“The River Is Blood” in the Admonitions of Ipuwer (Psalm 105)

Bilderesultat for the Admonitions of Ipuwer

Illustration: The Ipuwer Papyrus

The text called The Admonitions of Ipuwer is a lament over the breakdown of society in Egypt, and some compare it to the laments over upheavals found in the Biblical prophets. Ipuwer is most famous in Biblical studies because it contains a line stating that the Nile is blood – and yet people drink from it anyway. This has an obvious historical parallel in the turning of the Nile to blood during the period of the plagues prior to the exodus (Exodus 7:14-25). Psalm 105:29 expresses it this way: “He turned their waters into blood, causing their fish to die.”

Although the date of the composition of Ipuwer is unknown, this lament was probably written long before the exodus and thus is not describing the Biblical event. The expression that the Nile “turned to blood” in Ipuwer may help us to understand what the term would have meant to ancient readers. The implication does not appear to have been that of the river literally full of blood but more likely that the water was so polluted as to have been barely usable.

Another theory is that this is an allegory of many people dying in Egypt, and that somehow some people contributed to this, perhaps unknowingly, hence they kept on drinking the blood/water.


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