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Immanuel Velikovsky: A Short Biography
On June 10, 1895, Immanuel Velikovsky was born in Vitebsk, Russia. He learned several languages as a chi1d, performed exceptionally well in Russian and mathematics at the Medvednikov Gymnasium after moving to Moscow, and graduated with a gold medal in 1913.He then traveled to Europe, visiting Palestine, briefly studying medicine at Montpelier, France, and taking premedical courses at the University of Edinburgh.
Having returned to Russia before the outbreak of World War I, Velikovsky enrolled in the University of Moscow, and received a medical degree in 1921. Then he left Russia for Berlin, where he married Elisheva Kramer, a young violinist. He edited the journal, Scripta Universitatis, for which Albert Einstein prepared the mathematical-physical section.
From 1924 to 1939 Velikovsky lived in Palestine, practicing psychoanalysis—he had studied under Freud's pupil, Wilhelm Stekel in Vienna—and editing Scripta Academica Hierosolymitana. In 1930 he published the first paper to suggest epileptics are characterized by pathological encephalograms, now part of the routine diagnostic procedure. Some of his writings appeared in Freud's Imago.
After reading Freud's Moses and Monotheism, Velikovsky conceived the possibility that Pharaoh Akhnaton, the real hero of Freud's book, was the legendary Oedipus, (a thesis later argued in his book, Oedipus and Akhnaton.) In 1939 Velikovsky took a sabbatical year, traveling with his family to New York only a few weeks before World War II tore Europe apart. For eight months he worked on Oedipus and Akhnaton in the libraries.
In April, 1940, Velikovsky was first struck by the idea that a great natural catastrophe had taken place at the time of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt- a time when plagues occurred, the Sea of Passage parted, Mt. Sinai erupted, and the pillar of cloud and fire moved in the sky. Velikovsky wondered: Does any Egyptian record of a similar catastrophe exist? He found the answer in an obscure papyrus stored in Leiden, Holland- the lamentations of an Egyptian sage, Ipuwer. The Ipuwer Papyrus, Velikovsky became convinced, parallels the Book of Exodus, describing the same natural catastrophe, the same plagues. As a result he began to reconstruct ancient Middle Eastern history, taking this catastrophe- which brought the downfall of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom- as a starting point from which to synchronize the histories of Egypt and Israel. He titled his work Ages in Chaos.
The cause of the catastrophe terminating the Middle Kingdom remained unexplained. One afternoon in October, 1940, Velikovsky noticed an important fact: the Book of Joshua describes a destructive shower of meteorites occurring before the sun "stood still," in the sky. Could this be a coincidence, or were the ancients recording a cosmic disturbance that must have shaken the entire Earth and might have been related to the upheavals approximately 50 years earlier during the Exodus? A survey of other sources around the world convinced Velikovsky that a global cataclysm had indeed overtaken the Earth, and that Venus played a decisive role in that cataclysm. For 10 years he researched and wrote Ages in Chaos and Worlds in Collision. He had by now taken up permanent residence in the United States.
In 1950 after more than a dozen publishing houses rejected the two manuscripts, Macmillan published Worlds in Collision. Even before its appearance, the book was enveloped by furious controversy. Macmillan, intimidated by threats from academicians and scientists- the people who write and buy its textbooks- transferred the book to Doubleday. Worlds in Collision was then the number one best seller in the nation. In 1952 Doubleday published the first volume of Ages in Chaos, which details Velikovsk'y historical reconstruction from ca. 1450 B.C. to 840 B.C. (A sequel, extending the reconstruction to 33 B.C. was originally due to appear shortly after the initial volume but was reworked and enlarged to two volumes, Rameses II and His Time and Peoples of the Sea).
"Earth in Upheaval", presenting geological and paleontological evidence to buttress Worlds in Collision (and also offering a new understanding of evolution that conflicts with Darwinian theory), came off the press in 1955; in 1960, Oedipus and Akhnaton was published. Velikovsky also prepared an unpublished volume dealing with collective amnesia. from a Freudian perspective that hypothesized the mechanism of repression applied on a collective, cultural scale.
For nearly a decade prior to the early Sixties, Velikovsky was persona non grata on college and university campuses. After dramatic scientific confirmations of his historical reconstructions by many of the early space probes sent to Venus, Mars and Jupiter, he began to receive more requests to speak than he could honor. He lectured, frequently to record crowds, at Brown University, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Oberlin, Carnegie Institute, Rice, and many other universities. In February, 1972, he addressed a large audience at Harvard, hosted by the Society of Harvard Engineers and Scientists; in March he lectured at the State University of New York (Buffalo), and spoke to an enthusiastic, overflowing crowd at McMaster University ((Hamilton, Ontario). He has been the Honors Convocation Speaker at Washington University (St. Louis) and St. Olaf College. In February, 1972, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a one-hour television special featuring Velikovsky and his work and this was followed by a 30 minute documentary on the BBC in 1973.
Velikovsky continued his research from his home in Princeton, guiding several dozens of researchers who followed in his footsteps in assembling data and evidence supporting his theories.
Immanuel Velikovsky died in 1979