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Friday, June 13, 2014

Egyptian Myth Busters with Dr. Bill Creasy

The Great Sphinx of Giza
Egypt was the greatest civilization in the ancient world, the setting for pivotal events in Scripture.  Abraham and Sarah flee to Egypt to escape famine.  Joseph is sold as a slave into Egypt, yet twenty years later he becomes “Prime Minister” of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.  Jacob and his family leave the Promised Land for Egypt, where the family lives for nearly half a millennium, becoming slaves in the process.  And Egypt becomes the place of refuge for Mary, Joseph and Jesus as they escape the slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem.

In Scripture, Egypt looms large.  Yet, most people—even serious bible students—know little about Egypt, ancient or modern, and what they do know is often wrong.  Now that we are studying verse-by-verse through the book of Exodus in class, I’d like to set the record straight with a series of blogs that I’ve titled:  Egyptian Myth Busters.

So, here goes.

Myth #1            The Israelites built the pyramids.
King Zosar’s royal architect, Imhotep, built the “Step” Pyramid as part of a vast funerary complex at Saqqara, Egypt.  Not a genuine pyramid, but six mastabas stacked one atop another, the Step Pyramid dates to 2665 B.C.
Dr. Creasy lecturing at the Step Pyramid, Saqqara, Egypt.
 The shape of the Step Pyramid suggested the idea of an authentic pyramid, however, and one generation later, Huni, the son of Zosar, began the first attempt at a genuine pyramid at Maydoum, about 110 kilometers south of today’s Cairo.   It was not successful, and today it lies in ruins.  His son, King Sneferu, the grandson of Zosar, began the construction of the first surviving pyramid.  He started by building at a 52-degree angle, but it was too steep.  Halfway up, he switched the angle to 43 degrees, and he completed the pyramid.  It created, however, a “bent” appearance.
“Bent” Pyramid, Dashur, Egypt. 
This is the only pyramid retaining most of its smooth limestone casing.

Not to be deterred, Sneferu moved ½ kilometer north and constructed the “Red” Pyramid.   Built out of pink limestone, the Red Pyramid is the first authentic pyramid with 43-degree flat sides and three interior burial chambers with corbelled ceilings, a brilliant engineering innovation, which directs the weight of the pyramid outward rather than downward, avoiding the inevitable cracked ceilings and walls that would result form flat ceilings.
“Red” Pyramid, Dashur, Egypt.
Red Pyramid entrance shaft. 
Red Pyramid’s corbelled ceiling in the first of three interior chambers.
When most people think of the pyramids in Egypt they think of the three on the Giza Plateau:  the great pyramid of Cheops, and its side-by-side mates, the pyramids of Chephrin and Mecrinis.  But in fact, there are 138 pyramids in Egypt  (discovered as of 2008), and the Step Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid are among the most interesting.

Pyramids were built during a relatively short period of Egyptian history.  The last Egyptian king to be buried in a pyramid seems to have been Ahmose I, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1552 B.C.).  The pyramids were most certainly not built by the Israelites, as Hollywood would have us believe:  when Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt, the pyramids were already over 800 years old, and the last pyramid was built before Moses was born.

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