Phoenician discovery of America? - Evidence for trans-oceanic contact between ancient civilisations - the Case for Diffusion - Peter Myers, July 9, 2002; update November 15, 2009. My comments are shown {thus}.

Write to me at contact.html.

You are at

(1) Thor Heyerdahl (2) Diodorus of Sicily (3) Cyrus H. Gordon (4) G. Elliot Smith (5) Martin Bernal (6) Joseph Needham

(1) Thor Heyerdahl, Early Man and the Ocean: The beginning of navigation and seaborn civilizations, George Allen & Unwin, London 1978.

Critics often imply that Heyerdahl was an Aryanist. Yet Cyrus H. Gordon, who took a similar view, was a Jew.

In fact, the "whites" who Heyerdahl thought first crossed the Atlantic were not "Aryans" but Semites (Phoenicians=Carthaginians=Canaanites), in conjunction with Egyptians. The accepted theory that it was the Vikings and Spaniards who discovered the Americas, is more Aryanist than Heyerdahl's thesis. Heyerdahl's thesis is actually more like Martin Bernal's in Black Athena, than the Aryanist view; and Bernal is a Jew.

In terms of Heyerdahl's thesis, the Aztecs and Incas misjudged the character of the Spaniards because earlier "white" visitors had been quite different.

Heyerdahl wrote in Early Man and the Ocean:

{p. 72} We of European extraction are surely not so blinded by our own history that we consider ourselves a line of supermen, able to do four centuries ago what the great civilisations of Asia Minor and North Africa could not have done earlier. It must not be forgotten that these people of

{p. 73} antiquity had skills and capacities that far surpassed anything done in the same fields in Europe during the Middle Ages. The Egyptians and their neighbours in Mesopotamia and Phoenicia knew more about astronomy, the key to ocean navigation, than any Europeans contemporary with Columbus, Cortez and Pizarro. And the Phoenicians, in collaboration with the Egyptians, were circumnavigating Africa at the time of the Pharaoh Necho, 2,000 years before Columbus set sail in an ocean that Europeans believed was filled with dragons and ended at the horizon in a precipice.

We marvel at the abilities of the ancients as embodied in their pyramids and obelisks, sophisticated mathematics and calendar systems, profound literature and philosophy, perfect mastery of maritime architecture, as evidenced by the functional form and complex rigging of their ships of planks and reeds 5,000 years ago, and their skill in exploration and colonisation as revealed by the numerous archaeological vestiges of Phoenician settlement all the way down the Atlantic coast of Morocco dating back 3,000 years. But is it realistic to stand in awe of such achievements only to deny these ancients the ability to do what Pizarro did with a handful of men in a subsequent age beset by ignorance and superstition? {end quote}

More on the Phoenicians:

(2) DIODORUS OF SICILY tr. C.H. Oldfather, Harvard University Press (Loeb), Cambridge Ma. 1968. Written about 56 B.C.

BOOK V chapters 19-20 {in Volume 3 of the Loeb series}

{p. 145} 19. But now that we have discussed what relates to the islands which lie within the Pillars of Hercules, we shall give an account of those which are in the ocean. For there lies out in the deep off Libya an island {note 1} of considerable size, and situated as it is in the ocean it is distant from Libya a voyage of a number of days to the west. Its land is fruitful,

{translator's notes} 1 The idyllic colours in which the picture of this island in the Atlantic is painted relieve the historian of any concern over its identification, although by some writers it is identified with the largest island of the Madoira group, which, however, has no navigable rivers. {the Americas do, and would fit the idyllic description} {end notes}

{p. 147} much of it being mountainous and not a little being a level plain of surpassing beauty. Through it flow navigable rivers which are used for irrigation, and the island contains many parks planted with trees of every variety and gardens in great multitudes which are traversed by streams of sweet water; on it also are private villas of costly construction, and throughout the gardens banqueting houses have been constructed in a setting of flowers, and in them the inhabitants pass their time during the summer season, since the land supplies in abundance everything which contributes to enjoyment and luxury. The mountainous part of the island is covered with dense thickets of great extent and with fruit-trees of every variety, and, inviting men to life among the mountains, it has cozy glens and springs in great number. In a word, this island is well supplied with springs of sweet water which not only makes the use of it enjoyable for those who pass their life there but also contribute to the health and vigour of their bodies. There is also excellent hunting of every manner of beast and wild animal, and the inhabitants, being well supplied with this game at their feasts, lack of nothing which pertains to luxury and extravagance; for in fact the sea which washes the shore of the island contains a multitude of fish, since the character of the ocean is such that it abounds throughout its extent with fish of every variety. And, speaking generally, the climate of this island is so altogether mild that it produces in abundance the fruits of the trees and the other seasonal fruits for the larger part of the year, so that it would appear that the island, because of its exceptional felicity, were a dwelling-place of a race of gods and not of men.

{p. 149} 20. In ancient times this island remained undiscovered because of its distance from the entire inhabited world, but it was discovered at a later period for the following reason. The Phoenicians, who from ancient times on made voyages continually for purposes of trade, planted many colonies throughout Libya and not a few as well in the western parts of Europe. And since their ventures turned out according to their expectations, they amassed great wealth and essayed to voyage beyond the Pillars of Heracles into the sea which men call the oeean. And, first of all, upon the Strait itself by the Pillars they founded a city on the shores of Europe, and since the land formed a peninsula they called the city Gadeira; {note 1} in the city they built many works appropriate to the nature of the region, and among them a costly temple of Heracles, {note 2} and they instituted magnificent sacrifices which were conducted after the manner of the Phoenicians. And it has come to pass that this shrine has been held in an honour beyond the ordinary, both at the time of its building and in comparativelv recent days down even to our own lifetime. Also many Romans, distinguished men who have performed great deeds, have offered vows to this god, and these vows they have performed after the completion of their successes. [note 3} The Phoenicians, then, while exploring the coast outside the Pillars for the reasons we have stated and while sailing along the shore of Libya, were driven by strong

{translator's notes} 1 Cadiz. The Greek name is derjved from the Phoenician " Gadir" or "Agadir," which the ancient writors understood to mean "citadelÓ or "fortress." 2 The temple of the Tyrian god Melkart, whom the Greeks identified with Heracles. 3 Among the "distinguished " Romans Diodorus may have had in mind his contemporary, Julius Caesar who visited this temple early in his political career and upon seeing a statue of Alexander the Great, so Suetonius (Julius, 7. 1) recounts, heaved a sigh because at his age he had done nothing noteworthy, whereas Alexander in the same years had subdued the world. At a later time Caesar conferred Roman citizenship on the city. {end notes}

{p. 151} winds a great distance out into the ocean. And after being storm-tossed for many days they were carried ashore on the island we mentioned above, and when they had observed its felicity and nature they caused it to be known to all men. {note 1} Consequently the Tyrrhenians, at the time when they were masters of the sea, purposed to dispatch a colony to it, but the Carthaginians prevented their doing so, partly out of concern lest many inhabitants of Carthage should remove there because of the excellence of the island, and partly in order to have ready in it a place in which to seek refuge against an incalculable turn of fortune, in case some total disaster should overtake Carthage. For it was their thought that, since they were masters of the sea, they would thus be able to move, households and all, to an island which was unknown to their Conquerors. {note 2}

21. But since we have set forth the facts concerning the ocean lying off Libya and its islands, we shall now turn our discussion to Europe. Opposite that part of Gaul which lies on the ocean and directly across from the Hercynian Forest, {note 3} as it is called, which is the largest of any in Europe of which tradition tells us, there are many islands out in the ocean of which the largest is that known as Britain.

{translator's notes} 1 There seems no reason to doubt tho statement that Phoenician sailors were actually driven out at some time to islands in the Atlantic, such as Madeira or the Canaries. Cp. R. Hennig, Historischc Zeitschrift, 139 (1928), 9. {but the Americas matches the description better} 2 But just above we are told that the Phoenicians had made the island "known to all men." {this could mean, that they publicised the fact of the discovery, but kept its location secret} 3 Since this forest lay deep in Germany, the mention of it is no aid in orienting the islands to be described. The classic description of the Hercyrnian Forest is in Caesar, Gallic War, 6.25-8. 4 It appears that the name of the tribe which Caesar met on the island was originally Preteni; but that Caesar knew Brittani in Gaul and changed the P to B and the form of the spelling as well. Cp. R. G. Collingwood, J. N. L. Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlement (1933), p. 31. {end notes}

{p. 153} In ancient times this island remained unvisited by foreign armies; for neither Dionysus, tradition tells us, nor Heracles, nor any other hero or leader made a campaign against it; in our day, however, Gaius Caesar, who has been called a god because of his deeds, was the first man of whom we have record to have conquered the island, and after subduing the Britains he compelled them to pay fixed tributes. But we shall give a detailed account of the events of this conquest in connection with the appropriate period of time, {note 1} and at present we shall discuss the island and the tin which is found in it.

Britain is triangular in shape, very much as is Sicily, but its sides are not equal. This island stretches obliquely along the coast of Europe, and the point where it is least distant from the mainland, we are told, is the promontory which men call Cantium, [note 2} and this is about one hundred stades from the land, [note 3} at the place where the sea has its outlet, {note 4} whereas the second promontory, known as Belerium, {note 5} is said to be a voyage of four days from the mainland, and the last, writers tell us, extends out into the open sea and is named Orca. {note 6} Of the sides of Britain the shortest, {note 7} which extends along Europe, is seven thousand five hundred stades, the second, from the Strait to the (northern) tip, is ...

{translator's notes} 1 Caesar invaded Britain in 55 and 54 B.C., but the history of Diodorus does not come down to that date (cp. Vol. I, p. xix) 2 The Forelands and Kent. 3 i.e. from the mainland. One hundred stades is about eleven miles. 4 i.e. where the North Sea empties into the ocean. 5 Land's End. 6 Duncansbay Head with Dunnet Head, the northern tip of Scotland; modern writers also transliterate the name as "Orcas" and ÓOrcan." 7 From the Forelands in Kent to Land's End {end notes} {end quotes}

Read the original - from Diodorus: diodorus-v19.jpg



(3) Cyrus H. Gordon.

See Gordon's book Before Columbus: Links Between the Old World and Ancient America, Turnstone Press, London 1972.

Cyrus H. Gordon's book Before the Bible, on the common east Mediterranean culture ancestral to the Greek and Hebrew cultures: gordon.html.

Despite achieving breakthroughs, Cyrus Gordon remained outside any establishment. In no sense was he apotheosised, unlike Albert Einstein.

The following quote is from Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2000 Vol 26 No. 6 (endnotes are at the end):


An Interview with Maverick Scholar CYRUS GORDON

Cyrus Gordon is a scholar of enormous range. His bibliography of more than 35 books and 350 articles is divided into over 20 categories, focusing largely on linguistics and social history. Among them are Aramaic-Syriac-Mandaic studies, art and archaeology of the Near East, Assyriology, Biblical studies, Egypto-Semitic studies, Minoan, and Phoenician and Hebrew inscriptions.

Gordon's views have gained varying degrees of acceptance in the academic world:

His Ugaritic Grammar is universally hailed as a major contribution, making Canaanite religious literature accessible for the first time.1

His emphasis on the connections between the Greek world and the Hebrew world was initially met with great skepticism when Gordon first proposed it more than 35 years ago. Today it is commonplace to acknowledge such connections.

His decipherment of Linear A, which as he says in the following interview he regards as his greatest scholarly achievement, is extremely controversial and is accepted mostly only by his former students.2

His continued belief in the authenticity of North American inscriptions (such as the Bat Creek inscription from Tennessee) that would place Semites in the western Hemisphere in about 800 B.C. has very few adherents in the scholarly world.3

Perhaps this explains why in his long life he has had important mentors and approximately 60 devoted, sometimes adoring, Ph.D. students (many of whom are now senior scholars in their own right) but few colleague friends. "Academia," he has written, "is full of litigious and ill-willed people." Famous scholars like Ephraim A. Speiser tried to "destroy" him. William F. Albright treated him "misanthropically" and kept him on "unilateral respiration." One college president where he taught was "dictatorial"; another was "vindictive and ruthless." His academic colleagues were sometimes "jealous" and "vicious," resorting to "shameless 'dirty tricks.'"4

Cyrus Gordon occupies his own unique scholarly niche, however. Throughout his long career, he has been, as he describes himself, "a disturber of the pax acadmica." Although his career "has been fraught with pain," he has also had the "satisfactions that scholars who live by conformity and compromise can never know."5

{p. 56 INSET} CYRUS ON CYRUS. Cyrus Herzl Gordon, while on military assignment in Fars (Persia), visited the tomb of his namesake Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to Palestine in the sixth century B.C.E. The Persian king was, therefore, according to Gordon, the founder of ancient Zionism; Gordon's father, an ardent political Zionist, chose to name his son for that famous king and for Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. {end INSET}

{p. 60} You wrote a book called The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilization in 1965. For a long time that idea was rejected; it was considered meshuga [crazy].

It was against everything that was holy: The Greeks were rational; the Hebrews were religious. Greeks were artistic; the Hebrews were against art and against idolatry. [This was the standard view.] I was reading the texts, both the Greek and Hebrew, and I saw that this wasn't so.

Now everybody accepts that.

Of course.

How did it finally come to be accepted?

The opposition died off.

You mean physically died off or your arguments finally won out?

No, no, no, no, no. They died. The arguments were never there on their side, it was on my side.

Give me an example

There is a relationship, for example, between the tribe of Dan and the Danaan Greeks.* The tribe of Dan came in with the Philistines. The Philistines pushed the Danites into the sterile hills. and took over the fertile plains. So the Danites had to find a better home for themselves. They sent spies to find a nice quiet place up north, at Laish, and they seized it and renamed it Dan [Judges 18].

{footnote} * "Danaans and Danites - Were the Hebrews Greek?" BAR, ]une 1976. {end footnote}

{p. 61} The Philistines worshiped gods other than Yahweh [the God of the Hebrews], for example, Dagon. But Dagon is every bit as Semitic as Yahweh.

The language of the Philistines was Semitic. I like to say that when Samson was courting Delilah [a Philistine], he never took an interpreter along. Scripture records cases where an interpreter was used. They translated between Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, where Joseph was supposed to be an Egyptian [Genesis 42:23]. But Samson and Delilah both spoke Semitic. The Philistines are supposed to be Indo-Europeans. But this is only dogma. True, they didn't practice circumcision, but circumcision emanates from Egypt, from Africa. And none of the other Semites except the Hebrews practiced circumcision. There was no circumcision among the Babylonians, for example.

Larry Stager [of Harvard University, director of excavations at Ashkelon] says that if we ever find some Philistine inscriptions, they'll be Greek. Do you agree with that?

No, no.

Whats your view?

There's simply no basis for it.

Well, they came from the Aegean, didn't they?

Look, Noah's son Shem is the ancestor of the Semites. Japheth [another son of Noah] is connected with the Greeks. Now look at Genesis 9:27: "May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem." The Greeks will dwell in the tents of the Semites. In other words, the area was Semitic before it became Indo-European. Or to put the matter differently, the area was a Linear A area before it became a Linear B area. When the Philistines came to Canaan, they were already speaking what we would call Hebrew. You remember Abimelech, king of Gerar? Gerar is one of the old Philistinian cities [Genesis 26:1]. There is no more Semitic name than Abimelech - a Philistine king with a Semitic name.


Is Linear A Semitic?

As Cyrus Gordon describes in the accompanying interview, one of the most controversial aspects of his long academic career has been his work on Minoan Linear A, an ancient script found on the island of Crete.

The modern rediscovery of ancient Crete was in great measure the work of Sir Arthur Evans, an English author and adventurer who came to archaeology in middle age. Starting in 1894 and for several decades thereafter, Evans excavated at various sites on Crete and there discovered the great Bronze Age civilization that he called Minoan, after the legendary king Minos, described by Homer, Herodotus and other Greek writers as the ruler of Crete in the period prior to the Trojan War. Among Evans's many important finds on Crete were several hundred clay tablets inscribed in two different, yet very similar, scripts. Evans called the older of the two scrips Linear A and the more recent one Linear B. Due to the number of signs in Linear A and Linear B, scholars assumed - correctly, as it turned out - that the two scripts were syllabaries and not alphabets - that is, each sign represented a syllable rather than a single letter.

Linear B was deciphered in the 1950s by the young and brilliant Michael Ventris (an architect by training), with the collaboration of John Chadwick (a professional philologian). Ventris and Chadwick showed that Linear B was Greek - not the classical Greek of the Iron Age (from 1200 B.C.E. onward), but an earlier variety from the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.E.), which they called Mycenaean Greek. They presented their work in Documents in Mycenaean Greek (1956), a volume that was enthusiastically received and that opened many new avenues in the study of ancient Greek language and culture.

Gordon obtained his copy of Documents in Mycenaean Greek in December 1956 and immediately set out to decipher Linear A. His method was to apply the values of the Linear B signs, as determined by Ventris and Chadwick, to the Linear A tests.

Actually, Ventris and Chadwick had begun to do the same thing and had come to realize that the words in Linear A were not Greek but rather reflected some other language. Among the words that Ventris and Chadwick recognized on Linear A tablets were names for four kinds of vessels: qa-pa, su-pu, ka-ro-pa and su-pa-ra. They knew that these were words for vessels because they were followed by the pictograph for "pot" (circled in the drawing, opposite, left). They also deduced that the word for "total" in Linear A was ku-ro because this word was used, repeatedly at the end of administrative tablets (opposite, right).

Gordon immediately identified the words followed by the pot pictograph as names of vessels in such Semitic languages as Hebrew, Akkadian and Ugaritic. Gordon equated qa-pa with Hebrew and Ugaritic kp and Akkadian kappu; su-pu with Hebrew and Ugaridc sp; ka-ro-pa with Akkadian karpu and Ugaritic krpn (the predecessor, incidentally, of "carafe"); and su-pa-ra with Hebrew and Ugaritic spl (the Linear A and B scripts do not distinguish l and r). The word for "total," ku-ro, was obviously Semitic kull (again, with no distinction between l and r in the script).

Gordon continued to search for further connections between Linear A and Semitic. A startling example was the presence of the word ya-ne on a wine pithos (storage jar) from Knossos, on Crete (opposite, top), clearly the Minoan form of the West Semitic word for "wine," as in Hebrew yayin and Ugaritic yn.


Gordon published a series of articles in the late 1950s and early 1960s arguing that tbe Minoan language was Semitic, with its closest relatives in the West Semitic branch. His work on the subject culminated in the monograph Evidence for the Minoan Language (1966).

Gordon's view of Linear A led him to a very significant - but much disputed - conclusion: The Minoans, the creators of the high civilization of ancient Crete, were Semites. In fact, this would be in keeping with the ancient Greek tradition that Minos was brought to Crete by Zeus from Phoenica. Gordon further believes that the Minoans played a key role in the interaction between Greek and Hebrew civilizations, a subject that has formed a major area of research during his career.

I hasten to add that most scholars have not accepted Gordon's interpretation of Minoan Linear A as Semitic. Some believe that the material is Anatolian (a branch of Indo-European that indudes Hittite, Luwian et al.), while other scholars believe the question cannot be answered given the limited evidence. But the data we have just reviewed are, in my opinion, plain and straightforward. The most telling objection to Gordon's work is the view that the Minoans could not have been Semites simply bccause it could not be so. The prevailing attitude, that the Semites were landlubbers, associated more with the desert than with the sea, helped to foster this disbelief. But such closed-mindedness is the antithesis of scholarship, especially as practiced by Gordon throughout his remarkable career. He taught his students, of which I am one, to follow the evidence wherever it should lead. And if the above sampling of words from Minoan Linear A points in the direction of Semitic, then such is the path that one should follow. - Gary A. Rendsburg, Paul and Bertha Hendrix Professor of Jewish Studies, Cornell University.

For a more detailed survey of Gordon's work on Minoan, see Gary Rendsburg, "'Someone Will Succeed in Deciphering Minoan': Cyrus H. Gordon and Minoan Linear A," Biblical Archaeologist 59:1 (1996), pp. 36-43. For more on the phonology of Minoan ya-ne and the comparative Ugaritic evidence, see Rendsburg, "Monophthongization of aw/ay>d in Eblaite and in Northwest Semitic," in Eblaitica: Essays on the Ebla Archives and Eblaite Language, ed. Cyrus Gordon and Rendsburg (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 2 vols., pp 91-12, esp. pp. 96-97.


{p. 61 GRAPHIC AREA: see linear-a.jpg}

{p. 62}

{sub-heading} "When the Philistines came to Canaan, they were already speaking what we would call Hebrew." {end sub-heading}

You mentioned Linear A and Linear B. Can you tell me what Linear B is?

Linear B is Greek. Tablets in it were found in a whole variety of places in the coastal areas of Greece. For instance, in the palace of Nestor [at Pylos, in the western Peloponnese]. It had to be deciphered. That was a great accomplishment [by Michael Ventris]. It's not written in regular Greek. This opened up the possibility of deciphering Linear A [the earlier script], and that's what I did. The signs that are used have the same phonetic value in both systems. It's like Hungarian and English; both are written in the Latin alphabet, but they're different languages. If you know one, however, you can pronounce the other.

Is Linear A Greek?

No, Linear A is Semitic.

Thats a very controversial statement, isn't it?

Look, I read this [text], and I give the basis of the explanation and everything else. It's in black and white and documented, so you can check on everything.

But its still very much a controversial matter, isn't it?

Look, a lot of things can be controversial. But we have facts to deal with. Controversy is made by individuals arbitrarily.

But why is it controversial? Michael Ventris's decipherment of Linear B is not controversial.

It was for a while. I'll tell you why. The Greek scholars were relieved when it [Linear B] turned out to be Greek, because many scholars had said that it's not Greek. When I come along and say that Linear A - the oldest language found on European soil of which we have any hope of pronouncing and translating - is Semitic, this they don't want. And as far as the Semitists go, you take them away from Hebrew script and they're lost.

I think your student Gary Rendsburg pointed out that it's only your students who agree with you.

They're the only ones who've been trained in the damned thing! They're the only ones who read all the languages, not just some of them.

You have no doubt.

I have no doubt whatever. But you have to see it yourself, then you'll see why there's no doubt.

You have written that as a result of your decipherment of Linear A, other scholars have been derisive.

Well, what else can you do if you don't have any factual arguments?

You went on to say, "decades of rebuff, denial and outright scorn followed."

Right. Hershel, I have the thing documented with actual readings, and the evidence. And the evidence, by the way, is in several different scripts, confirming that it's there.

Where does this attitude come from? Where does this derision, this scorn - these are strong words - where does this come from?

It makes no difference whether you go to this campus or that campus; if you have a classics department, this is the attitude. You see, [this decipherment] takes it out of their hands. I show them this, but they are not capable of handling it. If you're not capable of handling a thing, then you resort to denial.

And the Semitists?

There's a wine jar found at Knossos [on Crete] with three other jars. On all three of them the ideogram for wine appears. In other words, you read it as "wine" in English, and vin in French. It's an ideogram. But the fourth one reads yanna - apparently a place. Yanna I recognize immediately; it has to be Semitic yayin ["wine"; see box on p. 60].

{p. 63} Are the ideograms in Linear A?

Yes. Linear A. The ideograms for wine are the same in Linear A and Linear B. This is an ideogram, so you pronounce it in whatever language the text happens to be. There is a place called Yanna, so you write it with the ideogram for "wine" and the suffix na syllabically after it.

Initially you thought that Linear A was East Semitic, and then you later changed your mind and decided it was West Semitic.

Yes. This is because the same words occur in both East Semitic and West Semitic.

You changed your mind?

It's just because I didn't know the same words occurred in West Semitic. But the thing is, I've answered all these things, and it's all arranged in a rational way.

On another subject, do you still maintain that the Semites came to the Western Hemisphere - the United States and South America - in 800 B.C.E.?

No doubt about it. You have a very big inscription near Albuquerque. And then an expedition of the Smithsonian, at Bat Creek in Tennessee, found the same script. *

{footnote} * For another view, see P Kyle McCarter, "Let's Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone," BAR, July/August 1993. See also J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" BAR, July/August 1993, and see letters in BAR, November/December 1993. {end footnote}

So you still maintain that the Bat Creek inscription is authentic?

No question about it.

The scholarly consensus today is that it is not authentic.

The evidence is overwhelming, just overwhelming. And what's more, another one was found near Newark, Ohio.

{p. 63 GRAPHIC AREA: see bat-creek.jpg}

{p. 63 HIGHLIGHTED AREA} SEMITES IN AMERICA? Cyrus Gordon is one of the very few proponents of the idea that Semites arrived in the Western Hemisphere as early as 800 B.C.E. He refers to the inscription on the Bat Creek stone, found in Tennessee in 1889, as evidence. Gordon believes that the letters are Hebrew, reading "for Judea," and date to the first or second century C.E. {end HIGHLIGHTED AREA }

{p. 63 ordinary TEXT continued}

What about the Parahaiba inscription from Brazil? **

{footnote} ** See Frank M. Cross, "Phoenicians in Brazil?" BAR, January/February 1979. {end footnote}

Parahaiba is another thing. I was right in seeing relationships with other inscriptions, but I was not right in dealing with something that I didn't know anything about: This is the work of a secret society. It's not modern, and it's not ancient. It's in between. It's like the Masonic documents, which are not from Solomon's time, but they weren't created yesterday either; they were created some hundreds of years ago. So I didn't have the requisite experience with secret societies.

The authentic inscriptions then are only in the United States - the Bat Creek inscription and the others? You recognize that almost no scholar agees with you on that.

But they don't know a goddamned thing about it. They simply don't know.

That's true even of your own students.

Well, that's where they have jobs.

Why do you say that?

For instance, if they have a job in a Christian seminary that is very conservative in most ways, they may have pressures put on them, consciously or subconsciously, I don't know.

What do you regard as your greatest scholarly accomplishment?

Linear A. No question in my mind.

How about your Ugaritic grammar?

Well, for Ugaritic, we have a great body of texts. It is taught at every great university in the world, and in seminaries. It [my grammar text] has gone through five editions and reprintings. But I feel that the most significant thing I've done is the Linear A [decipherment].

Why is it so important that Linear A is Semitic?

Because this explains the contacts between the most ancient Greeks and the most ancient Hebrew literature. In other words, you had this common language that was used all through the area. The area was Semitic speaking before the Semites were driven out. It was Linear A before it was Linear B; this explains why there is the common background.

You've also seen correspondences and cultural connections between Homer and the Bible.

Oh yes, certainly. When [the Israelites] of Jabesh-gilead retrieved the bodies of Saul and Jonathan, they burned the bodies and they fasted [see I Samuel 31: 11-13]. This is a Homeric funeral for people who die on the field of battle. It doesn't matter whether it actually happened. That we can't prove. But what we can prove is that the same custom prevailed, that they didn't burn bodies that die at peace back at home, but only those who lost their lives on the battlefield.

Thank you very much. You've been very enlightening.

Uncredited photos are courtesy of Cyrus and Constance Gordon. endnotes appear on page 71

{p. 71 ENDNOTES}

1 See Peter C. Craigie, "The Tablets From Ugarit and Their Importance for Biblical Studies," BAR, September/October 1983.

2 Gary A. Rendsburg, "'Someone Will Succeed in Deciphering Minoan': Minoan Linear A as a West Semitic Dialect," Biblical Archaeologist, 59:1 (1996), pp. 36-43, esp. p. 40.

3 See J. Huston McCulloch, "The Bat Creek Inscription: Did Judean Refugees Escape to Tennessee?" and P. Kyle McCarter, "Let's Be Serious About the Bat Creek Stone," BAR, July/August 1993; letter by Robert R. Stieglitz and response by P Kyle McCarter, BAR, November/December 1993, pp. 16 17.

4 The quotes are from Gordon's autobiography, A Scholars Odyssey (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000), pp. 48, 53, 81, 84-85, 105.

5 A Scholars Odyssey, pp. 1-2.

{end of ENDNOTES}

{p. 72 - advertisement for Gordon's autobiography: the interconnectedness of cultures refers to early trans-Atlantic crossings. The advertisement reads}

A Scholar's Odyssey By Cyrus H. Gordon

"Anyone fortunate enough to have met the doyen of ancient Near Eastern scholars will hear his lucid voice on every page." ... Woven throughout the unfolding story is Gordon's philosophy of the interconnectedness of cultures that has been so significant, and sometimes controversial, in his career. {end of advertisement}

{end of article about Cyrus H. Gordon}

(4) G. Elliot Smith

G. K. Osei re-published G. Elliot Smith's booklet The Influence of Ancient Egyptian Civilization in the East and in America (New York, 1983; I have this booklet but its publisher details are unclear; I obtained it from a Black American bookstore, most likely A&B Books Publishers Brooklyn, NY 11201):



{An elaboration of the lecture delivered in the John Rylands Library, on 10th March, 1915}

{p. 52} But there is positive evidence to prove that as early as 2800 B.C. maritime intercourse was definitely established along the coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean, bringing into contact the various peoples, at any rate those of Egypt and Syria, scattered along the littoral. Egyptian seamen were also trafficing along the shores of the Red Sea; and there are reasons for believing that in Protodynastic times such intercourse may have extended around the coast of Arabia, as far as the Sumerian settlement at the head of the Persian Gulf, thus bringing into contact the homes of the world's most ancient civilizations.

More daring seamen were venturing out into the open sea, and extending their voyages at least as far as Crete ... The Early Minoan Civilization ... were certainly inspired in large measure by ideas brought from Egypt.

{p. 53} In course of time, as the art of ship-building advanced and the mariners' skill and experience increased. No doubt more extensive and better-equipped enterprises were undertaken. ...

Such commercial intercourse cannot fail to have produced a slow diffusion of culture from one people to another, even if it was primarily of the nature of a mere exchange of commodities. But as the various civilizations gradually assumed their characteristic forms a certain conventionalism and a national pride grew up, which protected each of these more cultured communities from being so readily influenced by contact with aliens as it was in the days of its uncultured simplicity. Each tended to become more and more conscious of its national peculiarities, and immune against alien influences that threatened to break down the rigid walls of its proud conservatism.

It was not until the Minoan state had fallen and Egypt's dominion had begun to crumble that a people free from such prejudices began to adopt all that it wanted from these hide-bound civilizations. To its own esceptional aptitude for and experience in maritime exploits it added all the knowledge acquired by the Egyptians, Minoans, and the peoples of Levant. It thus took upon itself to become the great intermediary between the nations of antiquity; and in the course of its trafficking with them, it did not scruple to adopt their arts and crafts, their burial customs, and even their gods. In this way was inaugurated the first era of really great sea-voyages in the world's history. For the trafficking with these great proud empires proved so profitable that the enterprising intermediaries who assumed the control of it, not only of bartering their merchandlse one with the other, but also of supplying their wants from elsewhere, soon began to exploit the whole world for the things which the wealthy citizens of the imperial states desired.

There can be no doubt that it was the Phoenicians, lured forth into the unknown oceans in search of gold, who first broke through the bounds of the Ancient East and whose ships embarked upoo these ealiest maritime adventures on the grand scale. {end quotes}

To order G. Elliot Smith's booklet The Influence of Ancient Egyptian Civilization in the East and in America from AddAll:

I do not post ALL of Elliot Smith's material. The fact that he overstated his case, that he was wrong about some things, does not undo the ways in which he was right. The reaction against Diffusion has gone too far.

(5) Martin Bernal

Bernal, despite his pugnacious style, is surely right when he writes, in Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization Volume II The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick NJ 1991:

{p. 522} There would seem to be an extreme paradox here, as the main thrust of my whole project has been against the influence of racism and anti-Semitism on scholarship. Yet in this volume I have frequently found myself championing the views of scholars working at the high tide of racism 1880-1940, though it must be said that these are generally on issues in which racism is not directly involved.

These are also issues where the conclusions of the older generation of scholars fit better with the results of modern scientific techniques than do the views of contemporary scholars. To take two instances discussed in this volume, lead isotope analysis shows that lead from Cen-

{p. 523} tral Europe was being used in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. This is exactly what Gordon Childe would have expected, as he believed that Sumerian prospectors had gone up the Danube at this period. Similarly, the latest radio-carbon datings put the beginning of the Egyptian Old Kingdom to around 3000 BC, which fits the chronology of James Breasted, but that is far earlier than any accepted by conventional wisdom today.

I believe that this pattern is not the result of random coincidence and that the modern archaeologists have been led astray for reasons that can be relatively easily explained in terms of the sociology of knowledge. Firstly, there has been the turn away from diffusionism. As I argued in Volume I, I believe that on one level this represents an admirable rejection of the uses of diffusionism to justify imperialism and colonialism. However, it also indicates the desire of new professionals to appear sober and responsible and not indulge in the spectacular theories to which amateurs are so attracted.

This is connected the second tendency that appears to have misled modern scholarship. In a surprisingly large number of areas of Western ancient history, there was no great increase of information between 1920 and 1960. This period was one in which there was a powerful drive among archaeologists to acquire 'scientific' status. This in turn produced a double effect. In the first place, archaeologists wanted, above all, to avoid being considered as speculative and irresponsible. However, they also needed to show that the discipline was progressing and innovative. Thus, the only alterations they could make were those that demonstrated their greater scepticism and caution. For this reason all 'progress' in these disciplines since 1920 has tended to restrict the geographical scope and lower the historical dating of ancient activities. Recent evidence from scientific techniques, however, points in precisely the opposite direction and this has led to the paradoxical situation that the archaeologists who have proclaimed their scientific status most loudly are in the greatest conflict with the results of the new scientific techniques when applied to archaeology. What is more, the results of the new techniques often fit better with the ideas of earlier or more conservative scholars.

Thus, a number of  the controversial ideas in this volume are only 'outrageous' in the light of modern conventional wisdom. An example of this comes in the attempt I make in Chapter I to reverse the present isolationist current among archaeologists with a return to modified diffusionism, and in particular to the belief that early European Bronze Age civilization derived in some way from the still earlier metalworking cultures of Southwest Asia and Northeast Africa. If I am right here, it means that the sustained attack on the posi-

{p. 524} tions of the early 20th-century archaeologists Oscar Montelius and Gordon Childe launched by Colin Renfrew and his colleagues has not merely been a complete waste of time but has been positively harmful to our understanding of the origins of Greek civilization. I also go beyond Montelius and Childe by arguing that Crete and possibly the Cyclades may well have become Semitic-speaking at this time.
{end quotes}

More of Bernal's Black Athena: diop.html

(6) Also see ...

Joseph Needham on the Diffusion of Culture between China and the Mid East, across the Eurasian steppe: needham-anthony.html

Gloria Farley, In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America, ISAC Press, Columbus, GA 1994.

Across Before Columbus

Jim Bailey, Sailing to Paradise: the Discovery of the Americas by 7000 B.C., Simon & Schuster, New York 1994. This book argues that the mining industry - the quest for ores for metallurgy - was a major motive for early oceanic travel. Metals made the difference between defeat and victory in war. "If you lost a war your sons and daughters were appropriated by the victors and the surviving males enslaved" (p. 20).

I have been informed of Brian Fagan's review of Jim Bailey's book Sailing to Paradise in the Journal of American History, Vol. 82 No. 4; p. 1547, 1996. Fagan writes:

"Jim Bailey's rambling, poorly written, and near-racist book results from eclectic and uncritical reading in everything from Greek mythology to deep-water voyaging. His book is a classic example of a curious literary genre, which appeals to those who like their history to be simplistic, romantic, and a matter of epic adventures and lost civilizations. ... he conveniently forgets to mention that highly sophisticated sourcing studies can now link ancient copper with specific areas of origin. No Near Eastern copper displays Lake Superior characteristics. These researches alone undermine the credibility of what can only be described as a weird excursion into an ancient fantasy world.

"Sailing to Paradise is historical nonsense, which is not worth the paper it is printed upon. And shame on the publisher for wasting paper on intellectual rubbish like this without obtaining outside reviews."

I report this review not to endorse it but to encourage caution; on the other hand, Fagan and the Archaeology/Anthropology establisment ignored or ridiculed Thor Heyerdahl, who always remained outside academia, and were dismissive of Cyrus Gordon for arguing in favour of pre-Columbus ocean contact. They're sceptics when it suits them, and like to blacklist "politically incorrect" views: dogmatic sceptics.

UPDATE November 15, 2009. Here is a discussion with Brian Fagan on the above review:

(a) I wrote to him:

Sourcing studies for ancient Ores; and Fingerprinting methods To: Brian Fagan <> Brian Fagan

Dear Professor Fagan,

I am interested in "Before Columbus" theorists like Heyerdahl.

Jim Bailey is a bit more out on a limb. In a review of his book, you wrote, "highly sophisticated sourcing studies can now link ancient copper with specific areas of origin.".

But you did not provide references.

I am interested in such sourcing studies - for Crete and Sumeria, amongst others. The Sumerians had few local resources.

A colleague quoted a passage from Oliver Dickinson, "The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age" (2006):

"...while Laurion may have been the source of almost all the silver and lead and much of the copper used in the Late Bronze Age. But this depends on accepting the results of the lead isotope analysis technique of 'fingerprinting' metal ores, which no longer seem as definite and clear-cut as when first presented (see references in the chapter bibliography)" (pp. 82-83)

That suggests that there's a debate about fingerprinting methods. Could you send some references on that too?


Peter Myers

(b) He replied:

sourcing Brian Fagan <> 14 November 2009 09:36 To: Peter Myers <>

Dear Peter:

I have no recollection of having reviewed Jim Bailey's book, but then many reviews across my desk. It must have been some time ago. Few scholars I know take Heyerdahl's ideas seriously.

There is a huge literature on sourcing, about which I know little. But I know it is very good for copper and tin, no so good for lead. Most of the work I know of is for obsidian,. notably in California. Sorry I cannot be more helpful, but this is not a literature that I follow. When I tell you that I have been working on water for the past tow years, you'll understand.

Best regards,


(c) I replied:


Someone sent me this review (they said by you) of Bailey's book:

{quote} review of Jim Bailey's book Sailing to Paradise in the Journal of American History, Vol. 82 No. 4; p. 1547, 1996. Fagan writes:

"Jim Bailey's rambling, poorly written, and near-racist book results from eclectic and uncritical reading in everything from Greek mythology to deep-water voyaging. His book is a classic example of a curious literary genre, which appeals to those who like their history to be simplistic, romantic, and a matter of epic adventures and lost civilizations. ... he conveniently forgets to mention that highly sophisticated sourcing studies can now link ancient copper with specific areas of origin. No Near Eastern copper displays Lake Superior characteristics. These researches alone undermine the credibility of what can only be described as a weird excursion into an ancient fantasy world.

"Sailing to Paradise is historical nonsense, which is not worth the paper it is printed upon. And shame on the publisher for wasting paper on intellectual rubbish like this without obtaining outside reviews." {endquote}

Did you write those words attributed to you?

That quote is the reason I asked for references on the sourcing of ores.


(d) He replied:

sourcing Brian Fagan <> 15 November 2009 03:59 To: Peter Myers <>


Ah, now I remember what was an entirely forgettable and dreadful book. I most certainly did write those words. The reason there are no references is that this is a book review.



(e) I replied:


> I most certainly did write those words
> The reason there are no references is that this is a book review

I accept that you are a Prehistory Generalist, in that you spread yourself widely and cannot stay up-to-date on every topic.

Nevertheless, is it not reasonable for me to request that you back up your statement "highly sophisticated sourcing studies can now link ancient copper with specific areas of origin" with references on that topic?

Specifically, which metal-using civilizations have been shown to have used which mines? And is there consensus among experts on this topic, or a debate about the methods and evidence?


(f) He replied as follows:

sourcing Brian Fagan <> 15 November 2009 10:28 To: Peter Myers <>

Dear Peter:

I'm sorry, but I have simply got too much on my plate, what with book deadlines and other commitments, to chase up references on metal sourcing for you, especially in the context of a book review of a ghastly book reviewed over ten years ago. If this was a full peer reviewed academic paper, I would certainly have referenced it. Frankly, I think it is unreasonable of you to ask me to back up statements in a short review written for an audience who would know well where the references are. So I must respectfully decline.

As I said before, there is a huge literature on sourcing in the context of all kinds of societies, including Egypt, the Sumerians, the Mycenaeans, and many others. You will, have to take my statement at face value that there is highly sophisticated sourcing literature. If you go to the Web you will find much evidence of such activity. These methods are well established and the methodology is getting ever more sophisticated.




Write to me at contact.html.