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Magicians of the Gods
I just received today an advanced copy of Graham Hancock’s new doorstop of a book, Magicians of the Gods, from Thomas Dunn Books and St. Martin’s Press. They had promised me a copy last month, but I didn’t breathe a word of it until the book was in my grubby little hands lest Hancock call them and tell them not to send it.
Pyramidiocy at Ancient Origins
I missed this story when it was first published in January, but it came back around again when it started popping up this week in my Facebook feed. An Italian journalist named Armando Mei, who worked with Semir Osmanagich on a book about the imaginary Bosnian “pyramids,” claimed that he discovered the “real” Orion correlation at Egypt’s Giza necropolis. According to an article published in Ancient Origins, Mei says that the alignment of Giza with astronomical events fits perfectly with the sky as it was in 36,400 BCE, a time he associates with the beginning of Egyptian history. He therefore rejects Robert Bauval’s Ice Age date of 10,450 BCE.
Mei bases his claim on astronomical software and the imaginative leap that the ancient Egyptians recognized constellations like Leo that were not invented until 500 BCE or later (and in Babylon), as well as the belief that they could track invisible heavenly bodies like Neptune and Uranus. It also rests on the assumption that the Egyptians understood the concept of axial precession (the slow drift of the stars over time), or kept records of star positions over tens of thousands of years. There is, of course, no evidence of this, and the critiques of Bauval’s theory remain just as valid for Mei’s, if not more so given the longer time period.
The more interesting question is where he pulled his numbers from, and the answer to that offers and interesting look at fringe historiography. The number 36,400 was chosen as a “best fit” number, when he was able to align the stars best to his chosen outcome. But why did he start looking around 36,000 BCE? It certainly didn’t come from familiar sources. Egyptology traces the dynasties back to the fourth millennium BCE. Herodotus counted 341 generations of high priests in Egypt, each reigning for a generation back to the creation, coming out to roughly 11,355 years (by Greek calculation of 3 generations per 100 years), roughly 11,800 BCE (Histories 2.143). Diodorus (Library 1.44) gives 16,000 years to the reign of the gods and demigods, and 5,000 to the historical kings, for a total of only 21,000 years. Manetho gave 24,900 years to the gods and demigods, and a little more than 2,000 years for the human kings. Christians, who assigned creation to sometime between 6,000 and 4,000 years before Christ, assumed all of this referred to lunar months rather than solar years.
So where did the number come from? Well, there is a document called the Old Egyptian Chronicle, which is now lost but which is cited in George Syncellus’s Chronicle around 800 CE. It states that Egyptian history lasted for 36,525 years. I don’t imagine that it’s any great shock to recognize that this number is a symbolic one, chosen to represent 100 times the number of days in a solar year (365 and a quarter), or 25 Sothic periods of 1,461 years. Syncellus recognized this and suspected a Hermetic influence behind the Late Antique forgery: “The sum of these thirty dynasties is 36,525 years, indicating the celebrated period of the revolution of the Zodiac, among the Egyptians and Greeks; (or the time of the return of the vernal equinoctial point, from the first degree of the sign Aries, to the same place again,) as set forth in the Genesis of Hermes, and in the Cyrannic books” (trans. John Jackson). Note the reference to Hermes; as Syncellus understood, this was a Late Antique Hermetic text, fashioned under the influence of Greco-Babylonian astrology. It was composed, almost certainly, between 200 and 400 CE and mistaken for ancient by medieval authors.
A distorted reflection of this Hermetic history of Egypt carries over through the work of the Late Antique Christian Egyptian chronologers Panodorus and Annianus to that of the Persian and Arabic writers or the early Middle Ages. In the Akhbar al-zaman, itself founded in part on the work of Abu Ma‘shar (who worked, like Syncellus, from Annianus), we read a very similar claim about history, though spread on a more general canvas:
Hermes said: “After creating the signs of the Zodiac, God divided time among them. He gave to Aries the presiding role for twelve thousand years; Taurus assumed it for eleven thousand years; Gemini assumed it for ten thousand years, [nine thousand to Cancer], eight thousand to the Lion, seven thousand to the Virgin, six thousand to Libra, five thousand to Scorpio, four thousand to Sagittarius, three thousand to Capricorn, two thousand to Aquarius, and one thousand to Pisces. The full tour of the entire celestial sphere is seventy-eight thousand years. The planet Saturn has dominated for fifty-six thousand years; the remaining time is shared between the other planets. During the time that the world was under the signs of Aries, Taurus, and Gemini, there were no animals. This lasted the duration of thirty-three thousand years; there were no longer any spiritual being on earth. When the turn of Cancer came, there appeared sea monsters and the giants of the earth. When Leo had taken the presiding role, quadrupeds appeared on earth. When it was the turn of the Virgin, there were born the two humans, Adamānūs and Hīwāūs (Adam and Eve). The birds appeared during the reign of Libra.” (my trans.)
As you can see, there is no consensus in the ancient texts, and the only one that supports Mei’s version is a forgery, quite possibly Hermetic in origin. This is a fortuitous coincidence, since Mei’s claim that the pyramids date back before the Flood is another Hermetic forgery, and also extant only in medieval texts grounded in the same group of writers: Annianus, Abu Ma‘shar, and the Akbhar al-zaman. Taken together, the texts merely prove that Late Antique writers could calculate the days of the year and the Sothic cycle, and assumed that the zodiac followed the same pattern. We are therefore not justified in applying late texts to pyramids built three millennia before.
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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