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Review: The Legends of the Pyramids – Myths and Misconceptions about Ancient Egypt, by Jason Colavito 2021.

Reviewed by Thorwald C. Franke, Atlantis Newsletter No. 181 (31 August 2021).

Bibliographical data: Jason Colavito, The Legends of the Pyramids – Myths and Misconceptions about Ancient Egypt, Red Lightning Books, Bloomington/Indiana 2021. Pp. 231. ISBN 978-1684351480. $20,00. £15,99. €20,00.

Highly interesting topic, a lot of material, but unfortunately confusing and erroneous

With his book "The Legends of the Pyramids", Jason Colavito has presented another work in which he examines the origins of a strand of themes, myths and legends that can be found today in pseudoscience and pop culture, thus debunking widespread errors and pseudoscience. The chosen topic is highly exciting: first, because it touches the core of many pseudoscientific ideas about ancient history. And then because until now there has been a lack of literature on this subject, so that much has been in the dark here.

So we learn how slowly, step by step, the false ideas surrounding ancient Egypt were formed, from the ancient Greeks to the beginnings of alchemy, from the attempts of Jews, Christians and Muslims to adopt ancient Egypt for their worldview, from the trials and tribulations of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to modern pseudoscience and pop culture.

There is really a lot of material in this book. And a lot of connections are shown. It certainly took many years of work to research and find all these connections, and that is the real value of this book.

But unfortunately the book is confusing and partly erroneous.


The attempt to deal with the complex entanglements and connections in a relaxed narrative style has failed even more clearly here than in Jason Colavito's previous books. The number of authors and works from which the web of errors is woven over time is very large. It would have been even more urgent, this time, to compile these authors and texts in tables. Flow charts showing who influenced whom would also have been very helpful. But the reader is left pretty much alone with an endless flood of ever-new authors and works, each chapter anew pelting at him.

Particularly annoying is the unsuccessful division of the material into sections. The headings are trimmed for the effect of arousing curiosity and interest, and therefore often do not provide clear information about the content covered in the respective chapter or subchapter and their connections. This makes orientation in the book very difficult. In addition, the subchapters do not appear in the table of contents, so that the table of contents does not provide any overview. It is also very annoying that the material covered has been divided into subchapters quite arbitrarily: Sometimes the material announced by a subchapter heading is spread over several subsequent subchapters. Sometimes another author is dealt with in a subchapter, to whom no separate heading is dedicated, so that he is not visible when looking through the headings. In some cases, a topic is first dealt with in a subchapter and then in a separate main chapter.

It is also very annoying that in treating the material, the author sometimes follows the chronology of events and shows who wrote something first, who took it up afterwards, etc., but sometimes prefers the reverse order and shows from which earlier author something was taken, and from whom that author had taken it in turn, and so on. The constant back and forth is very confusing. The overview is also made more difficult by the fact that the author often announces later developments and anticipates them: in this way, the reader is always mentally much further in the future and is then taken back in the next section to a past that has nothing to do with the announcements, because what was announced only comes many chapters later. It is also unfavourable that later chapters build up a theme in a big way, the preparation of which one would almost have read over in a much earlier chapter, because it was only dealt with in a very small way there, without drawing attention to its importance.

It is very, very annoying that this book contains no bibliography and no footnotes with references to the exact pages in the relevant works. The names of works are only mentioned in the text, if at all, and very rarely is there an exact page reference. As a result, this work has unfortunately lost a great deal in the way of evidence and tracebility. For a work that has set itself the task of debunking pseudoscience, this is a dramatic failure. It can be assumed that the lack of literature and footnotes is also due to the idea of creating a "nice to read" book. But that was exactly the wrong idea. The reader who is more closely interested is not even recommended 2-3 scientific works to delve deeper into the topic, as is usually the case with popular science works. That is a great pity.

Also insufficient is that Jason Colavito repeatedly talks about pictures and their details without printing them. This book contains some very general pictures in colour, so it would certainly not have been a problem to include the pictures discussed in the book. For example, the depiction of Noah's Ark as a pyramid on the gate of the Baptistery of Florence or the depiction of the pyramids as granaries in the Cathedral of Venice. So here, too, the reader has to make his own effort and look things up on the internet.

All in all, Jason Colavito has created a very extensive collection of material with this book, but he has not succeeded very well in preparing the material for the reader. The reader must do this himself to a great extent. The same applies to the literature and source work. This could have been done much better.


We go through the mistakes one by one. We deal with everything on the subject of Atlantis in an extra section.

Although it is first correctly shown that some of Herodotus' errors and stories have a historical-critical explanation, so that Herodotus cannot be dismissed as an inventor of fairy tales, Herodotus is finally portrayed as exactly that ("The Greek historian had many stories to tell ..."; "Herodotus's mixture of fact and fiction"; pp. 13 f.). This is not correct. Of course, it is also wrong that later Greek authors would have carelessly mixed fact and fiction according to Herodotus' alleged model. It is also false that Herodotus came to Egypt with those Greeks who wanted to support the Egyptians against the Persians (p. 10). In truth, Herodotus came to Egypt only after the Persians had already won.

It is wrong to state succinctly that Aigyptos means "burned face" (p. 16). This theory does exist, but it is not the prevailing theory. Especially since there is agreement that the name of the Aithiopes goes back to their "burned faces". It is hardly likely that the Egyptians also got their name because of their skin colour.

The "Excerpta Barbari Latina" are not "Excerpts in Bad Latin" (p. 65), but "Latin Excerpts of a Barbarian".

It is false that the Arabs who conquered Egypt in 640 AD "struggled to integrate the newly conquered territory into a distinctly Islamic cultural context." (p. 67) In the beginning, the Arabs were not interested in Islamising their newly won subjects. Islam itself had not yet consolidated itself as a new religion. That only began later under Caliph Abd al-Malik from 685 AD. That is why scholars have come to speak of the conquerors as Arabs rather than Muslims.

After saying on p. 76 that "the real history of Egypt had been forgotten", this is followed only one page later by the statement that the opinion was widespread that the Hyksos built the pyramids around 1600 BC (p. 77). But the knowledge of the Hyksos is an incredible detail of Egyptian history! So not everything was forgotten after all ...

Louis Figuier is called "one of the most racist scientists of his era". Figuier "tried to remove the Arabs and other non-Whites from the story altogether." (p. 145) – We cannot find any fanatical racism in Figuier upon brief research, but only the "normal" racism of the time. Figuier even takes black people in protection against discrimination. It is also questionable whether a racist of the time would have perceived Arabs as "non-white". We suspect that Jason Colavito overshot the mark in accusing Figuier of being the "most racist". (As everywhere, no source is given, so we cannot verify the claim).

The following statement is threefold wrong: "Since the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, the tension between secular views of history and science and traditional spiritual and mythical ideas had grown unbearable, and the break between them had become almost inevitable. To believe that the pyramids were ten thousand years old or the work of Atlanteans operating under divine command was to reject the discomforting authority of evolution and materialism." (p. 158) – Firstly, Charles Darwin is not an argument against an age of ten thousand years, because with Charles Darwin human history was greatly extended into the past. The better argument against the ten thousand years would have been the results of Egyptology. – The range of meanings that can be given to the term "divine command" is very broad. The better argument would have been that religion and science are two spheres that should not be mixed methodologically. – This also applies to the assertion of an "authority of ... materialism". The better argument would have been to speak of a "methodological materialism". In any case, science is not a commitment to a materialist belief. I would even almost say: if anything, the opposite.

Strangely, "the Nazis" are treated in this book with only one short sentence: "The Nazis believed it", namely that the Egyptians were "white Aryans" (p. 208). First of all, this statement is false. In 1935, the leading Nazi historian of the ancient world, Helmut Berve, denied the right of Egyptology to exist at German universities because it dealt with a "non-Aryan" civilisation that could not be understood because it was "alien to the species" of Aryans. The German Egyptologists then tried to portray the Egyptians as Aryans, as long as they had not emigrated or been suspended from service. Egyptology was not abolished, but Helmut Berve's condemnation weighed heavily.

Unfortunately, Jason Colavito has neglected to address the 1939 National Socialist propaganda film "Germanen gegen Pharaonen" (Germanics versus Pharaohs). The plot is quickly told: First, an Egyptology professor presents the view of scientific Egyptology. Then a pseudo-scientist appears who claims all the things Jason Colavito writes about in this book: Very interesting! And finally a National Socialist appears who proves that the Egyptians allegedly had their knowledge from the north from the Germanic tribes. It is really a pity that this film is not discussed in this book. The film is freely available on Youtube.

On the subject of Atlantis

Jason Colavito's handling of the subject of Atlantis is, as usual, deeply flawed. Admittedly: The subject of Atlantis is very complex and Jason Colavito is not the first to make these mistakes.

First, Atlantis is called "fabulous" (p. 23) and there is talk of "its wonders" (p. 24). But Atlantis was neither "fabulous" nor a wonderland, but fit perfectly – in the eyes of the ancient Greeks – in their view of the world at that time. There was nothing fantastic or magical about Atlantis. Jason Colavito also omits to relate the 9,000 years of Atlantis to the 11,340 years of Herodotus' Egypt (p. 23), about which he had told about shortly before (p. 11). But it is only from this point of view that one can understand how to interpret the 9,000 years. Plato certainly did not want to refer to the last Ice Age, that much is certain.

In Plato's account of Egypt, Jason Colavito makes two serious errors: "Plato attributed the whole story to the Egyptians, claiming it had been written on pillars in an old temple and known only to the wise priests". (p. 23) – Both claims are wrong. Plato's Timaeus 24a says that the priest, together with Solon, will "take the written text to hand" (ta grammata labontes), and this can only be a papyrus. The legend of the temple pillars came later, presumably with the story of Crantor as handed down by Proclus. – But the "wise priests" are also false. For the priest who points Solon to Atlantis is described as a nameless, old priest, not a "wise" priest. This is one of the many clues that make the story seem very realistic. Only later authors have attempted to portray the priest as a named and famous priest-scholar (Plutarch, Proclus, Clement of Alexandria, Kosmas Indikopleustes). – Inasmuch as the emergence of a false image of Egypt is the central theme of this book, we are dealing with two serious errors.

And Jason Colavito makes a third serious mistake on the same page, with which he also entangles himself in a self-contradiction: On the one hand, Plato's statement is correctly presented that the cyclically occurring flood catastrophes spare Egypt – on the other hand, it is claimed that the Atlantis story speaks of a world flood ("its history occurred before the greatest flood of all, the one that destroyed the world."; p. 23, also p. 37). But this is wrong. The flood catastrophes in the Atlantis story are regional catastrophes. As has already been correctly stated, Egypt in particular is said to have been spared from these flood catastrophes in each case.

Jason Colavito wants to equate the flood of Atlantis with the biblical flood, between which he sees "extremely close parallels" (p. 24), but this is wrong. Not only is the flood of Atlantis not a world flood, but it is also wrong that Zeus announces the destruction of Atlantis at the end of the Atlantis story, as Jason Colavito thinks (p. 24). Rather, a punishment is announced there for the betterment of the Atlanteans, and that cannot be the destruction. After all: perhaps the destruction of Atlantis was decided at a second assembly of the gods. It is also wrong when Jason Colavito writes: "In all of these stories, key elements repeat", because besides the fact that the Atlantis flood was not a world flood, Jason Colavito lists an important key element that does not occur at all in the Atlantis story: "A small number of people are saved" (p. 24). There is no Noah's Ark in the Atlantis story, that much is certain. – So there are no "extremely close parallels" between the Atlantis story and the biblical flood saga, but several important differences.

It is completely misleading when Jason Colavito moves from Plato's Atlantis story to Apollodorus, Ovid and Lucian with the words "Parts of the story can be found in" (p. 24). These authors do not speak of Atlantis. Moreover, Apollodorus probably means the Bibliotheca of the pseudo-Apollodorus. For Apollodorus himself is known for a list of implausible miracle stories known at the time, in which the Atlantis story is conspicuously absent; it was apparently not an implausible miracle story for him.

It is also wrong when Jason Colavito writes that "later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic commentators, all of whom saw ... a reason to associate Atlantis with the antediluvian world that existed before Noah's flood". While it is true that some Christian authors mistakenly made this connection (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Kosmas Indikopleustes), other Christian authors well recognised that the flood of Atlantis was not a world flood (e.g. Tertullian, Arnobius Afer).

There can therefore be no question of the Atlantis story being "the blueprint for associating Egypt's greatest wonders – the pyramids – with Noah's flood" (p. 25). I am not aware of any ancient text that mentions pyramids in Atlantis. This idea only came up in modern times when the pyramids of Indian civilizations in America were compared to the pyramids in Egypt. It is true that the pyramids were already associated with the biblical flood in antiquity, but the Atlantis story was not involved.

Jason Colavito himself does not mention such a connection anywhere in the following chapters, especially not where it should have been mentioned if there had been such a connection, e.g. in the discussion of the "Many Flood Stories" (p. 29). Nor is there any mention of the fact that the Atlantis story was supposedly written on temple pillars in the following chapters, although there is much talk there of the myths surrounding the inscriptions on pillars and temple walls. It is almost as if Jason Colavito did not trust his own claims about Atlantis, so that he preferred to leave them out of his later arguments. The arguments he presents instead are also much better and undoubtedly correct (e.g. Flavius Josephus p. 32).

It is almost surprising that Jason Colavito only comes back to the connection between Atlantis and the pyramids with Ignatius Donnelly. The assumption that the Egyptian pyramids are connected to the pyramids of the Indian civilizations in America via the sunken continent of Atlantis is considerably older. This observation goes back at least to Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora in 1680.

Jason Colavito also abbreviates Ignatius Donnelly's account in a way that distorts the actual meaning. According to Colavito, Donnelly would have written "that Atlantis had been populated by White people and Jews, the chosen races of God. 'Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations,' he wrote." (pp. 207 f.) – But if we read Donnelly, we find something quite different. There it says: "That Atlantis was the original seat of the Aryan or Indo-European family of nations, as well as of the Semitic peoples, and possibly also of the Turanian races." (p. 2 Donnelly) The "Semitic peoples" include much more than just the Jews, and the Turanians are "yellow". And there is no mention of "chosen races" at all. Only "chosen people" is mentioned in relation to the Jews on a completely different page (p. 212 Donnelly). Europeans, too, are not pure whites for Donnelly, but a mixture of different "colours" (p. 197 Donnelly). – Of course, from a modern perspective, all this is still racist, but it is by no means as racist as Jason Colavito makes it sound.

What is missing

It would have made sense to take a closer look at the alchemical tradition of Egypt. It would also have been good to analyse and integrate the routes of transmission that Peter Kingsley has shown from the Pythagoreans to Egypt (Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic – Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1995).

The fact that many Christians considered the Egyptian civilization to be a civilization of idol-worshippers, whom they therefore despised, should have been explored in more detail (e.g. Origen).

One would have liked to have been given the name of one of the Christian authors who interpreted the disproportionate representations of pharaohs and gods on Egyptian temple walls as representations of giants (p. 51).

One would have liked to have received evidence that the Copts did not believe that the pyramids were the granaries of Joseph (p. 63).

One would have liked more background information on the anonymous statement: "For every building, I fear the ravages of time, but as for this monument, I fear for time." (p. 67) Where did this statement come from? What is its oldest mention?

One would have liked to know more about the Freemasons' connection to Egyptianising symbolism.

One would have liked a reference to the claim that Léon Denis, quoting Lenormant, allegedly declared the Followers of Horus to be Atlanteans (p. 145). One only finds a quote of Lenormant in Léon Denis that the Sphinx is older than the pyramids. I suspect that the statement about the Atlanteans is a mistake and that this quotation is meant.

One would liked to have concrete evidence for this statement: "The empire imagined for antediluvians and Atlantis was a mythic precedent to the unprecedented imperial expansion of Victorian Europe." (p. 213) – It sounds quite plausible, but it is difficult to find evidence for this connection.


If you are interested in the topic, Jason Colavito's new book is an extremely rich collection of material that you won't easily find anywhere else. With a healthy scepticism and an interest in doing your own research, you can do a lot with it. Really a lot. However, those who like things to be clear and easy will not be so well served.

In some places, the author is somewhat disrespectful towards religious faith. On the other hand, the chapter "Afrocentrism and ancient Egypt", in which Jason Colavito describes how Egypt was appropriated as "black", is to be highly praised. Here we find the extremely salutary sentence: "... but as with so many correctives, they often tried to make too strong a case for the opposite, reproducing many of the same errors in reverse." (p. 210) Moreover, Jason Colavito rightly notes that behind such thinking there is still racist thinking, "a pernicious belief that culture is genetic" (p. 211). Very true.        Contents Overview
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