John E. Coleman
By many other statements like these [about similarities between Egyptian and Athenian practices], spoken more out of a love for glory than with regard for the truth, as I see the matter, [the Egyptians] claim Athens as a colony of theirs because of the fame of that city. In general, the Egyptians say that their ancestors sent forth numerous colonies to many parts of the inhabited world, by reason of the pre-eminence of their former kings and their excessive population; but since they offer no precise proof whatsoever for these statements, and since no historian worthy of credence testifies in their support, we have not thought that their accounts merited recording.
-- Diodorus Siculus 1.29 ( 1st cent. B.C.E.; trans. Oldfather 1933, 97)
Two of the four projected volumes of Black Athena, Martin Bernal's sweeping study of Greek civilization and prehistory, have appeared. The work is receiving wide media attention for its message that "Afroasiatic roots" were basic in the formation of classical Greek culture and that these roots have been ignored because of a prevailing racist vision of an ancient Greece unblemished by African and Semitic cultural debts. But is Bernal's picture of Greek history accurate, and are his accusations of racist distortions true?
At the outset, let me note that nobody would now maintain that Greece developed in a vacuum. Influences and borrowing have long been recognized. That the Greeks derived their alphabet, for instance, from the Phoenicians was acknowledged by some classical Greeks 1 and has always been accepted