Ami De Grazia

The Last Days of Velikovsky

Lecture delivered on October 19, 2001 at University of Bergamo, Italy.
Conference chaired and organized by Prof. Emilio Spedicato.

I knew Velikovsky for two years, until his death. I almost accompanied my husband, Alfred, to what was going to be the last meeting ever he would have with Velikovsky, that was on Wednesday, November 14, Velikovsky would die on the 17, a Sabbath. It was a beautiful fall afternoon in Princeton, characteristic of the climate of the Northeast of the United States. Somewhere near the top of Harrison Street, I let Alfred go on alone, after he had asked if I wanted to come with him. He had important things to talk with him about - two days earlier, on Monday, we had visited Velikovsky together and Alfred had offered to write an article that he would draft which would then be revised by Velikovsky and sent out in finished form.

Alfred was trying something no one had done before, co-sign an article with Velikovsky. They had once decided to collaborate on a book for Simon and Shuster Publishers, for which Alfred had drawn up the outline, but between the demands of the publishers and those of Velikovsky, the project fell through. Alfred thought that Velikovsky would feel less depressed if he could engage himself in something. He knew Velikovsky as perhaps no man living did. They had spent hundreds of hours together over the years and engaged in countless phone calls. They had become angry at each other on several occasions, so that it seemed that the relationship would rupture but it never did. Velikovsky reaction to Alfred's idea about the article had been favorable. He said: "Write it tomorrow!" This Alfred had done, and now he was ready to bring it over to him. It was called "Six Spheres of Venusian Effects," and it was written in the form of a hypothesis and a challenge, positing that the astronomical record, the atmospherical records, the geosphere, the ecosphere, the anthroposphere, the historical records, wherever available, would show some significant disturbances 3500 years ago, at the time at which Velikovsky put the catastrophic near passage of cometary Venus, before she was emplaced in her orbit as a planet, which was also the time which Velikovsky assigned to the Exodus of the Hebrew from Egypt. The article which Alfred projected to write in collaboration was to be offered to Nature magazine. There was going to be, obviously, a lot to serious and difficult talk about it -- Velikovsky was not an easy interlocutor -- and I thought that my presence -- although I would be well-taken care of by Elisheva, Velikovsky's wife -- might be somewhat disturbing, at least, useless.

Also, I must confess that I myself had something to tell to Velikovsky which I suspected would make him very excited and might deflect his attention from what Alfred had to say. To use a mythological expression, I didn't want to steel his thunder. Because as projects went with Velikovsky, Alfred's was a fairly big thunder. I remember feeling a little twinge of regret as I turned around to walk back home.

Velikovsky had not written, or at least published, anything major for some years. He had advice from all sides to publish rather than to engage in polemics; he would admit the wisdom of doing just that, but nothing seemed to happen afterwards.

When Alfred returned home, on foot, about two and half hours later -- we lived about one kilometer away from Velikovsky's house -- he told me that Velikovsky had liked the phrasing of the propositions but disputed his selection of examples and said that he would not be a co-author because he didn't have the time to do the necessary research. As Alfred wrote two days later to Brian Moore: "(Velikovsky's) powers were fully engaged; he was concerned with the shortness of time, with editorial priorities, with the campaign to advance and defend his ideas..." Then, something a little bit unusual happened: when Alfred left -- it was getting dark already -- Velikovsky did not get up to walk him to the door as he always did -- they would always spend a few minutes talking on the deep, dark porch before taking leave. Velikovsky was an Old World man, with deeply ingrained courtesy. So, this was a little breach in habits for him, which acquired greater significance a few days later.

Alfred became discouraged with him when in a phone conversation the next day Velikovsky reiterated that he did not want to go ahead with the article -- of course, Alfred could not know that he would never see his friend again, and I thought that they even quarrelled -- but they did not.

As for what I had wanted to tell to Velikovsky -- well, I am no scientist myself, I am a writer -- and, must I confess, I was not absolutely enthralled by Velikovsky's theories -- I was cautious, but open... But, just a few days earlier, I had made my own little discovery, in the encyclopaedia section of the Firestone Library, the main library of Princeton University. Alfred was at that time working on his book on Moses, God's Fire, a project about which Velikovsky was not very enthusiastic -- for at least two main reasons: he didn't like the idea of Alfred examining the character of Moses (who was, in some way, the character with which he, Velikovsky, identified most). But, too, he would have preferred that Alfred, and everybody else interested in his theories, do nothing else but loyally fight for him, defend him, attack the scientific establishment on his behalf , rather than do truly creative work or research on their own.

So, I was helping Alfred to do research on his forthcoming Moses book, and Alfred had asked me to check up things on the color "red" in Ancient Egypt (which Velikovsky had pointed out, in World's in Collision, became the "evil" color at the time of the Exodus, which he associated as you know already with the large catastrophes associated with the passage of Venus as a comet. Well, knowing German, I consulted an interesting work, unfinished -- I think it ended then at the letter E -- an Encyclopaedia bound in white called Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, published by Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart, ten years earlier, in 1969, and it had an article on the topic of "color." And there I read that, in Ancient Mesopotamia, portentous events for the king and the country were predicted from the color that "the plume of Venus," the "feather of Venus" was taking, i.e. whether it was dark, or light... Now what on earth could the "plume of Venus" have referred to? The encyclopaedia neglected to address itself to this question. But, in the light of Velikovsky's theories, a satisfactory explanation was close at hand: at the time referred to, Venus, the planet Venus, must have had some kind of visible physical extension, the appearance of which could undergo some observable changes, and what else could this be, if not some remnant of a cometary tail?

Alfred used the information in his book, I never heard any more reference made to this Mesopotamian text, or to this encyclopaedia article, although I mentioned the fact to a few people, especially German speaking scholars who supported Velikovsky... It was an intriguing finding but, as I said, Velikovsky died three days later, without having the occasion to hear about it... On that Saturday afternoon, we were both together at Firestone Library, checking out on the technology of wire, such as it was known in Ancient Egypt -- wondering if, at Moses' time, metal wires existed that might have been capable of conducting electricity. I remember going through some large books by Flinders Petrie...

While we were at the library, Elisheva Velikovsky and her daughters tried to call Alfred but, of course, could not find us. They finally called Alfred's mother. Velikovsky had had a poor night, occasioned by rapid pulse and feelings of weakness. He arose at first light on the Sabbath and showered. He returned to his bed and Elisheva sat next to him. He murmured several undistinguishable words and took her hand. He became quiet and she saw that he had passed away as if to sleep. He was buried the next day in a private ceremony at a small ceremony not far from Princeton, near the Atlantic Ocean, in a plot he had selected just the year before. He was buried before almost anybody knew of his demise.

Moses and Exodus were of course centrally important to Velikovsky's theories and, if it had not been for his identification with Moses -- or, at least, at the start, for his strong, so to speak, loyalistic attitude towards Moses, he probably would never have had his brilliant insights about Venus, and about chronology -- in short, his revolutionary theories might never have occurred to him.

Velikovsky was in effect a Zionist, though he told Alfred that he was not. And he was a psychoanalyst. He was, we recall, critical of Freud and a disciple of Stekel. He wrote and published material analysing the dreams of Freud. He was annoyed that Freud should harbor so obvious an ambivalence concerning Judaism.

Velikovsky's father was among the earliest settlers of what was then the British colony of Palestine. Zionism and psychoanalysis came to a sudden clash, at least in Velikovsky's mind, when Sigmund Freud published his last book, Moses and Monotheism. And it was, in this case, a fruitful clash. Sigmund Freud, like Velikovsky, had a personal problem with Moses. All his life, Moses stood in Freud's way, it seems, and ultimately, in his last intellectual act, Freud confronted him and, literally, put him to death. Freud made out of Moses an Egyptian, member of the royal household, and derived his greatest invention, monotheism, from Akhenaton's failed religious revolution, the worship of a unique god, Aton. He also, most powerfully, brought together his own theories of "Totem and Taboo" (the murder of the father by the rebelling sons as one of the founding acts of civilization) and the hypotheses of German biblical scholars concerning the murder of Moses in a rebellion at Beth Peor, after he had ordered the massacre of several thousand people for being friendly and engaging in festivities with local tribes. This interpretation was, for a religious Jew, sacrilegious, but Velikovsky was not a religious Jew. However, making Moses an Egyptian and having him killed by his own people on the eve of entering the Promised Land sat poorly with Velikovsky. The reputation of Moses as the historical founder of Israel would be damaged, too, and this Velikovsky could not accept. He set out to destroy Freud's hypothesis, by putting in question the accepted chronology and showing that Moses had, in fact, lived before Akhenaton, and that, if anything, Akhenaton might have been inspired by the Hebrew religion, instead of the other way around. One time, reflecting upon some evidence that Akhenaton might have been partly of Palestinian or other Near East origin, Alfred wondered to Velikovsky whether Akhenaton might not have been half-Hebrew and got his monotheistic notions there. But Velikovsky would have no part in this theory of a half-Hebrew either.

It was this revolt against Freud that eventually brought Velikovsky to his monumental hypothesis, for as he examined the literature he came upon elements of Egyptian documents that resembled the Bible and when put in place occurred well before the Pharaoh Akhnaton, the most important being the Ipuwer papyrus, describing what appeared to be the famous plagues of the Bible that sent the Hebrews from Egypt. He could now consider that something extraordinary and hitherto unrecognized had happened on the cosmic level at the time of the Exodus. Something that was recorded both in the Bible and in ancient Egyptian texts, provided that these were synchronized according to the new chronology.

Ruth Velikovsky tells what happened next in her profound and candid life of her father. When we visited her with Prof Spedicato in Princeton earlier this year, she was still hoping to get into shape for Alfred to publish on the Internet. So Velikovsky's theory of recent, historic cosmic catastrophes derived from his desire to salvage Moses from the deadly blow dealt to him by Freud, and restore him as the foundation of the legitimate claim of the Hebrew - the Jewish - people to Yahweh's Promised Land.