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Open letter to science editors


KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 2

Some Preliminary Remarks About Thera and Atlantis

L. M. Greenberg's article on Thera and Atlantis ("Atlantis," Pensee VI, Winter 1973-74, pp. 51ff.) drew my attention for several reasons, among which are my background in classical literature, my excavation experience in Greece, my first-hand perusal of some of the finds from Thera, my own keen interest in East Mediterranean trading links in the early 18th Dynasty of Egypt, my knowledge of Velikovsky's work on cosmology, and my research on the revised chronology. I made my views known to the author, as soon as I learned of his work, as he later acknowledged at the McMaster University symposium on Velikovsky's work held this past summer in Hamilton, Ontario. Additionally, Professor Greenberg has requested that I relay some observations to the readers of KRONOS. This is a very generous offer since it allows me to give some conclusions which I plan to document in an expanded article at a later time. It is, furthermore, especially noteworthy that this journal's editor encourages me to make remarks that do not coincide with his own assessments in his earlier article. It seems particularly important to remember certain facts about the dating of Thera's Late Bronze Age volcanic eruption, since several Velikovskians have seized upon this event as confirmation for a 15th century global cataclysm probably caused by a Venusian near-collision, and a likely triggering device for the miracles of the Exodus, including the days of darkness, the pillars of smoke and fire, and the splitting of the Sea of Passage. This notion does not square with Velikovskian cosmology or chronology for four major reasons.

First, Thera's explosion is dated to the 15th-century by the standard chronology. The event is firmly fixed in the Late Minoan I ceramic phase of the nearby island of Crete. This is equally firmly correlated with the early 18th Dynasty of Egypt, particularly the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, who arc traditionally assigned to the early 15th century. If Velikovsky's reconstructed chronology is valid, these two rulers belong in the 10th century B. C., as does the Late Minoan I period, as does the eruption of Thera.

It is true that a highly-publicized radiocarbon test on Theran wood provided a date in keeping with the standard chronological assessment, but it must be pointed out that that date does not fit well after the application of the bristlecone calibration ( a system actually not trusted by this writer). Furthermore, other radiocarbon dates have been determined which would make the eruption younger. One such test is published but unjustifiably disparaged,(1) while still others remain officially unreported. The one highly-touted test result, then, does not work for those who accept the calibration, nor is it typical of the other radiocarbon findings. In any case, with all the "dead" carbon spewed out by the erupting volcano, it would seem unwise to trust any "old" carbon dates, and even the relatively young ones could appear too old from the impregnation of dead carbon.(2)

Second, as to this being part of a global convulsion, more recent investigations of the event reveal that the eruption was an isolated occurrence, and was not nearly as destructive of nearby lands as had been claimed.(3) Third and fourth, regarding Venus and the Exodus, Velikovsky has the former pass very near the earth giving impetus to the latter at the end of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt = the Middle Minoan II ceramic period of Crete. This would fall some two centuries earlier than Thera erupted by the standard chronology and closer to five centuries earlier than that event by the revised chronology. Additionally, the ash fall from the volcano appears to have petered out before reaching Egypt (hence no days of darkness), and the gigantic waves (tsunamis), postulated for the splitting of the sea and its crashing return, cannot be proved to have been generated, nor is it necessary that an eruption of this type produce such waves. Now this dissociation of Thera from the Exodus and interplanetary perturbations hardly damages any basic cosmological or chronological ideas, since powerful volcanoes like Vesuvius and Krakatoa, and, more recently, the Pacific and Icelandic examples can and do erupt without being triggered by celestial near-collisions.

Moreover, it is possible that events described by King David, specifically earthquake, flood, smoke, fire, darkness, "hailstones and coals of fire" (II Sam. 22:5-19 and Ps. 18:5-18) may reflect the Theran eruption, provided that the passages are not metaphorical, and the date is not somewhat too early.

With specific reference to Atlantis, Plato's account might retain a kernel of the memory of the Theran explosion, but even this is open to serious doubt. According to Plato, Atlantis was a tremendous land mass in the Atlantic Ocean, supporting a semi-fabulous civilization as well as elephants; it sank in floods and earthquakes long before the flood of Deucalion, in fact, some 9,000 years before Solon lived (i.e., ca. 9600 B.C. ); and was submerged and invisible by the 6th century B.C. In order to equate this account with the eruption of Thera, one would need to discount the semi-fabulous part; shrink a huge island to a tiny one; physically transport it from the Atlantic Ocean to the East Mediterranean; change its mode of destruction from quake and flood to massive volcanic explosion; divide the 9,000 years by 10 without any textual justification and despite its "ring of truth" (not as real history but as the very type of thing that Egyptians of that day told the Greeks),(4) then, still subtract 500 years from this figure to fit the revised chronology; and explain why an island which is and always has been perfectly visible, and which, in the 6th century B.C., supported a vigorous population of seafarers was said to be totally submerged. Plato's references to the Atlanteans' conquest of Western Europe and North Africa are archaeologically undetectable for any period, and the statement that Athens then ruled Greece seems untrue for any time much earlier than Plato's own day both according to archaeology and authentic Greek legends.

Again it is important to recall that the starting point for Plato's account is that Atlantis was destroyed long before Deucalion lived. To link Atlantis' demise with a Venus fly-by, however, one would have to synchronize the Theran eruption with the flood of Deucalion since Velikovsky accepts him as a contemporary of the Exodus. If Deucalion did live ca. 1500 B.C., then Thera's eruption date, adjusted to the revised chronology, would fall ca. 500 years later, not at the same time, let alone much earlier, as Plato claimed. But, in fact, Deucalion, by the revised scheme, cannot stay in ca. 1500 B.C. to be synchronous with the Exodus either. The ancient calculation of his date was made under the assumption that the Trojan War was fought in the early 12th century B.C., since, combining statements from Hesiod (Catal. 1-13) and Homer (Iliad 6.153-206), our most ancient sources, Deucalion lived six generations earlier than Nestor and seven generations earlier than Glaukos and Nestor's son Antilochos, all of whom fought at Troy. Velikovsky would bring that war down to the 8th century B.C. (i.e., shortly before Hesiod's and Homer's time, if there ever was such a war); hence Deucalion would also need to be downdated.

Furthermore, while it is true that the chronographer Africanus put Deucalion ca. 1500 B.C., it is also true that he did so because Deucalion was viewed as a contemporary of Manetho's 1 8th Dynasty king Misphragmuthosis (obviously Menkheperre Thutmosis=Thutmose III) whom he incorrectly dated that early. Velikovsky's bringing down the 18th Dynasty by some 500-plus years, specifically making Thutmose III a 10th-century personality, necessitates Deucalion's downdating by the same amount of time. He may have been a contemporary of Thera; the flood may have been caused by the eruption; but neither his flood nor that eruption can go back to the 15th century by the revised chronology.(5)

The portion of the Atlantis myth most beloved by Velikovskian catastrophists, to wit, the reference to celestial perturbations causing terrestrial destructions by fire seems derived from the Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor(6), wherein a falling star almost totally consumed the blissful population of an island which later vanished beneath the sea. This tale is set in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, earlier than the Theran eruption and even somewhat earlier than Velikovsky's placement of the Exodus.

With all these and other problems, it seems very unwise to alter Plato's account so much in order to save a pet theory. If one so drastically discounts large portions of the tale, he might as well reject its historicity in toto (as many have done). It seems, then, that Deucalion should not be a contemporary of Moses, that Thera did not erupt at the time of the Exodus, nor should it be equated with Plato's Atlantis. Anyone wishing to synchronize or equate all these events would need to reject archaeological data, most of Plato's expository statements, and Velikovsky's revised chronology.(7) With specific regard to the last of these, as Professor Stiebing has noted (Pensee, X, Winter 1974-75, p. 25), to a large extent, Velikovsky's cosmology depends on his chronology. One should always bear this in mind when working with the latter but especially when dealing with the former.


1. The sample came from beneath a layer of volcanic debris over 30 m. thick. Since it yielded a date too young for the eruption by the standard chronology, it was said to have been contaminated by humic acid. It is very doubtful that water containing young carbon would have seeped through such a thick filter of volcanic ejecta to impregnate the wood. If anything; the sample was more exposed to whatever dead carbon may have been present in the thick debris overlying it. I intend to treat this case more fully in the future.

2. Ash from the same eruPtion fell into the sea southeast of the volcano but produced carbon dates much older than any from Thera itself. Results from Crete also give conflicting dates for the same period. It is likely that the dead carbon belched into the air is responsible for this.

3. The scholar who has done most to document the lack of evidence for violent 15th century upheavals in the East Mediterranean is Leon Pomerance. He would, in fact date Thera's major eruption later in order to explain the destructions in Greece of the Late Helladic IIIB period (currently set at ca. 1200 B.C.I, and the ensuing Dark Age. There is solid evidence from Greece, Crete and Thera itself to support an eruption in the LM I period, and only inference for one in LH IIIB. By Velikovsky-s scheme, the 15th century eruption moves down to the 10th century, and the 1200 B.C. destructions in Greece are likewise downdated by ca. S00 years, eliminating the Dark Age. Velikovsky, like Pomerance, would have these due to earth shocks rather than invaders, but would attribute these not to Thera but to close approaches of the planet Mars. The fall of the "Hittite Empire" and the woes recorded by.Ramses III of Egypt, both currently set at ca. 1200 B.C., would be redated to the mid 6th and early 4th centuries B.C. respectively.

4. Plato's chronological framework is a real set of problems. He claims that Atlantis was destroyed long before Deucalion's flood (Timaeus 22 A-B, 23 B-C; Critias 112 A). In fact, the entire tale is elicited to prove how little the Greeks knew of events prior to Deucalion. At the same time, he has the event occulr in the days of the Athenian king Cecrops (Critias 110 A). Cecrops, according to the chronological scheme set down in the 3rdcentury B. C. inscription from the island of Paros, was a contemporary of Deucalion. both of them living in the early 16th century B.C. (see J. Forsdyke, Greece Before Homer, London 1956. p. 52), Even adherents to the standard chronology would bring down the chronicle's dates for Homer, Hesiod and the introduction of coinage by at least 200 years, while the revised chronology necessitates the radical downdating of still earlier events (e.g., the 16th century Cadmos should belong to the 9th century, the 12th century Trojan War should fall in the 8th century). Cecrops and Deucalion must also come down centuries in time. As to the 9,000 years, it is easy enough to show that this figure was not due to a scribal error. Furthermore. the Egyptian priest said that Atlantis perished 1,000 years before Athena blessed Egypt with civilization, which occurred some 8,000 years before Solon (Timaeus 23 El. Aside from the very real question of how Egyptians recorded that event before they had a civilization and a writing system, and the legitimate objection that Egyptian civilization does not stretch back that far by anyone's standards, what of those numbers? If they are to be divided by 10, would any Egyptian of the 6th century say his civilization was only 800 years old? By the standard chronology Athena would have blessed Egypt with civilization only towards the end of the 18th Dynasty. By the revised chronology that blessing would have fallen during the days of the Hyksos incursion, which, in fact, put a damper on Egyptian civilization. By anyone's chronology this falls centuries after the erection of Egypt's greatest monuments to civilization, the Pyramids and Sphinx. Furthermore, when Herodotus visited Egypt ca. 150 years after Solon, he was told (Book 11.142) that Egypt's first king ruled 341 generations or 11,340 years before the start of the 26th Dynasty (ca. 11,440 years before Solon). Granted that the priests lied to Herodotus, still the Egyptians did tell such tales to the Greeks. The figure 9,000 years fits that pattern better than does 900. The latter number, would, by the new chronology, have to be reduced by some 500 years, even if it were acceptable. Similarly, the Egyptian priest Manetho, who wrote two centuries after Herodotus, began Egyptian civilization thousands of years before Solon. He spoke of a 9,000-year reign of the god Hephaestus (W. G. Waddell, Manetho, London, 1940, p. 151. It is also problematic that while Plato once (Tim. 23E) says that the Atlantean destruction occurred 9,000 years before Solon, he twice (Crit. 108E, 111A) says it happened 9,000 years before his own day. The ca. 200 years separating Plato from Solon are insignificant when 9,000 years are at stake, but form a very important discrepancy if only 900 years are involved, as it would put Atlantis' demise ca. 1300 B.C., not ca. 1500 B.C., thereby offering a totally new problem. It seems best, then to take the story on its own terms, however confused they may be. and have Atlantis destroyed long before Deucalion (despite the mention of Cecrops), and to leave those 9,000 years intact.

5. This section was expanded (to include Glaukos and Misphragmuthosis) from the version originally submitted after this writer learned of the work independently done on this matter by D. A. Courville in The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications, Vol. II (Loma Linda, Calif., 1971), pp. 282-284.

6. The late Professor S. Marinatos convincingly pointed out the derivation of the Atlantis myth from this tale in 1950 in the Kretika Chronika, reprinted in an English translation as "Some Words about the Legend of Atlantis" (Athens, 1971), p, 15. It seems that both Marinatos and Velikovsky at about the same time. but independent of one another, opted to divide Plato-s 9.000 years by 10 the one in order to synchronize Atlantis' demise with the standard date of the LMI Cretan catastrophes, the other to synchronize it with the Exodus.

7. When dealing with Plato's tale or any other secondary account, it is not necessary or even advisable that one either wholeheartedly embrace every statement or else reject the entire account. There is, of course, a middle ground. Still, it is always best to theorize on the basis of what ancient texts say, not what they can be made to say especially when the deletions and changes required are both drastic and numerous Regarding temporal relations, it may be possible to synchronize Deucalion's flood with Thera's eruption. Similarly. if, despite the reservations expressed in fn. 4 above, the reduction of 9,000 years to 900 is valid, and reference to Cecrops is scrapped, Atlantis' destruction (if there ever was such an event) would be centuries earlier than Deucalion's flood, as Plato says, and could be contemporary with the Exodus. If the mention of Cecrops is retained and the repeated claims that Atlantis perished before Deucalion are scrapped, this could be contemporary with Thera's eruption: nevertheless, under the revised chronology, this would have occurred ca. 400 not 900 Years before Solon, and, even then the explicit geographical details prohibit an equation of Atlantis with Thera. If the 9,000 years arc kept intact, Atlantis would have vanished long before Deucalion, as Plato says. but also long before the Exodus. Whatever the case, the revised chronology will not allow all four events (the Exodus, Deucalion's flood, Thera's eruption, and Atlantis' disappearance) to have occurred at the same time, and necessitates a lapse of some 500 years between the Exodus (at the end of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt) and Thera's eruption (in the early 18th Dynasty).

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