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Legends and Mysteries:
With the release of the Disney movie, Atlantis:
The Lost Empire, one may wonder if there really was a lost civilization
of Atlantis. Plato tells the story of an ancient island civilization that
vanished as the result of a natural disaster. Plato writes about Atlantis
in Timaeus and Critias. Timaeus 24a-b indicates that there
were Egyptian records of this story.
It was not until Schliemann dug up Troy that historical value was placed in ancient legends. Similar to him was Sir Arthur Evans who found the labyrinthine home of the Minotaur at Knossos. The background of the Odyssey has been illuminated by archaeological finds in Ithaca. Carl Blegen at Epano Englianos in southwest Messenia found a great Mycenaean palace that fits the description of Nestors palace in the Odyssey. So it seems that there is a good possibility that the story of Atlantis has some bases of truth.
According to Plato, Atlantis was bigger than Libya and
Asia put together. How can this be? The ancients judge of size and
distance may be off here. It is said to be in the Atlantic Ocean past the
pillars of Hercules. The Atlantians invaded between 8000 and 9000 years
before Plato. This seems like an exaggeration or a different way of counting.
It is more likely 800 to 900 years. Solons visit to Egypt is said
to be about 590 BC. This would place the story around 1500 BC.
Professor Andrews has suggested that Plato misread Solons notes. It should read that Atlantis is midway between Libya and Asia, not larger than Libya and Asia. In the Greek there is only a one letter difference.
J.V. Luce has written a very interesting book entitled Lost Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend. He thinks that Platos story is best understood from an Egyptian point of view from which this story originally came. Luce posits that Atlantis refers to the Egyptian Keftiu, which is Minoan Crete. The great civilization of Atlantis was the great Minoan civilization. Keftiu is mentioned in Egyptian texts from the third millennium down to just before the end of the 15th century BC.
Keftiu in Egyptian means pillar, and is the same as the Akkadian Kap-ta-ra, a land beyond the upper sea. It is also the same as Biblical Caphtor. Caphtor means pillar in Hebrew. Caphtor is called an island in Jeremiah 47:4. The Philistines are said to come from Caphtor in Amos 9:7. Philistines are called Cretans in Zephaniah 2:5, Ezekiel 25:16 and I Samuel 30:14. In Ugaritic Caphtor is the home of craftsman Kotar wa Hassis (CTA3.6:14-15=UT nt). In Egyptian texts Keftiu is described with isles of the Great Green The Great Green is the Mediterranean Sea, so it refers to Crete and the islands of the Aegean Sea (p.53). Keftiu is said to be in the midst of the Great Green Sea.
It seems that Keftiu was considered to be the pillar at the ends of the earth that held up the sky. The worship of sacred pillars was prevalent in Minoan Crete. Plato would have equated this with Atlas from which we get Atlantis. Solon probably misunderstood the Egyptian record of the Minoans (p.56).
Was there a natural catastrophe that destroyed Atlantis?
There was a huge volcanic eruption on the island of Thera, modern day Santorini. The dating of this varies from the early 17th century to the early 16th century BC. The latest carbon 14 dating indicates about 1620 BC. This eruption sank half the island of Thera below the sea. The eruption would also cause a tsunami, which would have destroyed the coastal cities of Crete. The archaeological evidence seems to confirm this.
Enormous quantities of ash were ejected forming a huge pillar like cloud. It is very possible that the effects of the volcano were part of the plagues of Egypt. The tidal wave from the eruption drowning the Egyptians, and the pillar of cloud by day and a fiery cloud by night that led the Israelites was the ash cloud from the fiery volcano.
Amos 9:7-10 is a new literary unit that starts with a double rhetorical question, which introduces a saying that contradicts the popular belief that Israel occupies a special place because of its exodus from Egypt, and therefore is exempt from the judgment of God. In the first rhetorical question God declares that the Israelites are just like the Ethiopians who are from a distant land. In the second rhetorical question Israel is equated with her close foes the Philistines and Arameans. God not only brought Israel out of Egypt, but the Philistines out of Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir. Both the Philistines and the Arameans experienced their own exoduses (A Commentary on the Book of Amos by Shalom M. Paul, 1991, pp. 282-3).
The eruption of the volcano on Thera forced the Philistines to flee from Crete and the Aegean islands, probably to Asia Minor. Eventually the Philistines settled on the coast of Israel after a great sea battle with Egypt about 1200 BC. See the interesting book People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines by Trude and Moshe Dothan, 1992.
In 2 Kings 16:9 Tiglath-Pileser IV carried away the Aramean captives to Kir. Kir means enclosure or walled place (ISBE, Vol.III, 1810). In Amos 1:5 God will send the Arameans back into captivity from whence they came. The Jews also fled back to Egypt during the Babylonian Captivity (for information on Kir, see C. H. Gordon, Kir 2, in IDB 3.36, also JBL 74 (1955) 289, and EncJud 3.252-56).
"The Arameans are a group of western Semitic, Aramaic-speaking tribes who spread over the Fertile Crescent during the last quarter of the second millennium BCE. Apparently forced out of the Syro-Arabian desert" (EncJud. Vol.3, p.252). Kir may have been located on the border of Elam. The first extra-Biblical reference of the Arameans is found in the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I (about 1116-1076 BC; Ibid. 254). The Table of Nations (Genesis 10:22) places Aram with Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, and Lud.
The Minoan Civilization
The Minoans were the first to rule the sea. They built an empire on marine trade routes. Their capitol city was Knossos. There was a great palace at Knossos that was destroyed by an earthquake, but then restored. There were great arts of fresco painting, gem engraving, and pottery. Records were written in Linear A. Then Crete suffered a widespread disaster (the volcanic eruption of Thera).
The Mycenaeans from mainland
Greece rose to power. The legend of Theseus, who slew the Minotaur may reflect
Mycenaean dominance over Crete.
Other Records of Disaster
Pindar tells a story that may reflect the Atlantian disaster. I tremble at the heavy-sounding war between Zeus and Poseidon. Once with thunderbolt and trident they sent a land and a whole fighting force down to Tartarus, leaving my mother and all the well-fenced house (p.120; Pindar, Paen IV, 27-44).
Deucalion's FloodThe Greek story of Deucalions Flood may reflect the tidal wave flooding of coastal cities caused by the eruption of Thera. It is said to happen about the same time as the Exodus from Egypt (See The Date of the Exodus).
In the story of the Argonauts near Crete the bronze giant Talon threw stones at them, molten lead flowed out of him (Argonautica 4, 1694-1701). Could this be a reflection of a volcanic eruption? They sail north of Crete and encounter darkness (Argonautica 4, 1731-54). The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD produced a darkness. Pliny writes, not a darkness of a moonless or cloudy night, but the total darkness of an enclosed space when lights have been extinguished (p.150-51; Epistles VI, 20,14). Finally they sail on in calm weather, Euphemus throws overboard the clod of earth he received from Triton, and from it rose up the island Kalliste which was later called Thera. This might reflect the change in Thera after the eruption. The old island vanished and new islands formed. Mud made it unnavigable.
Floating pumice would be all over the sea. There are other stories of floating islands like Asterie. In the Odyssey (10, 1-4) the island of Aeolus was a floating island with sheer cliffs and a wall of bronze which describes the volcanic islands of Lipari. The Egyptians have a floating island called Chemmis, but Herodotus said he never saw it move (II, 156). Hesiod in Theogony describes a tidal wave that is probably the result of a volcanic eruption (844-49).
The Phaeacians in Odyssey may be the Minoans. Because they helped Odysseus Zeus would petrify one of their ships and shut in the city with a mountain (Odyssey 13, 125-177).
A remnant of the Minoan dispersion may have settled in Tunisia where a tribe of Atlantes was known to be during the classical period (p.173).
Similarities Between Crete and Atlantis
Luce list a number of interesting similarities between Crete and the description of Atlantis.
- Atlantis was the way to other islands. This is an accurate description of Crete as the gateway to the Cyclades and Greece.
- The palace of the Atlantians on a low hill 50 stadia inland and near a fertile plain is a good description of Knossos.
- The description of the land fits perfectly with the southern coast of Crete.
- There were bulls hunted without weapons which is characteristic of Minoan Crete.
- The construction of the buildings match Knossos (pp.181-3).
Lost Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend by J.V. Luce.
Fire in the Sea: The Santorini Volcano: Natural History and the Legend of Atlantis by Walter L. Friedrich, translated by Alexander R. McBirney.