Who Is the Barbarian?
By Mark McCleary, 02/27/2017
It was not until my senior year at Oakwood University, while taking a West African history course, that I had an epiphany that the way we teach history can be ideological and self-serving. Having been influenced by television’s, movies’, and school teachers’ representations of Native Americans, Africans, East Indians, or Asians as “barbarians” or “savages” when they were depicted, I felt impressed to ask the late Professor William Harvey, “Who is a barbarian?” His response: “It depends on who is calling who barbarian.” Since then I’ve come to realize that history is a medium of personal and political craftsmanship and must be analyzed in terms not only what is said, but how it was said, when it was said, and what was included or excluded.
These reflections concern some of the portions of history I was not taught during my pre-college days that I deem important to close the gaps and fill in the missing insights of historical discourse. First I’ll deal with the Grecian influence on Western Civilization and the European Dark Ages, and then turn to African, Arab, Muslim, Islamic and Moorish influences on European Civilization and Spain as bridge to Europe’s social-political renewal or Renaissance.
Grecian influence on Western Civilization
I was taught that Greece is the progenitor of Western Civilization. I have since learned that Greece’s leading philosophers, who speculated about life, learning, and statecraft, were trained in Egypt, and therefore its knowledge of art, medicine, architecture, science, and its pantheon of gods were patterned on older Egyptian models. Early data asserts that Greece did not carry culture and learning to Egypt, but found it there and brought it home. Phillip Coppens, says that Greece was a beneficiary of Egyptian culture because of geographical proximity and interactions with Egyptian influenced Aegean Sea client-state Crete, and that Egypt predates Greece by at least two millennia (Coppens, 1999). When we consider that Egyptian culture flourished two-thousand years before Upper and Lower Egypt were joined as one nation, we become aware of its staggering history.
Scholarship has long promoted Egypt as the educational center of the world, its famous temples and libraries in existence long before Greece replaced Persia as world empire. Before Professor Harvey, I had been influenced by the representation of African/Black people as cursed, ignorant, and unproductive. I have since learned, usually from white scholars, that the way we teach and understand history has left gaps and missing data. Herodotus indicates that contact with Egypt, by way of immigration or education, was the genesis of Grecian enlightenment (Herodotus, 1972). Coppens asserts that the acclaimed philosopher, Thales of Milete, in 515 BCE, promoted Egyptian study to his followers, which was proctored by the Egyptian priest guild (Coppens, 1999). Plato, who learned from Socrates (who wrote nothing) and taught Aristotle, studied 13 years in Egypt and was mentored by Egyptian priest, Sechnuphis of Heliopolis (Coppens). Another renowned Grecian philosopher, Pythagoras, was educated in Egypt (interned there for twenty-two years), and per Coppens, carried letters of introduction from his Grecian mentor, Polycrates of Samos, to the Egyptian king (Coppens).
The scholarship of Coppens, Herodotus and many more suggest that the Grecian origin for Western Civilization is untenable. It in fact goes back to an older intellectual parent, Africa. Grecian philosophers, who laid the intellectual substrata of religious and philosophic tenets did not carry insights of their own devising into Egypt, but found a very highly developed culture in Egypt maintained by its local priests and scholars and rulers. Thus, Greek civilization, and thereby, European civilization, is rooted in Egypt and Africa, the birthplace of mankind (Genesis 2:7-15).
Europe and the Dark Ages
I learned from historicist Biblical scholars that Europe arose from the division of Civil Rome as depicted in Daniel two and seven. I also learned in school of Europe’s Dark Ages, when illiteracy and illness were rampant. If I am to believe Western Civilization has its roots in Greek culture, what am I to believe about its Dark Age period? In the previous section, I posited that Greek culture has its roots in Egyptian religious and philosophic education. Could it be that Europe lapsed into its Dark Ages because it lost connection with its African teachers?
After the fall of Rome (476 CE), new stirrings produced cultural clashes. In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntingdon’s classic study of the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s breakup, Huntingdon recounts how former Roman citizens or barbarian tribes began to assert themselves against Roman culture, but without science, math, and literature lapsed Europe into a period of Dark Ages (500-1000 AD/CE)(1). This period saw negligible development in literacy or technology until the Moorish invasion of Spain. Until then, 99% of Europe’s kings were illiterate and its people were trapped in superstition, not to mention the unhealthy state of life without sanitation (2), with little running water and the prevalence of open sewers (Burke, 1985).
I learned the ABC’s of Bible prophecy, but nothing made sense to me about how the Dark Ages came to be. My understanding was improved when I considered other sources that confirmed the Biblical identification of Roman Christianity as the little horn (Daniel 7) that arose out of the fall of Civil Rome. These sources also hinted at Rome’s responsibility for the Dark Ages through the Council of Nicea, (325 CE) where were promoted ideas that were anti-African and anti-Middle Eastern. By closing Europe to algebra, geometry, architecture, plumbing, and astronomy, they set the stage for the Dark Ages. For instance, Theodosius’ decree (380 AD) made it illegal to be a non-Christian within Roman provinces; Justinian’s decree (529 AD) made it illegal to teach Plato and thereby severed religious and cultural exchanges needed to keep philosophy and learning alive.
The Dark Ages is a European phenomenon because China, the Mayan empire and areas of Africa were not dark during the same era. Europe, by primarily Roman Catholic influence, cut itself off from other enlightened and older civilizations in a self-imposed Dark Age.
Is it a coincidence that Europe’s emergence from this age coincides with interaction with African traders and emissaries? Scholarship suggests that the Italian Renaissance had its roots in Spain. The rediscovery of Greek pedagogy was more accurately a re-grounding in Egyptian education coopted by Greece’s philosophers. The testimony of returning soldiers from the Crusades (1091-1291 AD) is further proof of the high standard of living the Afro-Asiatic people had long before the Dark Ages, though hardly mentioned by traditional history books (Burke, 1985). Europe’s enlightenment or Renaissance replaced its Dark Age of superstition and irrationality with the infusion of art, science, commerce, and colleges because it began to be exposed to non-White Moslem sources, primarily by way of Spain, Palermo and Sicily (3).
Moor, Arab, Muslim, and Islam as factors for Europe’s Renaissance
Moors were were Muslim converts who resided in Northern Africa.(4) Arab describes a nomadic Semitic people from Northern Africa to Western Asia. Arabs predate Muhammad and are not by definition Muslim, though many Arabs today are religiously Muslims (5). Muslim or Moslem is a devotee of Islam. It is Arabic for “one who submits to God” (6). Islam refers to a religion rooted in the Quran, considered by its adherents as the word of God composed by Muhammad (570-8 June 632 CE)(7).
Since Professor Harvey, I have pieced together the testimony of non-mainstream voices that describe the invasion of Western Europe, principally Spain, that became the gateway for scholastic infusion of African-Asiatic education, medicine, astronomy, and more. For example, Toledo, long under Muslim rule, was considered the cradle of learning (8). African-Asiatic people rose from the deserts as nomads to develop cities and civilization. Chancellor Williams’ Destruction of the Black Civilization suggests that these early indigenous people of Northern Africa and the Middle East invaded southern Spain, which was called “Al-Andalus” or “the land of the Vandals” (Williams, 1976). James Cleugh states, “The best minds looked to Spain for everything” (Cleugh, 1953; Salloch, 1972). Spain was the gateway for the Renaissance as scholars, locals, and foreigners transported their learning(9), just as Greek philosophers had travelled to Egypt long ago.
Much of this scholarship was in Arabic. James Burke posits that some 600,000 manuscripts were found at Cordova, which became the intellectual center of Europe (Burke, 1985; Derhak, 1995-2000). It is no small matter that Jews and Muslims had lived peaceably together and that Jewish interpreters played a major role in locating and redacting this valuable resource. Thus, Spain became the locus for Moorish, Arab, Muslim, and Islamic civilization on European soil and the gateway to is revival (10, 11).
Spain as Center of Influence for European Enlightenment
I remember seeing the Charlton Heston epic El Cid, in which the Christians were the good guys and the Muslim invaders were dark-skinned and dressed in black. However, I was never taught about the positive contribution of Africans to Spain’s development.
Per scholars like Salloch, there was close intercourse between Jews, Moors, Arabs, and Muslims that yielded intellectual and technological exchanges. 1492 is the year Columbus is said to have discovered America, but it is also the year Granada, a Muslim enclave, fell to Christian soldiers as depicted by Heston’s real life character, Rodrigo Diaz Vivar, El Cid (The Lord). When Granada fell, it was due to long tensions between competing factions rooted in religion, race, and an ideology of us vs. them. Salloch suggests that Moorish influence caused envy, jealousy, intolerance, and climaxed in killing or exiling these contributors to Spain’s social and technological development.
Your world map shows the proximity of these lands. Spain is on the Iberian Peninsula. Iberia is a Greek name and before the Pax Romana and “all roads lead to Rome,” it was a distant land to the west of Italy and home to a farming people (1000 BCE to 1 BCE). This Roman province developed slowly until it was invaded by North African Moors (700 BCE to 1492 CE). These invaders brought their civilization of learning and technology with them to this rural setting and planted the seeds for Spain’s and later Europe’s Renaissance from its Dark Ages.
The fact that Northern Spain, which was primarily Christian, united to expel these foreign contributors (Derhak, 1995-2000) does not diminish their presence and influence. Their impact cannot be denied, only downplayed or misinterpreted. It depends on who is telling the story and who is calling whom barbarian.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Life is learning and not one man or group has the full and accurate history of mankind’s origin, migration, and development. Historical discourse is a puzzle that needs broad reading and respect for indigenous input rather than dependence on myopic and biased accounts.
The values of recognition and empowerment are rooted in the principles of unity, humility, and love. If you respect others, you will do better listening and looking than just talking without the input of others wiser and more experienced than you. You will learn that “in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:35).
You and I can learn if we listen and read more broadly, put away our prejudices, and use objective logic. Historical discourse should be a tool for anyone interested in knowing about persons, places, and things beyond their observation, and not a medium for differentiation, exclusion, and pejorative misinformation.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people (Prov. 14:34).
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members (1Cor. 12:25-27, KJV).
Mark McCleary is the senior pastor of the Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church in Windsor Mill, MD. He’s earned a D.Min from Palmer Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis from Nova Southeastern University. He and his wife Queenie have been married for over 40 years, and have three grown children.
- Encyclopedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/event/Dark-Ages). The timing of these descriptions is congruent with the Historical Biblical interpretations of Daniel 2 and 7 wherein Political Rome is the iron or fourth beast with 10 horns, that represents Civil Rome’s breakup by “barbarian” subjects.
- Blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the-Moors-in-Spain/CultureSpain.com/2012/03/02/what-did-the Moors-do-for-us/.
- Wikipedia.org/wiki/Moors. The 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare used the word Moor as a synonym for African, https://atlantablackstar.com/2013/10/07/when-black-men-ruled-the-world-moors/3/.
- Wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabs. The Arab appellation refers to their geographic occupations, language, and cultural migrations.
- Blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the moors-in-Spain/Cultrespain.com/2012/03/02/what did the moors-do-for-us/.
- Wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziryab. Moorish, Arab, Muslim, Islamic civilization gave rise to paved streets, street lamps, public baths, and is the progenitor of both the University of Paris and Oxford.
- Per James Burke (1985), The Day the Universe Changed, Spain had medicine, sedatives, pharmacology, optics, and more because of Moorish et al influence.
- https://atlantabalckstar.com/2013/10/07/when-black-men-ruled-the-world-moors/3/. Especially in urban centers like Toledo, Granada, and Cordova there were street lights, hospitals, public baths, hydraulic engineering, aqueducts, and irrigation systems during the Moorish presence.
The Day the Universe Changed: A Personal View by James Burke, March 19-May 21, 1985, BBCI (revised at ISBN 0316117064).
Cleugh, J. (1953). Spain in the Modern World. NY: Alfred A Knopf, Inc.
Coppens, Philip. “Egypt: Origin of the Greek Culture,” Frontier Magazine, (May-June 1999).
Derhak, Dean (1995-2000). Muslim Spain and European Culture, https://www.xmission.com%7Edderhak/index/moors.htm
Salloch, William. (1972). Spain and Portugal, Part I: history and civilization. Ossining, NY: William Salloch.
Herodotus (1972). Histories, vol. II, trans. Aubrey de Selin court. NY: Penguin Books.
Williams, Chancellor (1976). Destruction of the Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500BC to 2000AD. Chicago, Ill.: Third World Press.