I came across a fascinating little book put out by the Theosophical Society’s publishing arm in 1913. Entitled The Faith of Ancient Egypt, it surprised me by presenting in précis most of the arguments about precession, astrology, and Egyptian wisdom that we would see come to fruition under R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz (Temple of Man, 1949) and the authors of Hamlet’s Mill, and those influenced by them such as John Anthony West, Graham Hancock, etc. Basically, Golden Dawn member Sidney G. P. Coryn suggested that the Sphinx predated dynastic Egypt, that the precession of the equinoxes governs the shape and symbolism of world religions in each astrological “age,” and that Egypt was possessed of fabulous wisdom and technology that could only have come from a superior civilization.
In short, the book is pretty much the same as all of the twentieth century occult claims about Egypt, but decades ahead of its time. Coryn drew on Theosophy’s occult claims, but it is interesting to see him remixing them closer to the version familiar to us today. I know of no evidence that modern authors ever read his book, but it just goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun.
But Coryn’s opening lines intrigued me enough that I thought it worth looking into them a bit more. Coryn starts by trying to make the case that the Sphinx predates dynastic Egypt by thousands of years, a claim that is, of course, familiar to all of us today as foundational to modern occult Egyptology:
The Egyptian civilization, we are assured, is not more than 10,000 years old, that it began dimly with Menes of the First Dynasty, and tottered to its fall under the Ptolomies. And yet Lenormant reminds us that in an inscription of the Fourth Dynasty, mention is made of the sphinx as being a monument whose origin was lost in the night of time, and that it had been found by chance in this reign, buried by the desert sand beneath which it had been forgotten for long generations. The Fourth Dynasty carries us back to 4,000 years before Christ. Judge then of the antiquity of the sphinx.
Now, this was news to me. Although I suspected the real source behind the words (and turned out to have guessed correctly), I thought it prudent to trace back the claim and see where it came from. The trouble is that Coryn did not provide any citations to help us to identify where in French Egyptologist François Lenormant’s body of work such a claim could be found. Fortunately, a somewhat mixed-up footnote in the 1909 English translation of spiritualist philosopher Léon Denis’s Here and Hereafter gave me the answer. In the text of the book, the occultist cited Augustus Le Plongeon and M. d’Arbois de Jubainville (who claimed the Celts came from Atlantis) and argued that people from Atlantis, who were red in color, had built the Sphinx: “The sphinx of Gizeh, which antedates the great pyramid by several thousand years, was erected by the red men near to where the Nile flowed into the sea; it is one of the rare remaining monuments of those distant times” (trans. George G. Fleurot). The footnote gives us the source for the allegation about the age of the Sphinx: “A papyrus of the fourth dynasty (4000 B.C.) relates that the sphinx had been accidentally found beneath the sand which had covered it for centuries (Lenormant, Historie d’Orient).“
Naturally, I had to have a look. The book in question is actually the Histoire ancienne de l’Orient jusqu'aux guerres médiques (The Ancient History of the East Down to the Median Wars), which was published in various editions from 1869 down to the 1880s, and I was genuinely surprised to find in French more or less the material that Schwaller de Lubicz, West, and Hancock pass off ever decade or two as a stunning “new” analysis of the spurious antediluvian antiquity of Egypt. I give here my translation:
There still remains in Egypt at least one monument dating back to the time when the civilization on the banks of the Nile marshaled its first forces and began to live. It is the temple located next to the great Sphinx and cleared some thirty years ago by A. Mariette at the expense of the Duke of Luynes. Constructed of enormous blocks of Aswan granite and eastern alabaster, supported by square monolithic pillars, this temple is prodigious, even beside the Pyramids. It offers neither a molding, nor an ornament, nor a hieroglyph; it is the transition between megalithic monuments and architecture proper. In an inscription from the time of King Khufu (4th Dynasty), it is spoken of as an edifice whose origin was lost in the night of time, which had been fortuitously found during the reign of this prince, buried by the sands of the desert, under which it had been forgotten for many generations. Such indications of antiquity are calculated to frighten the imagination. Egypt, to say nothing of the rest of the world, possesses not a single monument built by the hand of man, and truly worthy of the name, that can be compared to it as an antiquity.
Much of the rest of the chapter is equally interesting in the way Lenormant basically anticipated all of Hancock’s claims about the sacred brotherhood of the Shemsu-Hor, the lost race that founded Egypt, antediluvian architecture, etc. To that end, I have placed a longer excerpt in my Library, but it is probably worth noting that much of the argument is copied from Gaston Maspero’s Ancient History of the Peoples of the Orient (1875), which appears to be the original of the claims, but which I have not yet had the opportunity to read and review. That is next on my agenda.
You might be interested to know that when the book was translated into English, it offered a very different account of the Sphinx. I am not sure if that is due to the translator’s admitted rewriting or if the first French edition differed from the later ones. Here is part of the standard English translation of the same passage:
The great Sphinx at Gizeh, in the neighbourhood of the three great Pyramids, an immense rock, sculptured and built into this form, seems to have been finished in the reign of Schafra. Close by it M. Mariette has discovered, buried in the sand of the desert, a vast temple, which seems from sure indications to belong to the same reign. It is entirely constructed of enormous blocks of black or rose-coloured granite, and of oriental alabaster, without any sculpture or even ornament of any kind. Straight lines alone, in the severest purity, are used in its decoration.
Fascinating how different the editions, only a few years apart, became.
But the inscription Lenormant refers to can be ascertained from the text. It is clearly the Inventory Stela, which is not a Fourth Dynasty text but rather a 26th dynasty one of c. 670 BCE. Lenormant wrongly took the inscription at face value, and he used it to support an old belief, already then falling out of fashion, that the Valley Temple predated dynastic Egypt, an opinion at one time held by Auguste Mariette, Flinders Petrie, and other luminaries before the chronology of the Giza Plateau had been worked out. Maspero was one of the most important advocates of the predynastic Sphinx in that era.
I am, frankly, rather bored by discovering that nearly every major claim made by fringe authors is merely a reworking of some Victorian speculation, repeated, often nearly verbatim, from old books they assumed that their audience could not or would not read.
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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