Israelite slaves have been depicted building the great pyramids of Egypt for many decades. Tales have been told about their hardships, and some even compare their suffering to that of the blacks during the pre-civil war era. Even the Israeli Prime Minister in 1970 said “We built the pyramids” while visiting the Cairo museum in Egypt. So, the bible says so right? Actually, while this story has been widely spread by Hollywood and a Greek historian who has also been called “the father of lies”, the story does not come from the Bible.
Although Exodus does describe Israelite slaves, and it makes mention that they built the cities of Pithom and Ramm’ses for “Pharaoh.” (Exodus 1:11 King James Edition), Exodus does not make any mention of a pyramid, tomb, grave, or any other thing that could possible be associated to the Great Pyramids at Giza. The majority of all cities, be it Pithom or Ramm’ses, were built on the east side of the Nile. This is because the sun rose in the east and set in the west, so the east side of the Nile was reserved for the living while the west side was reserved for the dead. If the King of Egypt did commission a tomb, why would he commission it in the middle of a city on the east “living” side of the Nile, and furthermore, why is there no evidence of this, it is certainly not the Bible as it makes no mention of tombs or pyramids in Exodus.
There is another more problematic issue, however. All pyramids built in ancient Egypt (including all of the structures in Giza) were built during a very prosperous time in Egyptian history known as the “Old Kingdom” The structures built during the old kingdom were over 1000 years old when Moses was born.
Yet more evidence is present for the time-period, and it is supported by the Biblical record. One of the cities “built” by the slaves is referred to as “Ramm’ses” If we were to assume the city was named after one of the pharaohs called Ramses, than it could refer to Ramses II (more commonly known as Ramses the Great) or one of his immediate ancestors. This would make sense because Ramses the Great is generally agreed upon as the Pharaoh in the Bible due to a number of possible events which line up with some of the Biblical story of Exodus. This includes the untimely death of a number of his children. But once again, we know when Ramses ruled Egypt: 1279-1213BC. Since the greatest pyramids were built around 2500 BC, that confirms that the tales of Israelite slaves building the pyramids takes place in entirely the wrong time period.
So you may wonder, if the Bible doesn’t say slaves built the pyramids, who started this tale? Herodotus, an ancient Greek tourist, notice I stressed the word tourist, visited Egypt around 450 BC. He was apparently told that 100,000 slaves (not necessarily Israelites) built the pyramids. Keep in mind that Herodotus hears this from an unknown source in Egypt (we have no idea how credible) during a period 2,000 years after the pyramids had been built. I can’t even begin to stress how bad of a source this is. (The man is even commonly referred to as “The father of lies”) Nevertheless, this is the earliest account we have, and it is likely where this rumor began. It does not take much of a leap to tie the Israelite Exodus to Herodotus tale: the whole story works nicely if you conveniently ignore some glaring details. Besides, pictures of the pyramids makes a better and more engaging Hollywood film than pictures of insignificant mud brick walls and housing.
So I hope I have convinced you that Israelite slaves could not have built the pyramids. However, I still have not proven that slaves hailing from another time/region did not. I will discuss this in Part II.
Did Slaves Built the Pyramids? Part II: Logistics
In my previous post, I discussed how the Israelite Slaves of the Exodus could not have built the pyramids primarily due to the fact they existed in entirely the wrong time period. But this raises a question, could another large group of slaves have built the pyramids?
First, let us discuss how Egypt most often came by slaves. In Egyptian society, they did not “conquer” lands in the same way as most. Most ancient cultures take a land, supplant the leader, attempt to assimilate the population, and ultimately expand their kingdom. This was not really the way of Egyptians since the since they did not like to leave their home land. Egyptians only forced those “they conquered” to send goods and pay tribute. When the Egyptian people felt they weren’t getting enough from their neighbor, they would send the army to “beat them up” and “encourage” them to pay them in goods all over again. In some cases, slaves were taken, but not nearly in the numbers that would be required to build a Pyramid. There is some truth that some of the soldiers who stood against the Egyptians may have been taken as slaves to do very difficult and dangerous labor in Egypt, but this represented a far smaller number than is necessary to build the pyramids. Keep in mind that Egypt was considered the holiest of all lands, the only land that Egyptians thought they could resurrect from. They would never want to be distant from Egypt for a long period of time, so they would never care to take workers from distant lands.
What makes a large number of slaves improbable is that every Pharaoh boasted about his/her conquests of foreign lands, yet no document of a massive amount of slaves exists (at least not prior to the New Kingdom). Egyptians did not see slaves the same way we might now. Slaves were often criminals of Egypt or soldiers who stood against the Pharaoh, so boasting about the number of slaves one took would not be considered wrong to do. If the 100,000+ people that Herodotus said built the pyramids were slaves, then why is it not recorded anywhere? The Pharaohs were renowned for boasting about their conquests, they would record the amount of loot and any other payment down to the last ounce, so why then would the pharaohs not record this massive workforce of slaves they took? Let us also consider the logic of the situation: you want a foreign land to pay tribute to you in goods each year, you even rely on the goods they are giving you, why would you take 100,000 of their hardest working and strongest men, which serves only to reduce the amount of goods that nation will be able to supply you? This is particularly problematic because many of the goods imported by Egypt were precious metals and gems that had to be mined, an extremely difficult and dangerous job that would not have been possible by the young or elderly.
Another thing that makes enslaving a large population unlikely is the difficulty of transporting large numbers of people. Imagine, that you are leading a massive group of slaves from their homeland to Egypt and you stop in a town with three wells. You might think this is a great situation, but the reality is that even three wells in a town will not be able to quench your slaves thirsts fast enough, and people will start dying. If it is difficult to give water and feed say your 20,000 man army, how would it even be possible to give water, feed, and control an additional 100 thousand slaves so that they survive the multi-week journey to Egypt?
Many of the tales of slave pyramid building operates on the premise that there was no other capable work force in Egypt to build the great structures. This may have been true in most ancient civilizations, where they had to struggle to grow crops to survive, but it was not true for the Egyptians. Egypt was blessed with what many consider to be the greatest agricultural advantage in the ancient world: The Nile. The Nile floods on a seasonal schedule, bringing the richest soil, water, and every nutrient good crops need to grow. This fertile soil allowed for the growth of a massive amount of crops along the Nile river, and Egypt became one of the largest exporters of crops the ancient world had ever seen. Because of the seasonal flooding of the Nile, agriculture came to a halt for months at a time while farmers waited for the Nile’s water level to recede so they could begin planting in the new fertile soil. As a result, upwards of 90% (possibly more) of Egypt’s entire population was without work during this time. We are almost certain that this is how the pharaohs were able to summon massive work forces. With so many capable strong men out of work, there would certainly be no reason to recruit slaves from a foreign land.
All of these factors seem to indicate that the mere possibility of enslaving so many people is unlikely. But if you are still unconvinced, I have saved the best for last, the one thing Herodotus never provided: The Evidence (Part III ?)
Article courtesy Nathan P. Hoffman who also created the interesting video below, about the UNICORNs in the Bible.
IF YOU, NATHAN, would happen to read this, I would like you to contact me asap, as I have tried to find your email to write you, but couldn’t find it. Please leave it in a comment that I will keep private and then delete. Thanks. I would like to talk to you about possible cooperation.