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Historiography is at its best when the historian interpreting data stays within the limits dictated by the range of knowledge he/she commands. No historian should be so credulous to believe that they can get away with positing a thesis, no matter how plausible, on unconventional evidence outside their field of knowledge. Therefore, it is fundamentally important for the historian interested in the study of ancient history to either narrow the scope of his/her inquiry or acquire the necessary languages and other disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology and/or statistics to more effectively facilitate and engender a first-rate historical analysis. These principles have guided my effort to grasp Martin Bernal’s methodological scheme and interpretation of evidence supporting his thesis outlined in Black Athena. This is not such an easy task since the breadth of Bernal’s argument is supported by a variety of academic disciplines. Hence, I have circumscribed this study’s scope to the business of critically presenting those conclusions that best represent Bernal’s overall view: that Egypt and not Greece was the progenitor of Western Civilization. I have further sought to include some opinions from Bernal’s most staunch detractors in order to balance this argument. Ultimately, this study will attempt to explain the meaning behind Bernal’s debatable encroachment into Classical Greek Historiography albeit he was trained in Oriental Studies.
Martin Gardiner Bernal was born in London, England in 1937 to Jewish parents. His mother, Margaret Gardiner, was a writer. His father, John Desmond Bernal, was a renowned Communist scientist. During Bernal’s youth, intellectuals and artists such as poets W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas, writer E.M. Forster, and painter Ben Nicholson constantly spent their leisure time around his house. Sir Alan Gardiner, Bernal’s grandfather, was “one of the seminal figures in the history of academic Egyptology.” In 1957, he matriculated at King’s College in Cambridge after serving in Britons Royal Air Force. He received his diploma and distinction in Chinese language in 1960 at Peking University. And in 1966, after doing his graduate work at both Berkeley and Harvard, he received his Ph.D. in Oriental Studies at Cambridge University. Following his commencement, Bernal spent six years teaching Chinese history in London. In the fall of 1972 he accepted an associate professorship in the Department of Government at the prestigious Cornell University.
Up until 1976 the scope of Bernal’s work covered modern China and Vietnam. His most significant contribution to this period was his historical studies on the Far East culminating in his monograph, Chinese Socialism before 1907. During the 1970’s, Bernal, “an unyielding critic of American military involvement in Southeast Asia,” was quoted stating, “Only genocide can defeat them,” referring to the Vietnamese.
In 1975, Bernal had determined to temporarily put off further research in Oriental Studies, preferring instead to satisfy a burgeoning desire to uncover his Jewish roots. During this process, he discovered that his ancestors were Sephardic Jews who had come to Ireland during the seventeenth century. Following this discovery, Bernal focused his efforts on learning Hebrew, which led him to study ancient Phoenician and Greek as well as its history. Egypt and its impact on ancient Greece seemed to Bernal to be the next logical area on which to feast his insatiable intellectual appetite.
For the next eleven years, from 1975 to 1986, Bernal began the massive task of acquiring the aforementioned languages in order to challenge and subvert the currently entrenched Western Civilization paradigm. His stated aim was to “return to the traditional view held by the ancient Greeks,” which he predicted would take him four volumes to complete. Thus, at the age of forty-nine, Bernal embarked upon the most engaging treatise of his life; a treatise, the outcome of which could possibly shake the academic community out of its comfortable institutional sanctuaries. 
Bernal’s eleven-year effort resulted in the release of the first volume of Black Athena in 1987. In it, he proffers five basic historical models. Bernal asserts that historians of classical Greece throughout the last fifteen hundred years have utilized four of these models. The fifth paradigm was constructed by Bernal as an alternative to the others. He identifies these paradigms as Ancient, Extreme Aryan, Broad Aryan, Ultra-Europeanist and Revised Ancient. In recognition of my own limitation, this study will address the following aforesaid models: the Ancient model, the Aryan model, a conflation of Extreme Aryan and Broad Aryan, and the Revised Ancient model, Bernal’s original archetype.
Bernal describes the Ancient model as the paradigm accepted and acknowledged by writers of antiquity. In other words, he suggests that Herodotus and other Greeks of the classical period largely believed that Egyptians and Phoenicians had colonized Greece at the beginning of the Homeric Age. Bernal furthermore posits that Greeks were aware of a consanguineous bond between themselves and Afroasiatics (Egyptians or Semites from Eastern nations). They also recognized the direct influence this bond had on their intellectual achievements. The final claim of this Ancient paradigm concludes that Greeks invariably responded in awe towards Egypt and to a lesser extent Phoenicia.
Bernal suggests that this Ancient paradigm can be fashioned by piecing together Greek Drama, Epic Poetry and historical prose from the Classical and Hellenistic period. He additionally claims that it was this putative model that Classicists accepted until the advent of nineteenth-century source criticism. Bernal supports his theory on the established assumption that the Egyptians colonized Greece sometime during the second millennium.
Pelasgians, “a name used differently by different Greek authors, [were] according to Homer…on both sides of the Trojan War.” Furthermore, Bernal submits the “idea that the Pelasgians were the native population, [and] converted to become something more Greek by the invading Egyptians, [which] occurs more clearly in the plays of Aeschylus and Euripides…. According[ly], [they] were somehow overcome by Danaos (from Egypt) in the Argolid.” Though Greek writers do not explicitly state that Greece was colonized, Bernal maintains that they were cognizant of at least two occasions when colonization had occurred. For instance, Bernal contends that the idea of colonization is implicitly advanced in the opening scenes of Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy, the “Suppliants”. Here “the arrival in Argos of Danaos’ daughters as suppliants fleeing from Egypt…the evil intentions of the sons of Aigyptos” and finally settling in Argos nicely fits the model Bernal propounds. The veracity of the play’s content further illustrates the high esteem in which Athenians held the play during the 5th-and 4th-centuries.
Scholars today also attest to the value of Aeschylus’ work. Not only is he often cited in their writings, but also ironically the “Suppliants” is specifically referenced. Classicist J. K Davies writes, “Whatever Aeschylus’ own views and dramatic intentions may have been, it can hardly be chance that the language which he gives in 464-3 to Argive king, faced with a request from the 50 daughters of Egyptian Danaos for asylum and protection, could serve as a programme for much that was done in the next ten years.” Nineteenth century historian, Jacob Burckhardt’s work implies that Aeschylus’ “Suppliants” reflected Greeks reflecting on their own past. He writes, “It was the tragic dramatists who first showed a strong inclination to inject the political conditions of their own day into the states of the past. Thus Aeschylus has a popular assembly meeting in the ‘Suppliants.’”
Jacques Berlinerblau, director of Judaic studies at Hofstra University, strengthens Bernal’s model—pointing out in his recent analysis of Black Athena that “a vague indication that the Greeks construed their historical experiences as somehow bound with those of the Egyptians [can be seen by their] reference to ‘blood’…[made by the daughters of Danaos, who cry out], ‘To Argos, bound to us by ancient ties of blood, / Driven by loathing of unholy rape in Egypt?’” This, along with other examples from Greek writers of antiquity, are utilized by Bernal much in the same way he here uses Aeschylus to support his thesis.
One of the earliest writers of Greek prose, Hekataios of Abdera, claimed that the Hyksos’ expulsion from Egypt led to their arrival in Greece. This`, in conjunction with a series of other examples, underscore Bernal’s assertion that Greeks conventionally understood and perceived their heritage to be wrapped up in the distinct culture of their neighbors.
As far as their intellectual cultural achievements are concerned, Bernal notes that Aristotle attributed Greek understanding of mathematics to an Egyptian priest. Bernal offers Herodotus’ work as conclusive evidence that Greeks were beholden to Egypt for everything from culture to religious traditions. On culture, Herodotus writes:
I will never admit that the similar ceremonies performed in Greece and Egypt are the result of mere coincidence – had that been so, Greek rites would have been more Greek in character and less recent in origin. Nor will I allow that the Egyptians ever took over from Greece either this custom or any other.
On religion he writes:
The names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt. I know from the inquiries I have made that they came from abroad, and it seems most likely that it was from Egypt, for the names of all the gods have been known in Egypt from the beginning of time…. I have the authority of the Egyptians themselves for this. [Furthermore the] practices then and others, which I will speak of later, were borrowed by the Greeks from Egypt.
Herodotus’ phrase, “borrowed by the Greeks from Egypt,” represents the heart of Bernal’s thesis. Hence, piece-by-piece Bernal assembles his evidence. Its value, its verisimilitudes remarkably reflect and relate to our own contemporary practices of painting satirical history. In fact, a recent analogy can be drawn from the Popular American satirical movie “Analyze This,” staring Billy Crystal. The particular scene that illustrates Bernal’s argument profiles a summit of Italian mobsters assembled at an opulent suburban home where they were celebrating the extraordinary providence that had followed their life of crime . Their jovial revelry was soon interrupted by New York police officers, who were ordered to raid and disperse the group. This satirical scene showed hurried mobsters precipitously leaping over furniture, jumping out of windows and running down sloped grasslands in order to escape capture. Though its humor provided its audience with much entertainment value, it nevertheless closely resembled its historical forerunner. In other words, “Analyze This” depicted a well-documented historical actuality containing a large portion of historical fact. The movie should not be any less believable simply because it’s satirical nature. Essentially, this is the idea Bernal is striving to express: that historical accuracy can be reflected within the framework of ancient Greece’s culture. I would add that the veracity of his argument is evident by our own tendency to base art on actual historical substance.
Bernal’s entire argument is tenuously held together by a bold linguistic analysis, in which he contends that the Phoenicians transmitted their alphabet to the Greeks. Here again Herodotus is his source. “The Phoenicians who came with Kadmos…introduced into Greece, after their settlement in the country, a number of accomplishments, of which the most important was writing, an art till then, I think, unknown to the Greeks.” Bernal combines this idea with his own theory that 40-50 percent of the Greek language appears to contain Egyptian and Semitic vocabulary. This gave the “Ancient model” a difficult to dispute linguistic quality. Ironically, the question of language gave birth to the development of a new model.
Before I introduce the next paradigm let me quickly summarize the Ancient model as put forth in Bernal’s argument. It holds that Greeks of hoary antiquity believed that their neighbors, particularly Egyptians, had colonized them. Furthermore, it claims that Greeks understood that they were beholden to the Egyptian culture for their religious, mathematical and philosophical achievements. Finally this models holds that not only were all Greeks aware of these factors, but they continued to express admiration for Egypt and its culture. “Further proof of the great esteem which…Greeks had for this culture [is evidenced by the fact] that Alexander the Great was not only buried in Egypt, but while alive, proclaimed himself the son of the Egyptian god Ammon.”  Hence, Alexander the Great preferred Egypt above Greece.
The second model, called the Aryan model by Bernal represents a paradigm shift from the Ancient model it replaced. Bernal explains that this model arose out of an extremely racist and anti-Semitic milieu. He insists that the racially motivated intellectual pundits of the early 18th century were extremely eager to integrate the new discovery of an Indo-European protolanguage into the academic curriculum of the day. The development of the idea that certain languages are linked to one another because of a distinct similarity in their grammatical structure allowed researchers to maintain that Proto-Indo-Europeans were a linguistically homogenous group. This discovery, as well as other nineteenth century idiosyncrasies, would have quite an impact on the Ancient Model.
Berlinerblau offers a useful analogy characterizing the hostile subversion of the Ancient model. He writes:
The Aryan Model… is a radical rupture in human thought. If we were to conceive of Western civilization as a railroad line upon whose tracks various conceptions of the world have traveled, the tremendous distance covered by the Ancient Model could only impress us. The first station would be the Classical period, where we find this view assumed across the writings of Aeschylus, Herodotus, Euripides, Plato, and Isokrates, among others. Its journey continues, in relatively unaltered form, through the rise of Christianity, the so-called Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. It rolls along through the incipient decades of the Enlightenment. Finally, between 1830 and 1860 the Ancient Model is bumped from the tracks by the steely new Aryan Model and is consigned to the stockyard of abandoned Western thought.
This Aryan model as perceived by Bernal promptly makes use of the linguistic breakthrough mentioned earlier in this study. What developed was a radically new model suggesting that waves of Indo-Europeans arrived in Greece between the 24th-23rd centuries BCE. This model implied that Greeks were just as distinct from their neighbors in language as well as culture. Around 1830 CE, this model was clothed with racist minutia. Thus the Greeks were given a new racial identity that reflected the exclusionary climate of the nineteenth century. Scholars now called these Greeks “Aryans,” classified by physical characteristics, such as blond hair, blue eyes and white skin. This theory pervaded the academic institutions throughout central Europe, especially Germany. Taking ownership of the ancient Greek culture and their “glorious conquests in the distant past” helped to legitimize the superiority of Western European countries, resulting in institutionalizing the belief in Aryan supremacy.
The Aryan model further extended the view that the Pelasgians, living in Greece during the 16th-15th century BCE, were overrun by another band of pure Indo-Europeans/Aryanites. Consequently, around the second decade of the 20th century CE, scholars re-classified the Greeks that were overrun by these new invaders as “Pre-Hellenes”. According to Bernal’s reconstruction, this model projects Greece as a pure monoculture, apparently free of non-white elements. Bernal offers as proof the beliefs of the great Australian theoretician of archaeology, Gordon Childe. Bernal writes, “Childe [was] thoroughly convinced of Aryan racial superiority and that ancient Greeks had possessed one of the finest Aryan civilizations.” Based on the number of like opinions cited by Bernal in Black Athena, it is clear that such racist views were common among white erudite elites. One of the most interesting problems regarding the Aryan model is that a number of its claims were not supported by evidence. For instance, “there [were] no ancient textual documentations of archaeological evidence which attested to the types of northern, Indo-European migrations envisioned by the Aryanists” at the time their model was fashioned. What this means is that researchers would have had to fabricate facts in order to sell this paradigm to the academic community of the day. According to Bernal, the scheme was not only a success, but our academic institutions are still using this mendacious model.
Bernal finds it quite surprising that while the Aryan model was firmly established, nineteenth century scholars continued to attack and diminish the validity of the Ancient model. Specifically, scholars indicted the old paradigm on the grounds that it was historically inaccurate. Called into question were those ancient works that had implicitly and explicitly talked about an Egyptian influence on Greece. Bernal identifies Karl Otfried Muller as the leading architect of this scheme. Bernal writes, “It was Muller’s hypothesis that actual contacts between Egyptians and Greeks were late. In other words, the really significant encounters between these societies occurred between the fifth and first centuries.” Muller dismisses the idea that Egyptians could be capable of producing viable evidence of events of their distant past. This notion is puzzling when you consider that he offered evidence on historical events that stood 3,500 years in his distant past.
In a broad perspective, the Aryan model and its proponents argue that their language hypothesis, comparative linguistics and source criticism rendered their interpretation of historical evidence far more accurate than the ancients. In other words, ancient historians such as Plato, Aeschylus and Diodorus of Sicily could quite easily be rendered obsolete by the tenets of the Aryan model. Berlinerblau stresses the irony of this view, pointing out “The very Greeks who are credited with having produced the most sublime civilization of antiquity are simultaneously held to have been shoddy historians suffering from some sort of collective Oriento maniacal delusion.”
In summary, the Aryan model held that “mainland Greece was invaded from the north by successive waves of Indo-European speakers.” It further claims that these Indo-Europeans were Aryans or to put it crudely they were white. During the second millennium, these Aryans invaded the indigenous inhabitants of Greece who happened to be of the same race though not possessing the same language. Finally, the result of amalgamation produced men like Herodotus, Aeschylus and Plato, all of who misconstrued their origins as they attributed them to Afroasiatics.
Bernal’s third model is called the “Revised Ancient” model. Its basic scope is quite similar to the Ancient model except for a few somewhat complicated variations. Namely, it suggests that instead of the Aryan model’s depiction of a monoculture, Greece may have, more than anything else, resembled a multicultural thriving society. This model also insists that Greeks were equally influenced by both Egyptian and Semitic culture through colonization. Other aspects of this model are perhaps too tedious to include within the limits outlined as the objectives of this study in my opening paragraph.
Thus far this study has presented the essence of Martin Bernal’s thesis and the methodological process offered by the scholar in his two-volume narrative account of Classical history. Now that his position has been largely underscored, I will next attempt to contrast his views with the views of his detractors.
Historian Mario Liverani refers to Black Athena as “the most discussed book on the ancient history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Bible”, while classicist Edith Hall observes that his undertaking “has excited more controversy than almost any other book dealing with Greco-Roman antiquity. These remarks seem trivial when compared to the vitriolic comments of his critics. Perhaps the most vociferous and well-known critic of Black Athena is Mary Lefkowitz. She has been involved with not one, but two books that cast a very daunting cloud over the theories and methodologies espoused by Bernal. In her efforts to disprove Bernal’s provocative motif, Lefkowitz decries Bernal’s entire enterprise, claiming that his hypothesis is constructed on the principle of the selective use of evidence and therefore is characteristic of propaganda. Referring to the Ancient model and Bernal’s accusation of racism she writes, “Why…did European scholars stop taking at face value the accounts of Egyptian origins in Greek writers like Herodotus and Diodorus of Sicily? [Because] they had discovered that the Greek historians were less reliable than they had supposed.” She adds, “New empirical knowledge had enabled them to see how strikingly different ancient Greece was from Egypt. [Thus], they ceased to emphasize the cultural debt of Greece to Egypt because it was no longer apparent.
When discussing Herodotus, clearly a central component behind Bernal’s hypothesis, Lefkowitz writes, “Herodotus tells us very little about how he composed his history, but we can get an impression of some of the problems he encountered from his successor”. What follows is a lengthy quote by Diodorus of Sicily, pointing out that many of the sources available to him on the subject of “Egypt and Ethiopia” cannot be trusted because they are fraught with false and invented stories.
On the subject of methodology, Lefkowitz points out that most Greeks were unable to either read Egyptian documents or consult archives, placing them at a considerable disadvantage compared with modern historians. Furthermore, she writes, “if what Greek writers [say] was corroborated by Egyptians or Ethiopians, Diodorus was ready to accept what they said. He does not ask where his native Greek informants got their information from,” nor does he inquire about their motives. Clearly this practice does appear to be somewhat dubious.
Lefkowitz view on Egypt’s cultural influence on Greece is not consistent with Bernal’s use of Herodotus. She reasons that a cultural influence usually works both ways. Moreover, she remarks that Herodotus may have claimed cultural influence merely because he believed Egypt was older than Greece.
In my reading of Lefkowitz it does not appear that she is seeking anything other than truth. She is quick to admit that both Egypt and Babylon were advanced civilizations admired for their contributions in math and science. However, “they did not study and analyze the nature of reality in abstract, nor theological language. This specialized notion of philosophy was invented, so far as anyone knows, by the ancient Greeks.” And Lefkowitz furthermore adds:
There is nothing in surviving Egyptian literature that resembles the dialectical methods and argumentative structures that Greek philosophers invented. This is not to say that the Egyptians are irrational and Greeks rational…[but simply] that Egyptian wisdom literatures are essentially different in nature and form of expression from the philosophical writings.
The most caustic issue concerning Lefkowitz about Black Athena is its disposition towards Greek myth. In Black Athena Revised she warns, “Myth is a tricky object of historical inquiry. If the myth of Danaus coming to Argos has been interpreted as an example of Egyptian penetration of Greece, it can also be understood, as the Greeks themselves tended to understand it, as the return to Greece of a native after many generations.” She adds that Bernal is guilty of equating culture as distinctly Egyptian when in fact it is Greco-Egyptian.
In response to Bernal’s use of Herodotus’ ideas that Greek religion was strongly influenced by Egypt, Lefkowitz offers a most plausible explanation. She suggests that due to the language barrier and a simple misunderstanding of the function of the priest, Greeks were confused into believing that Egyptian worship was similar to their own mystery religions. She further points out how this erroneous belief has been perpetuated throughout history and in fact it can still be seen in its ancient veneer among Freemasons. This is an important issue in Lefkowitz’s book because it demonstrates the lasting effect Myth can have on a community of believers.
In Victor Hanson’s “impassioned call to arms”, Who Killed Homer, he assesses Bernal as having little more than amateur status when it comes to Classics. Essentially Hanson dismisses Bernal’s theories and intriguingly asks how Greeks can “be both deplorable and yet proof positive of a glorious and lost African or Semitic legacy”
In Black Athena Revisited, Frank J Yurco offers convincing evidence against Bernal’s linguistic theories. Yurco maintains, “There is virtually nothing of Egypto-Coptic or Semitic Grammar in Greek.” If this is true, it would be extremely difficult for Bernal to hold together his colonization theory as well as his entire thesis.
Now that opposing sides of this debate have been presented, illustrating the adversarial nature between scholar and old guard, it is important that this study grapple with the question of why Bernal “stirred the pot.” It was my hope that the answer to this question might be buried somewhere in the pages of the texts used to facilitate this analysis.
I must admit my first impression of Bernal’s radical ideas and methods were quite unsettling. However, though his theories appeared rough and crude there was something tangibly refreshing about them. Upon a re-examination of Bernal’s early life it became increasingly clear that an environment of unbridled creativity affected the scholar. What must have profoundly affected his life choices was the influence, in his formative years, by the nonconformist group of cutting-edge artists that filled his mother’s parlor.
In what could possibly be construed as a mid-life crisis, Bernal does an about face to a field of study that is not even remotely connected to his past scholarly pursuits. Beckoned by a desire to understand the roots of his heritage he was open to seeing dimensions in the scholarly world that many others have ignored. Upon seeing this world and upon committing himself to understanding it better, he immersed himself into the language and history of the ancients. The stern strictures belonging to the world of academia were no longer a comfortable fit as he launched out into this new field of study. Uninhibited, with youthful eyes of a scholar just beginning his newly selected field, he had as much reverence for the securely established theories of the Classicist as a teen would have for his parent’s musical choices. Upset at what he saw as pervasive smug exclusivity, Bernal made up in his mind that he had had enough.
Finally he made a choice. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I believe that choice was Black Athena. For Black Athena gave Bernal a chance to participate in furthering a cause that had been budding in him since his youth. In his early years at Cornell I can imagine him going to work day after day frustrated over what he wished for academia and what it was in reality. Perhaps for Bernal Black Athena represented in some way his liberation. Black Athena and all its 1311 pages that grace this two volume historical analysis is Martin Bernal’s way of challenging the academic community to get back to the business of intellectual freedom, the kind of freedom that encouraged innovation instead of conformity.
By DiMarkco Chandler
 Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999), 13
 Ibid. 14
 Ibid. 14
 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Free Association Books, 1987), 1:76, Pelasgian is the name applied to the early inhabitants of Ancient Greece. In the epic poems of Homer the Pelasgians are mentioned as the inhabitants of Greece.
 Ibid, 79
 Ibid, 89
 J. K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1978), 59
 Jacob Burckhardt, The Greeks And Greek Civilization (New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1998), 144
 Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999), 27
 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Free Association Books, 1987), 1:109
 Herodotus, II.49 (trans. p. 104)
 Ibid, 5.60 also see Black Athena 1:79, 393-394
Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999), 28
 Ibid, 61
 Ibid, 62
 Ibid, 63
Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Free Association Books, 1991), 2:67
  Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999), 64
 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Free Association Books, 1987)
 Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Free Association Books, 1987 & 1991) 2:150,131,228,399, 1:344
 Jacques Berlinerblau, Heresy in the University (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999), 65
 Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out Of Africa (New York: Basis Books, 1995), 49, 52, 57
 Ibid, 59
 Ibid, 60,
 Mary R. Lefkowitz, “Ancient History Modern Myths” in Black Athena Revisited, ed. by Mary Lefkowitz and Guy Maclean Rogers. London: Univ or N. C 1996.
 Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out Of Africa (New York: Basis Books, 1995)