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Debate Rages About Origin of Civilization

February 14, 1991

The reason Martin Bernal's "Black Athena" has been at best ignored and at worst condemned by the academic Establishment is not because it "has enraged many right-wingers," but because it is very poor scholarship.

His charge that existing classical scholarship rests on anti-Semitism is completely unfounded, impossible to disprove (because it attacks motives rather than actions), and permits him to dismiss existing scholarship without having to refute it.

History is molded by the cultural and political climate in which it is written, so it is natural that most European classical studies reflect a Eurocentric approach. But that is far from the racist approach Bernal claims. Indeed, he concedes his own crypto-racist political agenda: "I want to lessen European arrogance."

Where is the racism in contemporary classical textbooks? Most of them start with ancient Near Eastern civilization (Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Egypt) and their contributions to Western civilization--Egyptian geometry, the Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew monotheism (which they likely got from ancient Egypt) and the rule of law.

Bernal's proposition is self-refuting. If Western civilization is Egyptian in origin, then why did it originate in Greece rather than Egypt? There are no ancient Near-Eastern texts revealing a civilization that can compare with the one in which Socrates, Aristotle and Plato flowered.

TOM BLAIR

San Pedro

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