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Does the Ipuwer Papyrus Provide Evidence for the Events of the Exodus?

Does the Ipuwer Papyrus Provide Evidence for the Events of the Exodus?

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The Ipuwer papyrus, also known as the ‘Admonitions of Ipuwer’, is a controversial text that describes starvation, drought, death, and violent upheavals in ancient Egypt, with some maintaining that it is an eyewitness account of the Exodus plagues. Neither the beginning nor end of this work was preserved, leaving historians with difficulty in interpreting the material and reaching a final conclusion about the events it describes.

The Papyrus

Written in a single papyrus, the Admonitions of Ipuwer, (catalogue name Papyrus Leiden 344) is a poetic composition believed to have been written during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom era, a period corresponding to 2050 BC - 1652 BC. The origin of acquisition regarding this document is obscure. It was in possession of the Greek diplomat and merchant Yianni Anastasiou who claimed that the papyrus was discovered at Memphis, in the Saqqara region. It is currently housed at the National Archaeological Museum in Leiden, Netherlands.

The papyrus is fully inscribed from beginning to end on both sides. It consists of 17 complete and incomplete columns of writing.  The back of the papyrus contains hymns to the god Amun but it suffered substantially more damage, causing a larger detrimental effect on its preservation and, therefore, loosing much of its written content.

Depiction of Amun in a relief at Karnak

Depiction of Amun in a relief at Karnak ( Public Domain )

The Ipuwer papyrus is famous among Egyptologists, who have known about its existence for a long time, but many were discouraged to engage in further studies of this document due to its complicated language, damaged conditions, and many missing pieces which were crucial to its complete comprehension. Although this papyrus was brought out of its hidden place in 1828, it was not until 1909 that Alan Gardiner challenged the document and began studying its content.

The Story

The nature of the message in the Ipuwer papyrus depicts violence and chaos in Egypt. According to Dr. Lange, evidence does validate the idea that the Ipuwer papyrus was written during the Middle Kingdom, as the language style and vocabulary corresponds to those used during that era. Dr. Lange says that there are indications that the manuscript was copied from an older version, perhaps dating from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty (circa 1550 BC to 1292 BC). There are unfilled spaces which probably illustrates that it was missing or illegible in the original copied document.

Many scholars support the theory proposed by Dr. Lange, who believes the Ipuwer papyrus contains prophetic utterances of an Egyptian seer, as Alan Gardiner relates:

“It must have explained the circumstances under which the chief personage named, one ‘Ipw’ or ‘Opw-wr’, came forward to hold a long and impassioned harangue in the presence of the king and his people. These speeches, in the opinion of Dr. Lange, are prophetic in character; an era of disasters is predicted for Egypt, and is even now, as one passage declares, at hand; and it is the king himself who is responsible for the calamities the bitterness of which he is soon to taste in full measure.[…] I conclusion, it is suggested that the book may have had an historical background, and that the writer had possibly in his mind some such political situation as that of the troublous times which preceded the rise of the twelfth dynasty”.

According to Gardiner’s opinion, “if we may venture to extract the essence of Ipuwer’s discourse, we shall find that the things which he thought to conduce to the happily-constituted state are three: a patriotic attitude in resisting foes from within and from without; piety towards the gods; and the guiding hand of a wise and energetic ruler”. Gardiner’s interpretation of the message in the papyrus differs from that of Dr. Lange, who maintains that it lacks prophetic evidence in its text.

The Exodus Events

On the other hand, a controversial, yet intriguing, interpretation of this text was proposed by Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky who brought up a theory that the Ipuwer papyrus is a source of evidence for the events of the Exodus, from the Old Testament. Scholars usually agree that the Exodus events would have taken place at some point around the New Kingdom of Egypt (circa 1573 BCE). “The contents of this papyrus have an oddly familiar ring to those who know their Old Testament. ‘Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere…The river is blood…Gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire…. Cattle moan…The land is not light’”. Literary analyses would put the original, of which the Leiden papyrus is a copy, at some time during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and the very beginning of the turbulent Hyksos period.

The First Plague: Water Is Changed into Blood, James Tissot

The First Plague: Water Is Changed into Blood, James Tissot ( Public Domain )

Agreements on Events

Gardiner agrees with Velikovsky’s chronology in the sense that the Ipuwer papyrus text tells us about both a civil war and of an Asiatic occupation of the Delta. The two periods in which this might be possible are the dark age that separated the sixth from the eleventh dynasty, and the other is the Hyksos period. Gardiner inclines towards the theory of the invasion of Hyksos to explain the events in which this papyrus alludes.

Gardiner has no doubt that Ipuwer’s pessimism was intended to be understood as the response to a real national calamity and the references to Asiatic aggression on the Delta and devastation of the land through civil war leaves no room for questions on this point.

An earlier group of Asiatic peoples depicted entering Egypt

An earlier group of Asiatic peoples depicted entering Egypt ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Although the Ipuwer papyrus has unquestionable historical background, it could be a mistake to assume that its composition was contemporary with the events to which they suggest. Whether this document relates to prophetic messages, describes the events of the Exodus, or it is simply a text containing mixtures of historical and fictional elements it remains a mystery that historians might never be able to answer.

Top image: Ipuwer Papyrus. Photo Source: ( Public Domain )

By Marina Sohma

References:

Alan Gardiner, “The Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage”

http://dlib.nyu.edu/awdl/sites/dl.home.nyu.edu.awdl/files/admonitionsofegy00gard/admonitionsofegy00gard.pdf (accessed on Oct 27, 2016

Dean Smith, ‘Does an ancient papyrus speak of the Exodus plague from an Egyptian perspective”.

https://opentheword.org/2014/08/22/does-an-ancient-papyrus-speak-of-the-exodus-from-an-egyptian-perspective/ (accessed on Oct 28, 2016)

Hugo Meynell , ‘Ancient History of Chaos- Velikovsky’s Chronological Reconstruction’
www.jstor.org/stable/43247679(accessed on Oct 28, 2016)

Stephen Quirke, Review of ‘A World Upturned: Commentary on and Analysis of The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All by Roland Enmarch’
www.jstor.org/stable/43077338 (accessed on Oct 27, 2016)

Comments

I would say that there is a possibility. Whenever anyone translates from one language to another there are always problems (i.e. sounds and letters that do not correspond). After all, the name Egypt comes from the Greeks corrupting the word Hout ka-Ptah (meaning "Castle of the ka of Ptah) into Aegypt. The ancient Egyptians called their land Kemet (meaning "Black land”.) by the way, the words pyramid and sphynx are also Greek words. The Egyptians called pyramids PR.NTR, spoken most likely as Per-Neter which meant “house of the god” and sphynx Shesepankh, which meant "living image”.

 

What are the chances that ‘Ipuwer’ is a phonetic corruption or mispronunciation of ‘Hebrew’ or Habiru-Apiru?

It’s David Rohl, not Roth, and what does being a musician have to do with the credibility of his work? He is an agnostic and so am I. He is also a legitimate Egyptologist and has probably spent more time investigating Egypt than the greater community there. The possibility of some truth in the biblical narrative of the OT has militant atheists up in arms for good reason. Are you one of them?  Truth of biblical narrative of the OT does not mean evidence of Yahweh or God, just remember that.

Your dogmatic acceptance of a chronology that rests entirely on a 200-year old correlation and identification of Shishaq with Shoshenq I, reminds me a lot of the blind acceptance of God by the very group of people you appear to be scornful of.  Why would you blindly accept this then, instead of seeking different lines of enquiry?

Many fringe science hypothesis and alternative theories have become scientific fact in the last 50 years or so, and the currently science-accepted and wholly outdated biblical chronology, which lacks any serious archaeological evidence to support it, is the stuff of Hollywood movies!

Roth was a musician for 30 years until he became an amateur Egyptologist. He is not a credible source. His theories rejected by the entire Egyptologist community but endorsed by the young earth creationists. Are you one?

I will continue to accept the traditional timeline accepted and supported by legitimate Egyptologists until such time as a one comes forward with a new version.

As for the desire to link the bible with established archology it has never worked and it never will. You can wish all you want but in the end science (real science) will not answer those wises any more than an imaginary entity or Mr Roth.

The existing timeline and chronology of sojourn, exodus and conquer is at fault.  Egyptologist David Rohl’s New Chronology explains these events better and Gardener’s dating and timeline of the Ipuwer papyrus is incorrect.

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