MIAMI — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Thursday stood by his belief that Egypt’s great pyramids were built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain, an assertion dismissed by experts who say it’s accepted science they were tombs for pharaohs.
Video posted online Wednesday by Buzzfeed News shows Carson explaining his theory 17 years ago at a Michigan college affiliated with his Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In the video, Carson says: “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids in order to store grain.” He was referring to the Old Testament story of Joseph predicting famine and advising the pharaoh to store surplus food.
Carson said that’s more likely than the accepted archaeological conclusion that the massive structures were built as tombs for pharaohs.
At a book signing Thursday in Florida, Carson stood by his statement.
“Some people believe in the Bible like I do and don’t find that to be silly at all, and believe that God created the Earth and don’t find that to be silly at all,” Carson said. “The secular progressives try to ridicule it every time it comes up and they’re welcome to do that.”
Neither Carson’s church nor any other major Jewish or Christian sect shares his belief about the pyramids’ origins. Jodi Magness, a specialist in biblical archaeology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said she knows of no scholar or archaeologist who questions that the pyramids were used as royal tombs.
“This is not an academic topic of debate,” Magness said in an email. “The use of the pyramids as tombs is verified by both written (literary) sources and archaeological evidence.”
The pyramids were built with narrow, secret passages intended to foil grave-robbers, making the structures unsuitable for grain storage, Magness said. And the design of the pyramids, with associated temples, “reflects the ancient Egyptian concept of the cosmos, according to which the king or pharaoh was at the center of a unified kingdom, serving as a god, a political ruler and a divine mediator.”
Daniel Weber, a spokesman for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said Carson’s belief about the pyramids are “his own interpretation.”
“Of course, we believe in the biblical account of Joseph and the famine,” Weber said. “But I’ve never heard the idea that pyramids were storehouses of grain.”
Carson acknowledged in his 1998 speech that “all the archaeologists” say the structures were built as tombs, but he argued that the “hermetically sealed” chambers found in the pyramids “would have to be that way” to store grain.
Carson speaks often about his faith and has written extensively about his beliefs in his books. His popularity among evangelical Christian voters has helped fuel his rise in the Republican primary.
He has garnered attention previously for stating that, despite his scientific training as a neurosurgeon, he rejects evolutionary biology.
Another top contender for the GOP nomination, businessman Donald Trump, has suggested that Carson’s religious beliefs put him outside mainstream American Christianity. At one October rally in Florida, Trump called his own Presbyterian church “middle of the road” before adding, “I mean, Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t know about.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, conducted after Trump’s remarks, Carson said he expects in politics to have his religious affiliation questioned, but he defended his faith and his church.
“There are a lot of people who have a close relationship with God, and you can generally tell who they are by the way they act, the way they treat other people,” he told the AP. “The reason that there are like 4,000 denominations is that people have looked at this and said, ‘Let’s interpret it this way. Let’s interpret it this way.’
“Sometimes they get caught up in that and forget about the real purpose of Christian faith,” he concluded.
A first-time political candidate, Carson has a penchant for headline-grabbing statements beyond matters of faith. He has equated abortion and the Affordable Care Act to slavery, compared the zeal of Islamic State militants to that of American Revolution patriots and suggested that the Holocaust may not have occurred had European Jews been better armed against the Nazis.