Biography and History

Russian-born American scientist Immanuel Velikovsky is best known as the author of a number of controversial books, primarily arguing that ancient myths, legends, and accounts of catastrophic events related in the Bible and other texts have a basis in fact. Based on his findings, he proposed a revised chronology of Ancient Egypt, synchronizing it with the history of Israel. His ideas were widely criticized and rejected by scientists, physicists, Egyptologists, and others in the academic field.

Velikovsky was born on June 10, 1895, in Sosoniki near Vitebsk (present day Belarus), in Russia. He was the third son of Simon Yehiel Velikovsky and Beila-Rachel, born Grodenski. Velikovsky studied medicine at the University of Montpelier in the South of France (1913), at the University of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland (1914), and at Kharkov University (1914-1918). He received his M.D. degree from the University of Moscow in 1921.

Between 1921 and 1923 he took different post graduate courses in Berlin at the Charité and at the Kaiser Wilhelm Academie. While in Berlin he was involved in the founding and editing of the Scripta Universitatis, which is a collection of works in the sciences and in the fields of Judaica and Orientalia, and for which Albert Einstein prepared the mathematical-physical section. Velikovsky's work on the Scripta ultimately led to the birth of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

It was also in Berlin that he met the violinist Elisheva Kramer, and they got married in 1923. They had two daughters, Shulamit and Ruth Ruhama. From 1924 to 1939 Velikovsky and his family lived in Palestine where in 1928 he began his specialization in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. He also worked at the Brain Institute of Monakow in Zurich, Switzerland, and studied psychoanalysis under Wilhelm Stekel in Vienna, Austria, in 1933. Dr. Velikovsky and his family moved to the United States and settled in New York City in 1939, where he conducted his research at Columbia University. The family later moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where Velikovsky got reacquainted with Albert Einstein.

As he was working on a book on Freud and his work on Moses and Akhenaton, he began his research on the history of Egypt, Greece, and the Jewish past. In 1940 he conceived the ideas that would lead to his writing of Ages in Chaos and Worlds in Collision. He concluded that a natural catastrophe had taken place at the time of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt, and found a similar record in an obscure papyrus, in Leiden, Holland which parallels the Book of Exodus. He discovered the reason for the catastrophe was mentioned in the Book of Joshua that says that a destructive shower of meteorites occurred before the sun stood still in the sky, and that Venus played a role in all this. He used this catastrophe, which brought the downfall of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, as a starting point from which to synchronize the history of Ancient Egypt and that of Israel. This work was titled Ages in Chaos.

His most criticized work, Worlds in Collision, completed in 1946, states that around the 15th century B.C. a comet (now called the planet Venus) separated from Jupiter, and passed near the Earth, changing its orbit and axis and causing innumerable catastrophes. Fifty two years later, it passed close by again, stopping the Earth's rotation, and causing more catastrophes. In the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. Venus and Mars almost collided near Earth, causing another round of disasters, after which the current celestial order was established. All these events had a profound effect on the lives and beliefs of mankind.

After more than a dozen publishers rejected both manuscripts, Macmillan published Worlds in Collision, in 1950. A few weeks before the book was released, it was widely publicized in Harper's Magazine (January 1950) with an article by Eric Larrabee titled "The Day the Sun Stood Still". There was also an article by Fulton Oursler in Reader's Digest (March 1950), and one by Gordon Atwater who was the curator of Hayden Planetarium and chairman of the Department of Astronomy at the Museum of Natural History.

After the publication of the book, many scientists were very critical of it, mainly Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Phillips Astronomer at Harvard College, Dr. Harlow Shapley of the Harvard University Observatory, who called Velikovsky's theory "rubbish and nonsense" (Science Newsletter, February 25, 1950), and later Carl Sagan, also of Harvard University.

Due to the threats of many scientists and academic institutions to boycott Macmillan's scientific textbook department, Macmillan ceased publication of the book, even though it had reached the number one spot on the best-sellers' list, and the publishing rights were transferred to Doubleday and Company.

In 1952 Doubleday published the first volume of Ages in Chaos. A sequel, extending Velikovsky's reconstruction of historical events, was supposed to follow, but it was re-worked and enlarged to two volumes, Ramses II and His Time and Peoples of the Sea. In 1955 Earth in Upheaval was published. Here Velikovsky presented geological and paleontological evidence to prove the theories he presented in Worlds in Collision. In 1960, Oedipus and Akhnaton was published.

Despite the criticism he received, Velikovsky continued writing. He wrote several other books and articles that were published in the United States. His works were translated and published in a score of languages, and he appeared on various radio and television shows all over the world. For nearly a decade prior to the early sixties, he was persona non grata on many college and university campuses. However, when early probes sent to Venus, Mars, and Jupiter confirmed some of his conclusions, he began to receive more requests to speak. He lectured frequently to record crowds at universities across North America.

Velikovsky continued his research from his home in Princeton, helping a number of researchers who followed in his footsteps in assembling data and evidence that supported his ideas. He died at the age of 84, on November 17, 1979, at his home in Princeton.

Source: From the finding aid for C0968

  • Immanuel Velikovsky Papers. 1930-1979 (bulk), 1920-1996 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0968

    The collection consists of manuscripts, writings, correspondence (both personal and professional), photographs, works of others, microfilm, printed material, and film reels, spanning more than 50 years, concerning Velikovsky's controversial ideas, the books that he wrote, and the history of opposition and criticism from the academic community that he received following the publication of his first book, Worlds in Collision, in 1950. Colleges and universities threatened to boycott the textbook division of the publisher, Macmillan & Co., which led to the transfer of the publishing rights to Doubleday & Co., even though the book had reached the number one spot on the best-sellers list. The book was eventually banned from a number of academic institutions, and several people lost their jobs because of it.