Yesterday’s post covered Dr Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.
One of the most remembered things about it is that he said that the pyramids were grain silos.
The media and leftists made much of this.
On November 5, 2015 several reports emerged.
The Guardian reported that Carson had said the same in 1998 when he gave a commencement address at Andrews University, which is affiliated with Carson’s sect the Seventh Day Adventists. At that time, he thought aliens had something to do with it. In 2015, he said that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. The Guardian reprised their report the following day with a video of Carson discussing the pyramids.
On November 10, The Guardian had another article on the subject. Mahmoud Afifi, Egypt’s head of ancient antiquities, said that one inaccurate theory about pyramids says that Atlanteans from a lost continent built them. That is probably what Carson was referring to in 1998. Afifi said he did not know what Carson — ‘that man who’s not an archaeologist’ — meant by claiming they were grain silos.
The JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) rightly noted (emphases mine):
It was not clear from his statements whether he thought all or just some of the pyramids were built for this reason and during this period. The story of Joseph storing grain in preparation for an Egyptian famine appears in the Book of Genesis, in the Miketz Torah portion, which will be read in synagogues around the world on Dec. 12. The text makes no mention of the grain being stored in pyramids.
When Carson suspended his campaign the first weekend in March 2016, the Daily Mail reminded us about the grain silos:
Losing ground thanks to some sluggish debate performances, pronouncing Hamas like ‘hummus,’ the chickpea-based spread, when talking foreign policy and suggesting the pyramids in Egypt were built to store grain, Carson’s 2015 holiday season consisted of a big staff shake-up.
However … I do recall hearing this when I was a child from my Protestant friends.
Admittedly, they were more fundamentalist, but they said the Bible clearly stated this and, therefore, one had to believe it or be accused of doubting Scripture which meant doubting God. It was all explained quite clearly to me by my fellow 10-year-old chums.
They were referring to Genesis 41. Joseph, through divine inspiration, prophesied that God planned a seven-year famine. Therefore:
34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land[b] of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph’s divinely given prophecy and put him in charge of the grain conservation project:
45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.
47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.
56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses[h] and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
Note that, as the JTA article states, Scripture makes no mention of pyramids, located outside of cities. In fact, Genesis tells us that the food was put in the cities. More on that later in the post.
From the Genesis accounts came an ancient theory that Joseph was Imhotep. I’ll go into that at the end of the post, too.
First, CPS.org describes what is carved on the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, naming Pharaoh Djoser and the mighty, highly revered:
… Imhotep, Chancelor of the King of Lower Egypt, Chief under the King, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary Lord, High Priest of Heliopolis, Imhotep the Builder, the Sculptor, the Maker of Stone Vases.
CPS.org says that the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, near Memphis, was constructed differently to other pyramids, such as Giza. Sakkara has a wall around it and only one entrance. It also has a picture of starving people:
This carving also includes depictions of grain, sacks that are carried up steps and food distribution.
Genesis 50 records Joseph’s death:
22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years.
24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
CPS.org has a long explanation of what was found when Sakkara was excavated. Imhotep’s grave was empty but otherwise undisturbed.
Another website purports that Joseph was Imhotep and has several articles about aligning the Bible with Egyptian history in this regard. It’s easier to read than CPS.org and has better illustrations. One entry says (in part):
The first pyramid to be built was the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser (Netjerikhet) which is part of a complex in Saqqara Egypt that appears to be a grain storage and distribution center. The Step Pyramid itself was built on top of a shaft that was originally used as a grain silo but then converted into a tomb for the Pharaoh. The Step Pyramid is really a series of Mastabas, made from solid limestone blocks, stacked up on top of one another. The Step Pyramid was used to bury Netjerikhet’s 3 wives and 11 daughters and Netjerikhet’s sarcophagus was placed on a platform in the shaft beneath the Stepped Pyramid.
The Step Pyramid was designed by Imhotep who may well be the Joseph of the Bible. Joseph and Imhotep have many similarities but have not been thought to be one in the same person because of discrepancies between the estimated dates of their existence.
The site also discusses the Famine Stele, an inscription of hieroglyphs located on Sehel Island in the Nile near Aswan:
The Famine Stele tells the tale of Imhotep interpreting Netjerikhet’s (Djoser’s) dream about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine and how Imhotep saved Egypt from a seven year famine.
It says that Djoser gave the land to the priests indicating that Djoser had the rights over the land. This would further support the notion that Joseph and Imhotep were the same person.
The Bible tells us that Joseph, second in charge of Egypt, acquired all the land of Egypt for the pharaoh, except that of the priests, by the selling of grain during the famine.
Djoser kept the priests on side by giving them an allowance of grain so that they did not have to sell their land.
There is also an image of slaves carrying grain up steps. The caption reads:
Hieroglyphs of Egyptians retrieving grain using an open stairwell.
This was a great improvement on the tunnels of the first grain silo that were poorly ventilated and resulted in workers suffocating.
It is possible — although archaeologists broadly doubt it — that this is what Sakkara was used for. Perhaps Carson could have clarified his comments a bit more.
Another site, Atlas Obscura, discusses the lost history of the pyramids. Their post says the theory of pyramids — not just Sakkara — as grain silos may date all the way back to the late Dark Ages:
In 867 AD, a European monk named Bernard caught a ride on a slave ship out of the southern Italian city of Taranto. He was heading for the Holy Land, on a pilgrimage with two fellow monks. Somewhere along the line, though, they decided to make a detour through Egypt. This was a pretty normal travel itinerary for the time. In fact, in his book, Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology from Antiquity to 1881, author Jason Thompson writes that even many of the Crusades for the Holy Land ended up sacking Egypt, instead. And that fact might go a long way toward explaining why Bernard and his friends were promptly dumped into a Cairo prison and had to bribe their way back out.
The article goes on to say that Bernard might well have been interested in seeing Joseph’s granaries, hence the detour.
However, the author rightly points out that the Bible never specifically mentioned pyramids. Yet, recent archaeological research has thrown up ‘anomalies’ about the pyramids: different building materials and varying air currents.
As for the Atlantean theory, Atlas Obscura explains that this came about through mythology from the ancient Greeks. This ages-old theory posits that when Atlantis fell, the Atlanteans inhabited the greatest of the world’s civilisations, Egypt being one of them. Believers in this theory ascribe the construction of the pyramids to the Atlanteans. One hopes Dr Carson no longer believes this, because it is unbiblical.
Personally, I have no belief in pyramids as grain silos unless firmer evidence emerges in coming decades.
However, I did want to help make Carson’s case as to why he believes that.
I am more of the mind, as Atlas Obscura explains, that:
If Bernard (and Ben Carson) had taken a closer look at the region, they’d have seen extraordinary clear evidence that the pyramids are not giant grain silos. Near the Pyramids of Giza, archaeologists have uncovered Gebel Qibli, a city that basically functioned as the company town for the workers who built the pyramids. Those workers were paid in grain, collected as taxes on noble landowners, Watrall says—so Gebel Qibli is home to actual ancient Egyptian grain storage buildings. These are circular, mud-brick structures, sealed against bugs with more mud, but not so sealed that fungus could grow in the stagnant air. “I could stand in the middle of one of them, reach my arms out and that would be the diameter,” [Ethan] Watrall [a Michigan State University professor of anthropology] says. “I couldn’t stand up. It’s less than my height and I’m 6’5”.
For now, it appears that the grain silos were small, round structures, not pyramids.
Whether research reveals conclusively that Sakkara really was a grain silo remains to be seen.