50 years after…
Half a century ago (more precisely in 1950 published by McMillan, in 1951 by Doubleday, the house to which the publications rights were transferred after boycott threats to McMillan by the astronomical academia) a book was published of substantial size and very rich in references, titled Worlds in Collision. It was a bestseller in US in 1952 and appeared in condensed form in Readers Digest, including the Italian version Selezione. At that time the present writer was a schoolboy of seven, an avid reader of everything printed. I read the article in Selezione with utmost fascination, being particularly impressed by the explanation provided of the "miracle" of the Sun stopping in the sky during the siege of Jericho.
Then I forgot both the name of the author and the book. These I recalled suddenly over 30 years later, when I was discussing with an Irish colleague some ideas I had developed about a possible catastrophic origin of ice ages and explanation within this context of the origin of the Atlantis myth. Velikovsky had been forgotten at the conscious level, but had left a seed in the deep that was going to germinate.
When his book was published, Velikovsky (later on referred to as V.) was unknown for most people, albeit he was well known to a limited number of scientists. Indeed, in addition to several papers in psychiatry, in the Thirties V. had edited in collaboration with Albert Einstein the journal Scripta Universitatis atque Bibliothecae Hierosolymitarum, that was instrumental in leading to the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The great success of his book with the public was due to several factors, partly related to a postwar reawakening of interests in religious traditions and widespread critical sentiments against a science that had led to the atomic weapon and to the risk of a nuclear obliteration of humankind. Also a factor was the publicity provided by the opposition to the book by the astronomical academia led by Shapley and Payne Gaposhkin, who forced McMillan to discontinue the publication of the book. There are not many authors who incur the attacks of the academia, who tends to simply ignore those who propose alternative points of view from the outside.
Worlds in Collision was mainly devoted to a nonstandard presentation of events in the recent life of the solar system. In the following years V. published several other books with no less revolutionary content in the field of geology, chronology and ancient history. He gave moreover talks in several countries and inspired a number of journals and study groups, who further developed his ideas, some of these being still quite active. Many of the ideas of V. have by now been accepted by academia, albeit quite often his precursor role is simply ignored.
Debate and influence of V. have been quite significant in the anglosaxon world (US, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand). Much less the attention in the Latin world, perhaps due to the less interest in these countries for biblical topics. Concerning Italy, we should recall that V. got positive attention by the great mathematician Bruno de Finetti and that the science historian Federico Di Trocchio has devoted to him a substantial chapter of his book Il Genio Incompreso.
In next sections we will give some biographical information on V. and on the content of his main monographs Worlds in Collision and Ages in Chaos. Then we end with information on a forthcoming symposium on V. organized by the University of Bergamo.
Immanuel Velikovsky: a biographical sketch
Velikovsky was born in 1895 in Vitebsk, city of western Russia, then counting about 70.000 inhabitants, many of them Jews, native city also of Chagall. Third son, his name was chosen by father during a solitary promenade in the nearby woods. We read in his autobiography Days and Years available in the internet site due to Jan Sammer (www.varchive.org) "my name was chosen from a verse of the seventh chapter of Isaiah; there was no Immanuel among the ancestors known to him… he expected from me a great role concerning the tragic story of our nation…we should see the personality of my father, a Jew with a vision of national reawakening…. When I was seven my father showed m the chapter of Isaiah with the name Immanuel...".
1895 was the year when Freud began writing The interpretation of dreams, when Roentgen discovered X rays and when, exactly on 10th June, the day V. was born, Herzl wrote in his diary I take in my hands the broken thread of the tradition of my people: I will bring them to the Promised Land…
From Vitebsk the family moved to Moscow, where his father became a successful businessman and one of the most active persons in the Sionist movement. He was among the first organizers of the policy of buying land in Palestine for kibbutz.
Immanuel did classical studies, learnt several languages and excelled in mathematics. As teenager he traveled widely to Europe and to Palestine (Tel Aviv had been founded only three years before). He graduated in medicine in Moscow in 1921, after doing part of the studies in Montpellier. He left Russia after the revolution with an adventurous escape via the Caucasus. He settled first in Berlin, marrying Elisheva Kramer, a brilliant performing violinist and pianist. He started in this period the editorial work of the above quoted journal Scripta Universitatis..., whose mathematics and physics section was under the care of Albert Einstein.
From 1924 to 1939 he lived in Palestine; in 1930 he published a paper where, apparently for the first time in literature, he proposed that epilexy was characterized by pathological encephalograms.
The interest of V. for a reinterpretation of ancient history was kindled by reading Freud’s work Moses and Monotheism. In contrast with the interpretation of Freud, V. got the idea that pharaoh Akhnaton was the real figure behind the mythical Oedipus. Such idea was further developed in the year 1930 that V. spent researching in the libraries of New York producing the extraordinary book Oedipus and Akhnaton, published only in 1960, that this writer read nonstop between 9pm and 3am. In this book V. analyzes the impressive parallelisms between what is historically known on Akhnaton and the data of the Greek tradition on Oedipus, in the context of his revised chronology of Egyptian history. Thus Akhnaton is dated not only well after Moses (therefore killing any hypothesis of Moses getting from him the idea of monotheism) but even after Solomon, i.e. in the ninth century, not many years before the Assyrians would invade Egypt and put it under their control, a thesis later developed in the book The Assyrian conquest (still unpublished, albeit available in the quoted internet site).
In April 1940 V. got the idea that a great natural catastrophe characterized the time of Exodus, interpreting the phenomena described in the Bible as the Ten Plagues of Egypt as natural phenomena due to an extraterrestrial cometary origin. The idea was reinforced when he found a description of similar events in an Egyptian source, i.e. the Ipuwer papyrus of the Leiden collection. He therefore abandoned his profitable profession of psychiatrist for a full time study lasting many years of ancient and modern documents useful for his thesis. Worlds in Collision was the outcome of ten years of research in the great libraries of New York and Princeton (he had moved to Princeton at the beginning of second world war). Several other books followed in a short time dealing with geological issues (Earth in Upheaval) and especially with chronological issues and corresponding revision of ancient history of the eastern Mediterranean countries.
In Princeton V. reestablished frequent and friendly contacts with Einstein, with long discussions on astronomical and historical topics. Einstein frequently visited him at his home where his violin playing was accompanied by the piano playing of V. wife Elisheva. The story of his contacts with Einstein in these years is available in another of the still unpublished books, Before the Day Breaks, available in the quoted internet site.
During the Fifties and Sixties V. was persona non grata in universities and research centers in US. However when first space missions confirmed in a spectacular way some of his forecasts he was invited to give talks in several universities (Brown, Yale, Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Rice...); of great success were his conferences at Harvard and McMaster at the beginning of the Seventies.
V. died aged 84 in Princeton, in 1979. The archive of his works – including several still unpublished monographs – is under care of his surviving two daughters, Ruth, a psychanalist in Princeton, and Shulamit, who lives in a kibbutz near Haifa, married with the well known mathematician Abraham Kogan.
Worlds in Collision
Worlds in Collision was published in US by McMillan in 1950 and from 1951 by Doubleday, that got the publications rights from McMillan, after Shapley let McMillan know that its role of important publisher of academic works in astronomy was threatened by the presence of V. book in its catalogue. The story of this censorship episode and of other events about the difficult relation of V. with American academia is available in the book Stargazers and Gravediggers, published in 1983 after V. death, copyright of Elisheva V.
Worlds in Collision had immediate great success with the readers, albeit it had been rejected by several publishers previously contacted (a similar story happened around that time with Thor Heyerdahl Kon Tiki) and was defined by New York Times "A literary earthquake". In the preface to the paperback edition V. wrote: First published in 1950, this book was left unchanged in all subsequent printings…in 1950 it was generally assumed that the fundamentals of science were all known and that only details and decimals were let to fill in. In the same year, a cosmologist, certainly not of a conservative bent of mind, Fred Hoyle, wrote in the conclusion of his book "The Nature of the Universe": "Is it likely that any astonishing new developments are lying in wait for us? Is it possible that the cosmology of 500 years hence will extend as far beyond our present beliefs as our cosmology goes beyond that of Newton? … I doubt whether this will be so. I am prepared to believe that there will be many advances in the detailed understanding of matters that still baffle us…But by and large I think that our present picture will turn out to bear an approximate resemblance to the cosmologies of the future…". That Hoyle’s opinion was then the dominant one was recently confirmed to me by a statement made at a meeting dealing with the planned (in 2012) GAIA ESA mission by the famous Italian physicist Salvini (quoted not verbatim): Forty years ago we believed to know all essentials, now we are in deep uncertainties… About Hoyle one has anyway to observe that he later became an advocate of radical new theories and has been in particular a strong opponent of the big bang theory, albeit this name was invented by him. Hoyle has quoted V. in his autobiography (they met at a seminar given by Hoyle) without any of the usual heavy criticism by most people in the academia.
The book Worlds in Collision is based upon the hypothesis that the events of clearly catastrophic nature described in ancient literature, particularly in the Bible, are phenomena that really happened, whose explanation cannot be given in a purely terrestrial context and must therefore be found in interactions between Earth and extraterrestrial bodies. The book deals in particular with two catastrophes: the first one associated with Exodus, the second one with the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (that is dated some 20 years after Sargon II had conquered and deported the Ten Tribes of Israel, to a place that has been subject of much discussion and that this writer have identified with eastern Afghanistan…). V. claimed that the agents of the catastrophe were not ordinary comets or asteroids but two planets, namely Venus in the first case, Mars in the second case. According to him these planets had at that time orbits with different shape, more elliptical than now, as consequence of previous interactions with other planets in the solar system (the story of the previous events in the solar system is partly given in the book At the Beginning, another of the unpublished works available in the cited internet site). The orbits of the two planets would have been circularized after the last catastrophe, thereby terminating for our planet the catastrophic era, where planets were a real threat and where astrology was a real science based upon the study of planetary interactions in a differently organized solar system. The book is based mainly on the analysis of a huge number of classical and mythological references (about a thousand quotations, of texts in many languages or of difficult access). While the analysis is never quantitative – and a quantitative analysis of the scenarios proposed by V. would even with present computer power be beyond modeling and computation possibilities -–V. is well aware of where modern science stood and has a number of pointed criticism to the traditional scenarios, in particular where they only consider gravitational effects in the astronomical relations, neglecting the electromagnetic effects, both on large scale and in the study of close flybys of large bodies.
Worlds in Collision is written with a very clear albeit synthetic language. We cannot here give a detailed presentation of the extremely rich content of this book, thus we only review some of the main theses.
The book Ages in Chaos was published in 1952, the first of a number of historical monographs, followed by Oedipus and Akhnaton (1960), Peoples of the Sea (1977) and Ramses II and his Time (1977). Not yet published by available in the quoted internet site are the works The Assyrian Conquest and The Dark Ages of Greece.
The basic idea of V. is that the official chronology of the first and second millennium BC of Egyptian and other civilizations dated by anchoring them to the Egyptian one (Micenean, Cananean, Ugaritic, Cretese, Anatolian…) is affected by a substantial error. This is for V. the main reason why scholars have essentially been unable to fit the events described in the Bible with the events described in Egyptian or other histories. V. claims that the fundamental error lies in the absolute anchoring of the Egyptian chronology that was made about two hundred years ago, at the beginning of Egyptology (the times of Lepsius and Champollion). A consequence of this error has also been the introduction of so called dark centuries for the Micenean and Anatolian civilizations. For these centuries there is practically no archeologically documented activity, with the curious fact that at the end of this sterile period archeological documentation reappears with the same styles that were active before the dark period, as if centuries had passed without any stylistic evolution.
The problem of a correct determination of the chronology of ancient civilizations is very complex, albeit it is often supposed to have been fully solved, except for a few years possible variations, on the basis of chronologies established mainly in the 19th century. This problem was of great interest to Isaac Newton, who wrote a monograph, by him considered the landmark of his life, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, product of his enormous classic culture (he had read essentially all works of the Latin and Greek fathers, to make a better personal opinion of the trinity problem). The work of Newton, originally published in 1728 one year after his death, has been recently reprinted but very few people have read it; his biographer Westfall has defined reading that book the worst penitence one can think of for a person. Following the seminal work of V. the chronology problem has since be at the center of the attention of several historians, especially in the anglosaxon world (Rohl, James, Bimson, Murphie…). The German scholars Heinsohn and Illig and the Russian mathematician Fomenko, who has analyzed chronological data with statistical techniques, have reached even much more radical revision in shortening the time span than V. did.
Ages in Chaos can be seen as a parallel book to Worlds in Collision, devoted to chronology and historical correlations, while the first book was concerned with physical phenomena and their possible explanation.
V. determines the Exodus period, hence Moses time, as the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, when Egypt was invaded by a population coming from the east, called Hyksos in Manetho, Amu in contemporary Egyptian sources, Amalek in the Bible. The Hyksos devastated Egypt, destroying town, temples and exterminating large amount of the population. The date given by V. for Exodus, based on internal chronology of the Bible and some 200 years lower that the traditional date for the Hyksos invasion, is 1447 BC. The Pharaoh is the Tutimaios of Manetho, i.e. the Dudimose in the list of kings of the well known papyrus in the Turin Egyptian Museum. Under this chronological setting it is clear that with the Exodus Moses not only terminated the slavery of Hebrews but most probably saved them from a likely annihilation by the Hyksos. This writer has recently proposed for the term Hyksos the meaning people of the horses and has identified their origin in the Turanian region of the Amu Darya river, wherefrom the Amu would have moved in the time of worldwide migrations due to a global catastrophe of which the events described in the Bible for Egypt are just a local case. I have also hinted that the wife of Moses from Kush, land usually identified with Ethiopia, was actually a women form the Hindukush/Badakshan region, land of the precious lapis lazuli exported also to Egypt. Then Moses may have been informed of the arrival of the Hyksos by the wife’s family and this would explain why he took the unusual way through the desert, wishing not so much to escape from a pursuing Pharaoh but from the oncoming Amu.
The dating of Exodus at 1447 BC at the end of the Middle Kingdom – now accepted with further arguments by scholars as Rohl, James, Bimson… - was at great variance with the traditional dating, which put the Exodus, of which someone even doubted the historicity, about 350 years after the Hyksos, at the time of the New Kingdom, often during the reign of Ramses II. The lack of references to Exodus in Egyptian sources was considered a sign of unreliability of the Bible as a historical document or at least of a tendency of the Bible to amplify the importance of events relating the Hebrews. The dating proposed by V. redefines completely the historical setting with important consequences on the following history, till the time of Alexander, when use can be made of the work of the Greek and Latin historians.
Now we select some statements from Ages in Chaos:
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[Some information about the author can be found in the first number of Episteme]
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Announcement of Workshop on:
Fifty years after Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision:
classical and new scenarios on evolution of solar system.
Bergamo, October 20th and 21st, 2001
In the occasion of the fifty years since publication of Worlds in Collision the University of Bergamo organizes a symposium, coordinated by this writer, to revisit the work of Velikovsky with discussion of associated topics at the light of present knowledge. The symposium is organized within the framework of research done in Bergamo on n-body dynamical systems. The program is the following.
Saturday 20, from 9.30 a.m.:
Prof. Emilio Spedicato, Un. di Bergamo:
Introduction to the symposium
Prof. Federico Di Trocchio, Un. di Lecce:
Velikovsky as rejected genius
Jan Sammer, Prague:
The Velikovsky website
Prof. Alfred De Grazia (Princeton) and dr. Immanuel Velikovsky (presented by Amy De Grazia)
A final communication, November 14th, 1979
Prof. Alfred De Grazia (Princeton):
Before Worlds in Collision: the Solaria Binaria scenario
Saturday 20, afternoon:
Prof. Laurence Dixon, Un. Hertfordshire, UK :
Velikovsky orbital planetary changes do not violate conservation laws
Admiral Dr. Flavio Barbiero, Accademia Navale, Livorno:
On fast changes of Earth axis after comet or asteroid impacts
Dr. Walter Baltensperger, Physics Research Center, Rio de Janeiro:
Polar wandering after close passages of objects of planetary size
Prof. Emilio Spedicato, Un. di Bergamo:
A super Tunguska impact on Pacific Ocean in year 1178 AD
Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Un. di Cardiff, UK
New light on origin of life
Dr. Antonino Del Popolo, Un. di Bergamo:
Extrasolar planetary systems: observational results and theoretical problems
Sunday 21, morning:
Prof. Erasmo Recami, Un. di Bergamo:
Catastrofism and uniformitarism in history of astronomy
Dwardu Cardona, editor of journal Aeon, Vancouver:
Saturn before Sun
Charles Ginenthal, editor of journal The Velikovskyan, New York:
Velikovsky’s ideas on role of electromagnetism on evolution of Universe
Dr. Adalberto Notarpietro, Centro di Dinamica Alpina, CNR, Milano:
Earth in Upheaval of Velikovsky and extraterrestrial catastrophes in history of Earth
Shulamit Velikovsky Kogan, Haifa, Israel
On the validation of Velikovsky hypotheses
Notes on the lecturers:
For further information contact Emilio Spedicato (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Laura Capelli (email@example.com) or consult the site http://www.unibg.it/dmsia/seminari/Velikovsky_uk.html .