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If Afrocentrist scholars could ward off criticism and even dis- cussion of their claims and theories by calling their academic opponents racists, there seemed to be little hope of sponsoring the kind of debate that has until recently been a central feature of academic life.

Rather than being encouraged to ask ques- tions, to read widely, and to challenge any and all assumptions, students were being indoctrinated along party lines. What could be done to improve the situation before Afrocentrists walled their students off into a private thought-world of their own?

Identity, Race, History: South Africa and the Pan-African Context

It is not enough simply to raise questions about some of the more outlandish Afrocentric allegations. There is a need for explanation. There is a need to show why these theories are based on false assumptions and faulty reasoning, and cannot be supported by time-tested methods of intellectual inquiry. There is a need to explain why this misinformation about the ancient world is being circulated, and to indicate that the motives behind it are political, and that this politicizing is dangerous because it requires the end to justify the means.

In this book I want to show why Afrocentric notions of antiquity, even though unhistorical, have seemed plausible to many intelligent people. In part, the explanation lies in the present intellectual climate. There is a current tendency, at xiv Preface least among academics, to regard history as a form of fiction that can and should be written differently by each nation or ethnic group.

The assumption seems to be that somehow all versions will simultaneously be true, even if they conflict in particular details. According to this line of argument, Afrocentric ancient history can be treated not as pseudohistory but as an alternative way of looking at the past. It can be con- sidered as valid as the traditional version, and perhaps even more valid because of its moral agenda. It confers a new and higher status on an ethnic group whose history has largely remained obscure. Thus ethnic, and even partisan, histories have won approval from university faculties, even though the same fac- ulties would never approve of outmoded or invalid theories in scientific subjects.

But the notion that there are many "truths" does not explain why Afrocentrists have chosen to concentrate on the history of ancient Greece, as opposed to the history of any other ancient civilization. Why are questions now being raised about the origins of Greek philosophy and the ethnicity of various ancient celebrities? How could anyone suppose that the ancient Greeks were not the authors of their own philosophy and scientific theory?

The explanation is that only years ago it was widely believed that Egypt was the mother of Western civilization. Although shown to be untrue as soon as more information about Egypt became available, the earlier beliefs survive in the mythology of Freemasonry. The Masons believe that their ritu- als derive from Egypt, but in reality their rituals do not origi- nate from a real Egyptian source and are not nearly so ancient as they suppose.

Rather, they derive from the description in an Preface xv eighteenth-century novel of an "Egyptian Mystery System," which served as a means of providing university-level educa- tion and as the source of ancient philosophy. This system, although wholly fictional, was in fact based on Greek sources. And, although no one knew it at the time, these ancient sources were themselves inaccurate, because their authors interpreted Egyptian culture in terms of Greek custom and experience.

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Although the "Egypt" in these accounts never existed, the ancient writers nonetheless believed it, and the Freemasons still talk as if they had some direct connection with it. Because of their conviction that what they are saying is true, their reports can appear credible, especially to people who do not have an extensive knowledge of the ancient world.

That is why an attempt to distinguish these plausible fictions from actual fact needs to be undertaken by a classical scholar who knows some ancient languages and who is familiar with the complex nature of ancient historical writing. Even though I am not the only classicist who could have written a book about the Afrocentric myth of ancient history, I have one special qualification: a long-standing interest in pseudohistory. I have identified in ancient writings both delib- erate and unconscious falsification of evidence. I have also studied the many and ingenious ways in which ancient writ- ers created historical "facts" to serve particular purposes, some of them political.

As my readers will see from some of the incidents that I shall describe in the course of the book, working on such a contro- xvi Preface versial subject has not made my life easier. I have not enjoyed having to explain, even to people who have known me for many years, that I am not attempting simply to preserve the tradi- tions of an outmoded discipline; I am defending academic stan- dards.


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I am not writing about Afrocentrist misconceptions of the past in order to show that Greek civilization is superior to that of Egypt, or any other African nation. I would like to assure anyone who is prepared to make such allegations that, on the contrary, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have learned more about Egypt than I might have done had I not taken on this special project.

I have only the highest respect for the advanced civilization and accomplishments of ancient Egypt. This book thus has both a negative and a positive purpose. The negative purpose is to show that the Afrocentric myth of ancient history is a myth, and not histoiy. The positive purpose is to encourage people to learn as much about ancient Egypt and ancient Greece as possible. The ancient Egypt described by Afrocentrists is a fiction. I would like our children and college stu- dents to learn about the real ancient Egypt and the real ancient Africa, and not about the historical fiction invented by Europeans.

Any work of this kind must inevitably take its readers into unfamiliar territory. For that reason I have tried to provide as many guideposts as possible along the way.

I specify when writers wrote and where they came from. All quotations in foreign languages are translated by me, unless otherwise noted. I have sought not to encumber the reader with learned references and footnotes; the narrative can be read straight through without a glance at the back of the book. But the references are there for anyone who wants to know Preface xvii them.

A work on such a controversial subject requires thor- ough documentation. Olin Foundation. Among the many people who have urged me to write this book, and to discuss these controversial issues, I am particu- larly grateful to the following for their support, advice, and encouragement: Harold Brackman, Deborah B.

PBS Television Series a 'Myth-Busting' Journey Through African History

Cohen, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Held, Heather R. Snowden, Jr. The late F. Sternfeld alerted me to the importance of the work of the Abbe Jean Tterrasson. Kelly J. King spent many hours in Boston libraries tracking down obscure books. I could not have written the book without their help. Wellesley, Massachusetts July The paperback edition contains corrections, additions, and improvements. Among these are a full bibliography, with sug- gestions for further reading; a glossary of names to help peo- ple sort out who is who in the ancient writings mentioned in this book; and supplementary notes keyed to pages in the text, which provide more information and answer questions raised by reviewers and correspondents these may be found after the endnotes.

I have corrected some minor errors and typos. I have added an epilogue in which I discuss the central issues raised by the book, examine the rather curious argu- xviii Preface ments that have been presented by critics and reviewers, and suggest topics for further discussion. Or, even if they do know, they choose not to ask questions. But then, when I learned what was going on in this special line of teaching, my questions about ancient history were not encouraged.

There was no sense that as a faculty we were all involved in a cooperative enterprise, that of educating all of our students. Intellectual debate was in fact actively discour- aged, even though the questions raised were reasonable and fair. Ordinarily, if someone has a theory that involves a radical departure from what the experts have professed, he or she is expected to defend his or her position by providing evidence in its support.

Normally, if one has a question about a text that another instructor is using, one simply asks why he or she is using that book. But since this conventional line of inquiry was closed to me, I had to wait until I could raise my questions in a more public context. That opportunity came in February , when Dr. Yosef A. Posters described Dr. But I knew from my research in Afrocentric literature that he was not what schol- ars would ordinarily describe as an Egyptologist, that is, a scholar of Egyptian language and civilization.

Rather, he was an extreme Afrocentrist, author of many books describing how Greek civilization was stolen from Africa, how Aristotle robbed the library of Alexandria, and how the true Jews are Africans like himself.

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After Dr. Several students came up to me after the lecture and accused me of racism, suggesting that I had been brainwashed by white historians. But others stayed to hear me out, and I assured Dr. A lecture at which serious questions could not be asked, and in fact were greeted with hostility — the occasion seemed more like a political rally than an academic event.


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Several of them were well aware that what Dr. One of them said later that she found the lecture so "hopeless" that she decided to say nothing. Were they afraid of being called racists? If so, their behavior was un- derstandable, but not entirely responsible. Didn't we as educa- tors owe it to our students, all our students, to see that they got the best education they could possibly get?

And that clearly was what they were not getting in a lecture where they were being told myths disguised as history, and where discus- sion and analysis had apparently been forbidden. Good as the myths they were hearing may have made these students feel, so long as they never left the Afrocentric envi- ronment in which they were being nurtured and sheltered, they were being systematically deprived of the most impor- tant features of a university education. They were not learn- ing how to question themselves and others, they were not learning to distinguish facts from fiction, nor in fact were they learning how to think for themselves.

As Arthur Schlesinger says in The Disuniting of America: The purpose of history is to promote not group self-esteem, but understanding of the world and the past, dispassionate analysis, judgment and perspective, respect for divergent cultures and traditions, and unflinching protection for those unifying ideas of tolerance, democracy, and human rights that make free historical inquiry possible.

Such attacks could easily be repelled, as long as my colleagues were prepared to reconstruct what happened in the past on the basis of historical evidence. The trouble was that some of my colleagues seemed to doubt that there was such a thing as historical evidence, or that even if evidence existed, it did not matter much one way or the other, at least in comparison with what they judged to be the pressing cultural issues and social goals of our own time.

When I went to the then dean of the col- lege to explain that there was no factual evidence behind some Afrocentric claims about ancient history, she replied that each of us had a different but equally valid view of history. When I stated at a faculty meeting that Aristotle could not have stolen his philosophy from the library of Alexandria in Egypt, because that library had not been built until after his death, another colleague responded, "I don't care who stole what from whom. The present book is an attempt to answer these difficult questions, at least so far as the understanding of ancient history is concerned.

There is an urgent need for a book that discusses the nature of the charges against the Greeks and provides a complete discussion of the reasons why they are without foundation. Hardly a week goes by when an article does not appear by an Afrocentrist writer observing that the discoveries attributed to the Greeks rightly belong to the an- cient Egyptians.

But while many of us have responded to var- ious individual assertions about the Greeks, no one so far has taken the trouble to respond fully to all of them, and to ex- plain why it is that these ideas are now being circulated. I can understand this reluctance on the part of classicists and Egyptologists. To respond to the kinds of allegations that are now being made requires us in effect to start from the begin- ning, to explain the nature of the ancient evidence, and to dis- cuss what has long been known and established as if it were now subject to serious question.

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Identity, Race, History: South Africa and the Pan-African Context | SpringerLink

In short, we are being put on the defensive when in ordinary circumstances there would have been nothing to be defensive about. Worst of all, making this sort of defense keeps us from going on to discover new material and bring our attention to bear on real interpreta- tive problems.

Instead of getting on with our work, we must rehearse what has long been known.