Atlantis

Noach’s flood was the second watery disaster to inundate humanity. Generations earlier, Hashem had prewarned the world of Noach’s flood by plunging a third of its land mass underwater (Rashi, Bereishis 6:4). Yet the Chumash dismisses this calamitous event in a couple of words. And unlike No- ach’s flood that was recorded by many civilizations, only one historical source breathes a word about the earlier deluge. Despite the sparse sources of this event, hordes of people have speculated the whereabouts of the drowned continent. In more recent times, the story even provided fodder for Nazi racial propaganda.

A Circular City

With three cryptic words, the Chumash hints that the generation of the flood was warned ahead of time that evil behavior is the root of destruction. Telling us of the giants who took the daughters of men, the Torah says, The giants were in the land in those days and also afterwards (Bereishis 6:4). Rashi explains these mysterious words as follows: “Even though they saw the destruction of the generation of Enosh when the ocean rose and flooded a third of the world, the generation of the flood was not humbled to learn from them.”

Rashi’s source, the Medrash Tanchuma, does not add much to our stock of information. Yalkut Sippurim, a collection of Chazal and medrashim printed in 1906, adds one detail: the lost land mass was adjacent to a river: “Hashem flooded them with the waters of the Gichon River and destroyed them and eradicated them, and destroyed a third of the land.” This gives credence to the latest search for the lost land that we’ll discuss later.

To find more about this watery grave, we need to examine two works the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in about 360 BCE. In these two dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, he writes a story of a sunk continent which, although ridiculous in many details, is strikingly similar to Rashi s cryptic account of the tragedy.

In Timaeits Plato describes the event in the following terms:

“Many great and wonderful deeds are recorded of your state [Athens] in our [the Egyptian’s] histories. But one of them exceeds all the rest in greatness and valor. For these histories tell of a mighty power [Atlantis], which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable. There was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean.”

After relating how Atlantis attacked the rest of the world and suffered defeat, Plato describes its sudden destruction:

“Afterwards there were violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune. the island of Atlantis disappeared in the depths of the sea. For this reason, the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable; for there is a shoal of mud in the way caused by the subsidence of the island.”

In his other work Critias Plato describes Atlantis in detail, writing, among other things, that the country’s principal city was a seaport consisting of concentric circles of rock with an island in the middle. Similar to his other account, he writes that lawlessness, ambition, and power lust led to Atlantis’s downfall.

Ever since, people were never certain whether Plato’s story of a vast submerged kingdom was fact or fantasy. Some people brushed it off as a parable, while others tried guessing where the mysterious land might be located and where its survivors may have fled. Interest in Atlantis increased with the passing of time. In modem times, as explorers began poking in every nook and cranny of the world, fascination in the lost continent rekindled. One of the earliest modem researches was conducted by the Swedish anatomist, botanist, and university rector, Olaus Rudbeck. From 1679 onwards, he began publishing a four-volume work aptly titled Atlantica. He proposed that Atlantis was located in the vicinity of Sweden and that its survivors had transformed Sweden into the cradle of civilization. Isaac Newton’s 1728 The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, also discussed Atlantis at length, while 19th century scholars associated Atlantis with Mayan and Aztec culture. Best know of the Atlantis theorists was US congressman, Ignatius L. Donelly, whose book, The Antediluvian World ambitiously set out to prove, among other things:

“That there once existed in the Atlantic Ocean, opposite the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, a large island, which was the remnant of an Atlantic continent, and known to the ancient world as Atlantis… That it became, in the course of ages, a populous and mighty nation, from whose overflowings the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, the Amazon, the Pacific coast of South America, the Mediterranean, the west coast of Europe and Africa, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Caspian were populated by civilized nations.”

The amount of surmise people have cooked up from a few lines of Plato is enough to fill a dozen Atlantises. By now, theorists have dreamt up no fewer than twenty potential sites of the missing continent.

The Nazi Connection

For Jews, the most significant of the 19th century Atlantis theorists was Helena Blatavsky, co-founder of the strange, occult “Theosophical Society,” that was devoted to unleashing impractical doctrines on the world. Unfortunately, her musings also helped unleash Nazi belief in Aryanism. In one of her books, The Secret Doctrine (1888), which sports a Tibetan swastika on its cover, she raved that Atlantis survivors of an Atlantic cataclysm escaped to Mongolia’s Gobi Desert before settling in the Himalaya Mountains. The Aryans descended from them and imported their wisdom to Europe.

Huge admirers of her Aryan theories, Nazis energetically elaborated her theme. One Nazi, Otto Huth, was convinced that Atlanteans had fled to the Canary Islands for had not early European explorers described the islanders as blond and light skinned?! Huth confidently proclaimed, “Separated from the disturbances of European world history, the ancient Nordic civilization blossomed undisturbed on the happy islands until it was destroyed.”

Another Nazi, Julius Evola, theorized that the Atlanteans were Nordic supermen who originated on the North Pole, while Alfred Rosenberg, the dimwitted official philosopher of the Nazi party, spoke of a “Nordic-Atlantean” master race that had spread as far as Palestine.

Most dangerous of all believers in Blatavsky’s twaddle was SS head, Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, who constantly sought grand mythical origins to the Nazi state. What could be grander than the granddaddy of origins, Atlantis itself?! As part of his interest in pseudo-history and the occult, Himmler founded the spurious Ahnenerbe (SS Ancestral Heritage Society). Its purpose: to find support for Nazi claims of racial superiority.

The society expended so much effort scratching the earth of defunct Germanic villages for ancient potshards and spearheads that Hitler lost patience.

“Why do we call the whole world’s attention to the fact that we have no past?” he once complained. “It isn’t enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts … All we prove by that is that we were still throwing stone hatchets and crouching around open fires when Greece and Rome had already reached the highest stage of culture. We really should do our best to keep quiet about this past. Instead Himmler is making a great fuss about it all. The present-day Romans must be having a laugh at these revelations” (Albers Speer’s autobiography, pg. 141).

Himmler’s society also displayed an unwanted interest in a Tibetan exhibition led by the hunter and adventurer Ernst Schafer who happened to be a genuine scientist and did not relish Himmler’s sidekicks breathing down his neck.

Even though Schafer laughed at Himmler’s crackpot theories (he refused the inclusion of an Ahnenerbe “expert” in his expedition) and was only minimally supported by SS funds (Himmler only paid for the flight back), he could not afford to ignore the SS leader. And so the Schafer exhibition became known as the SS Tibet Exhibition, not least because all five members were required to become members of the S.S.

Perhaps exaggeratedly, British writer Christopher Hale titles his well-researched 2003 book on the trip, “Himmler’s Crusade: The Nazi Expedition to Find the Origins of the Aryan Race.”

The Latest Dig

In recent years, Atlantis has become a subject of intense interest to serious archeologists. Some propose that its capital was located on the Greek island of Santorini, others favor the Italian island of Sardinia, while others stake their money and reputation on Cyprus.

This March, the Biblical archeologist, Professor Richard Freund, director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and the Maurice Greenberg Professor of History at the University of Hartford, claimed that there is evidence that the ancient city of Atlantis is buried deep under the marshlands of the Donana National Park in Southern Spain just north of Cadiz.

Explorers began looking at the 250-square-mile park in the 1920s. Satellite photos taken in 1992 and reexamined in 2003 revealed circular patterns on the park’s mudflats that investigators regarded as startlingly reminiscent of Plato’s destruction of Atlantis’ circular town and harbor. Freund argued that Plato’s placing of Atlantis near the Pillars of Hercules, generally understood to be the Straits of Gibraltar, adds more credit to his thesis. In addition, Plato remarks that Atlantis faced a city called Gadara, which is an ancient name for modern Cadiz in Southern Spain.

On top of that, Freund points out that a number of ruins in the area have the same
concentric-circles shape as Atlantis’s port city. He contends that they are memorial cities built by survivors of the catastrophe. Furthermore, forty-five feet borings in the park vicinity unearthed fragments of wooden boats going back almost five thousand years.

Since the burp of publicity in March, not too much has been written about Freund’s exploits and he admits that subsurface groundwater will make digging dozens of feet down to the purported site a formidable undertaking. If he does unearth the evil city, it will be a living memorial to one of the greatest Divine punishments ever to strike mankind.

(Ward, Vanessa. 2008. Nationalist Uses of the Atlantis Myth in a Nordic Framework. PARA Research Paper A-10.)

 

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