Two articles about Velikovsky appear below:

1    Velikovsky and his Comet                       Laurie Eddie

2   Defending Velikovsky - Half Heartedly   Bob Potter


Velikovsky and His Comet

Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 139, 2011 July)


Although now discredited, the "catastrophist cosmology" theories of Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky, (1895, Vitebsk, Russia – 1979, Princeton New Jersey), still attract readers who may be discovering his writings for the first time.

Velikovsky obtained his medical degree from Moscow University in 1921 and after post-graduate studies practiced psychiatry in Palestine from 1924-1939. In 1939 he went on sabbatical leave to the United States, intending to research a book on Oedipus, Akhenaton and Moses, however, in the spring of 1940, (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 12; and 1973, p. v.) he was diverted into a new area of research.
He began to consider that there might have been a single causal event to explain many of the extraordinary Old Testament events including the ten plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna, the events at Mount Sinai and the sun standing still in the heavens. Within six months, (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 64) he had developed his "catastrophist cosmology" theory which claimed that all of these biblical events had been precipitated by the appearance of a planet-sized comet.

Unable to return to Palestine because of WWII, he had by 1942 completed the first full draft of his theories (Velikovsky, 1973, pp. vi-vii); these would later be published as, Worlds in Collision (1950), Ages in Chaos, (1952) and Earth in Upheaval (1955). Although these books attracted a great deal of favourable public and media interest, they were criticized by many scientists who considered his claims to be unscientific nonsense.

His "catastrophist cosmology" ideas were broadly based on a natural theological approach in which so-called biblical "miracles" tend to be attributed to naturally occurring phenomena, rather than to supernatural causes. Before the Age of Enlightenment biblical "miracles" had been accepted almost without question as examples of God using his divine powers to perform acts which were outside the limitations of the natural world. However, with the development of a more rational and scientific approach, it was increasingly suggested that God may have used conventional phenomena to produce these events. In adopting this approach, Velikovsky was following the lead of earlier writers who had also cited catastrophic events to explain extraordinary biblical events.

One of these was William Whiston, (Isaac Newton's successor at Cambridge), who believed that since God had created a perfect paradise the weather must have also been constantly perfect. This implied Paradise had only a single summery season, and so, the Earth must have moved around the Sun in a perfectly circular orbit. (Whiston, 1737, p. 114) From Hellenic times the circle had been considered "the perfect figure"; and was believed to be the orbital shape of all heavenly bodies both in the geocentric model of the cosmos and the heliocentric model of the solar system by Copernicus. However, according to Whiston, after the Fall, this perfect order had been changed by the passing of a great comet. Not only had this comet forced the Earth into an elliptical orbit, which enlarged and lengthened, "… its periodical time." (p. 467) producing for the first time the cycle of seasons, but later, in the year 2349 BCE, the same comet had been the cause of Noah's Flood, (p. 142).

Similar religiously biased ideas form the core of Velikovsky's theories; yet while others were content to attribute the extraordinary phenomenon of Exodus to the actions of rather mundane events such as tornadoes or earthquakes, Velikovsky proposed an incredibly spectacular cosmic scenario. He claimed that circa  2,000 BCE the planet Jupiter had ejected a huge mass of material into space; this ejecta was nothing less than a completely new proto-planet, Venus, which in the form of a comet had initially travelled in an elliptical orbit, from the vicinity of Jupiter around the Sun and back again, regularly crossing the orbits of Earth and Mars, (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 64) and that, on several occasions, it had actually collided with both planets unleashing cataclysmic destruction on both planets.

He claimed the comet had precipitated a number of catastrophes which coincided with certain miraculous biblical events, namely:-
Velikovsky, (1972) claimed that the comet first approached Earth on a collision course circa 1495 BCE (p. 64), at a time when Moses was demanding that pharaoh free the Israelites. When this request was refused the comet intervened and created the miraculous plagues which finally forced the pharaoh to release the Israelites. At that time, the comet, "… on its way from its perihelion…touched the Earth first with its gaseous tail." (p. 64) and rained down onto the Earth, "…a fine dust of rusty pigment" (p. 64), which choked the rivers, turned the seas, lakes and rivers a bloody red colour, poisoned the fish and brought widespread death and disease to many, (Exodus 7:20-21); this was the first plague. The poisoned river encouraged an abundance of frogs and lice, the second and third plagues.

The fourth plague was an infestation of "swarms of flies" — these, according to Velikovsky, were the vermin (p. 371) that came from the comet. Similarly, Velikovsky claimed the hail and fire of the seventh plague (Exodus 9:23-24) occurred when the Earth fully entered the comet's tail and was bombarded by a great hail of meteors and enveloped in massive clouds of burning carbon and hydrocarbon naphtha gasses which ignited Earth's forests and covered the land and the seas for seven years. (p. 71)

As the Israelites left Egypt they were accompanied by a "pillar of a cloud" to lead them during the day, "…and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light." (Exodus13:21) This, Velikovsky claimed, occurred when the Earth passed through the neck of the comet and, "A tremendous spark sprang forth at the moment of the nearest approach of the comet…" (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 100) This massive flow of electrical energy between the comet and the Earth, shrouded the planet, "…in a dark column of gases which looked like a pillar of smoke during the day and of fire at night", (p. 91). When pharaoh reneged and sent his army after the Israelites; they reached them on the shores of the Red Sea; the pillar of the cloud then moved between the Israelites and their enemies and enveloped the Egyptians in a cloud of darkness (Exodus 14:20). This, Velikovsky claimed, was the "angel of God" (Exodus 14:19), which held back the pursuing Egyptians while Moses arranged for the Lord to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21).

The Red Sea parted and the Israelites, "…went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground." (Exodus 14:22) Although the Bible claims the parting of the Red Sea was due to the presence of, "…a strong east wind" (Exodus 14:21) which blew all night long, Velikovsky suggests the actual cause was that the sea was lifted by a combination of geological upheavals and the gravitational pull of the comet. The comet then remained in place allowing the Israelites adequate time to cross the sea-floor, but then as the gravitational attraction of the comet waned, the sea flooded back, overwhelming the Egyptians who were completely destroyed. (p. 102

Then, as the Earth approached the head of the comet there were worldwide earthquakes. The entire surface of the Earth was ripped open, volcanoes erupted worldwide, producing lava flows 1.5 kilometers thick; the oceans were thrown from their beds creating kilometers high tsunamis which swept across the continents; rivers boiled or simply disappeared. Then, the Earth's poles were reversed, the North Pole, formerly located between Greenland and North America, moved approximately 159 degrees, to become the South Pole; the axis of the Earth shifted and the Earth's rotation was reversed. (p. 91) Finally, the Earth "…proceeded on a distorted orbit." (p. 91), its orbital speed around the sun slowed from 260 days to 360 days. In the midst of all this devastation most of humanity perished. Above the Earth the Moon changed its orbit, (p. 344) and the lunar month changed from 20 days to 29 days (p. 345). In the midst of these cataclysmic events, Moses continued to lead his people into the wilderness!

The comet then retreated from the Earth for about seven weeks (p. 108) but returned briefly to produce miraculous events at Mount Sinai. It covered the mountain with a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9), produced thunder and lightning (Exodus 19:16); the mountain "quaked greatly" (Exodus 19:18), then great trumpeting noises were heard. (Exodus 19:19) According to Velikovsky the comet emitted ten separate, "trumpet like sounds" (p. 111).  Incredibly, these ten blasts were the Ten Commandments and were  heard all round the world, in seventy languages, "…so that all might understand it." (p. 112)

Velikovsky (1972) claimed that the comet returned fifty-two years later when Joshua and the Israelites were in battle against the Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon. First the comet showered the Amorites with "great stones" and "hailstones". (Joshua 10:11) Then it temporarily interrupted the Earth's rotation (p. 60) so that the sun stood still over Beth-horon (p. 152, Joshua 10:11) to allow Joshua time to finish off his enemies. The claim that the sun stood still or reversed its rotation is used several times in the Old Testament. Isaiah 38:8 says, "…the sun returned ten degrees"; this was at the time of the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib..

Later, in the eighth century BCE, Venus and Mars collided, causing Venus to change its course, "…from an elliptical to a nearly circular orbit."  (p. 264) Then, sometime between the 8th – 7th centuries BCE, "…the earth and Mars … assumed new positions in the solar system." (p. 368) In 747 BCE the displaced Mars began a regular cycle whereby it approached close to Earth every fifteen years. Between 747 and 687 BCE "…solar and lunar movements changed repeatedly" (p. 350). The Moon changed its orbital period from 36 days to 29 days (p. 345), then, at midnight, March 23, 687 BCE, (Velikovsky, 1942) Mars came so close to the Earth that it changed its orbital period from 360 days to 365¼ (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 324; 333-344; 358).Velikovsky claimed that it was the close approach of Mars, circa 689 BCE  which destroyed the forces of Sennacherib who, were besieging Jerusalem, "A blast from the planet Mars fell upon the camp of the Assyrians and annihilated it." (p. 298) Finally, both Mars and Venus settled into their present stable orbits.

Sagan (1979) examined Velikovsky's claims, and while he conceded, "Collisions and catastrophism are part of modern astronomy" (p. 105) he was scathing of Velikovsky's theories, particularly the "…adequacy of the purported evidence", (p. 106).

Some of his criticisms were: -.
•    If Jupiter had ejected the proto-Venus, the energy required would have been about the same as the energy expended by our sun in a year or 100,000,000 times more energy than is contained in the largest observed solar flare, (p. 121).  Yet Jupiter is primarily a gas-planet not given to releasing huge amounts of energy;

•    The energy required to eject such a mass and escape Jupiter's gravity would have been so great as to reduce the material to small particles, (p. 121), not the large, solid mass proposed by Velikovsky;

•    Velikovsky claimed the proximity of the comet caused Earth mile high tides, whereas they would actually have been "hundreds of miles high" (p. 128), but there is no geological evidence of such inundation between the 15th  and  6th centuries BCE (p. 129);
•    Velikovsky confused carbohydrates with hydrocarbons resulting in the claim that the manna which the Israelites ate for 40 years in the wilderness, was motor oil, (p. 130);

•    Velikovsky (1972) claimed Jupiter and Venus are, "…populated by vermin." (p. 371) which he implied was the source of the petroleum on both planets. By "vermin" he meant the flies of the fourth plague (Exodus 8:21). Sagan (1979) pointed out that if they had come from Jupiter in a molten comet they would never have survived. Sagan also questions how with the same genetic code as Earth creatures they could have evolved on Jupiter, (p. 131). And since flies metabolize molecular oxygen, how could they have evolved and survived on Jupiter where molecular oxygen does not exist? (p. 132);

•    If Venus and Mars had crossed the orbit of the Earth there should still be massive amounts of debris crossing Earth's orbit, (p. 122) yet there is no evidence of this;

•    Velikovsky's claim (1972, p. 60 ) that Earth's mountains and valleys were formed a few thousand years ago is disputed by geology which dates their origins in millions of years, (Sagan, 1979. p. 128);

•    Although Velikovsky claimed enormous tectonic and impact disturbances to the Moon occurred contemporaneously with the events on Earth, as Sagan (1979) indicated, evidence from the Apollo Moon missions suggest that it has been several hundred million years since the rocks on the Moon were molten. (p. 128)
Other scientists have noted other weaknesses in Velikovsky's theories: -
•    Friedlander (1995) noted major problems with Velikovsky's use of celestial mechanics to explain the behaviour of the planets. Ignoring Newtonian laws of planetary motion, he proposed that electromagnetic forces could explain their erratic movements even though electromagnetic forces between planets are essentially zero,  (pp. 11-12);

•    Gurshtein (1993) pointed out that the Astrological zodiac, which has been used since circa 5,500 BCE, lies on the ecliptic, the apparent annual path of the sun across the celestial sphere. Since this "path" is determined by the tilt of the Earth, then, if the tilt of the Earth changed during Velikovsky's cataclysm, the location of the zodiac would have changed, yet there is no evidence of this;

•    Morrison  (2001) mentioned that the science of dendrochronology (using tree rings to determine the age of trees and past weather conditions) has revealed trees 4,000 years old that survived Velikovsky's claimed catastrophes and reveal no evidence of catastrophic climate changes, (p. 70);

•    Morrison (2001) also noted that ice cores from Greenland which reveal evidence of global temperatures and volcanic activity going back tens of thousands of years, reveal no evidence of Velikovsky's claimed catastrophes, (p. 70).
A major problem with Velikovsky is that the catastrophic events he describes tend to be brief and poorly defined, and lost in lengthy passages about cultural myths which support his theories of catastrophes. As a result, the exact pattern of events he described is unclear and ambiguous; as Morrison (2001) indicated, this "…vagueness and lack of quantitative reasoning" (p. 69) produces a great deal of frustration when one attempts to make sense of his various
 theories.


What is quite clear however is that the genesis of his theories was the claimed ejection by Jupiter of the proto-planet Venus with such force that it escaped the gravity of Jupiter to commence travelling in space as a huge comet and that, in the course of its erratic travels throughout the solar system, it precipitated events which formed the basis for the marvelous biblical events described in Exodus, Joshua and 2 Kings.

As an advocate of Catastrophism and natural theology Velikovsky wanted to harmonize the irregular behaviour of this imaginary comet with these biblical events but had to invent absurd scenarios. If Velikovsky is to be believed this was no ordinary comet, but one with miraculous abilities. Not only did it appear and intervene at critical moments to assist the Israelites, causing death and destruction to their enemies, even causing worldwide cataclysms which destroyed most of humanity, but it never harmed the Israelites! This saga is so incredible it could only have been created by Velikovsky's overwhelming need to provide a natural theological explanation for many of the biblical myths. In doing so he created a number of theories about the nature and behaviour of comets which have now been revealed as false Thus he claimed that: -.
•    Some comets originated in other star systems and may be the results of collisions between two stars creating a nova, (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 388);

•    Comets are created by the collision of planets (p. 374) and, "…smaller comets were born in contacts between Venus and Mars…" (p. 379).
There is now a much better understanding of the composition of comets, (Keller, Britt, Buratti, and Thomas, 2005) and, their origins and relationship to the trans-Neptunian Oort and Kuiper belts, (Jewitt and Luu, 1993).

Comets are essentially debris left over from the formation of the solar system, pieces of rock, ranging in size from small rocks up to many kilometers in size, surrounded by dust, gas and ice. Although they originally orbited the sun in the distant parts of the solar system, some were forced from their original paths, probably by collisions with other bodies, into orbits which now bring them in close to the sun. There are two types of comets, the first, long-period comets, (>200 years), are thought to originate in the Oort cloud while the short-period comets, (<200 years), appear to come from the trans-Neptunian Keiper Belt, (Huebner, 2008, p. 6):

•    Before approaching Earth, having passed close to the sun, the comet was "…in a state of candescence" (p. 91).
However, if it had been ejected from Jupiter it would already have been an incandescent mass, which would have taken hundreds of thousands of years to cool. If, on the other hand, it had already cooled, like all normal comets, it would have had a cool rocky nucleus and would not have been incandescent. While the nuclei of comets do become hot as they approach the sun, they never reach a temperature high enough to become incandescent; they also lose this heat very quickly as they move away from the sun. For example, Becklin and Westphal (1966) measured the temperature of the comet Ikeya-Seki when it was 72 million kilometers from the sun at - 400 C. and, although the temperature reached 649 C. when it was 32 million kilometers from the sun, on its return journey it again quickly dropped to - 400 C.;

•    "The tails of comets are composed mainly of carbon and hydrogen gases" (Velikovsky (1972, p. 69) and that these are highly flammable when they come into contact with oxygen atmospheres. (p. 69).
In fact comet tails are composed of non-flammable dust and ionized particles. The glowing appearance of a comet in the sky is due to the solar radiation heating their inner core releasing a thin trail of gases, which, along with the dust they trail, is illuminated by the ionization effect of solar radiation, not because they become incandescent;

•    The comet had a massive atmosphere, which fell into Earth's atmosphere (p. 92). However comets do not have an atmosphere per se, their nuclei are surrounded by only a nebulous collection of dust and gases held in place by their very weak gravity; 

•    During the cool of the night, carbohydrates precipitated from the comet and fell to Earth with the morning dew to form manna (Exodus 15:14-17).
If the surface temperature of the Earth was hot enough to evaporate the oceans, there could hardly have been morning dew!

•    In a reference to Lexell's Comet he claimed that, "…a comet, encountering a planet, can become entangled and drawn away from its own path," (p. 92; 192). He claimed Lexell's Comet had become "entangled" in this way, temporarily "captured" by Jupiter in 1767, and had then managed to successfully free itself in 1779. 
However, comets do not become captured and then free themselves at a later date. If they pass too close to a planet they can either be drawn into the planet (as occurred with Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994), or else, have their orbits changed by the gravitational forces of the planet. According to Leverington (2003) this is what happened to Lexell's Comet in 1767 when, "…Jupiter had radically changed its orbit…" (p. 193). Furthermore Lexell's Comet was never captured by Jupiter and held from 1767 until 1779, since it was observed passing the Earth in 1770.

•    Venus has an abnormally high surface temperature, 750° K., (476 °C; 890 °F. — Lewis, 2004, p. 526).
It is now known that the planet itself is not hot. The extreme temperature is due to its dense 96% carbon dioxide atmosphere (Seeds and Backman, 2007, p. 457), which traps 75% of the light reaching the surface, creating a massive greenhouse effect. (Karttunen et. al, 2003, p. 154);

•    The almost "uniform temperature" on both the day and night sides of Venus was because, "The daily rotation of the planet Venus is very rapid" (p. 372). Velikovsky denied scientists who, at that time, claimed Venus rotated very slowly, once every 225 days, (a period equal to its orbit around the sun), claiming "…it is difficult to see how the high temperature of the rotating layer of the night side could be maintained." (p. 372)
However, it is now known that Venus rotates once every 243 Earth days. (Kuhn & Koupelis, 2004, p. 247) and the heat of the night side is due to the extreme greenhouse effect;

•    Venus "…must be surrounded by a very extensive envelope of hydrocarbon (petroleum)" (p. 6; 8) and so, its atmosphere, "…must be rich in petroleum gasses." (p. 370)
However it is now known the atmosphere is rich in Carbon Dioxide, (Fegley, 2005, p. 488);

•     Jupiter emitted radio signals, (p. 6).
These are now known to be due to the interaction of the moon Io forming plasma in Jupiter's equatorial plane, and also because Jupiter produces strong radio waves from its polar regions.
It is now known that major catastrophes have shaped the development of the Earth. These include at least five extinction-level events, (E.L.E.), during the past 540 million years with the last one, the Cretaceous-Tertiary event 65.5 million years ago. Velikovsky's claims that the last worldwide catastrophe occurred 2,800 - 3,500 years ago is disputed by all reputable Geologists, for there is no evidence of the cataclysms he described.

To support his dramatic claims Velikovsky studied the records of many ancient cultures, including the Amerindian, Assyrian, Aztec, Chinese and Indians, looking for evidence of cosmic catastrophes. While most scholars considered such stories to be mere myths, Velikovsky was convinced they were eyewitness reports and so reliable that they were to be believed above any modern scientific theories with which they might conflict. Despite this, he himself was selective in his interpretation of these ancient texts for, in quoting the Midrashim claim that the waters of the sea were raised to a height of "sixteen hundred miles" he says this was not meant to be a literal figure but merely to indicate that, "…the heap of water was tremendous."  (p. 87).

However, what is often overlooked is that the existence of these myths is in itself proof that such events could never have occurred!  Velikovsky gave a vivid description of how the entire surface of the Earth was ripped apart, uprooted and thrown around, with huge chasms opening up to expose molten magna which flooded the world, volcanoes erupted and the oceans swept across the continents in tsunamis kilometers high, huge meteors smashed into the Earth leaving a world totally devastated, and all that was left was, "…a world enshrouded in an atmosphere filled with smoke and vapor." (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 111) Such a description clearly suggests that the Earth must have been totally destroyed and no one could have survived – who then could have written the myths which Velikovsky relied upon as evidence of his great cataclysms?

If a few humans had survived, they would have emerged from the ruins to a devastated world and been forced to rebuild human civilization from the beginning. Yet there is no evidence of this worldwide destruction or of humans having to make a new start; instead, we find an unbroken sequence of historical development. Even the Bible, which Velikovsky relies upon as the basis of his theories, describes how, when Moses led his people into Canaan, the land was flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 13:27); no mention of a ruined landscape! Rather than only a few survivors, the land was described as inhabited by numerous peoples, "Hittites…Hivites…Perizzites…Girgashites…Amorites…Jebusites." (Joshua 3:10). There were many cities including Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, Eglon, Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim; so, how could humankind have recovered so quickly after a worldwide catastrophe as that described by Velikovsky?

His admission that his theories were based upon his own "…reconstruction of ancient history" (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 64 and 78) is particularly pertinent; it appears he not only reconstructed ancient history but also astronomy and astrophysics to fit his theories.

Sadly, his efforts in devising such an elaborate explanation for the extraordinary events in the Bible were completely wasted, for although he claimed the biblical accounts of the wondrous events in Exodus are "historically true" (p. 380), it is now generally accepted that the stories of Moses, the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, and their escape from captivity across the Red Sea, etc. are folklore. As Robertson (2004) noted, the Moses story is a variation of the Horus myth (p. 309) while the account of the Exodus itself is an analogous myth, adapted by the Israelites from other Middle Eastern sources to demonstrate that, just as pagan deities had parted the Primal Sea to create the world, so too the god of the Israelites had split the Red Sea to create a new nation. (Armstrong, 2005, p. 96)

In describing the Israelites as "slaves" Velikovsky, (1973), (p. 24) obviously accepted the biblical account that the Israelites had been enslaved and forced to build the great monuments in Egypt. This has now been revealed as a myth for the builders of these great buildings, including the pyramids, were the Egyptians themselves. Both Ruiz (2001) noted that, in the villages where the pyramid builders resided, the style of the tombs is clearly Egyptian. (p. 217), while David (1996) who examined the ancient town Deit el-Medina, home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings from circa 1550 – 1080 BCE, (the period covered by Velikovsky) reported that excavations at various workers' sites uncovered a great deal of written material which shows these workers were clearly Egyptians. There is evidence that these were paid workers, not slaves, for as Rice (1999) indicated, on one occasion during the 29th year of the reign of Ramses III, (circa 1153 BCE) the workers went on strike (p. 166) upset because of a shortage of food, water, clothing and the dark eye makeup, necessary to reduce the glare of the sun.

Velikovsky made a number of other unlikely claims, e.g.   
•    The Earth attracted the Moon within the memory of human kind, who also witnessed the "building of the solar system" (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    In the past Saturn and Jupiter had collided and, as the Earth passed close to Jupiter, it was drowned in hydrogen from Jupiter's atmosphere
 which, as it drifted down through Earth's oxygen rich atmosphere, became water."  (Velikovsky 1942);

•    The behaviour of Earth, Mars, Venus, Moon, and other planets during their contacts, shows that gravity does not exist the mathematical proofs of Newton are completely erroneous. (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    "At near distances special law acts in magnetism (also electrical phenomenon)" (Velikovsky, 1942), which makes both levitation and perpetual motion possible; 

•    Earthquakes are caused by the geological masses readjusting from their being displaced during the earlier cosmic contacts, (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    Darwin's Theory of Evolution which proposes slow changes in life-forms is wrong, (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    Dinosaurs became extinct a few thousand years ago. Most died during the catastrophes, and "…those that survived could not exist in new conditions, especially because of changed weight of all objects, and of their large bodies, not capable to move, especially during gravity." [Sic.]  (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    The "Brontosaurus was not a reptile…but a mammal." (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    There had formerly existed on Earth, a race of giants (Gigants) who were destroyed by the catastrophes, (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    Erection of ancient structures built with huge stones had only been possible because such objects had been much lighter before the cosmic contacts,  (Velikovsky, 1942);

•    Noah's Flood had been due to the proto-Saturn becoming a nova, and ejecting much of its mass into space. (Velikovsky, 1978, p. 249);
•    The planet Mercury was involved in the destruction of the Tower of Babel; (Velikovsky, 1978, p. 107);

•    Planets revolve, "… on a quite circular orbit…" (Velikovsky, 1972, p. 166), until they are displaced from their original orbits by comets;
While Velikovsky was an outstanding scholar, his areas of expertise did not extend to astrophysics. It appears that, lacking definite scientific evidence, he simply created his own fanciful ideas and convinced himself of the existence of an imaginary comet whose actions conveniently coincided with fictional events in the Old Testament, and even though several of his conjectures proved to be valid, the assumptions which led to these conclusions were erroneous. As Gould (1977) commented, "Velikovsky is neither crank nor charlatan — although to state my opinion and to quote one of my colleagues, he is at least gloriously wrong." (p. 153).


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Defending Velikovsky – Half-Heartedly


(Investigator 140, 2011 September)


My first encounter with the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky took place during the weekend 14/15th March 1964. Wandering down London’s Charing Cross Road, browsing in bookshops, I stumbled upon a copy of Oedipus and Akhnaton. The title grabbed me, firstly because I had read much of Freud and appreciated the central importance of Oedipus to his ‘theories of sexuality’ and secondly, as an active Rationalist, was also aware of the Egyptian pharaoh whom many believed to be the first monotheist.  It’s a small book which I found an easy read – I think at a single sitting. To me it proved of interest due to the author’s familiarity with the relevant languages and what appeared to me reasonable linguistic-based, logical assumptions suggesting linkages between the Oedipus of legend and the physical characteristics of the pharoah Akhenaton.

I was familiar with Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, but hadn’t remembered much of the detail recapitulated by Velikovsky (who probably based himself more on parallels suggested by Karl Abrahams – whom I hadn’t read – than on Freud direct).  I had myself observed the prevalence of the female sphinx in Greece and Tunisia. Velikovsky’s suggestion of an incestuous relationship between the pharaoh and his natural mother fitted well with what I already knew of ancient Egyptian practice and mythology including gods and their human counterparts (Cleopatra married her brother; Isis and Osiris were man and wife as well as being brother and sister!)  

Remembering Freud had suggested that the name of Moses suggested his being an Egyptian — add to that tales of captive Jews returning from their supposed two centuries of Egyptian captivity, the ‘other gods’ Jahveh so vigorously ‘campaigned against’ and the vestigial primitive sun-god worship ‘logged into’ the Hebrew testaments (and still evident in any modern Christian church in the ‘halo’, symbol of sun-god Aten — it seemed Velikovsky may have been providing a service to 20th Century scholars). 

However, when I looked at Velikovsky’s earlier and later work (usefully summarized by Laurie Eddie in #139) I realized much of his research supports a need to revise the chronology of the period; according to Velikovsky, 600 years are ‘out of synch’.   Before making more general remarks, it is important to say Velikovsky was aware that in the world of science, ‘theories’ must pass stringent testing – preferably as soon as they are hypothesized and certainly ‘in advance’ of subsequent theoretical development. In fact, he spent twenty years corresponding to numerous experts in the field asking their help in carbon dating particular relics specifically related to his work. At the eleventh hour, so to speak, such help was indeed promised by Albert Einstein – who unfortunately promptly died!  

Laurie refers to only some of Velikovsky’s early scholarship years in various localities; first in Moscow, then Montpellier (the south of France); then medical studies in Edinburgh. Interrupted by the First World War (he returned to Moscow to study law and ancient history), later completing his medical studies there, graduating in 1921. He moved to Berlin, where he was a foundation member of a series of journals (Scripta Academica) around which the future University of Jerusalem was to arise. His journal editing brought him into contact with Albert Einstein, who edited the mathematical-physical volume of the series. Velikovsky practiced medicine for fifteen years in Jerusalem, then re-trained as a psychoanalyst, practicing in clinics in Haifa and Tel Aviv.  (Working in this field, he was the first to discover epilepsy could be identified from encephalograms!)

Many might agree with Laurie Eddie when he says, “Velikovsky was an outstanding scholar...” (a remark with which I half-heartedly agree!). When Eddie, however, continues by claiming, “lacking definite scientific evidence, he simply created his own fanciful ideas and convinced himself of the existence of an imaginary comet whose actions conveniently coincided with fictional events in the Old Testament ”, one guesses Laurie may have missed some detailed knowledge about Velikovsky together with a defining point about ‘science’.  

After overviewing William Whiston’s idea of God’s ‘perfectly created’ universe Eddie claims Velikovsky’s theories are “similarly religious based” — a viewpoint contradicted by the Einstein-Velkovsky correspondence wherein the former soon accepted as tenable the hypothesis of global catastrophes and, although originally opposed, Einstein even became sympathetic to the latter’s hypothesis of the recent origin of Venus as a planet.  (In the Velikovsky-Sapley letter-exchanges of 1946, when the former offered to submit to crucial tests before publishing his book, Shapley insisted Velikovsky reframe his hypothesis vis-a-vis the physical characteristics of Venus (its ‘high temperature’ and the ‘presence of hydrocarbon gases’, within a scheme of metaphysical presuppositions. Stapley, of course, had in mind the dogma of the ‘absolute stability’ of the solar system; Velikovsky succeeded in winning the argument that there could be no ‘proof’ of this ‘religious’ postulate!)

In numerous contributions to the Investigator Magazine I have consistently argued there are two integral aspects of ‘the scientific process’ – the ‘creation’ of theories from which logical ‘hypotheses’ are tested in a practical way.    I have several times  highlighted that many great scientific theories have originated from ‘dream experiences’ [I have reminded readers of Otto Loewi being awarded the Nobel Prize (1936) for carrying out his ‘dream experiment’ on neurological chemical transmission.  In like manner, mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Karl Gauss have separately provided anecdotal evidence concerning their own ‘discoveries’!] I have made the point so frequently that I begin to bore myself with repeating it again – the ‘origin’ of the theory is unimportant, even irrelevant. Ancient scriptures or any other mythology extracted from the traditions and folklore of countless cultures are equally acceptable possibilities — what makes a theory ‘scientific’ is its ‘testability’ in the terms laid down by the procedures of today’s ‘science’.  

It seems clear Velikovsky fully endorsed this correct ‘scientific’ approach vis-à-vis his own ‘speculations’ — hence his continued pursuance of Einstein’s critical views of his own work and his never-ending attempts to obtain the physicist’s help for wider access to the scientific resources in the United States.  He and his family moved from New York to Princeton in 1952, locating them literally in Einstein’s (and the whole university community’s) backyard.  The following year Velikovsky was invited to address the Graduate Forum at Princeton on the topic “Worlds in Collision in the Light of Recent Finds in Archaeology, Geology and Astronomy”, in which he provided much evidence supporting his thesis from discoveries made since the book’s writing. In this lecture he told students the planet Jupiter radiates in the radio-frequency range of the spectrum, reached by the earth’s magnetic field. He had previously discussed this hypothesis, face to face, with Einstein, who attempted to demonstrate to Velikovsky he was wrong.   [Two years later, Burke and Franklin of the Carnegie Institution startled an audience of the American Astronomical Society (and later, as Einstein was to publicly admit, he himself!) with their ‘accidental’ discovery of radio noise from Jupiter. When told of Velikovsky’s earlier, similar assertion, the speakers replied “even Velikovsky is entitled to a ‘near miss’ every once in a while!”  Repeated occurrences of such ‘behaviour’ by members of the American academic establishment inspired the Scientific American obituary to Einstein to refer to Einstein’s ‘friendly feelings’ for Velikovsky; Einstein “sympathized with the author when he was attacked but disliked the methods used by some of his attackers.”]

From the 1953 Forum address until the time of Einstein’s death, the two men continued to discuss the issues central to Velikovsky’s work.   Einstein was very busy in his own field, and was very limited in the time he could spare for his ‘old acquaintance’.  Most discussions were verbal and we have no option but to accept the Russian’s reported notes – there are also several letters from them both to each other, readily available on the internet. Throughout their exchanges, as I have indicated above, Einstein had remained adamant in his conviction that sun and planets must be electrically neutral and space must be free of magnetic fields and plasma. When he learned, only days before his demise, that Jupiter does emit radio noise, as his friend had for so long insisted, he offered to use his influence in arranging for other experiments, requested by Velikovsky for so long, to be carried out. The offer had come too late. When Einstein died, Worlds in Collision lay open on his desk!
 
Contrary to popular belief at the time Velikovsky was never a fundamentalist – to quote the man himself, “I am not a fundamentalist at all and I oppose fundamentalism”. He did not take the Old Testament stories literally, but he was a devout man who kept a kosher house and believed Old Testament miracle tales possibly reflected actual historical events.  He recognized he had no ‘qualifications’ in astro-physics, but he did cast hypotheses from the ancient myths and texts, suggesting explanatory possibilities relating to events connected with the planet’s earlier years. Critics dismissed his work ‘out of hand’, often without reading it — arguing his contributions were valueless, containing “ridiculous confusions” (e.g. between ‘hydrocarbons’ and  ‘carbohydrates’, illustrating lack of understanding of the laws governing the heat of vaporization of solids.)   

His immediate public success in the 1950s and 1960s was almost certainly due to his ‘having arrived at the right time’. The latest episodes of ‘born again’ Christianity had arrived, crank books and periodicals attacking evolution, and revivals of ancient beliefs in witchcraft, poltergeists and demon possession.  It was the age of the film The Exorcist and Billy Graham, and when three presidential candidates professed to be evangelical Christians; the man who won, doubting the theory of evolution and openly believing in Biblical prediction. It was a time when Bobby Fisher captured the world’s imagination, but refused to play chess on a Saturday, not because he was Jewish but as a member of the World Wide Church of God; he shared with the Seventh Day Adventists the conviction that God never authorized a Sunday Sabbath.

As a devout believer in orthodox Judaism, Velikovsky did indeed set himself the task of revising the laws of astronomy and physics, re-drafting vast areas of ancient history, and spinning incredible tales about the planet Venus to explain major miracles of the Old Testament. One professor from the Cincinnati Medical Centre summed up the situation in the New York Review of Books (1979):  “It is not easy for me, a scientist, to defend Velikovsky when his cause has been taken up by people who believe in UFOs, that plants can communicate and similar nonsense...” It is likely his Worlds in Collision (1950) would never have found a major publisher and become an immediate bestseller (re-printed 72 times by 1974!) if it had not had a strong appeal to the multitude of old-time religionists, looking for ‘new’ gurus.

Laurie Eddie’s overview is a good one but fails to identify some important aspects I have identified. Extensive scholarship may be an essential beginning for the advancement of human knowledge, but specific theories must be rigorously tested as the process continues – ensuring necessary modifications are identified as the procedure follows.  This is the only way theoretical work can proceed – and of course, it is never as simple as I may have implied.  If this process does not happen, although new and valid insights may appear, increasingly the theoretician easily becomes more and more divorced from the associated academia associated with the underlying topic being investigated. Although an individual may have much to contribute, the essential work is always a collective process. One can appreciate the frustrations experienced by Velikovsky as his theories inevitably became increasingly divorced from reality.

Velikovsky was not helped by absurdities propagated by religious movements of Christian fundamentalists, exercising tremendous public appeal in ‘happy-clappy’ communities in the United States during this anxious period of the ‘cold war’. None of Velikovsky’s speculations matched the Christian tales of talking snakes; a donkey answering back to his master; a God walking and chatting with our ancestors for whom the Creator personally tailors clothes and decrees how priests’ breeches must be tailored; the Almighty drowning millions of living creatures to satisfy his anger; heavenly angels ravishing earthly women and alternatively bringing messages of peace and goodwill; un-embodied hands writing graffiti on palace walls; Satan and his devils speaking with people; and corpses walking through the city one of whom floats into the clouds! How tame Velikovsky seems in comparison!

The difference, for Velikovsky, was he sought to work in the field of Science – his theories required ‘testing’. The religions of the world do not demand testing – all they require is ‘faith’ from their followers. Although Velikovsky realized this difference he was too impatient, too wide in his concurrent ranges of exploration for any single individual, working in isolation from the wider scientific community.  The outcome could not have been other than it was. Perceived as dependent upon the ‘nuttier congregations’ for a following he was falsely categorized as belonging to that community. And ideas that could well have proved fruitful if properly tested and modified in the process became objects of ridicule.

Bob Potter.

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