A few Remarks about Prof. Sachs’ address at Brown UniversityIn his address at the BrownUniversitysymposium on Velikovsky’s work (1965), Prof. Sachs repeated again and again (at least seven times) that velikovsky was not a cuneiformist; and therefore, he, as a cuneiformist can show that the theses of Ages in Chaos and of Worlds in Collision are all wrong.
It is true, velikovsky was not a cuneiformist.
As Eric Larrabee expressed it: “Breaking the barriers between disciplines, he arrives at conclusions which no discipline had reached independently. This is the real nature of his challenge, and it is fundamental.” (Harpers Magazine, Dec. 1963)
In his answer at Brown University Velikovsky demonstrated how the unexplained finds in geophysics, geology, ancient cuneiform texts and cosmology, have a common denominator and explanation
To what extent Velikovsky’s work was inter-disciplinary can be exemplified by the fact that Velikovsky faced specialists not only in four different fields as at Brown University, but in seven different fields, as at Dartmouth College (1967), where the different sessions were led by professors in Physics, Astronomy, Biblical studies, Archaeology, Geology, Biology and History of Science.
Sachs’ address is full of insults, and generalizations which cannot be checked, to some of which we may allude later, but first we want to address two of his specific criticisms:
While Sachs admits that : ‘Hundreds of details in scores of Amarna Letters are matched up by Dr. Velikovsky with details of Biblical history of the 9th century B.C. as well as Assyrian historical texts of the same period’, he arrogantly ‘collapses this house of cards’, with one chronological match between Egyptian and Assyrian histories, thus:
‘Not being a cuneiformist, Dr. Velikovsky was not aware that an Assyrian King List was excavated 30 years ago at Khorsabad. One need only add up the regnal years itemized in this King List to arrive at the middle of the 14th century B.C. for King Assuruballit of Assyria, who wrote one of the Amarna letters to the king of Egypt. This date, the middle of the 14th century B.C., is precisely the generation to which Egyptologists, on the basis of completely independent evidence, had dated the Egyptian pharaoh in question.’
When Sachs finished his address Velikovsky invited him and the audience to the meeting planned for the next day, where he intended to answer him point by point. However, since Sachs did not bother to come to the meeting the next day, Velikovsky had no chance to tell him that he not only knew of the Khorsabad Assyrian King List, but had studied it and discussed it in relation to the problem of Assurubalit with a few scholars already twenty years before. From one such letter exchange with Prof. Mercer, who was Author of The Tel El Amarna Tablets and of The Pyramid Texts. (Velikovsky’s scientific correspondence is kept in the Velikovsky archive at Princeton University) we quote here:
September 12, 1947
‘Dear Professor Mercer:
Please excuse my delayed answer…
As you know, Weber and Knudtzon disagreed where to place Assuruballit. Weber let him reign already in the days of Thutmose IV, but also of Seti, because Seti was the Egyptian king who waged war against Merosar son of Subbilulima, and Merosar simultaneously waged war against Assuruballit in Harran. Mattiuza was also a brother-in-law of Merosar (Mursilis). But nobody could reign from the time of Thutmose IV, through the reign of Amenhotep III, Ikhnaton, Smenkhare, Tuthenkhamen, Aye, Haremhab, Ramses I and Seti. Therefore, Knutzon sounds more acceptable with two kings by the name of Assuruballit, one grandson of the other; but the second is not found in the lists.
Also the idea of Schnabel and Weber that Assur-nadin-ahe, called “Abu” by Assur-uballit was “nicht Vater sondern Vorfahre,” is also a strained argument, because, according to the [Assyrian] King-Lists, Assur-uballit was neither son, nor a grandson, nor a descendent of Assur-nadin-ahhe. Assur-nadin-ahhe II was a cousin of Eriba Adad I, and Assur-nadin-ahhe I had no offspring on the throne (JNES vol. II, the list of kings).
Thus, if there is no other synchronization of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt with the Assyrian kings, the case of Assuruballit, cannot be “a coup de grace”. It was also stressed by M. Muller and Breasted (Records) that Subbiluliuma of the el-Amarna letters could not have been the grandfather of Hattusilis, or father of Merosar, because of the same chronological difficulty: there must have been minimum 105 years from some point in the reign of Subbiluliuma to some point in the reign of his grandson, which is regarded as unusual. As to the other point in our discussion . . .’
Actually it is amazing that Velikovsky knew so many details in this one field though he was not a specialist (who knows more and more about less and less) like Prof. Sachs.
For much more on the subject see Velikovsky’s detailed article “Assurubalit”.(1) summarized thus:
- ‘Assuruballit was a common name, still in use 750 years later.
- Assuruballit of the King Lists was the son of Eriba-Adad; Assuraballit of the letters was the son of Assur-nadin-ahe.
- The time of Assuruballit of the King Lists was not exactly the time of Akhnaton; and efforts to synchronize them were made at the cost of inner contradictions in the Egyptian chronology (which is based on the Sothis-Menophres theory).
- Assyrian chronology is itself dependent on Egyptian chronology and therefore cannot be used as proof of its validity.’
For, as Velikovsky explained:
‘The case of Hammurabi and the entire First Babylonian dynasty being lowered in age by four hundred years, because of a correlation with Egyptian material of the Middle Kingdom,(2) exemplifies the dependence of cuneiform chronology on the Egyptian time-table. This is appropriate to remember during any effort to fortify the accepted Egyptian chronology by evidence coming from the Babylonian or Assyrian king lists.’
Thus, the case of Assuruballit, cannot present an invincible argument, in addition to being but one (doubtful) link vs. “Hundreds of details in scores of Amarna Letters” in Sachs’ own words.
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The Venus tablets
The second serious criticism, Sachs phrased thus:
‘In the so-called Venus Tablets of Ammizaduqa, which were copied and recopied over many centuries, Dr. Velikovsky sees in the few scribal errors evidence for the irregularity of Venus and carefully avoids the rest of the text that shows a high degree of regularity indeed.
‘Not being a cuneiformist, Dr. Velikovsky quotes the 1920 opinion of Hommel to the effect that the year-formula of King Ammisaduqa found inside these texts was inserted by a scribe of the 7th century B.C. As every cuneiformist has had to learn for himself by sad experience, Hommel was already senile by 1890, and his condition had certainly not improved perceptibly by 1920.” [Laughter]
In WinC (in the section ‘Venus Moves Irregularly’) a few excerpts from the Venus tablets are quoted:
‘On the 11th of Sivan, Venus disappeared in the west, remaining absent in the sky for 9 months and 4 days, and on the 15th of Adar she was seen in the east.’
‘The next year, “on the 10th of Arahsamna, Venus disappeared in the east, remaining absent 2 months and 6 days in the sky, and was seen on the 16th of Tebit in the west. . . .”’
A few more such Venus observations are brought, and then the reaction of different scholars are summarized:
‘The observations were “inaccurately” registered decided some authors…
“The period between the heliacal setting of Venus and its rise is 72 days. But in the Babylonian-Assyrian astrological texts, the periods varies from one month to five months – too long and too short: the observations were defective,” wrote another scholar.'(3)
However, as Velikovsky explained:
‘It is difficult to imagine how such obvious errors could have been committed. . . each item in the record is stated in dates as well as in the number of days between the dates.’
Thus explained it Livio Stecchini:
‘The possibility of error is to be excluded. There were two originals of the Venus tablets, each different in the manner of presenting the data, but both so organized that all the entries cross-check each other. There are minor errors of transcription in the several copies, but such that they can easily be eliminated by collating one copy with another…
‘Furthermore, one of the major problems in accounting for these documents is that of explaining why the scribes kept copying through the centuries this particular set of [the same 21 years of] observations.’ (4)
What Sachs carefully avoided were two pages in that same ‘Venus Moves Irregularly’ section of WinC, full of quotes from Babylonian prayers showing that, as Velikovsky wrote :
‘The Babylonians did not note these irregular movements merely as matters of factual interest; they were dismayed by them. In their prayers they expressed this dismay.’
Sachs also carefully avoided the following paragraph in that same section where Velikovsky pointed out that
‘Similar difficulties are encountered by the scholars who try to understand the Hindu tables of the movements of the planets. The only explanation proposed is: “All the manuscripts are completely corrupted… The details referring to Venus… are very difficult to un-riddle”(5).’
And finally, as Velikovsky wrote, right after mentioning Hommel’s opinion that the reference to Ammizaduga was added in the 7th century: ‘If the tablets originated in the beginning of the second millennium, they would prove only that Venus was even then an errant comet.’ So, for Velikovsky’s theory, that Venus moved irregularly in historical times, whether in the first or in the second millenium, Hommel’s remark made no difference, and Sachs could have spared this un-necessary double insult – claiming that Hommel was senile for over 30 years, i.e. already as a young man.
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Another example of Sachs’ style can be demonstrated by the following paragraph in his address:
‘In Worlds in Collision, p. 161 [Doubleday edition], Dr. Velikovsky says that Babylonian astronomy at one time had a four-planet system, with Venus missing. For this, he refers to a book, quite correctly, written in 1915. Not being a cuneiformist, Dr. Velikovsky cannot inspect the original text referred to in his 1915 source. I have read the text and I can report that it is quite true that Venus is missing in the text — but so are the other four planets [laughter]. Dr. Velikovsky’s 1915 source mistranslated the names of four fixed stars as planets.’
Velikovsky’s “1915 source” was E. F. Weidner, world famous in his field. In the footnote (section “The Four Planet System”), where Velikovsky brings his source, he also quotes him thus:
‘E. F. Weidner, Handbuch der babylonischen Astronomie (1915), p. 61, writes of a star list found in Boghaz Keui in Asia Minor: “That the planet Venus is missing will not startle anybody who knows the eminent importance of the four-planet system in the Babylonian astronomy.” Weidner supposes that Venus is missing in the list of planets because “she belongs to a triad with the moon and the sun” ‘.
Whether Weidner mistranslated or Sachs mistranslated can be checked only by objective cuneiformists, who are a rare species; but it doesn’t really matter because of the above quotes from Weidner – which prove the point Velikovsky was trying to make, and which Sachs as usual carefully avoided mentioning.
Sachs’ use of such metaphors as: “house of cards” “bubbles of self-deception”, “a wasteland”, “senile”, show Sachs’ address, for what it was – arrogant, non scientific, and insulting, not only to Velikovsky but also to well known cuneiformist scholars, such as Hommel, and Weidner.
Notes and References:
1. Kronos, XII, 3, pp.3-13.
2. See Velikovsky, “Hammurabi and the Revised Chronology”, Kronos VIII, 1
3. M. Jastrow, Religious Belief in Babylonia and Assyria, p. 220.
4. “Astronomical Theory”, The Velikovsky Affair, pp.146-152. (See also Raymond Vaughn and Lynn Rose’s articles in Pense and Kronos).
5. As Velikovsky quoted from Thibaut, “Astronomie, Astrologie und Mathematik,” Vol.3, Pt. 9. (WinC, p. 200 Doubleday edition).