The Pyramids and the Bible

Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast has tackled an issue I’ve been meaning to bring up for some time: did the Hebrews of the Old Testament build the Pyramids? And the answer is a resounding “no.”

Open your Bible and check out the book of Exodus. You’ll notice it specifically mentions the Hebrews building supply cities, but does not say anything about pyramids. In fact, no verse in the entire Bible mentions pyramids, and chronologically, it wouldn’t make sense if it did mention them as anything but tourist attractions.

The first Egyptian pyramid (I think that the oldest known pyramid is in Malta) was designed by a genius named Imhotep in approximately the 27th century B.C. The concept of pyramid building caught on and the original design was improved by architects and builders who are known to us because they put their names on the pyramids – just like artists sign paintings. (There is generally less mystery then people think that is attributed to the pyramids. Now, the Sphinx on the other hand…) I have a few colleagues who are classical historians, and the idea that the pyramids were built by Hebrew slaves is a good way to make them laugh. The same could be said of any Old Testament historian; this myth just doesn’t hold up to simple historical observation.

Let’s be honest, half of you didn’t know this guy was real.

When did this urban legend start? A long time ago, apparently. Brian Dunning points out that Herodotus, “The Father of History,” is to blame. As he puts it:

The story of Jewish slaves building the pyramids originated with Herodotus of Greece in about 450 BCE. He’s often called the “Father of History” as he was among the first historians to take the business seriously and thoroughly document his work. Herodotus reported in his Book II of The Histories that the pyramids were built in 30 years by 100,000 Jewish slaves.

Mr. Dunning goes on to deny the historical events of the Exodus, which I think is taking things to far. There is no independent verification of the Exodus, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Some doubted the existence of King David until archaeological evidence turned up a slab with his name on it, and this led to a number of retractions. I could tell you a lot of historical records that seemed unlikely until evidence turned up that proved the record was correct, so we have to be careful in how quickly we dismiss something as myth. (Lest I tarnish a good name, I’d like to point out that I enjoy the Skeptoid podcast quite a lot, but I think this part was a stretch.)

So, let’s move forward and not perpetuate ancient misunderstandings. The Hebrew slaves didn’t build the pyramids, the Egyptians did, and Christians should be the first people to correct this error.

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