The Ipuwer Papyrus | 22 min

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Archaeology is a great scientific field to look for biblical evidence. The Ipuwer Papyrus is a controversial collection of poems from ancient Egypt with striking similarities to Exodus. This lesson covers the discovery of the Ipuwer Papyrus and its parallels to the events of the book of Exodus.

An introduction to the Ipuwer Papyrus

The Ipuwer Papyrus seems to be an eye witness account from an Egyptian poet of several catastrophes that struck Egypt which mirror the widely known ten plagues of Egypt from the Bible. Using clues from scripture (1st Kings 6:1) we can approximate the date of the Exodus around 1440 BC which matches the approximate date of the papyrus (a large number of scholars place it around 1440 BC while others approximate it in ranges from 1290 to 1550 BC). This is another case of the science of archeology confirming the Biblical record of history. Download the full paper, power point and other resources below.

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The original Ipuwer papyrus held at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities.
The original Ipuwer papyrus held at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities.

The Ipuwer Papyrus, also called the Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto or the Admonitions of Ipuwer, is today housed in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands. It describes catastrophes (plagues) that befell ancient Egypt that are extremely similar to those recorded in the Bible is the Book of Exodus.  

During the time of Moses God smote the Egyptians with plagues. Scholars disagree about when the event took place in ancient history; but if one examines the Holy Scriptures themselves, they give a time frame of the events.

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord.

I Kings 6:1 (ESV)

In this verse, God gives a point in time. Four hundred and eighty years after the first Passover in Egypt occurred Solomon began to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Many scholarly documents place this event around 960 B.C. This would mean the Exodus account of the plagues took place around 1440 B.C.  

Sphinx head of a young Amenhotep II, Musee du Louvre
Sphinx head of a young Amenhotep II, Musee du Louvre, Photograph by Rama cc BY-SA 3.0 fr on Wikimedia

Many scholars reject this date based upon the theory that Rameses the Great was the Pharaoh of the Exodus as seen in so many motion pictures. But Rameses is believed to have ruled around 1279–1213 B.C., thus he was not born yet in 1440 B.C. According to the biblical timeline, Rameses would have lived during the period of the Book of Judges. What is clear is that the Bible does not mention the name of the Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. Many archaeologists believe the Pharaoh of the Exodus was Amenhotep II, son of Thutmoses III. His reign fits the biblical timeline.

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Scholars cannot agree on the date the Ipuwer Papyrus was composed. It is an incomplete literary work that does describe what appears to be the plagues of Egypt in an extremely similar way as the Bible has them recorded. Some scholars place the literary work around 1550 B.C., while others say it is a copy that was composed closer to 1290 B.C. No conclusive evidence exists to pinpoint the exact date of its composition, but because of its written style it appears to have been written by an eyewitness. A large number of scholars place it around the time of the biblical date of 1440 B.C.

It was written in Egyptian hieratic script, not in hieroglyphics, by a person named Ipuwer. He appears to be writing this in a poetic style. We know nothing more about him except that he seems to have been an eyewitness to the plagues of Egypt. The surviving papyrus has him writing about 10 plagues that besieged his country.

Below is an English translation of the hieratic script, followed by a description and then a passage in the Bible that it corresponds to.

1. “There’s blood everywhere…Lo the River is blood.” (2:5-6, 2:10)

This appears to describe that the Nile River had turned to blood. This event was a plague in Egypt caused when God commanded Moses to curse the Nile.  The similarity is striking to what is recorded in the Bible.

Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

Exodus 7:20-21 (ESV)

2. “One thirsts for water.” (2:10)

Here we read that the people are thirsty. This seems logical since the Nile was a major source of water. We read about this event in Exodus.

And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.

Exodus 7:24 (ESV)

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3. “Lo, trees are felled, branches stripped.” (4:14, 6:16)

Part of one of the plagues that often goes undiscussed is that the plague of hail destroyed the trees and crops of Egypt. The biblical account does contain this.

The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.

Exodus 9:24 (ESV)

4. “Lo, grain is lacking on all sides.” (6:3)

As a result of the plague of hail, the Egyptians harvest was destroyed. The Ipuwer Papyrus mentions the actual grain being exhausted, not just the plants. In other words, the plants were at seed and the harvest was ready to begin. The biblical account says the same thing.

The flax and the barley were struck down, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.

Exodus 9:31 (ESV)
brown wheat field under blue cloudy sky
Photo by LilacDragonfly on

5. “Birds find neither fruits nor herbs.” (6:1)

This interesting phrase depicts a land where the birds cannot find food, not in fruit form or herbs. This could be from the prior plague or from a plague of locusts. The point is that, as the biblical text states, not a green thing remained because of the plagues.

The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt.

Exodus 10:15 (ESV)

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6. “Groaning is throughout the land, mingled with laments.” (3:14)

This phrase describes the Egyptians moaning for their dead throughout the country. The biblical description of the Passover is very similar in nature and possibly describes the same event.

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.

Exodus 12:30 (ESV)

7. “Lo, many dead are buried in the river, the stream is the grave, the tomb became a stream, and he who puts his brother in the ground is everywhere.” (2:13)

This sorrowful statement parallels the Book of Numbers description of Egyptians burying their dead after the Passover plague. As there was not a house in Egypt where someone was not dead, massive burials were occurring.

…while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them.

Numbers 33:4 (ESV)
The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus painted on the wall of the tomb of Horemheb
The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus painted on the wall of the tomb of Horemheb, Photograph by A. Parrot CC BY 2.0 on Wikimedia

8. “All is ruin!” (3:13)

This statement sums up the condition of the great empire of Egypt. It had been devastated, not only the natural resources and the population, but each plague was directed at one or more of the major gods the ancient Egyptians worshipped.

The Egyptians had witnessed God’s power and greatness like no other people before. They had witnessed:

  • The plague of blood against the Egyptian god Hapi.
  • The plague of frogs against the Egyptian god Heqet.
  • The plague of gnats against the Egyptian god Geb.
  • The plague of insects against the Egyptian god Khepri.
  • The plague on the livestock against the Egyptian god Mehet-Weret.
  • The plague of boils against the Egyptian god Imhotep.
  • The plague of hail against the Egyptian god Nut.
  • The plague of locusts against the Egyptian god Osiris.
  • The plague of darkness against the Egyptian god Ra.
  • The plague of the firstborn against the Egyptian god Isis and Pharoah himself.

 Again, we read that the biblical account in the Book of Exodus parallels Ipuwer’s writing.

Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, “How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?”

Exodus 10:7 (ESV)

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9. “The land is without light.” (9:11)

This statement written by Ipuwer is amazing! One of the plagues mentioned in the Bible is the plague of darkness over the Egyptians. Although some critics have tried to explain this event (if they agree it happened) as being a solar eclipse, no solar eclipse lasts longer than 8 minutes. Yet, Ipuwer is writing about the whole land of the Egyptians being without light. In Exodus 10, we read that God smote the land of the Egyptians with darkness for three days.

So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.

Exodus 10:22-23 (ESV)

10. “Gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze . . . are fastened on the neck of female slaves.” (3:2-3:3)

Here lies one of the most astonishing phrases on the Ipuwer Papyrus. The poet names precious and semi-precious stones and metals of the time being placed on the necks of female slaves. This is important for a number of reasons. First, it acknowledges that the Egyptians had slaves. According to the Bible, the Israelites were at this time slaves to the Egyptians. This is recorded in the Bible in the first chapter of the Book of Exodus.

So they [the Egyptians] ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

Exodus 1:13-14 (ESV)

 Second, slaves are not commonly honored with precious and semi-precious stones and metals, yet this line of the Papyrus distinctly states that slaves are adorned with such decorations.

Third, according to the Bible, the Israelites (slaves) asked the Egyptians for and were given precious and semi-precious stones and metals at the end of the plagues.

Fourth, it could be read that Ipuwer was commenting on the absurdness of the wealth of Egypt adorning the neck of female slaves. Yet, the Bible references such an event after the last plague.

The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

Exodus 12:35-36 (ESV)
Lapis Lazuli in its natural state, Photograph by Hannes Grobe CC BY-SA 2.5 on Wikimedia

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 In summary, this ancient poem of a person named Ipuwer is an astonishing discovery that supports the Bible, specifically the highly controversial story of the Exodus account. Critics of the Bible frequently adhere to the Bible and especially the Exodus as being nothing more than a myth that was developed many centuries later and not a true historic event. Yet, this papyrus yields evidence that these plagues and the story of the Exodus are a fact.

Translations of the Ipuwer Papyrus

The admonitions of an Egyptian sage from a hieratic papyrus in Leiden (Pap. Leiden 344 recto) – 1909 original Translation. The translation begins on page 19.

Bible Blender Translation with commentary: Go to Translation >>>

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