Mesopotamian tradition insists that immediately before the rise of literate civilization and the building of the first temples, the world was struck by a terrible flood; a devastating event which killed most of mankind and made the earth a wasteland. Religious and literary texts from Mesopotamia are unequivocal that this terrible catastrophe was brought to the world by the goddess Ishtar, the Sumerian Inanna. Take for example the following quote from the epic of Gilgamesh:
"All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because 'I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.'
The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor."
In literally thousands of Mesopotamian texts Ishtar is unequivocally identified with the planet Venus. How strange then, thought Velikovsky, that nations and cultures all over the globe should also identify Venus as the harbinger of a great catastrophe. This was the case, for example, throughout the Americas, where Venus, the Morning Star, was said to have caused a terrible flood and to whom propitiary sacrifices - including human sacrifices - were offered. Turning back to the mythology of the Old World Velikovsky noted that not just in Mesopotamia but throughout the ancient Near East as well as in Europe and Asia a goddess who could reasonably be identified with Venus was universally regarded as having wrought a terrible catastrophe upon the earth. In Egypt, for example, the goddess Hathor - like Ishtar, a horned cow-like deity - was said to have been ordered by Ra to exterminate the human race. Seeing the work of destruction almost completed, Ra repented his decision and tricked Hathor into ending the slaughter by covering the earth with a red-colored beer, which Hathor drank.
But how could Venus, which today pursues an entirely predictable and safe orbit round the sun, have been identified by the ancient peoples as the cause of the Flood? The answer seemed to be supplied by other legends which claimed that at one time Venus had a tail, or feathers, or that the planet 'smoked'. Could it be, thought Velikovsky, that Venus had at one time been a comet, or had the characteristics of a comet?
Such an idea initially seemed somewhat preposterous, yet further examination of ancient tradition seemed only to confirm it more and more. Classical legend specifically stated that Venus was the daughter of Jupiter, whilst one tradition from Greece suggested that ancient man had actually witnessed the birth of Venus, which apparently erupted out of Jupiter in a massive explosion. This was the story of the birth of Athena, who was said to have sprang fully armed from the head of her father Zeus (Jupiter) 'with a mighty roar.' That Athena was another name for Venus was cofirmed by many clues - not least by her close association with Neith of North Africa (an admitted Venus-deity) and with Ishtar of Mesopotamia. Like Ishtar/Hathor, Athena was a goddess of battle and destruction, and she had bovine characteristics; Homer describes her as the 'cow-eyed' goddess.
Could it be, Velikovsky thought, that Venus was a new planet - a planet whose birth from Jupiter human beings had actually observed in the middle of the second millennium B.C.? The idea seemed a bit too far-fetched to take seriously, though subsequent enquiries proved it to be well-founded.