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Old 02-14-04, 07:38 AM   #1
Feltup
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PBS special on the Pyramids?

Did anyone watch it Thursday night? It said that the pyramids were built by Egyptians(volunteers) and not a group of slaves. I personally found it to be biased and real speculative. My wife felt the same. Of course what do you expect for PBS.
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Old 02-14-04, 08:32 AM   #2
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the theory that the pyramids were built by free labour goes back quite a long way, at least to the early-1960s, so this is not a new idea. the thing is that it is very difficult to say exactly what kind of labour built the pyramids for a number of reasons:

1. lack of records. the egyptians left a lot of writing, but only a small quantity of it actually deals with anything remotely economic. this is particularly true of the old kingdom (c. 3100-2100 bc). consequently, all the we have to go on is archeology, and that tells us very little about socio-economic organization.

2. from what little evidence there is of social organization in the old kingdom period, it doesn't appear that there was much of distinction between free peasants and slaves anyway. the distinction that we make is pretty anachronistic.

consequently, anything that anyone says about the economic basis for the construction of the pyramids is speculative anyway, and subject to the speculator's biases. you just have to accept that everything we know about how the pyramids were built is theory... and there are a number of theories.

one of the reasons why some people object to the theory that the pyramids were built by free labour is that it seems to contradict biblical account of iraelite slavery in egypt. in this case, there are two things to consider:

1. the great pyramid of khufu was built sometime between 2590 bc and 2525 bc [depending on whether you acept the clayton or lehner dating systems]. the best estimate for the birth of abraham, or at least from his departure from mesopotamia, is about 1800 bc. likewise, the most common estimate for the arrival of the israelites in egypt [if that ever happened at all] is 1700-1600 bc. that means that the great pyramids were built almost a thousand years before the israelites were even in egypt.

2. the pharaoh of exodus was most likely rameses ii or meremptah, of the xix dynasty of the new kingdom period. that would place the exodus between 1290 bc and 1200 bc, about a thousand years after the last pyramid was built by pepi ii at saqqara. i thinnk we can confidently conclude a few things. first, that the egyptian economy and society, conservative though it was, must have changed a great deal in the time between the construction of the pyramids and the exodus. second, that whatever economic conditions or labour systems that were employed to build the pyramids almost certainly did not obtain at the time of the israelite sojourn in egypt. third, that the israelites were, most definitely not involved in pyramid construction.
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Old 02-14-04, 09:14 AM   #3
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I've heard theories that there was some slave labor but most of the labor came from farmers who needed work and needed to be fed when the nile flooded every year. Feltup, are you angry that the pyramids might not have been built by slaves?
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Old 02-14-04, 10:21 AM   #4
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Free, Slave, is there much difference? Considering the strenuous work and possible high fatality rate of such workers I'd say more likely slaves.
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Old 02-14-04, 10:29 AM   #5
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that's kind of the point, sam. from what little evidence there is of old kingdom egypt, there probably wasn't much difference between the life of a free peasant and the life of a slave. tomb inscriptions make it clear that everything was believed to belong to the pharaoh, anyway. how much compulsion was there? who knows. it's entirely possible that free-ish peasants would have thought it a great honour to labour, toil and die for their god king. if the pyramids were not built with slave labout [and, who really knows?], maybe that's because they didn't have to be built with slave labour.
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Old 02-14-04, 10:42 AM   #6
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timelines are very important. my understanding is that the pyramids were started and continued during the time the israeli's were slaves. it is pretty clear in the book Exodus that Joseph left Israel and began farming land in the far outshirts of what was considered Egypt. Land, that nobody found a use for. After a while, Joseph became very wealthy and employed more and more people. Several generations passed, and there were all of a sudden 2 million jews. There was a new pharoah who concluded that if we don't do something about this population of jews soon, there will be more of them than us--> and while the far reaching jewish settlements were prospering, more importantly they had an agreement with the prior pharoah(s) of coexisting (since these jewish settlements were claimed on land that had no intrinsic value to egyptians)...anyway, the new pharoah came along and determined that they were a threat and proceeded to enslave them.

history is a bit sketchy on what the jews were actually doing while enslaved. it seems a logical, but huge jump to think that they were building pyramids. people think that they were bolstering the infrastructure (while egypt had the Nile to supply them with water, they had to wonder how jews made it on land that was so far from a water source)

this of course doesn't discount the more popular theories that the pyramids were built by aliens.
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Old 02-14-04, 11:07 AM   #7
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timelines are important, riphraph. the point with the pyramids is that the civilization that built them -- the old kingdom of egypt -- had ended at least three centuries before abraham was born [at the earliest], and a thousand years before the exodus. saying that "the pyramids were started and continued during the time the israeli's were slaves" is a bit like saying that the construction of chartres cathedral was started and continued during the third frebch republic.

it is a common mistake to see egyptian history, from the first pharaoh [narmer, @ 3100 bc] to the last [cleopatra vii, d. 30 bc] as a continuous history, it was not. there are three distinct egyptian civilizations -- the old, middle and new kingdoms -- and subsequent phases, separated by centuries of economic collapse and foreign domination. the old and new kingdoms have much in common, including language [though i understand that old kingdom ancient egyptian is to new kingdom egyptian what old english is to what we speak today] and some, but not all, religious elements. the israelites were in egypt during the new kingdom, which was a civilization quite different from the one that had built the pyramids. in fact, rather than continue to build them, by the middle of the new kingdom, it had become fairly common practice for pharaohs to scavenge the pyramids for building materials.

it doubtless took a long time for the ancient egyptians to build the pyramids -- though only the three at giza are really monumental -- but i hardly think it took a thousand years!
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Old 02-14-04, 11:50 AM   #8
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oh... one more thing... the only direct references to the "israelites" in egypt are biblical. it isn't even clear that the people, called "israelites," who migrated from egypt sometime around 1200 bc were even the same people as the hebrews.
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