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The Falsification of History: The Hamite Hypothesis

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

Dr. Josef Ben Levi

In order to understand how the case for a non-African Egypt developed, it is important to understand what became known as the "Hamite Hypothesis".. The "Hamite Hypothesis" was developed in the middle of the nineteenth century by Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873-1940), who was an early British colonial physician and ethnologist. His hypothetical assumptions stated that everything of value ever found in Africa was brought there by the Hamites, allegedly a branch of the Caucasian race (Seligman, 2001). On closer examination of the history of the idea, there emerges a previous elaborate Hamitic theory, in which the Hamites are believed to be Black Africans or Kushites. But, all of that changed around the middle to the late nineteenth century. With the advent of racial taxonomies and the Western European colonial enterprise, there was a deliberate change in the old way of viewing the ancient people of Kemet, i.e., Africa as Africans or Black. Now they were either Caucasians, using the terminology of the times, or perhaps Asians.

The view that Blacks or Africans were the founders of ancient Egyptian civilization gradually changed, after 1850, with the advent of scientific, theological, and philosophical questions about the nature of man. Much of that debate centered on the questions of the monogenetic versus the polygenetic origins of humanity. Based on theological interpretations, particularly the curse of Ham myth; the idea that Blacks, as descendants of Ham, could be the founders of the greatest civilization in antiquity became anathema This argument was being made in spite of the fact that one of the earliest professors in the modern discipline of Egyptology, Adolf Erman, who was also the former Director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and the instructor of the earliest American Egyptologists, including James Henry Breasted (the founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago) stated:

". ..ethnologists assert that nothing exists in the physical structure of the Egyptian to distinguish him from the native African and that from the Egyptian to the negro population of tropical Africa, a series of links exist which do not admit of a break."

"The Western world's participation in the increasingly lucrative slave trade made it very difficult for White Western Europeans to see Africans as members of the human family. There seems to have been direct correlations between the deteriorating image of Africans in the Western mind and their value as commodities. This required the proudly rational and scientific White man to find some tentative proof that would allow him to exclude the Africans from the family of man and ultimate denial of common ancestry." (Davidson, 1980).

What made this possible, as a historical event, was the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt in 1798. With his double-edged army of scholars and the military, Napoleon was not only able to conquer the land; he was also able to conquer the monuments and, ultimately, construct a history of ancient Egypt and ancient Egyptians that would satisfy the Western mind (Reid, 2002). This was a hallmark of the Enlightenment and led to the creation of the field of Egyptology. It also led to what Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop (1967) called the "modern falsification of history".

The fact that ancient Egyptians and Nubians came from one essential African genus was completely unthinkable to most Europeans, then as well as now. The discovery of Nubian culture in 1907, so close on the heels of the development of Egyptology and the period of the European colonial and imperialist enterprise, made it impossible for Western Europeans to even fathom a civilization in the Nile Valley that was the genius of ancient African people. Consideration was never even given to this possibility. How on earth were they to justify the enslavement and colonization of millions of Africans they considered to be wretched and savages? C. F. Volney stated the primary issue very well when he wrote the following:

"That an imaginative and superstitious race of black men should have invented and founded, in the dim obscurity of past ages, a system of religious belief that still enthralls the minds and clouds the intellects of the leading representatives of modern theology, - that still clings to the thoughts, and tinges with its potential influences, literature, and faith of the civilized and cultured nations of Europe and America, is indeed a strange illustration of the mad caprice of destiny. Of the insignificant and apparently trivial causes that often produce the gravest and momentous results. "

The fact that the old Hamite hypothesis maintained the African origin of ancient Kemet was not news to most African American scholars of the nineteenth century. It was common knowledge among the educated classes that the classical writers had given much praise to the African inhabitants of the Nile Valley whose accomplishments the Greeks and Romans acknowledged. These African American scholars also took up their pens and started writing histories and protest materials to remind their people of a glorious past which was not the same as the wretched circumstances they found themselves in at that time.

(To be continued).

Recommended Reading

McCray, Rev. Walter Arthur McCray. The Black Presence in the Bible: Discovering The Black and African Identity of Biblical Persons and Nations

McCray, Rev. Walter A. The Black Presence in the Bible and the Table of Nations Genesis 10:1-32 With emphasis on the Hamitic Genealogical Line from a Black Perspective


Baldwin, J.D. (1869/2005). Pre-historic nations or inquiries concerning some of the great peoples and civilizations of antiquity. New York: Elibron Classics.

Budge, E.A.W. (1926/1977). The dwellers on the Nile: The life, history, religion and literature of the ancient Egyptians. New York: Dover Publications.

Davidson, B. (1980). The African slave trade: 1450-1850. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Diop, C.A. (1967/1974). The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Westport: Lawrence Hill and Company.

Erman, A. (1894/1971). Life in ancient Egypt. New York: Dover Publications.

Goldenberg, D.M. (2003). The curse of ham: race and slavery in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lenormant, F. (1893). The beginnings of history according to the Bible and the traditions of oriental people. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Massey, G. (1881/1974). A book of the beginnings: Containing an attempt to recover and reconstitute the lost origins of the myths and mysteries, types and symbols, religion and language, with Egypt for the mouthpiece and Africa as the birthplace. Secaucus: University Books.

Pieterse, J.N. (1992). White on black: Images of Africa and blacks in Western popular culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ragozin, Z.A. (1889). The story of Chaldea from the earliest times to the rise of Assyria. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Rawlinson, G. (1870). The seven great monarchies of the ancient eastern world; or the history, geography, and antiquities of Chaldea, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Persia, Parthia, and Sassanian, or new Persian empire. New York: Belford, Clarke, & Company.

Reid, D.M. (2002). Whose pharaohs? Archaeology, museums, and Egyptian national identity from napoleon to world war I. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sanders, E. (1969). The Hamitic hypothesis: Its origin and function in time perspective. The Journal of African History, 10 (4), 521-532.

Schure, E. (1889/1961). The great initiates: A study of the secret history of religions. Blauvelt: Multimedia Publishing.

Seligman, C.G. (2001). Egypt and negro Africa. In Robert O. Collins, Ed. (2001). Problems in African history: The precolonial centuries. Princeton: Markus Weiner Publishers.

Volney, C.F. (1890/1950). The ruins or meditations on the revolutions of empire and the laws of nature. New York: Truth Seekers Company.

Ward, J.K., Lott, T.L. (2002). Philosophers on race: Critical essays. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

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