af Bob Forrest
I first read "Worlds in Collision" about 10 years ago. At that time I dismissed it as an eccentric book, more or less on the grounds that I just could not concieve of how the planets could bounce around the solar system as Velikovsky supposed them to do, or how the earth could turn over or slow down on its axis with the facility which Velikovsky claimed. Velikovsky’s ideas of celestial mechanics seemed naive to say the least, and the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that he seemed to want to fuse together comets and planets, whereas in fact these are quite distinct species of astronomical body.
Nevertheless, whilst dismissing "Worlds in Collision" as eccentric, I found it an extraordinary book. In common with many other people, I expect, I was stunned by the sheer wealth of footnotes, and the proliferation of sources Velikovsky had used in its compilation. But I could not argue against these. There were too many of them I was unfamiliar with the vast majority of the works referred to. Indeed, as many of these were in languages I did not even speak, I was even more at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, I felt that if Velikovsky’s catastrophes had really occurred, we should all know a lot more about them and we certainly should not have had to wait until AD 1950 for them to be ‘rediscovered’ and ‘reconstructed’ by a psychologist reading between the lines of the world’s mythology! I should at this point add that I remained thoroughly unconvinced by Velikovsky’s subsidiary hypothesis of collective amnesia. It seemed unreasonable to suppose that a world catastrophe could ever be ‘forgotten’ in the way Velikovsky claimed, and collective amnesia seemed to me, than as now, little more than an ingenious method of excusing poor evidence. (Note 1)
At first, then, I ‘felt’ Velikovsky’s hypothesis were misguided, even though I couldn’t reliably argue against them on textual grounds. I remember writing to a friend of mine that a thorough refutation of "Worlds in Collision" would require someone to check out all those sources. I also remember adding, somewhat acidly, "but who would be crazy enough to do that?" As it turned out, I was to be!
Early in 1980 I was involved in researching material for a book (which was destined to gather dust on a shelf, as it turned out) with British author Patrick Moore. The subject was unorthodox science and pseudoscience, and we decided that Velikovsky should feature in it. To get some idea of the contemporary Velikovskian scene I contacted – and joined – the largely pro-Velikovsky organisation, the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies. (Note 2) It was at that time that I first became aware of the fact that Velikovsky had attracted to himself some clever and highly educated followers – more so than virtually any other fringe theorist known to me For the next two years I was to enjoy some fierce debating with Velikovsky’s ‘top’ supporters, and it was in the midst of this correspondance (which did little to alter by basic scepticism of "Worlds in Collision", fascinating though it was) that I actually began to check out Velikovsky’s sources.
What I found was alarming. Time and again I found that Velikovsky had forced his sources to fit his theories simply by editing out inconvenient details (probably sub-consciously: I would not accuse Velikovsky of fraud). Again, he had taken quotations out of context, and in some cases had actually touched up the ‘quotations’ until they said what he wanted them to say. The whole business was rather a fiasco, and there was an alarming incongruity between that fiasco and the learned contents of the Velikovskian journals. In fact, on that basis, I am inclined to think that most Velikovskians have never checked out the bulk of Velikovsky’s footnotes at all.
I suppose it was this contrast between the Velikovskian journals and the real nature of Velikovsky’s ‘evidence’ that made the job of checking out Velikovsky virtually source by source seem less crazy than it had ten years earlier. At any rate, I began the task (which became a fascinating pleasure) and "Velikovsky’s Sources" was the result.
The Velikovskians have not had a great deal to say to date about "Velikovsky’s Sources" – at least, not at the time of writing – but more of that shortly. First, some illustrations of Velikovsky’s ‘methods’ the significant role of Velikovsky’s editing procedures and of his out-of-context quoting are both perhaps best appreciated by reading the account of the Exodus given in "Worlds in Collision" and then reading the Book of Exodus itself in the Bible: the two are nothing like each other. The Book of Exodus is a series of magical acts and supernatural events – ‘special effects’, as I call them – superimposed on the normal world. The scenario of "Worlds in Collision", on the other hand, has the Exodus taking place against a continuous catastrophic backdrop. The two are quite different . According to Velikovsky the pillar of cloud and fire was the Venus Comet; it caused the plagues and parted the Red Sea; and it triggered off volcanic activity at Sinai, then deposited the manna in the wilderness.
But how could the Venus Comet act as a protector and guide for Israel? How did it manage to come down between the Isralites and the Egyptians (Ex.14:20) or to hover at the door of the tabernacle (Ex.33:9)? thy is the pillar of cloud and fire not mentioned before Ex.13:21 – long after the plagues, which, incidentally, not only occur on the say-so of Moses, but also oblingly spare the Isralites as well? Is it not curious that the Venus Comet let go of the Red Sea just in time to spare the Israelites but engulf the Egyptians, and is it not suspicious -that the Super Comet deposited quails (Ex. 16:13) as well as manna?
As I said above, I recommend any reader of "Worlds in Collision" to read the Book of Exodus in full And to compare it carefully with the tale set forth in "Worlds in Collision". The two accounts are really very different things. (Incidentally, the same sort of complaint can be levelled At Velikovsky’s use of the Iliad of Homer, though space precludes going into details here.)
Let us take e few other examples of Velikovsky’s editing now, as culled from a variety of sources. The reader will have to take my word for it that these are a representative sample, and that the ‘evidence’ given in "Worlds in Collision" relies heavily on material such as this. "Velikovsky’s Sources" itself should be consulted f full details.
Firstly, Velikovsky quotes Herodotus II.147 as saying that four times in Egyptian history the sun has risen contrary to its wont , rising in the west and setting in the east. This of course does merit some explanation (note 3), but it can hardly be said to rank as ‘evidence’ for the reversals of Velikovsky’s scenario since what Velikovsky does not tell his readers is they Herodotus also says that "Egypt at these times underwent no change, neither in the produce of the river and the land, nor in the matter of sickness and death". Velikovsky has simply edited this out.
Again, in the Hymn of Joshua, which Velikovsky quotes from Ginzberg (note 4), Velikovsky quotes lines such as "sun, and moon stood still in heaven" and "Thou didst destroy them in Thy fury" – presumably taking the ‘Thou’ to refer to his Venus Comet. What he does not tell his readers is that the Hymn also contains lines such as "Thou art the strength of my salvation" and "we will sing and praise Thy wondrous works." ‘Thou’, of course, is God. A destructive super-comet could hardly said to perform wondrous works.
Elsewhere Velikovsky quotes Pliny’s "Natural History" ii.23 as saying that "sometimes there are hairs attached to the planets". Velikovsky assumes that this refers to some old description of a cometary Venus, but in fact he has edited out a key part of what Pliny says, which is "sometimes there are hairs attached to the planets and the other stars ". This makes it clear that this quote refers to effects of the earth’s atmosphere, and indeed just such an effect seems to have been recorded of Venus towards the end of the eighteenth century (note 5).
Venus, of course, is the key figure in Velikovsky’s drama, and it is significant that his section "The Comet Venus" is one of the worst offenders when it comes to his forcing of the data to fit the theory.
For example he quotes Humboldt and Hamy (note 6) on the subject of the Mexicans calling Venus "la estrella que humeava" (the star that smoked). What he doesn’t tell his readers is that (according to Humboldt) the smoke seems to relate to the volcano Orizava, situated to the east of the city of Cholula, and whose glow when seen in the distance resembled the rising morning star.
Again, Velikovsky quotes Jastrow (note 7) on the subject of ‘the beard of Venus’. Velikovsky supposes this expression to refer to the former cometary tail of Venus, whereas in fact Jastrow merely relates it to the ‘spiky’ appearance that Venus has when observed at its brightest with the naked eye. The ‘beard’ of Venus, and its removal and reinstatement, were a matter of some astrological interest to the Babylonians.
Lastly, Velikovsky quotes the Talmud as saying that "Fire is hanging down from the planet Venus", but actually it doesn’t say this at all. The ‘quote’ in question comes from an astrological text (note 8) which says that people who are born under Venus tend to be wealthy and immoral, this being because ‘fire’ was created in the hours ruled over by Venus!
To take another startling example of Velikovsky’s methodology, let us turn to his section "The Terrible Ones". Here Velikovsky equates the Maruts of Vedic mythology to "swarms of meteorites with their gaseous appendages" – fragments which were created when Mars clashed with Venus, and which bombarded the earth in the aftermath of that clash. Yet the Maruts are not comets at all, but storm gods, and Velikovsky’s ‘quotes’ have simply had the numerous references to rain etc. edited out of them! Thus, for example, Velikovsky quotes from one hymn thus:
"Even by day the Maruts create darkness…Then from the shouting of the Maruts over the whole space of the Earth, men reeled forward."
But look at what Velikovsky has edited out: here is a fuller quote:
"Even by day the Maruts create darkness with the water bearing cloud, when they drench the earth. Then from the shouting of the Maruts over the whole space of the earth, men reeled forward." (note 9)
The darkness that the Maruts create is the darkness that precedes the storm; the shout of the Maruts the booming noise of thunder. Likewise the "shining snakes" of the Maruts are not serpentine comets but ‘snakes’ of lightening. and the ‘stones’ the Maruts hurl, thunderbolts. Finally, if the Maruts are maruding comets as Velikovsky claims, it is difficult to see why the hymns dedicated to them are interspersed with pleas for "an invigorating autumn with quickening rain"!
Moving to Egypt, now, let us consider the Ipuwer papyrus, which Velikovsky tells us is an Egyptian account of the turmoils caused by the Venus Comet But a reading of the full text of the papyrus, as opposed to a reading of Velikovsky’s carefully chosen extracts, reveals the ‘catastrophe’ to be a socio political one and not a cosmic one. A.H. Gardiner calls it "the picture of a real revolution" that portrays the havoc into which Egypt had been thrown "by the machinations of low-born adventurers and Asiatics pushing their way into the delta." (Note 10) The chaos and confusion of the papyrus are not to be blamed on a fearsome cosmic body that hangs menacingly in the sky, but on ‘babarians’ from outside Egypt! And when the papyrus tells us that the land is upside down, it is not a reference to a physical inversion of the earth, as Velikovsky has it, but to an upturned social order in which "the robber is now the possessor of riches"!
Having looked at a few examples of Velikovsky’s methodology – and I assure the reader that I could extend the list with ease, as indeed I have done in "Velikovsky’s Sources" – we had perhaps better look at the usual type of response from Velikovsky’s supporters to the charges that Velikovsky manufactured his ‘evidence’ simply by ignoring the things that didn’t quite fit.
Most Velikovskians admit (sometimes begrudgingly) that Velikovsky did make mistakes, and that his enthusiasm got the better of him at times, but the also argue that behind all the mistakes and false interpretations there is still some genuine evidence of global catastrophe that could well have been induced by Venus and Mars, more or less as Velikovsky claims.
There are really two issues here: 1. Have there been any major global catastrophes in history, and 2. if so, did Venus or Mars or any of the planets have a hand in them?
After writing "Velikovsky’s Sources" my reply to the second question is that I personally have found no good textual reasons for anything like planetary "collisions" of the type postulated by Velikovsky. The planetary basis for for Velikovsky’s scenario is probably the greatest of his red-herrings, and in particular, as indicated earlier, his section
"The Comet Venus" seems to be based on one misconception after another. (The planets are , sometimes, associated with catastrophe, it is true, and the most notable example is the Great Year concept of Berosus as cited in Seneca’s "Natural Questions" III.29.1 f, but this is essentially astrological, and has nothing in common with Velikovsky’s type of planetary action – see note 11.)
As regards the first question – have there been any major global catastrophes½ in history – it should certainly be said that there are legends of world destruction. Some og these are quite clearly imaginative stories of the End of the World that is to come , and so properly they do not belong in the "Worlds in Collision" at all, though some such are included by Velikovsky (eg the Pawnee legend of the End of the World; the Icelandic "Voluspa"). Other legends do talk of the destruction of the World in the past , and so quite properly we should give some serious consideration to them. Also traditions of world destruction are found in many widely scattered places, and this very spread of cataclysmic traditions is sometimes hailed as evidence of the ‘global witness’ of some huge worldwide upheaval.
However, catastrophic legends from different cultures do often differ quite markedly, and many legends could be merely poetic enhancements of local catastrophes-such as drought or hurricane. Buddhist legends of the destruction of the world by these agents seem to be of this type – for example, and the End of the World described in the Icelandic "Voluspa" may well be modelled on local volcanic activity.
Life is disrupted by catastrophes – landslides, floods, droughts, volcanoes, storms, earthquakes, tidal waves, and hurricanes – and we should expect these demonsttrations of titanic and hostile natural forces to figure in world mythology. But it would be quite misleading to pool together local catastrophes scattered in time as well as geographical location, and to make of them one grand ‘global’ catastrophe, and it is a disturbing fact that there is too little evidence that Velikovsky is not doing exactly this to a large extent in "Worlds in Collision". By analogy, one could hardly read of a storm in an English poem, and another storm in an American novel, and thence deduce that sometime in the past a global storm must have occurred.
The widespread (but see note 12) occurrence of flood legends, however, is of particular interest. Though there are different types of flood legend, some of which seem to have a little in common besides the word ‘flood’ and though many such legends may well be based on purely local catastrophes, nevertheless there is a residue of legends that gives the distinct impression of a global experience of a single, universal catastrophe. But then again, this is by no means certain, for reasons which are well typified by a comparison of the Greek Deucalion and Pyrrha myth, as told by Ovid in "Metamorphoses", Book I, with a similar tale told by the Maipuri of the Orinoco.
Ovid describes the world-flood, of which Deucalion and Pyrrha are the sole surviving human pair. In order to repopulate the earth after the flood, they are told to cast stones behind their backs, those thrown by Deucalion turning into men, those by Pyrrha into women. Now the Maipuri tale is an exact parallel for this, the only difference being that the human pair cast coconuts instead of stones.
So what can the recurrence of this same motif on opposite sides of the globe mean? I cannot reflect literal fact, and since it is such an ‘unlikely’ motor, it can hardly be explained as a case of the Maipuri making up the same sort of story as the Greeks. It would seem! that one culture must have ‘borrowed’ the story from the other, or that both must have got it from a common source – all of which raises disturbing questions about the universality of the flood itself, for that too could owe much of its universality to the same processes of culture borrowing, rather than to global witness of the same events.
To get back to the main thread of the argument, then, though it is possible that widespread traditions of world catastrophes are based on one or more actual world catastrophes, there is insufficient evidence to really prove this claim. Certainly there is not enough textual evidence to postulate, in the detail calimed by Velikovsky in "Worlds in Collision", the occurrence of two specific global catastrophes c 1500 BE and again c 800 BE – and even less evidence for a planetary basis for them.
At this stage of the argument, the Velikovskians are apt to switch the emphasis of their approach. Does it matter that the texts do not offer convincing proofs, in themselves, of Velikovsky’s scenario, when predictions made by Velikovsky – such as that Venus would be found to be hot, or that Jupiter would emit radio noises -are now being found to be true. Surely the succes of such predictions, it is argued, outweighs the relative failure of the texts?
My own reply to this is that I think Velikovsky’s ‘predictions’ are much overrated.
Let us consider the most famous one – Velikovsky’s prediction that Venus would be found to be hot on account of the fact that it has only been cooling down (from a state of incandescence following its supposed expulsion from Jupiter) for a few thousand years.
The first point to be made is that strictly speaking Velikovsky was not "predicting" here a all – rather he was using his theory to account for radiometric observations, made at Mount Wilson and Flagstaff observatories in 1922, which had shown anomalous heat emissions from the dark part of Venus ( see Velikovsky’s section "The Thermal Balance of Venus"). However, in 1950, when Velikovsky was saying that Venus was hot, most of the experts believed that it was not much hotter than the earth itself, so that in that sense at least, Velikovsky did make a correct prediction about an issue that was not to be conclusively settled until the sp ce probes of the 1970s.
The second point to be made is that Velikovsky did not say how hot he expected Venus to be. A quantitative statement is more amenable to rigorous testing than a qualitative one, and so is perferable, but unfortunately Velikovsky gives no concrete figures. This in itself is not necessarily a condemnation. As one Velikovskian has said to me, try counting the number of equations in "The Origin of Species", and the point is made. Nevertheless, qualitative description mikes it harder to pin Velikovsky down, and the difficulty is compounded by the fact that Velikovsky leaves quite a wide range. of options open. On the one hand he has Venus cool enough to sport verminous life forms, but on the other he has it hot enough to promote petrol fires. So just how hot was Velikovsky predicting Venus to be?
Incidentally, we have here two of Velikovsky’s "predictions’ that didn’t come off – or perhaps we should say that have not been confirmed to date. No verminous life forms have been found in the atmosphere of Venus.
Another problem for anyone attempting to quantify the cooling of Venus following its proposed expulsion from Jupiter is is posed by the fact that Velikovsky had two rather contradictory theories about just when this expulsion took place. In the section "The Four Planet System" he clearly claims it to have taken place in the mid second mellennium BE. "In the third millennium", he writes, "I assume that only four planets could have been seen." However, in the section "Venus Moves Irregularly", he seems to imply the possibility of an earlier date for the expulsion, since he suggests that at the beginning of the 2nd millennium Venus could have been "even then an errant comet". (The Velikovskians now seem to have largely abandoned the mid 2nd millennium SC ‘expulsion’: Venus is mentioned in too many 3rd millennium texts for the view to be seriously held, for example, the Hymn to Inanna from Sumeria and the Pyramid Texts from Egypt.)
Space scientists for the most are convinced that the high surface temperature of Venus can be explained by the greenhouse effect. There are difficulties with the theory, as the Velikovskians are pleased to note, but then there are difficulties with Velikovsky’s too: for example, how did Venus get to be expelled from Jupiter without liquifying itself; and how did Venus’s orbit get to be so nearly circular in only a few thousand years! Also, there is no firm evidence that Venus radiates more heat than it receives from the sun: that is, there is no real evidence to support the assertion that Venus is a hot body that is cooling down.
Let us take e brief look of Velikovsky’s other ‘predictions’ made in the pages of "Worlds in Collison". Firstly, that the atmosphere of Mars would be found to consist of nitrogen, argon or neon. This seems to be false insofar as whatever tenuous atmosphere there is on Mars seems to consist of carbon dioxide. Secondly, that the Martian polar caps would be found to consist of manna-like deposits. I propose that we tip-toe quietly away from that one. Thirdly, that Mars could be found to radiate more heat than it receives from the sun. I’m afraid I know of no results to confirm or deny that one. Fourthly, that some of the earth’s oil deposits would be found to be only a few thousands years old. So far as I know no such oil deposits have ever been found, and the consensus of opinion is still that the earth’s oil fields are all many millions of years old.
Add to this list some of Velikovsky’s other claims – that the astroids were formed when Venus clashed with Mars; that the Martian canals are the scars of the same encounter; that lunar craters are burst ‘bubbles’ that were induced by the Moon’s encounters with Mars and Venus; and that comets are not nearly as flimsy as orthodox astronomers claim – and all in all Velikovsky’s record of ‘success’ seems rather less impressive than some of his supporters are apt to make out!
On the whole I think I was, after all, quite correct to dismiss "Worlds in Collision" as an eccentric book ten years ago, and so perhaps my own two year venture into researching and writing "Velikovsky’s Sources" was a grandiose waste of time. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and at the end of it all, I have a strange admiration for the man, who led me on that wildgoose chase. "Worlds in Collision" is, if nothing else, one of the most extraordinary crazy books of the twentieth century.
- Collective amnesia has always seemed to me to be an unreasonable extension of traumatic amnesia in the individual. By way of illustration, many men survived the trauma of trench warfare in the first world war. Some of them did indeed suffer traumatic amnesia, but not all of them, and the fact of the matter is that many survived who were all too willing to describe the horror of the experience to their children and grandchildren. Traumatic amnesia certainly did not interfere with the collective recollection of the events, and nor did it interfere with the writing of the history books.
- Editorial address: J.B.Moore, Central Library, Clarence Rd., Hartlepool, Cleveland TS24 7EW, England.
- There are two possible explanations for this curious assertion of Herodotus. The first is that the ‘reversals’ of the sun are a garbled account of the gradual drift of the Egyptian civil calendar with respect to the seasons. The result of this was that summer festivals gradually drifted into winter, and vice versa. The drift occurred because the civil calendar stuck rigidly to a fixed 365 day year, and did not employ ‘leap years’ to account for the extra 1/4 day.
A second explanation is that it is an incorrect extrapolation of the gradual drifting of sunrise and sunset positions with respect to the horizon as caused by precession.
On balance, I think I perfer the first explanation.
- Louis Ginzberg, "The Legends of the Jews" (7 vols. 1925). The ‘Hymn of Joshua can be found in Ginzberg vol.4, p. 10-11. Velikovsky refers to it in his section "The Most Incredible Story".
- See the journal "Weather" for May 1948, p.l35 (article by E.L. Hawke); a citizen of Westminster, named Gadbury, recorded that on January 29th (O.S.) and again on February 21st 1586, the planet Venus looked "like a comet". A writer in the journal of the British Astronomical Association for June 1946, following Hawke’s article, classes the phenomenon described with the sun-pillar.
- F.H.A. van Humboldt, "Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America" (2 vols., 1814), vol.2, p.174.
E.T.Hamy, "Codex Telleriano Remensis" (1899), s.43.
- M.Jastrow, "Aspects of Religious Belif and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria" -(19l1), p.221.
- Shabbath 156a. I reffered to the standard English translation published by the Soncino Press.
- F.Max Müller, "Vedic Hymns" (Sacred Books of the East, vol.32; 1891), Mandala 1, Hymn 38, verses 9-10.
- Sir Allan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaoes (1966 ed.), p.109. For translations of the Ipuwer papyrus see J.B. Pritchard (ed.) "Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament" (3rd ed., 1969), p.441-444. Also W.K. Simpson (ed.), "The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians" (1972), p.210-229.
- The Great Year doctrine is a fascinating curiosity of ancient thought: the idea was that at the creation all the planets started from the same point of the sky in a grand conjunction. When all the planets came together again, it was believed, the End of the World would come.
- The Flood legend is not universal. It is not found in Egypt or Japan, for example, and is apparently very rare throughout Africa.
Skeptica Newsletter 1983, no. 1 – © 1983 by Bob Forrest. Also published as a chapter in the book "Velikovsky i søgelyset", published in 1984 by Willy Wegner and edited by Jens Laigaard.