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Every once in a while, I go on an "alternative" history binge, reading a book that's supposed to turn the common knowledge of history on its ear. This time, when that urge hit me, I picked up Robert Temple's (along with his wife Olivia) The Sphinx Mystery, a book subtitled "The Forgotten Origins of the Sanctuary of Anubis." It's quite an interesting book, though it tails off at the end and becomes a bit of a slog to get through. Still, I persevered and was rewarded. Temple makes his case well. While I don't know enough about Egyptology to definitively say that Temple is right or wrong, the book is certainly plausible. It has its fun moments as well.
Yes, I did say "Sanctuary of Anubis" in the last paragraph. One of the obvious things about the Sphinx is that the head is much too small for the huge body that it's sitting on top of. Was it recarved into a pharaoh's image? If so, whose? Temple not only makes the case for who actually did the recarving, but he also his an interesting theory about what the Sphinx was before this. He states that the Giza plateau, where all of the Great Pyramids sit and where the Sphinx sits just off to the side, is a sacred entrance to the realm of the dead, and that the Sphinx is the guardian of that entrance. While the Sphinx is commonly described as having the body of a lion, Temple says there is no way that this is a lion. Instead, it's a giant statue of the god Anubis, the dog/jackal that deals with those crossing over from the living to the dead. He proposes that the statue was disfigured during the 150 years of chaos between the Old and the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, and that a pharaoh decided to make it his own face instead.
The cover of the book is interesting, with a picture (both on the front and on the spine) showing how easily the Sphinx converts to a dog figure , along with a huge picture of the Sphinx's face, a picture he uses later on in the book to compare with a statue of the pharaoh he says did the revamping. Temple continues the wonderful use of pictures by cramming the book with a huge number of valuable photographs, both old and new. Wonderfully, each picture has a huge caption where Temple describes what you're seeing and the relevance to the point he's making. These photos range from those taken in the 1800s by the various expeditions who unburied the Sphinx from the drifting desert sands to those taken in the 1900s when the Sphinx was finally uncovered for good. Finally, we get photos taken by Temple himself, or his wife, when they were given almost unprecedented access to the Sphinx, the Sphinx Temple and the various landmarks around the Giza plateau. These pictures illustrate Temple's arguments beautifully and they're interesting to look at, too.
If the Sphinx as Anubis was the only idea presented in the book, it would still be a radical (though short) book. Temple then takes on those who have tried to establish the age of the Sphinx, especially those (like Edward Malkowski in Before the Pharaohs) who want to use the various water erosion signs to date the Sphinx to earlier than 10,000 BC. He claims that there is a good reason for all of the water erosion that would still make the Sphinx only date back around 4000 years or so. The Nile river flowed near Giza back in ancient Egypt, and would regularly flood every year. He claims that there is a channel around the Sphinx so that, for religious reasons, the Sphinx was an island unto itself for a large part of the year. Water flowed in and out of what he calls the "Sphinx Moat", either from the river itself or from collected rainwater (there was much more rain in Egypt back then) that the Egyptians funneled into the moat. The constant inflow and outflow of water into this moat accounts for the water erosion. It's a fascinating theory for those who are familiar with the other arguments.
There is a lot more in The Sphinx Mystery that is interesting, though it does seem to get a lot more tedious when Temple begins talking the geometry of the "Golden Angle" and how prevalent its use was by the Egyptians, as well as getting into the geometry of resurrection and how the Sphinx (and the whole of Giza) was involved in all of this. By this point, however, Temple has you hooked. If you're not hooked, you wouldn't have made it this far to begin with. The book finishes with a long section with every documented mention of the Sphinx from Roman times to 1837, then moving on to a short article on the age of the Sphinx and various accounts of excavations of the site.
One thing I loved about The Sphinx Mystery was Temple's writing style and his crankiness. Twice in the first 100 pages, he goes off on a tangent about the failures of the modern educational system. He claims that Egyptology is dying because nobody is teaching it well (and if they are, nobody's learning it). He decries the over-specialization of today's historians, the "consensus reality" we all live in, where we all believe the same thing and nothing can alter our views because we're too lazy to have our eyes opened. This also leads to "consensus blindness", where people can take what's right in front of their face and try to rationalize it to fit their belief rather than allowing what they "know" to be proven wrong. There are constant asides to this sort of thing throughout the book, where he chastises current thinking for not believing the evidence he says is right in front of their face.
This sort of arrogance made the book worth reading to me, as I was constantly picturing Temple as the old man grumbling about all the kids tracking all over his lawn. However, what also made the book worth reading is the logical nature of Temple's argument as he traces it from the beginning to the end. A lot of mysterious references from old texts make sense once they are applied to Temple's ideas, which does add credence to them. Whether or not Temple is right in his theories, the way he presents his case makes The Sphinx Mystery an interesting book if you're into Egyptology. I found it has rekindled my interest in the subject and should be read. It may wash the consensus blindness from your eyes.
Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book © David Roy, 2009