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Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics Paperback – September 20, 2001


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Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics + Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985, Volume 1) + Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (Volume 2: The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (September 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822327171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822327172
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1987, Bernal published Black Athena, in which he argued that many of the cultural accomplishments traditionally attributed to the ancient Greeks originated, in fact, in Africa, especially among the Egyptians. Bernal also argues that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars of ancient Greece purposefully ignored or distorted evidence of the Afro-Asiatic roots of Greek achievement. He further argues that, because many of these scholars were overt racists and anti-Semites, they wanted those features that are considered to be the cornerstones of Western civilization to be the work of white people, and particularly Aryans. This controversial thesis attracted a great deal of popular media attention. Unsurprisingly, it met also with withering criticism from prominent scholars of archeology, linguistics and literature, the primary disciplines from which Bernal, who teaches government and Near Eastern studies at Cornell, collected his evidence. In this new volume, Bernal makes point-by-point retorts to, for instance, Egyptologist David O'Connor, who argues that Bernal is far too trusting of ancient literary sources; Mary Lefkowitz, a classicist and one of his most persistent critics, who finds very little of value in his work; and Emily Vermeule, an Aegean Bronze Age specialist, who questions Bernal's archaeological methodology. In response to Vermeule's allegations of "exaggerated sensitivity" (Bernal's words), he returns to passages from studies that he quoted in Black Athena as examples of scholarly racism. Many of the pieces here are previously published articles, essays and book reviews, and thus involve and reiterate aspects of his original book. 15 illus. (Oct.)Forecast: A considerable audience of nonspecialists will be curious about the current state of the 15-year-old controversy, but sales are likely to be limited to academics.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Not only has Bernal's controversial book Black Athena (1989) provoked passions with its thesis that Greek classical culture--and thus Western civilization--was influenced by Afro-Asiatic cultures, it also prompted his critics to publish Black Athena Revisited (1996), deliberately denying him an opportunity to respond, a move unheard of in academic circles. In this book, Bernal responds to the whirlwind of criticism surrounding his work, providing additional documentation for his thesis and revealing the sometimes petty conflicts among academics. Bernal answers specific criticism of Black Athena, conceding shortcomings in his original work and bolstering his thesis with new findings. In both works, Bernal cites linguistic, anthropological, and archaeological findings as the basis for his thesis, which is revealing in its insights on historical and contemporary racial politics. Bernal notes the hypocrisy of academics, steeped in the "cult of Europe," who only recently and begrudgingly credited Egypt's contributions to Western civilization and still deny any connection between ancient Egypt and modern "blacks." Readers need not have read Black Athena to benefit from the debate about the contributions of non-European cultures to Western civilizations and the hotly debated concept of Afrocentrism. This book and its companion, the forthcoming Debating Black Athena, will garner wide readership and spark interest in the previous works. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 97 people found the following review helpful By AK van Deelen on June 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Black Athena
There are a lot of hysterical reviews on this forum, by people who clearly have
not read, let alone understood the book, Black Athena.
This book is not about whether the Ancient Egyptians were Black, or whether
Greek civilization as it exists today and became known to the Romans was a
wholesale copy of Egyptian civilization, as it obviously wasn't.
So, what is Black Athena about?
This book carefully sets out Martin Bernal's hypothesis, that ancient history
can be seen as having been molded into specific narratives, depending on
the age when that narrative was created and found it's uses.
He defines three different Models or narratives, namely the Ancient Model,
The Aryan Model, and his own Revised Ancient Model. He includes some
suggested timelines, but basically, the Ancient Model of Greeks like
Herodotus, suggested that in 15th century BC, Egyptians and
Phoenicians had set up colonies in Greece and the Aegean, creating Greek
civilization. The Aryan Model suggests that civilization started with the
indigenous creation of a civilization in Greece, and that there were
Nordic invasions of Indo-European speakers who mixed in with
the non-Indo-European speaking indigenous population
Bernal's Revised Ancient Model places the Egyptian and Phoenician
invasions in the 21st-19th century, pushes back the introduction of the
alphabet to the 17th century (from the 9th century), but maintains
that there were Nordic invasions and that the indigenous population
spoke a related Indo-Hittite language.
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42 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A. Conzevoy on December 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
People may dislike Bernal's writing style, but that doesn't mean they should ignore his ideas.

By naming his books "Black Athena" Bernal doesn't mean that Athena, the symbol of the Athenians and their culture, which we call Greek culture, was imagined as black. More likely he believes she was a light Mediterranean brown. Even the famous classicist Bernard Knox (a professor who wrote introductory essays to Robert Fagel's translations of The Iliad and Odyssey) concedes this point in his ironic essay collection "The Oldest of the Dead White European Males" when he politely describes Greeks as an olive colored people.

Bernal's use of black in "Black Athena" refers to the historical misconception of her skin color by Romantics, Racists, and Imperialists who were not necessarily the same people. It also refers to the poetically and politically motivated misunderstanding of the historical origins of Greek myth, culture, and language. Not to say that Athena wasn't a Greek Goddess but rather that Greek ideas of Gods and Nature have significant (and uncredited) roots in more ancient civilizations (whether Egyptian, Sumerian, or more broadly Afro-Asiatic).

Bernal is attempting to undermine the false popular idea (especially among people who specialize in the study of the Greco-Roman Classics) that, poetically speaking, Greek culture just sprang out of the ground like Cadmus' dragon teeth. Oh wait, no; actually, that myth tells of how a Phonecian, who we classify as Afroasiatic, brought literacy to the Greeks. Other ancient Greek sources attest to having recieved the basic tools of Greek Culture from their neighbors, why should we disbelieve them? Then there's etymology...
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By Dr. Kofi Asimpi on February 14, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm unable t write a review now.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Florida windsurfer on May 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Too academic to comprehend his detail argument. However, I can guess why Bernal created "enemies". Whole thing is sad to some extent. He could have established better argument if he were not so abrasive.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MC on December 4, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent "outside the box" response to a highly contested subject. His other works are, in my mind a necessary read for anyone wishing to understand human history and our western origins
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24 of 41 people found the following review helpful By "rev4802" on August 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
What is all the controversy around Bernal's work about? It only takes a student of history to learn without a doubt that Egypt was indeed the cradle of modern human civilization. Only look at the historical evidence to confirm this if you have any doubts. Bernal's work was not a mind shocker with his conclusion about the fundamental influence of Egypt as teacher to a student to the Greeks, but I do commend Bernal for introducing the historical evidence to Western readers who do not know about it up till this day.
My only surprise in the whole matter is that this simple idea of Past preceding its Inheritors does not want to be acknowledged by so many people in the "west" today, in the year 2002 AD. This in its self is the biggest testimony to the validity of Bernal's simple thesis.
To those who still doubt, just learn Egyptian history and archaeology; it is written in papyrus, inscribed on stone and closer to you, by the ancient Greek students of Egypt who later became known as the fathers of Greek and, to you, "Western Civilization".
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Thoth on October 11, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The capacity for misrepresenting--by re-asserting speculation and possibility for evidence for claims--continues unabated in this book. Perhaps the best way to view this book is to look at the epistolary exchange between Bernal (trained in Chinese history and language) and the archeologist Emily Vermeule (NY Review of Books (May 1992). There, you will find Bernal rejectiing Vermeule's accusation that Bernal, in Black Athena 1, argues that the Egyptians conquered Boetia during the Middle Kingdom. Bernal also cites the accusation as one of numerous misrepresentations on Vermeule's part. Vermeule's reply? Roughly two dozen quotations from Black Athena 1that show that Bernal argues precisely the thing he denies arguing. An objective person cannot look at this exchange and not see that Bernal is willing to lie to win arguments instead of advancing humanistic knowledge. How sad that so many people are willing to be seduced by such a prevaricator, especially when there is such solid scholarship exposing his major claims to be baseless.
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