Presidential candidate Ben Carson reiterates his strange belief about the pyramids to CBS News. (original screenshot via CBS News)

The Presidential race isn’t exactly a showcase of the best and brightest in US society, but Republican candidate Ben Carson hit a new intellectual low with his claim that the ancient pyramids of Egypt were used to store grain, rather than as the final resting places of pharaohs.

Carson, who is a retired neurosurgeon, first made the claim publicly in 1998 during a commencement address at Andrews University, a Michigan college founded in 1874 by Seventh-day Adventists. The speech surfaced on BuzzFeed this week and has caused a storm of criticism as the radical idea isn’t based on any science or history but myth and conjecture.

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson says in the video. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves.” His explanation got even stranger when he erroneously cited scientists who claim that aliens were involved in their construction: “[W]hen you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how — ‘ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

In case you thought Carson would distance himself from the claim, on Wednesday CBS News asked the GOP frontrunner if he stood by his comments, to which he answered: “It’s still my beliefs, yes.” When pressed to explain, he elaborated: “The pyramids were made in a way that they had hermetically sealed compartments. You would’ve need hermetically sealed compartments for a sepulcher, you would need that if you were trying to preserved grain over a long period of time.”

Carson’s comments not only ignore the archeological record but the written records of ancient Egyptians themselves. Carson’s bizarre theory refers to the Old Testament story of Joseph that appears in Genesis: “Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.”

While the Bible story suggests that the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptians, many today believe the entire story is a myth since there is no historical evidence to substantiate the claim. Writing in Haaretz, Josh Mintz explains:

The reality is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt. Yes, there’s the story contained within the bible itself, but that’s not a remotely historically admissible source. I’m talking about real proof; archeological evidence, state records, and primary sources. Of these, nothing exists.

It is hard to believe that 600,000 families (which would mean about two million people) crossed the entire Sinai without leaving one shard of pottery (the archeologist’s best friend) with Hebrew writing on it. It is remarkable that Egyptian records make no mention of the sudden migration of what would have been nearly a quarter of their population, nor has any evidence been found for any of the expected effects of such an exodus; such as economic downturn or labor shortages. Furthermore, there is no evidence in Israel that shows a sudden influx of people from another culture at that time. No rapid departure from traditional pottery has been seen, no record or story of a surge in population.

The crackpot theory that the pyramids may have been granaries was something people living in Europe during the Middle Ages believed, according to John C. Darnell, a professor of Egyptology at Yale. But today historians know for a fact this was not the case.

This year’s Presidential race has been one embarrassment after another. Considering the election is roughly a year away, I don’t think this will be the last lapse of judgment by a candidate we’ll be discussing.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

7 replies on “US Presidential Hopeful Ben Carson Bizarrely Believes Egyptian Pyramids Were Grain Silos”

  1. I have studied Egyptology for ten years and was last at the Giza pyramids six months ago. The main problem with Carson’s theory is that the pyramids are almost entirely solid rock with sand and rubble infill. There is barely any empty space inside them at all.

  2. The excitable blogger Josh Mintz inadvertently discredits himself entirely when writing the Bible is “not a remotely historically admissible source,” before listing what he thinks he knows about archaeology. The Tanakh and New Testament are two of the most important documents for the practice of archeology itself, with whole fields devoted to it.

    There are, in fact, archaeologists and historians who accept the Tanakh’s account of the Hebrew exodus. They are a minority, but in my reading of their work, I’ve found no flaws in their reasoning, and much of it is persuasive.

    As far as Ben Carson’s idea that the pyramids are granaries, why not just point out that the structures have very little hollow space, and be done with it.

  3. Grain in ancient Egyptian pyramids? Aliens constructing them? I once thought of supporting Dr. Carson, but after learning of such an asinine “theory” I may have no choice but to reconsider as to who I’ll be supporting for this election.

    1. Dr. Carson was actually arguing against the idea that “aliens” had anything to do with it. An exact understanding of the use of the pyramids, no matter what archeologists confidently purport, are theories. I don’t see anything wrong with Dr. Carson having a theory that is counter to what others think. We all have minds for ourselves; this, I believe, is a non-essential issue. As for the people calling him unintelligent, his life accomplishments speak for themselves. I greatly admire the man.

      1. “An exact understanding of the use of the pyramids, no matter what archeologists confidently purport, are theories.”

        Uh, you do realize they are clearly tombs, right? That there are actually sarcophagi in them?

        ” I don’t see anything wrong with Dr. Carson having a theory that is counter to what others think.”

        You mean others that have actually studied the pyramids first hand, not just made stuff up to agree with an insane interpretation of their religion?

        “We all have minds for ourselves; this, I believe, is a non-essential

        Except, of course, that this man wants to be president.

        “As for the people calling him unintelligent, his life
        accomplishments speak for themselves.”

        And his accomplishments don’t prove he is intelligent. Sure, he may be a great surgeon, and may be quite bright in that particular field, but that doesn’t make him intelligent overall or qualified to be president.

      2. Theories based on actual evidence are one thing (which carson does not have); theories based on nothing but some batshit bonkers make-it-up-as-you-go-along invention to get yourself noticed (which he does) are quite another. I cannot believe you are serious.

  4. Would this be an indication of how public works projects would be handled under Carson? Massive stone pyramids with little storage space that take decades to build.. to store a small amount of grain?

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