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Black Athena

Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Volume I: The Fabrication of Ancient Greece, 1785-1985

Martin Bernal

Publication Year: 1987

Could Greek philosophy be rooted in Egyptian thought? Is it possible that the Pythagorean theory was conceived on the shores of the Nile and the Euphrates rather than in ancient Greece? Could it be that Western civilization was born on the so-called Dark Continent? For almost two centuries, Western scholars have given little credence to the possibility of such scenarios.

In Black Athena, an audacious three-volume series that strikes at the heart of today's most heated culture wars, Martin Bernal challenges Eurocentric attitudes by calling into question two of the longest-established explanations for the origins of classical civilization. The Aryan Model, which is current today, claims that Greek culture arose as the result of the conquest from the north by Indo-European speakers, or "Aryans," of the native "pre-Hellenes." The Ancient Model, which was maintained in Classical Greece, held that the native population of Greece had initially been civilized by Egyptian and Phoenician colonists and that additional Near Eastern culture had been introduced to Greece by Greeks studying in Egypt and Southwest Asia. Moving beyond these prevailing models, Bernal proposes a Revised Ancient Model, which suggests that classical civilization in fact had deep roots in Afroasiatic cultures.

This long-awaited third and final volume of the series is concerned with the linguistic evidence that contradicts the Aryan Model of ancient Greece. Bernal shows how nearly 40 percent of the Greek vocabulary has been plausibly derived from two Afroasiatic languages-Ancient Egyptian and West Semitic. He also reveals how these derivations are not limited to matters of trade, but extended to the sophisticated language of politics, religion, and philosophy. This evidence, according to Bernal, confirms the fact that in Greece an Indo-European people was culturally dominated by speakers of Ancient Egyptian and West Semitic.

Provocative, passionate, and colossal in scope, this volume caps a thoughtful rewriting of history that has been stirring academic and political controversy since the publication of the first volume.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-xiv

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvi

I must first of all thank my publishers Rutgers University Press and, in particular, Leslie Michener for their extraordinary patience. This volume was promised in 1987 and expected in the early ’90s! My excuses for the elephantine gestation are, first, that I was distracted by the polemics surrounding the first two volumes ...

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Transcriptions and Phonetics

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pp. xvii-xx

The reconstructions of Nostratic, Afroasiatic, and Indo-Hittite follow those of the scholars upon whose work the relevent chapters are largely based. These are Allan Bomhard and John C. Kerns for Nostratic; Vladimir E. Orel and Olga V. Stolbova for Afroasiatic; ...

Maps and Charts

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pp. xxi-xxxviii

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pp. 1-27

In 1879 the pioneer anthropogist E. B. Tylor published his famous article comparing the Mexican game patolli with the Indian board game pachisi. He argued that the two were not independent inventions but the result of diffusion from one to the other.1 He based his case on the great number of similarities between the two games. ...

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Chapter 1: Historical Linguistics and the Image of Ancient Greek

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pp. 28-38

Nineteenth-century historical linguistics established—and was obsessed by—the idea of language “families.” Unlike the eighteenth-century Enlightenment concern with spatial arrangement and classification, nineteenth-century intellectuals were concerned with time and development. ...

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Chapter 2: The "Nostratic" and "Euroasiatic" Hyper- and Super-Families

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pp. 39-57

Linguists seem to have stopped, or at least suspended, the debate over whether there was a single or multiple origin of all existing languages. A consensus that all existing languages are ultimately related to each other now appears to have emerged. ...

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Chapter 3: Afroasiatic, Egyptian and Semitic

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pp. 58-89

Before considering the rise and spread of Afroasiatic, I should like to look at linguistic and agricultural developments in Africa as a whole. As mentioned in the last chapter, Joseph Greenberg usually used the method of mass lexical comparison. He compared word lists for basic things, qualities and processes, ...

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Chapter 4: The Origins of Indo-Hittite and Indo-European and Their Contacts with Other Languages

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pp. 90-115

This chapter is concerned with the origins and development of the Indo-Hittite language family and those of its subset Indo- European, which today is the most widely spoken in the world. The chapter also deals with the linguistic contexts in which the two families were formed and the exchanges among these and other languages. ...

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Chapter 5: The Greek Language in the Mediterranean Context: Part 1, Phonology

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pp. 116-154

The next three chapters are concerned with supposed and actual influences of Egyptian and West Semitic on the development of Greek. As will be seen below, this inquiry gives very different results at the different levels of the Greek language. Greek phonology shows only a few signs of any Afroasiatic impact. ...

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Chapter 6: The Greek Language in the Mediterranean Context: Part 2, Morphological and Syntactical Developments

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pp. 155-164

This chapter is concerned with the middle of the spectrum of changes expected in a language that has experienced substantial, but not overwhelming, influence from one or more other languages. In Chapter 5 we saw how insignificant outside influence was on Greek phonology. ...

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Chapter 7: The Greek Language in the Mediterranean Context: Part 3, Lexicon

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pp. 165-186

This chapter is divided into three sections, each concerned with the possibility or probability of lexical borrowings from Afroasiatic languages into Greek. The first part examines the present state of the study of this subject. Second is a consideration of whether Greeks in the Archaic and Classical periods had any conception ...

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Chapter 8: Phonetic Developments in Egyptian, West Semitic and Greek Over the Last Three Millennia BCE, as Reflected in Lexical Borrowings

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pp. 187-208

This chapter is concerned with lexical borrowings from Egyptian and West Semitic into Greek and in particular with their relation to the changes that took place in the two Afroasiatic languages during the more than three thousand years from 3000 BCE to 300 CE. ...

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Chapter 9: Greek Borrowings from Egyptian Prefixes, Including the Definite Particles

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pp. 209-244

This chapter deals with some Egyptian particles and reduced nouns that integrated with the nouns or verbs they were modifying to the extent that they were taken into Greek as simple words. English shows a similar pattern of borrowing. By far the most common derive from Arabic words beginning with the definite article >al: ...

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Chapter 10: Major Egyptian Terms in Greek: Part 1

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pp. 245-275

This chapter and Chapter 11 treat the ramifications in Greek of a number of terms central to Egyptian civilization. As such, they are precisely those that one should expect to have been exported. It is, therefore, not surprising to find that they do in fact provide many plausible origins for Greek words with no, or only very improbable, Indo- European etymologies. ...

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Chapter 11: Major Egyptian Terms in Greek: Part 2

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pp. 276-299

This chapter is concerned with just two Egyptian terms: First, nfr(w) “good, beautiful” with the additional meanings of “zero, base line.” Second, ms (i) “child, giving birth.” Both are central to Egyptian culture and had major and intertwined ramifications in Greece. These ramifications require considerable detailed attention. ...

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Chapter 12: Sixteen Minor Roots

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pp. 300-311

Calling these Egyptian words “minor” is a misnomer. They were important words in the Egyptian language and significant concepts or artifacts in Egyptian life. They are only labeled in this way in comparison to the words and roots discussed in the previous two chapters. ...

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Chapter 13: Semitic Sibilants

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pp. 312-324

In Chapter 8 I looked at the progress of the Egyptian letter ß conventionally transcribed /š/ from /h/ to /š/. I drew an analogy from transcriptions from the Hebrew /š/ into Greek χθ, σχ, χσ, and σ.1 The situation of sibilants within Semitic is even more complicated than that. ...

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Chapter 14: More Semitic Loans into Greek

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pp. 325-339

When I began this project in 1975, I focused exclusively on Semitic loans into Greek, that is to say I was unconcerned with Nostratic, with Semitic loans into PIE or with Egyptian loans into Greek. By the mid-1980s, when I wrote the first drafts of what became Volume 1; ...

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Chapter 15: Some Egyptian and Semitic Semantic Clusters in Greek

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pp. 340-379

Previous chapters have been largely concerned with phonology, that is attempts to find systematic phonetic parallels among Egyptian, Semitic and Greek words or roots. In this and the next three chapters the focus will be on meaning. As mentioned in Chapter 14, previous scholars have set out well various loans from Semitic into Greek, ...

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Chapter 16: Semantic Clusters: Warfare, Hunting and Shipping

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pp. 380-404

In the late nineteenth century, Heinrich Lewy discarded abstract and broad-ranging nouns, adjectives and verbs from his list of Semitic loans into Greek. In Chapter 7 I discussed Michel Masson’s approval of this step.1 To remedy the gap left by this self-denying ordinance, in the next two chapters, ...

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Chapter 17: Semantic Clusters: Society, Politics, Law and Abstraction

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pp. 405-424

This chapter is concerned with what in modern universities are considered the social sciences: Society, politics, law and abstraction. Greek civilization has generally been accepted, at least by Western cultures, as preeminent in these semantic areas. ...

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Chapter 18: Religious Terminology

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pp. 425-452

Subsequent chapters deal with specific aspects of religion. Chapter 19 is concerned with proper nouns, the names of gods and other mythological figures. Chapter 20 focuses on geographical features. Chapter 21 concentrates on the gods and cults of Sparta and Chapter 22 does the same for Athens. ...

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Chapter 19: Divine Names: Gods, Mythical Creatures, Heroes

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pp. 453-484

The two quotations above demonstrate that the general claims made in this chapter are neither new nor entirely out of fashion. Furthermore, Herodotos and other ancient writers paired Egyptian with Greek deities: Ammon with Zeus, Neith with Athena, Ptah with Hephaistos and so on. ...

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Chapter 20: Geographical Features and Place-Names

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pp. 485-511

Place-names are, if anything, more durable than words. They can tell one as much or more than language about both prehistory and history. Unlike other words, they often survive the disappearance of the languages that formed them. Their linguistic provenance can provide important evidence on the languages of the populations or rulers in the distant past. ...

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Chapter 22: Sparta

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pp. 512-539

In this chapter, I shall range widely on the strong Afroasiatic connections of what has generally been seen as the most “Aryan” of the Greek states. The first section deals with the derivation of the name Sparta from the Egyptian sp3t “nome, district” and the district’s capital. ...

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Chapter 22: Athena and Athens

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pp. 540-582

The names Αθήναι, Athens, and Αθήναια, Athena, have puzzled the curious for more than two millennia. Today orthodox scholars simply consider them to be pre-Hellenic. More imaginative or fanciful observers have proposed that the names are metatheses of Athena’s Canaanite counterpart ...

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pp. 583-586

The purpose of these volumes is to refute this widespread conventional view repeated by Roberts. I hope to have demonstrated that neither Ancient Egypt nor the pagan Levant were dead ends. Both of them, through Greece and Rome and the civilizations of the monotheist religions, have been central and crucial to western history. ...


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pp. 587-694


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pp. 695-712

Greek Words and Names with Proposed Afroasiatic Etymologies

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pp. 713-730

Letter Correspondences

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pp. 731-740


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pp. 741-796


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pp. 797-807

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About the Author

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Martin Bernal was a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and is a Professor Emeritus in Government and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University. He is married with five children and six grandchildren.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813555331
E-ISBN-10: 0813555337

Page Count: 608
Publication Year: 1987