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

The translation of The Instruction of Amen-em-apt is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

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

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 translation of The Instruction of Amen-em-apt is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.


the book

09  to let his heart enter its shrine,

the author

15  The overseer of grains, who controls the wedjat-measure,

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,

24  the overseer of grains, [provider of]
5 foods,

26  The truly silent in Thinite Ta-wer,
27  the justified in Ipu,
28  who owns a pyramid on the west of Senu,

the addressee

the devotee of Min-Kamutef,
35  the water-pourer of Wennofer,

39  the watcher
12 of the mother of god,                                                          III


02  give your heart
13 to understand them.
03  It is good to put them in your heart,
14 (but)

05  Let them rest in the casket of your belly,
06  may they be bolted in your heart.

08  they will be a mooring-post for your tongue.
09  If You make your life with these in your heart,

You will find my words a storehouse for life, (and)                           

Chapter 2 : do not steal

04  nor {snatch (at) the word of}
19 a great one.

16  It is the Moon
20 who declares his crime.
17  Steer, (so that) we may ferry the wicked (over),                           

20  commit him (in) the hands of the god.

23  Another thing good in the heart of the god
22 :

Chapter 3 : prudence in speech

08  The god
knows 23 how to answer him.

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)

Chapter 5 : honest and tranquil service

03  Do not remove a servant of god,

07  Comes tomorrow, today has vanished.                                          

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

08  he will be caught by the might of the Moon.
09  Recognize him who does this on Earth !                                          

19  One pleases god with the might of the Lord,

Beware of the Lord of All !

27  Better is a bushel given You by the god,

29  They stay not a day in bin and barn,                                                               

33  Better is poverty in the hand of the god,

35  Better is bread with a happy heart,

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)

12  and made them sink into the Duat,
38 (or)                                                          X

14  and sank into the Duat,
39 (or)

23  You shall pray to the Aten
40 when he rises, 

Chapter 8 : speak no evil

01  Set your goodness in the belly of men,

One welcomes the Uraei-serpents.
04  One spits upon the Apopis-snake.

06  then You will be loved by others.                                              

10  You will be safe from the power of god.

16  while the bad is concealed in your belly.

Chapter 9 : avoid the heated

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.

23  If only Khnum
49 came to him !

25  so as to knead his {states of mind}.

28  he causes brothers to quarrel,                                                    

{he gathers himself together, crouched.}

34  A fire burns in his belly.

Chapter 10 : say what You think without injuring

02  for then You injure your own heart.

04  while there is terror in your belly.

06  the god abhors it !
07  Do not sever your heart from your tongue, 
56 (so)

10  and secure in the hand of the god.
57                                                          XIV

12  He greatly abhors he who quarrels in the belly.

Chapter 11 : abuse no poor

06  his heart is misled by his belly.

16  when the stick attains him.                                                    

Chapter 12 : always be honest

05  Do not {seize the word} with a heated man,

Chapter 13 : write no falsehoods and acquit debt

02  The god abhors it !
03  Do not bear witness with false words,                                              

Chapter 14 : be dignified

01  Do not recall yourself to a man,

08  He will cease, and You succeed.                                                    

{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 !

03  the finger of the scribe is the beak of the Ibis,

05  The Ape
dwells in the House of Khmun, 67
06  his eye encircles the Two Lands.

Chapter 16 : do not corrupt the balance

01  Do not tamper the scales,
69 nor falsify the weights, 

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 ?

10  they are rich in grief
73 through the might of god.74

16  if he cheats before the god ?

Chapter 17 : do not corrupt the measure

04  nor let its belly be empty.

09  The bushel is the Eye of Re,
10  it abhors him who trims.                                                    

16  so as to defraud the share of the residence.

18  than an oath by the great throne.

Chapter 18 : be not over-anxious

04  The god is ever in his perfection.

07  the deeds of the god
81 are another.

10  The wrong belongs to the god.

12  There is no perfection before the god,

14  If one labours to seek perfection,                                                    

16  Keep firm your mind, (and) steady your (physical) heart.
17  do not steer with your tongue.

19  the Lord of All is yet its pilot.

Chapter 19 : do not commit perjury

11  he will relate your speech to the Council of Thirty,
87 (and)

Chapter 20 : be honest as judge or scribe

03  Do not incline to the well-dressed man,                                            

07  Maat is a great gift of god.

16  and thus disturb the plans of god.

17  Do not use for yourself the might of god,

21  Do not raise your heart's desire in their house,

Chapter 21 : be reticent

01  Do not say :
'Find me a strong superior,                                                   XXII

05  Indeed You do not know the plans of god,

07  Settle in the arms of the god,

11  Do not empty your belly
94 to everyone,

nor join with one who bares his heart.
15  Better is one whose speech is in his belly,

18  one does not create (it) to harm it.

Chapter 22 : provoke no enemy

04  when You do not see his doings.                                                    

12  and should not weep for tomorrow.

Chapter 23 : mind your table manners

Chapter 24 : have discretion

02  in order to repeat it to another outside.                                            

Lest your heart be aggrieved.

06  beware of neglecting it.

Chapter 25 : respect god's will

04  Do not tease a man who is in the hand of the god,

07  the god is his builder.

11  when he is in his hour of life.
12  Happy is he who reaches the West,

Chapter 26 : respect seniors

02  in order to join one greater than You.                                               

06  Re is helpful from afar.

14  nor does he gain if his speech is straw.

16  he will not wreck his boat.

Chapter 27 : do not revile an elder

02  he has seen Re before You.
03  Let (him) not report You to the Aten at his rising,

is a youth who reviles an elder.                                                    

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,

Chapter 29 : travel honestly

02  if You stride freely in the ferry.

05  It is no crime in the hand of the god,
{If the sailor does not welcome You.}
114                                              XXVII

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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