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The Giza Pyramids. Public domain image.

How We Know Ben Carson is Wrong About the Pyramids

In the United States, we have a holiday called Thanksgiving that we celebrate every November. The typical American family has a Thanksgiving dinner with any members of the extended family that can make it, provided they’re on speaking terms, and some interesting political conversations can come out of that.

This Thanksgiving is going to be especially interesting, because many of our American readers will have uncles or parents who believe, quite intractably, that the ancient Egyptian Pyramids were grain silos built by the biblical patriarch Joseph. And that’s because Tea Party presidential candidate Ben Carson said so.

Tea Party science operates in a very unusual way; Tea Party meteorology teaches that man-made climate change isn’t real, Tea Party physiology teaches that birth control pills cause abortions, and Tea Party biology and paleontology teach that the world (and, usually by implication, the cosmos) was created in six days some 6,000 years ago. Tea Party geology would presumably teach us that the Mount Rushmore memorial is a natural rock formation, Tea Party electrical engineering that female plugs are too delicate to bear high-voltage electrical currents, and so on.

It’s Tea Party archaeology—which links every ancient monument to the literal text of the Bible—that’s making the news right now. But for goodness’ sake, don’t argue with your relatives about the Pyramids; you’ll just make things more awkward than they already are. Send them a link to this article instead, so I can tell them that…


1. It’s pretty clear that the Pyramids contained human remains.

While staple recipes and food preservation methods have changed over the past few millennia, one practice we and the ancient Egyptians have in common is that we don’t like to put rotting human flesh in our cereal. Although European archaeologists investigating the pyramids in the early 19th century found no mummies, empty sarcophagi were found—sarcophagi that, numerous older historical documents suggest, had once contained mummified bodies. There’s also evidence of a possible canopic shrine in the second Pyramid at Giza, the centerpiece being a chest that would have contained Khufre’s preserved internal organs. That’s not something you want to find in your breakfast.


2. The Pyramids were built over a very long period of time.

The first surviving Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara, was built around 2650 BCE; the final classical pyramid, dedicated to Ahmose I, was built around 1525 BCE. More time elapsed between the construction of the first and final pyramid than elapsed between the first Viking invasion of England and the inauguration of President Obama. That’s an 1,100-year stretch we’re talking about—10 times Joseph’s total 110-year lifespan as described in Genesis 50:26, and certainly not the short-term grain shortage described in the Bible.


3. The Pyramids identify themselves as tombs.

The most damning piece of evidence against Carson’s pyramid theory is their own testimony; the ancient Egyptians wrote down what the pyramids were for, and it wasn’t grain storage.


4. The Pyramids weren’t even hollow.

The Pyramids were mostly made of limestone, with very narrow passageways leading to relatively small chambers as illustrated here:

3D model of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, showing entrances and burial chambers. Image: © R.F. Morgan / cc-by-sa.

3D model of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, showing entrances and burial chambers. Image: © R.F. Morgan / cc-by-sa.

Even if we accept Carson’s argument that the chambers would have been useful places to store grain, why construct such massive, inefficient structures when much smaller, simpler structures would have done the job better?


5. The Bible doesn’t even remotely imply that Joseph built the Pyramids.

Most examples of Tea Party science boil down to either economics or religion, and in this case religion seems to be the culprit—specifically, the belief that the Bible implies that Joseph constructed these structures to store grain. Not only does the Bible say no such thing (the story of Joseph and the famine is recounted in Genesis 47), but giant monuments filled with relics dedicated to the Egyptian gods would have violated at least two of the Ten Commandments: the prohibition on other gods, and the prohibition on graven images. 

Ben Carson is entitled to his own beliefs, and they don’t make him stupid; it’s harder to defend a crackpot theory than it is to defend a well-supported one, and goodness knows plenty of geniuses hold some strange ideas. But the fact that so many people in the conservative movement are defending such an odd take on archaeology and biblical interpretation does raise some difficult questions about the central role hierarchies of authority play in shaping the beliefs of the Tea Party movement, and the role that these increasingly eccentric beliefs may play in the 2016 U.S. election cycle.


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  • 6000 years ago, not 4000.

  • Good lord—my Southern Baptist preacher grandfather would be horrified. Corrected, and thank you.

  • ivr

    It is just flat out embarrassing that Ben Carson is taken seriously as a presidential candidate. How can a person be so skilled in one area, and a complicated one at that (see his record as a neurosurgeon) and so completely clueless in every other area is beyond me. His world view is 100 years out of date and we America’s most suffer the droning of yet another political imbecile moving our country deeper into ignorance.

  • mph23

    I’ll agree he’s probably not stupid, per se. He is willingly, and boastfully, ignorant. Like many social and political (and religious) conservatives in the US these days, sadly.

    That’s worse than being stupid.

  • Zaphod

    You know what I’ve always found strange about Mysterious Universe? They’re so open minded on really fringe subjects and happy to question the prevailing science in areas like the origin of consciousness but are completely rigid when it comes to the dogma of climate ‘science’. It was hilarious when they were falling over themselves on the podcast to say they weren’t ‘climate deniers’ (whatever that is – who denies there’s a climate?) because they agreed with prominent sceptic Steve Goddard that Google shouldn’t be deciding whose sites would come up in searches. Still love MU, but I cringe whenever the subject comes up.

  • Leo Thompson

    Wow, of all the thought provoking articles I read on MU, it’s interesting that this one has generated so many responses. Hit a nerve? Or strike a chord? Have fun discussing someone wow will never be anything other than a nutty right wing pundit.

  • DavidHarley

    Egypt was not a slave society, apart from war captives, so “when we were slaves in Egypt,” cannot be correct. The pyramids were not built by Jewish slaves, as is often stated.

  • steve philbrook

    All races have been enslaved at one time or another throughout history. Except possibly the Eskimos. But then again, why go live at the North pole? One thing that history has proven is the sooner you move on, the better. You can be a welfare recipient or the president, the choice is yours.

  • Savatage64

    Call him what you will, but I highly doubt Dr. Carson is even remotely nutty, and he is entitled to his beliefs. I also believe the author of this article is a bit biased in his own beliefs and I don’t agree with everything he says but again, that doesn’t mean he or I are nutty just because we don’t agree with you, or one another. By the way, that crystal ball you have, where can I find one?