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Open letter to science editors


"Just Plainly Wrong": A Critique of Peter Huber [1]

Peter Huber's assignment at the A.A.A.S. was to produce what he calls "Early Cuneiform Evidence for the Planet Venus".  The intention was that his arguments would show that the near-collisions of Planets within historical times claimed by Velikovsky did not occur and that the orbits of such bodies as Venus have been for nearly five thousand years, at least, as they are at present.  Huber's principal arguments may be listed as follows:

Various clay tablets from Uruk show that Inanna or Venus existed early in the third millennium, as an evening and morning star.

Early second millennium Sumerian sources associate Inanna or Venus with evening and with morning, allegedly showing that Venus was even then an inner planet.

Contracts from the First Babylonian Dynasty allegedly attest a lunar month of 291/2 days and a practice of intercalating months in such a way as, in the long run, to keep the lunar calendar in rough agreement with the seasons of the tropical year.

The so-called "Venus tablets of Ammizaduga" are alleged to fit the pattern of intercalary months attested from the reign of Ammizaduga.  These tablets are also alleged to support "the short chronology", according to which these observations and the reign of Ammizaduga would both cover the years from -1581 to -1560.  Of the fifty appearances or disappearances of Ninsianna (or Venus) that can be derived from the tablets, Huber claims that fifteen are scribal errors, but that the rest are in accord with his retrocalculations.  He concludes that Venus and Earth have been on their present orbits for over thirty-five hundred years, at least.

Huber suggests, on the basis of late Babylonian texts, that all references to thirty-day months are either loose approximations or else justifiable calculating devices, and that the Babylonian month was always strictly lunar and always averaged about 291/2 days.

Finally, Huber refers to an eclipse of the Sun on July 8, -708.  He sees this eclipse as invalidating Velikovsky's arguments that there were changes in the orbits of Earth and of the Moon subsequent to -708.

Huber claims that his arguments show that Velikovsky is "just plainly wrong".  Let us examine these arguments in detail.  We shall find that it is Huber himself who is "just plainly wrong".


Huber cites tablets from Uruk IV that refer to "star, Inanna", and other tablets from Uruk III that refer to "star, Inanna, rising sun" and "star, setting sun, Inanna".  Huber's principal source for these references is A. Falkenstein, Archaische Texte aus Uruk (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1936).  Falkenstein transcribes Tablet No. 606, Reverse, for example, as ,

which may be translated as "star, setting sun, Inanna".  Huber infers from such references in general that Venus was already in existence early in the third millen­nium.  And from the Uruk III references in particular he infers that Venus was already a morning star and an evening star.

Huber also cites a Sumerian "hymn to Inanna" that has been dated to very early in the second millennium and that associates Inanna or Venus with evening and morning.  From this "hymn to Inanna" Huber infers that "Venus must have been in an orbit between sun and earth around -1900", that is, that Venus was an inner planet even then.  He finds further indication of this in the second millennium Sumerian myth of "Inanna's Descent to the Nether World", in which Inanna declares that "I am Inanna of the place where the sun rises".

It is puzzling that Huber does not infer from the Uruk III tablets that Venus was an inner planet early in the third millennium.  For the evidence is of the same sort: an association of Inanna with evening and morning.  Perhaps the reason for Huber's hesitation here is that he is not really satisfied with the evidence provided by the tablets from Uruk.  He admits that "they represent a very early stage of the art of writing and are therefore not yet fully decipherable".  He also refers to "about half of the signs" that "can be identified without any doubts".  Under these circumstances it is not surprising that some­times "the exact meaning is open to interpretation".  Huber's un­easiness is also reflected in the fact that he does not want to base his case on these tablets singly, but merely refers to what they may suggest "taken together".  Even then he only claims that, "taken together", the Uruk tablets "constitute evidence" that Venus was "known" early in the third millennium; that is, he carefully refrains from saying that Venus was at that time on an inner orbit.

What, then, of Huber's evidence from the early second millennium?  Do the "hymn to Inanna" and the myth of "Inanna's Descent to the Nether World" show Venus on an inner orbit?  Hardly.  As was pointed out by C. J. Ransom in the evening session, an object on an Earth­crossing orbit (even an orbit of substantial or "cometary" eccen­tricity) could still be seen as an evening or morning star.  So Huber has not shown that Venus was on its present orbit in -1900 or even that Venus was on its present kind of orbit, that is, an orbit lying entirely inside the orbit of Earth. (Incidentally, whenever we are dealing with Sumerian texts such as the "hymn to Inanna" and the myth of "Inanna's Descent to the Nether World", we should not for­get Velikovsky's word of caution in the morning session: Sumerian was used for religious and other special purposes long after it ceased to be a living language.  In this respect it resembles Latin.  And we should not assume that a text is very old, just because it is written in Sumerian or in Latin.  Nevertheless, for purposes of this paper, let us assume that the "hymn to Inanna" and the myth of "Inanna's Descent to the Nether World" are correctly dated to the early second millennium.  Even so, it will turn out that they support Velikovsky's theories.)

Huber tried to reply to Ransom as follows:

"The answer is to be sought in the myths on Inanna's descent to the netherworld.  I am convinced that the stay of Inanna in the netherworld has to do with the long period of invisibility of Venus at superior conjunction.  I mean, the invisibility of Venus seems to be of the order of sixty days, but - The corpse of Inanna is hung on a stake, and it has to be sprinkled with the water of life sixty times.  And I am personally convinced that this refers to sixty days.  And if the period of invisibility is that long, it cannot be a comet."

This reply is vulnerable in numerous respects.

In the first place, the number sixty was a very convenient round number for users of the sexagesimal system to employ, and may have meant little more than "a large number of times".  After all, various forms of the sexagesimal number system were already in use during that period, and "sixty" was for users of those systems what "one hundred" or "one million" is for us, and what a "myriad" was for the Greeks.  In other words, "sixty" is just a standard large number, and we must be very careful in taking it as a precise measurement of some empirical quantity.

In the second place, even if it were intended as an exact repre­sentation of an empirical quantity, namely the present duration of the invisibility of Venus at superior conjunction, it would still have to be judged as erroneous.  For the present invisibility amounts to some­what more than sixty days.  Indeed, it is, on the average, a little closer to seventy days than to sixty days.

In the third place, it should be emphasized that the story does not mention sixty days; it merely mentions sixty sprinklings. (Actually, there are sixty sprinklings of the water of life and also sixty sprink­lings of the food of life, but Huber forgot to mention the food.)

In the fourth place, even if we accept Huber's interpretation of sprinklings as days, and even if we overlook the extreme looseness and inaccuracy indicated in the first and second of the preceding points, it should still be recognized that an average invisibility of about sixty days does not prove that we are dealing with the present state of affairs.  Raymond C. Vaughan and I have found that with many com­binations of orbits for Venus and Earth, including those that feature Venus on an Earth-crossing orbit, there will be many invisibilities of Venus at superior conjunction that will be about sixty or seventy days long.  There will be some invisibilities at superior conjunction that last only about five or six weeks, and others that last about five or six months.  But, depending upon the parameters, the average will still be about sixty or seventy days, and many or even most of the individual invisibilities will still fall roughly in the sixty-to-seventy-day range.  The lesson from this is, of course, that even if the sixty sprinklings do derive from the typical length of the invisibility of Venus at superior conjunction, we could just as well be dealing with a Venus on a cometary, Earth-crossing orbit as with a Venus on its present orbit.  There is nothing in the sixty sprinklings to indicate a uniformi­tarian interpretation in preference to a Velikovskian interpretation.

Finally, in the fifth place, Huber's remark--that if the invisibility at superior conjunction "is that long [sixty days], it cannot be a comet"--is, in his own phrase, "just plainly wrong".  As already indi­cated, the invisibilities investigated by Vaughan and me with Venus on an Earth-crossing orbit ranged, roughly speaking, from about five weeks to over five months.  That was for purposes of considering various combinations of orbits that might actually have occurred at the appropriate stages of a Velikovskian sequence of events.  But in principle there is no upper limit on the duration of the invisibility of Venus at superior conjunction, if Venus and Earth are on properly chosen orbits.  In order to present this point as clearly as possible, I will refer to some admittedly artificial and unrealistic circumstances, but these are just for purposes of illustration.  Thus if the Sun could shine forever, and if the perihelia of Venus and Earth were on opposite sides of the Sun, and if Earth were on a moderately eccentric orbit (say, 0.1 or 0.2), and if Venus were on a substantially more eccentric orbit (say, 0.3 or 0.4), and if Earth and Venus had exactly the same period of revolution, and if Earth and Venus had simul­taneous perihelion passages, the invisibility of Venus would be of infinite duration.  This example is of course an extreme case, but it is designed to show just how grossly untenable is Huber's effort to assign an upper limit of something under sixty days to the invisibility at superior conjunction of an object on a cometary or Earth-crossing orbit.  In more realistic circumstances, such a body might have maxi­mum invisibilities of about five months or so, but even that would show that Huber's upper limit of something under sixty days is "just plainly wrong".

It is obvious that Huber has never given any serious thought to the issues that he is discussing here.  Even for a statistician, it is inexcusable to overlook the difference between sixty and infinity.  Neither his sources of evidence nor his interpretations of them bear any scrutiny, and he has not achieved his declared purpose of refuting Velikovsky's thesis of interplanetary near-collisions within historical times.

Huber apparently thinks that by citing early references to Venus he can undermine Velikovsky's thesis of interplanetary near-collisions and a youthful Venus.  But this is not so.  Velikovsky's position is that Venus was born from Jupiter an unknown period of time prior to the Exodus--that is, prior to the middle of the second millennium, when the giant comet or proto-planet Venus nearly collided with Earth.  How long did Venus exist prior to that near-collision?  Veli­kovsky does not know.  All he claims is that, since the circumstances of Venus' birth have survived in human memory, myth, and legend, that event must have been observed by human beings and must have been passed on down to succeeding generations.  In Worlds in Col­lision, Velikovsky did some preliminary exploration of the problem of the approximate date of the birth of Venus, but he had to leave it largely unsettled.  He did find traditions that Venus was not one of the four "Planets", and he did find reports from a number of ancient civilizations that Venus at some point joined the family of planets. (Even the name "Venus" means "Newcomer" in Latin.)  But these considerations do not pinpoint the date of the birth of Venus.  In spite of some passages in Worlds in Collision that suggest that Venus may be no older than, say, four thousand years, the fact is that Velikovsky's theory does not entail any particular epoch for the birth of Venus.  In Harper's, June, 195 1, page 53, he summed up the stance of Worlds in Collision as follows:

"As for the number of centuries before the Exodus that Venus erupted from Jupiter and could be seen, I have not given an evaluation in the present volume."

The fact is that Velikovsky's theory is quite flexible on the question of the date of the birth of Venus.  The flexibility of Velikovsky's approach can be seen from his discussion of the so-called Venus tablets of Ammizaduga in Worlds in Collision.  He does not know for sure when the observations on the tablets were made. (His guess is that they may belong to the tenth, ninth, or eighth century, but that is not firmly established.)  If someone should prove that the observations are older than Velikovsky had thought, that would be no problem: "If the tablets originated in the beginning of the second millennium, they would prove only that Venus was even then an errant planet." (Worlds in Collision, page 198.)  This approach is applicable also to the "hymn to Inanna" and to the tablets from Uruk: If the "hymn to Inanna" is correctly dated to about -1900, it would prove only that Venus was even then an errant planet, in an incandescent state, pursuing a cometary orbit.  And if the tablets from Uruk are correctly dated to the early third millennium, they would prove only that Venus was even then an errant planet, or, alternatively, a giant incandescent comet.

Velikovsky faces no problem from the "hymn to Inanna" or from the Uruk materials; his statement during the morning session was as follows:

"That Venus was observed before it came into conflict with Earth is clear from what I wrote.  It did not come from Jupiter just on the eve of that collision.  It came thousands of years before.  It could be seen."

Because of its incandescent state and massive tail, the comet or proto­planet Venus would have been highly conspicuous, to say the least.  Those who doubt the preeminence of Venus should recall that Venus or Inanna was the principal deity in the pantheon at Uruk.  And those who doubt the astral character of ancient religion might do well to note that on the Uruk tablets one and the same symbol is used both for "deity" and for "star" or "heavenly body".

Does Huber's evidence conflict with Velikovsky's, scenario?  Not at all.  At the very most, Huber may have shown that Venus was already in existence early in the third millennium.  This is entirely consistent with Velikovsky's scenario.  Velikovsky or any one else who so wishes can easily accept the early third millennium as a terminus ad quem for the birth of Venus.

(Huber's identification of Inanna as Venus is not fully established, however, since, as Velikovsky pointed out during the morning session, "Ishtar at some time in the past was the name for Jupiter", and it is at least possible that the earliest references to Inanna might have con­cerned Jupiter rather than Venus.  Nevertheless, as Velikovsky also said, "Let us assume that Inanna referred to Venus.")

At this point, I would like to offer some general observations about the unending debates over the dating and other circumstances of the birth of Venus.  Both Velikovsky's supporters and his critics would do well to concentrate on those portions of his writings that have been published.  In spite of the fact that not one of the critics has ever seen Velikovsky's detailed account of earlier events such as the circumstances surrounding the birth of Venus from Jupiter, that birth has been a favorite theme of critics from 1950 on.  But the events preceding the Exodus are not dealt with except in passing in Worlds in Collision.  Rather, they are the subject of a lengthy monogram that has never been published.  It would be much better if both critics and supporters would focus more of their attention on "the last two acts of the cosmic drama" that are treated in Worlds in Collision ­namely, the events of thirty-four and twenty-seven centuries ago ­rather than speculate about the contents of an unpublished book.  The same applies to the Ages in Chaos series: attention should be focused on the published volumes of that series, rather than on those volumes that have not yet appeared.

So far we have been mainly concerned to show that Huber's evidence from Uruk and from the "hymn to Inanna" is consistent with Veli­kovsky's central thesis.  Let us now show that this evidence is highly supportive of Velikovsky's position, a fact sometimes rather uncom­fortably noted by Huber himself.

Thus Huber mentions that in the Uruk texts "the Inanna symbol sometimes looks like a comet", although he immediately assures us that "the similarity is not borne out by the more elaborate repre­sentations" and cites the photograph of a cylinder seal facing page 112 of A. Falkenstein and W. von Soden, Sumerische und Akkadische Hymnen und Gebete (Zurich: Artemis Veriag, 1953)--the same book that contains the German translation of the "hymn to Inanna" that Huber and Velikovsky debated at some length during the morn­ing session.  But Vaughan has called my attention to the fact that the similarity to a comet is borne out by the more elaborate repre­sentations of the Inanna symbol; and both Vaughan and Lewis Green­berg have called my attention to the fact that these more elaborate representations, which show the cometary Inanna symbol as a stand­ard made of bound reeds, appear on the cylinder seal cited by Huber and also on other cylinder seals and works of art from the same period.

A reproduction of the cylinder seal impression cited by Huber appears on page 111. Why does Huber say that such Inanna symbols are not similar to comets?  Each of the Inanna symbols that flank the other figures on this cylinder seal has a roundish head, and a gradually spreading tail that reaches a length several times the diameter of the head.  What more could one want?  Furthermore, this "more elaborate representation" is obviously the same symbol as the cometary Inanna symbol used on the tablets and on numerous other artifacts from Uruk.  Huber's source for his remarks about the Inanna symbol in the Uruk texts is, as already noted, Falkenstein's Archaische Texte aus Uruk.   Twelve principal variants of the Inanna symbol are given in that book; I have brought these together on page  111. The fact is that every one of them looks like a comet.  So why does Huber say that on the tablets "the Inanna symbol sometimes looks like a comet" (my emphasis), as if the similarity to a comet were only occasionally encountered?  Huber's "sometimes" and his "not borne out" are blatant distortions and misrepresentations of his own sources.  It is clear that Inanna was typically depicted as a comet.

Huber leads into his Uruk findings as follows:

"There are hardly any literary texts from the third millennium, and I certainly did not expect that it would be possible to trace the astral character of Inanna/Ishtar any further back than, say, to the dynasty of Akkad.  But a routine check of the assyriological literature on the older periods turned up a big surprise."

Indeed it did.  It must have been very discouraging for Huber, look­ing through records of early times for evidence of today's Venus, a peaceful inner planet, and unexpectedly finding himself instead with a giant comet by the tail!  But he seems to have stuck doggedly to his sophist's task of making the worse appear the better cause, and to have downplayed as best he could and to the degree he could the flood of evidence that he had found against the uniformitarian cause.  So he said "sometimes" where an emphatic "always" would have been the only appropriate description, and he tried to make us believe that "the similarity is not borne out by the more elaborate representations", where the fact of the matter is that the more elaborate representations are just as cometary in appearance as any of the cruder Inanna sym­bols.  Huber's reports are "just plainly wrong", and his efforts at subterfuge and cover-up are unsuccessful.  Huber was well aware of the Velikovskian import of the evidence that he found from Uruk.  And that is no doubt the real reason for his tendency--which we have noted previously--to be less than confident (and less than can­did) about the Uruk evidence.  It may also be the reason for his rash­ness and overeagerness, in replying to Ransom, to assure his listeners that "it cannot be a comet".

There are a number of indications in the "hymn to Inanna", as well, that we are dealing with an incandescent, cometary Venus, rather than with a peaceful inner planet.  Indeed, Inanna is associated with the Sun and the Moon, rather than with the planets.  These matters, too, Huber found it necessary to conceal from his audience.  But during the morning session, Velikovsky quoted the telling lines from the German translation of the hymn used by Huber:

"zur Nachtzeit sendet sie Licht aus wie der Mond, am Mittag sendet sie Licht aus wie die Sonne."

The hymn also refers to Inanna both as "die Herrin des Abends, die bis ans Ende des Himmels gross ist"

and as

"die Herrin des Morgens, die bis ans Ende des Himmels gross ist".

Inanna is also said to be "der 'fremdartige' Stem", and reference is made to "Inanna, die weithin wie die Sonne leuchtet".  There is also a reference to "das heilige Licht, das den Himmel erfüllt", and there is even mention of the "Honig" and the "Kuchen" that were offered by later peoples to Athena or Venus. (The German quotations are from Falkenstein and von Soden; the gist of the meaning will be indicated in the next paragraph.)

Velikovsky stressed all of these points in the A.A.A.S. debate.  We would do well to keep in mind the question that he kept asking, in various formulations, "Does it today?" The answer is clearly, "No.  Venus does not do such things today".  But Huber does not like to reply to such embarrassing questions; he studiously avoids them (See ROSE to VAUGHAN, February 25, 1974.) Let us therefor answer for him.  No, Venus does not today send out its light in the night time like the Moon.  No, Venus does not today send out its light at midday like the Sun.  No, neither as the Evening Star nor as the Morning Star is Venus today so large as to reach to the very end of the sky.  No, Venus does not today appear, in Velikovsky's trans­lation from the hymn, as "a star foreign to us", "not from this family" of planets.  No, Venus does not today shine as greatly as the Sun.  And no, Venus does not today fill the sky with its light.  Velikovsky also stressed in the morning session that this "hymn to Inanna" even contains elements of the later worship of Athena, whom Velikovsky identifies as the planet Venus: "Now, also here is spoken about honey and cakes being given to Inanna.  If it is Venus it would be exactly what was given later to Athena, and which is also observed in so many religious cults up to today."

Thus the "hymn to Inanna", like so many other ancient sources from all parts of the world, depicts a Venus that is not confined to the roles of evening and morning star, but is also seen in the night time (when at opposition?) and is seen even at midday.  Furthermore, Venus appears as a brilliant and large source of light, an incandescent body, capable on near approach to Earth of filling the sky.  The "hymn to Inanna" consistently and emphatically supports Velikovsky, not the unifor-mitarian establishment.

When properly assessed, and when seen with an open mind, the evidence introduced by Huber provides massive confirmation and support for Velikovsky's theories.  This is exactly the opposite of the result that Huber and his A.A.A.S. sponsors had in mind.

... to be continued.

[1].  ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.  This critique of Huber draws very heavily upon joint research and writing done during the past six years with Raymond C. Vaughan.  This is especially true of the Ninsianna section (to appear in a later installment), but there is no section of the paper that has not benefitted from Vaughan's valuable corrections, clarifications, and suggested additions of further materials.

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