Now here is an odd thing. I discovered that one early Freemasonic source attributed the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx to Mizraim, the son of Ham, rather than to any of the usual suspects from mythology or history. Our example comes to us from a bizarre bit of popular culture, the Harlequin Free-Mason, a 1780 piece of commedia dell’arte pantomime by Charles Dibdin which concludes with a pageant depicting the history of Freemasonry from the Flood to the eighteenth century. The Gentleman’s Magazine considered it “the richest and most intelligent spectacle” in English theatrical history, and according to them, it was also the best attended in living memory. So much for the Masonry’s “secrets.” But anyway, in response to the popularity of the pantomime, guides to its imagery were published, and it is rather astonishing to see the Western Enochian view of history on full display.
According to one such explanation, the procession commenced with Enoch, with two men bearing the pillars of stone and brick from Flavius Josephus’ account of the run-up to the Flood of Noah. Following the appearance of Nimrod, here identified following apocryphal accounts as the builder of the Tower of Babel, there came Mizraim, the son of Ham and the first king of Egypt. I give here the full description:
Now this is an interesting question. Why would the Masons attribute the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx to Ham’s son Mizraim? It is certainly not a belief confined to Masons. The Sunday-School Magazine published an article in 1849 in which they offered a similar claim in recounting the dispersal of the nations after the Flood:
The nations thus dispersed abroad, and settled, became rapidly powerful and mighty. That of Mizraim, which occupied the country afterwards known as Egypt, and which during their occupation of it, should be called the land of Mizraim or of Ham, have left some of the grandest monuments that exist in the world, for we unhesitatingly assign to them the erection of the vast and magnificent Pyramids of Gizeh, which have always and justly been esteemed some of the wonders of the world. […] The Sphynx, which is but a part of the Great Pyramids, that is, a part of the same monumental range, hewn out of the same rock, and associated in the same group, possesses Nubian or African features; that is, those peculiar lineaments of the human face that belong to the Hamitic families. The Sphynx, then, and its cognate Pyramids must have been wrought when the Hamitic race were in power in the land of Ham; and this, as we shall presently have occasion to show, they were not while the children of Israel were subject to slavery and oppression in Egypt.
The writer added that pyramids were conceived in sin, imitations of the Tower of Babel.
This text is a pretty direct plagiarism of the History and Constitutions (1756) of the Freemasons:
MITZRAIM or Menes, the second Son of Ham, led his Colony from Shinar to Egypt (which is Mitzraim in Hebrew, a dual Word, signifying both Egypts, Upper and Lower) after the Flood 160 Years, and after the Confusion six Years, A.M. 1816. where they preserved their original Skill, and much cultivated the Art: for antient History informs us of the early fine Taste of the Egyptians, their many magnificent Edifices and great Cities, as Memphis, Heliopolis, Thebes with 100 Gates, &c. besides their Palaces and Sepulchres, their Obelisks and Statues, the Colossal Statue of Sphinx, whose Head was 120 Foot round, and their famous PYRAMIDS, the greatest being reckoned the first or earliest of the seven Wonders of Art after the general Migration.
The references to the wonder of Egypt are largely taken from Diodorus Sicululs (1.45-46). It is unclear to me where the author got the circumference measurement, since the real value is 91 feet.
The association of Mizraim with Egypt is clear enough: He has always been considered the first inhabitant of Egypt after the Flood in the Abrahamic faiths, and his name is reflected in that of Egypt itself, Misr, from the Hebrew and/or Aramaic Mizraim. There had long been disagreement over whether there had been an antediluvian settlement of Egypt, and opinion was divided as to whether the pyramids predated the Flood or postdated it. Clearly, the above writers considered Egypt a postdiluvian phenomenon and therefore followed the old practice, going back to Pseudo-Manetho’s Book of Sothis, of identifying Mizraim with Menes, the first king of Egypt. Pseudo-Manetho probably didn’t invent the claim, since Sanchuniathon, the Phoenician, gives Misor as the father of Taautis, with the latter identified as Thoth and Hermes (Trismegistus) and paralleling the genuine Manetho’s Menes and his son Atothis. It doesn’t take much to see how Pseudo-Manetho twisted the text biblically.
The claim had a long afterlife. It appears in many Christian volumes of the nineteenth century, and it is a key line of reasoning in Martin Delany’s Origin of Races and Color (1879), where the same argument is used to establish that Egyptians originated from Ethiopia and that Mizraim built the pyramids in imitation of the Tower of Babel. This line of reasoning is still in use today. Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s creationist propaganda outfit, currently attributes to the pyramids to the “family’ of Mizraim “post-Flood.”
But it’s pretty clear that Charles Dibdin or his explicators misunderstood the History and Constitutions or were trying to speak symbolically and incorrectly attributed all the works ascribed to the Egyptians (the progeny of Mizraim) or in the land of Mizraim to Mizraim himself. This same conflation of Egypt (Mizraim) in general and Ham’s son (Mizraim) in particular probably stands behind other efforts to attribute the pyramids to him, based on biblical fantasias.
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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