Sunday tends to be a pretty low readership day, and this has been a pretty slow week in the world of fringe history. On the plus side, it’s given me some time to do some additional reading, this time of the History of Egypt by Murtada ibn al-‘Afif (Murtadi ibn Gaphiphus), the first Arabic compilation of folklore about Egypt to have been translated into French, and then English. I have had the French edition for a while, but I recently found the seventeenth century English translation, and I am preparing it for a reprint. In the book, written in the thirteenth century, we find pretty much all of the same stories we find in every other Arabic book on pyramids and the Flood, oftentimes word for word identical to the Akhbar al-zaman. However, Murtada offers an interesting bit of testimony that so far as I know wasn’t addressed in Kevin van Bladel’s Arabic Hermes regarding the work of Abu Ma‘shar in developing the myth of the antediluvian origins of the Egyptian pyramids:
Abu Ma‘shar the astrologer, in his Book of Thousands, says that the reason for the building of the Pyramids was the dream which Surid ibn Shaluq saw. He confirms it in his Book of Miraculous Dreams, where he adds that he sent for the priests and soothsayers of his time, and the astrologers, and related to them what he had seen of the descent of the Moon upon Earth in the form of a woman; of the overturning of the Earth with its inhabitants, and of the total eclipse of the Sun; and the dream he had after that: and that the Priests declared to him the coming of the Deluge, whereof mention is made in the Book of the Annals… (trans. J. Davies, adapted)
This is interesting because it confirms that the story of Surid is as old as the parallel story of Hermes, and it suggests that the similarity between the two versions of how the pyramids came to be (or as Abu Ma‘shar would have it, the temples for Hermes and the pyramids for Surid) perhaps followed a line of convergent evolution rather than wholesale revision. It is perhaps interesting to note that Murtada mentions Hermes only twice, once to identify him as an Egyptian king before the Flood, and again to identify him with Idris and Enoch. The Akhbar al-zaman is similarly silent on Hermes. Murtada says, “He it was who foretold the coming of the Deluge, and the destruction of the world by water, which was to come over the Earth.” He adds that Idris-Hermes also led the Sethites in battle against the Cainites in the first skirmishes of a war that would last down to the Flood. This is a late, euhemerized echo of the Watchers-Giants myth, entirely rewritten to remove the magical and the monstrous. Gone are the fallen angels and the giants, even in name. Only two warring tribes remain. Frankly, it is a bit dull.
Another passage in Murtada is of interest in tracing the changes in legend. In giving folklore about sexual immorality, he make an interesting mistake that stands out when we compare his words (left) with those of the Akhbar al-zaman (right), written perhaps 100-300 years earlier:
Somehow, the temple (birba) of Akhmim has become a pyramid, while the second part of the story, told first of the Great Pyramid, was applied to the temple of Akhmim! No wonder it was so easy for stories about Surid and Hermes to move between the two antediluvian figures associated with these two locations.
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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