It is impossible to give a date for the composition of this document. The surviving papyrus (Papyrus Leiden 334) itself is a copy made during the New Kingdom. Ipuwer is generally supposed to have lived during the Middle Kingdom or the Second Intermediate Period, and the catastrophes he bewails to have taken place four centuries earlier during the First Intermediate Period.
On the other hand, Miriam Lichtheim, following S. Luria, contends that
the ‘Admonitions of Ipuwer’ has not only no bearing whatever on the long past First Intermediate Period, it also does not derive from any other historical situation. It is the last, fullest, most exaggerated and hence least successful, composition on the theme “order versus chaos.”
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I, p.150
Fringe historians often compare the content of this papyrus with Exodus, the second book of the Bible . Similarities between Egyptian texts and the Bible are easily found, and it is reasonable to assume Egyptian influence on the Hebrews, given their at times close contacts. But to conclude from such parallelisms that the Ipuwer Papyrus describes Egypt at the time of the Exodus, requires a leap of faith not everybody is willing to make.
[. .] The door [keepers] say: “Let us go and plunder.”
The confectioners [. . .].
The washerman refuses to carry his load [. . .]
The bird [catchers] have drawn up in line of battle [. . . the inhabitants] of the Delta carry shields.
The brewers [. . .] sad.
A man regards his son as his enemy. Confusion [. . .] another. Come and conquer; judge [. . .] what was ordained for you in the time of Horus, in the age [of the Ennead . . .]. The virtuous man goes in mourning because of what has happened in the land [. . .] goes [. . .] the tribes of the desert have become Egyptians everywhere.
Indeed, the face is pale; [. . .] what the ancestors foretold has arrived at [fruition . . .] the land is full of confederates, and a man goes to plough with his shield.
Indeed, the meek say: [“He who is . . . of] face is as a well-born man.”
Indeed, [the face] is pale; the bowman is ready, wrongdoing is everywhere, and there is no man of yesterday.
Indeed, the plunderer [. . .] everywhere, and the servant takes what he finds.
Indeed, the Nile overflows, yet none plough for it. Everyone says: “We do not know what will happen throughout the land.”
Indeed, poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches.
Indeed, men’s slaves, their hearts are sad, and magistrates do not fraternize with their people when they shout.
Indeed, [hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking, and the mummy-cloth speaks even before one comes near it.
Indeed, many dead are buried in the river; the stream is a sepulcher and the place of embalmment has become a stream.
Indeed, noblemen are in distress, while the poor man is full of joy. Every town says: “Let us suppress the powerful among us.”
Indeed, men are like ibises. Squalor is throughout the land, and there are none indeed whose clothes are white in these times.
Indeed, the land turns around as does a potter’s wheel; the robber is a possessor of riches and [the rich man is become] a plunderer.
Indeed, trusty servants are [. . .]; the poor man [complains]: “How terrible! What am I to do?”
Indeed, the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men shrink from human beings and thirst after water.
Indeed, gates, columns and walls are burnt up, while the hall of the palace stands firm and endures.
Indeed, the ship of [the southerners] has broken up; towns are destroyed and Upper Egypt has become an empty waste.
Indeed, crocodiles [are glutted] with the fish they have taken, for men go to them of their own accord; it is the destruction of the land. Men say: “Do not walk here; behold, it is a net.” Behold, men tread [the water] like fishes, and the frightened man cannot distinguish it because of terror.
Indeed, men are few, and he who places his brother in the ground is everywhere. When the wise man speaks, [he flees without delay].
The date for the composition of The Ipuwer Papyrus is unknown. The papyrus itself (Papyrus Leiden I 344) is a copy made during New Kingdom of Egypt (c. 1550 BCE–c. 1069 BCE). It is in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands. There is no agreement on the date of the original composition of the poem. Some scholars have suggested a date between 1850 BCE and 1600 BCE.
The renowned British Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner (1879-1963) translated the Ipuwer Papyrus into English in 1909. He believed that the text contained historical descriptions of current and past events.
Some biblical researchers have interpreted the document as an Egyptian account of the Plagues of Egypt and the Exodus in the Torah. The Ipuwer Papyrus is often cited as proof for the Torah account by biblical scholars. However, most Egyptologists reject the association of the Ipuwer Papyrus with the Exodus as describing the same event…
Comparison of the Ipuwer and Exodus Texts
Enmarch examines “the most extensively posited parallel,” which is the river becoming blood. He insists that it should not be taken “absolutely literally” as a description of an event but that both Ipuwer and Exodus are metaphorically describing what happens at times of catastrophic Nile floods when the river is carrying large quantities of red earth.
It has also been suggested that the mixing of bacteria with the red earth could conceivably affect the oxygen balance of the Nile’s waters, resulting in the killing off of the river’s fish.
Exodus 7:20-21: “[Moses] raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood. The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.”
Ipuwer Papyrus (IP): Indeed the river is blood, yet men drink of it. Men [shrink] from human beings and thirst for water
Exod. 9:6: “All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died.”
IP: “Indeed, all animals, their hearts weep; cattle moan because of the state of the land.”
Exod. 9:23: “When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt.”
IP: “Indeed, gates, columns, and [walls] are burnt up… Behold, the fire has gone up on high, and its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land.”
Exod. 9:25: “Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree.”
IP: “Indeed, trees are felled and branches are stripped off.”
Exod. 10:15: “[The locusts] covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.”
IP: “Neither fruit nor herbage can be found… everywhere barely has perished.”
Exod. 10:22: “So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days.”
IP: “[The land] is not bright because of it.”
Exod. 11:5: “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.”
IP: “Indeed men are few, and he who places his brother in the ground is everywhere… Indeed [hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking, and the mummy-cloth speaks even before one comes near it.”
Dr. James K Hoffmeier,professor of Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern History and Archaeology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois argues that the use of mythological language and images in a biblical narrative of the plagues of Egypt does not mean that a fictitious event is being described.
“In the end,” he writes, “those who consider the Exodus stories historicized myths, folklorist tales, or legends rest on assumptions about the nature of the literature that cannot be proven.”
There are remarkable similarities between the catastrophes described in the Ipuwer Papyrus and the biblical narrative of the Plagues of Egypt. Are these records of precisely the same events? This is unlikely since the probable date of the composition of the Papyrus, 1850 BCE and 1600 BCE, precedes the date of the Exodus by centuries.
In the spring of 1940, Immanuel Velikovsky (left) pondered what kind of natural catastrophe had turned the plain of Sodom and Gomorrah into the lake which Joshua and the Israelites came upon after the Exodus. He pondered the plagues described in the Book of Exodus, whether or not they were real and whether or not there was an Egyptian version of them.
In search of just such a document, he soon discovered in a reference book the mention of an Egyptian papyrus by a sage named Ipuwer declaring that the Nile River was blood. Locating and studying the English translation of the papyrus by Alan Gardiner, he was struck by the fact that the papyrus seemed to be a description of a great natural disaster. To Velikovsky, however, it appeared to be more than that. He believed he had found an Egyptian version of the plagues described by Moses in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
“All the waters that were in the river were turned to blood,” Moses had written. “The river is blood,” Ipuwer concurred.
Moses wrote that “the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.” Ipuwer lamented, “Trees are destroyed” and “No fruit nor herbs are found…”
Finally, Moses wrote that “there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt.” As Ipuwer succinctly put it, “The land is not light.”
Verses common to both sources told of Egyptians searching frantically for water, the death (or loss) of fish and grain, massive destruction of trees and crops, plague upon the cattle, a great cry (or groaning) throughout the land, a consuming fire, darkness, and the escape of slaves. Moses did not specifically say that the pharaoh had perished in the Red Sea, but Ipuwer lamented the king’s disappearance at the hands of poor men under circumstances that had never happened before.
by Rabbi Mordechai Becher
In the early 19th Century a papyrus, dating from the end of the Middle Kingdom, was found in Egypt. It was taken to the Leiden Museum in Holland and interpreted by A.H. Gardiner in 1909. The complete papyrus can be found in the book Admonitions of an Egyptian from a heiratic papyrus in Leiden. The papyrus describes violent upheavals in Egypt, starvation, drought, escape of slaves (with the wealth of the Egyptians), and death throughout the land. The papyrus was written by an Egyptian named Ipuwer and appears to be an eyewitness account of the effects of the Exodus plagues from the perspective of an average Egyptian. Below are excerpts from the papyrus together with their parallels in the Book of Exodus.
(For a lengthier discussion of the papyrus and the historical background of the Exodus, see Jewish Action, Spring 1995, article by Brad Aaronson, entitled When Was the Exodus? )
IPUWER PAPYRUS – LEIDEN 344
TORAH – EXODUS
|2:5-6 Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.
2:10 The river is blood.
2:10 Men shrink from tasting – human beings, and thirst after water
3:10-13 That is our water! That is our happiness! What shall we do in respect thereof? All is ruin.
|7:20 …all the waters of the river were turned to blood.
7:21 …there was blood thoughout all the land of Egypt …and the river stank.
7:24 And all the Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
|2:10 Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire.
10:3-6 Lower Egypt weeps… The entire palace is without its revenues. To it belong [by right] wheat and barley, geese and fish
6:3 Forsooth, grain has perished on every side.
5:12 Forsooth, that has perished which was yesterday seen. The land is left over to its weariness like the cutting of flax.
|9:23-24 …and the fire ran along the ground… there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous.
9:25 …and the hail smote every herb of the field, and broke every tree of the field.
9:31-32 …and the flax and the barley was smitten; for the barley was in season, and flax was ripe.
But the wheat and the rye were not smitten; for they were not grown up.
10:15 …there remained no green things in the trees, or in the herbs of the fields, through all the land of Egypt.
|5:5 All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan…
9:2-3 Behold, cattle are left to stray, and there is none to gather them together.
|9:3 …the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field… and there shall be a very grievous sickness.
9:19 …gather thy cattle, and all that thou hast in the field…
9:21 And he that did not fear the word of the Lord left his servants and cattle in the field.
|9:11 The land is without light||10:22 And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt.|
|4:3 (5:6) Forsooth, the children of princes are dashed against the walls.
6:12 Forsooth, the children of princes are cast out in the streets.
6:3 The prison is ruined.
2:13 He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.
3:14 It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations
|12:29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the prison.
12:30 …there was not a house where there was not one dead.
12:30 …there was a great cry in Egypt.
|7:1 Behold, the fire has mounted up on high. Its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land.||13:21 … by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.|
|3:2 Gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze… are fastened on the neck of female slaves.||12:35-36 …and they requested from the Egyptians, silver and gold articles and clothing. And God made the Egyptians favour them and they granted their request. [The Israelites] thus drained Egypt of its wealth.|
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