I’ve been working on writing my book about legends associated with the Giza pyramids, and in so doing, I have, of course, been reviewing material related to the story of the Pillars of Wisdom of the Abrahamic tradition, since the stories about their antediluvian knowledge were later applied to the Great Pyramid. In so doing, I came across a very strange fact that I am not entirely sure what to do with. It seems like it might be possible that these pillars were conceived as being the pyramids of Egypt all along, or at least since Late Antiquity.
The story of the Pillars of Wisdom is first recorded by Flavius Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, where the descendants of Adam’s righteous son Seth construct two pillars to preserve the knowledge of astrology that they had invented:
70 And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam’s prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water, they made two pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both, 71 that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind; and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day. (1.70-71, trans. William Whiston)
While some medieval writers mistakenly identified “Siriad” with Syria, it has long been understood that Josephus referred to the land of the Dog-Star Sirius, meaning the country of Egypt. But as for the pillar itself, most scholars have taken Josephus’s use of the Greek word stela, or pillar, at face value, meaning a column or pillar of stone.
But I was doing some research in the medieval Byzantine chronology of George Syncellus, looking to see if that writer had discussed the Egyptian pyramids anywhere but in his quotations from Manetho when I discovered that Josephus had made use of the word stela in a rather unusual context. In 20.101, he speaks of monuments erected by the Jewish convert Helena of Adiabene, under which she was eventually buried: “But Monobazus sent her bones, as well as those of Izates, his brother, to Jerusalem, and gave order that they should be buried at the pyramids which their mother had erected…” (trans. Whiston).
In the Greek text published by B. Niese, these monuments are clearly called πυραμίσιν, or pyramids. But in their notes, the editors of Syncellus’s text state that the monuments were called στήλαι, or pillars. As best I can tell, it was Eusebius who called the monuments “famous stelae” in his Church History 2.12 and the discrepancy between him and Josephus puzzled writers from the Middle Ages to modern times because the actual structures had been destroyed in Antiquity, as Pausanias reported. With the discovery of some of the actual stones in modern times, their pyramid shape was confirmed.
So this leaves a few odd possibilities. One is that Eusebius was just wrong and wrote the wrong thing. Another is that columns were erected above the tomb after its Roman-era destruction. A third is that the distinction between pyramids and pillars wasn’t as clear-cut as we modern people would like to think. In favor of that last possibility is the fact that medieval writers routinely described the Egyptian pyramids in weird ways that don’t seem logical to modern eyes. Some called them cones, which is not right. Abu Al-Makarim, a medieval Coptic Christian who actually lived in Egypt, referred to them as “high towers.” Abenephius, a medieval Jewish writer who may or may not have actually existed, conflated stories about the pyramids with obelisks. More than a few medieval and early modern depictions of the Giza pyramids by artists who never actually visited Egypt depict the pyramids as large stelae.
Josephus probably didn’t envision the Pillars of Wisdom as pyramids, but the confusion between pyramids and stelae in Eusebius and medieval writers offers a plausible reason why the story of the Pillars of Wisdom in Egypt could become so easily attached to the Great Pyramid, the greatest pillar of all.
3/2/2019 12:35:17 pm
Great detective work there, Jason, this is something that should certainly be followed up. I've been saying for a long time that we modern folks with literacy, dictionaries, grammars, etc., tend to think, wrongly, that language is something set in stone, that words are concrete entities with exact definitions. But words are fluid things; no two people hold exactly the same definition of a word in their heads. We learn words by hearing them used, and haven't we all had the experience of thinking we know a word, seeing it in a different context, looking it up, and realizing the dictionary definition is entirely different than how we've always understood it?
3/2/2019 10:08:09 pm
Also, languages often use a single word for more than one thing, or more than one meaning. A lot depends on context. Some languages get very specific and have 3 or 4 words that when translated into less specific languages, may all translate to the same word. The more something is rewritten, or worse translated, the more important it is to locate the original source document.
3/2/2019 01:52:38 pm
This reminds me of the Lady attempting to prove the waterscrew "invented" by Archimedes, actually goes back to Ninevah. Unfortunately, I don't recall her name, or the word she was translating. Had something to do with an indigenous tree.
3/2/2019 02:52:50 pm
I've been catching up on your posts and a common theme is they're often about things you can't remember. It's fascinating!
3/2/2019 03:36:14 pm
3/2/2019 03:44:00 pm
3/2/2019 04:10:12 pm
"Tens of thousands of books"
3/2/2019 05:35:33 pm
2-5 books per day for 42 of my 45 years... Somewhere between 30 and 70 thousand if not more. That is not counting required reading.
3/2/2019 06:12:19 pm
I just enjoy watching you make things up and digging yourself in deeper and deeper. It's fascinating!
3/2/2019 06:35:58 pm
What exactly have, I made up???
3/2/2019 06:44:29 pm
Sorry, I can't remember every one of the tens of thousands of things you've made up. But after catching up on your posts I'm confident they're all related to Orion. But like I said I can't remember.
3/2/2019 06:45:08 pm
The Great Pyramid being the Mountain of God, I believe came from a book titled, "Tempest and Exodus". It was interesting before, the author claimed the pyramids we're intended to represent "Female Breasts". The Bent Pyramid of Dashur was used an the ideal example.
3/2/2019 10:09:28 pm
Among your tens of thousands of posts I found this.
3/3/2019 12:33:40 pm
Mr. Colavito, interesting to note that of the thirteen posts to this blog, eleven of them are of Accumulated Wisdom and Kent arguing back and forth with each other.
3/3/2019 01:35:24 pm
Thank you Mr. Colavito.
3/3/2019 09:12:20 pm
The "two pillars" are the two thieves crucified with Christ as given in the fable, representing the two pillars Joachin and Boaz.
discrepancy between Eusebius and Josephus
3/4/2019 05:13:10 am
Whoa - look at Eusebius giving the wrong account about Herod when allegedly reporting what was written in Josephus.
3/4/2019 09:00:18 am
Yes, what was called an Angel in Acts is called an Owl in Josephus in relation to the death of Herod.
3/6/2019 12:20:53 pm
A comment from the Hall of Ma'at by L Cooper
3/6/2019 03:24:44 pm
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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.
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