It has been twelve years since ‘The Orion Correlation Theory’ (OCT) was announced to the world in The Orion Mystery, by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert. During that time, Robert Bauval has expanded on his theory with Graham Hancock in Keeper of Genesis, and has also been met head-on by an Egyptological orthodoxy not willing to accept that the pyramids of Giza may have been laid out to mimic the stars of the constellation Orion.
It is a little difficult to understand why the OCT has been rebuked so ferociously by not only Egyptologists, but also astronomers such as Ed Krupp. The likeness is quite apparent, and there is much to suggest that the ancient Egyptians revered the Orion constellation in particular – even if one day it is ultimately proven incorrect, it still seems a topic well worth some serious discussion. In all likelihood, the orthodox opposition to Bauval’s research comes not so much from that core theory, but from the other subjects associated with him from the ‘alternative history’ genre throughout the 1990s – the Age of the Sphinx controversy, the 10,500 BCE date given by Bauval for the perfect mirror image of the Giza layout to be present in the sky, and the confluence of this date with theories of a lost civilisation (notably the big ‘A’: Atlantis).
It seems that in The Egypt Code, Bauval has set himself the task of re-establishing his core theory – and the wider gestalt of the Ancient Egyptian cosmology being firmly rooted in events happening in the sky – to the academic establishment. And while he still sits firmly on the fringe, in this book he stays within arms-length of orthodox Egyptology. So, while he cites Colin Reader’s ideas on an earlier dating for the Sphinx, there is no mention of Robert Schoch or John Anthony West. Similarly, when he raises the ‘Zep Tepi’ alignment of the Giza pyramids to 11,541 BCE, he is very careful not to suggest a civilisation being present in Egypt at this time…instead, the Egyptian priests of the third millennium were just trying to mimic the sky at the ‘first time’ with their layout. As such, if anybody buying this book is expecting a New Age look at Egypt, they will be sorely disappointed. As Bauval points out in the Introduction:
‘The Egypt Code’, contrary to what Egyptologists will surely be quick to claim, is not a New Age book that regurgitates wild speculations and theories that cannot be verified or tested. My thesis is entirely verifiable, testable and ultimately falsifiable if need be.
Bauval’s research on this ‘lost’ Egyptian cosmology can be separated into three main areas: the ‘as above, so below’ theme, in which pyramids were built on the ground as representations of Orion and the Pleiades; that changes in temple sitings and orientations can be put down to the slow changes in star alignments caused by precession; and that the ‘meshing’ of the Egyptian calendars (the ‘civil’ and ‘stellar’) were the cause of momentous events in Ancient Egypt.
Bauval begins the book with a quick recap of his previous work, and then introduces the new book in earnest with a visit to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. Here Bauval gives his opinion the inclined serdab holding a sky-watching statue of Djoser, before moving on to an analysis of the Heb Sed festival and the peculiarities of the Egyptian calendar, in particular the ‘Great Year’ of the Sothic cycle (based on the rising of the star Sirius) which has a span of 1460 years. Funnily enough, even at this early point in the book it is quite clear that the Ancient Egyptians had a fixation with the starry heavens and their cycles, and one wonders why Bauval has had to fight so hard to get his theories debated seriously.
Chapter 3 marks the return of the area most associated with Bauval – the Giza necropolis. But Bauval goes further, pointing out probable alignments and correspondences in the centers of Heliopolis, Letopolis, the Sun Temples of Abu Ghorab and the pyramids of Abusir. Perhaps the most controversial part of the book is when Bauval then states that this hermetic model is matched exactly only by a date in the 12th millennium BCE.
Chapter 4 details the many references – modern and ancient – to the Egyptians being sky-watchers. Some of these are extremely effective, such as Bauval’s citing of Proclus, who wrote "that the Egyptians had already taught Plato about the movements of the fixed stars…they did not speak just a single time, but many times…of the advance of the fixed stars." He even finds a positive mention on Egyptian knowledge of precession from a former nemesis, astronomer Ed Krupp!
The following two chapters move into Upper Egypt, cataloguing the varying alignments of temple complexes and beginning to outline another of Bauval’s assertions – that the ‘return of the Phoenix’ was related to the meshing of the civil calendar with the long ‘Great Year’ of the Sothic cycle. Bauval then goes on to suggest that the Amarna period under Akhenaten was inspired by this ‘return of the Phoenix’, based on the dating of one of these moments by Censorinus, as was a construction program at Karnak.
And all of a sudden, the book concludes. It’s an excellent summary, concisely explaining the numerous points made in the rest of the book. But it does surprise you, as the book proper finishes at under 200 pages, being followed by 84 pages of relevant appendices. Despite the well written conclusion though, the reader is left feeling like they have read some very interesting, diverse theories on Egyptian astronomy, without it ever amounting to something conclusive. It’s as if Bauval has pointed out numerous items of interest, and then just concluded the book. In his favour, he does gather them under the theme of the Egyptian need to live in cosmic balance – the concept of Ma’at – but these separate theories on mirroring the stars, meshing calendars and changing temple alignments never seem to fit into one cohesive philosophy. Perhaps that can just be put down to the obscure nature of most Egyptian philosophy, hidden by the mists of four millennia.
However, it must be said that each of these various astronomical theories are very interesting to read about. Bauval finds good references to support his ideas, such as the paper by Arielle Kozloff on star-gazing in Ancient Egypt. He also points out interesting pieces of information which could be relevant, such as number of panels in the wall of the Saqqara complex being 1459 and 1461, in comparison to the Sothic cycle of 1460 years. Bauvals’ writing style is his best thus far, with lovely descriptions of the Nile flood and what it would have meant for the people of Ancient Egypt.
However, the inherent nature of the book – discussing meshing calendrics, changing alignments of stars and the movement of the Sun – results in difficult reading in some sections. For instance:
In 2500 BC 1 Tybi would not have fallen on 19 October but, because of the drifting calendar, rather on 28 December. The position of the Sun at that date would have been about 26 degrees south-of-east and thus way off the alignment of the causeway, which is 14 degrees south-of-east. In other words, for the causeway to align with the sunrise on 1 Tybi, it had to have been aligned in c. 2781 BC and not c. 2500 BC.
I’m sure this all makes very good sense when you understand the concepts properly and can sit down and study the passage properly. But the casual reader may well find themselves struggling to keep up with Bauval at these moments. Certainly, some more diagrams illustrating these sorts of passages would probably have made things more understandable.
But this book appears to be about putting Bauval’s theories out there in a serious manner, while ultimately allowing for a popular read. As such, there is some give and take to both readers – Bauval explains things in enough detail for academics, while at the same time keeping things concise and reasonably simple for the majority of the book.
It would be wrong of me to comment on the validity of Bauval’s theories. While I’m more conversant than most ‘general readers’ on the subject of Egyptian astronomy, I certainly defer to more authoritative analysis of the book’s exposition of an ‘Egypt Code’ which I’m sure will be forthcoming. What I do hope though, is that these authoritative analyses are done in the spirit of science with some objectivity, rather than with an eye to dismissing it all because of Bauval’s previous clashes with orthodox Egyptology. It will certainly be interesting to see how things pan out over the coming months.
Ultimately, The Egypt Code offers a glimpse into Ancient Egyptian culture and architecture which suggests that they attributed an immense significance to living in tune with the cosmos, in particular the cycle of the stars. In Bauval’s words: "I believe that I have been able to make visible an ancient ‘code’ that can help Egyptology to shed more light on the greatest and most spiritually enlightened civilisation the world has ever known or is likely to know again in the future. Our present civilisation is in dire need of this ancient model of wisdom." That is about as New Age as Bauval gets in this book – readers seeking an adventure into the Hall of Records, replete with Atlantean civilisation should stay away. However, for those wishing to revisit Ancient Egypt and the OCT with Bauval, it is definitely a stimulating read.