Meet The Pyramid Truthers: Where Ben Carson’s Wacky Theory Came From

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Ben Carson isn’t the only pyramid truther out there.

The GOP frontrunner’s theory that archaeologists are wrong and that the Egyptian pyramids were really built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain wasn’t created in a vacuum. In the fringier corners of the Internet, variations of the pyramids-as-grain-storage argument has spawned entire blogs and a 30-minute documentary.

Carson — who is continuing to defend beliefs that were surfaced this week in video of a 1998 commencement address by the acclaimed neurosurgeon — joins the ranks of pyramids truthers who believe that, warned by God of an oncoming famine, Joseph built grain storage units that exist today in the form of the ancient pyramids.

His theory flies in the face of what has long been settled by modern archeologists: that the pyramids were built as tombs for Egyptian pharaohs.

In a blog post Thursday morning, Richard Flower, a senior lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Exeter, laid out the basics of the Old Testament story of Joseph and how it’s been mistakenly connected to the pyramids for centuries:

“When one looks at the relevant part of Genesis, however, it becomes clear that it offers questionable support for Carson’s position. After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream as meaning that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine, Joseph gave instructions to the people of Egypt, saying, ‘let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities’. There is no reference made to Joseph building any granaries for this purpose, although it is possible that he is assumed to have done so.”

According to Flower, the theory gained traction in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks, written in the 6th century, where the bishop wrote about a “city in which Joseph built granaries from squared stones and rubble with marvellous workmanship.”

“He made them larger at the base and very much smaller at the top so that wheat could be thrown in there through a tiny hole. These granaries are still visible even today,” Gregory wrote at the time, according to Flower.

Flower suggests the theory is driven by a desire to “find an explanation for these obvious and fascinating remnants of the distant past.”

Elsewhere, on the Internet, however, true believers are still looking for evidence to support the idea that at least one of the pyramids was built by Joseph.

The general gist of their theory is this: Imhotep, an Egyptian priest who lived around 2600 B.C., may actually be Joseph. The tunnels underneath what is considered to be the one of the first Egyptian pyramids, the theories go, are in fact grain storage designed by Imhotep/Joseph, who had interpreted a pharaoh’s dream that predicted a famine.

A documentary produced by a company called “Ark Discovery” — “The official source of information on Revealing God’s Treasure” — takes viewers to the stepped pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, which the documentary claims is where Joseph built an underground grain storage unit, the relics of which can be seen today.

Modern archeology holds that, indeed, that pyramid was built for the pharaoh Djoser by Imhotep, as part of a larger burial ground dating back to 3000 BC known as Saqqara. From here, however, the documentary goes on to argue that Imhotep was actually Joseph, making Djoser the pharaoh whom Joseph eventually served after being sold into slavery by his brothers.

Here is the relevant clip, posted by the user “ExodusTruth”.

The Ark Discovery website also includes a written version of this account.

“It’s rather amazing how historians and archaeologists have managed to explain away evidence which validates the Biblical account,” it says.

A blog called “Joseph and Israel In Egypt” — which functions as a wikipedia of sorts for the Joseph-as-Imhotep claims — has its own take on the story.

“It was Joseph who set the precedent for Mega Tombs and Monuments for Pharaohs by burying Netjerikhet [another name for Djoser] in a grain silo and stacking mastabas on top of it,” one post argues, complete with a CGI slideshow to illustrate its claim.

Elsewhere on the blog are attempts to explain what kind of chariot Joseph/Imhotep rode, where other Old Testament figures fit in the Ancient Egyptian timeline, and Imhotep’s apparently empty tomb (a post which includes a suggestion that Joseph/Imhotep introduced circumcision to the region.)

It’s unclear if this is the specific argument that inspired Carson, who has said “secular progressives” are welcome to ridicule his claim.

“Some people believe in the Bible, like I do, and don’t find that to be silly at all, and believe that God created the Earth and don’t find that to be silly at all,” Carson told reporters Thursday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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