The Instruction of Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht
XIX / XXth Dynasty - ca. 1292 - 1075 BCE

the tranquil and honest man
who lets his heart enter its shrine

by Wim van den Dungen

Amenhotep, son of Hapu
XVIIIth Dynasty - Cairo Museum

1. The source : the Budge Papyrus - BM 10474.
2. The person of Amen-em-apt and his time.
3. The text of the Instruction of Amen-em-apt.
4. Notes.
5. Remarks.
6. Egyptian sacred literature.
7. Egyptian wisdom literature.

1. The source : the Budge Papyrus - BM 10474.

discovery and early research

The Instruction of Amen-em-apt (Amenemope or Amenophis), son of Kanakht, is one of the numerous splendid and important treasures which Budge, on his first mission to Egypt, acquired for the (at the time imperial) British Museum in 1888. The earliest reference to it in print was a vague remark by Lepage Renouf soon after. As late as 1923 (when the papyrus was first presented to the public), did the official publication appear in the second series of Budge's famous Facsimiles of Egyptian Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, where the text is photographed (plates 1 - 14), transcribed into hieroglyphs from the original and translated. In his commentary, Sir Ernest drew attention to the resemblance of some passages to sentences in the Book of Proverbs ! Budge's transcription was deemed by Griffith (1926) "generally very correct" (p.192). Another authoritative translation of the period was that done by Erman (1924).

In 1925, Lange published Das Weisheitsbuch des Amenemope, but he lacked access to the original Budge Papyrus and its facsimile had led to misreading. Griffith (1926) based his work on an examination of the papyrus and he verified the old readings and obtained new ones. He pointed to certain imperfections in the facsimile.

Unfortunately, a coherent translation remained far from realized. As the verbal system of Egyptian (to name one of the important grammatical discoveries) was refined after the second World War, the philosophy of Amen-em-apt remained obscure. Lichtheim (1976) and Brunner (1991) produced new translations, which allow the depth of this wisdom to finally surface.

literary features

The Instruction of Amen-em-apt is a hieratic text on the twenty-seven pages of the recto of the Budge Papyrus (measuring just over 12 feet in length and 10 inches in width) and the first line of the verso. It is the oldest extant metric poem with numbered chapters. The text is arranged in separate lines of poetry, which is unusual (the oldest example dates from the XIIth Dynasty). There is no rhyming or definite measures, but poetry is realized by parallelism, allowing the lines to run through in couplets, grouped in larger divisions like the triptych and quatrain. Parallelism occurs in several forms : similarities, elaborations and contrasts. The text is carefully composed and unified. This through the use of thirty numbered chapters and the presence of three basic themes : tranquility (heatedness) and honesty (dishonesty), as well as the power of destiny & fate (i.e. the will of "the god", "god" or "Lord of All").

As the much older Instruction of Ptahhotep, the instruction is complete. Small portions of it were found on a papyrus in Stockholm, three writing tablets in Turin, Paris and Moscow, and an ostracon in the Cairo Museum. This variety points to its popularity.

Griffith (1926, p.226) concludes that the script and orthography of Senu in BM 10474 point to a scribe of the XXVth Dynasty at the earliest, and the reign of Darius at the latest, whereas the Turin tablets (probably copied from the papyrus by dictation) cannot be earlier that the Budge Papyrus. The literary composition of the work is generally assigned to the Ramesside period (XIX - XXth Dynasty or ca. 1292 - 1075 BCE), whereas the personality of the sage invoked is not earlier than the XVIIIth Dynasty. Could it be that Senu was part of the general "restoration" efforts of the "Ethiopian", "Nubian" Dynasty (cf. Pharaoh Shabaka and the Memphis theology) ? Maybe he was a scribe of the Saite Dynasty (664 - 525 BCE), and its return to the "old canon" ?

So following temporal layers may be discerned :

  • the Budge Papyrus :
    copied by the scribe Senu from earlier sources between ca.712 - 332 BCE ;

  • the actual literary composition :
    the instruction was written between ca. 1292 - 1075 BCE ;

  • the person of Amen-em-apt :
    lived (or was projected to live) not earlier than ca.1539 BCE.

The translation of the text of our sage proved to be difficult. For Griffith (1926), this was due to the artificial mode of expression, using rare and poetical words and idioms. Concise phraseology and few grammatical connectors, short and disconnected sentences, inexact spelling and scribal errors point to the possibility of many errors. Half a century later, Lichtheim (1976) added that many allusions escaped her.

The present translation is that of a philosopher and a dedicated amateur of things Egyptian. For the love of it, I have tried to stay close to the original, explaining difficult passages in footnotes. No doubt those more learned in Egyptian may have reasons to smile.

"Do not erase another's furrow,
it profits You to keep it sound.
Plow your fields and You will find what You need,
You will receive bread from your own threshing-floor."
Amen-em-apt, chapter 6:23-26

2 The person of Amen-em-apt and his time.

a poetical name & family for a wise man ?

The sage of our instruction is called Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht, may have been a contemporary of Amenhotep, son of Hapu. He could also have been a literary figure used by a wise Ramesside scribe. Except for "overseer of fields" (1:13) and "scribe who determined the offerings for all the gods" (1:22), no other of the title cited by our sage are found on the monuments or papyri ! His titles seem paraphrases in literary, poetical form.

Let us analyze our sage's poetical name : Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht, husband of Tawosre, and father of many children, the youngest being Hor-em-maakher, the recipient of the wisdom teachings of his father, a series of living pictures dealing with the "teaching for life", enabling everybody to receive the greatest gift of god, namely Maat, justice & truth, nurtured on the Nile over many centuries.

"Amen-em-apt" ("Amun in Karnak") can be found from the XVIIIth Dynasty to Ptolemaic times (Amenophis or Amenemope). It appears that several wise men of Egypt bore this name : "Amenemopi", author of some proverbs written on the back of the Budge Papyrus, "Amenhotep, son of Hapu", a learned scribe and counselor of Amenhotep III, and our "Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht".

"Apt" ("ipt") means "count, calculate, reckon". The name "Amen-em-apt", ending with the determinative of "place" (O1), is suggestive of the controller of the measure and recorder of the markers on the borders of the fields mentioned in the prologue.

"Kanakht" or "Strong Bull" is unusual as a name, but a regular part of Pharaoh's Horus name throughout the New Kingdom. "Tawosre" ("the powerful") is frequent in the XVIIIth Dynasty and born by a queen of the XIXth, consort of Pharaoh Seti II. In the New Kingdom, "Hor-em-maakher" or "Horus of the Horizon" (Harmachis), was identified with the sphinx at Giza, looking toward the eastern horizon. The name dates as far back as the XIIth Dynasty, and seems to appear in the Saite period as well as in early Ptolemaic documents.

the political situation at the time of Amen-em-apt

Politically, the New Kingdom brought internationalization, which defied the particularism of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. From Myceanae, Knossos, Mitanni, Babylon, and from the Hittites, Assyrians, Libyans & Nubians gifts & trade goods were flowing in. The XVIIIth & XIXth Dynasties produced great monuments of theocratic statesmanship.

The reign of Amenhotep III was a period of stability and peace, the foundations of which had been laid by Tuthmosis IV, who had brought to end decades of military conflict between the two great powers of the era, Egypt and the kingdom of Mitanni, that struggled concerning control over northern Syria. The court of Amenhotep III became an international center visited by ambassadors of many nations. Even Asiatic deities such as Reshef, Astarte, Baal and Qudshu were worshipped.  Luxurious living in a setting of peace reached its climax under Amenhotep III. He never set foot in his Asiatic empire but acquired princesses for his harem and lavished gold on his allies.

The age of empire did not focus on power, wealth and luxury only. The intellectual horizon had also broadened. Curiosity and tolerance for foreigners rose. Scribes had to be bilingual and foreign languages were fashionable. Especially religious thinking had been affected by this internationalism.

The temple of Luxor, the double temple of Soleb and Sedeinga (Nubia) and the mortuary temple at the West bank of Thebes (destroyed by an earthquake, leaving the 720 tons Colossi of Memnon, suggesting the original size of the building and Pharaoh's megalomania) all witness that Amenhotep III was one of the greatest builders Egypt had known. He strove to surpass his predecessors in number, size and splendour of his buildings. He also used unusual building materials like gold, silver, lapis lazuli, jasper, turquoise, bronze and copper and noted the exact weights of each, in order to capture "the weight of this monument".

"By the thirteenth year of the reign, with Nubia stabilized and the vast empire at peace, Egypt was at the height of its wealth and power. The rule of Amenhotep III saw four decades of prosperity uninterrupted by war ; for the people of Egypt it was a time of unparalleled security and optimism - a golden age presided over by a golden king. To Amenhotep's grateful subjects it must have seemed that this success proved that he was at one with the gods themselves."
Fletcher, 2000, p.76.

Amenhotep III celebrated his Sed-festival in his thirtieth regal year. Many dated inscriptions are preserved on vessels from his palace at el-Malqata, on the West bank of Thebes. He celebrated two repetitions of this festival before his death. Japanese excavations uncovered a podium for a throne. It has thirty steps, which stand for the thirty years that had gone by. The festival was clearly a repetition of the coronation. In it, he called himself "the Dazzling Sun" and at his side his chief wife, Teye, played the role of Hathor, who stood for all aspects of rejuvenation & regeneration. During the festival, Amenhotep III endeavored to gather all the deities of the Two Lands to perform its ceremonies in front of the shrines containing their various divine images ... He is also seen worshipping and offering to himself as a god !

"The importance of the Aten grew throughout Amenhotep III's long reign. In the last decade of his rule the king even officially identified himself as the sun god the Aten."
Fletcher, 2000, p.61.

What we know of Amenhotep III proves that he was not an "enlightened" ruler, but that he instead stayed deeply rooted in traditional piety. Although the New Solar Theology was active around him, he prevented this single god (Re) from gaining the upper hand. Large scarabs connect him with numerous deities.

The story goes that the aged & sick Pharaoh (who had received from the king of Mitanni a healing statue of Ishtar) commissioned (instead of asking Ishtar) a total of 730 (2 x 365) statues of the Lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, consort of Ptah, she who dispensed illness and its cure. He set up this Litany in Stone in various temples at Thebes to protect him day & night. Clearly Amenhotep III did not want to promote Re and his physical disk, the Aten, alone ! 

"There were definitely tendencies -and not only at the royal court- that ran counter to the New Solar Theology and its elevation of a single god over the entire pantheon in a manner that was altogether too one-sided and, in that respect, un-Egyptian." -
Hornung, 1999, p.20.

The Instruction of Amen-em-apt
Amen-em-apt, son of Kanakht for his son Hor-em-maakher

(...) : additions in English
[...] : restoration
--- : short lacuna
{...} : uncertain or corrupt

Titles in teal were added and the numbering is redone (on the right side, the beginning of the sections of the papyrus itself were added in bold). This translation is based on all mentioned previous translations by Griffith, Lange, Lichtheim & Brunner as well as on the hieroglyphic transcription of the hieratic by Lange and Griffith.


the book

01  Beginning of the teaching for life,                                                       
02  the instructions for well-being,
03  every rule for relations with elders, (and)
04  for conduct toward magistrates.
05  Knowing how to answer one who speaks,
06  to reply to one who sends a message,
07  so as to direct him on the paths of life,
08  to make him prosper upon Earth,
09  to let his heart enter its shrine,
10  steering (it) clear of evil, 
11  to save him from the mouth of strangers,
12  to let (him) be praised in the mouth of men. 

the author

13  Made by the overseer of fields, experienced in his office,
14  the offspring of a scribe of Egypt.
15  The overseer of grains, who controls the wedjat-measure,
16  who sets the harvest-dues for his Lord,
17  who registers the islands of new land,
18  in the great name of his Majesty,
19  who records the markers on the borders of fields, 
20  who acts for the King in his listing of taxes,                                        
21  who makes the land-register of the Black Land.

22  The scribe who determines the offerings for all the gods,
23  who gives land-leases to the people,
24  the overseer of grains, [provider of]
5 foods,
25  who supplies the granary with grains.
26  The truly silent in Thinite Ta-wer,
27  the justified in Ipu,
28  who owns a pyramid on the west of Senu,
29  who has a chapel at Abydos,
30  Amen-em-apt, the son of Kanakht,
31  the justified in Ta-wer.

the addressee

(For) his son, the youngest of his children,
33  the smallest of his family,
34  the devotee of Min-Kamutef,
35  the water-pourer of Wennofer,
36  who places Horus on his father's throne,
37  who {guards}
11 him in his noble shrine,
38  who ---
39  the watcher
12 of the mother of god,                                               III
40  inspector of the black cattle of the terrace of Min,
41  who protects Min in his shrine :
42  Hor-em-maakher is his true name,
43  child of a nobleman of Ipu,
44  son of the sistrum-player of Shu and Tefnut, 
45  and chief musician of Horus, Tawosre.
46  He says :


"Chapter 1 : the charge to his son

01  Give your ears, hear the sayings,
02  give your heart
13 to understand them.
03  It is good to put them in your heart,
14 (but)
04  woe to him who neglects them !

05  Let them rest in the casket of your belly,
06  may they be bolted in your heart.
07  When there rises a whirlwind of words,
08  they will be a mooring-post for your tongue.

09  If You make your life with these in your heart,
10  You will find it a success.
11  You will find my words a storehouse for life, (and)                           
12  your body will be well upon Earth.

Chapter 2 : do not steal

01  Beware of robbing a poor wretch,
02  of attacking a cripple.
03  Do not stretch out your hand to touch an old man,
04  nor {snatch (at) the word of}
19 a great one.
05  Do not let yourself be sent on a wicked errand, 
06  nor be friends with him who does it.
07  Do not raise an outcry against one who attacks You, 
08  nor return him an answer yourself.

09  He who does evil, the shore rejects him,
10  its floodwater carries him away,
11  the north wind comes down to end his hour,
12  it mingles with the thunderstorm, (and)
13  the storm cloud is tall, the crocodiles are vicious.
14  You heated man, how are You now ?
15  He cries out, his voice reaches heaven.
16  It is the Moon
20 who declares his crime.
17  Steer, (so that) we may ferry the wicked (over),                           
18  (as) we do not act like his kind !
19  Lift him up, give him your hand,
20  commit him (in) the hands of the god.
21  Fill his belly with bread of your own,
22  that he be sated and see.

23  Another thing good in the heart of the god
22 :
24  to pause before speaking.

Chapter 3 : prudence in speech

01  Do not start a quarrel with a hot-mouthed man,
02  nor needle him with words.
03  Pause before an intruder, bend before an attacker,
04  sleep (on it) before speaking.

05  A storm that bursts like fire in straw,
06  such is the heated man in his hour.
07  Withdraw from him, leave him alone.
08  The god
knows 23 how to answer him.

09  If You make your life with these (words) in your heart,
10  Your children will observe them.

Chapter 4 : the two types of men

01  As to the heated man
24 in the temple,                                                   VI
02  he is like a tree growing {indoors},
25 (only)
03  a moment lasts its growth of {shoots},
26 (and)
04  its end comes about in the {woodshed},
27 (or)
05  it is floated far from its place,
06  the flame is its burial shroud.

07  The truly silent, who keeps apart,
08  he is like a tree grown in a meadow,
09  it greens, it doubles its yield,
10  it stands in front of its Lord,
11  its fruit is sweet, its shade delightful, 
12  its end is reached in the garden.

Chapter 5 : honest and tranquil service

01  Do not falsify the temple rations.
02  Do not grasp and You will find profit.
03  Do not remove a servant of god,
04  so as to do favours to another.

05  Do not say : 'Today is like tomorrow.'
06  How will this end ?
07  Comes tomorrow, today has vanished.                                          
08  The deep has become the water's edge. 
09  Crocodiles are bared, hippopotami stranded.
10  The fish crowded together.
11  Jackals are sated, birds are in feast.
12  The fishnets have been drained.
13  But all the silent in the temple,
14  they say : 'Re's blessing is great !'
15  Cling to the silent, then You find life, (and)
16  your being will prosper upon Earth.

Chapter 6 : steal no land and eat from your own field

01  Do not move the markers on the borders of fields.
02  Nor shift the position of the measuring-cord.
03  Do not be greedy for a cubit of land.
04  Nor encroach on the boundaries of a widow.
05  The trodden furrow worn down by time,
06  he who disguises it in the fields,
07  when he has snared (it) by false oaths,
08  he will be caught by the might of the Moon.

09  Recognize him who does this on Earth !                                          
10  He is an oppressor of the weak,
11  a foe working to destroy your body.
12  The taking of life is in his eye,
13  his house is an enemy to the town,
14  his barns wiIl be destroyed,
15  his wealth wiIl be seized from his children's hands, (and)
16  his possessions wiIl be given to another.

17  Beware of destroying the borders of fields,
18  lest a terror carry You away.
19  One pleases god with the might of the Lord,
20  when one discerns the borders of fields.

21  Desire your being to be sound.
22  Beware of the Lord of All !
23  Do not erase another's furrow,
24  it profits You to keep it sound.
25  Plow your fields and You will find what You need,
26  You will receive bread from your own threshing-floor.

27  Better is a bushel given You by the god,
28  than five thousand through wrongdoing.
29  They stay not a day in bin and barn,                                          
30  they make no food for the beer jar.
31  A moment is their stay in the granary,
32  comes morning, (and) they have vanished.

33  Better is poverty in the hand of the god,
34  than wealth in the storehouse.
35  Better is bread with a happy heart,
36  than wealth with vexation.

Chapter 7 : seek no wealth

01  Do not set your heart
35 on wealth !
02  There is no ignoring Shay and Renenet !

03  Do not let your heart go straying,
37 (for)
04  every man comes to his hour.
05  Do not labour to seek increase,
06  what You have, let it suffice You.

07  If riches come to You by theft,
08  they will not stay the night with You.
09  Comes morning, (and) they are not in your house ;
10  their place is seen but they are not there :
11  Earth opened its mouth, leveled them, swallowed them,
12  and made them sink into the Duat,
38 (or)                                                    X
13  they made a hole as big as their size,
14  and sank into the Duat,
39 (or)
15  they made themselves wings like geese,
16  and flew away to the sky.

17  Do not rejoice in wealth from theft,
18  nor complain of being poor.
19  If the leading archer presses forward,
20  his company abandons him !
21  The boat of the greedy is left (in) the mud,
22  while the bark of the tranquil sails with the wind.

23  You shall pray to the Aten
40 when he rises, 
24  saying :
'Grant me well-being and health !'
25  He will give You your needs for this life,
26  and You will be safe from fear.

Chapter 8 : speak no evil

01  Set your goodness in the belly of men,
02  then You are greeted by all.
03  One welcomes the Uraei-serpents.
04  One spits upon the Apopis-snake.

05  Guard your tongue from harmful speech, 
06  then You will be loved by others.                                              
07  You will find your place in the temple.
08  You will share in the bread-offerings of your Lord.
09  When You are revered and your coffin conceals You,
10  You will be safe from the power of god.

11  Do not shout
'crime' against a man,
12  when the cause of (his) flight is hidden. 
13  Whether You hear something good or evil,
14  do it outside where it is not heard.
15  Put the good remark on your tongue,
16  while the bad is concealed in your belly.

Chapter 9 : avoid the heated

01  Do not befriend the heated man,
02  nor approach him for conversation.
03  Keep your tongue from answering your superior,
04  and take care not to insult him.

05  Let him not cast his speech to lasso You,
06  Nor give free rein to your answer.
07  Converse with a man of your own measure,
08  and take care not to {vex}.
09  Swift is speech when the heart is hurt,
47                                            XII
10  more than wind {over}
48 water.

11  He tears down, (and) he builds up with his tongue,
12  when he makes his hurtful speech.
13  He gives an answer worthy of a beating,
14  for its weight is harm.
15  He hauls freight like all the world,
16  but his load is falsehood.
17  He is the ferryman of snaring words,
18  he goes and comes with quarrels.
19  When he eats and drinks inside,
20  his answer is (heard) outside.
21  The day he is charged with his crime,
22  is misfortune for his children.

23  If only Khnum
49 came to him !
24  The potter to the fiery-mouthed man,
25  so as to knead his {states of mind}.
26  He is like a young wolf in the farmyard, 
27  he turns one eye against the other,
28  he causes brothers to quarrel,                                                    
29  he runs before every wind like clouds, 
30  he dims the radiance of the Sun,
31  he flips his tail like the crocodile's young, 
{he gathers himself together, crouched.}
33  His lips are sweet, his tongue is bitter.
34  A fire burns in his belly.
35  Do not leap up to join such a one,
36  lest a terror carry You away.

Chapter 10 : say what You think without injuring

01  Do not force yourself to salute the heated man,
02  for then You injure your own heart.
03  Do not say
'Greetings !' to him falsely,
04  while there is terror in your belly.
05  Do not speak falsely to a man,
06  the god abhors it !

07  Do not sever your heart from your tongue, 
56 (so)
08  that all your strivings may succeed.
09  You will be weighty before the others,
10  and secure in the hand of the god.
57                                                 XIV
11  God hates
58 the falsifier of words.
12  He greatly abhors he who quarrels in the belly.

Chapter 11 : abuse no poor

01  Do not covet a poor man's goods,
02  nor hunger for his bread.
03  A poor man's goods are a block in the throat,
04  it makes the gullet vomit.

05  He who makes gain by lying oaths,
06  his heart is misled by his belly.
07  Where there is fraud, success is feeble, (and)
08  the bad spoils the good.
09  You will be guilty before your superior,
10  and confused in your speech.
11  Your pleas will be answered by a curse,
12  your prostrations by a beating.
13  The big mouthful of bread You swallow, You vomit it,
14  and You are emptied of your gain.

15  Observe the overseer of the poor,
16  when the stick attains him.                                                    
17  All his people are bound in chains,
18  and he is led to the executioner.
(And) if You are released before your superior,
20  yet You are hateful to your subordinates.

21  Steer away from the poor man on the road.
22  Look at him and keep clear of his goods.

Chapter 12 : always be honest

01  Do not desire a noble's wealth,
02  nor give a big mouthful of bread.
03  If he sets You to manage his property,
04  shun his, and yours will prosper.

05  Do not {seize the word} with a heated man,
06  nor befriend a hostile man.

07  If You are sent to transport straw,
08  stay away from its container.
09  If a man is observed on a fraudulent errand, 
10  he will never (again) be sent on another occasion.

Chapter 13 : write no falsehoods and acquit debt

01  Do not cheat a man (through) pen on scroll !
02  The god abhors it !

03  Do not bear witness with false words,                                              
04  so as to brush aside a man by your tongue.

05  Do not assess a man who has nothing,
06  and thus falsify your pen.

07  If You find a large debt against a poor man, 
08  make it into three parts,
09  forgive two, let one stand.
10  You will find it a path of life.
11  After sleep, when You wake in the morning,
12  You will find it as good news !

13  Better is praise with the love of men,
14  than wealth in the storehouse.
15  Better is bread with a happy heart,
16  than wealth with vexation.

Chapter 14 : be dignified

01  Do not recall yourself to a man,
02  nor labour to seek his hand.
03  If he says to You :
'Here is a gift.',
04  no have-not will refuse it.
05  Do not blink at him, nor bow your head,
06  nor turn aside your gaze.
07  Salute him with your mouth, say :
'Greetings !'
08  He will cease, and You succeed.                                                    
09  Do not rebuff him in his approach, (for)
{on another occasion he will be taken away.}

Chapter 15 : cheat not with your pen

01  Do the good and You will prosper {as I}
65 !
02  Do not dip your pen to injure a man, (for)
03  the finger of the scribe is the beak of the Ibis,
04  beware of brushing it aside !

05  The Ape
dwells in the House of Khmun, 67
06  his eye encircles the Two Lands.
07  When he sees one who cheats with his finger,
08  he carries his livelihood off in the flood.

09  The scribe who cheats with his finger,
10  his son will not be enrolled.

11  If You make your life with these (words) in your heart,
12  your children will observe them.

Chapter 16 : do not corrupt the balance

01  Do not tamper the scales,
69 nor falsify the weights, 
02  nor diminish the fractions of the measure.

03  Do not desire a measure of the fields, (and then)
04  neglect those of the treasury.

05  The Ape sits by the balance,
06  his heart is in the plummet.
71                                                          XVIII
07  Where is a god as great as Thoth ?
08  Who invented these things and made them ?

09  Do not make for yourself deficient weights,
10  they are rich in grief
73 through the might of god.74

11  If You see someone who cheats,
12  keep your distance from him.
13  Do not covet copper,
14  disdain beautiful linen.
15  What good is one dressed in finery,
16  if he cheats before the god ?
17  Faience disguised as gold,
18  comes morning, (and) it turns to lead.

Chapter 17 : do not corrupt the measure

01  Beware of disguising the wedjat-measure,
02  so as to falsify its fractions.
03  Do not force it to overflow,
04  nor let its belly be empty.
05  Measure according to its true size,
06  your hand clearing exactly.

07  Do not make a bushel of twice its size,
08  for then You are headed for the flood.

09  The bushel is the Eye of Re,
10  it abhors him who trims.                                                    
11  A measurer who indulges in cheating,
12  his Eye seals (the verdict) against him.

13  Do not accept a farmer's dues,
14  and then assess him so as to injure him.
15  Do not conspire with the measurer,
16  so as to defraud the share of the residence.

17  Greater is the might of the threshing floor,
18  than an oath by the great throne.

Chapter 18 : be not over-anxious

01  Do not lie down at night in fear of tomorrow :
'Comes day, how will tomorrow be ?'
03  Man ignores how tomorrow will be.
04  The god is ever in his perfection.
05  The man is ever in his failure.
06  The words men say are one thing, (but)
07  the deeds of the god
81 are another.

08  Do not say :
'I have done no wrong.',
09  and then labour to seek a quarrel.
10  The wrong belongs to the god.
11  He seals (the verdict) with his finger.

12  There is no perfection before the god,
13  but there is failure before him.
14  If one labours to seek perfection,                                                    
15  in a moment he has marred it.

16  Keep firm your mind, (and) steady your (physical) heart.
17  do not steer with your tongue.
18  If a man's tongue is the boat's rudder, 
19  the Lord of All is yet its pilot.

Chapter 19 : do not commit perjury

01  Do not go to court before an official
02  in order to falsify your words.
03  Do not vacillate in your answers,
04  when your witnesses accuse.
05  Do not labour (with) oaths by your Lord, 
(with) speeches at the hearing.

07  TeIl the truth before the official,
08  lest he lay a hand on You.
09  If another day You come before him,
10  he will incline to all You say,
11  he will relate your speech to the Council of Thirty,
87 (and)
12  it will be observed on another occasion.

Chapter 20 : be honest as judge or scribe

01  Do not confound a man in the law court, 
02  in order to brush aside one who is right.
03  Do not incline to the well-dressed man,                                            
04  and rebuff the one in rags.
05  Do not accept the gift of a powerful man,
06  and deprive the weak for his sake.

07  Maat is a great gift of god.
08  He gives it to whom he wishes.
09  (Indeed), the might of him who resembles him,
10  saves the poor from his tormentor.

11  Do not make for yourself false documents,
12  they are a deadly provocation,
13  they (mean) the great restraining oath,
14  they (mean) a hearing by the herald.

15  Do not falsify the oracles in the scrolls,
16  and thus disturb the plans of god.

17  Do not use for yourself the might of god,
18  as if there were no Shay and Renenet.

19  Hand over property to its owners,
20  thus do You seek life for yourself.
21  Do not raise your heart's desire in their house,
22  or your bones belong to the execution-block.

Chapter 21 : be reticent

01  Do not say :
'Find me a strong superior,                                           XXII
02  for a man in your town has injured me.
03  Do not say :
'Find me a protector,
04  for one who hates me has injured me.

05  Indeed You do not know the plans of god,
06  and should not weep for tomorrow.
07  Settle in the arms of the god,
08  your silence will overthrow them.
09  The crocodile that makes no sound,
10  dread of it is ancient !

11  Do not empty your belly
94 to everyone,
12  and thus destroy respect of You.
13  Broadcast not your words to others,
14  nor join with one who bares his heart.

15  Better is one whose speech is in his belly,
16  than he who tells it to cause harm.
17  One does not run to reach perfection,
18  one does not create (it) to harm it.

Chapter 22 : provoke no enemy

01  Do not provoke your adversary,
02  so as to (make) him tell his thoughts.
03  Do not leap to come before him,
04  when You do not see his doings.                                                    

05  First gain insight from his answer,
06  then keep still and You will succeed.
07  Leave it to him to empty his belly,
08  know how to sleep, he will be found out.

09  Grasp his feet, do not harm him.
10  Be wary of him, do not ignore him.
11  Indeed You do not know the plans of god,
12  and should not weep for tomorrow.

13  Settle in the arms of the god, (and)
14  your silence will overthrow them.

Chapter 23 : mind your table manners

01  Eat no bread in the presence of an official,
02  and then set your mouth before (him).

03  If You are sated, pretend to chew,
04  content yourself with your saliva.
05  Look at the bowl that is before You,
06  and let it serve your needs.

07  An official is great in his office,
08  as a well is rich in drawings of water.

Chapter 24 : have discretion

01  Do not listen to an official's reply indoors,
02  in order to repeat it to another outside.                                            
03  Do not let your word be carried outside,
04  Lest your heart be aggrieved.

05  The heart of man is a gift of god,
06  beware of neglecting it.

07  The man at the side of an official, (truly)
08  his name should not be known.

Chapter 25 : respect god's will

01  Do not laugh at a blind man.
02  Nor tease a dwarf.
03  Nor cause hardship for the lame.

04  Do not tease a man who is in the hand of the god,
05  nor be angry with him for his failings.
06  Man is clay and straw,
07  the god is his builder.
08  He tears down, he builds up daily.
09  He makes a thousand poor by his will.
10  He makes a thousand men into chiefs,
11  when he is in his hour of life.

12  Happy is he who reaches the West,
13  when he is safe in the hand of the god.

Chapter 26 : respect seniors

01  Do not sit down in the beerhouse,
02  in order to join one greater than You.                                               
03  Be he a youth great through his office,
04  or be he an elder through birth.
05  Befriend a man of your own measure, 
06  Re is helpful from afar.

07  If You see one greater than You outdoors,
08  walk behind him respectfully.
09  Give a hand to an elder sated with beer,
10  respect him as his children would.

11  The arm is not hurt by being bared.
The back is not broken by bending it.
13  A man does not lose by speaking sweetly, 
14  nor does he gain if his speech is straw.

15  The pilot who sees from afar,
16  he will not wreck his boat.

Chapter 27 : do not revile an elder

01  Do not revile one older than You, (for)
02  he has seen Re before You.
03  Let (him) not report You to the Aten at his rising,
04  saying :
'A youth has reviled an old man.'
05  Very painful before Re,
06  is a youth who reviles an elder.                                                    

07  Let him beat You while your hand is on your chest, 
08  let him revile You while You are silent.
09  If the next day You come before him,
10  he will give You food in plenty.

11  A dog's food is from its master, (and)
12  he barks to him who gives it.

Chapter 28 : be generous to the poor

01  Do not seize a widow
111 when You find her in the fields,
02  and then fail to be patient with her reply.
03  Do not refuse your oil jar to a stranger.
04  Double it before your brothers.
05  God loves him who honors the poor,
06  to him who worships the wealthy.

Chapter 29 : travel honestly

01  Do not prevent people from crossing the river, 
02  if You stride freely in the ferry.

03  When You are given an oar in the midst of the deep,
04  bend your arms and take it.
05  It is no crime in the hand of the god,
{If the sailor does not welcome You.}
114                                         XXVII

07  Do not make yourself a ferry on the river,
08  and then labour to seek its fare.

09  Take the fare from him who is wealthy,
10  and let pass him who is poor.

Chapter 30 : Epilogue

01  Look to these thirty chapters :
02  they inform, they educate,
03  they are the foremost of all books,
04  they make the ignorant wise.

05  If they are read to the ignorant,
06  he is cleansed through them.

07  Be filled with them, put them in your heart,
08  and become a man who interprets them,
09  one who explains as a teacher.

10  The scribe who is skilled in his office,
11  is found worthy to be a courtier."


That is its end.
Written by Senu, son of the divine father Pemu.                                  

4. Notes.

(1) the "shrine" of the heart is the sacred place of the "inner god", a concept developed in the Late New Kingdom, when personal piety became fully part of Egypt's cultural form (cf. Hymns to Amun) - by entering its "shrine", the heart (mind, desire, will) is brought before the god, enabling the latter to dwell in the person - although this instruction also develops old themes such as good discourse (cf. Ptahhotep), the spiritual and religious dimensions are more emphasized ;
(2) "wDt" (wedjat) or left, wounded & restored Eye of Horus, here confused with the (right) Eye of Re - the Horus-eye fractions (or geometric progression of six terms : 1:2, 1:4, 1:8, 1:32, 1:64) were used in all kinds of measurements ;
(3) "kmt", or fertile "Black Land" left after the Nile withdraws, also a name for Egypt as a whole ;
(4) this is the only plural use of the word "nTr", "god" in the instruction, namely in a title ;
(5) unclear word, but most translators agree the reference to someone bringing food ;
(6) Ta-wer is the nome of Abydos ;
(7) Ipu is a name for Akhmin (Panopolis, on the east bank of the Nile) ;
(8) Senu is a name for Akhmin - "west of Senu" suggests a place away from the main cemeteries (the cliffs of the eastern desert), possibly on the other side of the river ;
(9) the god Min, who is the "Bull of his Mother" ("kmtf") ;
(10) "wnnfr", the "good being" or Osiris ;
(11) unclear but reconstructed - cf. Griffith's rendering (p.198, note 4) as "pHr", "go round" plus determinative for visual activity D6 = guard ;
(12) following Griffith : "Snw" or inquiry (Faulkner) plus D6 = watch ;
(13) open your mind and leave all prejudices behind You ;
(14) memorize them to have them at your disposal whenever You need them ;
(15) the depth of your emotional, passionate nature needs to know them too - feel them ;
(16) so that they become firm, steady and fully assimilated and integrated ;
(17) speech should serve the mind and the instructions make one stop idle talk ;
(18) if your organize your life with these instructions in mind ;
(19) "TA" or "snatch, seize" (Lichtheim) the "mouth" is the Egyptian text, "mouth" being a paraphrase for "word" ;
(20) the god Thoth ;
(21) "the hands of the god" : or direct divine interference - god will decide what happens with the evil person - give the wicked your hand, so that he be committed into divine hands - "the god" and "god" are used interchangeably and the definite article has no bearing on meaning but is a matter of style ;
(22) the mind and will of god ;
(23) god is cognitive and able to communicate without being directly known ;
(24) the personalization of everything evil and wicked ;
(25) "mxnt" or "face" plus determinative for place and interior (O1) and juxtaposition with line 4:08 "grown in a meadow" (i.e. outdoors) suggests "indoors" (Lichtheim) ;
(26) "Srtm" or the "green" product of trees, or "shoots" (Lichtheim) ;
(27) "mxr" or "barn, granary, storehouse" - storehouse for wood, or "woodshed" (Lichtheim) ;
(28) a person working in the temple ;
(29) the might of Thoth ;
(30) for Griffith, "Lord" refers to god - I assume it stands for "Pharaoh" - god is pleased when the borders of the fields are kept intact - Pharaoh's might guarantees their regularity ;
(31) occurs twice and refers to the unnamed deity ("god" and "the god") ;
(32) the small things of god are better than the big results through crime ;
(33) to be poor, but in tune with divine action, is better than to have material abundance saved away ;
(34) a state of being in harmony with the plan of god ;
(35) focus not to be rich, do not aim at material abundance, do not fixate your mind on wealth ;
(36) Shay : the personification of the idea of destiny and god of life-span, fate & fortune, who, in the Ptolemaic Period, was identified with "Agathodaimon", the Hellenistic fortune-telling serpent deity ;
Renenet : in the Old Kingdom, "Renenutet" ("rnnwtt") was a goddess of the harvest and a divine nurse ("rnnt"), but also a guardian of the king identified with the royal uraeus and Pharaoh's "robe" ; in the New Kingdom Litany of Re, this goddess appears in the underworld as the "Lady of Justification", and in the Late Period, she decides many of the events in an individual's life ;
(37) do not strive to achieve things outside, for what must happen happens ;
(38) "dwAt" or netherworld ;
(39) determinative U13 for "plough" and O1 (place) ;
(40) the physical disk of the Sun, the Sole God of Akhenaten ;
(41) address the emotional part of man with goodness, i.e. be calm, kind & gentle - the belly is the home of our passions, emotions, feelings and states of arousal & rest - our sage promotes tranquility ;
(42) the goddess Wadjet was associated with the red crown of Lower Egypt (Nile Delta) and belonged to the "two ladies" or "two goddesses" name of Pharaoh's titulary, the other goddess being Nekhbet, associated with the white crown of Upper Egypt - Wadjet is commonly identified with the Uraeus-serpent, but Nekhbet at times abandons her appearance as a vulture for that of a serpent, hence the plural ;
(43) the symbol for all manifest and active evil, mastered by Seth (for Re and as a punishment for having killed Osiris, defiled and fought his son Horus) ;
(44) harmless speech does not make the heart heavy and so at divine judgment in the afterlife, the balance will be in equilibrium and the heart will be "restored" instead of being "eaten", resulting in a "second death" (represented by men on their head eating filth) ;
(45) do not show your negative emotions - do not expose your own filth ; 
(46) "Tfdn" or "rage" (Pyr. § 1553a) - here : "offend" (Lichheim) or somewhat stronger "vex" ;
(47) when reproached, rebuffed or criticized, only the strong remain calm ;
(48) "before" or "over" water (Lichtheim) ;
(49) the creator god, the potter who made human beings out of clay ;
(50) the line is corrupt - literally it reads : "so as to make him burn name (and) knead hearts"- the plural of "ib", "heart" may refer to a plurality of intentional states, hence : "states of mind" ;
(51) he crouches preparing to spring (Griffith) ;
(52) his emotions & passions are constantly in a state of arousal ;
(53) You injure your state of mind - violence directly affects mentality ;
(54) while You are in an emotional state of fear and anxiety ;
(55) truthful speech ("maati") is the foundation of Egyptian philosophy ;
(56) always say what You think ;
(57) god will bless the honest ;
(58) falsehood is absolutely rejected ;
(59) he who puts his mind to serve aroused negative emotions ;
(60) his passions have taken the best of him ;
(61) "TA" or "snatch, seize" the "mouth" is the Egyptian text, "mouth" being a paraphrase for "word" ;
(62) to utter untruth is bad, but falsehood written down is even worse ;
(63) do make people remember how good You are ;
(64) one does not need to help destiny and fate to do their job ;
(65) "wnu" plus determinative for "sit" (A3), or : "the being I am" ;
(66) the sacred animal of Thoth, god of the scribes, the Ibis has a curled beak just as the finger holding the pen ;
(67) the Ape or Thoth again, dwells in his town, namely Hermopolis Magna ("Khnum") ;
(68) the unity of Upper (Southern) and Lower (Northern) Egypt ;
(69) the most used instrument in Ancient Egyptian economy, both in this life and in the afterlife ;
(70) the Ape sits on top of the balance of judgment in the afterlife - Anubis checks the plummet and Thoth records the results ;
(71) the Ape has only the correctness of the balancing in mind ;
(72) the epithet "great, great, great" is of later date and was Hellenized as Hermes Trice Greatest or Hermes trismegistos - the question posed already points to this superlative greatness of Thoth ;
(73) cheating will always be discovered and reap disaster ; 
(74) again we are pointed to the active participation of god in what happens in life ;
(75) god is omniscient, he sees all and hence "the world is before his face" ;
(76) do not put on more weight, nor take weight out by carving pieces out of the inside of the weights ;
(77) the Eye of Re sees the smallest error ;
(78) the taxes to be paid to Pharaoh ;
(79) the small work of the farmer is greater in might than splendid oaths in the name of Pharaoh ;
(80) there is no imperfection in god, but failure in man ;
(81) again god appears as an active force in the world ;
(82) to god belongs the last say in everything and to him alone belongs the right to react on wrongs ;
(83) if god is perfect, then everything "before" him is imperfect ;
(84) here the distinction between "heart" as a physical organ (determinative F51 "limb, flesh" and "heart" as an intentional state (mind, desire, will, individuality, motoric control) is explicit ;
(85) do not move in life on the basis of what You said or say to other people ;
(86) even if we think that what we say causes our life to take form, in reality it is god who is in charge ;
(87) a unity of government often serving as the crown's liaison to the "djadjet", the assembly of nomarchs or hereditary lords of the provinces ;
(88) order, justice and truth are the greatest gifts of god, sustaining the cosmos as a whole ;
(89) divination is a holy activity, not to be used to satisfy the whims of individuals ;
(90) do not assume god forms to change things (magic) without considering the decrees of destiny ;
(91) if You desire the goods of wealthy people, do not say this in their own houses ;
(92) although oracular divination is acknowledged, the large majority does not know the will of god ;
(93) trust in god's plan ;
(94) give way to emotional & passionate states of arousal ;
(95) one who no longer holds any secrets - one who says what is on his mind ;
(96) one who gives way to his strong emotions but does not hurt is preferred to one who's feelings hurt ;
(97) "qmA" or "create" (Faulkner) - the act of creation is perfection ;
(98) for nobody knows what tomorrow brings ;
(99) do not raise your voice or You will be sad ;
(100) mindfulness is the proper attitude ;
(101) one who is insane ;
(102) man was created by god ;
(103) when he has decided to do so ;
(104) the land of the dead ;
(105) Re is celestial creator-god who sees all ;
(106) dry and harsh - Lichtheim has "bristles" ;
(107) a panoramic perspective allows one to steer away from dangers ;
(108) he was born before You ;
(109) at morning prayers ;
(110) a dog obeys he who feeds him ;
(111) Lichtheim has "pounce" ;
(112) if there is enough room ;
(113) there is no abomination for You to suffer from god ;
(114) "hwtii" as "sailor" : even if the sailor does not welcome it, help with the rowing if asked to do so ;
(115) "rx" plus det."things written" (Y1) and det."sit" (A3) or "wise, learned man" (Faulkner) ;
(116) this instruction is typical for the scribe who will be promoted as soon as he excels.

5. Remarks.

the culmination of the wisdom genre

All instructions are composed in a rhythmical style, marked by symmetrical sentences, called the "orational style" (Lichtheim, 1976, p.98). When needed, as in the assassination narrative of the Instruction of Amenemhat, it turns into prose or becomes poetical, as in the hymn to the creator-god in the Instruction addressed to Merikare. But these features are not the reason for the excellence of Amen-em-apt's wisdom teaching.

"He has put aside the commonplaces of advice, and whole regions of moral warning are left untouched ; but he draws on his personal experience as an administrator of land to teach certain lessons that he wished to impress upon his son, and at the same time set up a higher standard of morality than his predecessors who are known to us had done. The description of the book in the Preface promises both success in life and moral welfare to the obedient listener ; in other Egyptian teachings the practical overshadows the spiritual, but in Amenophis' teaching religion and morality are the chief motives."
Griffith, 1926, p.227, my italics.

All Egyptian wisdom instructions envisioned an "ideal man" (Lichtheim, 1976, p.146). Already in the wisdom discourse of Ptahhotep, he lacked all martial characteristics. The Egyptian sage was a man of peace, constructive and generous with his wealth. If the Old Kingdom sage was still very aware of Pharaoh and his position in society, Amen-em-apt is content with a humble position and modest material means. Instead, inner qualities are promoted : self-control, tranquility, kindness towards others & honesty are opposed to "the heated" man, who vents his passions and emotions without self-mastery, and is inclined to evil, in particular dishonesty.

The teaching divides "inner" & "outer". Man walks in the outer world and finds that fate and destiny, i.e. the physical manifestation of the will of the deity, rule everything. People may say what they like ; at the end of the day the oracle of the deity decides. The sage accepts this wholeheartedly, for he knows that the plans of the deity are not to be crossed. The shrine of his heart is the temple of the "inner" deity, and his ways are thus in accord with the plans of the deity.

He has mastered the "inner" conflict between his passions and his mind, namely between the icons of emotions and the symbols of proto-rational cognition, between "belly" and "heart". This Platonic division "avant la lettre" (cf. Plato's two horses and the later Stoic "apatheia") is the fundamental existential tension and if badly managed the first cause of moral evil, namely a twisted mind, heated passions and unwholesome actions that make one strand in life and prepare for oneself the wrath of the deity in the afterlife. God abhors falsehood, heatedness and dishonesty. All of this, of course, in the ante-rational mode of cognition.

the deity of Amen-em-apt

Was our sage a monotheist ? Besides the repetition of words as "the god", "god" & "the Lord of All", the teaching also invokes separate deities such as : Re, the Eye of Re, Thoth, Khnum, Shay, Renenet, the Aten, the Uraei-serpents, the Apophis snake, Maat, as well as unspecified divine activities (giving, building, planning, directing, etc.) and functions (the hands of god, the arm of god, the might of god, etc.). Thoth is invoked several times (the Ape, the Moon), and the question is asked where the deities as great as he are ! As in Late New Kingdom Amun-theology, the deities are manifestations, appearances & transformations of the "nameless god", one & millions.

Amen-em-apt is not a monotheist, but a henotheist. God is One in essence but millions in manifestation. The Divine powers are specialized manifestations of the same One god, and a "Solar" signature may be attributed to his company :

Re : the "old" creator-god from afar ;
Aten : the physical face of Re ;
Thoth : the power of the written & spoken word, the recorder of the balance, vizier of Re ;
Maat : truth and justice - the order of creation - daughter of Re ;
Knum : the maker of mankind, controller of the inundation of the Nile - soul of Re ;
Shay & Renenet : the manifestation of the plan of god in human affairs, functions of Thoth ;
the Uraei-serpents : the might of Pharaoh, son of Re ;
the Apophis serpent : the assailer of Re, mastered by Seth.

The compositional excellence of this company, in tune with the "New Solar Theology" of its time, but not balancing to any un-Egyptian exclusivity, gives this instruction a literary unity which underlines the henotheist choice of our sage. Monotheism can not be read into this, for sage Amen-em-apt still thinks constellational, albeit in an exclusively Solar fashion. Moreover, this choice is an integral and meaningful part of the literary structure of the text. The Lord of All is beyond, but not against the other deities, i.e. opposed to independent manifestations of himself ("jealous" as the Old Testament would have it). The great One god remained hidden and unnamed. They were his active powers, his theophanies.

Besides the Solar inspiration, Amen-em-apt's "company of gods" reflects a cognitive component. This was part of all known Egyptian instructions, but here the role of Thoth is clearly underlined. The "might of the Moon" & the Ape of Hermopolis (the only city in the teaching) also point to the god of time, healing, medicine, writing and magic. Were the deities Shay & Renenet part of this Hermopolitan thought strand ? They ruled an individual's life-span and well as the events that happened in it. Conceptually at least, they fall under the category of time, ruled by Thoth, who is also the "Master of Maat".

This allows us to divide this company in two sides : cosmic & mental :

  • cosmic : Re, Aten, Maat, Khnum, Uraei-serpents ;

  • mental : Thoth, Shay & Renenet.

It should be remarked that in the Alexandro-Egyptian philosophical Hermetica, the same division operates, namely as the distinction between God (the Sun, the Decad) and Hermes (the Divine Nous, the Ennead).

the heart of Amen-em-apt

To the traditional use of the word "ib" ("heart"), namely "will, desire, mind, motor control, direction" and its various intentional states, is added the dimension of personal piety, for the "inner god" abides in the shrine of the heart (Prologue, line 9). The sage is a spiritual person, who communicates with his god "in his mind". Besides his high moral standards of action, he confirms the importance of a personal experience of divinity. This goes hand in hand with the "noetic" quality of the teaching's pantheon.

In 18:16 (using as determinative F51), the physical heart is clearly distinguished from the intentional states which it represents, such as cogitation, volition & motor control (the peripheral pulses were thought to reflect the beating of the heart, caused by air - Nunn, 1996).

Amen-em-apt and the "words of the wise" in the Book of Proverbs

The remark of Budge pertaining to the influence of the teaching on Jewish religious literature was taken up and confirmed by Erman, Sethe, Griffith & Simpson (1926). Lichtheim (1976) speaks of a consensus among scholars that there is no priority of the Hebrew text, nor a common lost Semitic text, but a "literary relationship" between the teaching of Amen-em-apt and the Book of Proverbs (the oldest part of which is dated ca.920 BCE, namely chapters 10 to 24). She writes : "it can hardly be doubted that the author of Proverbs was acquainted with the Egyptian work and borrowed from it". Especially Proverbs line 22:21 speaks in that sense, and introduces the Hebrew section on the "words of the wise" : "I have written down thirty sayings for you. They contain knowledge and good advice and will teach you what the truth really is. They when you are sent to find it out, you will bring back the right answer".

Indeed, the proposed literary relationship is most prominent & direct in that section of Proverbs called (in the Massoretic, traditional Hebrew text) "the words of the wise." (chapters 22:17 - 24:22). Here the "remarkable similarity of ideals and ideas" are closest and most numerous, although Simpson remarks that the Hebrew text is less fresher and vigorous, as if in Proverbs the teaching returns in an abbreviated form. Gressman (1925), found a literal "thirty" proverbs in this section of the Hebrew book of Proverbs, and the inference that it was ultimately derived from Amen-em-apt's teaching "would appear to be irresistible".

We invite the reader to read this wisdom section of the Proverbs (22:17 - 24:22, composed ca.920 BCE) and savor the following correspondences :



2, 11
11, 12
prologue, 1, 30
1, 23, 26
9, 3

Beside these, the following resemblances are striking (Proverbs in bold) : 6:21 - 1:3-5 ; 15:16 - 6:33-36 ; 16:9 - 13:13-16 ; 16:11 - 16:5-10 ; 17:5 - 25:1-5 ; 18:6 - 9:13 ; 19:21 - 18:4-5 ; 20:19 - 21:13-14 ; 20:22 - 21:1-8. Gressman also discovered other important resemblances in the prophetical, historical & legal literature of the Hebrews, namely Jeremia, 17:5-8, Psalm 1, 1 Samuel, 2:6ff and in the Book of Job (4:17-20).

"The Lord kills and restores to life ;
he sends people to the world of the dead
and brings them back again.
He makes some poor and others rich;
he humbles some and makes others great.
He lifts the poor from the dust
and raises the needy from their misery."

1 Samuel, 2:6ff

"Happy are those
who reject the advice of evil people,
who do not follow the example of sinners;
or join those who have no use for God.
Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord,
and they study it day and night.
They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaved do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.
But evil people are not like this at all ;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Sinners will be condemned by God
and kept apart from God's own people.
The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord,
but the evil are on the way to their doom.

Psalm 1

"Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God
or be pure before his Creator ?
God does not trust his heavenly servants ;
he finds faults even with his angels.
Do you think he will trust a creature of clay,
a thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth ?
Someone may be alive in the morning
but die unnoticed before evening comes.
All that he has is taken away,
he dies, still lacking wisdom."

Book of Job, 4:17-20

"The Lord says :
'I will condemn those who turn away from me
and put their trust in human beings,
in the strength of mortals.
They are like bushes in the desert,
which grow in the dry wilderness,
on salty ground where nothing else grows.
Nothing good ever happens to them.
But I will bless those who put their trust in me.
They are like trees growing near a stream,
and sending out roots to the water.
They are not afraid when hot weather comes,
because their leaves stay green ;
they have no worries when there is no rain ;
they keep on bearing fruit."

Jeremiah, 17:5-8.

The influence of Egyptian wisdom teachings on the religious literature of Israel is part of the larger context of the interaction between these two civilizations. We know that it was during the Ramesside age that the tribes of Israel became a nation, and much of Israel's knowledge of Egypt, as reflected in their literature, resulted from contacts with this period. Although these contacts will be the object of a separate study, let us briefly discuss the foundational event of Israel's history : the Exodus.

Historians are far from unanimous concerning the date of the Exodus, the flight of the Jews from the "house of bondage". The "low" hypothesis, situates this founding event in the middle of the fifteenth or sixteenth century BCE, the "high" hypothesis places it in the thirteenth century. Various arguments have been advanced to evidence both positions, but archaeological findings in Canaanite territory as well as biblical chronology (for example the 480 years between the construction of the Temple of Solomon and the Exodus) proved to be inconclusive. As the nature of biblical sources is not historiographic but ideological and etiological, its chronology is seriously in doubt and can not be used.

In line with Modrzejewski (1995), I adhere to the "low" hypothesis on the basis of a single chronological indication furnished by the biblical account which converges with historical data. In Exodus 1:11, we read : "So the Egyptians put slave-drivers over them to crush their spirits with hard labour. The Israelites built the cities of Pithom and Rameses to serve as supply centers for the king." (my italics). This reference is to the new capital of Pharaoh Rameses II (ca.1279 - 1213 BCE), called "Per-Ramesses" (Pa-Ramesses, Peramesse, Piramesse), "the Estate of Ramesses". If we take the biblical account seriously, Pharaoh Rameses II was the "new king, who knew nothing about Joseph" (Exodus, 1:8).

This city was a suburban territory of the ancient capital of the Hyksos, Avaris. Its formal name was "the House of Ramesses, Beloved of Amun, Great of Victories". Its splendor and vitality was great. A large palace, private residences, temples, military garrisons, a harbor, gardens and a vineyard were designed for it. It was the largest and costliest city of Egypt. The original royal palace covered four square miles. Abandoned at the end of the XXth Dynasty, many of its monuments were transported to the nearby city of Tanis.

Another important historical element is the twelve-line poem that ends the famous Stele of Pharaoh Merneptah (ca.1213 - 1203 BCE), the son of Rameses II, also known as the "Stele of Israel" or the "Poetical Stele". In this poem, we read : "Israel is wasted, his seed is bare." The text of the stele celebrates the victories of Pharaoh over the Libyans, and in this brief poetical epilogue sums up the submission of the diverse "Asiatic peoples", with "iisriAr" listed before the Khor (Palestine and part of Syria).

"The princes are prostrate, saying : 'Peace !'
Among the Nine Bows (the nations) none raised his head.
Devastated is Tjehenu (Libya), Khatti at peace.
Canaan is captive with every evil.
Carried off is Ashkelon ; seized upon is Gezer.
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist.
Israel is wasted, his seed is bare.
Widowed is Khor before Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued,
by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Banere-meramun,
Son of Re, Merneptah, Content with Maat,
given life like Re every day."

Stele of Merneptah, final poem.

To "iisriAr", sounding something like "eesrah-er", a special determinative was added (T14), indicating the Israelites were a foreign people, a community of wanderers, not a territory or a nation (for which another determinative was used - N25). Furthermore, the determinative for many men and women was added, underlining that Israel was not a nation state. The Israelites were not yet settled in the land of Canaan. The Merneptah Stele dates from the fifth year of the king's reign, i.e. ca. 1208 BCE. At that time, Moses had already left Egypt, crossed the desert and joined other groups of Hebrews. But the "promised land" had not yet been conquered, while Pharaoh Merneptah claimed to have wasted Israel's seed ...

"When all is said and done, the date of 1270 appears to be the best possible hypothesis for their departure from the land of Egypt." - Modrzejewski, 1995, p.16.

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initiated : 02 XI 2003 - last update : 03 XII 2010 - version n°1

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2005 - 2015.