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Martin Gardiner Bernal (born 1937) is a Professor Emeritus of Government and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell Universitymarker. He is a scholar of modern Chinesemarker political history. He is best known for his work Black Athena, which re-examines the origins of Ancient Greek culture and language.

Life and work

Martin Bernal was born in 1937 in Londonmarker, the son of the physicist John Desmond Bernal and artist Margaret Gardiner. He was educated at Dartington Hallmarker School, then at King's College, Cambridgemarker, where he was awarded a degree in 1961 with first-class Honours in the Oriental Tripos. At that time he specialised in the language and history of China, and spent some time at the Peking Universitymarker. He carried on as a graduate student at Cambridge, and with the assistance of the Harkness Commonwealth Fellowship also at University of California, Berkeleymarker and Harvard Universitymarker, finishing his PhD in Cambridge in 1965 when he was elected a fellow there.

Career

In 1972 Bernal moved to Cornell Universitymarker in New Yorkmarker, United Statesmarker. There he became a full professor in 1988. He taught there for the rest of his career, retiring in 2001.

Initially he taught Government Studies at Cornell, and continued his researches on modern Chinese history. Under the impact of the Vietnam War he had also developed an interest in Vietnamese history and culture, and learned the Vietnamese language.

From about 1975, however, Bernal underwent a radical shift in his interests. In his own words:
The scattered Jewish components of my ancestry would have given nightmares to assessors trying to apply the Nuremberg Laws, and although pleased to have these fractions, I had not previously given much thought to them or to Jewish culture.
It was at this stage that I became intrigued—in a Romantic way—in this part of my 'roots'.
I started looking into ancient Jewish history and— being on the periphery myself—into the relationship between the Israelites and the surrounding peoples, particularly the Canaanites and the Phoenicians.
I had always known that the latter spoke Semitic languages, but it came as quite a shock to learn that Hebrew and Phoenician were mutually intelligible and that serious linguists treated both as a dialect of a single Canaanite language.
During this time, I was beginning to study Hebrew and I found what seemed to me a number of striking similarities between it and Greek ...


Bernal came to the conclusion that ancient Greek accounts of Egyptian influence on their civilization should be taken seriously. He had been interested in ancient Egypt since childhood, in part inspired by his grandfather Sir Alan Gardiner. Bernal's new direction was strengthened by his discovery of the work of Cyrus Gordon and Michael Astour. In due course he wrote Black Athena.

Bernal also wrote the book Cadmean Letters, devoted to the origins of the Greek alphabet. He devoted his next twenty years to writing the next two volumes of Black Athena, with the second volume devoted to archaeological and documentary evidence, and the third to linguistic evidence. He also spent considerable time defending his work.

Bernal is married and has five children.

Books

  • (pamphlet)
  • (very critical response)


Notes

  1. CV on the Cornell University Website; Access date = 12 February 2009
  2. Black Athena, Vol I, Preface
  3. Black Athena, Vol III, Preface
  4. Volume I of Black Athena was first published by Free Association Books in the UK. Rutgers then published it in the USA. Subsequent volumes were issued by both companies in parallel.


References

  • Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Martin Bernal." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature. Ed. Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey, Jr. 5 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 114-15.


External links




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