Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, always made me a bit uneasy. That he was a camera-whore was obvious. I’m no Egyptologist, but I wasn’t sure how reliable his scholarship was considering most of his time seemed to be spent as a talking head for National Geographic Channel, Discovery Times Channel, TLC, PBS, the Game Show Network and others. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Then, in February, he filed an official complaint with Egypt’s Office of the Attorney General, encouraging them to prosecute a Cairo high school for a curriculum that teaches it was the Israelites who built the pyramids.

What, now?

As Dr. James Davila of PaleoJudaica says, “Let us be quite clear: there is no ‘debate’ or ‘dispute’ about this among the people who know anything about Egyptian history.”

But apparently, between Josephus, 19th century European missionaries, Menachem Begin and the possible presence of the Jews in Egypt at one point, allegedly as enslaved or partially-enslaved builders, Dr. Hawass has been provided with enough of a foundation, however shaky and however long ago dismissed by reasonable people, from which to defend the honorable and ancient Egyptians against the insidious Jew threat.

What’s distressing to me is not that Hawass may have been over-reacting in a weirdly strident fashion to an issue that, however backward and irrelevant to most of us and certainly to the academic world he supposedly operates in, may have had some relevance to his home town politics. What bothers me is that this does not seem to be an isolated incident. Dr. Hawass has repeatedly decried plots through the years, including one to date the Sphinx much earlier than it is commonly held to be, plots that he either implied, or said outright, were perpetrated by Jews.

This fixation is rarely visible to Westerners. Most such comments seem to be directed to the Arabic-language press, where they are shielded from critical view and where they do the most “good” in establishing the doctor’s reputation as a fearless decrier of Zionist aggression.

As long as people who give countenance to conspiracy theories and imagined cabals are in a position of scholarly prominence in Egypt it will always be considered backward.

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