I am at a bit of a loss as to how fringe historians choose which legends to accept and which to reject. In reading about the Giza pyramids, I came across the popular fringe claim that before the Arabs removed their casing stones in the 1300s, a water mark was visible showing where the Great Flood had touched their sides. Here’s one from creationist Martin Gray: “In support of this ancient flood scenario, mysterious legends and records tell of watermarks that were clearly visible on the limestone casing stones of the Great Pyramid before those stones were removed by the Arabs. These watermarks were halfway up the sides of the pyramid, or about 400 feet above the present level of the Nile River.” Gray is not the first or only creationist or fringe figure to make the same argument that the pyramids testify to the reality of the Flood—it occurs in at least a dozen creationist, lost civilization, and ancient astronaut books I’ve reviewed.
It’s quite evident that Gray doesn’t know the “mysterious legends and records” firsthand, but I do. Here are three versions of it. The first and longest comes from the Akhbar al-zaman, sometime between 900 and 1200 CE, and is closely related to the Arab myth that the pyramids were built above a vast network of subterranean glass (!) tunnels designed ride out the Flood:
[King] Far’ân continued to walk in the way of error and injustice, consumed in pleasures. He abandoned the temples, let wither the fruits of the soil, increased injustice, and grew the number of murders. Cultivation was abandoned, and the land everywhere became barren; men committed outrages upon each other and felt no remorse. The temples and Berba (Great Temples) were closed, their doors bricked shut. Finally the flood came, and the rain fell on Egypt for twenty-four days. Far’ân, constantly intoxicated, did not budge, until the water had risen quite high; he stood up in haste to reach the pyramids. But the earth shook under him. He returned, looking for the subterranean passages, but he lost his footing and fell on his face onto the ground. He let out moans similar to those of a bull and was finally overwhelmed by the Flood. Those of his companions who penetrated into the subterranean passages were drowned. The water reached a quarter of the way up the pyramids; its mark is still visible today. (my trans.)
Al-Maqrizi tells the same story in his Khitat around 1400:
So the Flood came during the reign of Far'ân; Egypt was completely submerged, its buildings destroyed and sciences annihilated. The water stayed on the ground for six months and rose halfway up the great pyramids, and God willing, we will give some account of this event in the section of this book dealing with calamities of Egypt. […] In his time, the land of Egypt faltered, its crops were reduced to almost nothing, and the two regions were devastated. He was wed to his mistakes and crimes, which were associated with his entertainment and games, and the people followed the same path as him. Vice spread from one to another. When the Flood came and the rain began to fall, Far'ân rose to flee to the pyramid, but the earth parted before him when he reached the door, his feet failed him, and he fell helpless and crying; and all those who had taken refuge underground died of consumption. And God knows best. (my trans.)
Succinctly, al-Biruni alludes to the story in his Chronicle of Ancient Nations around 1000: “People are of opinion, that the traces of the water of the Deluge, and the effects of the waves are still visible on these two pyramids half-way up, above which the water did not rise” (trans. C. Edward Sachau). Most fringe writers know only al-Biruni’s version, since it is the only one professionally published in English, but al-Biruni’s account is inseparable from the Flood myth that surrounds it in the more developed legend. Al-Biruni has extracted a single line from a complex of interrelated stories and claims, and fringe writers don’t recognize that.
So, Gray is at least on somewhat OK ground in recognizing that there are in fact accounts of a “water” line on the pyramids. (If such a thing really existed, it was a change in coloration on the casing stones, from some unknown cause.) But I can’t figure out what logic he uses—other than ignorance of the source material—to claim that this legend is true, while denying others from the very same texts. For Gray goes on to deny that the Great Pyramid was built by Khufu because the pyramid, he said, was empty when it was opened:
When the Arab Abdullah Al Mamoun finally forced his entry into the chamber in AD 820 - the first entry since the chamber was sealed in some long ago time - he found the coffer entirely empty. Egyptologists assume that this was the final resting place of Khufu, yet not the slightest evidence suggests that a corpse had ever been in this coffer or chamber. Nor have any embalming materials, any fragments of any article, or any clues whatsoever been found in the chamber or anywhere else in the entire pyramid that in any way indicates that Khufu (or anyone else) was ever buried there.
And yet the very same texts Gray uses to claim that Noah’s Flood left its mark on the pyramids also claim to have found royal burials within the same pyramids! To take but one example, one of the oldest accounts we have of al-Ma‘mum’s entry into the pyramid describes the discovery of Khufu’s anthropomorphic sarcophagus and mummy in the coffer of the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. The account comes from Ibn ’Abd al-Hakam, written in the later ninth century:
They found toward the top of the pyramid a chamber, in which there was a hollow stone: in it was a statue of stone like a man, and within it a man, upon whom was a breast-plate of gold set with jewels; upon his breast was a sword of invaluable price, and at his head a carbuncle of the bigness of an egg, shining like the light of the day; and upon him were characters written with a pen: no man knows what they signify. (trans. John Greaves)
Al-Maqrizi adds that there were two more bodies in what I think is meant to be the Queen’s Chamber: “The tombs are closed with lids of stone which, once removed, let one see within them a man lying on his back, perfectly preserved and dried and on whose flesh is still visible the hair. In the neighboring sarcophagus is the body of a woman in the same position and in the same state as that of the man” (my trans.).
These tales are likely untrue, and probably manufactured from the discovery of actual mummies in other tombs, but for our purposes it is beside the point. How do fringe writers decide which stories to believe and which to doubt? I suppose ignorance and convenience are the excuses, but I would like them to explain their methodology for accepting some claims from the very same texts that blatantly contradict their own ideas.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.