Egypt: The Pyramid Inch and Charles Piazzi Smyth in Egypt

The Pyramid Inch and Charles Piazzi Smyth in Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

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The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza as it may have looked to Smyth

Charles Piazzi Smyth (1819-1900) was a notable scholar during his time, holding the title Astronomer Royal of Scotland and Professor of Astronomy at Edinburgh University. He surveyed Khufu's Great Pyramid located at Giza in Egypt in 1865, armed with the theories of John Taylor, author of "The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? & Who Built It?", published in 1859.

It was Taylor who, based on the records of travelers, took a number of mathematical coincidences and declared that the Great Pyramid was built "to make a record of the measure of the Earth". Taylor, an eccentric British publisher, believed that the architect who had planned and supervised the building of the Great Pyramid was not an Egyptian at all, but none other than the biblical Noah.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza in Egypt

One of Taylor's claims was that the Egyptians knew the value of Pi several centuries prior to anyone having calculated an accurate value in Europe's scientific community, and that they used an inch close to the British inch to form their cubit of 25 Pyramid inches. With this in mind, Taylor searched for other related properties. Notably, he found that ten million pyramid cubits approximated the length of the radius of the earth on its polar axis fairly closely. These and a series of similar calculations, which were sometimes manipulated to gain an expected result, provided what Taylor considered to be adequate evidence that the Great Pyramid had been built as a model of the earth. However, when Taylor presented a paper on the topic to the Royal Academy, it was rejected by them. Where it not for Piazzi Smyth, his ideas would probably never have received much attention.

Charles Piazzi Smyth

Smyth corresponded with Taylor and was heavily influenced by him. Piazzi Smyth set out for Egypt, having been refused a grant to defray his expenses, in order to measure accurately every surface and aspect of the Great Pyramid. He brought equipment to measure the dimensions of the stones, the price angle of sections such as the Descending Passage, and a specially designed camera to photograph both the Pyramid's interior and exterior. Other instruments enabled him to make astronomical calculations and determine the pyramid's latitude.

Also influenced by his own religion, Smyth too had come to believe that the Great Pyramid of Khufu was built with just enough "pyramid inches" to make it a scale model of the circumference of the Earth, and that its perimeter measurements corresponded exactly to the number of days in the solar year. However, Smyth's theories about the Great Pyramid exceeded those of John Taylor. The Great Pyramid, Smyth maintained, was not an Egyptian monument, but rather the oldest man-made structure in the world. The other Egyptian pyramids were only filthy, pagan imitations. Although the Egyptians might have furnished the physical labor necessary to erect the Great Pyramid, the architectural genius who designed it must have been someone from the Old Testament. The pyramid was a perfect structure, a product of divine inspiration, which embodied in its measurements a perfect system of weights and measures, among them the sacred cubit of the Israelites, the pyramid inch, and a system of prophecy.

One of Smyth's Plates showing various computations of ratios

These ideas were closely tied to his belief that the British inch was derived from an ancient "pyramid inch", and that the cubit used to build both Noah's Ark and the tabernacle of Moses was also based on this inch. Piazzi Smyth further believed that the British were descended fro the lost tribe of Israel, and that the chambers and passages of the pyramid were a god inspired record, a prophecy in stone of the great events in world history, made by scientifically advanced ancestors of the British.

Smyth spent considerable time in collecting vast quantities of data relating to the Great Pyramid, as well as other pyramids in Egypt. As a result, he not only convinced himself of the validity of Taylor's claims, but discovered many more facts demonstrating, as he thought, the special nature of the pyramid. The number and variety of geometric, mathematical, physical, geographical and astronomical measurements made by Smyth is truly amazing.

The architecture of both the exterior and the interior of the pyramid supplied Smyth with the majority of the "proofs" he required for his conjectures. He verified the existence of the Pi ratio by simple trigonometry and a careful measurement of the ascending angle of one of the few remaining casing stones which had originally covered the exterior of the pyramid. He also went to great trouble to measure accurately the length of a side of the base of the pyramid. Using this length, he satisfied himself that the "pyramid inch" had indeed been the unit of length used in building the Great Pyramid, and that this and other pyramid dimensions were closely related to the length of the year in days also supposed by Taylor.

One of Smyth's plates showing the Giza Plateau in Egypt

Smyth derived a complex set of numerical interrelationships between such things as the number of stones used in the construction of the inner chambers of the pyramid, the volume and shape of the stone coffer found in the King's Chamber of the pyramid, the number of faces and angles of the pyramid, and the number of courses of masonry between various chambers within the pyramid, among many other measurements. For some reason, Smyth considered relationships combining numbers such as 25, 50, 10, 366, and 9 as particularly significant. He felt that these numbers were included in the pyramid's dimensions as a record of the "perfect" standards of measurement that God intended man to use.

Besides linear measurements, Smyth spent much time investigating other physical properties of the pyramid such as the temperature and barometric pressure in the inner chambers and the weight and density of the stone coffer in the King's Chamber. Again, he derived supposedly important relationships between these measurements, and he concluded that perfect units of weight and temperature were embodied in these dimensions.

The pyramid was found to have interesting geographical and astronomical properties. For example, it is oriented so that its sides point almost precisely due north and south. Smyth believed that it was so constructed by intention (as it indeed was), and that this proved that the earth's crust had not shifted significantly since the time that the pyramid was built. He also maintained that the parallel of latitude and the meridian which intersect at the Great Pyramid traverse more land area (as opposed to water) than any other parallels or meridians. Taylor's thesis that the pyramid was a model of the earth was reinforced in Smyth's mind by his verification of the fact that the distance of the earth from the sun is approximately ten raised to the ninth power multiplied by the height of the Great Pyramid. He regarded these numbers as significant, for some unknown reason. These are but a few of the hundreds of measurements and calculations that he put produced as evidence of the pyramid's special nature.

Many of Smyth's calculations and the inferences he based upon them seem artificial and arbitrary. What, for example, is the significance of the number 109 as used in relating the height of the pyramid to the distance of the earth from the sun? What meaning does the number ten million have, other than the fact that there are approximately ten million pyramid inches in the polar radium of the earth? The pyramid is a rich source of the kind of data Smyth worked with, and it would be surprising if he had been unable to come up with some interesting number combinations after manipulating such data. Many scholars published what should have been devastating criticisms of these theories. They showed, for example, that when deriving his formulas Smyth simply juggled facts and figures until he came up with a seeming correspondence and that many of the data upon which he based his theorizing, such as the average size of the casing stones that had once covered the Great Pyramid, were wrong. Even contemporary Egyptologists knew that the Great Pyramid was not the earliest of the monuments, but one of the latest.

Yet, John Taylor and Piazzi Smyth were utterly convinced that nearly every detail of the architecture of the Great Pyramid was included intentionally, that is, designed. On the other hand most scientists, historians, and even interested laymen are immediately convinced, upon reading Smyth's claims, that he inferred far too much from the data he gathered.

Smyth was hardly a dispassionate, objective scientist when dealing with the pyramid. His writings show that he certainly had a deep emotional commitment to demonstrating "scientifically" that the Christian religion is true, and that he saw his work with the pyramid as a means by which he could do so. Smyth also had a great antipathy towards the metric system, which he regarded as the flawed produce of the minds of atheistic French radicals. Smyth heaps ridicule and scorn upon the metric system and its inventors for using an "unnatural" standard of measurement. Smyth's conviction in this matter was related to his belief that the British system reflected God's will because of the units of measure he "discovered" in the pyramid.

Smyth's work resulted in many drawings and calculations, which were soon incorporated into "Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid" published in 1864,the three-volume "Life and Work at the Great Pyramid", published in 1867 and "On the Antiquity of Intellectual Man" in 1868. For this, he was awarded a gold metal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, but in 1874, the Royal Society rejected his paper on the design of Khufu's pyramid, as they had Taylor's, resulting in Piazzi Symth's resignation from his post as Royal Astronomer.

It should be noted that, despite his strange ideas and misconceptions, Smyth performed much valuable work at Giza. He made the most accurate measurements of the Great Pyramid that any explorer had made up to that time, and he photographed the interior passages, using a magnesium light, for the first time.

Smyth popularized the theories originally postulated by Taylor, spreading them throughout Britain, other European countries and the US. A number of Christian religious leaders accepted the theories of Taylor and Smyth. Many Englishmen believed in them, and in France the abb F. Moigno, the cannon of St. Denis at Paris, became its foremost advocate.

It was in America, however, that Smyth found his greatest support. In June 1876 he published an article in the "Bible Examiner", a journal owned by George Storrs of Brooklyn, New York. Thus Smyth made known the "Glory of the Great Pyramid" to the American Second Advent community. Also a book first published in 1877 by Joseph Seiss entitled "Miracle in Stone" expanding on Taylor and Smyth's theories and ran through fourteen editions. Pyramidology, as it came to be known, received its primary acceptance among the heirs of the Millerites or the followers of William Miller.

It is not surprising, then, that a few years later George Storrs published a series of major articles on the Great Pyramid and its prophetic significance in the "Herald of Life and the Coming Kingdom", the official organ of a small Adventist movement, the Life and advent Union which Storrs had helped to found. Obviously, the Union was influenced directly by Smyth's "Bible Examiner" article. Pyramidology was taken up by the leader of what was to become a fairly large, better-known religious group, Charles Taze Russell, the first president of what is now the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the founder of the International Bible Students and their spiritual descendants, Jehovah's Witnesses.

It is quite probable that Russell came to accept pyramidology because of the influence on him of such men as Dr. Joseph Seiss and George Storrs. Following their lead, he announced that God had placed the Great Pyramid as a sign in Egypt on page three of the September, 1883 issue of "Zion's Watch Tower". Yet he did not stress the importance of pyramidology until 1897 when he published Volume III of his famous Studies in the Scriptures entitled "Thy Kingdom Come". With a full chapter devoted to the Great Pyramid in this work, Russell, went beyond Taylor, Smyth, Seiss, Storrs and others. He began to teach that the Great Pyramid was the "divine plan of the ages in stone." Interestingly, he submitted his ideas to Smyth for examination and received the latter's approval for them.

John and Morton Edgar, two Scottish brothers, became faithful members of Russell's Bible Students and pursued pyramidology with a passion. John, a professor of gynecology at Glasgow, published a number of works on the Great Pyramid until his death in 1912. Morton, who had collaborated with him, continued his studies and published several books on the subject during the following decades. Only after Charles T. Russell's successor, Judge Joseph F. Rutherford denounced pyramidology as unscriptural and of the devil in 1928, did Bible Students connected with the Watch Tower Society abandon it. Hence their spiritual heirs today, Jehovah's Witnesses, are hardly aware of its existence.

Smyth began a tradition of Pyramidology that lives on today, as similar theorists such as Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and others continue to produce theories and drawings linking the pyramids with the stars or the Bible, among hundreds of other theories.

An interesting tidbit:

The Father of William Flinders Petrie (the Father of Modern Egyptology) was a frequent quest at the home of Piazzi Smyth, and may have even come close to marrying Smyth's daughter. He did in fact meet and apparently court the woman he would marry in their home. Furthermore, Petrie wrote in his "Seventy years in Archaeology" (1932):

A new stir arose when one day I brought back from Smith's bookstall, in 1866, a volume by Piazzi Smyth, Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid. The views, in conjunction with his old friendship for the author, strongly attracted my father, and for some years I was urged on in what seemed so enticing a field of coincidence. I little thought how, fifteen years later, I should reach the "ugly little fact which killed the beautiful theory"; but it was this interest which led my father to encourage me to go out and do the survey of the Great Pyramid; of that, later on.

By this, what Petrie means is that he was influenced by Smyth's work, but latter scientifically disproved some of his theories. It was actually Petrie who first coined the term, "pyramidiot" to describe what he saw as a quasi-religious cult.