A cautionary tale
Emmanuel Velikovsky was a Russian, who after obtaining a medical degree settled in Berlin and wrote a series of general papers which lionised ancient Jewish scholarship. Remarkably, he employed Albert Einstein as his research assistant. This project became the cornerstone of the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
For ten years Velikovsky practiced as a Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst. Perhaps even more remarkably he established a relationship with the father of modern psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud and acquired from Freud and interest in Egyptian history. Velikovsky continued his relationship with jewish academia and became concerned with anomalies between the emerging archeological evidence of the Egypt, Israel and Judah and the record contained in the old testament.
In the period between 1935 and 1950 Velikovsky developed a theory that a cataclysmic event had caused the historical record to become distorted. He proposed the cataclysmic event to be the sudden and recent arrival of Venus into the solar system.
Because of his earlier work and particularly because of his relationship with Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, Velikovsky had good access to academia. He moved to the United States and commence to send samples of his work to his contacts. His books, based on the earlier papers, were an instant success but triggered un equally instant academic witchunt.
Velikovsky was hurt by attacks on his work and believed they were a form of discrimination. he believed that he was being attacked firstly because he was attempting to justify the historical record in the Jewish tradition( antisemitism) but also because he had the temerity to cross into a sphere of science in which he was not qualified (academic snobbery) .
The academics put pressure on Macmillan who published his original book to withdraw the book from sale. Macmillan is an academic publisher, who was vulnerable to pressure from its primary clientele. As the book was so successful Velikovsky’s contract was immediately taken up by Doubleday, but the academic attacks continued to the end of Velikovsky’s life.
A key part in the opposition was that the proposed movements of Venus and Mars, necessary to support Velikovsky’s theory were in contradiction of every known law of physics. Velikovsky then attempted to redefine the laws of physics to explain how the movements were possible.
By the end of his life evidence on climate change from core sampling of arctic ice and quite separately the build structure of coral reefs tended to undermine Velikovsky’s theories. Scince then information from the space programme has given information which specifically contradicts his assumptions.
However this means that there is a still unexplained anomoly between the scientific ” historical” record and information which can be derived from the old testament. None of Velikovsky’s critics made any attempt to address this issue which is mainly concerned with the history of Egypt.
Recently there has been a renewed interest in cataclismic events, focussing mainly on the potential impact of relatively small bodies; comets and meteorites. Velikovsky’s work is being re-examined. His science might have been erroneous but the anomolies he was trying to explain still exist. It is of course possible that the whole of the old testament is simply a myth and should be disregarded. The Cathars did in fact reject the whole of the old testament; but why, and what did they believe in it’s stead? [/tab] [/tabs]