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. There is a dispute around interpretations of the document as an Egyptian account of the events described in the Exodus.
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 (18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties, c.1543-1064 BCE). 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).
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 'Khakheperresenb' or 'Ipuwer' have no literary successors." 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.
Suggested parallels with the Book of Exodus
The association of the Ipuwer Papyrus with the Exodus as describing the same event is rejected by most 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." Enmarch notes that the image of the river becoming blood should not be taken 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.
- 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.
- John Van Seters (December 1964). "A Date for the 'Admonitions' in the Second Intermediate Period". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 50: 13–23. JSTOR 3855738.
- R. J. Williams (January–March 1981). "The Sages of Ancient Egypt in the Light of Recent Scholarship". Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1 Oriental Wisdom): 1–19. JSTOR 602161.
- 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. 1–19
- 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. Gregory Mumford (May 2006). "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 (342): 13–67. JSTOR 25066952.
- 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). Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-415-23549-5.
- Kemp, Barry J. (2005). Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization (2nd ed.). 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
- p. 120.
- Gundlach 1992, pp. 114–115.
- 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.