bibliography (pp. 263-90) no fewer than fourteen publications and a private communication of C. H. Gordon (pp. 273-75)--by far the most cited author in his book. But for this, he may have been taken to task by his colleagues, to judge from his next publication on the subject, namely, Le Lineaire A: Problemes de dechiffrement (Problems in Decipherment 49, ed. Y. Duhoux, T. G. Palaima and J. Bennet |Louvain-la-Neuve: Peeters, 1989~, 59-119). This time none of Gordon's many books and articles devoted to Minoan Linear A is mentioned, and Duhoux concludes (p. 101) that though the language does not seem to be Indo-European or Semitic, it is probably Mediterranean and it would be worth delving into the languages of the Mediterranean that are neither IE nor Semitic. Such negativism and self-contradiction are tolerated by the establishment in its effort to deny the very existence of unwelcome facts. How long the comedy of denial will go on I will not venture to predict. More and more cracks are appearing in the fragile edifice of the extreme Aryan Model. Sooner or later the truth will prevail. When it does, the victory will owe much to Bernal's impressive work, which is reaching a large reading public. CYRUS H. GORDON

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Author:Gordon, Cyrus H.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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