Sachs, Velikovsky, and Sitchin

A short time ago I blogged about the work of C. Leroy Ellenberger, at one time a first-tier defender of Immanuel Velikovsky who later came to doubt and then refute that brand of catastrophism, sent me a link I thought I’d share with readers.

Leroy’s link was to a brief address by Abraham Sachs, a well-known 20th century Assyriologist (i.e., a scholar of Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform). The address was a refutation of Velikovsky’s use of cuneiform material to support his catastrophist theories. Here’s an excerpt:

“In searching for mathematical and astronomical texts, I myself have had the opportunity of sifting about 125,000 tablets in this country and the British Isles. As one looks back, with the advantage of hindsight, over the progress of cuneiform studies in the last century, it is evident that in the early decades, two steps forward were accompanied by one step back, in recent decades, the proportion is more like 300 to 1. In 1896, an excellent dictionary of Akkadian contained 790 pages; today, the latest torso of an Akkadian dictionary– with only one-third of the dictionary published in 8 volumes– already runs to more than 2500 pages. I mention all this only to underline the sad fact that anyone who, like Dr. Velikovsky, is not a student of cuneiform, runs the very high risk of finding non-existent facts, false translations, and abandoned theories that have foundered on the rocks of new textual material when he relies, as Dr. Velikovsky does, on books and articles that are 80, 50, 40, and in some cases, even 20 years old. . . . In Worlds in Collision, p. 161, 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. . . . Wherever one turns in Dr. Velikovsky’s works, one finds a wasteland strewn with uncritically accepted evidence that turns to dust at the slightest probe. . . . [I]it’s advisable to be [a cuneiformist] if you’re going to write about cuneiform texts. . . .”

 

While the address was directed at Velikovsky, the verbal spanking is also useful for directing attention to the bankrupt scholarship of Zecharia Sitchin, part of whose imaginative ancient astronaut theorizing includes catastrophism elements associated with the alleged astro-physical effects of Nibiru, wrongly identified by Sitchin as a 12th planet. This short speech (less than fifteen minutes) was given at Brown University in 1965, just a few short years before Zecharia Sitchin would pretend to know something about cuneiform tablets. Why is it that Sitchin, presumably an expert in cuneiform, was somehow ignorant of this material when Sachs was not? The answer is simple. Sitchin was no expert in this material. He was contriving a theory.

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Immanuel Velikovsky Resources

Immanuel Velikovsky’s name is, for many, synonymous with paleobabble. I can think of a few other candidates I’d move ahead of him for such an honor, but Velikovsky indeed belongs to the “modern classical period” of wacky stuff related to study of the ancient world. You can read his Wikipedia page if you’re unfamiliar with him.

I recently came across this link: “Top Ten Reasons Why Velikovsky is Wrong About Worlds in Collision.” The essay at the link is long, dense, and technical. It’s also got terrible formatting (as in no formatting) so it’s hard on the eyes. I link to it because of the pedigree of its author, Leroy Ellenberger, who describes himself as follows:

This Top Ten list is based on 30 years exposure to Velikovsky’s ideas which includes 8 years as an insider at the Velikovsky journal Kronos (1978 – 1986), confidant to Velikovsky (4/78 – 11/79), invited “Devil’s Advocate” at Aeon (’88 – ’91), and 13 years as a turncoat/critic interacting with Velikovsky’s defenders and/or successors at conferences, in private, and in Usenet (’94 -’96) & list-serve forums.

 

In other words, he knows Velikovsky’s material really, really well. So all the haters can just email him to defend Velikovsky. And good luck with that.

There’s also a new book on Velikovsky’s ideas (with others): The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. I just bought it so I’ll be reading it at some point this year.

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