I can’t help but share the crazy quilt of nuttiness that I discovered in the work of an obscure fellow named Carl von Rikart, a German (pseudonymous according to the Edinburgh Review) who in 1869 published a book called Menes and Cheops Identified in History Under Different Names. In that book, von Rikart attempted to argue that Egyptologists were blinkered by their small-minded anti-Bible stance and therefore did not recognize that the Pharaohs of Egypt were the characters of the Bible. For example, he equates both Menes and Khufu with Noah’s son Shem and claims that Abraham convinced Shem to build the Great Pyramid to symbolize God’s covenant.
Von Rikart was an eclectic biblical literalist, though. He, for example, was so convinced that the Bible must be literally true that he proposed that the waters that rained down must have fallen “90,000,000 miles” to Earth because the Bible said the water came from the firmament, which biblically is beyond the sun! Yet he is so permissive an interpreter that he believed the forty days of rain to have been forty years, on account of forty days being insufficient to enact the entire Flood drama.
But I especially want to discuss von Rikart’s one stroke of originality, in which he anticipates the ancient astronaut genre of science fiction infused pseudohistory. He claimed that the way Noah and the denizens of the Ark survived the flood is because they were put into stasis and hibernated!
Oh, but he has so much more! And like any good fringe writer, he must connect it to the myth of the Watchers, because, really, how can you speculate about the Pyramids without them? After rehearsing the medieval myth of Surid and the Flood, von Rikart correctly recognizes that it is closely tied to the stories of Hermes, Seth, and/or Enoch building two pillars before Flood to preserve all knowledge. These pillars of wisdom originated in the story of the Watchers inscribing the antediluvian wisdom on stones, derived in turn from Mesopotamian legends about tablets of wisdom that survived the Flood. But our author has other ideas.
Von Rikart follows a different thread. He knows that Surid allegedly inscribed texts full of scientific knowledge, and he equates these (correctly enough) with the “sacred book(s)” that the Egyptians had long ascribed to the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops), the builder of the Great Pyramid. He therefore follows the Akhbar al-zaman (which he cites from Col. Vyse’s Operations) in identifying the content of the sacred books as being astrological material. But look at where he goes with it:
Let us pause a moment and consider. Herodotus says certain books were written; Africanus tells us that he himself possessed those books, or copies of them. Here we have a tradition. Is tradition correct? Is it not a record or history of certain books between the two dates? I suppose history would be thought too strong, and in an uncertain way a connection with Armenia has been pointed at. Is it possible the Magi who came to Judea obtained their tradition of the ‘Star of the King of Israel’ from these books? If so, that star, on its first appearance before the Deluge, in a time of anger, is the star for whose return the telescopic passages of the Pyramids were built or excavated.
The volume of fringe claims is astonishing! The Star of Bethlehem is here a returning star—a comet, he will later clarify—and one that becomes the harbinger of the Flood in the medieval pyramid myth. But, too, he anticipates by almost 15 years Richard Anthony Proctor’s assertion that the interior shafts of the Great Pyramid functioned as telescopes, “when the grand gallery of the Great Pyramid opened out on a large square platform, where priests could be stationed in order to observe and record observations.”
But that is not all. Remember the hibernating Noah? He finds proof of his assertion in the Akhbar al-zaman and the story of Surid and the prophecy of an evil star causing the Flood. This story is attributed to Coptic tradition. “Granted; but I fancy nearly all traditions have some foundation, though much perverted or distorted; the ‘seven sleepers,’ from which Rip Van Winkle perhaps descended, possibly had their origin in Noah’s hybernation (sic).”
He also identifies the myth of the Phoenix with a comet, along with Constantine’s vision of the Cross, Surid’s evil star, and many other instances of lights in the sky. He anticipates Ignatius Donnelly’s Ragnarok by almost fifteen years. All of this he then connects phonetically to Peru in the most ridiculous way possible, by taking the Egyptian word for Phoenix, Phanac, removing the vowels, declaring “Ph” to mean “the” and pronouncing n-c to be “Inca”!
And like all good fringe writers, von Rikart is more confident in his own abilities than his talents should allow. He thinks that the Great Pyramid is located at “Gigeh,” for example, and mistakes al-Masudi for an imaginary person named Masondi. (It is unclear whether the spelling mistakes are his or the typesetter’s.) In another place, as even contemporary reviewers noted, he mistook a printer’s error in an 1867 edition of James Ussher’s notes to the Bible for Ussher’s error, and then based a towering pile of conspiracy theories atop the error, which he could have avoided simply by checking an earlier edition before building a castle in the air. “This writer speedily reveals the measure of his competence to deal in Egyptology,” the Contemporary Review scoffed. “Our readers will be disposed to agree with us in thinking the writer wholly unfit to discuss the questions on which he enters,” The Athenaeum said, but added that “His wild and incoherent conjectures are harmless enough.”
Carl von Rikart: One of the unsung masters of the fringe history genre, born 150 years too early. Imagine what he would have done with a YouTube channel. Why, today he might even have had his own cable TV show!
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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