Egypt and the Enduring Mystery of Atlantis

Posted: 03/07/2012 in Ancient History, Mythology

This article is a summary of the content of Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis, by Matt Kurtz and Ian Driscoll. The book is available to purchase here from Amazon.com.

Since Plato first recorded the myth of Atlantis in his two dialogues, the Timaeus and Critias, the question of the tale’s meaning has been fiercely debated. Aristotle, Plato’s Academic successor, is said by Strabo to have stated categorically that the legend had no historical basis. Proclus, the often quoted Neo-Platonist of the 5th century CE, makes clear his opinion that the story should be interpreted as a spiritual allegory as well as a factual account of historical events. Modern theories on Atlantis are innumerable, ranging from the tediously scholastic (the modern Santorini hypothesis) to the fringe (Atlantis as a dramatic representation of quantum mechanics). Atlantis has been “found” over a thousand times in a hundred different locations in the last century alone, forcing us to wonder whether we may be asking the wrong questions or looking in the wrong directions. In Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis, I and my co-author, Matthew Kurtz, investigate the curious creation mythology referred to as the “Building Texts” inscribed upon the walls of the temple of Edfu in Upper Egypt as a possible Egyptian source for Plato’s famous narrative. We expand this investigation in the second part of that work to include creation mythologies from around the world, comparing the themes found within the myths of disparate cultures to those present in Plato’s tale of the lost civilization of Atlantis. Our intention here is to very briefly summarize our findings in order to give the prospective reader a sampling of the book’s contents.

The temple of Edfu in Upper Egypt, built between 237 and 57 BC (a construction project spanning the reign of 13 Ptolemaic Pharaohs), is one of the most well-preserved edifices in the country. Likewise, carved upon its walls, is one of the most unique and enigmatic mythological sagas to be found in Egypt – or anywhere else, for that matter. The glyphs themselves were inscribed over two-thousand years ago, but certainly the content of the story which they tell dates to an age long before that, shrouded in the mist of time.


The tale speaks of an ancient, island civilization, founded by the gods, and ruled over by a group of twin deities. In the center of the island was erected the palace of the supreme lord of the land, the Earth-god, who rested upon a great pillar known as “djed”, meaning “stability” or “permanence”. Life seems to have continued unabated in this place for a great span of time, until, at some remote point in history, a great storm devastated the island. The storm, apparently brought on through the agency of a malevolent serpent, raged incessantly. It drowned the island’s original inhabitants and washed away nearly all trace of their former civilization. The island itself was entirely inundated – completely submerged beneath the advancing waves. E.A.E. Reymond, an Egyptologist who devoted much of her life to the study of the Edfu mythology, writes of the cataclysm:

This sacred domain, having been constituted by the creators themselves, came to its end at a definite moment of the primeval age. A storm, perhaps, came over the island during which an attack was made by an enemy pictured as a snake. The aggression was so violent that it destroyed the sacred land, with the result that the divine inhabitants died.

Following this terrible destruction, a very long period of time elapses. During this time the island rested beneath the abysmal water in total darkness, with only a bit of reed plant protruding above the surface of the sea to serve as the crude grave marker of the dead civilization. But then, at some undetermined time, a light shown out in the midst of the darkness. At this, two deities emerged from the ocean. Their origins are unexplained, and the Building Texts do not provide further detail. The two deities made their way to the tufts of reed which indicated the shoreline of the sunken land. Here, they fashioned a pillar from the reed stalks and erected it in the midst of the island, at the place of the fallen “djed” of the old Earth-god. As if by magic, the waters began to recede, and a new deity – the successor of the old – was summoned. This new god (who had the appearance of a great falcon) would preside over the restoration of the fallen world, and would ultimately vanquish the malevolent serpent that brought about the annihilation of the ancient civilization of the gods.


We have said all that is necessary for our comparison. The island homeland of the gods, with its central pillar and twin lords, destroyed suddenly in one catastrophic storm, is clearly analogous to Plato’s island of Atlantis, which shares all of the same features. In the beginning, we are told, Poseidon was allotted the island of Atlantis, upon which dwelt a young girl of childbearing age. He sired upon her ten sons, being five pairs of twins. The island was divided amongst them, and they embarked upon a number of building projects, not least of which was the erection of the central palace, which contained in its middle a large pillar of reddish metal that gleamed with the intensity of fire. This pillar functioned as the lynchpin of Atlantean society. Upon the pillar were engraved the injunctions of Poseidon which governed the behavior of the ten kings, and here it was that the fraternal bonds of kingship were renewed on a regular basis. Atlantis, the ideal society, grew strong and prospered for many years, until, as Plato writes:

    … the divine element in them became weakened by frequent admixture with mortal stock, and their human traits became predominant, [and] they ceased to be able to carry their prosperity with moderation. To the perceptive eye the depth of their degeneration was clear enough, but to those whose judgment of true happiness is defective they seemed, in their pursuit of unbridled ambition and power, to be at the height of their fame and fortune. And the god of gods, Zeus, who reigns by law, and whose eye can see such things, when he perceived the wretched state of this admirable stock, decided to punish them and to reduce them to order by discipline. He accordingly summoned all the gods to his own most glorious abode, which stands at the center of the universe and looks out over the whole realm of change, and when they had assembled, addressed them as follows…

Here the text breaks off, forever incomplete. We know from Plato’s Timaeus, however, that “there were earthquakes and floods of extraordinary violence, and in a single dreadful day and night…the island of Atlantis was similarly swallowed up by the sea and vanished.” We might easily imagine a great storm overwhelming the island nation, wholly submerging it beneath the waves of a merciless ocean – a fate similar to that of the Egyptian island of the gods.

The themes (which we examine in far greater detail in Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis) common to both the Edfu mythology and the narrative of Atlantis are marked, but as we explain in our book, they are not limited by the borders of Egypt. The themes present within the Atlantis story are found throughout worldwide creation myths. In the second half of our book, we utilize the creation mythologies of just eight cultures (from the hundreds possible) to demonstrate our conviction that Atlantis must be properly understood not as a record of a literal, historical event, but as a myth of creation, to be placed alongside the Judaeo-Christian Genesis and the Hindu Puranas. From the garden of Eden and Noah’s flood, to the great Norse tree of Yggdrasil and Ragnarok, to the Hindu island of Jambu, with its towering central mountain and twin inhabitants, each of the cultures featured in our book possess strikingly similar creation myths, the features of which run parallel to those found within Plato’s famous narrative of Atlantis. The question is not where, but what is Atlantis…

The conspicuous similarities between worldwide stories of creation and the myth of Atlantis beg a final question, of course: what does all of this mean? If the true mystery is, as we suggest, not the location of an island, but the nature of the myth itself, how might we go about solving said mystery? In our final chapter, we explore several lesser-known theories on the meaning of Atlantis as presented by scholars both ancient and modern. Our own feeling is that Atlantis, as a creation myth, speaks to the timeless process of becoming – the transition from the formless to form. We believe that it speaks to the eternal and omnipresent creation of the world (and, by extension, the “return to the source”, as the Hermetic philosophers would phrase it). We readily admit that this is not the solution to the enigma of Atlantis, but we believe it to be a step in the right direction. The purpose of our book is to stimulate constructive thoughts and provoke questions rather than to provide pat answers. Only the reader can judge whether or not it accomplishes this goal. The quest for Atlantis continues…

Book Reviews

“Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis offers a refreshing outlook on the mystery of Atlantis, along with compelling arguments linking the Atlantis tradition both to ancient Egypt itself, and to worldwide ancient cosmological traditions in general. The book also provides a very good comparative overview of the creation and destruction myths of the ancient world.”

Laird Scranton, author of The Science of the Dogon

“I thoroughly enjoyed Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis. This well-researched, logically organized book is a welcome contribution to a field that has often been cluttered with crank theories or oversimplifications. The authors clearly demonstrate how the myth of Atlantis may be anchored in the creation mythologies not only of Egypt, but other nations, and deftly point out the parallels and overlapping themes. The authors provide a clear-headed and interesting contribution to the subject.”

J.F. Bierlein, author of Parallel Myths

“We see the past through the lenses of the present but who amongst us is fully aware of how those lenses also block our view? Is there a primordial worldview that humanity has lost? This is the legitimate question posed by Atlantis: Egyptian Genesis.”

Rand Flem-Ath, author of The Atlantis Blueprint

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Comments
  1. Yvonne says:

    Where on the walls of the temple of Edfu is the saga to be found?

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