Text #9426"Ipuwer Papyrus", in .
The Admonitions of Ipuwer is an incomplete Egyptian literary work known from a single papyrus (the Ipuwer Papyrus, officially Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto) held in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands. The poem is no earlier than the late Twelfth Dynasty (c.1991-1803 BCE).
In the Admonitions a man named Ipuwer complains that the world has been turned upside-down, and demands that the “Lord of All” remember his religious duties and destroy his enemies. The poem is the world’s earliest known treatise on political ethics, suggesting that a good king is one who controls unjust officials, thus carrying out the will of the gods. Ipuwer is often put forward in popular literature as confirmation of the Biblical exodus story, but these arguments ignore the many points on which Ipuwer contradicts Exodus.
It was previously thought that Ipuwer presents a portrait of Egypt in the First Intermediate Period, but it is now agreed that it dates from a later period (the late Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt, the second of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt dynasties). Ipuwer is not, in any case, a reliable guide to early Egyptian history, given that it is known only from a much later New Kingdom text preserved on a single fragmentary papyrus dating from around 1250 BCE (the New Kingdom Nineteenth Dynasty).
In the poem, Ipuwer, (a name typical of the period 1850-1450 BCE) complains that the world has been turned upside-down: a woman who had not a single box now has furniture, a girl who looked at her face in the water now owns a mirror. He demands that the Lord of All (a title which can be applied both to the king and to the creator sun-god) should destroy his enemies and remember his religious duties. This is followed by a violent description of disorder, then a passage describing better days, and finally by the reply of the Lord of All.
The Admonitions is said to be the world’s earliest known treatise on political ethics, suggesting that a good king is one who controls unjust officials, thus carrying out the will of the gods. It is a textual lamentation, close to Sumerian city laments and to Egyptian laments for the dead, using the past (the destruction of Memphis at the end of the Old Kingdom) as a gloomy backdrop to an ideal future.
The archeological evidence does not support the story of the Exodus, and most histories of ancient Israel no longer consider it relevant. Nevertheless, Ipuwer has often put forward in popular literature as confirmation of the Biblical account, most notably because of its statement that “the river is blood” and its frequent references to servants running away. (An extension of the same reading is the idea that both Ipuwer and the Book of Exodus are records of a volcanic eruption on the Aegean island of Thera). These arguments ignore the many points on which Ipuwer contradicts Exodus, such as the fact that its Asiatics are arriving in Egypt rather than leaving, and the likelihood that that the “river is blood” phrase may refer to the red sediment colouring the Nile during disastrous floods, or may simply be a poetic image of turmoil.
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