I am pleased to announce that I have received a commission from Red Lightning Books and Indiana University Press for a new book, tentatively titled Legends of the Pyramids, which will explore the mythical history of Giza pyramids, from Joseph’s granaries to antediluvian giants to space aliens. The short book will be written for a general mass-market audience and is intended to serve as an overview of the many ways people have imagined the history of the pyramids. It will incorporate material from my blog and focus on the importance of the medieval legend of the antediluvian pyramids from the Akhbar al-zaman in shaping popular understanding of the pyramids and Egyptian history down to the present. The book is currently scheduled for release sometime in 2020.
Here’s a brief overview of the book from my book proposal:
About the Book
Around a thousand years ago, an Islamic writer gazed on the great pyramids of Giza and composed in awe an ode to their impossible wonder: “There is nothing for which I do not fear the effects of time, except for the two pyramids. However, I rather fear for their effect on time.” Over the centuries, these lines were polished into their familiar form: “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.” Symbolic of the veil of mystery and myth that hangs over the pyramids, the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs professes not to know the source of the quotation, though it is rather clear: It first appears in the Egyptian history of al-Maqrizi around 1400 CE, attributed to an anonymous earlier writer. But few today have read medieval chronicles laying claim to a wondrous history of Egypt. This blind spot unintentionally created the means through which a bizarre fictional history of Egypt has come to dominate pop culture’s view of pharaonic civilization, from Freemasonry to Stargate and from the Curse of King Tut to Ancient Aliens.
Recent surveys have found that anywhere from a third to half of all Americans believe that space aliens visited the ancient Earth, that Atlantis is real, and that the pyramids of Egypt were the work of aliens or Atlanteans before the Ice Age. In 1993, a TV special alleging that Egyptian history stretched back to Atlantean times drew 33 million viewers, and Ancient Aliens is the History Channel’s most popular series about ancient history. Each year dozens of books from authors like Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock, and many others argue that the wonders of Egypt were the work (directly or indirectly) of a vanished Ice Age civilization.
Meanwhile, archaeologists understand that the Giza pyramids were built by the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty, around 2450 BCE.
So why is there such a disconnect between scholarly opinion of Egypt and popular views?
The answer to this question is an entertaining but damning story of an untold thread in the popular perception of history. The story takes us back to Late Antique Egypt, where the loss of history and identity occasioned by the replacement of paganism with Christianity gave rise to local efforts to rewrite Egyptian history in the image of the Bible, or, more specifically, apocryphal Judeo-Christian stories of fallen angels, giants, and antediluvian science and magic. When the Arab Conquest absorbed Egypt into the Islamic umma, these stories passed into Islamic historiography and reentered the West through their use in occult and alchemical texts. There, they fomented a “hidden” history of Egypt, especially in the nineteenth century, that has grown up alongside and in competition with the “official’ history of archaeology and Egyptology.
The occult history of Egypt, drawn from medieval Islamic myths and Victorian occultism, imagines an Egypt founded before Noah’s Flood (later identified with the flooding at the end of the Ice Age), possessed of the knowledge of Fallen Angels or Atlantis, and home to magical revelations that connect humanity to the supernatural, and even the secrets of immortality and the divine. Largely unknown to academic Egyptology, archaeologists, and mainstream historians, this occult history underlies pop culture’s view of Egypt in movies, TV shows, popular books, and New Age faiths. It also poses an unrecognized challenge to science and the scientific understanding of history.
This book, written for both a popular and educated audience, traces the myths and legends of Egypt from their development in Late Antiquity through their florescence in medieval times and their rediscovery in the nineteenth century to demonstrate how a few fictitious seeds, planted thousands of years ago, continue to yield poisoned fruit today, persisting in low culture long after high culture rejected them. Little work has been done on this subject aside from some discussion in a dissertation by Mark Pettigrew in 2004 and a handful of journal articles by Michael Cook and A. Fodor in the 1970s and 1980s. This subject is a needed corrective to speculative ideas in volumes like Magicians of the Gods (2015) by Graham Hancock and Pyramid Quest (2005) by Robert M. Schoch and an important supplement to scholarly accounts of the reception of Egyptian history such as Ronald H. Fritze’s Egyptomania (2016).
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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