Ipuwer papyrus

Ipuwer papyrus

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The Ipuwer Papyrus is a single papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 holding an ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ian poem, called The Admonitions of Ipuwer or The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All. Its official designation is Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto. It is housed in the Dutch
Dutch people
The Dutch people are an ethnic group native to the Netherlands. They share a common culture and speak the Dutch language. Dutch people and their descendants are found in migrant communities worldwide, notably in Suriname, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United...

 National Museum of Antiquities
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden is the national archaeological museum of the Netherlands. It is located in Leiden. The Museum grew out of the collection of Leiden University and still closely co-operates with its Faculty of Archaeology...

 in Leiden, Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, after being purchased from Giovanni Anastasi
Giovanni Anastasi (merchant)
Giovanni Anastasi was born to Armenian family in Damascus. Around year 1797 he moved with his father to Alexandria, where Anastasi established himself as wealthy merchant and antiquarian. Anastasi served as Swedish-Norwegian Consul-General from 1828 until his death...

, the Swedish consul to Egypt, in 1828. The sole surviving manuscript dates to the later 13th century BCE (no earlier than the 19th dynasty
Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was one of the periods of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Founded by Vizier Ramesses I, whom Pharaoh Horemheb chose as his successor to the throne, this dynasty is best known for its military conquests in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.The warrior kings of the...

 in the New Kingdom).

The Ipuwer Papyrus describes Egypt as afflicted by natural disasters and in a state of chaos, a topsy-turvy world where the poor have become rich, and the rich poor, and warfare, famine and death are everywhere. One symptom of this collapse of order is the lament that servants are leaving their servitude and acting rebelliously.


The date for the composition of this document is unknown. The papyrus itself (Papyrus Leiden I 344) is a copy made during the New Kingdom of Egypt. The dating of the original composition of the poem is disputed, but several scholars have suggested a date between the late 6th dynasty
Sixth dynasty of Egypt
The sixth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties III, IV and V under the group title the Old Kingdom.-Pharaohs:...

 and the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1850 BCE-1600 BCE), and appears to describe how the Hyksos
The Hyksos were an Asiatic people who took over the eastern Nile Delta during the twelfth dynasty, initiating the Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt....

 took over Egypt. The theme of this work had previously been taken either as a lament inspired by the supposed chaos of the First Intermediate Period, or as a plea to Pepi II Neferkare
Pepi II Neferkare
Pepi II was a pharaoh of the Sixth dynasty in Egypt's Old Kingdom. His throne name, Neferkare , means "Beautiful is the Ka of Re". He succeeded to the throne at age six, after the death of Merenre I, and is generally credited with having the longest reign of any monarch in history at 94 years...

 depicting the fall of the Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom
Old Kingdom is the name given to the period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley .The term itself was...

. The admonitions may not be a discussion with a king at all however. Otto was the first to suggest that the discussion was not between Ipuwer and his king, but that this was a discussion between Ipuwer and a deity. Fecht showed through philological interpretation and revision of the relevant passages that this is indeed a discussion with a deity. Modern research suggests that the papyrus dates to the much later 13th dynasty
Thirteenth dynasty of Egypt
The thirteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt is often combined with Dynasties XI, XII and XIV under the group title Middle Kingdom. Other writers separate it from these dynasties and join it to Dynasties XIV through XVII as part of the Second Intermediate Period...

, with part of the papyrus now thought to date to the time of Pharaoh Khety, and the admonitions of Ipuwer actually being addressed to the god Atum
Atum, sometimes rendered as Atem or Tem, is an important deity in Egyptian mythology.- Name :Atum's name is thought to be derived from the word 'tem' which means to complete or finish. Thus he has been interpreted as being the 'complete one' and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to...

, not a mortal king. The admonitions are thought to harken back to the First Intermediate Period and record a decline in international relations and a general impoverishment in Egypt.


Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner
Alan Gardiner
Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner was one of the premier British Egyptologists of the early and mid-20th century...

 translated the Ipuwer Papyrus into English in 1909, and believed that the text contained historical descriptions of current and past events: "The entire context from 1,1 to 10,6 constitutes a single picture of a particular moment in Egyptian history," he concluded, "as it was seen by the pessimistic eyes of Ipuwer."

Both the Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

 and Thera
Thera eruption
The Minoan eruption of Thera, also referred to as the Thera eruption or Santorini eruption, was a major catastrophic volcanic eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 6 or 7 and a Dense-rock equivalent of , which is estimated to have occurred in the mid second millennium BCE. The eruption...

 interpretations (which can be combined with each other, and sometimes are) interpret the poem to record a historical event, which is disputed by some Egyptologists.

Recently, the poem has instead been interpreted by Egyptologist Barry Kemp to be an informal text from the Middle Kingdom that "dwells on the nature of a disordered world, making the king responsible for its cure," and belongs "to a tradition of limited free speculation at court" based on an unnamed, historical model. This model in Ipuwer's poem was, "A king with an unsavory reputation [who] probably provided the setting, now lost," Kemp believes.

The later passages of the poem contain a dialogue between two figures identified only as "Ipuwer" and the "Majesty of the Lord of All". Although these sections of the poem are badly damaged, they debate the causes of evil and chaos in the world, and the balance between human and divine responsibility for them; this dialogue forms one of the oldest examinations in world literature of the question of theodicy
Theodicy is a theological and philosophical study which attempts to prove God's intrinsic or foundational nature of omnibenevolence , omniscience , and omnipotence . Theodicy is usually concerned with the God of the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, due to the relevant...


Egyptologist Ludwig D. Morenz
Ludwig D. Morenz
Ludwig D. Morenz is German privatdozent in Egyptology at the University of Leipzig. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig and Habilitation from the University of Tübingen...

 lists the Admonition of Ipuwer under the genre "Prophetic texts, Lamentations" in his book, Egypt's View of Its Past (Encounters with Ancient Egypt), (2003) p. 103. On the lamentation theme he writes, "the ‘Admonitions’ are strikingly close to the Sumerian city laments (Quack 1997), and, from Egypt itself, to the laments for the dead." On pages 108-109, Morenz draws correlations between the literature and history and makes the observation that, "In the 'Admonitions', the more or less historical past is constructed as a gloomy backdrop which contrasts with both ideal time and the present (Morenz 1999)." Morenz further points out that one of the characteristics that differentiates Ipuwer from "tales" is that there is no diffusion of the narrator's voice over periods of time through retellings, "With regard to genres, we only find ‘instructions’ and ‘discourses’ or ‘laments’ that are attributed to individual ‘authors’ of the past. Tales like those of ‘Sinuhe’ or the ‘Eloquent Peasant’ do not seem to have been connected to any single authentic or ‘historical’ narrator. In contrast, laments like ‘Kha-kheper-ra-seneb’ or ‘Ipuwer’ have no literary successors" (p. 120). Further assessment of the text reads: "It is quite likely that the destruction lament in the ‘Admonitions’ refers to the destruction of Memphis
Memphis, Egypt
Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Helwan, south of Cairo.According to legend related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, it remained an...

 at the end of the Old Kingdom. Thus, this fully independent micro-text can be understood as a sort of oral tradition or at least a literarily formed piece of historical recollection which has trickled into writing, but it is clearly a text with literary forms and ambitions – certainly not a historical report in the narrower sense. Indeed, even recently this passage has been understood as an almost concrete historical report (Gundlach 1992)." (pp. 114–115).

Prophetic Theme

Scholars have also noted themes of Messianism
Messianism is the belief in a messiah, a savior or redeemer. Many religions have a messiah concept, including the Jewish Messiah, the Christian Christ, the Muslim Mahdi and Isa , the Buddhist Maitreya, the Hindu Kalki and the Zoroastrian Saoshyant...

 in the document. For example, Henry Breasted
James Henry Breasted
James Henry Breasted was an American archaeologist and historian. After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin in 1894, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago. In 1901 he became director of the Haskell Oriental Museum at the University of Chicago, where he continued to...

, known as the Dean of American Egyptologists, writes: "The peculiar significance of the picture lies in the fact that, if not the social programme [sic], at least the social ideals, the golden dream of the thinkers of this far-off age, already included the ideal ruler of spotless character and benevolent purposes who would cherish and protect his own and crush the wicked. Whether the coming of this ruler is definitely predicted or not, the vision of his character and his work is here unmistakably lifted up by the ancient sage - lifted up in the presence of the living [Egyptian] king and those assembled with him, that they may catch something of its splendor. This is, of course, Messianism nearly fifteen hundred years before its appearance among the Hebrews."

The section, appearing out of the large lacuna
Lacuna may refer to:* Lacuna , a missing section of text* Lacuna , an extended silence in a piece of music* Lacuna , a lexical gap in a language* Lacuna , the lack of a law or legal source addressing a situation...

 that Breasted called "the most important passage in the entire speech of the sage, and one of the most important in the whole range of Egyptian literature" reads:

"Behold, why does he seek(?) to fashion men? The frightened man is not distinguished from the violent one. He [the supreme god] brings coolness upon heat; men say: 'He is the herdsman of mankind, and there is no evil in his heart.' Though his herds are few, yet he spends a day to collect them, their hearts being on fire(?). Would that he had perceived their nature in the first generation; then he would have imposed obstacles, he would have stretched out his arm against them, he would have destroyed their herds and their heritage. Men desire to give birth(?), but sadness intervenes, with needy people on all sides. So it is, and it will not pass away while the gods who are in the midst of it exist. Seed goes forth into mortal women, but none are found on the road. Combat has gone forth, and he who would be a redresser of evils is one who commits them; neither do men act as pilot in their hour of duty. Where is he today? Is he asleep? Behold, his power is not seen" (11,11-12,6).

T. E. Peet likewise saw a Messianic figure envisioned by Ipuwer: "In the first place it is the purely physical product of the distressful days of the [First] Intermediate Period, whether we believe that some or all of it was actually written during that time or immediately after. And in the second place it reflects...the awakening of man to the moral unworthiness of society and the possibility of better things. In Petrograd 1116B a saviour is actually predicted, and again, in the Admonitions of Ipuwer, although there is no prediction, the poet cannot refrain from drawing a picture of the ideal ruler of a state under the form of the sun-god Re
Ra is the ancient Egyptian sun god. By the Fifth Dynasty he had become a major deity in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the mid-day sun...

. This type of writing, whether definitely predictive or not, is closely akin to the prophetic writings of the Hebrews, and every discussion of the latter must reckon with the possibility of Egyptian models."

Parallels with The Book of Exodus

Some have interpreted the document as an Egyptian account of the Plagues of Egypt
Plagues of Egypt
The Plagues of Egypt , also called the Ten Plagues or the Biblical Plagues, were ten calamities that, according to the biblical Book of Exodus, Israel's God, Yahweh, inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh capitulated after the tenth...

 and the Exodus in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 of the Bible, and it is often cited as proof for the Biblical account by various religious organisations.

The association of the Ipuwer Papyrus with the Exodus as describing the same event is generally rejected by Egyptologists. Roland Enmarch, author of a new translation of the papyrus, notes: "The broadest modern reception of Ipuwer amongst non-Egyptological readers has probably been as a result of the use of the poem as evidence supporting the Biblical account of the Exodus." While Enmarch himself rejects synchronizing the texts of the Ipuwer Papyrus and The Book of Exodus on grounds of historicity, in The reception of a Middle Egyptian poem: The Dialogue of Ipuwer.. he acknowledges that there are some textual parallels "particularly the striking statement that ‘the river is blood and one drinks from it’ (Ipuwer 2.10), and the frequent references to servants abandoning their subordinate status (e.g. Ipuwer 3.14–4.1; 6.7–8; 10.2–3). On a literal reading, these are similar to aspects of the Exodus account." Commenting on such attempts to draw parallels, he writes that "all these approaches read Ipuwer hyper-literally and selectively" and points out that there are also conflicts between Ipuwer and the biblical account. He suggests that "it is more likely that Ipuwer is not a piece of historical reportage and that historicising interpretations of it fail to account for the ahistorical, schematic literary nature of some of the poem’s laments," but other Egyptologists disagree (see Genre section above). Examining what Enmarch calls "the most extensively posited parallel", the river becoming blood, he notes that it should not be taken "absolutely literally" as a description of an event but that both Ipuwer and Exodus might be metaphorically describing what happens at times of catastrophic Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 floods when the river is carrying large quantities of red earth, mentioning that Kitchen
Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Anderson Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England...

 has also discussed this phenomenon.

See also

  • List of artifacts significant to the Bible
  • Dudimose
    Djedhetepre Dudimose I was an Egyptian king of the Second Intermediate Period. He is mentioned on stela found at Edfu belonging to a king's son and commander Khonsemwaset. It is not known whether the latter was the son of the king, as king's son was a title not only given to the actual children of...

  • Pharaoh of the Exodus
  • Shiphrah
    Shiphrah was one of two midwives who helped prevent the genocide of Hebrew children by the Egyptians, according to Exodus 1:15-21.The name is found in a list of slaves in Egypt during the reign of Sobekhotep III. This list is on Brooklyn 35.1446, a papyrus scroll kept in the Brooklyn Museum. The...

  • Thrasyllus of Mendes
    Thrasyllus of Mendes
    Thrasyllus of Mendes, whose full name was Tiberius Claudius Thrasyllus , was an Egyptian Greek grammarian and literary commentator from Mendes, Egypt...

  • The Hyksos: A New Investigation
    The Hyksos: A New Investigation
    The Hyksos: A New Investigation is a book by John Van Seters published in 1966 by Yale University Press.The main contribution of this volume is a careful linguistic analysis by Van Seters in which he argues that the Ipuwer Papyrus does not belong to the First Intermediate Period of Egyptian History...

  • The Exodus Decoded
  • Abraham in History and Tradition
    Abraham in History and Tradition
    Abraham in History and Tradition is a book by biblical scholar John Van Seters.The book is divided into two parts, Abraham in History and Abraham in Tradition. In Part I part Van Seters argues that there is no unambiguous evidence pointing to an origin for the stories in the 2nd millennium BC...


  • A. H. Gardiner: The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage from a Hieratic Papyrus in Leiden. J. C. Hinrich's che Buchhandlung, 1909; reprinted by George Olms Verlag, 1969; reprinted by General Books LLC, January 12, 2010. ISBN 978-1153267298
  • R. Enmarch: The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All, The Griffith Institute, Griffith Institute Publications, Oxford 2005 ISBN 0-900416-86-6
  • Stephen Quirke: Egyptian Literature 1800BC: Questions and Readings, London 2004, 140-150 ISBN 0-9547218-6-1 (translation and transcription)

External links