Africa's influence on ancient Greece, the oldest European civilization, was profound and significant in art, architecture, astronomy, medicine, geometry, mathematics, law, politics, and religion. Yet there has been a furious campaign to discredit African influence and to claim a miraculous birth for Western civilization. A number of books and articles by white and some black conservatives seek to disprove the Egyptian influence on Greece.
Black Athena had an enormous impact on African American Afrocentrist movements, because it offers a less Eurocentric theory of origin for western civilization.
The book also ignited a debate in the academic community. While some reviewers contend that studies of the origin of Greek civilization were tainted by a foundation of 19th century racism, many have criticised Bernal for the speculative nature of his hypothesis, his unsystematic and linguistically incompetent handling of etymologies as well as his naive handling of ancient myth and historiography. The claims made in Black Athena were heavily questioned inter alia in Black Athena Revisited (1996), a collection of essays edited by Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and her colleague Guy MacLean Rogers.
Critics voice their strongest doubts over Bernal's approach to language and word derivations (etymologies). Cambridge Egyptologist John D. Ray has accused Bernal's work of having a confirmation bias. Edith Hall compares Bernal's thesis to the myth of the Olympian gods overwhelming the Titans and Giants, which was once thought of as a historical recollection of Homo sapiens taking over from Neanderthal man. She asserts that this historical approach to myth firmly belongs in the nineteenth century.
Others have challenged the lack of archaeological evidence for Bernal's thesis. Egyptologist James Weinstein points out that there is very little evidence that the ancient Egyptians were a colonizing people in the third millennium and second millennium BC. Furthermore, there is no evidence for Egyptian colonies of any sort in the Aegean world. Weinstein accuses Bernal of relying primarily on his interpretations of Greek myths as well as distorted interpretations of the archaeological and historical data.
In 2001 Bernal published "Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to Critics" as a response criticism of his earlier works.