I must be a glutton for punishment because I caved in and bought the book this time. What the hell, for around four bucks it wasn't too difficult for me to do. I probably could've spent the money more wisely, such as a lunch at McDonalds, but for the sake of fair play in my own debates here at UM, I thought I should do it. In attempting to read The Stairway to Heaven again, I find myself perplexed by the conclusions Sitchin reaches. They are so far from reality that I have a hard time buying the idea that even Sitchin takes these conclusions seriously. He has every right to earn a living by publishing his books and I do not deny him that, but I worry about sincere but gullible folks who buy the books, read them, and fall for them.
Another poster at UM says he likes to read Sitchin's material because it makes for a good story, but that's clearly not Sitchin's intent. He does indeed seem to want people to take him seriously. The books are listed as "nonfiction," after all. At the same time, I can't help but notice that in most bookstores I visit, publications by Sitchin and others such as Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval are not to be found in the history or science section but in the "mysticism" or "occult" section. I have to chuckle over the fact that even the bookstores don't seem to take these writers seriously.
In the interest of balance, then, I'd like to critique some of the arguments Sitchin makes in The Stairway to Heaven and detail why he is patently incorrect. Or as the historian Michael Heiser succinctly puts it in his own well-explained website, Sitchin is wrong. I honestly don't know how to interpret Zecharia Sitchin's motives, but he seems to operate under one of two guiding principles, which seem to be followed by nearly all fringe writers:
- Stichin does not possess a working or meaningful understanding of the ancient cultures about which he writes, so he loosely defines them in terms that fit his agenda.
- Sitchin does have a working knowledge of these cultures but has deliberately misinterpreted them to force them in a tormented fashion to fit his agenda.
I think we all know that Sitchin argues ancient civilizations, particularly the Sumerians, were founded by an alien race coming from a planet named Nibiru; the Nibiruans, in fact, genetically engineered the human race. So says Sitchin. I'm not going to spend any further time explaining his basic premise, however. For this post I am going to refer to some arguments Sitchin makes at the start of Chapter 8, entitled "Forging the Pharoah's Name." This chapter in particular is rife with inaccurate conclusions, and the faulty logic is simple to refute. I rather think even the average college freshman just starting to take up Near Eastern studies could have a field day tearing Sitchin's arguments to shreds.
The Step Pyramid
When it comes to ancient Egypt, Sitchin argues the two larger pyramids of Giza were built by the aliens he identifies as the Anunnaki (properly identified as a class of gods in Mesopotamian cultures), and served as their guiding beacons. All other Egyptian pyramids, Sitchin states, were pale imitations made by the Egyptians to try to emulate the mighty pyramids created by the Anunnaki. Sitchin questions the logic behind the form of the true pyramid, whose four sides are smooth in contrast to step pyramids, and even goes so far as to say the very first pyramid, created in Dynasty 3 for King Netjerikhet (a.k.a., Djoser), was in fact originally a true pyramid. Sitchin writes (2007: 337-338):
Sitchin does not disagree that the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser was built in stages, beginning as a flat square structure and ending up in pyramidal form, but the inference that it was finished as a true pyramid is unfounded. He tries to argue this simply to make it seem as though Djoser was the first in Egyptian history to try to make a monument like the ones "made" by the Anunnaki at Giza--which he of course says were already there, long before the rise of the Egyptian civilization.
Properly analyzed and as established through archaeology, it is known that:
The Step Pyramid never had the true form with smooth sides. That is an invention on Sitchin's part. It would go on to become a six-layer stepped structure (stages P1 and P2). The casing was not made of mud brick, as Sitchin asserts, but of fine limestone, as was the interior mass. It happens, however, that a lot of the limestone was cut to resemble the size and shape of mud brick in order to mimic the building material of earlier times, as is true of most of the expansive complex surrounding the Step Pyramid.
Pyramids of the Late Old Kingdom
Sitchin also questions the nature of pyramids following those built at Giza. He writes (2007: 337):
This is a question posed by fringe writers in general. They either don't understand the socio-political conditions of the late Old Kingdom and are making it up as they go along, or they are ignoring well-established history altogether. I've seen posters here at UM parrot the same skepticism about the later pyramids, but without the knowledge of what was happening after Dynasty 4. There is no question that state authority and the economy of Egypt were beginning to teeter after Dynasty 4. Egypt was slipping into decline. It would descend into civil war in the succeeding First Intermediate Period, when rival dynasties arose and fought one another for hegemony of Egypt (Shaw & Nicholson 2003: 100); in fact, the old capital of Memphis was even abandoned in this period. Kings in the late Old Kingdom no longer possessed the control to marshall the resources to build soaring pyramids. Instead, they erected smaller pyramids but with much larger and more elaborate temples than in Dynasty 4; several kings of Dynasty 5 also built large sun-temple complexes. These are indications of change not only in the socio-political situation but in the religion, as well.
Djedfre's Pyramid at Abu Rawash
Sitchin questions why the king who followed Khufu, his son Djedefre, did not build a pyramid at Giza: "Remember--the other two Giza pyramids were supposedly not there yet, so Radedef [Djedefre] had the whole site free to build as he pleased" (2007: 338). In fact, spacing at a particular site was but only one consideration when a king wished to start the building of his tomb. Many kings preferred to situate their tombs in virgin territory, to mark the space as their own. Djoser did this when abandoning the old royal necropolis of Abydos for North Saqqara, and Khufu did the same at Giza. Kings in Dynasty 5 spread their monuments throughout Abusir, while Unis chose to return to Saqqara. Djedefre chose Abu Rawash because it had not been used for any royal burial since the aborted construction of the so-called Lepsius Pyramid No. 1, also known as the Brick Pyramid for its brick-sized masory and tentatively attributed to King Huni (Dodson 2006: 47). Sitchin also wonders if the Egyptians had perfected their building techniques with the Great Pyramid, why did the builders at Abu Rawash erect "...the quickly crumbling one that bears his [Djedefre's] name?" (2007: 338) In fact it's most likely the case that the pyramid was never finished. Djedefre died too quickly. What was completed was about fifteen horizontal layers, including some carefully dressed granite casing stones (Verner 1998: 218-219). What was completed prior to abandonment of construction was, in fact, well done.
Absence of Hieroglyphs
Sitchin goes on to question the absence of hieroglyphs in the Giza pyramids. Many fringe writers do this, which is further evidence of their lack of understanding of the time and place. Sitchin says the lack of hieroglyphs proves these pyramids "...had either been built before the development of hieroglyphic writing, or were not built by the Egyptians" (2007: 339). This absence of hieroglyphs proves no such thing. It's convenient that Sitchin ignores the fact that aside from some inscriptions in the subterranean spaces of Djoser's Step Pyramid, no pyramid until that of King Unis, at the end of Dynasty 5, bears interior hieroglyphic inscriptions of any sort. Sitchin is compelled to ignore this basic fact because it's something most pyramids from Dynasty 3 to the end of Dynasty 5 have in common. Lack of inscriptions proves nothing, aside from the obvious fact that this was the nature of royal tombs through most of the Old Kingdom. Only the attendant chapels and sacred spaces of tombs were inscribed in this period, and in fact this is the case with every single excavated mortuary temple and valley temple in Old Kingdom pyramid complexes.
It should be noted that the graffiti in the relieving chambers of the Great Pyramid definitively prove the pyramid was built in the time of and for Khufu. This is something Sitchin tries to explain away, but that's the subject for another thread I intend to begin in the near future.
Sitchin postulates that the temples that adjoined the masonry pyramids at Giza were indeed built by the Egyptians, and that kings like Khufu respectfully appropriated the previously existing pyramids in this way. He has to find some explanation for the temples because they were richly decorated with inscriptions specifically naming the kings, and adorned with beautiful statuary such as those found in the temples of Menkaure. Sitchin even goes so far as to state that Khufu was buried in his valley temple (2007: 340). This is absurd. Although later intrusive burials have been found in Old Kingdom valley temples, kings certainly were not buried in them. There is no evidence for this having occurred even once. It helps Sitchin's case that Khufu's valley temple has never been located and was probably long ago destroyed by the urban sprawl of Cairo, but he's stretching an argument to a point that cannot be supported by any evidence.
The Pyramids of Sneferu
Sitchin also discussed the three earlier pyramids of Khufu's father, Sneferu. He basically writes them off as crude attempts to mimic the Anunnaki pyramids of Giza. Anyone of sound mind ought to have a hard time with this notion. Although it's true that Sneferu's pyramid at Meidum and his Bent Pyramid at Dashur were not grand successes, they were still the first true pyramids in the world and remain massive, imposing monuments. And Sneferu's third monument, the Red Pyramid at Dashur, was a stunning success and is one of the most beautiful pyramids the Egyptians ever built. Also neglected by Sitchin are the architectural elements seen in Sneferu's monuments that appear in more advanced form in Khufu's Great Pyramid. As most fringe writers do, Sitchin conveniently ignores the natural and observable evolution royal funerary architecture followed in the early periods.
I realize this post got very long and I don't expect many people at UM will be interested in reading all of it, but thank you to those of you who do. I don't usually initiate threads here at UM, so I welcome comments and debate on those portions people read and on which they care to comment. I'd appreciate constructive debate based on the material as written. Simply chiding me for taking on Sitchin is not productive; I'd rather you take me up on the challenges I present to his arguments. Similarly, dismissing orthodox scholarship outright is also not productive, and bodes very poorly for those who approach the issue that way. I'd rather a poster not comment at all than to resort to the silly idea of "historians are out to hide the truth," which of course is nonsense. I of course have no say over what posters wish to write, but I'd like to keep the discussion mature and productive. Thanks.