Hellenosemitica

An Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact of Mycenaean Greece Astour, Michael C.
(With A Foreword by Cyrus H. Gordon) In the beginning of the Heroic Age in Greece, Greek myths placed such characters as the Phoenician Cadmos in Thebes, the Phoenician Europa in Crete, the Egyptian Danaos in Argos. Herodotos reported on ancient Phoenician colonies in Boeotia and on the Aegean islands of Cythera, Thera, and Thasos. Thucydides wrote about Phoenician settlements in the Aegean isles. Rhodian historians ascribed the foundation of some of their cities and shrines to Phoenicians. Was there any historical reality behind these reports ? Up to the second half of the 19th century, this question was usually answered in the positive. Though several attempts have been made to find cultic, mythological, and onomastic parallels between Greece and the Semitic East, still the data for achieving this purpose were inadequate. Too little was known of Semitic philology, and still less of Semitic literature, religion, and mythology at the time. Astour's Hellenosemitica will undoubtedly be appreciated by those who have been attracted to the suggestion of West Semitic impact upon early Hellenic culture, but who have not been overly impressed by some of the ambiguous evidence offered heretofore. The author's contention is that "the entire Mycenaean civilization was essentially a peripheral culture of the Ancient East, its westernmost extension" (pp. 357-58), and yet his strong assertion is also balanced by the judgment that "West Semitic influence was only one, though important factor in the formation of Mycenaean civilization, and ... Mycenaean survivals (including their Semitic components) were only one, though important factor in the formation of classical Greek culture" (p. xviii).

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Michael Czernichow Astour (1916 - 2004)
[H]ad a long career as Professor of Yiddish and Russian Literature at Brandeis University and as Professor of History (Classical cultures and Ancient Near East) at Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville). He was born in Kharkov on December 17, 1916, the only child of Joseph Czernichow (a lawyer) and Rachel Hoffmann (a historian). The family moved to Vilna (Poland) in 1924, where Michael was educated in the heavily secularist Yiddish schools. Michael became active in the politics of Jewish national autonomy, in which his father played prominent roles (Folkspartei and later the Freeland League, seeking a non-Palestine homeland for the Jewish people). It is at this time (1933) that Michael took up a nom-de-guerre Astur (a hawk), later gallicized into Astour. Astour's life is the stuff of fiction, elating as often as harrowing, and it is a pity that he successfully resisted the many pleas to commit it to writing. His years in Paris (1934-1937) coincided with the initial publications of great discoveries at Ugarit, Nuzi and Mari, and he studied with such great ancestors as Charles Virolleaud, Edouard Dhorme, Roman Ghirschman, Raymond Weil, Pierre Roussel, and Jerome Carcopino. He traveled widely in the Middle East, spending much time in Palestine. Those were tense times, with rising anti-Semitism; but for a young man absorbed by the lure of the past, also very exciting. The war fragmented his family. The Russians entered Vilna in Mid-September 1939. Astour and his father were arrested for alleged anti-communist activity, and taken to Russia when Lithuania temporarily controlled Vilna. The Nazis murdered his mother in Vilna (June 1941) and the Russians shot his father on a forced march (July 1941). Astour was sentenced to years of hard labor and moved from one work camp to another. He was not to find relative freedom until 1950. Even in prison, where inmates kept him alive for his capacity to recite poetry in Russian, German, and French, he managed to receive books from distant libraries and busied his mind with comparative studies. Released and settled in Karaganda, Michael met Miriam, and they experienced a happy marriage that lasted almost half a century. Repatriated to Poland in 56, Michael worked at the Jewish Historical Institute, contributing a Yiddish book on the history of the Jews in antiquity (Geshikhe fun Yidn in Altertum, 1958). Moving to Paris in 1958, he resumed his contact with his old teachers and was librarian for the Hebrew Yiddish Library, translating works into French. He moved to the United States in 1959, accepting a Brandeis post in Yiddish and Russian

literatures, at which time he edited and completed Israel Zinberg's final volume on the History of Jewish literature. At the same time, he submitted Hellenosemitica (later published by Brill) for a doctorate in Mediterranean Studies (1961). Fearing lack of support from Brandeis for his past Territorialist sympathy and for accepting to write its definitive history (Geshikhte fun der Frayland-lige un funem teritoryalistishn gedank, 2 volumes, 1967), Astour accepted a post at Southern Illinois University (Edwardsville) in 1965. From that time, Astour only occasionally returned to Yiddish themes, but invested his prodigious energy to unravel the many mysteries of the Ancient Near East. Astour's contributions were many and they can be partially reviewed in a 1997 Festschrift, honoring him on his 80th birthday (Crossing Boundaries and Linking Horizons Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour, edited by Gordon D. Young, Mark W. Chavalas, and Richard E. Averbeck, CDL Press). He wrote broadly: on chronology, on mythmaking, within and across cultures, on prosopography and on ethnic identity, on historical episodes, political and military, real or imagined, on cultural interconnection, among and across continents, especially in the Late Bronze Age, but also in later periods. His canvas was vast, including Mesopotamia, Canaan, Hatti, Egypt, Mitanni, Greece, and Israel. He wrote on our newest discoveries such as at Ebla, but also gave new life to obscure theories buried in forgotten journals. Increasingly, he came to be absorbed with toponymy and with geographical history, often expressing shock at our literature's cavalier treatment of such matters. At his death, he was busy on a number of projects, among them collecting and translating into English his contributions in Russian, Polish, Yiddish, and French. He toyed with completing a novel (in Polish or maybe Yiddish) set in Israel of the Judges period that he had begun while in the gulag. He leaves notebooks stuffed with sketches and memos, in Russian. Michael Astour could give a sever impression to those who first meet him. (Luckily, his wife Miriam easily neutralized any such initial notions). He might seem distant, unsmiling, perhaps even too serious in his scholarly posture. This mien was surface, likely developed during decades of confinement and of bitter experiences. It would not take long, however, to break through this facade, for he was a warm and generous person, with ready laughter and an incredible storehouse of stories, anecdotes, proverbs, and, above all, poetry. He was blessed with a phenomenal memory, both deep and detailed that was hardly compromised by age. He died this on 7 October 2004, after emergency abdominal surgery at a St. Louis hospital. He left no immediate kin. http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/authors.php?auid=18243

General Biblical Archaeology Discussion Topics
Archaeologists, Scholars & Other Personalities

Ancient Near Eastern influence on Greek writings (and vice versa) has been studied in such detail. Edwin M. Yamauchi, states, “Though we cannot uncritically accept all the stories which ascribed a Near Eastern inspiration for the various Greek philosophers of Ionia, a careful study of both the historical situation and of the respective texts of the west and of the east, convinces M. L. West that the traditions of such borrowing are sound in the case of the following 6th-cent. BC philosophers: Pherecydes, Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus” M. L. West “Daniel and Contacts between the Aegean and the Near East Before Alexander,” EQ 53.1 [1981]: 47. Greece and Babylon: Early Contacts between the Aegean and the Near East (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), 85; Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 379–94; “Greece and Babylon Revisited,” in To Understand the Scriptures: Essays in Honor of William H. Shea (David Merling; Berrien Springs, MI: Institute of Archeology/Horn Archaeological Museum, 1997), 129–55; The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971); Peyton Randolph Helm, “ ‘Greeks’ in the Neo-Assyrian Levant and ‘Assyria’ in Early Greek Writers,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1980); Robert Mondi, “Greek Mythic Thought in the Light of the Near East,” in Approaches to Greek Myth (ed. L. Edmunds; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 142–98. Scholars have given these relationships their own titles: Hellenosemitica and Hellenorientalia leading to what Burkert calls an “Orientalizing Revolution.” Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution–The Near Eastern Influence in the Early Archaic Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995). C. Lambrou-Philippson, Hellenorientalia: The Near Eastern Presence in the Bronze Age Aegean, C. 3000–1100 B.C. (Göteborg: Aström, 1990)

While some scholars have drawn unsubstantiated conclusions and ignored the archaeological evidence to focus on mythological-etymological arguments there is still a number of scholars who have put forth reasonable arguments for the Hittite influence on Greek culture following archaeology. However, the mythological-etymological heritage provides an avenue for the influence to be more enduring than just material remains. James D. Muhly, review of Michael C. Astour, Hellenosemitica, an Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact on Mycenaean Greece, JAOS 85.4 (1965): 585–8; Edward Ullendorff, “Ugaritic Studies within their Semitic and Eastern Mediterranean Setting,” BJRL 46 (1963): 236–49. Michael C. Astour, Hellenosemitica: An Ethnic and Cultural Study in West Semitic Impact on Mycenaean Greece (2d ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1967). Michael Astour was a student of Cyrus H. Gordon and classmate of Edwin M. Yamauchi. He had an influence on Martin Bernal, a professor of political science at Cornell and the grandson of the Egyptologist Alan Gardiner. Bernal was also influenced by another of their classmates, David Owen. However, Bernal in his series, Black Athena, goes far beyond the evidence. Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Martin Bernal’s Black Athena Reviewed,” JAC 14 [1999]: 145–52. Some of Cyrus H. Gordon’s parallels have been criticized but as Yamauchi [who is one of his students] points out, “Though he may be proven to be mistaken in some details, surely Professor Gordon is correct in emphasizing the common background of Greek and Near Eastern cultures. With publication of more data, scholars like Walcot are beginning to realize the great debt that Greek religion owed to Semitic sources.” Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Daniel and Contacts between the Aegean and the Near East Before Alexander,” Evangelical Quarterly 53.1 (January-March 1981): 45–46; Peter Walcot, Hesiod and the Near East (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1966); Éléments orientaux dans la religion grecque ancienne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1960); Les syncretismes dans les religions de l’antiquité (Leiden: Brill, 1975)

Geller summarizes the various influences of Mesopotamian culture on Hellenistic life by mentioning the contributions to the Aramaic language, legal contracts, medicine, and law. He illustrates this by “considering the continuing cultural impact of Babylonia in Hellenistic Jewish life.” (Mark J. Geller, “The Influence of Ancient Mesopotamia on Hellenistic Judaism,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East (4 in 2 vols. ed. Jack M. Sasson; Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000), 1:43 Perhaps the most obvious irrefutable example for the influence of Ancient Near East on Greek and Roman thought is that ideas and terms from ancient Mesopotamia, were passed on through the Greeks to the Romans, are the names of the five planets, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn plus the sun and moon. In ancient astrology, these heavenly bodies represented the seven astral deities, which eventually gave their names in the Germanic, and Anglo Saxon tongues to our days of the week. Eviatar Zerubavel, “The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 7; Cecil H. Brown, “Naming the Days of the Week: A Cross-language Study of Lexical Acculturation,” Current Anthropology 30.4 (1989): 536–50; W. M. O'Neil, “Time and the Calendars” (Manchester, Mich.: Manchester University Press, 1976) http://forum.bib-arch.org/archaeologists-scholars-and-other-personalities/cyrus-gordon/15/? wap2

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