Feature Articles 


The Sphinx Mystery

Robert Temple’s The Sphinx Mystery delves into the history of a monument that is both unique and able to instil unique feelings in every human being.

Philip Coppens

The standard view of the Sphinx is that it was built by Khafre, a pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, who built his pyramid at Gizeh, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Khufu, who had constructed the Great Pyramid on the same plateau shortly before. The link between Khafre’s pyramid and the Sphinx is “apparent” as it sits next to the causeway that connects the pyramid to the Valley Temple, next to the Sphinx, as well as the fact that the pyramid and the sculpted rock lie on the same line of sight. Egyptologists like Zahi Hawass are therefore convinced that the Sphinx is Khafre’s work, and refer to evidence on the Dream Stele – which sits between the Sphinx’s paws – as confirmation of their view. However, as such, the Dream Stele refers to a dream Pharaoh Tuthmoses IV had as a young prince, whereby he “thanked” the Sphinx for rendering him a vision of his future glory and ascendency to the throne – and therefore postdates the Fourth Dynasty by many centuries.
For many years, the age and identity of the Sphinx have been hotly contested. For some, it is seen as being thousands of years older than the Fourth Dynasty. Many others have realised “something” is wrong with it, but are unable to lay their hand on the specifics. The latest person to have entered the debate is British author Robert Temple. Temple is perhaps best known for “The Sirius Mystery”, which tackles the Dogon mythological lore surrounding the star Sirius. Though Temple is a professor, he nevertheless prefers to write outside of his immediate field of study, tackling subjects such as lenses, oracles of the dead and the history and enigmas of ancient Egypt, a passion that is apparent throughout the 600-odd pages of this book, “The Sphinx Mystery”.

Specifically, in “The Sphinx Mystery”, Temple argues that the Sphinx has only been a lion’s body with a human head since relatively recent times. He argues that “originally” – though he refuses to conclusively date the Sphinx – the structure was instead a statue of the Egyptian deity Anubis, in the shape of a dog. Anubis was the protector of the Underworld, which Temple believes was physically rendered at Gizeh, and which therefore explains the presence of such a statue here.
However, though the book is subtitled “The Forgotten Origins of the Sanctuary of Anubis”, the book contains nothing about its dating, or its origins. Instead, we are told – numerous times – that this will be addressed in his upcoming book Egyptian Dawn. Though Temple does not mention this, the book has at present a release date of September 2011, or almost three years after the release of “The Sphinx Mystery”. Therefore, in a book that is said to explain the Sphinx, we are not told anything about its age or its likely builder. The big mystery that is the Sphinx is therefore not explained. This wouldn’t be such a problem, were it not for a number of factors: first, Temple makes it apparent he seems able to answer these questions, but keeps referring the reader to his next book. Secondly, the book is so badly written, that about 200 pages could have been removed from it, to be substituted with real information. Inserts like “I know Graham [Hancock] slightly, and Robert [Bauval] rather well, although we have lost touch these days” (p. 242) are totally irrelevant and if there were only a few, it would be tolerable, but there are literally hundreds of such diversions, some of them running as long as one page – including an explanation of what Chinese whispers are! But I digress… Thirdly, that Temple should have included much material to do with the Sphinx, which he failed to include.
However, this does not make the book a waste of space or time. One has to agree that the book is a veritable treasure trove of anecdotes and eyewitness reports about the Sphinx across many centuries, providing us with a different perspective on its – recent – history. But the real enigma of the Sphinx is not its recent history, but its origins.

Whether or not the Sphinx represents Khafre, has in recent years become seriously challenged, however much Hawass tries to maintain the status quo. Known depictions of Khafre on statues and the Sphinx reveal many differences, though one might defend – though no-one seems to have done so – that the sculptors got the precise features of Khafre slightly wrong, because of the uniqueness, the scale and challenge of working with the native rock at Gizeh, rather than with the much smaller scale and tested methodology of his known statues, some of which were recovered from the Valley Temple right next to the Sphinx.
The “new kid on the Sphinx” is Dr Vassil Dobrev, who has studied the Sphinx since 1987 – though one might argue whether it is quality or length of research that is the more important factor – and at first speculated whether it might have been Khufu, rather than Khafre. Alas, nowhere in the book does Temple mention Dobrev, suggesting he is unaware of the man’s research at the time of writing the book. This is a serious omission.
Dobrev argues that the facial features agree more with Djedefre, the pharaoh who constructed his pyramid at Abu Ruwash, of which hardly anything remains. Dobrev argues that Djedefre built the Sphinx to represent his dead father, Khufu, as resurrected. However, this theory fails to explain the alignment with the Second Pyramid, and not the pyramid of Khufu. To circumvent this problem, Dobrev has suggested that we should look towards the Sphinx in profile, as is customary, based on Egyptian hieroglyphs, at which point the Sphinx is indeed “aligned” to the Great Pyramid – somewhat. Though this makes his theory possible, it is far from plausible, for it is clear that hieroglyphs used profiles as they were two-dimensional renderings of three-dimensional realities; if we were to continue Dobrev’s logic, we should look at all Egyptian statues and judge their significance from their profile, not face-on. If we were to do this, it is clear that few Egyptian temples would make any sense…

Temple is completely right – though not the first to notice this, whatever he might argue – that the head of the Sphinx is out of proportion with the rest of its body: it is too small. Somewhat imprudent, Temple bypasses the possibility that this might have been because of some visual effect, to be created from a certain perspective, a possibility that should remain open, though it is unlikely.
Temple observes that the body of the Sphinx is not feline, as lions are known for a back that is curved and possessing a mane that is absent on the Sphinx; in short, the body of the Sphinx suggests a dog, whereby a visual rendering of an Anubis head on top of this body makes it clear that the Sphinx in origin could indeed have been a giant statue of Anubis.
Furthermore, when looking at any Anubis statue, it is clear that with the upright ears and the other features of the head, it would have taken little to cause damage to such a monument. Though Temple claims that natural erosion was the likely cause as to why, in the Middle Kingdom, the statue was re-carved as a sphinx – an animal body with a human head – Temple actually seems to bypass a historical account which he himself has underlined in his book: Tuthmoses IV argued that following the dream he had, he equally destroyed the Sphinx/statue, so that no-one else would have similar visions: “A little while after his coronation he returned to the place where the head was, which he decapitated with an axe, saying: ‘It’s all very well that you have given me counsel so that I can secure Egypt; but from today on, you will not give any more counsel to anyone.’”

As to who built this Anubis, Temple does not provide us with an indication or conclusion. John Anthony West introduced the possibility, following observations from the French alchemist R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, that the Sphinx predated the Fourth Dynasty, if not Egypt as a whole. This suggestion has become a pillar of many popular revisionist books when a geologist, Dr. Robert Schoch, argued that the erosion of one side of the Sphinx enclosure was due to water. Using theoretical models of the climate in ancient Egypt, Schoch dated the Sphinx to the 6th or 5th millennia, 2000 years older than the accepted date, though still five to six millennia too young for it to fit in the preferred timeslot of many, i.e. ca 10,000 BC, to make it “fit in” with theories of Atlantis and a lost civilisation. Recently, Colin Reader, an engineering geologist, has confirmed that the manmade enclosure walls are heavily eroded and that the Sphinx is older than the first pyramid, this based on the presence of a quarry behind the Sphinx which is known to have been used for the Great Pyramid. Unfortunately, Temple does not discuss Reader. He does address Schoch, by arguing that the Sphinx enclosure originally was a Sphinx Moat, and that the statue was surrounded by water. Temple’s point is made with bravoure and evidence, which means we should promote it as being a possibility, but it is also a double-edged sword. Temple shows that whereas the Book of the Dead has no room for a Sphinx, there are numerous references to Anubis, suggesting this deity played an intricate role. He equally finds references to “Anubis of the hill”, which he convincingly suggests are references to the Sphinx. But he then fails to find convincing evidence as to why Anubis should be surrounded by water or presented as an island – and such a small island at that. Though he argues correctly that the waters of the Nile came very close to if not at the Sphinx, there is a difference between allowing the waters of the Nile to touch the Sphinx, or these waters to be part of a pool. Specifically, Temple fails to highlight how long this pool would have been in existence, seeing that he has not dated the construction of the Sphinx, or whether this pool was an original feature, or a later addition. It means that the water erosion debate has merely become more complex, and as a means of trying to date the Sphinx, should be altogether abandoned, at least until some serious answers can be found as to what precisely did and did not occur around the Sphinx.
Which brings us to another unaddressed issue: Dobrev noticed that the causeway connecting Khafre's pyramid to the Valley and Sphinx temples was built around the Sphinx – meaning it was already in existence. It is indeed clear to anyone studying a drawing of the Giza plateau layout how awkward the Sphinx’s position is. Views of the Sphinx even today are largely obstructed, and we merely are confronted with the ruins of the buildings that once surrounded it. The wall of the Sphinx temple sits too close to the Sphinx, as does the causeway, for it to be visually pleasing. Even if the Sphinx played a functional part in the rituals enacted in and around the Gizeh plateau, it is clear that the Sphinx sits oppressively close to the causeway. Ideally, the pyramids should have been moved a few more metres, so that the Sphinx is less crowded in its immediate surroundings. In short, it is apparent that the “Giza Master Plan” required some specifics that were difficult to accomplish as a whole, and as such, some aspects simply could not feature as prominently as one would have liked. These “problems”, however, do not necessarily mean that the Sphinx was already there; the mere fact that the rock outcrop that would become the Sphinx sits where it sits, is sufficient reason for such a modification to be made to an ideal Master Plan – a possibility not addressed either by Dobrev or Temple.

As mentioned, “The Sphinx Mystery” does show that there were many eyewitness accounts of the Sphinx in recent centuries, including the likelihood that the Sphinx was cleared much more frequently than we now believe. For example, rather than assuming Caviglia was the first to clean the Sphinx in 1817, Temple suggests that the French cleared it – partially – in 1798/1799. Of much greater interest, is his discussion about the “restoration work” of the Sphinx carried out in 1926 by Emile Baraize, and to some extent, Selim Hassan, and how these “restorations” could truly be seen as the eradication of evidence: Temple shows that before 1926, a subterranean tomb could be accessed from a vertical shaft at the location where the hips join the body, and where ancient photographs show a massive opening. Selim Hassan even wrote that “two vertical shafts in the back of the Sphinx, one of which ends in a tomb chamber, and contained coffin boards” could be observed in his time.
Temple, however, is quick to point out that this tomb is not in the location predicted by Cayce to be the infamous “Hall of Records”, but equally, seeing Cayce wrote at that time, Temple does not explore the possibility that Cayce knew about this tomb through very mundane means, but nevertheless decided to work it into his “prophecies” – though placing it in the wrong location, as such detail might not have come to his ears.
Temple also builds a case for the likelihood that the Sphinx was re-carved to its human head in the Middle Kingdom. For one, he argues that the eye-paint strips on the Sphinx made their initial appearance during the Sixth Dynasty and that the human head therefore has to be more recent than the Fourth Dynasty. He initially also draws the attention to Ludwig Borchardt’s theory – ridiculed by Egyptologists – that the Sphinx had been carved by Amenemhet III, as recently as 1773 BC. Using the design of the nemes – the Sphinx’s headdress – and the research of Egyptologist Biri Fay, Temple identifies the Sphinx as being created by Amenemhet II, 1876-1842 BC. However, Temple once again fails to address the research of Dobrev and others, who have equally used the nemes of the Sphinx, and have argued that it has markings representing two small pleats and one large, a feature with which Khufu is shown in at least one statue.

Where does the leave the Sphinx? Following the Dobrev, Reader and Jonathan Foyle line of thinking, the Sphinx is older than the Fourth Dynasty, and originally equally might have been an animal – though their preference goes to the body of a lion. This possibility is once again not discussed by Temple, even though in my opinion he could forcefully argue this away, on the basis that there is no room for a lion in a three-dimensional rendering of the Egyptian Underworld. But it is clear that at present, there are two competing theories, both arguing that the Sphinx is older, but with no firm winner as to whether it was re-carved in the Fourth Dynasty (by whomever) or by Amenemhet II.
Finally, it should be noted that Reader dates the Sphinx only several hundred years older, as does geologist David Coxill. Neither finding, however, is discussed, and both should have been in a book that deals solely with the Sphinx.

Therefore, despite being a 600 page work, several key points are never addressed by Temple. For example, even though he has done a marvellous task in collating an enormous amount of eye-witness accounts, he has consulted very few Arab writers, which is specifically negligent as it were of course Arab writers who would be able to give most detail about the recent history of the Sphinx.
Early on, Temple argues that the Sphinx might have been used as a dream incubation centre of Isis during Greek and Roman times, but he never addresses the obvious possibility whether there is not a straightforward connection with Tuthmoses IV, who had a … dream under the Sphinx.
Temple also repeatedly draws attention to how the Sphinx became known as Ruti, which is a “double-lion god”. Elsewhere, he also mentions references to Anubis and how there are references to there being two statues… but Temple never addresses the issue whether or not there are two Sphinxes in or near the Giza plateau, a discussion that has been topical for several years and an issue he should address, irrelevant of whether he favours one, two or feels it is too early to draw a conclusion.
Equally, he mentions the four cupolas that sit on the sides of the Sphinx and observes that none of the popular authors and most Egyptologists address them. True. However, when he later observes that, following the Book of the Dead, a statue of Anubis was used in rituals to do with the deceased, and specifically the washing of the parts of the deceased body that had been placed in the four Canopic jars, he fails to mention his own previous observation, and fails to query whether the four cupolas might have held the four jars – and whether this might also explain why the Sphinx enclosure might have been a moat – filled with water – for ritual washing of the pharaoh’s body. Equally, seeing that Anubis was the god of embalming, one could argue whether the embalming of a or several pharaohs therefore occurred in the so-called Sphinx Temple. Again, no discussion on the subject.

Temple is clever enough not to refer to these jars as “Canopic”, as this is believed to be a misnomer. However, having drawn the conclusion that Anubis is a dog, he makes no connection either to his own beloved Sirius, or Canopus. And what to make of the line “One might say, therefore, that Osiris was originally a dog!” (p. 212). Equally, he points out that Anubis would have stared to the sunrise at the equinoxes and that this was important within the framework of Egyptian mythology. Of course, this is related to Canopus, the “Eye of the Dog”.
There are further parallels to Canopus, which Temple should have explored – however much he may not have wanted to, seeing my stance on his Sirius B, as detailed in “The Sirius Mystery”. For example, Canopus is linked with a boat (Argo). In “The Canopus Revelation”, I have specifically pointed out that the star Canopus was linked with the “encoffined Osiris”, and this is precisely the part of the burial ceremony that Temple locates as occurring at the Sphinx.
Temple must equally be aware of the classic image of a voyage to the underworld: one comes upon the Styx, which one has to cross, and the Ferryman has a dog. Once on the other side of the Styx, the river in the Underworld, one is in the realm of the dead. This dog – this Hound of Hell – is there to instil fear in the one entering the Realm of the Dead. Temple writes “Anubis was the standard guardian of necropolises, of graves, of the dead”, but fails to draw the parallel once again, including (p. 306), “I will cause him to enter the Place of Ferrying among the blessed ones”, from which a connection with Canopus – the Pilot of the Ferry known as the Argo – and the Styx should have been made.
The latter chapters delve into the “golden angle”, which is indeed an interesting contribution, and though it largely is about the pyramids, Temple defends the relevance to the Sphinx and therefore the inclusion of such debate in this book. However, once you have identified the use of a Fibonacci series in Giza architectural design, he then falls short of knowing that decades ago, people came up with a uniform design, incorporating all three main pyramids and the Sphinx inscribing a rectangle that incorporated a Fibonacci spiral. It underlines once again that this book is largely snippets of information, but void of a proper framework.
And contrary to Temple’s stance, the book is not all about the Sphinx – it even has several pages on Jesus Christ and Christianity! – and, specifically, the excursions into the Gizeh plateau he makes, do nothing to make us understand the role of the Sphinx within its setting. For example, he should have addressed Campbell’s Tomb, another enigmatic feature only thirty metres away from the Sphinx and which equally shows signs of “anomalous erosion patterns”. Vitally important, nowhere does Temple mention that in September 1980, engineers from the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation measured the depth of the water table under the Sphinx and set up their drilling equipment ca. 50 metres to the east of the Sphinx. They were puzzled when at more than 50 feet deep, they hit a solid structure, which proved to be red granite, identical to that found in the antechamber of the King’s Chamber. As such granite is not found in Gizeh but was brought from Aswan, it is clear that this is an artificial construction, dating from the time when the pyramids were built, very close to the Sphinx. Alas, Temple does not even mention it, let alone discuss.

Where does this leave us? As to its age, Temple includes some throwaway lines that there is evidence of the Sphinx as being already there in the Third Dynasty, referring to work by Du Quesne on a boundary stele at Saqqara, mentioning “Anubis, Foremost of the Secluded Land” and interpreting this as the Sphinx – with the “Secluded Land” being Gizeh. He points out that “The Great Sphinx of Giza” was a translation into stone of the huge Anubis shrines of the First Dynasty, suggesting that in his opinion the Sphinx therefore postdates the First Dynasty?
As mentioned, the greatest problem is that the book fails to place the Sphinx into context, which is precisely what the entire Sphinx debate should be all about. The Sphinx is a unique structure – even if there were once two of them – an archaeological oddity. Once the Sphinx is properly inserted into the Gizeh framework, will one be able to find answers as to how precisely this complex came about. Judging from the cover and title of the book, this was precisely the premise this book would address, but in the end, however much we learn in the process, the book fails to deliver on any of the real Sphinx mysteries.
Temple, Reader, Dobrev and all are nevertheless mounting a serious challenge to the status quo and it begins to prickle the powers that are at Gizeh. However, the evidence they use so far is too bespoke and too open to diverging interpretations. For all others, who use the Sphinx as a means to predate the entire Gizeh complex, it remains clear that the entire Pyramid Age was a project of the priesthood of Heliopolis. It is clear that the official historical time clearly shows improvements in building techniques and there is precious little difference between the Red Pyramid at Dashur and the Great Pyramid. Anyone who argues that the Great Pyramid was not built by Khufu, needs to explain the Red Pyramid and the Second Pyramid at Gizeh. If anyone argues the Great Pyramid is e.g. built in 10,000 BC, then they need to explain why the Red Pyramid or the Second Pyramid is not built in 10,000 BC either.

But these are Temple’s immediate problems. Gizeh was a primeval hill, a place of creation. There is a “natural” role for a dog like Anubis to guard this site. We know that the dead and the living were ferried from one side of the Nile to the Gizeh plateau, at whose foot they were met by this creature, the Sphinx. This story, it is clear, is as old as Egypt. The question is whether the physical creation of a giant Anubis is as old, and whether the pyramids are contemporary, or whether official history does have it right, and that the priests of Heliopolis waited until the building skills were sufficiently evolved, so that the crowning glory of construction could finally be built at Gizeh, to underline its importance as a place of creation. That is the challenge for us all – and, when applied to Temple, the “Egyptian Dawn”.