Born in Russia in 1895, Immanuel Velikovsky was one of 3 brothers. Their father
Simon was a wealthy Jewish merchant who was an ardent Zionist.
Wilhelm Stekel, one of Freud’s first pupils, trained
Velikovsky to be a psychoanalyst. Velikovsky had
gotten his MD degree in 1921 from the University of
Moscow. He lived in Palestine practicing medicine
and analysis until 1939 when he came to America.
He came to think that Pharaoh Akhnaton and his life
were the origin of the Greek Oedipus story and he
wrote a fascinating book “Oedipus and Akhnaton”.
Velikovsky also found an Egyptian papyrus that
seemed to describe the 10 plagues of the Jewish
Exodus story. This and his amazing biblical
scholarship, added to a brilliantly inventive mind, led
him to conclude that much of the chronology of
ancient history was wrong. A radical rewriting of
most ancient dates was needed, which he did.
lived and practiced
1924 to 1939, when
he moved with his
family to New York.
Velikovsky was a personal friend of
Einstein and they collaborated on some
projects in the early days of Israel, such as
establishing libraries, a publication house,
and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Later the two of them had frequent
discussions about Velikovsky’s theories.
When Einstein died an open copy of
Velikovsky’s book “Worlds in Collision” was
found by his bedside. Einstein rejected
parts of Velikovsky’s theories but
encouraged him to continue his
groundbreaking investigations and was
impressed with his prediction success rate
as outer space probes returned results.
In 1923 Velikovsky married Elisheva Kramer, a violinist. Here they are, later in life.
Velikovsky knew Freud
and studied with one of
his pupils, Wilhelm
Stekel. He was working
on a book about Freud’s
own dreams when he
got a sudden insight that
related to Freud’s book
on Moses. This started
Velikovsky on a very long
journey that took some
very strange directions.
Velikovsky thought – what
if the biblical story of
Moses and the Exodus and
the 10 Plagues was literally
true, but with some
explanation. Then there
should be some Egyptian
record of the 10 plagues.
But there isn’t, at the time
when the Jews were
supposedly in Egypt. So
Velikovsky looked for this
record during other eras in
Velikovsky found that
the Egyptian Ipuwer
papyrus (which he read
in translation) seemed
to describe an
account of many of the
10 plagues. But the
conventional date for
this papyrus in Egyptian
chronology did not
match the biblical
derived Exodus date.
Velikovsky then made a very dramatic decision. He concluded that the biblical
dates were right and the Egyptian chronology was way off, by hundreds of years.
The Ipuwer papyrus, which Veliovosky thought confirmed the Exodus, was from the 12th
Dynasty and conventional Egyptian chronology puts that hundreds of years before the
Exodus date. In an amazing leap Velikovsky concluded that all dates of early Egyptian
history were wrong and too old by hundreds of years. He shifted these dates forward.
Then the Exodus and the Ipuwer papyrus were at the same time.
Velikovsky wrote a book in 1952 about this new
revised Egyptian chronology. At the time it met
enormous resistance from Egyptologists and
academia. These days many scholars have put
forth their own revisions of the conventional
Egyptian chronology. Velikovsky wanted to revise
downwards the old dates by about 500 years.
Many today think maybe 300 or so is more
realistic, like in the previous slide.
It might be that the Ipuwer papyrus does not, in
fact, describe the Exodus. But either way it set
Velikovsky on the path of revising much of ancient
history. He took on ancient Greece next and
concluded the Dark Ages were an illusion based
on wrong dates.
The conventional chronology of ancient
Greek history as well as that of surrounding
countries around the Mediterranean
assumes a gap (Dark Age) of several
hundred years between the fall of one
civilization and the rise of the following
civilization. Velikovsky claimed that this
Dark Age did not exist and was an illusion
due to incorrect dates of the earlier
civilizations. He claimed that these earlier
dates, like of the Egyptian pharaohs, were
wrong by about 500 years.
Many puzzles of ancient history were solved or disappeared when Velikovsky’s
chronology was adopted, yet it was totally rejected by almost all archaeologists and
historians, to this day. Yet carbon 14 dating and other evidence shows that he may have
been right. There was and is enormous resistance to his ideas about ancient history.
When the amateur Michael
Ventris deciphered Linear B, the
ancient language of the extinct
Minoan civilization on Crete,
scholars were stunned to learn that
Linear B was a very early form of
Greek. Absolutely nobody
expected that. But it is an obvious
consequence of Velikovsky’s new
chronology of ancient Greek and
Egyptian and Minoan history. He
had developed those revised dates
in 1948, 7 years before Ventris
cracked the code of Linear B.
Although Velikovsky continued his
research into ancient history and
solved many historical puzzles,
documented in several books, he
started to look for a possible scientific
explanation for the 10 plagues of the
Exodus and other odd biblical
“miracles”. In one, Joshua tells the sun
to stand still and it does for several
hours, giving an extra long day. Many
cultures in Europe and Asia have folk
legends of the sun standing still, giving
an extra long day on one or two
occasions. In happens twice in the
Velikovsky got the brilliant idea of
looking to see what the legends are on
the opposite side of the earth from
Europe and Asia. In North and South
America the native Americans have
legends of an extra long night!
Velikovsky did not believe in supernatural
phenomena, so he sought a scientific
explanation for these world-wide legends of the
sun standing still. He was met with complete
disbelief and rejection by most scientists.
White dots are
ancient legends of the
sun standing still or an
unnaturally long day.
Black dots are legends
of an unnaturally long
By studying various mythologies and ancient religious texts from around the world,
Velikovsky concluded that early gods were actually the planets in the sky and that
many mythological events were about actual events in the sky.
There is the very odd Greek myth that the goddess Athena was literally born from the head
of the god Zeus. Velikovsky identified Athena with the planet Venus and Zeus with the
massive planet Jupiter. He then concluded that Venus was ejected (born) from Jupiter, within
human memory, and that therefore Venus is a very young planet – only a few thousand years
old. Astronomers freaked out when they heard this, especially Carl Sagan.
This shows the relative
size of the planets, with
Venus being very much
smaller than Jupiter. To
the right of Earth here is
Venus, then Mars, then
Mercury, then tiny little
astronomy holds that all
of our sun’s planets have
always been here, for
billions of years, and that
their orbits around the
sun have never changed
by the tiniest little bit.
The idea that Venus could
be only a few thousand
years old was taken to be
Velikovsky then scoured world mythology for “proof” that the
planet Venus had been seen, in human memory, to emerge from
the planet Jupiter – both tiny points of light in our night sky.
In 1950 Velikosky wrote up his ideas in the publishing
mega-blockbuster book “Worlds in Collision”, which
instantly became the #1 best seller and stayed at the top
for very many weeks. In it he used world myths to
postulate that once the new planet Venus was “born”
from Jupiter it wandered around the solar system,
disrupting the orbits of Mars and the earth and the
moon, with some near misses. Eventually, just a few
thousand years ago, everything settled down to today’s
very unchanging orbits.
With this theory Velikovsky was able to explain the 10
plagues of the Exodus, Joshua having the sun stand still,
why Mars is the god of war, and countless other aspects
of the earth’s history – including much geological
evidence for recent catastrophes. Also where oil comes
from, as well as our oceans.
Isaac Newton’s laws
of gravity and motion
seem to show that it is
impossible for the
planets to arrive at
their present very
stable orbits from an
earlier chaotic state.
So all physicists
Velikovsky’s book as
the ludicrous ravings of
Most scientists rejected Velikovsky’s ideas without having
ever read his book, and relied instead on very distorted
accounts by his prominent critics, like Carl Sagan.
What are the hallmarks of a good scientific theory?
1) It should be able to explain phenomena
2) It should be able to predict new phenomena
3) It should be capable of being falsified
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution meets all of these criteria (but is weak on #3) but is not as strong
as the laws of physics. The religious Creation “Science” is extremely weak on both #2 and #3
and doesn’t really qualify as a legitimate scientific theory.
The reason that Creation “Science” does
not give legitimate scientific theories is not
because their ideas are wrong. The
legitimacy of a theory does not depend on
it being right or wrong. It depends on,
among other things, the ability to be
falsified. Without that it is not a legitimate
scientific theory. But nothing can ever
falsify their theories.
For example, if they say that the earth is
only 6,000 years old and we produce
dinosaur bones and fossils they can always
say (as was done in the 1800’s) that God
put them there specifically to test our faith
in the literal truth of the bible).
Conspiracy theories, like a NASA faked moon landing, are very hard to falsify –
since all evidence counter to the theory can simply be claimed to have been faked.
Global warming, or climate change, is a
legitimate scientific theory because it is very
good at 1) explaining observed phenomenon,
2) makes predictions, and 3) can be falsified.
However a legitimate scientific theory can be
wrong. That is where 3) falsifiability comes in.
So far it is too early to be able to test some
predictions, like what part humans play in
Velikovsky’s theories explain a lot of things,
make many predictions, and can be falsified –
by carbon 14 dating of ancient objects,
results from recent space probes, and other
testable results. But a theory can be wrong
and yet still very useful.
Einstein hated quantum mechanics.
Although all of its predictions have
been completely verified, he
thought that it can’t possibly be a
correct reflection of reality. It is an
It may be that, just like quantum mechanics, Velikovsky’s
theories are very successful at explaining things, making accurate
predictions, and have yet to be falsified and yet
1) there may be some “better” theories, yet to be discovered,
with just as good a track record and which do not so
completely offend the established scientific, geological, and
archeological communities. Especially astronomers.
2) His highly unorthodox methods of research – looking to
ancient myths and the bible as a source of factual knowledge,
could maybe be dispensed with – with these as yet to be
discovered alternate theories.
3) False premises may sometimes lead to correct conclusions.
Maybe he has simply made many extremely lucky guesses.
Let us look at Velikovsky’s prediction track
record. Usually he made highly specific
predictions, not vague hand-waving ones. He
predicted that ancient Meso-American
civilizations would be found to be 1,000 years
older than the conventional archeologists’ dates.
He was right. But it is in astronomy that he made
the most controversial predictions – always
based on his theories. These were not random
Space probes into outer space and the planets, and trips to
the moon were bringing back a wealth of new data – most of
it complete surprises to scientists. It did not fit conventional
theories about the solar system and its history.
Van Allen radiation belts surround the earth and extend far beyond it.
Predicted by Velikovsky in 1956 and discovered by rocket probes in 1958.
This was one of the first space probes results and a complete surprise to
scientists and astronomers. But not to Velikovsky, who predicted it.
In 1953 Velikovsky predicted radio
waves coming from Jupiter. This was
confirmed in 1955 and was a complete
surprise to astronomers.
The back side of the
moon had never
been seen until a
space probe orbited
around behind it.
Everyone expected it
would look just like
the front side. It
predicted this based
on his theories
about lunar history.
Front side of moon Back side of moon
Astronomers have no current theories to explain this totally unexpected situation
NASA was concerned
that the moon would
be covered with a
thick layer of dust and
that astronauts would
sink down into it.
predicted a hard
surface, based on his
theories about recent
events in the solar
In July 1969, on the eve of the first landing on the Moon, the New York Times
invited Velikovsky to summarize what he expected the Apollo missions to find.
Velikovsky responded by listing nine "advance claims," including remnant
magnetism, a steep thermal gradient in the soil downwards, radioactive hot spots,
regular moonquakes, and argon and neon trapped in rocks. All told, it was a
remarkably accurate summation of later findings. All of these predictions followed
from his radical theories and none were expected to be true by astronomers.
Comet Kohouteck in 1973
was widely touted by most
astronomers and the media
as what would be the “Comet
of the Century” when it
arrived. It was, instead, a
spectacular dud. This here is
a time exposure of it and it
was not nearly as bright as
the astronomers were
correctly predicted that it
would be a dud, based on his
theories about the history
and origin of comets.
The most inflammatory (to astronomers and
particularly to Carl Sagan) of Velikovsky’s theories
concerned the planet Venus, which he said was only
a few thousand years old instead of billions of years.
He predicted that the surface temperature would be
found to be very hot – hundreds of degrees, with
many volcanos, and the atmosphere would be very
dense. Clouds continually cover the surface, which
had never been seen, and telescopic measurements
indicated the tops of the clouds were maybe room
Space probes by us and also by Russia found that the surface is almost 900 degrees –
extremely hot, and with many volcanos, and the atmosphere is extremely dense. This
was a complete surprise to astronomers, but not to Velikovsky, who had predicted this.
This freaked out Carl Sagan, who scrambled to find some alternate explanation for this.
Carl Sagan embarked on a personal
crusade to discredit Velikovsky. He
proposed a runaway greenhouse effect
on Venus, where the dense
atmosphere trapped heat from the sun
and heated up the planet’s surface.
Sagan dug in with this theory and
refuse to accept increasing new
evidence that he was wrong, until it
was hardly possible to hold on to it any
longer. The death knell came when
space probe measurements showed
that Venus emits more radiation than it
receives from the sun, showing an
internal energy source – not the
greenhouse effect. But Sagan’s theory
is still the mainstream astronomy view.
Carl Sagan ridiculed Velikovsky’s theories and
methods and spearheaded the establishment’s
attacks against him. He did back-of-the-
envelope type of sloppy calculations to “prove”
that Velikovsky must be wrong.
Carl Sagan was teaching at Harvard. He was denied tenure there and Nobel Prize
winner Harold Urey wrote a letter to the tenure committee advising against Sagan.
He then went to Cornell and became a prominent promoter of astronomy to the
Carl Sagan had the perfect
forum for leading these
attacks. He had his own
best selling books and the
incredibly popular TV
science series “Cosmos” .
Sagan did a great service
to science by promoting it
to the public, but he was
largely a showman and
his own few scientific
achievements were very
minimal, or often simply
One of Sagan’s few ideas
concerned the Gulf War and the
threat of an equivalent to a “nuclear
winter” = the idea that a nuclear war
would generate so much soot from
fires that it would block out the sun
and send the whole earth into a
deep freeze. He was convinced that
the Gulf War would result in
hundreds of oil well fires leading to
this disasterous effect. But there
were hundreds of such fires, huge
amounts of soot thrown into the air
and only a small temperature drop.
He was wrong.
Gulf War oil fire billowing soot into the air.
Velikovsky represented a serious threat to the
astronomy community. They could not accept
his theories or his methods, yet he kept making
accurate predictions of space probe results that
were totally unexpected. In addition, they had
no theories of their own that could explain
these space probe results, like frequent moon
quakes, a very different back side of the moon
from what was expected, new found aspects of
Venus, etc., etc.
He and his work had to somehow be
suppressed, especially his book “Worlds in
Collision”. And so began what became known
as the very shameful “Velikovsky Affair”.
At that time Harold Shapley was America’s
most eminent astronomer. He had heard of
some of Velikovsky’s work. When he
learned that Macmillan was about to
publish “Worlds in Collision” Shapley got
some of his colleagues together and they
threatened Macmillan to remove all of their
astronomy textbooks from Macmillan’s
publication list. Macmillan caved and
Velikovsky’s book was published elsewhere.
“Worlds in Collision”
then became an
James Putnam, the
Macmillan editor who had
dealt with Velikovsky was
summarily fired, after 25
years with the publisher.
Gordon Atwater was the director
of the Hayden Planetarium in New
York. Because of the public’s
interest in the best selling “Worlds
in Collision” and his own interest,
he planned a 1950 show at the
planetarium on Velikovsky’s ideas.
Because of that he was summarily
fired, given 15 minutes notice, and
immediately ordered off the
premises. Atwater said one staff
member came into his office and
spat in his face. He was blacklisted
from then on – unable to get any
job in science education.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists produced a series
of articles grossly misrepresenting Velikovsky.
The American Association for the Advancement of
Science. America's largest scientific organization
scheduled a symposium on Worlds in Collision for an
"open discussion of Velikovsky." The proceedings of
the 1974 AAAS gathering would feature the popular
astronomer Carl Sagan in a direct "debate" with
Velikovsky. Sagan did not confront Velikovsky directly
and left (to appear on the Johnny Carson show) before
Velikovsky could speak. He wisecracked throughout
his presentation and misrepresented Velikovsky’s
ideas. A friend of Sagan later said of Carl that it was
“shameful behavior”, instead of a real debate of ideas.
During an interview on the Tonight Show…Professor Sagan
casually told host Johnny Carson about the crackpot “Mars-
moons-are-cities” myth (an idea which he himself had
suggested in Intelligent Life in the Universe) and explained
how he worked with NASA to change Mariner’s trajectory
so that its cameras would be trained on the mysterious
Mars moons from close up to settle their real nature once
and for all. “There were, of course, no cities,” Sagan said
coolly. Another crack-pot theory shot down by self-
correcting scientific research. At no point, did Sagan give
the slightest indication on that televised show that he had
been the co-author of that crack-pot “Mars-moons-are-
space cities” idea. Sagan more than once verged on
intellectual dishonesty. He sneered at Velikovsky’s crackpot
ideas but had some of his own, some to do with UFOs.
The September 1999 Scientific American
magazine had a fascinating article about new
computer simulation research that shows that
planets can and do migrate from some orbits
into other orbits. This is an essential key part of
Velikovsky’s theories and one that physicists and
astronomers have long declared to be
absolutely impossible. The author of the article
concludes by saying – “Nevertheless, one thing
is certain: the idea that planets can change their
orbits dramatically is here to stay”.
Nowhere is there any mention of Velikovsky,
whose name is still a path to career suicide. But
credit should be given for his ideas from 1950 –
a full 59 years before this article.
Very recently a small star
(Scholz’s star) 20 light
years away was discovered
to be moving very rapidly
away from us. By
projecting backwards with
computer simulations it
was found that this star
passed by us at a distance
of just one light-year!! (4X
closer than Alpha
Centauri, our well known
nearest star), and only
70,000 years ago!!
This would have certainly disrupted the Oort cloud, where some comets like Halley’s Comet are
thought to originate. 70,000 years ago is very recent in cosmic terms. People were just starting to
leave Africa here. Who knows if other nearby stars will be found to have also passed close by
within relatively recent times, or will in the future!
In 1980 Nobel Prize winning physicist Luis Alvarez suggested that a giant asteroid had
slammed into the earth about 65 million years ago and may have caused the
extinction of the dinosaurs. This is now generally accepted by scientists, based on
impact evidence. A rock or body about 6 to 10 miles in diameter slammed into the
earth with a force of over a billion times the energy of the Hiroshima A-bomb. Very
dramatic events like this that are now accepted as part of solar system history have
made a climate where Velikovsky’s ideas do not seem so beyond the pale anymore.
In summary – Velikovsky was
an extremely brilliant and
original thinker who met
enormous resistance to his
amazingly disruptive ideas. He
persevered in the face of
monolithic rejection by his
critics, who treated him
shamefully. His success record
with correct predictions about
our solar system was incredible
and even if his theories turn out
to be fundamentally flawed
(time will tell) he was still
clearly onto to something very,
very big. He thought very big!