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Open letter to science editors


Duane Vorhees

"Catastrophism has in recent years emerged as an interesting and respectable
alternative to theories based on a uniformitarian viewpoint of planetary
history. While we do not necessarily subscribe to Velikovsky's reconstruction
of events in the Solar System within historic times, we do recognize
Velikovsky's central contribution in establishing the possible role of
catastrophic events as an important aspect of any interpretation of the past
... We would urge the scientific community, in the best tradition of free
inquiry, to pursue with open mind the challenge presented by Velikovsky.

Lynn Trainor (Physics Department, Toronto University), McMaster University
symposium on Velikovsky, June 17, 1974

Worlds in Collision ... will be seen as the first effort to present a truly
cosmic history of our species.... New sciences such as psycho)history,
archaeoastronomy and geomythology (while subsidiary to Velikovsky's main
thesis, yet deriving almost all of their validity from unarticulated
assumptions originating in his thinking) will now lead the way to a
completion of the task that he began in uncovering the substance of our past

Vine Deloria, Jr. (American Indian Studies, Arizona State University), "Dr.
Immanuel Velikovsky Tributes," SIS Review 4, 4 (Spring 1980), 78)79.^F^

The European focuses on the structural determinants of thought; the American,
on the social and psychological consequences of the diffusion of opinion.
The one centers on the source, the other on the result. The European asks,
how does it come to be that these particular ideas appear at all; the American
asks, once introduced, how do these ideas affect behavior? This study
attempts to be an ecumenical synthesis of the two, although its thrust is
decidedly "European" (with the disclaimer that it assumes no absolute
determinism; Velikovsky was not "just" a cultural product). The "American"
portion is a secondary focus, dealt with as Part Three, in part because
Velikovsky's full impact on American culture is perhaps not yet fully
apparent. He has, however, had some impact: for instance, National Book Award
poet Robert Bly once admitted that Velikovsky "had a great influence on my
view of things" [Ferte 1974: 7], and avant-garde composer Philip Glass wrote
the music for a Velikovskian-inspired opera, Akhnaton. The specific factors
that concern me in this study are alluded to in its title: Velikovsky's
"Jewish Science."

originally this was a euphemism for psychoanalysis used by Velikovsky's own
training analyst, Wilhelm Stekel, as in his letter to Chaim Weizmann that
comprises the epigraph of this chapter. In no sense is this term intended to
imply any exclusive set of conditions (such as Frederic Grunfeld's [1979]
notion of a transition from ghetto isolation to cosmopolitan freedom and
subsequent position as marginal intelligentsia or John Cuddihy's [1974] idea
of modernization-induced culture shock) accounting for the phenomenal
creativity and innovation of several very remarkable Jews; my study is
confined to a single individual. Nor is this term, "Jewish science," to be
regarded as intending any racial, ethnic, or cultural denigration, and no Jew
should have cause to suspect that he is believed to share any of Velikovsky's
particular notions; nor, on the other hand, should any gentile think that
Velikovsky's cataclysmic paradigm is irrelevant to his own belief structure
(indeed, contrary to Velikovsky's purpose, much of the Velikovskian approach
has been coopted by some "scientific creationists" in their own struggle
against modernity). The Jewish Science in this essay has very little to do
with its reception, but much to do with its conception.

I use the term Jewish Science here in a special sense with two separate
denotations as both process and product. It refers to the preconditions of
Velikovsky's unique conceptualizations and especially the preconditions as
manifested by (1) his father, who largely personified for Velikovsky (2) a
unique strand in the Jewish tradition generally, and by (3) psychoanalysis
and it also refers to the specific formulations themselves, their peculiar
methodological basis, their particular expressions or conclusions, and their
ultimate purpose or function as a legitimate alternate worldview. Immanuel
Velikovsky felt his Jewishness to be an especially important component of his
psychological makeup. Through the wife of his grandfather Jacob Velikovsky,
he believed he could trace his descent from Ezra the Scribe-

"whose role in creating rabbinical Judaism cannot be overestimated. He was
the editor of the Pentateuch and possibly the author of those parts of it that
are known as the Priestly Codex; it is conceivable that he edited the books
of Kings and Chronicles and it is also assumed that he had his hand in
composing the books that go under the names of Nehemiah and Ezra. He was
guided by the vision of the past, the misty time of the patriarchs, the days
and years when the nation, led by Moses, went through its most sublime
period. He also carried with him from exile the vision of the future role of
Israel. He introduced the reading of the Torah (Pentateuch) in public; he
instituted the feast of Tabernacles (Succoth). More than any other prophet,
priest, or scribe, he carries the responsibility for the form that Judaism
took and preserved through the days of the Second Commonwealth and through the
nineteen centuries of dispersion (Diaspora) among the nations" [Velikovsky
1977a: 49-50. Paragraphing altered].

It was also Ezra, or perhaps a later pseudepigrapher, who portrayed the events
at Mt. Sinai, when Moses received the Torah, in suitably Velikovskian terms:
"Thou didst bow down the heavens, didst make the earth quake, and convulsed
the world. Thou didst cause the deeps to tremble and didst alarm the spheres"
[Box: 1913].

In light of this, one could say (if one wished) that Velikovsky seemed to have
even a genetic disposition toward catastrophism, particularly given his own
rather Lamarckian views on the subject of acquired genetic characteristics
within the psyche; or, more plausibly perhaps, one could claim that these
apocalyptic words ascribed to his own ancestor, and possibly drummed into his
psyche by his father's ministrations, may have had a subtle but profound
influence upon his imagination. Through Jacob's wife also Immanuel traced his
line back to another great codifier, Joseph ben Ephraim Caro (1488-1575). In
his Beit Yosef (1522)42), a commentary upon a fourteenth)century Jewish law
book, and in his Shulhan\d\Arukh (1565), a digest of his own earlier work but
this time containing only the binding rulings, Caro "provided a summary of all
the talmudic sources and important post-talmudic opinions ... on every
halakhic [legal] issue of practical relevance;" the Shulhan Arukh, in
particular, came to be regarded as "the definitive code of traditional Jewish
law, the last and most authoritative comprehensive summation of Jewish
practice" for orthodox Jews throughout the world until the present time
[Seltzer 1980: 459]. This self-consciously Jewish tradition which I see as
being at the center of the origins of Velikovskianism was probably imprinted
most strongly onto his personality, however, by Jacob Velikovsky's son
(Immanuel's father) Simon. He was born in Lithuania in 1861, just as the
Jewish Enlightenment movement was coming into full bloom there. The first
Hebrew novel in Russia was published in Lithuania in 1854 and the first
modern Hebrew weeklies began appearing early in Aleksandr II's reign

Young Simon went secretly to the Mir yeshiva to become a rabbi but abandoned
his studies under the secularizing influence of the Enlightenment. As an
adult he became a rather typical Russian maskil, or enlightener: he was a
champion of science and other modern intellectual trends, advocated a
practical education including the study of languages (except Yiddish), and
adopted a modern lifestyle )) like others of his class, he became a well-to-
do merchant (according to a family legend he owned the first automobile in
Vitebsk). But he never abandoned his love for his Jewish heritage,
particularly since he must have regarded himself as a scion, through his
mother, of some of its most important manifestations. So, unlike many other
maskilim of his generation, he became an ardent Zionist and spent the last
half century or more of his life promoting that ideal. It is impossible, I
think, to underestimate the influence Simon had upon Immanuel, his youngest
son, who dedicated what he regarded as his greatest accomplishment to him.
0ne of the truly remarkable aspects of the dedication is how closely Immanuel
associated his father with an entire legacy; they are coupled in nearly every

I want to say in a few sentences who Simon Yehiel Velikovsky was. From the
day when, at the age of thirteen, he left the home of his parents and went on
foot to one of the old centers of talmudic learning in Russia, to the day
when, in December 1937, at the age of seventy-eight, he ended his years in the
land of Israel, he devoted his life, his fortune, his peace of mind, all that
he had, to the realization of what was once an idea, the renaissance of the
Jewish people in its ancient land. He contributed to the revival of the
language of the Bible and the development of modern Hebrew by publishing (with
Dr. J. Klausner as editor) collective works on Hebrew philology, and to the
revival of Jewish scientific thought by publishing, through his foundation,
Scripta Universitatis, to which scientists of many countries contributed and
thus laid the groundwork for Hebrew University at Jerusalem. He was the
first to redeem the land in the Negeb, the home of the patriarchs, and he
organized a co-operative settlement there which he called Ruhama; today it is
the largest agricultural development in northern Negeb. I do not know whom I
have to thank for intellectual preparedness for this reconstruction of
ancient history if not my late father...

[Velikovsky 1952: xi].

The final sentence is significant indeed in the context of the present essay.
I would like to emphasize, however, that, no matter how single-mindedly I
pursue the "Jewish Science" theme here, I have no doubt whatsoever that
Velikovsky (just like the rest of us) was not a unidirectionally motivated
individual. Nevertheless, as an organizing principle, the theme explains
much about the man's ideational disposition. As a youth he was victimized by
Russian anti-Semitic policies at the same time that his own ethnic identity
was being vindicated by his ambitious, strong-willed father. As an adult he
helped that father achieve some of the Zionist goals he had set himself,
especially by editing the Scripta Universitatis project referred to above.
Still later, after the death of the father and his separation from Palestine,
he felt he had to come to grips with the demons of Nazism; it was during the
years that Adolf Hitler seemed most unstoppable that Velikovsky reached his
most fundamental insights into the ancient past, and it was in the years
immediately after the Holocaust, at the very time when the Jews were creating
an independent homeland, that he worked them into their final form. As J. H.
Plumb [1971: 41] has remarked, "During ... a time of conflict, the past has to
be fought for as well as the present. Authority, once achieved, must have a
secure and usable past."

So the primacy of Jewish culture (including a precocious knowledge of such
modern phenomena as radium and hypnotism [Velikovsky 1946, 1983]) had to be
affirmed in the face of near annihilation. So the historical achievements of
the Jews must be brought to the forefront of mankind's collective
consciousness, and the Jews must once again be seen as the bearers of a
profoundly important message. So also, perhaps, Immanuel Velikovsky (who not
only thought that he embodied a great deal of Jewish history and culture in
his own person but who was also given his very name out of Simon's belief or
hope that the son would be the long-awaited messiah) must plumb the depths of
the past and tell us, anew, the significance of the Exodus and other world-
historical events. In his view, as we shall see, the Bible itself was not yet
a closed book; it would only take some new consensus to expand the canon so
that it would contain an updated revelation of the underlying message of the
cosmos, which perhaps would even consist of his own Book of Immanuel.
However, unlike the great codifiers from whom he claimed descent, Velikovsky
was a grand iconoclast who defied rather than deified authority.

This discussion of continuing revelation presents us with an important
methodological analogy. According to the rabbinical teachings that emerged
after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, God revealed the written Torah, the
first five books of the 0ld Testament, to Moses all at once at Mount Sinai,
and this biblical core was later further developed into the entire 0ld
Testament by the other prophets, psalmists, and chroniclers. But at the same
time God also revealed an oral Torah to Moses which still continues to make
itself manifest through the unceasing interpretation and reinterpretation of
the entire Bible and of the various rabbinic commentaries upon it; indeed,
even the principles of interpretation itself were handed down at Mount Sinai.
Revelation then, practically speaking, is a never-ending process.

According to Jacob Neusner [1975: 39], "The chief glory of the commentators
is their hiddash, "novelty." The hiddash constitutes a scholastic
disquisition upon a supposed contradiction between two earlier authorities,
chosen from any period, with no concern for how they might in fact relate
historically, and upon a supposed harmonization of their "contradiction." 0r
a new distinction might be read into an ancient law, upon which basis ever
more questions might be raised and solved."

Therefore, the talmudists developed an ahistorical method of textual exegesis
through which they could examine one scriptural passage in the light of some
other passage or even noncanonical exegesis. A famous instance of this is in
the commentary of the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 1:1 [Freedman and Simon 1939],
which interprets the words-In the beginning God created the heavens and the
earth-on the basis of Proverbs 8:30-Then I was by Him, as a nursling [amon];
and I was daily all delight-in order to justify the theological concept of
Torah as an eternal blueprint for all existence. Because the Hebrew script
lacks vowels, amon is written the same as the word for workman, uman, so the
explication of the textual meaning of Genesis is as follows: The Torah thus
declared: "I was the working tool of the Holy 0ne, blessed be He." In human
practice, when a mortal king builds a palace, he builds it not with his own
skill but with the skill of an architect. The architect moreover does not
build it out of his own head, but employs plans and diagrams to know how to
arrange the chambers and the wicket doors. Thus God consulted the Torah and
created the world, while the Torah declares In the beginning god created.
Beginning referring to the Torah, as in the verse, The Lord made me as the
beginning of His way. (Prov. 8:22)

It does not take much research to discover the same sort of "rabbinic" method
in some of Velikovsky's own reconstructions. Bob Forrest [1983)1984: 149-
51], for instance, has already discussed one of these passages without,
however, noting its larger, talmudic, context: In one case Velikovsky used
another passage from the Midrash Rabbah, a commentary on Numbers 28:2, in
order to prove that Venus was originally a comet: "the brilliant light of
Venus blazes from one end of the cosmos to the other end," is the way he
translates a portion of the text in question [Velikovsky 1950: 164-65].
Apparently he has just imposed a new hiddush upon an older one, which in turn
was an interpretation based on Isaiah 4:5-The Lord will create over the whole
habitation of mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day,
and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory shall be a
canopy. According to the standard English version of the midrash:

"...the Holy 0ne, blessed be He, will in the future prepare for every single
righteous man a canopy of clouds of glory .... What is the use of smoke under
a canopy? Whosoever sets fuming and evil eyes upon disciples in this world,
his canopy will be filled with smoke in the World to Come. What is the use of
fire under a canopy? We are informed by this that the canopy of every
righteous man will be scorched by the fire from the canopy of the one who is
superior to him. The expression "shining" indicates that its brilliance will
shine from one end of the world to the other [Freedman and Simon 1939.
Emphasis added].

Velikovsky's translation of Rabbah hinges on the Hebrew word noga, usually
translated in this case as "shining" or "brilliant." But the word is also
part of the name for Venus, the "shining planet," Kokab Noga. Even though
noga does not always refer to Venus, Velikovsky [1950: 175, n 3] concludes
that Isaiah meant the planet. In fact, he goes even further and relates Noga
to the Hindu snake gods (naga), which were, therefore, probably also comets.
It was that sort of word-play that prompted William F. Albright [1952: 6], the
leading orientalist of his day, to place Velikovsky's methodology on the
level of the "slightly addled New England professor who identified Moses with
Middlebury by dropping '-oses' and adding '-iddlebury.'" But Velikovsky's
application of a rabbinistic method to historiography, as radical or
inappropriate as it may seem to others, is not at all a new approach. In
fact, it was appealed to in 1782 by Naftali Zvi Weisel (the first genuine
Jewish historian since Josephus in the first century) as the justification
for historical scholarship itself:

It is fitting that those who go to the house of study also learn the order of
the generations and the events that have occurred ... for this knowledge
helps one to understand the words of the Torah .... but in the eyes of anyone
not versed in the ancient chronicles all these things are like a dream with no
interpretation [in Yerushalmi 1982: 82].

Modern-day dream interpretation, as derived from psychoanalysis, constitutes
the last of the major keys for understanding Velikovsky's "Jewish Science."
Velikovsky was the very first to open a psychoanalytic practice in Palestine
(which in itself is a surprising fact, given the closely symbiotic nature that
is usually assumed to exist between Jewry and Stekel's "Jewish science."
Velikovsky did not initiate the profession in the Holy Land until 1933, only
a year before Erich Neumann began practicing C. G. Jung's rival, "gentile,"
method of analytical psychology there). Since he was the only practicing
analyst there until he left in 1939, he was apparently the "Dr. S." referred
to by Arnold Zweig in the novelist's letters to Freud. He was also one of the
first to explicitly trace back some of Freud's Traumdeutung concepts to
practices described in the tractate Berakoth, written in the early centuries
of the Christian era [Velikovsky 1933]. But for our present purposes a
slightly later contribution to dream theory [Velikovsky 1934] should be
looked at for the light it casts on Velikovsky's use of source material.

Based on twenty-one of his own clinical cases Velikovsky developed a rather
complex technique for analyzing multi-language dreamwork. 0ne of his
patients, a Russian Jew like himself, dreamt that mice were rummaging through
his body; Velikovsky's interpretation, that the analysand had pangs of
conscience, was based entirely on a linguistic method. The Hebrew phrase
mussar klajoth (conscience in the bowels or kidneys) is more concrete than
its Russian cognate ugrisenia sovesti (the gnawing of conscience). In order
to operationalize the idea symbolically, the dreamer's unconscious
represented the "gnawers" as rodents (derived from the Latin root rodo, "I
gnaw"): "In a fusion of these two tongues, the rodents or gnawers ... came
into the bowels...." The language of the unconscious, according to
Velikovsky, can be deduced through a proper analysis of the wordplay in a
dream. Sometimes more than one language is employed, as in the case above,
but often a single language is used consistently. A particularly complex
wordplay was represented in the dream of a Jew who was involved in a lawsuit
against his Arab neighbors over a plot of land and was considering running a
road through the property in order to strengthen his claim. He dreamed that
mice fell into a pail and were jumping around, trying to get out through a
hole in the lid; so the man covered the hole with a piece of tile. The Jew
was suffering from anxiety neurosis, according to Velikovsky, and transferred
his psychic affect onto his lawsuit because of five phonetic coincidences: A
popular euphemism for getting into trouble was lipol b'pach (to fall into a
pail); achbar (mice) sounds like the Arabic chbar (litigant); kofzim means
both "those who jump around" and "applicants," just as r'zif is the root for
both tile and road; and hor (hole) is the shortened form of Hor al-Wasa, the
Arabic name for the disputed territory.

From Velikovsky's research he concluded that the unconscious can communicate
with itself in three ways: through the mechanism of wordplay, through idea-
play, and through symbols. Wordplay is language-bound and therefore not
determined by hereditary transmission, since even a language acquired as an
adult (like Hebrew was for many Jews of his generation due to its recent
revival as a vernacular language) could perform its function subliminally.
Idea-plays are language-based but not language-bound; they are constructed on
the basis of meaning rather than sound and therefore retain their
associations even in translation. But symbols are nonlingual in nature; they
depend on similarities of form, quality, function, or manner of origin to be
effective communicative tools; and they link the psychic experiences of
consecutive generations (they are phylogenetic). In his later work
Velikovsky would implicitly employ these early assumptions in all of his
interpretations of "historical" texts; for him these texts were always either
literal descriptions of actual events or else accurate folk memories of them,
never mere allegories or metaphors. It is also reasonable to note that,
given the assumptions and methods of its practitioners, archeological
metaphors have often come naturally to psychoanalysts.

The tendency became apparent even as early as 1895 in Freud's description of
the case of Elisabeth von R. in Studies in Hysteria, and was carried forward
by many of his later followers, including Theodor Reik, 0tto Rank, and
Immanuel Velikovsky [1978a; 1950a: viii]:

"My beginning was with the 0ld Testament ... Maybe the years that I spent on
psychoanalysis were not lost. I was surprised to see things so obvious )) as
sometimes in my room, my office room, when I heard [a] story of a patient and
so obvious was the situation and the man was blind to it. The task I had to
accomplish was not unlike that faced by a psychoanalyst who, out of
disassociated memories and dreams, reconstructs a forgotten traumatic
experience in the early life of an individual. In an analytical experiment
on mankind, historical inscriptions and legendary motifs often play the same
role as recollections (infantile memories) and dreams in the analysis of a

What I have tried to do over the past several pages is lay the foundation for
what I see as the triadic base for the "Jewish Science" of Velikovsky: Faith,
Father, and Freud. To be more precise, since the Jewish tradition is very
rich and complex and includes many aspects which do not seem to impinge in any
obvious way on Velikovsky's heretical ideas, the base is a somewhat truncated
triangle with two of its legs nearly parallel: aside from the rather separate
Freudian leg that links them, then, we have only particular faith as it is
funneled through and reflected by the father. (Martin Buber [1958: 45] made a
similar distinction when he noted that Yahweh referred to himself to Moses
not only as "the God of the Fathers" but also explicitly as "the God of thy
Father.") In Part 0ne I will present that "science" as product, or as a
system of historical reconstruction; in Part Two I will return to the
biographical application of Velikovsky's triad before recounting in Part Three
the catalytic influence Velikovsky has had on the conceptual climate of late
twentieth-century America. But I have left until the end of the present
chapter my apologia for conducting this study in the first place: what is the
importance of the Velikovsky phenomenon?

His followers have an immediate answer to the question: he should be studied
because he is right and the rest of us have much we can learn from him. But
I am not a Velikovskian, I am at most a historian of Velikovskianism. In the
past I have tried to justify my interest by presenting a Popular Culture
argument: Velikovsky is important because almost continuously since 1950 he
has been at the center of a bitter but multiform argument, conducted through
an almost staggering variety of popular and technical journals and books
serving a wide array of interests and attitudes; because all of his books
remained in print until Velikovsky died and because his most popular works
(Worlds in Collision, Earth in Upheaval, and Ages in Chaos) went through many
dozens of printings; so it tends to follow that either he must have exerted
some major influence upon the notions of many American readers or else very
closely reflected some important values, widely-held by many Americans of his

But the current essay is not intended as a study in popular culture or as an
examination of the relationship between science and pseudo-science, so this
first line of reasoning is insufficient in this particular context. At other
times, I have presented the "Velikovsky Affair" itself (the organized attempt
by leading figures in the American academic establishment to prevent the
dissemination of his ideas) as a historic rationale for an examination of the
man and his ideas: the incident is possibly the most blatant case of
intellectual censorship in American history since the Puritan period. But,
again, the present essay is only incidentally concerned with the reception of
the "Jewish Science," and then only as a sort of anticlimax to its
development. And yet, both of these arguments contain important elements;
even though much (perhaps most) of this essay is concerned with various 0ld
World cultural milieus, I believe that the Velikovsky story is primarily an
American one and derives a measure of its relevance (for us) for that very

It was in the United States that Velikovsky spent the last half of his life,
developed and published his most significant ideas, and fought his public
battles. It is mainly in the United States that the debate over his true
significance is still being conducted. Velikovskianism, like violence in
Stokeley Carmichael's famous dictum, seems to be as American as cherry pie.
The opponents of Velikovsky have sometimes tried to circularly rationalize
their shabby treatment of him as being ultimately justified by his own failure
to gain a foothold in any of the disciplines he tried to "correct," and they
have tried to explain this failure as the result of his own faulty methods,
conclusions, and insights, as being due entirely to his persistent inability
to understand even the most basic principles of science or historiography.
If Velikovsky was wrong, and not only wrong but also uninfluential among any
of the people who really count intellectually, how important could he have

Philosophers used to put forward similar arguments against any serious
examination of Friedrich Nietzsche's doctrines: granted (the argument went)
that he directly or indirectly influenced the thought of an entire
generation, today his ideas are of only historical value; the sad truth is
(the argument continued) that poor mad Nietzsche lacked any coherent
philosophy at all and therefore has no genuine message for us moderns. This
particular argument was demolished in 1950 (the same year that Worlds in
Collision first appeared ) by Walter Kaufmann (years later, incidentally, a
close friend of Velikovsky), who carefully and methodically exposed
Nietzsche's philosophical underpinnings and thus helped make him palatable
again by essentially translating Nietzschean concepts into a contemporary
idiom. In doing so, Kaufmann [1968: v] has given us not only a type of
research paradigm but also an appropriate little parable. Kaufmann recalled a
conversation with C. D. Broad, an influential British scholar who had once
presided over the Society for Psychical Research; somehow the name of a
certain Salter came up. Is that the same Salter who wrote a book on
Nietzsche? wondered Kaufmann. "Dear no; he did not deal with crackpot
subjects like that; he wrote about psychical research." There is also the
argument that Velikovsky's ideas are unworthy because he was mentally
unbalanced in some way. Velikovsky's friend, science writer Frederic
Jueneman ,[1980: 3)4, 6, 11, 30, 37, 57, 62], noted Velikovsky's "creative
spurts" and "his reluctance to publish," as well as his prickly perfectionism,
his integrity, his extreme stubbornness over minor matters, and his apparent
aplomb in the face of extremely rude behavior. "There are moments when one
might consider his judgment suspect, but his scholarship is nearly
impeccable." Jueneman also recalled the first time he saw Velikovsky, "with
that regal bearing which has been his hallmark. I immediately felt
psychically intimidated." After the introductions, Velikovsky smiled
"enigmatically" and asked Jueneman which of the two granddaughters with him
was visiting from Israel; "Velikovsky poses such little tests with the new
people he meets to gain some insights into their character. " As we shall
see, he had been an obviously talented young man with entree to some of the
most influential Jews in the world, and should have had a brilliant career in
psychoanalysis, but at the prime of his life he suddenly abandoned his
profession and his Palestine to embark on a quixotic crusade against the very
spirit of his age. At his death he left a vast amount of ambitious
uncompleted manuscripts that he had spent three decades writing and revising.
Along with the far-out views that gave him his celebrity, the quirks in his
personality described by Jueneman and others underscore questions concerning
the state of Velikovsky's mind. Did some event cause him to become unhinged?
Did his lack of success, or his failure to live up to his father's prophetic
expectations force him to make a desperate attempt at notoriety?

The answer is not to be found, although it may be significant that every
decade or so when he returned to Israel he became seriously ill. Was there
an unknown psychic motivation for this? According to 0tto F. Kernberg [1970:
52)54. Paragraphing altered]:

"...the symptoms of narcissistic disorders include: "grandiosity, extreme
self-centeredness, and a remarkable absence of interest in or empathy for
others in spite of the fact that [the sufferers] are so very eager to obtain
admiration and approval from other people ... What distinguishes many of the
patients with narcissistic personalities from the usual borderline patient is
their relatively good social functioning, their better impulse control, and
what may be described as a "pseudosublimatory" potential, namely, the
capacity for active, consistent work in some areas which permits them
partially to fulfill their ambitions of greatness and of obtaining admiration
from others. Highly intelligent patients with their personality structure
may appear as quite creative in their fields ... Careful observation, however,
of their productivity over a long period of time will give evidence of
superficiality and flightiness in their work, of a lack of depth which
eventually reveals the emptiness behind the glitter ... They are also able to
exert self-control in anxiety-producing situations ... at the cost of
increasing their narcissistic fantasies and of withdrawing into "splendid

Certainly Velikovsky's critics would agree with the judgment about the value
of his work, if not necessarily with the diagnosis of his personal worth.
Science fiction writer 0rson Scott Card [1982: 154] once wrote that: "Freud
thought he was telling the story of all mankind when he was only telling his
own." It may well be that Velikovsky's "preventive procedure, which
concentrated above all else on treating the narcissistic components of a
neurosis, revealed more about the source of his own unconscious struggles than
about the general prevalence of the ailment. Nevertheless, before one
concludes that Velikovsky was a self-deluded narcissist, that all his vast,
fanciful output was the product of a diseased mind, one should also consider
Edith Jacobson's cautionary note [1964: 80-82. Paragraphing altered]:

"We are not entitled to define (successful) ego activities as narcissistic
gratifications. Even if they do not pertain to personal objects, their
essential and central purpose is normally the pursuit of object-libidinal
gratifications. Let me describe what I mean with the aid of a practical
example of a creative ego function, such as the writing of a book ... 0f
course, the writing will never proceed if the writer does not have sufficient
self-assurance at his disposal... Even though his ego ideal and ambitious
fantasies in general may be a further effective stimulus, his work will not
be successful either if the main incentive for his writing is grandiose
fantasies which surpass his abilities. In short, all of the "manifold
narcissistic elements" involved in "creative ego activity" (such as "falling
in love" with his creation, being praised by the public, being paid for his
work, and other "narcissistic rewards") will interfere with the writing
process itself if the major aim of the book does not remain the writer's true
interest in the selected field, in the special material he deals with, in the
discoveries he has made, or the ideas which he wants to develop.... The
object-directed nature of his interest will find an expression in a quiet
devotion to his work, to the point of self forgetfulness or even self

Lacking sufficient data on which to make a final determination, one is forced
to maintain only that Velikovsky may have had pronounced narcissistic
tendencies, but not that he was a narcissist in any clinical sense. Mental
aberration does not seem to have been the prime motivation for his radical
departures from "normality" any more than for his quarrel with "normal"
science. The debate on the merits of Velikovsky's claims as a serious
thinker is obviously unresolved, even though it has been the main subject of
discourse about the Velikovsky problem from the very beginning.

So, what I propose is a new beginning. The standard frames of reference
(Velikovsky as scientist or historian or crackpot ) have been inadequate in
providing a suitable context for understanding Velikovsky's role in
midcentury America. In actuality he was not a scientist, not a historian;
these roles are self-defined by their practitioners using associational or
methodological criteria which Velikovsky obviously failed to meet. But
neither was he a crackpot in the usual sense; his system was too coherent, too
comprehensive, and (potentially at least) too conducive to paradigmatic
acceptance in Thomas Kuhn's sense, to be so easily dismissed. Instead of
Kuhn's "paradigm" as a descriptive, in Velikovsky's case a more congenial term
might be Anthony F. C. Wallace's [1956: 266] "mazeway" (this encompasses
"nature, society, culture, personality, and body image, as seen by one
person." Like Marxism, the empirical evidences of the system are not the
primary determinants of its influence or even of its continued existence.
And one need not wear the mantle of official acceptance to move the masses
with a powerful message; in fact, the contrary is more often true. As Serge
Moscovici [1985: 45)46, 123*24] has pointed out, heresy is both "the source of
new power and the sign of the chosen one." It provides its possessor with
prestige and charisma. Because what a prophet does is "done in opposition to
the norms of legitimacy and because his power comes into being in
extraordinary times," he "is always a usurper and is recognized as such."
The chief characteristics of "these madmen of faith" who seek to overturn the
established order of the world are

..."alienation, the hunger for martyrdom, dogmatic conviction and unbreakable
will. Their extraordinary obstinacy and their propensity for going on to the
very end could well be the sign of their "madness," for a sane, normal man
prefers to accept those compromises necessary to ensure that he and his own
will not perish.... The leader overflows with sectarian fanaticism, and every
great leader is a fanatic .... His own unshakable self-confidence kindles a
limitless confidence in others, who see him as knowing where he is going and
taking others with him. The sharp brilliance of his unwavering discourse
casts its irresistible spell over them, and when he speaks the language of
power bathed in the translucent light of faith all those who hear him are
conquered. Nietzsche said that the religious man speaks only of himself.
That "himself" includes his idea [Paragraphing altered].

0r, as Hannah Arendt [1967: 148] remarked, "What convinces masses are not
facts, and not even invented facts, but also the consistency of the system of
which they are presumably part." As Velikovsky himself [1983: 31; 1951: 57;
1951: 66] admitted, he was "a prisoner of an idea." He liked to portray
himself as a cosmic heretic, engaged in mortal battle against the "guardians
of dogma" who "move in academic garb and sing logarithms" and "say 'The sky
is ours' like priests in charge of heaven." But for once Velikovsky was too
modest. He was not merely a heretic but a full-dress modern secular prophet.
The word prophet is not meant to imply that Velikovsky should be regarded in
the same sense as some circus soothsayer who claims to see the future in
entrails or stars or tea leaves, any more than his 0ld Testament forebears
should be so regarded. Rather he was a prophet in the truer sense of being
one who represents himself as a seer of present and eternal truths derived
from the wisdom of the past, a diviner of that which is hidden despite being
just overhead or within, a bearer of an ancient and profound message. For
decades he was remarkably steadfast in his convictions and brilliantly able
in his exposition of them. Through the force of his personality and
intellect he became a great inspiration to others dissatisfied with current
dogmas. He ended his career as an object of cult-like veneration, a
charismatic hero for some and an object of ridicule to the unbelievers. He
was, however, no martyr, but rather a prophet without honor in his adopted
lands, Israel and America. In trying to define what I mean by "prophet" in
Velikovsky's case, perhaps I could do no better than to reproduce a statement
that one of his famous Princeton friends, Nobel laureate Freeman Dyson,
(produced for him at Velikovsky's own behest. Velikovsky himself did not
like the definition) upon its receipt he phoned Dyson and angrily demanded,
"How would you like it if I said you were a reincarnation of Jules Verne?"
[Dyson to Vorhees, Aug. 4, 1987]. Nevertheless, I think the statement
captures quite well the essence of what I mean. AA Princeton, June 1, 1977 :
L This statement to be printed in its entirety or not at all.-Freeman Dyson.

Dear Dr. Velikovsky:

You have asked me for a personal statement to add to the advertisement for
your new book. Let me say first, as a scientist, that I disagree profoundly
with many of the statements in the advertisement and with many of the
statements in your books. Let me say second, as your friend, that I disagree
even more profoundly with those of scientists who have tried to silence your
voice and to label you a charlatan. To me, you are no reincarnation of
Copernicus or Galileo. You are a prophet in the tradition of William Blake,
a man reviled and ridiculed as insane by his contemporaries but now recognized
as one of the greatest of English poets. A hundred and seventy years ago,
Blake wrote:

"The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents & Genius, But whether
he is Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass & obedient to Noblemen's 0pinions in
Art & Science. If he is, he is a Good Man. If Not, he must be Starved."

So you stand in good company. Blake, a buffoon to his enemies and an
embarrassment to his friends, saw Earth and Heaven more clearly than any of
them. Your poetic visions are as large as his and as deeply rooted in human
experience. I am proud to be numbered among your friends.

Yours sincerely,

Freeman Dyson.

Since 1950, knowledge-seekers have developed and/or popularized a wide range
of nonempirical, intuitive, nonscientific (even antiscientific) assumptions
about human culture. The profound insights of psychoanalysts have been
supplemented by those of the post-Freudians, with their emphasis on external
agencies in psychological development; and sociobiologists have subsequently
gone even further in that direction. Semioticians, structuralists, and
hermeneuticians have all concentrated upon the overriding importance of
understanding texts and artifacts in very literal ways in order to gain
genuine insight into human affairs. Scientifically orthodox advocates of
"punctuated equilibrium" within the evolutionary process and of cometary
causes of terrestrial life and of the extinction of the dinosaurs have gained
a large measure of acceptance from their more uniformitarian-minded peers.
Astronomers who have studied cosmic electromagnetism and geologists who have
investigated anomalous earth formations have quietly pursued their research
with no more than the usual academic cavil. Merely by dropping one of the
zeros from Plato's date for the destruction of Atlantis, serious
investigators have been allowed to encroach upon grounds perennially reserved
for the occultists.

At the same time, psychologists have examined ancient texts to devise theories
about the origin of human consciousness. All of these discoveries and
hypotheses were pioneered by Velikovsky. Since 1950, much has occurred which
tends to confirm that he, like Vico, will find his place, at the very least,
in the pantheon of creative thinkers and paradigmatic precursors.

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