I hope you’ve been enjoying the translation I’ve been making of the chapter of Al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat on the pyramids. I’m almost through, and I hope to have it done soon. It’s one of the largest collections of medieval myths and legends about the Egyptian pyramids ever made, and it’s certainly well worth the read. I know I’ve found it fascinating. I’m amazed that this material has apparently never been translated into English before, especially given how rich it is with anecdotes and colorful legendry.
We’ve heard from Giorgio Tsoukalos and Erich von Däniken (multiple times) that the book presents information about alien assistance in building the pyramids, but after reading the massive blob of mutually-contradictory stories Al-Maqrizi collected, I can’t see any way of concluding anything else but that Al-Maqrizi was right when he said that nobody knew anything for certain and that all the stories he was collecting were all made up.
What strikes me is that the various authors Al-Maqrizi collects, being devout Muslims and sometimes Christians, say virtually nothing about the pagan gods, whom Tsoukalos and von Däniken claim are the aliens, and attribute to these gods squarely nothing. I haven’t yet found a writer who attributed the pyramids to anything other than the agency of a (human) king, whether that be Surid (Sourid or Saurid), Sheddad (or Shaddad) ben ’Ad, or Hermes (also called Edris or Idris). So, even taking the stories at face value and out of context, there just isn’t any non-human activity at work. The closest Al-Maqrizi’s sources get is when they suggest Surid built the pyramids in response to a dream or an astrological forecast—but again, no gods are involved. (I previously wrote of an earlier passage attributing the origins of science to demons, but this was only very tenuously connected to the Giza pyramids.)
I found most interesting the little bits of fact wedged in among the distortions and myths. Although the specific stories the writers tell are clearly wrong, in that they do not match any archaeological evidence, it is also clear that some are distortions of actual events that must have occurred one or two centuries earlier and had passed into myth. Take this one from Abu Abdallah Muhammed bin Abd ar-Rahim al Kaisi, speaking (incorrectly) of the Great Pyramid in the time of the Caliph Al-Ma’mun (ninth century CE):
This is obviously an accurate description of the opening of a royal (or at least noble) sarcophagus and the discovery of a richly-bedecked mummy within. Over time, the sarcophagus—wherever it was really found—became associated with the Great Pyramid because it stood in Al-Ma’mun’s palace and it was remembered that Al-Ma’mun forced his way into the Great Pyramid several centuries earlier.
Consider, too, this description, again supposedly (and wrongly) of the Great Pyramid, but quite clearly describing some alabaster sarcophaguses in a burial chamber not unlike that of King Tut, along with the Book of the Dead provided to the deceased:
The most impressive part of the whole mass of stories is just how much our modern conception of what a pyramid should be like derives from these Arab legends. In them we read of statues that move of their own accord and attack intruders, secret vaults and hidden doors with ingenious opening mechanisms, long winding corridors covered in hieroglyphics, and hostile ghosts and spirits waiting to attack the unwary visitor. The Hollywood version of Egypt comes directly from these stories, themselves wild distortions of a much more prosaic truth.
I still fail to see where the aliens figure into any of this, or how anyone with any integrity could read them as anything other than distorted legends abstracted from small grains of truth. On the plus side, now that this material is available in English, it will be that much harder for alternative writers to make unsupportable claims about what it says.
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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