Jason Reza Jorjani Adopts Hancock-Schoch-West Fringe Claims about Egypt, Falsely Implies Nineteenth Century German Philosopher Believed Them
Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and also the planned launch date for the new altright.com website of white nationalist Richard Spencer and so-called “alt-right” “intellectual” Jason Reza Jorjani (which as of this writing has not happened), this seems like a perfect time to explore some of Jorjani’s views on Africa in his 2016 magnum opus, Prometheus and Atlas, which is based on his doctoral dissertation in philosophy. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), he doesn’t address sub-Saharan Africa in his universal theory of human achievement [update: I found a brief mention of West African weights and measures], but he does touch on the part of Africa most important to those who glorify the Aryan race, Egypt. Does it surprise you to learn that he casts his lot with fringe writers who don’t think that the Egyptians were responsible for developing their own culture?
His discussion of Egypt comes in passing during a chapter devoted to the sublime and the beautiful. The entire chapter carried vaguely disturbing undercurrents, for two reasons that I will state briefly: First, for a chapter devoted to the sublime and beautiful, it was surprising that he made no mention of the most famous philosophical work on the subject, Irish conservative Edmund Burke’s essay “On the Sublime and Beautiful.” Instead, Jorjani explores the subject entirely from a Germanic perspective, citing Teutonic philosophers’ views, especially those of Immanuel Kant and F. W. J. Schelling. This is decidedly unusual, but it feeds directly into the second reason that his choices gave me a sense of unease. He named the chapter “The Titanic Total Artwork,” and if those words don’t spark something, perhaps the German original will: Gesamtkunstwerk. The term for “total art” was used from the early nineteenth century but is best known from its use by composer Richard Wagner, from whom it influenced both Nietzsche and Hitler. It is disturbing that at every turn, with every choice, Jorjani subtly but consistently privileges those philosophical schemes that fed into the Weimar-era right-wing stew from which Nazism grew.
But to return to our topic for today: In discussing Schelling, Jorjani explores his conception of total art and its relationship to the deep past. To that end, he cites passages from Schelling’s works of the period from 1810 to 1815. Schelling, of course, died in 1854. In his book Clara (1810), for example, Schelling writes: “The ancient Egyptian practices have something terrible about them, but they are based on a thought that is itself true and correct” (trans. Fiona Steinkamp). In The Ages of the World (1811-1815), Schelling offers a similar thought, which Jorjani truncates with ellipses for a very particular reason: “The same character of closure approaches us in the mute seriousness of the Egyptians and in the gigantic monuments of the Indians that seem to have been built for no particular time but rather for eternity” (trans. Jason M. Wirth). Jorjani clips out the “Indians” (i.e. the peoples of India) and falsely ascribes the “gigantic monuments” to the Egyptians.
Why would he do such a thing? Why, to make Schelling into an advocate of the fantasy history of Egypt promulgated by Graham Hancock and his colleagues like Robert Bauval, Robert Schoch, John Anthony West, and their ilk.
Here is how Jorjani shoehorns Schelling into Hancock’s fantasy world:
Returning to The World Ages, there Schelling delivers [these] remarks on the primordially titanic character of “Egyptian” art and architecture. We should read them bearing in mind that he might be thinking foremost of the “proto-Egyptian” megalithic structures of the Sphinx and Valley temples, as well as the Osireon at Abydos. On account of being totally unmarked, unadorned, and austerely geometric, they are conferred with an especially timeless and inhuman quality.
First, the facts: Schelling could not have been thinking of the Sphinx and Valley Temples, nor the Osireion at Abydos. The Valley Temple was excavated by Mariette in 1853. The Osireion was discovred by Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray in 1902. The Sphinx Temple wasn’t excavated until the 1930s, by Émile Baraize and Selim Hassan, with official publication of the site delayed until 1965! Many fringe folk aren’t aware of this because Mariette mistakenly assumed that the Valley Temple was a Sphinx Temple, so older literature uses both terms, though referring to only one of the two temples. However, the absence of the Sphinx and Valley Temples from the map of Giza found opposite page 1 in the Operations of Col. Vyse (1840), a key text used by almost every fringe writer on pyramids, ought to be a clue that the temples were not known in olden days.
The claim Jorjani makes – but does not cite – regarding the alleged antiquity of the Sphinx and Valley Temples and the Osireion comes nearly verbatim from the books of the Graham Hancock constellation of fringe authors. They have all made identical claims, alleging a hoary antiquity for these three particular structures based on their allegedly unusual architectural style.
The weird thing, though, is that Jorjani couldn’t have borrowed the claims directly from Graham Hanock, the most obvious potential source, because Hancock actually knows more facts than Jorjani does. Hancock knows what dates the various temples were excavated and reports them correctly in Fingerprints of the Gods. Nor can the source be Schoch, who does not typically write about the Osireion. The most plausible source therefore is John Anthony West’s Serpent in the Sky, where the claims Jorjani makes for the three Egyptian temples are given in full, and without the excavation dates that would have undone his argument. Of course, he might have borrowed the material from a book that repeats the claims secondhand, or even a website. This is only a guess based on the facts he presented.
None of this changes the fact that he seems to want to rope Schelling into fringe archaeology fantasies about Egypt, as though to wipe away questions of fact in order to present the fantastical fake history of Egypt as irrationally true, a work of total art that supersedes science through its appeal to mystical (or as he would say, spectral) higher truth.
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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