Posted on April 15, 2018

What Race Were the Pharaohs?

Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, September 1994

Race in Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament, by A.A. Sayce & R. Peterson, Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1993, 144 pp.

A favorite Afro-centric fantasy is that the ancient Egyptians were black. In 1990, when news began to seep out that many black “academics” were making this claim, columnist John Leo of U.S. News & World Report telephoned seven prominent Egyptologists to get the expert view. To a man, they agreed that neither the pharaohs nor the common people of ancient Egypt were black or negroid, but not one was willing to be quoted. As one explained, the question was “politically too hot;” people can get in trouble for disagreeing with the most preposterous foolishness if it happens to be asserted by a large number of blacks.

Race in Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament, by A.A. Sayce & R. Peterson

Race in Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament is a scholarly and detailed account of the racial origins of the dozens of peoples who are mentioned in the Old Testament. The original text was written by A.A. Sayce, but R. Peterson has brought it up to date in light of recent findings. The book makes short work of the view that the Egyptians were black.

Mummies and Murals

For anyone who wants to circulate fables about the racial makeup of an ancient people, the Egyptians are perhaps the worst choice. The most obvious inconvenience is the existence of mummies; it is hard to dispute the race of a corpse that is so well preserved its eyelashes can be counted. As this book shows, visual inspection, anthropometric measurement, and DNA analysis leave no doubt that the ancient Egyptians were Mediterranean Caucasoids — as are the majority of modern Egyptians. Ramses II, the pharaoh who persecuted the children of Israel, still has the sharp features of his people and the thin, straight hair typical of whites. He was probably a red head.

The authors explain that modern Egyptians are, in fact, somewhat darker than the ancients. Under the more recent universalistic influence of Islam, Egyptians intermarried with other populations more readily than when they followed the more exclusionist teachings of Egyptian religion. Today, the people most representative of the racial type of the pyramid builders are Coptic Christians. They have been considerably more traditionalist than Muslims, retaining aspects of the ancient Egyptian language in their rituals and refraining from marriage with outsiders.

Well-preserved corpses are not always the best source of information about the races of Old Testament peoples. The authors explain that the artists of ancient Egypt made thousands of bas relief carvings, wall paintings, and decorative objects that leave an accurate visual record of the races with which they had contact.

From Greeks to Gergashites, Egyptian artists drew their subjects from life and carefully noted racial differences, in both skin color and facial features. The only exception is the depiction of the eyes which, for unknown reasons, Egyptians always drew in the same stylized fashion no matter what the subject’s race. This book contains many illustrations that demonstrate clear racial distinctions in art.

As the authors explain, Egyptian artists were so careful about depicting race that their work sometimes appears to be as much taxonomy as art:

The oldest surviving attempt to construct what we may call an ethnographic chart — that made in the tomb of the Theban prince Rekhm-Ra about a century before the birth of Moses — distinguishes the Egyptians and their neighbors by portraying the black-skinned Negro, the olive-colored Syrians, the red-skinned Egyptian, and the white-skinned Libyan (then unmixed with the Arab hordes) . . .

Early Whites

It may come as a surprise to some readers to learn that many of the early inhabitants of the Middle East may have had typically North European coloration. The authors speculate that before the arrival of the Egyptians — probably from the Arabian peninsula — the Nile delta was settled by a sandy-haired, blue-eyed people very similar to the Kabyles, who still inhabit the hill country of Morocco and Algeria. The authors suspect that they were descended from the Cro-Magnons whose remains have been found in southern France. These “Libyans” were driven west of the Nile by the more powerful Egyptians, and are depicted as having white skin.

To the East, Egyptians were also in contact with Amorites and Hittites, who also are likely to have originated in Europe. They appear in Egyptian art with the same light hair and blue eyes as Libyans, Greeks and the inhabitants of Asia Minor.

Like many peoples throughout history, Egyptians were often ruled by kings of lighter-skinned stock than themselves. Nefertiti, whose famous bust depicts a virtually European face, was probably of Hittite birth.

The Philistines, who so harried the Israelites in the Old Testament, were probably related to Spartiate Greeks. They were from Asia Minor and established a small but vigorous kingdom in Gaza.

Egyptian artists who recorded battles between Egyptians and Philistines depict the enemy as lighter-skinned and taller than themselves. The giant Goliath, whom David killed with his sling, was following the Greek tradition in calling for single combat between champions.

As this book makes clear, Egyptian artists depict the Israelites themselves as a clearly Semitic people. Like the Egyptians, their origin was probably in the Arabian peninsula, though they appear to have emerged from it much later. In Abraham’s time they were still nomadic tent-dwellers, and the Egyptians among whom they sought permission to settle were much more culturally advanced than they.

The Israelites had a strong tribal sense, bolstered by their belief that they were God’s chosen people. They were fiercely racialist, and were constantly urged by their prophets to disdain intermarriage. Nevertheless, they mixed to some degree with the more European Hittities and Amorites whom they displaced in their conquest of Canaan. King David is likely to have been fair-skinned, and one of his most trusted lieutenants was the Hittite, Uriah. King Solomon’s harem was one of the largest and most racially varied in all of ancient history.

As the authors explain, black Africans are frequently represented in ancient Egyptian art, but their role is almost always that of captive or slave. Sesostrus I, a XIIth dynasty king of the 20th century B.C., conquered parts of Nubia and established a barrier at the border to ensure that no black would enter Egypt except as a slave. Egyptians regarded blacks as indolent and superstitious but nevertheless favored them as slaves because they were affectionate and faithful. They found blacks to have a very good sense of rhythm but wrote derisively of their constant dancing.

The authors believe that one reason why the creativity of ancient Egypt continued for 3,000 years while that of Islamicized Egypt lasted only a few centuries may be due, in part, to different views on intermarriage; miscegenation was much more common within the universalist embrace of Islam. The authors also note that although blacks to the south were in contact for thousands of years with the technology and learning of Egypt, they appear to have absorbed almost nothing into their own societies.

Although this book is primarily concerned with establishing racial identities of peoples it does not shrink from evaluating group accomplishments in explicitly racial terms. A willingness to consider the cultural implications of race makes this an invaluable and welcome volume.

On the debit side, the book assumes a more detailed knowledge of geography and physical anthropology than some readers may have attained, though laymen will still find it rewarding. The book’s greatest defect is its almost complete lack of references — a surprising omission for a work that defends positions many would find controversial. On balance, though, Race in Ancient Egypt & the Old Testament is a thoroughly informative addition to the Scott-Townsend catalogue.