To this day there has never existed a bureaucracy which could compare with that of Egypt. —Max Weber (1909)
The Great Pyramid at Giza
The Great Pyramid is the last of the Seven Wonders of the World. It contains at least 2.3 million stone blocks, each weighing, on the average, two and a half tons. Each of its bases is 230.4 meters long with an average error in length of only 58 millimeters. Its sides are oriented toward the four cardinal compass points within 4 minutes of an arc. The pyramid’s height was originally 146.5 meters, making it the tallest man-made structure on Earth for more than three millennia. The ratio of its perimeter to height is very close to 2π, though archaeologists disagree over whether this was an intentional part of the design or an unintended result of the means of construction. But either way, the Great Pyramid remains a technological marvel. Lately some have thought it a little too marvelous to be a merely human construction, and they have argued that the Egyptians had extraterrestrial help. And so, unfortunately, the question, “Who really built the pyramids?” is now mixed up with the more important question, “Why were they built at all?”
Did Aliens Build the Pyramids?
Wally T. Wallington is not an alien or even a Man-In-Black. He’s from Michigan and did carpentry and construction work for 35 years. Now he’s building a full-scale replica of Stonehenge in his back yard. He claims he could reproduce the Great Pyramid too, using only primitive tools and fewer than a thousand men. He may be on to something. A YouTube video shows him single-handedly moving and raising huge blocks of concrete with the help of stones, sticks, and sand. He describes his plan for building a pyramid on his website: www.theforgottentechnology.com.
With tongue in cheek, he assures us that neither levitation nor alien assistance is necessary. Whether Wally’s methods are exactly those of the pharaohs, we may never know. But he makes a good case for ordinary “terrestrial” builders.
Back to Why Were They Built
What was the purpose of the pyramids? The traditional answer is that they were ridiculously expensive tombs for Egypt’s pharaohs. But some older writers had other suggestions. The pyramids were, they say, a barrier against the desert sands, or a water purification system, or granaries for the pharaoh’s wheat, or a depository of ancient wisdom prepared against the coming Flood. In the modern era, scholars and pseudo-scholars have offered still more suggestions: that the Great Pyramid is laid out as a standard of divinely sanctioned weights and measures, featuring a “pyramid inch” nearly equivalent to our own; that the measurements of the Pyramid contain a divine prophecy of European history, always accurate to the most recent century; that the pyramids collectively form an image or map of particular stars and that the Egyptians built the pyramids as landing markers for alien spacecraft.
Archaeological discovery, accurate measurement, sound theology, and the sufficiency of human builders eliminate some of the clutter. Aliens are out. So is divine intervention: the God of the Bible doesn’t waste His time with inaccurate pyramid prophecy. There is now solid evidence that the Great Pyramid was indeed built by King Khufu. And while we can grant that the ancient Egyptians had a working knowledge of geometry and astronomy, we should be slow to expect too much information from the pyramids’ dimensions or alignments. We should, for example, ask modern pyramidologists for more precise correlations between the dimensions of the Great Pyramid and, say, the distance to the sun or the landmass of the Earth before we buy into their theories, let alone buy their books.
But when we speak of the real purpose of the pyramids, we should dig a little deeper. Men usually take on huge projects for more than one reason. To assign just one motive to the Crusades or the New Deal or the building of the Suez Canal would be to seriously distort history and misread human character. Religious, political, and financial motivations may well go hand in hand. And the public reason for anything may not be the reason that really drives the undertakers. We can believe the traditional archaeologists when they say that the pyramids were meant to be tombs or at least potential tombs. That doesn’t mean the pharaohs didn’t have other motives—and perhaps significantly more important ones.
The Sacred Mountain
The pyramids, like the Tower of Babel before them, are working theology, worldview if you will, set in stone. For a pyramid is a man-made mountain, and the noun and adjective here are both relevant. The Garden of Eden had rested on a mountain (Ezek. 28:13-16), and there God had met with man in Paradise. Babel was a man-made counterfeit. Its top was to be “unto heaven” (Gen. 11:4); that is, it was supposed to be a way for man to reach the divine by his own efforts and on his own terms. The pyramids carry much the same message. Man can rise out of the chaos that surrounds him and, by his own efforts, make himself and his society divine.
This was the symbol. But for pagan religion, there is no final distinction between the symbolic and the magical. Magic is accomplished, in part, through visual symbols (images) and symbolic actions (rituals). In symbolizing the deification of the pharaoh, so the Egyptians believed, the pyramids actually helped make it possible. The pyramids were staircases to heaven, to deification in the afterlife. In that magical sense, they were gateways to the stars.
A Means to Another End?
But magic ought to be cheaper and, for that matter, simpler—and it usually is. Most people like their miracles cheap. We ought to suspect that the pharaohs had ulterior motives in the construction of these huge, magical tombs. Physicist Kurt Mendelssohn picked up a clue to those motives when he discovered that the pharaoh Snofru, the first king of the 4th Dynasty, built three pyramids during his 29 year reign and that their construction times overlapped considerably. This overlap became evident to Mendelssohn when he realized that the design flaw that had collapsed the first pyramid late in its construction had been corrected in the second, but at a point where the second was half way built and 70% of its stones already laid. That is, construction of the second was well underway before the first was finished. Snofru still had time to construct a third pyramid before he died.
Practically, this means that Snofur kept his laborers busy year after year without a slow down. Obviously, he was concerned with more than tomb. When a king chooses to employ tens of thousands of seasonal workers decade after decade in a public works program, he will run into serious economic and sociological complications. After all, he will have to feed, clothe, and house these workers three months a year. And the workers themselves, being constantly employed away from their villages, will begin to adopt new attitudes towards their king, themselves, and one another. So what were Snofru and his successors really up to?
Mendelssohn argues that the social change was itself the goal, or one of the major goals, behind pyramid construction. Writing in the book The Riddle of the Pyramids (Thames and Hudson, 1974) Mendelssohn, says this:
In the course of ten or twenty years of construction, a large section of the working population came under the jurisdiction of a central administration which completely regulated its life. It was this new central administration which had now become responsible for their livelihood and to whom they had become answerable instead of to their tribal council and the village elders (145).
Pyramid building enabled the early pharaohs to reshape Egyptian life and culture into a monolithic national state over which they ruled supreme, not only in theory, but in fact. But in order to accomplish this, in order to build true pyramids at all, they first had to create a powerful, detail-sensitive bureaucracy that could convey, unaltered, the specific commands of the Pharaoh down a human chain to the skilled and non-skilled laborers who made up the work gangs. Public works programs whose products vary from their original specifications by a fiftieth of an inch must be directed by tightly run, unimaginative bureaucracies. The bureaucracy these pharaohs created and the work program it oversaw had the efficiency of a complex, well-oiled machine.
Writer and social philosopher Lewis Mumford has called Egypt “The First MegaMachine” (Diogenes, Fall 1966). Whereas Mendelssohn leaves some room for personal pride and camaraderie in the operation of this human machine, Mumford sees the whole mega-machine as inherently dehumanizing. He believes that it can only function when men are reduced to cogs. “The removal of the human dimensions and organic limits is indeed the chief boast of the authoritarian machine…. This administrative method ideally requires a studious repression of all the autonomous functions of the personality, and a readiness to perform the daily task with ritual exactitude.”
Ritual exactitude. Mumford has in mind the mindless, repetitive rituals and spells of Egyptian religion. In other words, the Egyptian religion of ritual magic conditioned the Egyptian people to ritual-like work for the greater glory of their divine king.
Recent arguments about the who of the pyramids have obscured the far more relevant question of why. Mendelssohn writes:
Once it is realized that the main object of pyramid construction was a work programme leading to a new social order, the religious meaning and ritual importance of the pyramid recede into the background. If anything, these man-made mountains are a monument to the progress of man into a new pattern of life, the national state, which was to become his social home for the next 5000 years.
The pyramids were more than a magical means of deifying a deceased pharaoh; their construction was a practical means of giving that pharaoh total power over Egypt during his lifetime. Their construction was a public works program designed to create a statist society. Mendelssohn continues:
The pyramids do not represent an aim in itself but the means to achieve an end: the creation of a new form of society. These huge heaps of stone mark the place where man invented the state.
That Egyptian state was bureaucratic, socialistic, and totalitarian, very much like Egypt today. Public works programs have always had rather large price tags as well as totalitarian aims. As we enter the next great depression and unemployment rates rise to new heights, expect our Pharaoh to implement great public works campaigns designed to bring us together as a nation and accomplish “great things.” The left will herald this as freedom from poverty. Those with eyes to see will know it as a return to slavery, to the days of the pharaohs. The price tag: those of us working will come under the microscopic jurisdiction of a centralized, nationalized mega-machine which will completely regulate our lives.
The only way out of this coming hell on earth? Repent and return to Christ as the covenant head of our nation.
For Further Reading:
Kurt Mendelssohn, The Riddle of the Pyramids (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974).
Gary North, Moses and Pharaoh, Dominion Religion Versus Power Religion (Tyler, TX: The Institute for Christian Economics, 1985).
Lewis Mumford, “The First Megamachine” in Interpretations and Forecasts, 1922-1972 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1973).
Jason Colavito, “Who Built the Great Pyramid?” at Lost Civilizations Uncovered http://jcolavito.tripod.com/lostcivilizations/id10.html