How do we live in a world where this is a normal headline? “Charlie Daniels Issues Grim Warning to Taco Bell About the Illuminati.”
Meanwhile... Some people never learn. Regular readers will remember Scott Creighton, the writer who has some outlandish ideas about ancient Egypt, including the claim that the first sixteen pyramids map the stars of the constellation Orion to depict Osiris and the claim that Col. William Howard Vyse forged Khufu’s name on the Great Pyramid’s quarry marks to hide the true age of the pyramid. (See my review: Part 1 and Part 2.) Well, prompted by the recent announcement of the discovery with cosmic rays of an unexplored void in the Great Pyramid, Creighton returned with an article on Graham Hancock’s website repeating old errors and misusing the medieval pyramid myth that I have spent so many years exploring to make a false claim for an antediluvian origin for the structure.
What astonishes me is that Creighton, who almost certainly has read my reviews of his work, has failed to learn anything about the medieval myth he uses as evidence, despite the fact that I have made the evidence easily available for even the most obtuse fringe writers to discover. “I took my cue from what the ancient Egyptians themselves tell us, and that which was later written down by various Arabic scholars. Alas, these ancient texts from the Coptic-Egyptian tradition are pretty much dismissed by modern Egyptology as nothing more than myth and legend.” That would be because the myths he cites, about King Surid building the pyramids before the Flood, doesn’t exist in the historical record before c. 1000 CE, and the preceding versions are vastly different and traceable to known historical sources.
As I have laid out many times before, the story that the pyramid were built before Noah’s Flood to safeguard science and wisdom is a medieval adaptation of a Late Antique Christian story that combined elements of Enoch’s antediluvian Pillars of Wisdom (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.68-74) and a preexisting popular Greco-Egyptian attempt to explain the hieroglyphs found in tombs and temples as a record of magic spells and wisdom carved to protect it from an unspecified Nile flooding event (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History 22.15.30). The first Christian version of the story, influenced by Hermetic philosophy, which had also adopted the same stories, applied the tale to the temples of Egypt, specifically the temple at Akhmim (Panoplis). This was the version known to Annianus and Panodorus, the chroniclers whose work formed the basis of the Islamic version. The first Islamic version of the story, given by the Persian astrologer Abu Ma’shar (Ibn Juljul, Tabaqat al-atibbaʾ 5-10) from Annianus, similarly applied the story to the temples, a tale that remained current to the end of the Middle Ages (Al-Maqrizi, Al-Khitat 2.80). It is only around 1000 CE, in the Akhbar al-zaman, that we see the pyramids incorporated into the story as a storehouse for the wisdom of Surid’s kingdom. This story was never the only one, competing with several other myths about the pyramids, and the temples remained the primary focus of the myth of antediluvian wisdom in the Islamic period.
Creighton doesn’t know any of this because he has never read the original texts, or, apparently, my translations and analysis of them. Instead, he cites his discussion entirely to Col. Vyse’s Operations Carried on at the Great Pyramid from 1840, whose second volume contains summaries of a number of Islamic texts. Unfortunately for Creighton, they are neither complete nor accurate, and he doesn’t know that. Hence, we get this incorrect statement of the history of this myth:
As stated, many of these myths were preserved and passed down in the oral tradition by the Coptic-Egyptians, the descendants of the original ancient Egyptian people and these accounts were subsequently committed to the written form in the tenth century AD by the Arabic scholar, al-Mas’udi.
The question of oral transmission is uncertain. The best reading of the evidence is that the tale we currently have is a literary tradition based on Christian efforts to harmonize vulgar folk belief with (semi-heretical) Judeo-Christian legends of the Watchers and the antediluvian wisdom pillars. The popular folk belief, however, is not possible to fully reconstruct now, but since it claims to explain the hieroglyphs and their occult meaning, it almost certainly arose after knowledge of this writing system had gone extinct, in the early centuries CE. There is no evidence of a continuity of tradition back to the Old Kingdom, though there is some evidence of connections back to Hellenistic times.
Of more direct concern here, and evidence of Creighton’s slipshod scholarship, is his allegation that al-Mas’udi recorded this story in the tenth century. This is false. The text he quotes comes from a translation of the Akhbar al-zaman produced by Aloys Sprenger for Col. Vyse (so far as the notes in the book indicate). Sprenger, however, was fooled by a mistake in the manuscript of the Akhbar. Because al-Mas’udi had also written a book with the same title, later copyists confused the two, and Sprenger, not knowing the difference, repeated the mistake. Creighton repeats the error yet again.
If this sounds familiar, it is because Erich von Däniken made the same mistake in Chariots of the Gods fifty years ago, for the same reason.
The funny thing is that al-Mas’udi actually did tell part of the story in his Meadows of Gold, but it wasn’t about the pyramids. It was about the temples, particularly the one at Akhmim:
The people who built these temples had a taste for astrology, and they persistently probed the secrets of nature. They had learned from the study of the stars that a catastrophe threatened the land; but they were uncertain whether the world was to perish by fire, by a deluge, or if the sword were to exterminate its inhabitants. In fear lest the sciences should be annihilated with the people, they constructed these berabi (singular, berba) and disgorged their knowledge into the figures, the images, and the inscriptions which adorned them. They built them either of stone or of earth, separating these two kinds of constructions. If the foretold catastrophe, they said, is of fire, the edifices built of earth and clay will harden like stone, and our sciences will be preserved. If, on the contrary, it is a deluge, the water will carry away that which is built out of earth, but the stone will subsist. In the case of destruction by the saber, these two kinds of buildings will remain standing. According to the above, these temples were built before the Deluge. Others give them a more recent date. (Meadows 31, my trans.
Al-Mas’udi added that there were contradictory opinions on which catastrophe the temples were built as a safeguard against, but he thought it was a foreign invasion, not Noah’s Flood.
This is the story as it was known before being applied to the pyramids—exactly what we would expect from an author who lived and wrote before 1000 CE. Creighton knows nothing of the actual words of al-Mas’udi and therefore rails against modern scholars for dismissing a later invention as a later invention.
Having accepted the text at face value—and failing, again, to note that Sprenger had only an incomplete Akhbar and filled out the text with parallel (but not entirely identical) material from al-Maqrizi’s copy of al-Wasifi’s (Ibrahim ibn Wasif Shah’s) version in his Al-Khitat—Creighton then decides that this story helps explain the void in the Great Pyramid:
I fully anticipate that future, more detailed scans of this feature within the Great Pyramid will reveal that there are no access tunnels anywhere leading to this ‘chamber’. I suspect that the bodies of the ancestor kings of Surid were lowered into this ‘burial vault’ when the roof of the vault was still open, providing the only access to the cavity. I also suspect that once all the ancestor kings were interred therein, the ‘chamber’ was sealed over and the Pyramid was built on top of it, to its completion.
I would be extremely surprised if a story that did not exist before c. 1000 CE somehow proved the key to a void unopened for 4,500 years.
Creighton also cites with approval physicist André Pochan’s claim from 1978’s Mysteries of the Great Pyramid that the Grand Gallery of the Great Pyramid was once lined with statues of Khufu’s ancestors, a claim based once again on Islamic-era legends, in this case two passages preserved in al-Maqrizi. The first, presumably paraphrased from al-Nadim, who wrote before 990 CE. In it, he writes that from the inner “mausoleum” of the Great Pyramid, “extends a corridor the height of a man and leading underground. The roof is made of stone and in it one sees portraits and statues lying or standing, and many things of which we do not know the meaning” (my trans.). This might suggest a gallery of statues if it weren’t for the fact that al-Nadim had just finished describing a fanciful golden set of statues in the King’s Chamber, a giant vat of magical blood, and a pair of sarcophagi in the chamber that clearly never existed. Similarly, the second quotation, from Ibn al-Wasif Shah, offers little evidence in favor of a hall of statues, for the passage merely says that in “the East pyramid’s rooms were executed representations of the sky and the stars, and they were crammed with statues of the ancestors of Surid…” (my trans.). Here plural rooms are specified, but when we place the passage in the context of the entirety of the story—in this case, the whole of the Akhbar al-zaman, of which it forms a small section, we see that it is merely a repeated motif of tombs filled with statues. One king, Sa, for example, had 4,000 statues!
But, interestingly, the specific wording used by Al-Maqrizi doesn’t appear in the parallel text of the Akhbar al-zaman, often considered to be the oldest and most accurate form of the text later cited by al-Maqrizi. Not to belabor the point, here are the two lines
As you can see, there is a slight but noticeable disagreement in terms of whether the objects were statues of Surid’s ancestors or the wonders (talismans, often in statue form) built by those ancestors. The latter makes more sense and is probably the correct reading. Al-Maqrizi was a good scholar for his time, but he could only work with the materials available to him, and by his day the copies of copies were somewhat corrupt. For what it is worth, the much more corrupt version of the Akhbar used by Murtada ibn al-‘Afif referred to Surid packing the pyramid with “Statues excellently wrought” as well as talismans, so wherever the error occurred, at some point a copyist just gave up and included both.
The bottom line is that Creighton’s reliance on excerpts in secondary sources has seriously undermined his argument by implying certainty where there is doubt and exposing his ignorance of the complex history of ideas he simplistically accepts at face value.
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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