‘… it is not a matter of belittling Ancient Egyptians, it is known of course they did not have any mathematics… ‘
Alicia Maravelia 17 June 2022
Maravelia made a presentation on ‘Of Eternity, Everlastingness and Stars’1. Among her primary claims were that:
- All mathematical astronomy began with the Greeks.
- She reads back into Ancient Egypt from the views of modern physics and views from the religion of Christianity and Judaism, seeing Ancient Egypt as a precursor;
- With merely simple allegories and metaphors, Ancient Egyptians could describe quite accurately many astronomical phenomena.
Before addressing her central claims, one has to reflect on the general level of scholarship displayed. She claims that Ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death and the life thereafter. We need to consider that what remains are mostly tombs and documents found in tombs. Imagine in a thousand years if all that remained of France were its cemeteries and an archaeologists were to try to convey daily life in France based on the texts available in cemeteries. More to the point if Ancient Egyptians were, in fact, as obsessed with death as Western Egyptologists often claim, they would qualify as clinically depressed and probably suicidal.
On a technical level, she throws words such as ‘philosophical’ and ’metaphysical’ around like so much confetti. Most of her uses of such terms would not be recognised in any philosophy department in Europe or Asia. In this regard, she is not so different from the average Western Egyptologist. Strangely, Egyptologists will never tread on classical Greek texts and abandon the field of study to another department as soon as Alexander The Great arrives. Yet these same scholars wax lyrical about philosophy in respect of Ancient Egypt. In reality, they would not recognise a philosophical text if it hit them on the head. They claim to be able to deduce weaknesses in Ancient Egyptian philosophy when they cannot understand it in the first place. Often they compare an Ancient Egyptian text to an unphilosophical view of the modern Western world.
Maravelia refers to a modern philosophical view of ‘time’ without any references whatsoever. Any first-year philosophy undergraduate could demolish, in double quick time, her presentation of ‘time’ in modern western philosophy.
Before attempting to address the primary claims above two matters are outstanding:
She describes the idea of ‘entropy’ as coming from the ancient Greek word, which is absurd. Rudolf Clausius who invented the term first chose an unwieldy German term and later substituted a more elegant Greek word2 . It is as realistic as saying the idea of ‘television ‘ came from the ancient world, given it is made up of ‘tele’, which is Greek and ‘visio’ for seeing from the Latin. In Germany a TV is called ’fernsehen’’ or literally ‘far-seeing’. Clearly, it is absurd to link the idea of television with the roots of the word used in English. But perhaps she means to introduce the subliminal suggestion that ‘everything came from the Greeks’.
In reading modern physics back into Ancient Egypt she seeks to represent it as an anchor to locate Ancient Egypt. In so doing, she falls directly into a trap: what happens when modern physics moves on? She talks as if modern physics were a stable place. She does not hesitate to refer to Genesis to explain ancient Egyptian texts referring to God as Adonai while discussing the Old Kingdom, or blush in seeking to reconcile the literal Biblical text of miracles by introducing string theory?
There is a truly fundamental issue with the theories in that they are fundamentally circular. She redefined the meaning of the specific terms in the text and then refers to the text to support her argument. This is standing on sand or worse. While inconsistency may be an issue for a theory, making a consistent argument is not an added virtue. Circularity is widespread in Egyptology.
What we have here is the view that everything came from the Greeks on steroids. Maravelia appears not to have heard of Peter Park3 . He has shown that the idea of philosophy starting with the Greeks was born with Kant in the late 18th century. Before that period no one thought philosophy started with the Greeks.
However, we must now address the key point. Mathematics like language, poetry and dance, are basic elements of being human. To have a people with no mathematics is to have a sub-human life form. When challenged about her ‘everything came from the Greeks, ’ Maravelia hedged her bets by allowing Babylonia to have astronomy but only on the condition that Ancient Egyptian continued to lack all mathematics. If their neighbours had maths at the time, then its absence in Ancient Egypt would be proof of their sub-human status. This clearly is where Maravelia is coming from: non-whites are sub-human.
As it happens, the Greeks said they learnt their mathematics from the Ancient Egyptians, from Solon to Pythagoras to Plato, they all went to Egypt to seek knowledge and wisdom. As Gregory states: the pre-Socratic Thales claimed all his wisdom came from Egypt.4
If we look at Maravelia’s claim that the Ancient Egyptians could tell stories about the galaxy using allegory but no maths we realise this is impossible. Visualisation is a powerful tool for communication. It was one of Minkowski’s contributions to find a geometrical demonstration of Einstein’s special relativity, showing space-time as 4-dimensional geometry. But in order to get the visualisation exactly correct, there must be a profound and accurate understanding of the primary mathematical issues. For the Ancient Egyptians to be able to provide an accurate visualisation of the astronomical data. It should be clear that visualisation is a powerful tool for communicating what is already understood. If Ancient Egyptians could use allegory to explain astronomical data they must have come to understand that data by some other means.
Further, I have not taken time to go into the Rind and Moscow Mathematical Papyri which pre date the arrival of Alexander. This is because Maravelia’s ability to believe her statements is the issue, and the problem of the sub-human status of the Ancient Egyptians as an implication would remain. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence so one’s argument is not reliant on the existence of actual proof of the contrary. To focus on the Rind and Moscow Papyri is to suggest that if these did not as a matter of fact exist then Maravelia’s argument might have some credence, which is absurd.
This view that the Ancient Egyptians were sub-humans is, one suspects, quite deeply entrenched in the minds of many western Egyptologists.
Gregory, S. R. W. (2022). Tutankhamun Knew the Names of the Two Great Gods. Archaeopress Publishing Ltd.
Maravelia, D. A. (2022, June 17). Of Eternity, Everlastingness and Stars: A Quest for Time and Space in Ancient Egypt.
Park, P. K. J. (2013). Africa, Asia and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the formation of the philosophical canon 1780-1830. SUNY.
1. (Maravelia, 2022)
3. (Park, 2013)
4. (Gregory, 2022, p. 27)