As most of you know, I am particularly interested in archival research because finding the origin of weird claims is often quite illuminating. On social media this week, I’ve encountered more than a few people talking about how the Egyptian pyramids were actually built by a cult of primitive Freemasons, possessed of secret Enochian knowledge or some such hooey. At a gross level, the claim is a derivative of nineteenth century arguments by Freemasons, as quoted by Piazzi Smyth, that the pyramids were “simply places for initiating neophytes.” Such accounts can be found in the Masonic literature of the latter nineteenth century, with varying degrees of logic undergirding them. This was close kin to John Taylor’s erroneous claim that the Egyptians, being heathen, were too damned by God to be worthy of the perfection of the pyramids, which therefore must have been built by the Jews of the immediate post-Noachian epoch, perhaps, as many Masons later held in publications like the Universal Masonic Library, in imitation of the Tower of Babel. It’s hardly a stone’s throw from the Jews building the pyramids to having them built by Enoch and the early Jewish Freemasons who would later construct Solomon’s Temple atop the ruins of Enoch’s buried chamber.
But in my research this week, I came across a singularly strange passage about what Freemasons were alleging about the Great Pyramid in the middle nineteenth century. The testimony comes to us from Bourchier Wrey Savile, an Anglican clergyman who was formerly a British Israelist and a believer in the so-called Messianic Prophecy of the Great Pyramid—the odd claim that the Great Pyramid was divinely inspired to encode in its measurements a timeline of God’s creation and Christ’s return. In disparaging Anglo-Israelism and also the Masons’ presumption of claiming the pyramid for themselves in 1880, he reports the following:
Professor Piazzi Smyth, in his work on the Great Pyramid (ii. 367), mentions the case of an Oxford Freemason, A.D. 1866, who contends the Pyramids are “simply places for initiating the neophytes in, and as the mysteries in every country were funereal, the use of the sarcophagus is easily explained” on the principles of Freemasonry. Professor Greaves had previously said that “the Pyramids, like the Caves of Elephanta, and the Round Towers of Ireland, built by the pupils of Zoroaster, were all places of initiation;” or, perhaps, we might say with as much truth, what Curran wittily said of the last, that they were “built for the purpose of puzzling posterity.” The connexion between the Great Pyramid and Freemasonry has greatly commended itself to our brethren in the far West, whom the Anglo-Israelites usually designate “Manasseh,” while claiming descent for themselves from the tribe of “Ephraim.” A member of the Masonic craft has been lecturing in the cities of the United States, under the auspices of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Iowa, asserting that the Grand Lodge of Alexandria, in Egypt, has recently discovered a new chamber in the interior of the Great Pyramid, containing a great number of slates, covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions, which confirm the truth of the chief doctrines of Scripture, and serve as an admirable reply to the sceptical tendencies of the present age. I believe the Anglo-Israelites of England do not acknowledge the authority of this American associate in their Great Pyramid labours, notwithstanding that an enterprising Yankee publisher has sent forth a work of several hundred pages, with a full account of these most wonderful discoveries. Professor Piazzi Smyth, however, treats the whole tale as a myth of the dark ages, reserving his belief in the Great Pyramid for matters certainly as speculative, and possibly still more unlikely, than the theory which seeks to make Freemasonry an argument against the various hypotheses of Bishop Colenso, and his companion Agnostics of the Rationalistic School.
This, in turn, led me to a spectacular bit of pseudo-history perpetrated by C. E. Getsinger, who might well be the quack patent medicine man who in the early 1900s marketed a fake tuberculosis cure called Oxidaze that was a glorified sugar pill. Now remade as a member of the fictitious “Royal Egyptologists’ Society,” he fooled William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper syndicate, the International Feature Syndicate, in 1922 into reporting that Noah’s Ark was really the Great Pyramid. The syndicate spread the story to a bunch of papers on July 30, 1922, all of which published the same preformatted page. I have always been a firm believer that low culture reveals much of what high culture hides, and seeing how the public experienced fringe history is quite valuable.
It’s such a spectacular example of fringe history fantasy masquerading as fact that I can’t help but reprint it in full in my Library. Technically speaking, it’s not really a hoax because the source of the claim was merely making a ridiculous analysis of historical material. But take a look at what he said: Getsinger identifies Noah’s flood as having occurred between 30,000 BCE and 20,000 BCE, and he argues that the pyramids were built by a lost civilization resident on Atlantis, which was destroyed by the flood. He adds:
Investigations prove that the pyramids (the ‘Noah’s ark’ pyramid and others) were under the sea for years. Near the top of each of the pyramids, at the same level, is a high water line, where a deep niche has been cut into the rock by the lashing of the surf. […] The entrance to Cheops is 52 feet above the ground, so placed that the Polar or North Star could shine directly into the interior, which it did according to astronomy, about 30,000 years ago and so, after its complete cycle, does again to-day.
I do not conceive that actual animals entered the pyramid or ‘ark.’ I assume that the so-called animals referred to the animal signs of the Zodiac--Aries, the ram; Taurus, the bull; Cancer, the crab; Leo, the lion; Scorpio, the insects; Capricornus, the goat; Pisces, the fish.