Many scholars view the biblical account of the 10 plagues of Egypt as fiction. But a remarkable manuscript from ancient Egypt records events that align extraordinarily well with the events surrounding Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
The Ipuwer Papyrus, also known as the “Admonitions of Ipuwer,” was written by the royal scribe Ipuwer and describes a time of terrible starvation, drought, death and violent upheavals in ancient Egypt. The lengthy scroll dates to circa 13th century b.c.e. but is known to be a copy of an earlier manuscript. The dating of the original is unknown; dates for its compilation range from the early 20th century b.c.e. to the 15th century b.c.e.—the latter matching more closely with the date of the Exodus.
Consider the following statements from the Ipuwer Papyrus and compare them with the biblical text.
Ipuwer Papyrus Vs. The Bible
Indeed, the river is blood, yet men drink of it.
Exodus 7:20: [A]nd all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
Indeed, [hearts] are violent, pestilence is throughout the land, blood is everywhere, death is not lacking ….
Exodus 9:15: Surely now I had put forth My hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence ….
Exodus 7:19: [A]nd there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt ….
Indeed, magic spells are divulged; smw-and shnw-spells are frustrated because they are remembered by men.
Exodus 8:14-15; 9:11: And the magicians did so with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not …. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: ‘This is the finger of God’ …. And the magicians could not stand before Moses ….
Indeed, all animals, their hearts weep; cattle moan because of the state of the land ….
Exodus 9:3: [B]ehold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which are in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the herds, and upon the flocks; there shall be a very grievous murrain.
Behold, the fire has gone up on high …. Indeed, gates, columns and walls are burned up ….
Exodus 9:23-24: [A]nd fire ran down unto the earth …. So there was hail, and fire flashing up amidst the hail, very grievous ….
[T]owns are destroyed and Upper [southern] Egypt has become an empty waste.
Exodus 8:18; 9:26: And I will set apart in that day the land of Goshen [northern Egypt], in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there …. Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail.
Indeed, everywhere barley has perished ….
Exodus 9:31: And the flax and the barley were smitten ….
The land is without light ….
Exodus 10:22: [A]nd there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.
Indeed, every dead person is as a well-born man …. Indeed, the children of princes are dashed against walls ….
Exodus 12:29: [T]he LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive ….
Indeed, men are few, and he who places his brother in the ground is everywhere ….
Exodus 12:30: [T]here was not a house where there was not one dead.
Indeed, laughter is perished … it is groaning that is throughout the land ….
Exodus 12:30: [A]nd there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
‘Spoiling’ the Egyptians
After the final plague, the Egyptians demanded that the Israelites leave, even offering them personal belongings and treasures. The Bible says the Israelites took the wealth of Egypt and departed with a “high hand.” This too is reflected in the Ipuwer text.
Indeed, poor men have become owners of wealth, and he who could not make sandals for himself is now a possessor of riches ….
Exodus 12:35: And the children of Israel … asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.
Indeed, gold and lapis lazuli, silver and turquoise … are strung on the necks of maidservants ….
Exodus 11:2: [E]very woman [borrowed] of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.
Indeed, noblemen are in distress, while the poor man is full of joy.
Exodus 14:8: [F]or the children of Israel went out with a high hand.
Behold, he who did not know his god now offers to him with incense of another ….
Exodus 6:3; 10:25: [B]y My name Yahweh I made Me not known to them. … And Moses said [to Pharaoh]: ‘Thou must also give into our hand sacrifices and burnt-offerings, that we may sacrifice unto the LORD our God.
The Blame Game
“What the ancestors foretold has arrived,” Ipuwer wrote near the start of his scroll. Indeed, the events leading up to the Exodus had been foretold to Abraham, some 500 years earlier (Genesis 15). This prophecy was circulated among the pre-slavery Israelites living in Egypt (Genesis 50:24-25).
In the latter part of his papyrus scroll, Ipuwer inserted an interesting thought, hinting at a reason for the carnage that came upon the land:
“He brings coolness upon heat; men say: He is the herdsman of mankind, and there is no evil in his heart. Though his herds are few, yet he spends a day to collect them, their hearts being on fire. Would that he had perceived their nature in the first generation; then he would have imposed obstacles, he would have stretched out his arm against them, he would have destroyed their herds and their heritage.”
This sounds remarkably like the arrival of Jacob, his 12 sons and extended family to Egypt. They were welcomed in peacefully as herdsmen and given the land of Goshen to raise their livestock (Genesis 46:34). It’s as if Ipuwer were saying, If only the pharaoh who had allowed them into the country had prevented them from establishing themselves—if only he had destroyed their herds and heritage! They would not have multiplied in our land and caused such curses to come upon us.
And could the Ipuwer Papyrus even contain a reference to Moses? “Behold, Egypt is fallen to pouring of water, and he who poured water on the ground has carried off the strong man in misery.”One of the miracles designated to “prove” God had chosen Moses was a “pouring of water.” Exodus 4:9: “[I]f they will not believe … neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water … shall become blood ….” Ipuwer could have referred to such a miracle as the harbinger to Egypt’s destruction—“Egypt is fallen to pouring of water”—as well as this individual “carrying off the strong man in misery,” perhaps referring to what happened to Pharaoh himself.