Comments on the Ipuwer Papyrus

Ipuwer Papyrus

Ipuwer Papyrus

The Ipuwer Papyrus (“Dialogue of Ipuwer and the Lord of All”) is an ancient Egyptian poem preserved on a single papyrus, Leiden Papyrus I 344, which is housed in the National Archeological Museum in Leiden, Netherlands. It dates to about 1450 BC, the same time as Moses’ exodus from Egypt.

Ipuwer 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. Many scholars reject that idea that the Egyptian is describing the events of the Ten Plagues, while others see too many references for it to be a coincidence. It’s a fairly short document and can be read online in a few minutes.

Let’s See

  1. Response of the Egyptians to the Loss of their First born
    Ipuwer Papyrus 3:14 – “It is groaning that is throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.”
    Exod 12:30 – “There was a great cry in Egypt.”
  2. The Plague of the Firstborn of Egypt
    Ipuwer Papyrus 2:13 – “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.”
    Ipuwer Papyrus 4:3 – “Forsooth, the children of princes are dashed against the walls.”
    Ipuwer Papyrus 6:12 – “Forsooth, the children of the princes are cast out in the streets.”
    Exod 12:29  – “And it happened at midnight. Jehovah struck every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh, the one sitting on the throne, to the first-born of the captive who was in the prison house, and every first-born of animals.”
  3. The Plague of Egyptian Cattle
    Ipuwer papyrus 5:5 – “All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan.”
    Exod 9:3 – “Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be grievous murrain (disease).”
  4. The Plague of Darkness
    Ipuwer Papyrus 9:11 – “The land is not light.”
    Exod 10:22: “And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt.”
  5. The Plague of Hail
    Ipuwer papyrus 4 – “Indeed, trees are felled and branches are stripped off.”
    Ipuwer papyrus 9:23 – “The fire ran along the ground. There was hail, and fire mingled with the hail.”
    Exod 9:24 – “And there was hail, and fire flashing in the midst of the hail, very heavy, which never had been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.”
  6. The Plague of Blood
    Ipuwer Papyrus 2:5-6 – “Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.”
    Ipuwer Papyrus 2:10 – “The River is Blood, men shrank from tasting, and thirst for water.”
    Exod 7:21 – “There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.”
    Exod 7:20, 24 – All the waters that were in the river were turned to blood and wells had to be dug.

And more…

  • “the tribes of the desert have become Egyptians everywhere.”
  • “Indeed, poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches. “
  • “barbarians from abroad have come to Egypt.”
  • “Indeed, gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise, carnelian and amethyst, Ibhet-stone and [. . .] are strung on the necks of maidservants.”
  • “Indeed, every dead person is as a well-born man. Those who were Egyptians [have become] foreigners and are thrust aside. “
  • “Indeed, the hot-tempered man says: “If I knew where God is, then I would serve Him.””
  • “Behold, the possessors of robes are now in rags, while he who could not weave for himself is now a possessor of fine linen. “
  • “Behold, the poor of the land have become rich, and the [erstwhile owner] of property is one who has nothing. “
  • “Behold, a man is happy eating his food. Consume your goods in gladness and unhindered, for it is good for a man to eat his food; God commands it for him whom He has favored.”

It’s rather humorous to me that so many critics insist that this papyrus doesn’t refer to the Ten Plagues. They insist that despite the parallels (they usually only cite one or two), it just isn’t relevant to the Exodus narrative, and that it’s a poetic/metaphoric lament about how the city/country is coming to ruin ..and the author just happens to use language eerily similar to what we find in Exodus. Color me skeptical.

They’ll also point out that the papyrus lists tragedies that aren’t in the Ten Plagues. My response to that is “So what? There’s no need to think that every repercussion of the Ten Plagues is listed in Exodus.”

Oh, well.

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4 comments to Comments on the Ipuwer Papyrus

  • Virginia

    The expert opinion of scholars is that the Admonitions were a poetical-style commentary, possibly by a priestly source, composed hundreds of years before a putative “exodus”. The five supposed plagues, as you listed above, are not completely identical to those in the biblical account (not to mention the silence on the other five), and the entire composition is comprised of an entirely larger and broader scope which also includes conditions quite contradictory to the biblical account.

    Is it possible there is a correlation between the Ipuwer papyrus and the biblical account? If so, it would be because the Egyptian stories were the source of some of the biblical stories, not the reverse.

    • admin

      Thanks. However, I think the following points need to be considered:

      – I studied archeology in college and have visited a few digs. Archaeology is part science and part art, and requires an awful lot of assumption and interpretation. It’s normal for scholars to disagree on a wide variety of topics. And when someone couches their unsubstantiated conclusions by saying “most scholars agree that …”, the deja vu kicks into overdrive and makes me want to say “we demand evidence, not opinions” (with apologies to Erasmus).

      – Most secular scholars place the Exodus under Ramses II c. 1270BC. ..and then claim that the IP is too old, as the latest date for it is 1400BC (according to an older Wikipedia article). But most Biblical scholars place the Exodus c. 1450BC under Thutmose III or Amunhotep II. That places it right on time with the IP. As the IP gained in popularity, “many scholars” suddenly discovered a need to push the date back prior to 1800BC, and once again dusted off the assertion that it predates the Exodus by hundreds of years. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether this re-dating was science or convenience. (“The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt” – Toby Wilkinson; “A Compilation to Ancient Egypt” – Alan Lloyd). We’ll note for the record that these scholars are remarkably quick to cite “many scholars,” and are awfully slow to provide actual evidence for their dates.

      – The five plagues listed need not be completely identical to the Ten Plagues, and need not mention the other plages. There are multiple obvious reasons for this, not the least of which being that Ipuwer himself may not have had all the data (News traveled a lot slower and a lot less completely back then). And there’s the more obvious item: much of Ipuwer’s lament is missing. We cannot claim that he was silent about the other plagues. We simply don’t know.

      – Ipuwer’s references to other conditions (the ones you didn’t mention) are not relevant until hard evidence demonstrates incompatibility with the Biblical narrative. For all we know, he could be poetically recounting the greater history of Egypt, and also including some events from the Exodus. At this juncture, the inclusion of additional material has no bearing whatsoever on the factual viability of the Biblical account, nor does it require that we conclude he was not writing about the Exodus.

      Lastly —

      – Even if the IP was written by a priest hundreds of years prior to the events Moses wrote, there may still be a viable connection nonetheless. We need to note that in several places in the Biblical account, it is explicitly stated that the Ten Plagues were a judgment by the One True God against the many false gods of Egypt (Exod 12:12; 18:11, etc). It should not be inconceivable for the One True God to use elements from their own priestly writings to demolish their own religious system. In this case, the IP myth would merely be fodder for a literal and real divine judgment.

      Hope this helps.

  • Hubersepp

    Yes, the papyrus is talking about an economic and political disaster but aside from that, it has little in common with the mentioned plagues from the bible. For example: there is no mention of hail in the Ipuwer papyrus, nor is fire mentioned in a literal meaning (only in symbolic meanings as in “hearts being on fire” and “Behold, the fire has mounted up on high. Its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land”). I would recommend to everyone to read the source text themselves and drawing their own conclusions. To me, the similarities are not convincing and don’t lead to the conclusion that the bible and the papyrus are talking about the same event.

    • admin

      Hi Hubersepp,
      Thanks so much for your comments. You’re absolutely correct that each person interested should read the source text. The link I provided in the original article is now broken, so I’ve updated it with another link. I don’t particularly care for the way the author has the source text formatted, but it’s there for the reading nonetheless.

      You might want to double-check the Ipuwer papyrus about the reference to fire. I’m no Egyptologist, so I have to rely on English translations. And in at least one of the English translations, there are several clear references to fire. And not just fire, but fire mixed with hail, same as we see in the Exodus narrative. (There seems to be several versions of translations available online, some of which differ from Alan Gardiner’s original work in 1909. I’ll have to research this further. In the meantime, Anne Habermehl is an independent researcher and public speaker who has submitted an academic paper on the subject, pointing out that the connections between the IP and Exodus are viable.


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