Immanuel Velikovsky and the Old Testament

Among the difficult passages that are hard to explain, three texts in the Old Testament have been the focus of intense scrutiny from people who are antagonistic to the claims of the Bible and from people who believe that the Bible presents a true account of what happened in the distant past. These three texts are the passages in Exodus dealing with the plagues that came upon Egypt, the sun standing still in the days of Joshua, and the return of the shadow ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz.

One controversial attempt at explaining these three texts was provided by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book Worlds in Collision (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950). Velikovsky’s theory is unique and has engendered a lively debate among scientists and Biblical scholars concerning the merits of his proposal.

One of my readers asked me to study and evaluate Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history as developed in his books Ages in Chaos (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952) and People of the Sea (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1977). Because I had not read any of Velikovsky’s books, I decided to read these three books before I passed judgment on Velikovsky’s reconstruction of history.

After finishing reading the books, I have decided to review Velikovsky’s three books as follows:

First, the present post will review Velikovsky’s theory presented in Worlds in Collision.

Second, I will write another post reviewing Ages in Chaos and People of the Sea.

Since Velikovsky’s reconstruction of history is based on the theory he developed in Worlds in Collision, I must begin my evaluation of Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history with his basic work.

The Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:14-11:10)

According to Velikovsky, the events related to the ten plagues that struck Egypt at the time of the Exodus was caused by a comet that passed close to earth around 1500 B.C. This comet eventually became the planet Venus. Velikovsky describes this event:

“A celestial body that only shortly has become a member of the solar system–a new comet–came very close to the earth . . . The comet was on its way from its perihelion and touched the earth first with its gaseous tail . . . One of the first visible signs of this encounter was the reddening of the earth’s surface by a fine dust of rusty pigment. In sea, lake, and river this pigment gave a bloody coloring to the water” (p. 48).

Velikovsky believes that the “Papyrus Ipuwer”, published under the title Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage provides an eyewitness of the tragic events caused by the approaching comet. In addition to this Egyptian eyewitness, Buddhist texts and Mexican annals also describe this cosmic event that caused much destruction.

The Long Day of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-15)

Fifty-two years later this comet returned again, this time the head of the comet passed so close to earth that it caused a rain of meteorites (the “huge stones from heaven” mentioned in Joshua 10:11). Earth’s encounter with the comet also caused the earth to depart from its regular rotation, thus causing the long day mentioned in the book of Joshua.

The Dial of Ahaz (Isaiah 38; 2 Kings 20)

About seven hundred and fifty years after the comet came close to earth, several celestial events took place that changed planetary history. In the eighth century B.C., the prophets Isaiah, Joel, Hosea, and Micah, the Hebrew prophets who “were verses in the lore of the heavenly motion” (p. 207), “insisted unanimously and with great emphasis on the inevitability of another encounter of the earth with some cosmic body” (p. 208).

In 747 B.C., on February 26, in the days of King Uzziah of Judah, a cosmic event, “brought about by an extraterrestrial agent,” caused a “disturbance in the motion of the earth on its axis and along its orbit” that made the old calendar of 360 days obsolete and created the present calendar of 365 days. Then, on the day that King Ahaz was buried, another celestial event caused the terrestrial axis to shift thus delaying sunset for several hours. Then another celestial event occurred in the days of Hezekiah that caused the prolongation of the day. Velikovsky wrote: “Talmudic tradition explains that the day was shortened by ten degrees on the day when Ahaz was buried, and the day was prolonged by ten degrees when Hezekiah was ill and recovered, and this is the meaning of the ‘shadow of the degrees which is gone down on the sun dial of Ahaz’” (p. 233).

These celestial perturbations, which occurred every fourteen to sixteen years, were caused by Mars. In the eighth century B.C., Mars and Venus collided and the collision changed the orbits of the two planets. This collision placed Venus and Mars in their present orbits. According to Velikovsky, this event is celebrated in the Iliad and in Mexican, Chinese, and Hindu literature.

Evaluation

I am not an astronomer or a planetary scientist but as a lay person in these field of studies it is difficult for me to accept Velikovsky’s theory. Although the collision of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter from July 16 through July 22, 1994 and the most recent collision of another comet with Jupiter in July 2009 prove that a collision between a comet and a planet in our solar system can occur within historical memory, it is almost unbelievable that the planet Venus did not exist until 3500 years ago and that Venus and Mars did not have their present orbits until 2700 years ago.

As an Old Testament scholar, it is hard for me to conceive that the plagues of Egypt were caused by a comet passing close to the earth about 1500 B.C. and that the comet with its trailing atmosphere brought with it many small insects and their larvae which became the cause of the plagues of insects that devastated Egypt at the time of the exodus (it is doubtful whether the Exodus happened in 1500 B.C.).

It is also hard to believe in the tenth plague, the people of Egypt (not “the first born” of Egypt but “the chosen ones” of Egypt) died because of a great earthquake and that the people of Israel escaped because their houses were huts of clay and reeds and more resilient to earthquakes than bricks and stones which were characteristic of Egyptian houses.

Velikovsky proves his theory by using cosmological myths from Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, China, Mexico, Assyria, and Babylon. These myths and Jewish legends are used to prove that earth came into contact with Venus and this catastrophic event is behind the narrative of the plagues in the book of Exodus.

To me, Velikovsky’s theory is more than science and more than theology. His book is a work of comparative mythology that uses philology, theology, archaeology, and a little bit of psychology to defend and to prove the reliability of the biblical text.

In a chapter titled “Collective Amnesia” Velikovsky explains the reason people of antiquity failed to preserve good records and evidence of these cosmic events. He wrote:

“There occurred more than one world conflagration; the most horrible one was in the days of the Exodus. In hundreds of passages in the Bible, the Hebrews described what happened. Returning from the Babylonian exile in the sixth and the fifth centuries before this era, the Hebrews did not cease to learn and repeat the traditions, but they lost sight of the fearful reality of what they learned. Apparently, the post-Exile generations looked upon all these descriptions as the poetical utterances of religious literature” (p. 298-99).

Velikovsky uses Freud’s idea of repressed memory and neurosis to explain the reason past generations did not keep a more precise record of these events. According to Velikovsky, these events were too painful and too dramatic to remember, so people buried the horrible events of the past deep in their subconscious minds. Thus, the myths and folklore of ancient peoples are expressions of these catastrophic events that occurred in the distant past.

What I wrote above is only a brief summary of Velikovsky’s theory. Velikovsky has an impressive collection of ancient written documents that he uses to prove his argument. The erudition that he demonstrates in presenting his theory is impressive but not convincing. Velikovsky has more faith in ancient myths, Jewish legends, and in the folklore of primitive people than established scientific theories. And these are the arguments he will use to offer a radical reconstruction of ancient history.

It is possible that Velikovsky is right and that scientists, astronomers, Biblical scholars, and many theologians are wrong, but I doubt it. So, it is just fair that I conclude this review with the words of Robert H. Pfeiffer, the late Chairman of the Department of Semitic Language and History at Harvard University. His words appear on the cover of Velikovsky’s book. Pfeiffer wrote:

“Dr. Velikovsky discloses immense erudition and extraordinary ingenuity. He writes well and documents all his statements with original sources . . . His conclusions are amazing, unheard of, revolutionary, sensational . . . If Dr. Velikovsky is right, this volume is the greatest contribution to the investigation of ancient times ever written.”

I cannot recommend Velikovsky’s book as a reliable source of information for the proper exegesis of the Biblical text but the book is fascinating reading; it is, together with his two other books, a magnificent exercise in futility, as I will show next.

Next: My review of Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

If you enjoyed reading this post, share it with others: click the “Like” button and then share it:
facebook twitter

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Immanuel Velikovsky and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Immanuel Velikovsky and the Old Testament

  1. anthony says:

    dr, you are absolutely right. astronomers will dismiss Dr. Velikovsky's theories that the present orbits of venus and mars are that late.

    Like

  2. Anthony,

    You are right. I do not believe any astronomer of repute will accept Velikovsky's theory.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  3. Adam Stuart says:

    Dr. Mariottini,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read and review books by Velikovsky. It seems to me that you have tried to be fair when reviewing the theory presented in ‘Worlds in Collision’, and I appreciate the positive things you have written regarding Velikovsky. Here are some other comments:1. I suggest that scholars should not allow their opinions of Velikovsky’s ‘Worlds in Collision’ to prevent them from considering ideas in Velikovsky’s reconstruction of ancient history. Velikovsky used as a starting point for his reconstruction of ancient history the idea that a natural catastrophe (series of plagues) might be a common link between Egyptian and Israelite histories. However, there are plenty of reasons for supporting ideas in Velikovsky’s ‘Ages in Chaos’, ‘Oedipus and Akhnaton’, ‘Ramses II and His Time’, and ‘Peoples of the Sea’ that do not depend on Velikovsky’s theory in ‘Worlds in Collision’. One can question and criticize the conventional chronology of ancient Egypt, and reason that some of Velikovsky’s identifications and ideas on chronology are correct, without having to argue that a comet-like protoplanet caused catastrophes on Earth or that Venus is a new planet. The conventional chronology of ancient Egypt has been criticized by scholars such as Peter James, Egyptologist David Rohl, and field archaeologist David Down independently of the main thesis of ‘Worlds in Collision’. 2. Velikovsky’s ‘Worlds in Collision’ contains some minor speculation that flies and/or other lower life forms were brought to Earth by the theorized comet-like protoplanet. However, Velikovsky’s theory does not depend on this minor speculation, and many scientists have speculated about life on other planets. This issue and the Velikovsky controversy are discussed in ‘Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky’ by Charles Ginenthal. Ginenthal is editor of the journal ‘The Velikovskian’.3. Many facts about the planet Venus that are known today were not known in 1950 when Velikovsky argued in ‘Worlds in Collision’ that Venus is a new planet giving off heat from its core and that Venus once possessed a visible comet-like tail seen by ancient peoples. Yet it is now known that Venus has surface temperatures of nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit, tens of thousands of volcanoes, a pristine, uneroded surface, and other unusual features. In some respects Venus has turned out to be remarkably consistent with Velikovsky’s ‘Worlds in Collision’ which was written before any space probes had been sent to Venus. I am not saying that Velikovsky’s Venus theory is proven or even probably right. However, I do think that it should be seriously considered by scientists. An interesting article about Venus can be found at the below internet address.

    Adam Stuart http://thunderbolts.info/tpod/2009/arch09/090729venus.htm

    Like

  4. Anonymous says:

    That's some amusing "interpretation" on Velikovsky's part. When I started reading the post, I expected something similar to the "eruption of a volcano" explanation.

    Like

  5. Nate says:

    Sorry. I'm the above "anonymous" poster.

    Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thank You Dr Mariottini

    Thank You for taking the time to have a look at Dr. Velikovsky's work regarding biblical chronology and castastrophism. Rather than comment at length, I would rather offer encouragement and support – I look forward to hearing whatever you have to say on this subject that I find inspiring. Whatever anyone may make of it, I find it deeply inspiring and worthy of serious thought because it involves so much that has come down to us as the heritage of humanity. I think that the perspective that comes from a background in biblical studies as well as archaeology will be a unique perspective on the Velikovsky work itself. Scientists have dismissed without looking because Velikovsky sees scriptural events as historical. – Religous people have disparaged because Velikovsky sees science in the 'miracles' and catastrophes. You actually work in science and also have a religious perspective. I believe your insight on these issues may be greater than these who are scientific or religous only, and will therefore go beyond these previous perspectives.People are of differing opinions about science, about even the scriptures themselves – as our troubled history has often shown . . . Yet perhaps Dr. Velikovsky is right to ask us to consider – even just for a moment – that when the scriptures and ancient accounts mention stones falling from the sky -that they actually are describing stones falling from the sky … whatever it was that happened in Egypt during the plagues – all the other peoples on the planet seem to have gone through a similar and simultaneous time of upheaval and climate change whatever happened – Something HappenedFrom there … I think the chronology needs work – I think a reduced chronology would be more consistent with the carbon dates in the ASH correspondence and with the traditions that have come to us through history and scripture. I don't think Israel would welcome the Queen Sheba and then forget who she was or where she came from, as modern history seems to have done. Velikovsky is right to point to Josephus – who says she was Queen of Egypt – that means Hatshepsut – there simply was no other female pharaoh until much later in the time of the Ptolemies and the chronology goes from there I am very interested to hear your thoughtsJohnny C Godowskips Nate Velikovsky wrote about the exploding volcano – saying that if divergent myths were found on different sides of an island, but both included fire coming from the mountain, one might separate or filter out the divergences in the stories and look to see if the volcano had in deed been active… is that what you were referring to? I would be interested to know what the exploding volcano is all about I am very much looking forward to the video series…

    Like

  7. Adam Stuart says:

    I appreciate Dr. Mariottini’s willingness to review Velikovsky’s ‘Peoples of the Sea’ especially because it appears that ‘Peoples of the Sea’ did not receive the scholarly and public attention that it deserved. It appears that the reception of ‘Peoples of the Sea’ and ‘Ramses II and His Time’ during and after the late 1970’s was overshadowed by the unfair treatment and ridicule done by the astronomer Carl Sagan and other authors against Velikovsky and ‘Worlds in Collision’. Sagan’s criticisms of ‘Worlds in Collision’ reached vast audiences. Critics of Velikovsky’s later books have had an easy time discouraging scholarly interest in them by echoing Sagan’s criticisms of ‘Worlds in Collision’.For those interested, below are some internet addresses at Dr. Mariottini’s blog at which comments have been previously posted relating to Velikovsky. In some comments I discussed Velikovsky’s idea the Hyksos were the Amalekites and Velikovsky’s idea that the reliefs of Ramses III at Medinet Habu show Persians, not Philistines. This latter idea involves the identification of Ramses III with the fourth century BC pharaoh Nectanebo I (Nectanebis) who repelled a sea and land invasion by Persian soldiers. This idea is discussed in the most recent issue of the Australian magazine ‘Archaeological Diggings’ that I have received–in Part 1 of the article “Breasted at his Best” about Egyptology pioneer James Henry Breasted by archaeologist David Down. I am hoping that Part 2 of this article will be in the new issue that should arrive soon.

    Adam Stuart
    http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2009/04/tayinat-capital-of-land-of-palastin.html
    http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2009/04/more-on-tell-tayinat-discovery.html
    http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2009/06/joseph-in-egypt-evidence-for-egyptian.html

    Like

  8. Adam,

    Thank you for this information. It is too bad that I cannot share your enthusiasm for Velikovsky's theory.I read his views and I find his revision of ancient history unconvincing.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  9. As you may suspect, this matter is far from over. It is documented that Einstein called Velikovsky to his bedside shortly before he died. Just prior to that he asked that Velikovsky's theories be tested. Personally, I think a much greater emphasis should be placed on Velikovsky's "Earth in Upheaval" where geologists collectively and unwittingly (I allude to the depth and breadth of Velikovsky's scholasticism) buttress a great deal of the chronology of "Ages in Chaos" and "Worlds…". Myself, I am an american philalethist, a lover of truth. "I find it hard to believe" or "It seems unlikely", that is, the types of arguments Sagan used, do not shed light, rather they show a lack of impartiality. So I will continue to scribble "Viva Velikovsky" as graffiti whenever I can.The facts must be aired. Read "Velikovsky Reconsidered" and "The Age of Velikovsky". Yes, many many scientists are in support of Velikovsky's fascinating and eminently readable theories.

    Like

  10. P.S. I have never read that Velikovsky claimed thar Venus and Mars collided.

    Like

  11. Philip,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment on Velikovsky. There are many people who support Velikovsky's theories. Maybe scientists are willing to accept his views about the planet Venus. However, without much scientific proof, it is hard for me to do so. I am not willing to accept his views on the basis of comparative myth.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  12. hiram says:

    Dr. Mariottini,

    I came across your site researching 360 day calendars and read with interest your opinions of Dr. Velikovsky’s work. I have been studying Velikovsky since the early sixties and have read all of his works and everything I could find on the controversy he engendered. I am also a serious student of Torah. Nearly every critic of Velikovsky betrays himself as not really giving him the careful reading he pretends by making basic mistakes in repeating Velikovsky’s ideas. Though I disagree with your conclusions, I must commend you on your accurate description of his thesis.

    J. Kessler

    Like

  13. Dr. Mariottini,

    Thank you for your respectful comment on my post. I agree one should not evaluate Velikovsky on the basis of comparative myth alone. No need to. I challenge you to see Ginenthal's videos on YouTube and repeat that there is no scientific evidence. You may be an unmoveable object (as a religionist it must be disconcerting to you to know that Lucifer, Baal, Seth, Satan, Astarte,Beelzebub et al. are all names the ancients used as names for the planet Venus). But facts are an unmovable force."Charles Ginenthal on Venus Parts 1 to 5"Data gathered by Russian and US probes supports the theory that the source of Venus' heat is the planet's interior not an atmospheric greenhouse.

    Like

  14. Mr. Kessler,

    Thank you for your comment. I am aware of the facts you mentioned in your comment. Velikovsky has a good theory but one that most scientists have rejected. In addition, ask yourself: why is it that most Egyptologists and most Hittotologists and most Biblical scholars refuse to accept Velikovsky's theory?

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

  15. Anonymous says:

    Dr Mariottini,

    Velikovsky has a good theory – to quote an eminent bible scholar with a most excellent blog…To ask why most scientists Egyptologists and Hittitologists refuse is a pertinent question -It parallels the question of why all archaeologists and classicists refused to consider the possibility that Illion, known as Troy, was an actual physical place in ancient time. Rather than wait for permission or approval that would never come, Heinrich Schliemann took the ancient records in detail as literal, surveyed the coastline and located the site of the ancient city.Clearly Schliemann was correct to value the ancient accounts and legends more than modern theory. I don't think most Hittitologists have even heard of, let alone read Ramses II and His TIme, Velikovsky's cogent analysis of the Hittite empire. Most would be embarrassed at first, but then delighted to actually learn that the empire we call Hittites is already known to history by another name more familiar to us from the bible. We know more about the Hittites than we think, because of the detailed record of scripture. With the chronology in current dissarray though – we are prevented by scholarly inertia from investigating the scriptural validation of the correctly identified Hittites. Velikovsky's contribution to Hittitology is as significant as Schliemann's contribution to Illionology. To find out why Hittitologists refuse to accept Velikovsky or other similar reduced chronologies that make the same identification, one must first find a genuine Hittologist who has actually read Ramses II and His Time. Genuine scholars must ask themselves why that list is currently so small. Do you know why all the archaeologists and classicists refused to consider Troy as a real cityuntil Schliemann ? The parallel is so strong, we might have the same answer today where Velikovsky is concerned. Yet most is not all. Scientists are considering. So are archaeologists like Colin Renfrew and John Bimson, David Down and others – Therefore one might also ask one's self why these professionals, though currently few in number, are indeed investigating Velikovsky even given the adverse climate. It takes great courage of conviction to pursue a professional course of action in circumstances like that. The bible is filled with stories of characters of such valor – we do well to apply these to our times -and to ourselves.

    Johnny C Godowski

    Like

  16. Adam Stuart says:

    Dr. Mariottini,

    Overwhelming evidence has been presented in several works, including Velikovsky’s ‘Ramses II and His Time’, that there was no Anatolian dark age between about 1200 and 800 BC. I believe that Velikovsky was correct to place Ramses II in the first millenium BC. His identification of Ramses II as Pharaoh Necho (late 7th/early 6th centuries BC) is based on some strong arguments but is a subject of debate. However I do think that Velikovsky and other authors are correct in dating Ramses II and Merneptah within the 6th – 8th centuries BC. I suggest that views of authors such as Velikovsky, Donovan Courville, David Down, and Emmet Sweeney should be considered when investigating the dating of Ramses II and who the Hittites were.I feel that I have, to a large extent, already answered your question of why most Egyptologists and Hittitologists and Biblical scholars refuse to accept “Velikovsky’s theory”—again and again at your blog. For example, on April 30, 2009 I commented that “Because of the widespread unethical treatment that has been done against Velikovsky over decades (especially against ‘Worlds in Collision’), and because of the long-term widespread ignoring of Velikovsky in archaeology/history publications, it appears probable that Velikovsky’s ‘Peoples of the Sea’ and ‘Ramses II and His Time’ have not received the serious attention by scientists and scholars that they deserve. Similarly, it appears probable that the vast majority of professional Bible and history scholars and archaeologists are not even aware of the main ideas in these books.”http://www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2009/04/more-on-tell-tayinat-discovery.htmlI have made approximately the same basic point in other comments at your blog as well. The basic point is that it appears probable that most professional scholars are unaware of ideas in Velikovsky’s ‘Ages in Chaos’, ‘Ramses II and His Time’, and ‘Peoples of the Sea’, and that these books have not received the serious and fair attention by scientists and scholars that they deserve.It is not realistic to expect that most professional scholars have read two or more books by an author whose chronology books have been widely ignored for a long time and whose name has been put [wrongly] into encyclopedia entries on pseudoscience. Indications are that Velikovsky’s ‘Ramses II and His Time’ and ‘Peoples of the Sea’ are not even on the radar screen of most Egyptologists, Hittitologists, and Biblical scholars. However I appreciate the comments of Philip Neri Lyons and J. Kessler as well as your hosting them and referring to a theory of Velikovsky as “a good theory”. I was previously unaware of the videos of the fascinating talk by Charles Ginenthal. Ginenthal is also author of ‘Pillars of the Past: History, Science, Technology as these Relate to Chronology’ (2003) and ‘Pillars of the Past Volume II: Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Mycenaean, Minoan, and Harappan Chronology’ (2008).

    Adam Stuart

    Like

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm, It has been about 40 years since I read Velikovsky's three books, "Worlds in Collision", "Ages in Chaos" and another ("Gods,Graves and Scholars"?), but I still think more highly of his observations than of Carl Sagan's, and others', "put-downs". One reason being, for me, that "V" was repeatedly quite modest in noting that this was "one possible" consistent explanation for a number of previus "anomalies" and contradictions among the "offerings" of different "professionals"..Having just read Dr. Mariottini's comments, I am surprised that he appears not to be aware that the "astronomical" calculations were provided by "V's" friend/acquaintance, Einstein.Being now 74, and having started being "interested" more than 50 years ago, way back there when "Piltdown Man" was not yet recognized to be a hoax, and having read many insistent "intellectual" discourses by "experts" who, it has frequently turned out, could not let go of the learned errors of their youth; I am still inclined to respect Velikovsky's research more than the opinions of experts whose "facts" he challenged. Additionally, various scientific professionals, who took these writings, and Einstein's calculations, as serious possibilities, have made quite a number of additional disconeries, which would seem to substantiate his "guesses". At least "V's" research was nearly endless, and his mind was open, which is more than most of the "critics" can say.We tend to forget that we are all relatively ignorant little creatures in a gigantic cosmos, and that there may or may not be some future existence for us, in which we may od may not even care about all of this.By the way, "V", and MD, trained with Freud, and WAS A practicing psychiatrist.

    just plain Bill – the old engineer

    Like

  18. Bill,

    Thank you for your comment. When it comes to Velikovsky's views, people have strong views on both sides of the issue. I am open to new ideas, but I believe that Velikovsky's views are not supported by biblical history, notwithstanding what Velikovsky's supporters say.

    Claude Mariottini

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s