Later in his essay Diderot tells us that the priests "spent their leisure in the study of arithmetic, geometry, and experimental physics"; but he seems uncertain as to just how far they had progressed in those subjects. Thus, for example, in astronomy he leaves it open whether Thales invented his method for predicting eclipses or learned it in Egypt, and he comments that the celestial observations of the Egyptians "owed their reputation only to the inaccuracy of those made everywhere else." Furthermore, "Pythagoras had long since ceased being [the priests'] disciple by the time he was engaged in investigating the relations between tonal intervals." As for Egyptian medicine, it was "a bundle of superstitious practices, highly convenient for mitigating the ineffectiveness of the remedies and the ignorance of the physicians. If the patient did not recover, it was because he had a bad conscience." What is reported about Egyptian chemistry is "scholarly nonsense; it has been proven that the issue of transmutation of metals was not raised before the reign of Constantine." Finally, "it cannot be denied that [the Egyptians] practiced judicial astrology for many years; but shall we respect them any the more for that?"
We are not, of course, concerned here with the accuracy of any of Diderot's observations. His chronology is a jumble throughout, and he had no access to genuine ancient Egyptian texts -- which he must have fully realized, for he tells us that most writings on Egyptian antiquities perished in the burning of the Alexandrian library and that "what is left is apocryphal, with the exception of a few fragments quoted in other works." His attitude, however, is clear enough: he is skeptical of Egyptian intellectual achievements and utterly contemptuous of the Egyptian religion, which he deems saddled with a great mass of imported superstitions: "there was no persecuted god on the face of the earth who would not find a refuge in an Egyptian temple." Diderot was no Egyptophile.
It is a most unfortunate characteristic of Bernal's approach to scholarly debate that he sees disagreement so frequently as blatantly driven by political ideology. It is not the claim of a pervasive role of such ideology in scholarship that I deplore (that is something I am quite prepared to entertain); it is rather the way in which he seemingly always hits on the most obvious, least subtle, ideological -- usually racist -- interpretations of his opponent's views.
Consider his objection to descriptions by John Boardman ( 1980, 149-51, 205) and Frank Snowden, Jr. ( 1976, 139-40) of one of the paintings on a remarkable black figure Greek vase (of the type called a hydria) from Caere in