previous.gif     next.gif    




The various writings of Harvard astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin against Worlds in Collision (The Reporter, March 14, 1950; Popular Astronomy, June, 1950, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 96, October, 1952) provided a convenient reservoir of damaging testimony from which her colleagues as well as lesser critics drew freely in formulating their own opinions and in preparing further commentaries on the book.

Reproduced below are passages from Gaposchkin's paper that appeared in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society and the material in Velikovsky's book that she purportedly discredited. The reader may judge for himself who is guilty of faulty scholarship and purposeful misrepresentation.

THE CRITICISM: I Gaposchkin:

The thesis of the book is scientific, but the evidence is drawn from an immense mass of biblical evidence and Hebrew tradition, myth and folklore, classical literature and the works of the Church fathers. A critic is faced ... with the herculean labour of laying a finger on the flaws in an argument that ranges over the greater part of ancient literature. [But] when one examines [Velikovsky's] sources, his argument falls to pieces... He has not only chosen his sources; he has even chosen what they shall mean.

Let me give one example. [Gaposchkin quotes from Worlds in Collision:] 'One of the places of the heavenly combat... was on the way from Egypt to Syria. According to Herodotus, the final act of the fight between Zeus and Typhon took place at Lake Serbon on the coastal route from Egypt to Palestine. ' But Herodotus says nothing about the battle, or even about Zeus, in the passage quoted. [The dots denoting an omission and the italics are Gaposchkin's. She next quotes Herodotus in Greek and translates:] 'Egypt begins at the Serbonian shore, where, they say, Typhon is hidden. '

[Gaposchkin makes it appear that Velikovsky invented the battle and its participants, because Herodotus speaks only of Typhon's place of burial, not of a battle.]


Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision, pp. 78-81): [The quoted sentence in Worlds in Collision follows almost three pages of a description of the battle between Zeus and Typhon, quoted from Apollodorus: 'Zeus pelted Typhon at a distance with thunderbolts... '] The Egyptian shore of the Red Sea was called Typhonia (Fn: Strabo, vii, 3, 8). Strabo narrates also that the Arimi (Syrians) were terrified witnesses of the battle of Zeus with Typhon... 'who... when struck by the bolts of lightning, fled in search of a descent underground. '

[Restituted in full, the passage quoted by Gaposchkin reads as follows:] One of the places of the heavenly combat between elementary forces of nature - as narrated by Apollodorus and Strabo - was on the way from Egypt to Syria. (Fn: Mount Casius, mentioned by Apollodorus, is the name of Mount Lebanon as well as of Mount Sinai. Cf. Pomponius Mela, De situ orbis.) According to Herodotus, the final act of the fight between Zeus and Typhon took place at Lake Serbon on the coastal route from Egypt to Palestine. (Fn: Herodotus ii, 5. Also Apollonius Rhodius in the Argonautica, Bk. ii, says that Typhon 'smitten by the bolt of Zeus... lies whelmed beneath the waters of the Serbonian lake. ') [Actually, the Harvard University edition of Herodotus (Loeb Classical Library) connects the quoted sentence about the place where Typhon is entombed with his defeat by Zeus.]

THE CRITICISM: II Gaposchkin continues:

A cosmic encounter, we read, was responsible for the destruction of the army of Sennacherib by a 'blast of fire. ' But none of the three biblical accounts of the event mentions a blast: each one ascribes the defeat of the enemy to an angel. (Fn: II Kings, xx, 35; II Chronicles, xxxvii, 2; Isaiah, xxxvii, 36). We do find a blast in the prophecy made by Isaiah before the event: 'Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land. ' (Fn: II Kings, xix, 7). But the Hebrew word used here means 'wind or spirit' rather than 'fire. '

[Thus Velikovsky is accused of suppressing the 'angel' as the agent of destruction in the story of Sennacherib's debacle; of incorrectly interpreting 'blast of fire, ' which words do not appear in the biblical narrative]

[Next, Gaposchkin implies that Velikovsky suppressed Herodotus's version of Sennacherib's defeat:] Herodotus gives a very different account of the defeat of Sennacherib's army, which does not suggest any catastrophe on a cosmic scale. [The passage in Herodotus is printed in Greek, and a translation follows it (Gaposchkin's dots):] Afterwards... Sennacherib, king of the Arabians and Assyrians, marched his vast army into Egypt.... As the two armies lay here opposite one another, there came in the night a multitude of field-mice, which devoured all the quivers and bowstrings of the enemy, and ate the thongs by which they managed their shields. Next morning they commenced their flight and great multitudes fell, as they had no arms with which to defend themselves.( Fn: History, iii; Rawlinson translation.)

[Gaposchkin concluded:] If all readers had complete classical libraries, and could read them; if every man were his own Assyriologist and habitually studied the Bible in the Hebrew and Septuagint versions, Dr Velikovsky would have had short shrift.

[When Velikovsky submitted to the editors of the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society evidence that he had not misquoted the Biblical passages, had not ascribed 'blast of fire' to a Biblical text, and had not suppressed Herodotus's version, he was refused access to the pages of that journal for a rejoinder. As a result, more than one irresponsible writer was misled into echoing Gaposchkin: 'Thus when Velikovsky quotes Herodotus about a battle between Zeus and Typhon and Isaiah on the destruction of Sennacherib's army by fire, you have only to turn to the books cited to learn that Herodotus... and Isaiah said nothing of the sort' - this from an article by L. Sprague de Camp (' Orthodoxy in Science, ' Astounding Science Fiction, May, 1954.)]

[As late as the fall of 1962, the reader information service of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in answer to inquiries about the validity of Velikovsky's theories, mailed out a five-page-long compilation of excerpts from critical reviews of Worlds in Collision. More than three pages were filled with Gaposchkin passages in the same vein as, and including, those set forth here for comparison with Velikovsky's text.]


Velikovsky (Worlds in Collision, pp. 230-231): The destruction of the army of Sennacherib is described laconically in the Book of Kings: 'And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred four score and five thousand; and when the people arose in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh. ' It is similarly described in the Book of Chronicles: .'.. And the Lord sent an angel which cut off all the mighty men of valour.... '

What kind of destruction was this?... It is explained in the texts of the Book of Kings and Isaiah that it was a 'blast' sent upon the army of Sennacherib. 'I will send a blast upon him... and [he] shall return to his own land, ' was the prophecy immediately preceding the catastrophe...

The Talmud and Midrash sources, which are numerous, all agree on the manner in which the Assyrian host was destroyed: a blast fell from the sky on the camp of Sennacherib. It was not a flame, but a consuming blast: 'Their souls were burnt, though their garments remained intact. ' The phenomenon was accompanied by a terrific noise. (Fn: Tractate Shabbat 113b; Snahedrin 94a; Jerome on Isaiah 1: 16; L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vi, 363.)

Another version of the destruction of the army of Sennacherib is given by Herodotus. During his visit in Egypt, he heard from the Egyptian priests or guides to the antiquities that the army of Sennacherib, while threatening the borders of Egypt, was destroyed in a single night. According to this story, an image of a deity holding in his palm the figure of a mouse was erected in an Egyptian temple to commemorate the miraculous event. In explanation of the symbolic figure, Herodotus was told that myriads of mice descended upon the Assyrian camp and gnawed away the cords of their bows and other weapons; deprived of their arms, the troops fled in panic.

[Velikovsky also drew attention to the neglected fact that both versions - in the Scriptures and in Herodotus - include a story of a disturbance (reversal) of the sun's movement in immediate sequence with the above narratives.]

[In a chapter dealing with the folklore of the American Indians, Velikovsky relates a tale preserved by the Mnemoni tribe of the Algonquin nation. The sun had been caught in a noose and restrained from proceeding on its path:] .'.. The Mouse came up and gnawed at the string... the Sun breathed again and the darkness disappeared. If the Mouse had not succeeded, the Sun would have died. ' (S. Thompson, Tales of the North American Indians, 1929)... The image of the mouse must have had some relation to the cosmic drama... Apparently the atmosphere of the celestial body that appeared in the darkness and was illuminated took on the elongated form of a mouse... This explains why the blast that destroyed the army of Sennacherib was commemorated by the emblem of a mouse... Thus we see how a folk story of the primitives can solve an unsettled problem between Isaiah and Herodotus.

End of The Velikovsky Affair


previous.gif     next.gif