The Ipuwer Papyrus is a single papyrus holding an ancient Egyptian 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 National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, after being purchased from Giovanni Anastasi, the Swedish consul to Egypt, in 1828. The sole surviving manuscript dates to the later 13th century BCE (no earlier than the 19th dynasty 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 and the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1850 BCE-1600 BCE), and appears to describe how the Hyksos 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 depicting the fall of the Old Kingdom. 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, 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, 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 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."
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.
Egyptologist Ludwig D. Morenz 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 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).
Scholars have also noted themes of Messianism in the document. For example, Henry Breasted, known as the Dean of American Egyptologists, writes: "The peculiar significance of the picture lies in the fact that, if not the social programme, 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 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 (Prophecy of Neferti) 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. 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 and the Exodus in the Old Testament 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, such as Ipuwer's lamentation of an Asiatic (Semitic) invasion rather than a mass departure. 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 floods when the river is carrying large quantities of red earth, mentioning that Kitchen has also discussed this phenomenon.
- English translation of the papyrus. A translation also in R. B. Parkinson, The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems. Oxford World's Classics, 1999.
- A new edition of this papyrus has been published by Roland Enmarch: The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All
- Enmarch 2005:2-3.
- See e.g. Van Seters J. "A date for the "Admonitions" in the second intermediate Period". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 1964;50:13-23.
- Roger Henry (2003). Synchronized chronology: rethinking Middle East antiquity : a simple correction to Egyptian chronology resolves the major problems in biblical and Greek archaeology. Algora Publishing. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-87586-192-0. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- Velikovsky Immanuel (1952). Ages in Chaos. ISBN 978-1-906833-13-8.
- Winfried Barta, Das Gespräch des Ipuwer mit dem Schöpfergott, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Bd. 1 (1974), pp. 19-33
- R. J. Williams, The Sages of Ancient Egypt in the Light of Recent Scholarship, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 101, No. 1, Oriental Wisdom (Jan. -Mar., 1981), pp. 1-19Published
- Gregory Mumford, Tell Ras Budran (Site 345): Defining Egypt's Eastern Frontier and Mining Operations in South Sinai during the Late Old Kingdom (Early EB IV/MB I), Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 342 (May, 2006), pp. 13-67, The American Schools of Oriental Research. Article Stable URL: 
- 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)
- A. Erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, translated by Aylward M. Blackman (Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1927), pp.7-8.
- See e.g. Luria, Salomo . ‘Die Ersten werden die Letzten sein (zur “sozialen Revolution” im Altertum)’. Klio 22, 405–31. See also Lichtheim, Miriam . Ancient Egyptian literature. A book of readings I. The Old and Middle Kingdoms, 150. Berkeley: University of California Press. More recently, see Morenz, Ludwig . ‘Literature as a construction of the past in the Middle Kingdom’, in Tait, John 2003 (ed.), ‘Never had the like occurred’. Egypt’s view of its past, 101–17. Encounters with Ancient Egypt; London: UCL Press.
- Kemp, Barry J. (2005 (2nd edition)). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization. Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-415-23549-5.
- Kemp, Barry J. (2005 (2nd edition)). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization. Routledge. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-415-23549-5.
- Roland Enmarch, "Theodicy" (April 13, 2008). UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology open version, Paper 1007.
- Egypt's View of Its Past (Encounters with Ancient Egypt), (2003) p. 103.
- Egypt's View of Its Past, p.111
- American Egyptomania - Breasted was America's first dean of Egyptology. Founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, Breasted was the first American to receive a Ph.D. in Egyptology, and his A History of Egypt of 1905 was the first major textbook published in America by an American Egyptologist, and represents the first major sign of the professionalization of American Egyptology.
- J. H. Breasted, "Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt," p. 212.
- J. H. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, p. 211.
- T. E. Peet, "Life and Thought in Egypt Under the Old and Middle Kingdoms," The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I (The MacMillan Company, 1924), pp. 345-346.
- Mordechai Becher. "The Ten Plagues - Live From Egypt". Ohr Somayach (accessed 8 Nov 2005).
- Stiebing, William H. (1989). Out of the Desert: Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives. Prometheus. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-87975-505-8.
- "The reception of a Middle Egyptian poem: The Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All in the Ramesside period and beyond" (2007) by Roland Enmarch. P.106.
- Enmarch, p.174
- 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 978-1-153-26729-8
- 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)
- The Admonitions of Ipuwer, an English translation of the Ipuwer Papyrus
- The writing on the Ipuwer Papyrus
- Same picture, German article (English version in production.)
- The Ten Plagues - Live from Egypt by Rabbi Mordechai Becher.