Speaking of myths (see my previous post, Are the Palestinians Canaanites? Should We Care?), I received an e-mail today from a nice woman I’ve spoken to on the phone a few times, Shula Kogan. Kogan is the daughter of Immanuel Velikovsky, the psychiatrist and scholar famous for his theory that the historical account offered by the Bible is best understood if we assume that the planet Jupiter ejected what is now the planet Venus and Venus turned into a comet and swung by the earth a couple times, causing the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the descent of manna from heaven, and other supposed miracles.
Kogan has set up a website devoted to Velikovsky’s theories (in Hebrew, sorry), and is pressing science correspondents to write about it.
Velikovsky was a very smart man, but smart men need myths, too. He was certain that the biblical narrative was factually true, and as a man of science wanted to prove that scientifically. He was also a proud Jew of profound national sentiments (and was involved in founding of the Hebrew University).
He became convinced that by collating ancient texts and marshalling facts he could prove that a huge cosmic cataclysm had occurred in historical times and that no one, so far, had noticed. While he was not a Zionist propagandist, it helped that this cataclysm helped establish the Jewish claim to Palestine.
Velikovsky’s theories were roundly rejected by the scientific community, for sound scientific reasons (here’s Stephen Jay Gould’s take on them, and see links to more on Velikovsky, for and against, on his Wikipedia page). But they remain compelling to a not small circle of devotees. Venus’s near collision with the earth has become another myth that helps some people understand who they are.
I’m waiting for the Palestinian version.
3 thoughts on “Myths in Collision: Velikovsky and the Zionist Narrative”
I am not an expert of Velikovsky, but I also had the pleasure of meeting his daughter and buying some of the books she was selling. While I also have problems with Venus zooming by the earth, it should be pointed out that he was one of the first to claim that catastrophalism could explain both mass extinctions in prehistoric times, plus being involved in events in human history. Many of these ideas are now accepted, for example, having an asteroid hit the earth, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Maybe a big comet did go by Earth at the time of the Yetziat Mitzraim. Albert Einstein was a good friend of his and read his books with interest, although he too had problems with the Venus theory. I once attended a conference on Biblical Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University and asked one of the speakers what he thought of Velikovsky’s radically different chronology of the Egyptian dynasties. He replied that they are not generally accepted, but he didn’t simply dismiss him as a crank.
The thing that really made his reputation in the 1950’s was his prediction that Venus’ surface temperature is very high and its surface has very few craters. He was ridiculed for this by astronomer/TV-celebrity Carl Sagan who tried to organize a boycott of his publisher, (this was the era of McCarthism). Sagan said it was “obvious” that Venus’ surface was cool and cloudy. When spacecraft finally went to Venus and observed it, starting in 1962, it was found to be hot and smooth, just as Velikovsky predicted!
Hi, after reading the above, I decided to drop a note to whomever. I knew Velikovsky, work with him on research, etc. He offered to co-author my book on Cultural Amnesia (and adopted my term ultimately in place of his “Collective Amnesia.” He also credited me with the correct psychoanalysis of Freud. Mrs. Velikovsky, more than anyone else, was responsible for me continuing with my work on Freud.
I also have made a decades long study of catastrophism in ancient China and have two MSS in progress Venus Worship In Ancient China. I am just finishing up a new salvo on Freud and hope to turn again to my work on ancient Chinese studies. You may not know it but the overwhelming majority of Western scholars are absolutely ignorant of Chinese culture, history, and myths–a study which must be decisive to any analysis of the subject of global catastrophism.
I have found only rarely any so-called world-culture scholars in the West have any interest whatsoever in the enormously important country of China.
I may be contacted for reply if anyone cares to write. Please do not disseminate my email to other organizations.
I don’t think that Velikovsky thought that Biblical narrative was factually true, but that certain passages in the Bible could be interpreted as due to actual historical events, which is not the same thing.
For example, Orwell’s Animal Farm can be interpreted as a comentary on Stalin’s era, but it doesn’ t make the narrative factually true.
More on Velikovsky can be found at the Velikovsky Encyclopedia
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