Robert Schoch, Robert Bauval, and a Dermatologist Claim to Have Hieroglyphic Evidence That the Sphinx Predates the Pyramids
Last month, three authors, two of whom are well known to us, paid a Chinese publisher to review and publish an academic article claiming that the Sphinx predates dynastic Egypt based on a word and a hieroglyph. Before we examine the article itself, it’s worth saying a word about Scientific Research Publishing, a Chinese-owned mass-producer of more than 200 low-quality academic journals such as Archaeological Discovery, in which this article appeared. Scientific Research Publishing of Wuhan, China uses bulk email to solicit academic articles, which it then charges the authors to publish. While this is not, strictly speaking, unethical (some respected open access journals charge publication fees), the company’s business model is essentially to make huge profits by charging fees for every article published while exercising minimal quality control. According to published accounts, the company has reprinted articles from other journals without permission, named scholars to its editorial board without their knowledge or consent, and even accepted an article created by a random text generator. One title’s entire editorial board resigned over ethical concerns.
I mention this because it explains a bit about why the article we are about to consider seemed to lack the quality one would expect in a peer-reviewed academic article.
Our authors, Manu Seyfzadeh, Robert M. Schoch, and Robert Bauval, presumably paid the fee and waived off the well-known concerns about SRP’s publication model so they can say that a scholarly journal published an academic article featuring their research. Regular readers know Schoch, a geologist of heterodox opinion, and Bauval, the author of The Orion Mystery, very well. They recently wrote a very bad book about the Sphinx together. (My review: Part 1 and Part 2.) Manu Seyfzadeh appears to be the same dermatologist in Lake Forest, Calif., who self-published a book about the architecture of the Great Pyramid in 2016. He is listed as the lead author of the article under consideration today. The uneven English of the article, so different from Schoch’s and Bauval’s usual style, suggests that this is in fact the case, and it does make me wonder how much Schoch and Bauval contributed to it, and also whether SRP’s cut-rate editorial staff bothered to read it either.
The argument of the article concerns the famous statue of Khufu’s vizier Hem-iunu, which is inscribed at its base with a word or words that have hitherto eluded translation. The inscription refers to two titles that begin with the same characters, “Master of the Scribes of the King” and a second, “Master of…” in which the remainder is unclear. That is because one of the characters, a bent rod, is not attested in other contexts (it is repeated in the same context on other roughly coeval steles and statues such as the Stele of Wepemnefret). The rod appears above a recumbent lion and appears joined to its back.
Our authors propose that this set of symbols is not to be taken as parallel to the other title or to be seen as syllabic in form, unlike the other hieroglyphs on the statue. Instead, they ask us to read it as a literal picture of the Great Sphinx before its head had been allegedly re-carved from lion to human form. The authors, to that end, identify the recumbent lion as Mehit, an Archaic leonine goddess from Thinis whose mythology said that Anhur captured her in Nubia. Late Egyptian religion syncretized Mehit with the “Distant Goddess” (the Eye of Ra), who in that story ran away to Nubia and was retrieved on Ra’s orders. In early iconography, Mehit was depicted with three bent poles emerging from her back. On that basis, our authors suggest that the lion on Hem-iunu’s statue with one bent rod connected to its back must be Mehit, and they further identify that rod as a key. “It is known that the ancient Egyptians had developed a lock and key device to secure an entree by at least the Middle Kingdom,” they write. Great! Except that this is 500 years after the Great Pyramid was built, and 1,000 years after the Early Dynastic Period. To get around this, the authors propose that the symbol depicts a primitive key for a predecessor of the Middle Kingdom lock that utilizes a simple single pin, though I am unaware of evidence for such a lock in Fourth Dynasty times.
So far, the argument has been speculative but not inherently implausible. Here, though, is where we run off of a cliff. The authors, having established their own speculative belief that the lion symbol found in the Lower Egyptian site of Giza is actually an Upper Egyptian Archaic lion goddess, propose to build a castle in the air atop that speculation by suggesting that the lion is not merely a symbol but a building!
Here, we are now able to associate scribes with a lock-secured facility either dedicated to a lion goddess or, in fact, a facility made in the shape of a recumbent lioness. This is further corroborated by the way the rod symbol ostensibly enters the back of the lioness as if the latter physically bore the lock belonging to this key. “Mehit”, for example, would then have been the actual name of this secured facility in the same sense as “Fort Knox” is the name of a well-recognized secured vault where the United States keeps some of its gold reserves. Consequently, Hemiunu would have carried the title of “The King’s Chief Librarian and Guardian of Mehit [i.e. the vault].
This vault, they further speculate, must be the Hall of Records of Atlantis, as Edgar Cayce had suggested from his fusion of Theosophical, lunatic, and Arab-Islamic mythical material about Giza. It is important to note that our current authors would never have followed this line of speculation if not for a warrant in the form of the preexisting fringe belief in a lost Hall of Records under the Sphinx, a belief that originates in Classical and medieval claims that the Sphinx concealed a pharaoh’s tomb (Pliny, Natural History 36.17) or treasure chamber (Kitāb al-durr al-maknūz § 309) and Arab-Islamic speculation that such tombs were repositories of the secret wisdom of Hermes Trismegistus and/or the Nephilim/giants (Akhbar al-zaman 1.2; al-Maqrizi, 1.40; etc.).
Our authors take fringe speculation for granted and boldly assert that the Sphinx was “probably inspired by the constellation Leo,” a claim that has no basis in fact but which I have shown developed in the Renaissance from Hermetic-inspired astrology, based in turn on the Late Antique work of Horapollo (1.20-21), who falsely claimed to be able to translate hieroglyphics. He reported at the time, and under the influence of Greco-Babylonian astrology, that “when the sun is in Leo it augments the rising of the Nile,” so the lion was the symbol of the Nile. Renaissance writers conflated this with similar Arab-Islamic claims that the Sphinx was a talisman guaranteeing the safety of the Nile Valley, and, voilà, there you have it. None of this changes the fact that there is no evidence for the recognition of such constellations in Egypt before the Babylonians invented them. Schoch and Bauval are not even original in their application of these old ideas; they occur in the 1600s, the 1700s, and, in their closest approximation to modern versions, around 1909.
Echoing the Arab-Islamic authors who reported that the Sabaeans worshiped the Sphinx as a god, our authors claim that the Sphinx itself, predating dynastic Egypt by 7,000 years, actually inspired the worship of Mehit, who is nothing but the Sphinx personified. Note the circular reasoning whereby Schoch’s and Bauval’s earlier claims must be assumed to be true for their logic to then demonstrate that their earlier claims about an older, fully leonine Sphinx are therefore true. “We thus believe that the name of the Great Sphinx during the Old Kingdom and even before was Mehit. This was not appreciated because it was widely assumed that the Great Sphinx did not exist before the time of Khafre prompting researchers to proclaim that no reference to the Great Sphinx exists prior to the New Kingdom.” If we do not assume what our authors ask us to believe, then the identification of the Sphinx with Mehit falls apart because she is chronologically, iconographically, and geographically separate from the Sphinx. It doesn’t help that the authors also choose to discuss late versions of the Mehit myth, after she syncretized with the Eye of Ra. Mixing and matching time periods makes for bad logic, but to be honest, I am not familiar enough with the chronology of the many different Egyptian gods and their identifications with one another to know the exact timeline on when they merged together. It was the responsibility of the authors to explain their reasoning, and they did not.
I’d also like to point out that the authors elide much of their logic behind assumptions they simply expect the audience to accept. Consider, for example, their assertion that because the word mehit also means “rainstorm,” Mehit the lion represents, more or less Noah’s Flood—the rains at the end of the Ice Age—because the dual meaning of the word “intriguingly points to an actual deluge at the end of the Younger Dryas, when the sun rose in the constellation Leo.” Note those last words—“when the sun rose in the constellation Leo.” The sun rises there in every time period, just at different times of the year. The unspoken assumption is that the people of 10,000 BCE put as much weight on the spring equinox—the actual time period when the sun rose in Leo in 10,000 BCE—as Babylonian astrologers did. Historically, dynastic Egyptians counted their years from the rising of Sirius, and before that they used a lunar calendar. The key event was the annual Nile flood, not the sunrise on the equinox. Oh, and the goddess Mehit and the word mehit were written with different symbols according to the same hieroglyphic dictionary that the authors cite.
From all of this, the authors conclude that the title assigned to Hem-iunu is “The King’s Chief Librarian and the Guardian of the Royal Archives of Mehit,” and they say that these archives could only be a library found at Giza, around or under the Sphinx. While this Hermetic claim is entirely consistent with Late Antique and medieval beliefs about Egypt, even if we accept their translation of the title, there is no reason to connect Mehit to the Great Sphinx since the authors failed to show that Mehit was indeed the Sphinx except in their speculation built atop speculation, nor do they explain why the identification with Mehit ended and the so-called library vanished from history all in the space of Khafre’s reign. They alleged that a ridge on the Sphinx’s neck was one of the four neck rings worn by Mehit, and that the others were obliterated when the leonine head was re-carved into the current head utilizing the old neck—a claim that does not explain where the rock for the headdress, which goes down the sides of the “neck rings,” came from since lionesses don’t have manes.
Rather than deal with these problems, the authors set up a straw man and claim that the most important counterargument to their claims is that Mehit was inspired not by the Sphinx and Leo but by a real lion. “Our response to this counter is best summarized as follows: One does not insert a key into a real lioness. One inserts a key into a lock which opens the door to a vault guarded by a monument in the shape of a lioness.” Pause for a moment and consider the absurdity of that claim: The monument is not the vault, nor is it the lock, yet we are to accept the symbolism of inserting the key into the monument to represent the vault, but not the symbolism of connecting a key or a rod or whatever to a lion.
The authors conclude by stating their belief that there is a palace (!) located under the Sphinx which can be opened by a bent rod inserted into its lock, and they speculate that this palace contains antediluvian records. They call upon the Egyptian government to let them probe beneath the Sphinx with a camera to prove this claim. Interestingly, they call this library the “House of Thoth,” based on the Hem-iunu’s title as the “great priest of the Five of the House of Thoth.” What’s interesting here is that while this seems to refer to the temple (“house”) of Thoth at Memphis recorded in other Fourth Dynasty inscriptions, it’s interesting to note that Thoth was later syncretized with Hermes Trismegistus, and there was a longstanding tradition that Hermes had a vault of records in the pyramid fields. Al-Maqrizi reported several variations, one of which, quoted from Ibn al-Nadim’s Index, identified the Pyramids themselves as Abu Hermes, where ancient wisdom was hidden, while another spoke of the monastery of Abu Jeremias at Saqqara as Abu Hermes, where Greek copies of antediluvian records detailing the coming of the Flood and the construction of the pyramids to save ancient wisdom were allegedly found. “Abu Hermes,” which literally means “Father of Hermes,” carries the figurative meaning of “the place most closely associated with Hermes.” While there does not appear to be a continuous tradition for 3,500 or more years, it just goes to show how the same ideas keep coming back again and again to new claimants who think themselves geniuses who have made an amazing new discovery.
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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