Critical Reception of Black Athena

Mary Lefkowitz, is a professor of anthropology at Wellesley College, formerly of  Temple University, who is a leading critic of Martin Bernal's thesis.  She was known for her previous publications including,  Women in Greek Myth (1986, 2nd Ed. 2007); and another work she co-wrote, Women's Life in Greece and Rome (1982). Her attempt to refute the direction of Black Athena, was her 1996 book, Not Out Of Africa: How "Afrocentrism" Became An Excuse To Teach Myth As History (1996).  Largely because of this work and her media appearances, she is known as an anti-Afrocentrist.  The tone of Not Out of Africa was as much directed at Black Athena's embrace and reception among Africanists or what she refers to Afrocentrists than a specific rejoinder to Bernal's book.   In another well-known work she co-edited with Guy Maclean Rogers, Black Athena Revisited (1996), she collected articles by 18 different scholars, some of which address the methodological approach of Bernal to Egyptology and his evidence.  In an extensive and well-documented reply, Bernal wrote, Black Athena Writes Back (1991).  

Critics of Afrocentrism: Stephen Howe

Afrocentrism, is another term of criticism lodged by critics of Bernal.  This was put forth in Stephen Howe's
Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes, (London: Verso, 1999).  Howe's work builds on Lefkowitz's Not Out of Africa.  Afrocentrism, according to Howe, is a dogmatic ideology promoting a mythical vision of the past that involves an erroneous belief in fundamentally distinct African ways of knowing and feeling. 

Rather than attack Bernal directly, Howe instead chose to argue against the broader trend toward Afrocentrism found in Africana studies.  Howe focused his attack on the collected writings of the Senegalese scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop, and his collection of essays written and published between the 1950s to 1960s, published together as The African Origin of Civilization (1974).  Diop was a proponent and defender of African nationalist scholarship and studies that encouraged a broader continental approach to the ancient origins of African civilizations and its diaspora and influence in antiquity.  Writing from the perspective of newly emerging postcolonial experiences Diop was interested in promoting a broad comparative basis for African cultural development and experience.  By choosing this older work, Howe was able to reexamine some of the empirical evidence that Diop relied upon to reframe a narrower interpretation of their influence.  Thus Howe could argue against Diop as an older scholarship that was seen as outdated and flawed in the light of more recent archaeological scholarship.  But whether Howe's argument invalidates the broader principal of contact and influence, and hence Bernal's wider thesis is itself open to question and examination.

Critical Reception since 2008.  

Following the publication in 2006 of Volume 3 of Black Athena, a major international conference on its reception was held in November of 2008 at the University of Warwick.  Bernal and Stephen Howe were both keynote speakers and this addresses the range in which Bernal's work is now generally well received and the more open discourse now found about the work.  Some of the papers and proceedings of this conference have been published by Daniel Orrells, Gurminder K. Bhambra and Tessa Roynon, eds., African Athena:  New Agendas.  (Oxford University Press, 2012).  Another important review article of the Black Athena project is by Wim. M.J. van Binsbergen, "The continued relevance of Martin Bernal's Black Athena thesis:  Yes or No?,Quest: An African Journal of Philosophy / Revue Africaine de Philosophie, XXIII, 1-2 (2009)