James Tabor has a short, interesting piece over on the Huffington Post about where Dr. Ben Carson’s idea that the pyramids were the storehouses Joseph built to hold grain. It’s worth a read, though I have some correctives to offer to both Drs. Tabor and Carson.
First, there is this statement by Tabor:
What the mainstream “progressive secularist” media, as Carson labels it, does not realize is that such ideas are quite common among mainstream Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian circles–connected to theories about how biblical archaeology confirms the Bible’s historical reliability. Dr. Carson’s assertion at the 1998 Andrews University graduation ceremony speaks for itself and is totally within the parameters of the commonly held views of history, archaeology, and biblical “literalism.”
My own initial exposure to Christianity came as a teenager. My context was the fundamentalism Tabor notes in the above quotation. I was part of that through high school and my college years. Not once did I ever hear the idea that Joseph built the pyramids. Consequently, while I’m guessing you could find some fundamentalist pastors or believers who’d say such a thing, it’s simply wrong to imply that biblical literalism leads to this demonstrably false idea. And as far as evangelicals go, I know of no evangelical scholar who would affirm Carson’s idea — and I know a lot of them. Many of them in fact take the mainstream “late” date of the chronology of the exodus (13th century B.C., nowhere near Joseph; see below). But having said that, some biblical literalists would say such this — but not because the Bible teaches it (there is no biblical mention of the pyramids, for example). They believe it because a preacher said it at some point.
Second, I’m light years from being a “progressive secularist” (Dr. Carson’s label for those who dispute his belief), but Dr. Carson’s idea is bogus — not only because of Egyptological data, but biblical literalism contradicts it. Since I know something about the biblical-archaeological tradition at Andrews University (an Adventist school – Carson’s tradition), I’d challenge him to produce one Adventist OT scholar who agrees with him.
Demonstrating the fallacy of Carson’s belief isn’t difficult. First we need to establish the Bible’s own chronology. Following that, we need only to synchronize the Bible’s chronology with that of ancient Egypt. The chronology can be reconstructed as follows, taking all the biblical numbers literally for the sake of our discussion:
From Abraham to the end of Joseph’s life
- Abraham was 75 when he left Haran to journey to Canaan (Gen 12:4)
- 25 years later, Abraham and Sarah had Isaac (Gen 21:5); Abraham was then 100
- 60 years later (Isaac was 60), Jacob was born (Gen 25:26)
- 130 years later, Jacob is found in Egypt under the care of Joseph (Gen 47:9)
- Jacob dies 17 years later at the age of 147 (Gen 47:28); Joseph is still is Egypt (Gen 48-50)
- Consequently, from the time Abraham left Haran to the end of Jacob’s life (and the height of Joseph’s influence), 307 years elapsed. Adding 75 to this number to move backward to Abraham’s birth, we get 382 years from the birth of Abraham to the death of Jacob (and toward the end of Joseph’s time in Egypt).
From Joseph to the Exodus under Moses
We are told in Exodus 12:40 that the Israelite sojourn in Egypt lasted 430 years. Since God had said in Gen. 15:13 that Israel would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, not 430, the difference is taken by many scholars to indicate that the bondage in Egypt began thirty years after Jacob arrived in Egypt. Given the previous information, if this suggestion (about the 430) by scholars is correct, Joseph lived thirteen years more in Egypt after Jacob died.
The last forty years of the 430 year period noted in Exod. 12:40 would have been the time Moses lived in Egypt, since Acts 7:23 puts him at the age of forty when he ran afoul of Pharaoh and had to flee Egypt. Exodus 7:7 and Acts 7:30 establish the fact that forty years after Moses had fled Egypt he returned, having been commissioned by God to demand that Pharaoh give the Israelites their freedom. After leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses lived another forty years—the period of the wilderness wandering—and died at the age of 120 (Deut. 29:5; 31:2; 34:7).
So we can now summarize three important observations of biblical time:
- From the birth of Abraham to the death of Jacob = 382 years
- ca. 13 years after Jacob died, Joseph died.
- The Israelite bondage period occurred from the time Joseph died until the exodus—400 years (Gen 15:13)
The Key Passage and the Key Egyptian Synchronism
The key passage in bridging the time from the exodus into the time of Israel’s kings is 1 Kings 6:1. It tells us that the fourth year of Solomon’s reign was the 480th anniversary of the exodus from Egypt. The beginning of Solomon’s reign can be reliably dated to 970 B.C., making the 480th anniversary of the exodus 966 B.C. Adding 480 years (backward in time) from 966 B.C. gives us 1446 B.C. for the date of the exodus, per a literal reading of all these numbers (this date is the “early” date for the exodus). Adding (again backward in time) the 400 years of Egypt’s enslavement (Gen 15:13) to 1446 B.C. gives us a date of 1846 B.C. for Joseph’s death. Since Joseph lived 110 years (Gen. 50:22), his lifespan would work out to 1956 B.C. – 1846 B.C.
And that’s the problem. The pyramids in Egypt were built during the Old Kingdom in Egypt (when Khufu—namesake of the Great Pyramid—reigned as pharaoh). The Old Kingdom era in Egypt dates from 2649 B.C. – 2150 B.C. (Khufu’s reign was ca. 2589-2566 B.C.). The pyramids were standing centuries before Joseph was ever born. According to the biblical numbers above, they were standing well before Abraham was born.
How do we know Egyptian chronology with certainty? The short answer is astronomical correlations with celestial observations in Egyptian texts and ancient Egyptian king lists that record the reign lengths of the pharaohs.
It is important to note that the biblical and Egyptian chronologies have synchronisms that make the correlation of the two histories possible. The most famous is the identification of the Egyptian king Shishak, whose life overlapped with Solomon (1 Kings 11:40; 14:25), with the pharaoh Sheshonq (943-922 B.C.). (Some scholars dispute this correlation, but rejecting this correlation makes the case for Joseph being in the pyramid age worse, not better).
The bottom line is that, if one accepts the biblical record at face value, what Dr. Carson believes about the pyramids is impossible—according to the Bible’s own numbers. So biblical literalism, contra Dr. Tabor, will not produce what Carson believes. Nevertheless, some biblical literalists will believe this sort of thing. But that’s because they are ignorant of how the Bible undermines the idea.
This is your longest post in ages. This is like the old NB blog days. Something about it must have gotten under your skin. More posts like this please. 🙂
One of the problems with biblical math is that ‘a year is like a day’ & ‘a day is like a year’ that apologists use as convenient.
agreed; that’s a cop out.
Unicorns… hoppin’ down this rabbit trail I end up with unicorns in the OT. Best I can guess is that the Anunnaki rode around on ’em. Where’s Sitchin when you need him? “Dead”, you say? No excuse. He’s not getting off that easy. I’m going with the Irish Rovers on this one.
I really wish this made *any* sense. If whichever generation of Egyptians were using pyramids as storehouses they should have starved to death. There seems to be sufficient archaeological evidence for properly designed and executed granaries. Perhaps they found remarkably stupid ways to die but starving due to improper grain storage does not appear to be one of them.
I get the “angle” on the ‘theology’… but here you go again, gumming up the works with facts. This looks like it is rolling around to standard-issue bad politics. The kind that routinely murders hundreds of thousands annually.
” All grandeur, all power, all subordination to authority rests on the executioner: he is the horror and the bond of human association. Remove this incomprehensible agent from the world and at that very moment order gives way to chaos, thrones topple and society disappears.” The Works of Joseph de Maistre, 1821.
(the ‘people get the government they deserve’ guy)
Note: Whackjobs. Not a recent phenomena.
So. No Thanks.
Dr Ben. That would be strike 4,5&6. You’re onna bench, buddy. Any more out of you and guess where the bat goes after I beat you with it.
This reminded me I have a few questions about the chronology of The Exodus and a dozen more about Ugarit stuff. But. You have important things to do and I just need to shut up and read.
Thank you Mike, it was interesting. Im in with the early date for the exodus as most plausible.
Ha, I wondered if you would say something regarding this (and I idly wondered what the record precisely was).
Thanks for the clarifications!
The timeline is all well and good. But how about the fact that, compared to their size, the Pyramids have next-to-no storage capacity… If I were looking to store corn, I’d build something with actual storage volume… All you need to dismiss this idea is a lack of stupidity.
true on the storage problem.
“If whichever generation of Egyptians were using pyramids as storehouses they should have starved to death.”
Bingo. When I heard of Carson’s silly notion, my first thought was “Those had to be the worst-designed granaries in the entire history of badly-designed granaries.”
…I wouldn’t post this either…
TV (I watch an avg of 11 min of “regular” TV per months)
a 5 second flip-by of CNN
Christiana Ammenpour says,
“…and they all have to have a ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment…”.
Instantly shut it off. I was stunned.
I knew a cosmic circle had been closed in front of my very own eyes.
I can sit down now. The world is no longer on fire.
It has drown in a sickly sweet, 4th dimensional irony.
She’s right. Absolutely right.
Her brain is full of frogs.
Thought you needed to know.
I need to know more. Keep talking.
So, I’m curious. Do you think the Joseph story, aside from the Exodus for a moment, has basis in history? If so, when should it be placed?
I know that Halpern (and I’m assuming that Richard Friedman also takes this position) has argued persuasively that the Joseph story is a reflection of the Hyksos as picked by the elements which made up the Exodus group of Moses in the 13th century BC, but he seemed indicate there was probably no genetic link between the Hyksos of Joseph’s time, and their forced “exodus” under Ahmose, and a smaller Exodus under Ramses II or Ramses III.
Linking Joseph to the Hyksos is standard fare for the late date view (the dominant view of exodus chronology). However, there are significant points of disconnection between the Joseph story and Hyksos culture. See this series (first post):
That series of articles along with an article Doug Petrovich wrote about the dating of the destruction of Hazor sure is compelling evidence for me anyway that the early date has more credibility.
Doug does some interesting work. He takes some leaps with the data, but those data indeed do get neglected and deserve a closer look.
Heard him at ETS a year ago. I just wish he’d publish in journals that had a wider circulation / indexing. I couldn’t find a couple of items via ATLA and JSTOR, so that’s frustrating.
Thanks Mike, that was fun. A point of correction, the name of the university is merely “Andrews,” not “St. Andrews.” Seventh-day Adventists would, generally speaking, be opposed to calling anyone a “saint,” including their first missionary, for whom the school is named.
got it; thanks! I had the UK school in my head for a moment there!
The Israelite bondage period occurred from the time Joseph died until the exodus—400 years
So, both passages in Exodus say that the Israelites were “in bondage” during that time. But they weren’t in bondage when they first arrived and for awhile after right? They weren’t enslaved until a pharoah came into power that didn’t know Joseph.
I hadn’t heard that Dr. Carson had said that, but my thought is that the pyramids would be a pretty inconvenient structure to get grain from don’t you think?
I’ve read a lot a differing opinions on Egyptian chronology. Some say that Manetho’s kings list included concurrent reigns.
I was reading an article about a recent discovery that supported the “high” chronology. In the comments, people were mentioning a 150 year gap in Syrian pottery and silver mines (I think) that were closed. I didn’t know enough about it to understand more than there wasn’t perfect agreement on the timeline.
it all depends when you view the beginning – Jacob’s descent or Joseph’s death. You’ll see disagreement because of the “450” number in Acts 13:20.
Agreed that Egyptian chronology itself has tenuous aspects. I’m skeptical of the Sothic dating approach, the basis for the whole system (at least as it has been taught – some Egyptologists are trying other ways to hook into real-time astronomy now).
Synchronisms between Egypt and other ANE chronologies have always presented problems. You can get an idea of many of them in James’ book, Centuries of Darkness.
Also agreed that the pyramids would make miserable storage sites. There’s no much space in them. He’s confused by the external size.
Great Post! Aside from Bible chronology, my impression of ancient Egyptian granaries was that they were a wee bit smaller! It is a laughable statement!
Carson’s wild-eyed assertion indicates not one but two areas of ignorance. First, of Biblical archaeology. Second, of farming. Out here in west, I can’t think of any grain farmer who would be excited about a granary THAT BIG!
On the other hand, maybe this qualifies him to be president after all. The massive overkill of his “Pyramid Grain Storage Project” is a perfect fit for the typically “cost-efficient” government project. Would also be good for storing all that Pork!
An interesting read…while I detest much of the “in-fighting” amongst believers in Christ, I’m glad to see I know a true Berean that “searx[es] the scriptures to find out if these things are true” 😉
Also this, https://youtu.be/ZkdxhHkrbac
Not sure of his exegesis though.
Hey Mike. This Michael Hardin guy. Is he actually good on theology? It’s kinda hard to verify his statements lol.
Read some of his posts on FB. He does seem to hate conservatives a lot though. Just wanted to know if he’s good on theology.
I think he is. Can u verify them for me? There’s soooo many terms I don’t understand.
no idea who he is.
Not good enough. You should know everyone. Ever.
The Egyptian chronology needs to be shortened be centuries as there was an error made by the father of Egyptology Jean Francois Champollion by misinterpreting some of the heiroglphs and misidentifying the pharaohs. Read the excellent book out by Timothy Mahoney Patterns of Evidence that makes an excellent case for shortening Egyptian chronology.
Mahoney depends on Rohl for this (Mahoney is not an Egyptologist). I’ve read Rohl’s original book on this. I think he has a point about the weaknesses of TIP chronology, but I don’t see any coherence to having Saul, for example, be Labayu in the Amarna tablets. For me, Rohl’s work is mixed.
Can really be sure about the date for the reign of solomon? I heard there was dispute and some put it older, between 1000 and 1100 BC. Potentially putting the exodus back ~1500 bc and Joseph ~1700 bc
Solomon is pretty secure, in part because his reign can be calculated aligning Assyrian material to biblical king reigns. It doesn’t have any dependence on exodus dates.
Hm, I’ll have to look into that.
The 1 Kings 6:1 verse seems pretty straightforward. The only attempts i’ve seen to explain it are the whole “generational” idea. But it just seems very contrived and far-fetched to me. Do you know something about this I don’t? I would be happy to be wrong here. I just don’t buy the generational explanation at all.
1 Kings 6:1 is straightforward, but it doesn’t work into any system that has the pyramids being built by the Israelites.
I understand this breakdown and it’s a well written article, but first I would like to say that I’ve seen every-time that Carson has said this, and he has never said it with absolute surety. He has always spoke from what he says that he personally believes. Also, his theory is possible if there isn’t absolute proof and surety on when the pyramids were built. From what I’ve learned, there is debate on the dates. Can you provide more clarity and proof on how we know for sure that the pyramids were built during the time you’ve indicated? Your statement about Dr. Carson’s claim being absurd is heavily based on the accuracy of the dates the pyramids were built and I would like to personally solidify that for my research. I don’t believe everything that Carson believes, but his point about the way that the pyramids are made and about how it is ideal for mass food storage is intriquing to me and I would like to dig deeper into this research.