The “Does God Exist?” ministry is concerned about education. We try to draw on factual evidence and the best scholarship available to inform people who are willing to learn, but we do not claim to know all the answers. Much of the disagreement between atheists and believers is rooted in misunderstandings by both. One misconception involves pyramids and bricks.
We recently heard an atheist rant about the fact that there is no evidence that the Israelites built the pyramids. He claimed that proved the Bible stories about Joseph, Moses, and the exodus were all just silly myths. There are several mistakes in that statement. First of all, it is true that the Israelites did not build the pyramids. The pyramids were built hundreds of years before the time of Abraham. They were made of native stone and were built by native Egyptians who specialized in stone construction. There are even inscriptions on some of the pyramid stones identifying the primary engineer of the structure. Stone was used because it was permanent and not affected by weather or environmental change.
The other building material used in Egypt was mudbricks made from Nile alluvium which contained clay and sand. The amount of clay determined the properties of the bricks. If the amount of clay was low, the bricks tended to fall apart. By adding straw, the clay content could be low, and the bricks would not fall apart as they dried. Making bricks was a job done by slaves. Slaves were not allowed on the pyramids because of the significance of the structure, but they made bricks for use in building storage depots and other logistical structures.
Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built “storage cities” for the Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:7-13, we read of the Israelites being told that straw for the bricks would not be made available to them. There are reliefs found in many places in Egypt that show slaves gathering straw, making bricks, and building temples and houses with them. The evidence indicates what the Bible says about brick-making is correct. We should not confuse stone pyramids and bricks.
Biblical Archaeology Review has published several articles on brick construction and Israelite slavery. See “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in March/April 2014. Also, “Brick by Brick” in the Spring issue 2020 pages 54-57.
— John N. Clayton © 2020