Bible Review 6:3, June 1990

Classical Scholarship—Anti-Black and Anti-Semitic?

Have classical historians suppressed the black and Semitic roots of Greek civilization?

By Molly M. Levine

Whether ancient Egyptian civilization reflected an essentially black culture has recently been the subject of a spirited exchange in the pages of BR’s sister publication, Biblical Archaeology Review.a This discussion, however, is but a relatively faint echo of an intense debate heard most frequently in black academic circles and on black campuses, and lately spilling into the national press. The issues range from the question of the racial identity of the Egyptians to encompass the very roots of classical civilization, specifically the extent to which Greek, and thus Western, culture derives from Egyptian civilization, and the degree to which mainstream scholarship in this area has been biased and racist—in a word, Eurocentric.

These issues form the focus of a full-scale assault on classical historiography of the last two centuries set forth in Martin Bernal’s Black Athena.b In this passionately argued, wide-ranging book, Bernal, a scholar of Chinese history and government at Cornell, a professor of Near Eastern studies and a self-avowed “outsider,” lays serious and sweeping charges against what he views as the “classics establishment,” the classicist “insiders.”

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