Explaining the Ipuwer Papyrus

There is an enigmatic Egyptian document called the Ipuwer Papyrus which is believed to have been created sometime in the nineteenth dynasty. It contains a text known as Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage, which itself contains potential evidence for the ten plagues of the Exodus.

Beyond simply referencing vague misfortunes, the author of Admonitions relays specific kinds of events that bear an uncanny resemblance to the ten plagues of the Exodus, as well as Jewish scripture. Consider the following:

“… he raised the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile before the eyes of Pharaoh and before the eyes of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile turned to blood” (Exodus 17:20)“Behold, the river is blood, and yet men drink of it – Men shrink from tasting… they thirst after water.”
“And the children of Israel did according to Moses’ order, and they borrowed from the Egyptians silver objects, golden objects, and garments.” (Exodus 12:35)“Forsooth, gold and lapis, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze, stone of Yebhet and [?] are fastened on the necks of female slaves.”
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to cause it to lead them on the way and at night in a pillar of fire to give them light, [they thus could] travel day and night.” (Exodus 13:21)“Behold, the fire has mounted up on high – Its burning goes forth against the enemies of the land.”
“Aaron cast his staff before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent… Each one of [the Egyptian magicians] cast down his staff, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs.” (Exodus 7:10-12)“Behold, the serpent is taken from its hole – The secrets of the kings of Egypt are divulged.”
The author of this post owns a hardcopy of this document, with a professional translation.

However, there are two problem with using this document as evidence for the Exodus.

First, it is generally accepted that the Exodus happened sometime in the 1300s BCE, and some authoritative Jewish sources place it specifically in 1307 BCE. This, according to mainstream Egyptologists, is during the relatively successful reign of Horemheb (18th Dyn). Horemheb’s tenure as pharaoh has no evidence of widespread catastrophe, and in fact it seems he did quite well.

Second, the Ipuwer Papyrus is dated to the nineteenth dynasty, however Admonitions of an Egyptian Sage is believed to be much older based on textual interpretations. This means that, according to Egyptologists, it likely predates the Exodus.

However, Egyptologists have no idea where the text came from or why it was so significant to the Egyptians to preserve across so many dynasties. Is there an answer to the mystery of the Ipuwer Papyrus?

Fixing the Dynastic Chronology

Based on my research, the most likely answer is that not only was there an occasional divide between Upper and Lower Egypt, with some dynasties ruling simultaneously, there were also likely regional differences in heiroglyphs and language given the relative separation between Thebes and Memphis in ancient times (about one week of hiking along the Nile).

In one minute or less, some of the evidence supporting these radical claims includes the following:

  • The “Sothic System”, one of the primary dating methods in Egyptology, has been shown to be off by almost two hundred years. Correcting for this issue compresses the history of Ancient Egypt and makes the dynastic chronology impossible.
  • Multiple lines of evidence, including the Karnak King List, indicate that there may have been two pharaohs at certain times in Egypt’s history, one ruling Upper Egypt from Thebes, and the other ruling Lower Egypt, from Memphis. This fixes the Sothic compression problem, but makes the history of Ancient Egypt look very different.
  • There are geological differences between Upper and Lower Egypt that would make radiocarbon samples taken from Lower Egypt appear older than they actually are, further confusing the mainstream timeline.

Taken together, this means that it is completely reasonable to suggest that eyewitness accounts of the Biblical plagues were recorded in Lower Egypt, which is where everyone agrees the Exodus would have happened. Given the importance to both kingdoms, it would have then made its way to Upper Egypt where the language was modified somewhat by the scribes there.

What about Ramesses II?

If Horemheb wasn’t the pharaoh of the Exodus, who was? Movies like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt say it was Ramesses II, but that doesn’t fit with the Jewish timeline. Moreover, Ramesses II was a very successful pharaoh, with multiple building campaigns and military victories. He definitely didn’t get washed away in the Red Sea like the Bible says.

When we consider a more reasonable timeline of Ancient Egypt, the evidence for the Exodus – beyond the Ipuwer Papyrus – becomes quite striking. I have compiled some of the best and latest scholarship on the matter in a book called “Pieces of the Puzzle”, available here.