Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - May 1, 2004 

The Writings of Joseph in Egypt

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1983
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, May 2004

Read the accompanying Newsletter for May 2004

When people look at the biblical records that have come down to us, they are often amazed that we only have the writings of about 30 different persons spanning a period of 1,600 years. Some of the divine authors have only given us one book (often quite small). This has caused people to ask what happened to all the other writings of the patriarchs, prophets, priests, apostles, and evangelists? It could hardly be imagined that the apostle Paul only wrote (in his entire Christian experience) 14 letters — those, which are found in the New Testament. This also applies to Old Testament personalities. The prophet Isaiah was a noted historian of his era, but we only have the book of his prophecies and the Book of Kings (found in the Bible) which Isaiah wrote up to his time. 1

But surely the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul wrote many other compositions than the ones which are presently found in the biblical canon. We know from biblical evidence that some of the writers of the Bible authored many other compositions that have not come down to us within the divine canon. The biblical Book of Proverbs only has a little under a thousand verses within it, but we are told that Solomon composed three thousand proverbs (parables), and we know that some of them were very lengthy (not just simple “one-liners”). 2 See Proverbs 1:7 to the end of chapter 9. This represents a single proverb (parable) which Solomon, or perhaps Joseph, wrote.

The truth is, the introduction to the Book of Proverbs is a superscription of six verses which shows that many of the proverbs in the biblical book did not originate with King Solomon at all. That introduction states that the proverbs selected to be included in the biblical canon were chosen to show wisdom, instruc­tion, understanding, justice, judgment, subtlety to the simple, knowledge, discretion, learning, counsel, and,

“... to understand a proverb [parable], and the interpretation; the words of the wise ones [“wise” in Hebrew is plural: “wise ones”], and THEIR dark sayings.”

This means that the Book of Proverbs not only contains proverbs from King Solomon, but it represents a compilation of wise and dark sayings associated with “wise men” before Solomon. Who were these “wise men” who lived prior to Solomon? Of those mentioned in the Bible, there were the sons of Zerah [the son of Judah, the brother of Joseph]. They were named Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda (1 Kings 4:31). These four “wise men” (or ancient philosophers) lived in Egypt when Joseph was in power (Genesis chapter 41). 3

Proverbs of the Wise

Let us not forget the patriarch Joseph (the subject of this Article). Recall when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that a famine of seven years was to grip the Middle Eastern world, Pharaoh admitted that “there is none so discreet and wise as you [Joseph] are” (Genesis 41:39).

There were other “wise men” who lived prior to the time of Joseph. Notable among them were those “of the east country” (1 Kings 4:30), the people in the land of Edom who were “the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?” (Obadiah 8), where the “wise man” Job had his residence (Job 1:1). The land of Uz was located east of the Jordan River. This patriarch named Job composed one of the greatest stories of ethical and moral value known to man, the Book of Job!

There was, as the Bible indicates, considerable literary activity in Egypt during the time the Israelites sojourned there. And some of the compositions done in Egypt (either at that time or later) have found their way into the biblical canon. Read Proverbs 22:17–21 and you will find it to be an introduction to a separate division of the Book of Proverbs. It should be understood that the five verses making up the introduction are not individual proverbs in themselves. They represent a caption to a separate section (a new division) of the Book of Proverbs. Let us notice that introduction.

“Bow down your ear, and hear the words of the wise [plural: “wise ones”], and apply your heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them [the following proverbs] within you; they [these proverbs] shall withal be fitted in your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to you this day, even to you. Have not I written to you excellent things [the Revised Standard Version has: “thirty sayings”] in counsels and knowledge, that I might make you know the certainty of the words of truth; that you might answer the words of truth to them that send unto you?”

After this long introduction, we then find the first proverb of this new section.

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoil them.”

There are actually thirty sections to this third division in the Book of Proverbs (from Proverbs 22:22 to 24:22). The Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and most modern translations realize that this reference to “thirty” is the proper translation of Proverbs 22:20. True enough, the Hebrew could be stretched to mean “thirty” from the use of the word “excellent,” but now scholars are assured that “thirty” is correct. Why are they certain? Because this section of Proverbs has been found in a manuscript from ancient Egypt. Indeed, the similarity of language in the Book of Proverbs and what was discovered in Egypt has caused scholars to identify the two as coming from a single composition, no doubt originally done in Egypt.

This Egyptian document is now in the British Museum (and a part of the text is also found on a writing tablet in Turin, Italy). Those original “thirty sayings” were probably written by Egyptian priests and called “The Instruction of Amen-em-opet” (or, Amenophis). 4 The date when the original Egyptian work was written has been disputed. Some say it was composed before the time of Solomon, while others say afterwards. The Egyptian version differs in some respects from that in the Book of Proverbs, but there can be no question that the two documents represent the same composition. 5

If the Egyptian text is earlier than that of Solomon, it could be that the book was a product of Joseph’s time (perhaps by the sons of Zerah. After all, the early Israelite patriarchs were once in Egypt and could have written many of their works in Egyptian as well as Hebrew. It is reasonable that many of those early works came from Israelites (even from one who was a prime minister of the nation directly under Pharaoh). There is reason to believe that Joseph could have left some documents of wisdom in the Egyptian language which later Egyptians copied for their instruction. And we now know that some of these early Egyptian works have found their way into the pages of the Bible itself.

“The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep”

This brings us to consider the author of an early Egyptian work called “The Instruction of the Vizier [the Prime Minister] Ptah-Hotep.” The man who wrote this document of proverbial teaching was so close to the Pharaoh that he was considered Pharaoh’s son — from his own body. This does not necessarily mean that the author was the actual son of the Pharaoh. It is a designation which means that both the author (the Prime Minister) and the Pharaoh were one in attitude, authority, and family. 6

Could this document be a composition of the patriarch Joseph? There are many parallels between what the document says and historical events in Joseph’s life. Indeed, the similarities are so remarkable, that I have the strong feeling that modern man has found an early Egyptian writing from the hand of Joseph himself. Though it is evident that the copies that have come into our possession are copies of a copy (and not the original), it still reflects what the autograph said; in almost every section it smacks of the attitude and temperament of Joseph as revealed to us in the Bible. Let us now look at some of the remarkable parallels.

This Egyptian document is often called “The Oldest Book in the World” and was originally written by the vizier in the Fifth (or Third) Dynasty. The Egyptian name of this vizier (i.e., the next in command to Pharaoh) was Ptah-Hotep. This man was, according to Breasted the “Chief of all Works of the King.” He was the busiest man in the kingdom, all-powerful (only the Pharaoh was over him). He was the chief judge and the most popular man in Pharaoh’s government. 7

The name Ptah-Hotep was a title rather than a proper name, and it was carried by successive viziers of the Memphite and Elephantine governments. The contents of this “Oldest Book” may direct us to Joseph and to the later teachings of Israel.

Notice what this Ptah-Hotep (the second in command in Egypt) had to say of his life on earth. How long did he live? The answer is given in the concluding statement in the document:

“The keeping of these laws have gained for me upon earth 110 years of life, with the gift of the favor of the King, among the first of those whose works have made them noble, doing the pleasure of the King in an honored position.”

This man, with the title Ptah-Hotep, was one who did great construction works. Joseph was supposed to have done mighty works — traditionally, even the Great Pyramid was built through the dole of grain during the seven years of low Niles. And remember, Joseph also lived 110 years (Genesis 50:26) just as did this Ptah-Hotep. He resembled Joseph in another way.

“If you would be held in esteem in the house wherein you enterest, whether it be that of a ruler, or of a brother, or of a friend, whatever you do enter, beware of approaching the wife, for it is not in any way a good thing to do. It is senseless. Thousands of men have destroyed themselves and gone to their deaths for the sake of the enjoyment of a pleasure which is as fleeting as the twinkling of an eye.”

Here again we have Joseph! Even though adultery was the common thing in Egypt (thousands of men were doing it), only one uncommon example shines out in its history — that of Joseph. This virtue of Joseph was so strong, that its inclusion into these “Precepts” again may indicate that Joseph had a hand in writing them.

Now look at the beginning of Precept XLIV. Ptah-Hotep says that if the laws of the master were kept, a person’s father will give him a “double good,” i.e., a double portion. Joseph did in fact receive the birthright and with it the “double good” (double blessing, Deuteronomy 21:15–17). This birthright blessing is repeated in Precept XXXIX.

“To hearken [to your father] is worth more than all else, for it produces love, the possession doubly blessed.”

Ptah-Hotep Was a Great Man

There is much more that is like Joseph in the document of Ptah-Hotep. Notice Precept XXX:

“If you have become a great man having once been of no account, and if you have become rich having once been poor, and having become the Governor of the City [this exactly fits Joseph’s experience], take heed that you do not act haughtily because you have attained unto a high rank. Harden not your heart because you have become exalted, for you are only the guardian of the goods which God has given to you. Set not in the background your neighbor who is as you were, but make yourself as if he were your equal.”

The instruction above almost sounds as if it came from the Bible itself! The parallel to such high ethical teaching could be an indication that Joseph wrote it. There is also, in these Precepts, an emphasis on obedience, especially to one’s father(s).

“Let no man make changes in the laws of his father; let the same laws be his own lessons to his children. Surely his children will say to him ‘doing your word works wonders.’”

“Surely a good son is one of the gifts of God, a son doing better than he has been told”

“When a son hearkens to his father, it is a double joy to both, for when these things are told to him, the son is gentle toward his father. Hearkening to him who has hearkened while this was told him, he engraves on his heart what is approved by his father, and thus the memory of it is preserved in the mouth of the living, who are upon earth.”

“When a son receives the word of his father, there is no error in all his plans. So instruct your son that he shall be a teachable man whose wisdom will be pleasant to the great men. Let him direct his mouth according to that which has been told him [by his father]; in the teachableness of a son is seen his wisdom. His conduct is perfect, while error carries away him who will not be taught; in the future, knowledge will uphold him, while the ignorant will be crushed.”

The emphasis of Ptah-Hotep is that his own greatness depended upon his attendance to the laws of his fathers. He encouraged all others to do the same. This gave him the reason for recording for posterity these basic laws, and he says that these words of his fathers “shall he born without alteration, eternally upon the earth” (Precept XXXVIII).

“To put an obstacle in the way of the laws, is to open the way before violence”

“The limits of justice are unchangeable; this is a law which everyman receives from his father.

Some of those teachings are so biblical and right! It could well be a fact that these principles and good teachings came from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are here recorded by Joseph, the one respecting the teachings of his fathers. Notice this Precept:

“The son who receives the word of his father shall live long on account of it.’

Compare this with the Fifth Commandment:

“Honor thy father and mother: that the days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

Could it be that many of the laws that became a part of the Old Covenant which God made with Israel at the Exodus were known long before — in the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? We are told that the early patriarchs knew some of God’s laws (Genesis 26:5).

The biblical agreements, however, do not stop with this reference. They are throughout the work.

“When you are sitting at meat at the house of a person greater than you, ... look at what is before you.”

And now, notice Proverbs 23:1. The agreement with the above of Ptah-Hotep is exact.

“When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you.

Professor Howard Osgood, who translated into English these “Precepts of Ptah-Hotep,” has a note to the one precept mentioned above.

“This passage is found in the Proverbs of Solomon, chapter 23. The Hebrews knew then, if not the whole of the maxims of Ptah-Hotep, at least several of them which have passed into proverbs.”

Why of course. Many of Solomon’s proverbs were those of ancient men. Solomon nowhere claimed to have originated all his proverbs. On the contrary, he clearly states that many of them were “words of the wise men, and their dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6). Look at another precept of Ptah-Hotep:

“If you are a wise man, train a son who will be well pleasing to God.”

Compare this with Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Solomon merely recorded many of the proverbs and laws, which were handed down in Israel generation after generation. He, of course, augmented the proverbs but he did not originate them all. In fact, it seems certain that many of them were from Joseph who further recorded for us the teachings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But let us go on with the Precepts of this second in command to Pharaoh.

“In doing homage before a greater man than yourself you are doing what is most pleasing unto God.”

“Labor diligently while you have life, and do even more than you have been commanded to do.”

“Neglect not to add to your possessions daily, for diligence increases wealth, but without diligence riches disappear.”

“None should intimidate men, for this is the will of God.”

“Terrify not men, or God will terrify you.”

“If you would be wise, rule your house, and love thy wife wholly and constantly. Fill her stomach and clothe her body [i.e., support her], for these are her necessities; love her tenderly and fulfill all her desire for she is one who confers great reward upon her lord. Be not harsh to her, for she will be more easily moved by persuasion than by force.”

This type of teaching for the husband to his wife seems almost like that of the New Testament. It is very different from the normal beliefs of ancient times.

“Take care of those who are faithful to you, when your affairs are of low estate. Your merit then is worth more than those who have done you honor.

“The man who hurries all the day long has not one good moment; but he who amuses himself all day long does not retain his house.”

In other words, work hard but learn to relax as well, do not amuse yourself all the time.

“Treat well your people as it behooves you; this is the duty of those God has favored.”

Continuing, he says that if you have been given a job to do, “never go away, even when thy weariness makes itself felt” (Precept XIII).

“If you are accustomed to an excess of flattery and it becomes an obstacle to your desires, then your feeling is to obey your passions.”

“A man is naturally annoyed by having authority above himself, and he passes his life in being weary of it ... but a man must reflect, when he is fettered by it, that the annoyance of authority is also felt by his neighbor.”

Or, since authority is necessary, learn to put up with it.

“If you desire that your conduct be good and kept from all evil, beware of all fits of bad temper. This is a sad malady which leads to discord, and there is no more life at all for the one who falls into it. For it brings quarrels between fathers and mothers, as between brothers and sisters; it makes the husband and wife to abhor each other, it contains all wickedness, it encloses all injuries. When a man takes justice for his rule, walks in her ways, and dwells with her, there is no room left for bad temper.”

Ptah-Hotep Was a Great Ruler

There are a great many laws found in this “Oldest Book” which echo over and over the rule of Joseph in Egypt. This man was the chief judge except for Pharaoh throughout the land. Notice Precept XVII:

“If you have the position of a Judge listen to the discourse of the petitioner. Do not ill-treat him; that would discourage him. The way to obtain a true explanation is to listen with kindness.”

“If you have the position of leader prosecuting plans according to your will, do the best things which posterity will remember; so that the word which multiplies flatteries, excites pride and produces vanity shall not succeed with you.”

The next Precept could certainly come from the experiences of Joseph. Notice it:

“Be not puffed up because of the knowledge which you have acquired, and hold converse with unlettered men as with the scholar; for the barriers of art are never closed, no artist has ever possessed the full limit of the knowledge of his art.”

In other words, no one knows it all, even of his own profession. Even the unlettered may instruct at times.

“If you are in the position of leader, to decide the condition of a large number of men, seek the best way, that your own position may be without reproach.”

“Do not speak to the great man more than he asks, for one does not know what might displease him. Speak when he invites you to do so, and your word will please.”

And finally:

“As to the great man [i.e., the ruler, master or Pharaoh] who has behind him the means of existence, his line of conduct is as he wishes. But as this means of existence is under the will of God, nothing [not even the great man] can revolt against that.”


The foregoing has been a selection of the remarkable precepts of this vizier. And, amazingly, throughout this document there is complete agreement to Bible principles. No paganism is found within it. The name Osiris is found once when Ptah-Hotep said that no laws had been changed since the time of Osiris. See Precept V. 9 There is hardly anything wrong with that passage.

The only possible objection is found in Precept XLII where we find: “A son who hearkens, is like a follower of Horus; he is happy because he has hearkened.” The fact is, the name Horus became a general title for all kings of Egypt. The Horus-name was applied to Pharaohs. Even Joseph possessed it! The name Horus in this passage is not necessarily a reference to the personal Horus of the First Dynasty. The monotheistic contents of these Precepts of Ptah-Hotep predominate. The Horus name is merely a title and does not reflect paganistic tendencies. Even names like “Ptah-Hotep” or like “Im-Hotep” were normally titles that could refer to people like Joseph. Note (in the comparison below) the remarkable literary agreements. 10

All indications are that the narrative about Ptah-Hotep appears to be referring to the biblical character we know as Joseph. Understand that non-biblical works may have had mistaken or untrue elements added to the narrative. Thus, they may not 100% correspond to the biblical narrative. However, that does not seem to be the case with Ptah-Hotep. Below are some side-by-side comparisons between Ptah-Hotep and Joseph.

Ptah-Hotep Precepts


Joseph’s History 

(1)    He lived to be 110 years old (XLIV).   (1)     He lived to be 110 years old (Genesis 50:26).
(2)    He lived in the Third Dynasty. 11   (2)     The Third Dynasty saw seven years of low Niles.
(3)    The name Ptah-Hotep was a title of all Memphite viziers, those second in command to Pharaoh himself. 12   (3)     Joseph was second in command to Pharaoh. He was the vizier, as all scholars admit (Genesis 41).
(4)    Ptah-Hotep was the chief judge in ancient Egypt but had been raised to the highest office (XXX).   (4)     Pharaoh required all Egyptians to submit to the judgeship of Joseph (Genesis 41:41–44).
(5)    Ptah-Hotep was once of no account in Egypt but had been elevated to the Prime Ministership (XXX).   (5)     Joseph was raised from the dungeon to sit on the very throne of Pharaoh (Genesis 41:14, 41–44).
(6)    Out of thousands who went into their neighbor’s wives, Ptah-Hotep did not, and taught people not to do so (XVIII).   (6)     Joseph refused to submit to the advances of his master’s wife (Genesis 39).
(7)    Ptah-Hotep received from his father divine laws; even one of the Ten Commandments was quoted (XXXIX).   (7)     Joseph was taught the divine laws from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:5).
(8)    Ptah-Hotep was a monotheist. No idolatry is mentioned.   (8)     Joseph believed only in the God of Israel, not idols.
(9)    Many of Ptah-Hotep’s teachings went directly into the Bible especially Proverbs. 13   (9)     Solomon quoted from the ancient wise men of Israel and copied their teachings and proverbs (Proverbs 1:6).
(10)  Ptah-Hotep received a double possession from his father because of his obedience (XXXIX and XLIV).   (10)   Joseph likewise received the birthright the double possession (1 Chronicles 5:2).
(11)  Ptah-Hotep warns those of advanced knowledge, such as he had, to shun being puffed up (II).   (11)   There was none considered wiser in all the land of Egypt than Joseph (Genesis 41:39), but he was also humble (Genesis 45:15).
(12)  Ptah-Hotep was the first in Egypt whose great public works made him famous. (XLIV)   (12)   Joseph, traditionally, built the Great Pyramid, the Labyrinth, the canal system of Egypt, and many other great public works.


Addendum One: The Works of Joseph in Egypt

The history of Egypt is a long and complicated one. Historians are still trying to figure out when the events described in the literary and archaeological accounts took place, and who the actors were that carried them out. It is not an easy task — especially for the periods before the 6th century B.C.E. The truth is, we simply do not have enough chronological data to be certain, and this would be admitted by any reasonable scholar. 14

The case is not completely hopeless, however. It is our belief that the Bible ought to be consulted in a more serious way by scholars. We feel that it can provide some solid chronological and historical bits of information which can clear the way to a better comprehension of an overview of Egyptian history. After all, the Bible not only has some definite information as to what was happening in Egypt in some crucial times of glory and decline, but it records (in almost an unbroken historical account) the major events occurring in Palestine, a geographical area adjacent to that of Egypt. What was taking place in Palestine, in a cultural way, must have been reflected in the Egyptian environment as well. This is why we think that the biblical record can properly serve as a guide to understanding the historical periods in neighboring Egypt.

The major problem in straightening out Egyptian history has been chronological, that is, discovering when the recorded events in the literary and archaeological evidences actually took place in world history.

For example, the main classical account of early Egyptian history (before the time of Alexander the Great) is that of an Egyptian priest called Manetho — who lived in the 3rd century B.C.E. He said there had been thirty-one separate dynasties of kings from the earliest times to that of Alexander the Great. When one reads Manetho, the impression is that all the dynasties were successive to one another. But historians have disputed this, saying that some parts or even whole dynasties ruled at the same time with each other, though in different geographical areas of Egypt. The Bible supports this belief. In Isaiah we have an 8th century B.C.E. description of Egypt as being made up of more than one kingdom.

“And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.”

Jeremiah also said there were kings (plural) over various regions of Egypt.

“The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, says; ‘Behold, I will punish the multitude of No, and Pharaoh, and Egypt, with their gods, and their kings [plural]; even Pharaoh, and all them that trust in him.’”

And even at the time of the Exodus, Psalm 105:30 says that there were several kings in Egypt.

“Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings [plural].”

In this brief survey we cannot give proofs for the contemporaneity of some of the dynasties (we hope to do that in a book on the subject), 15 but it can be shown that this was the case. It appears certain that parts of the third, fourth, and fifth dynasties (for example) were in existence at the same time — only in different regions of Egypt. The third dynasty saw the first construction of pyramids by a king named Djoser who had a famous architect and writer called Imhotep. This later person was so famous for his wisdom and buildings that the later Greeks thought him to have had divine knowledge. From this period an inscription has been found which says that there were seven years of famine in the land but the wise counselor to the king was able to find out how the Nile River inundations were under divine control. After seven years the Nile returned to normal flow.

In the Bible there is only one major time in Egyptian history in which there was an exact period of seven years famine. That was in the time of Joseph (Genesis 41:25–57). Early Christian scholars (some of them were natives of Egypt) said that the chief pyramids were constructed in the time of Joseph. They derived the meaning of “pyramid” from pyros (wheat). Joseph supposedly paid the people in grain (which was stored up during the seven years’ plenty) to build some of the pyramids and other buildings

The Roman historian, Pliny, said the pyramids were constructed partly out of ostentation and partly out of state policy to divert the people from mutinies by putting them to work (XXXVI.12). This would seem to have been a wise policy to keep the people occupied with work during the seven years famine when no ordinary farming was possible. Thus, there was a good reason for pyramid construction.

The greatest pyramid was built in the fourth dynasty by a man that the Egyptians called Philition the shepherd (Herodotus 11.128). This man was not an Egyptian, and his name implies he was from Palestine (where the raising of herds was a primary occupation). Could this have been Joseph?

There was also an artificial lake called Moeris which was fed by an extensive canal system which is named the Bahr Joseph. This was supposed to have been constructed by Joseph. It was a huge reservoir which was once 72 feet above sea level, but has now dried up (through deterioration) to a water level 144 feet below sea level. Herodotus in the 5th century B.C.E. called the whole hydro-complex an outstanding engineering feat (Herodotus 11.149).

Really, if one could have seen Egypt during the time of Joseph (and especially the flourishing condition in which he left it), it would be an astonishment to modern man. Yet even the small remnants of what was once a glorious civilization cause us moderns to marvel. But when all the buildings, canal systems, and other artistic creations were in their prime, Egypt must have been the most wondrous nation in existence and one that has not been surpassed even in modern times!

When one uses the Bible as a chronological and historical guide to events in the Middle East, it is possible to arrive at a sensible account of what was generally happening in nations surrounding Palestine. It has to be admitted, however, that many questions remain for historians to sort out, because many of the sources of evidence are not always consistent or complete. But we have enough to show that Joseph’s time was one of profound human accomplishment.


Addendum Two: “The Instruction of Amen-em-otep”

In Appendix Two of Restoring the Original Bible (see note 3 above) Dr. Martin discusses the relation­ship between several of the sayings in Proverbs chapters 22 and 23 and a work called “The Instruction of Amen-em-otep. There are 30 sayings in the Division of Proverbs, and there are 30 sections in “the Instruction of Amen-em-otep” but scholars are unable to determine at this time how the 30 Hebrew sayings fit with the 30 Egyptian sections. 16 Part of the problem is Egyptian translation, and part is because the Hebrew sayings were likely edited and updated to suit audiences who would have had the material read to them by scribes in Solomon’s (or Hezekiah’s) time. Whoever performed the final compiling and editing (likely done by Ezra the priest), had full authority to do so. 17

There is practically unanimous agreement among scholars that these two works are related. 18 Let us review some of the corresponding passages from Proverbs and the “Instruction”  19:

“Bow down your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you [Heb. in your belly]; they shall withal be fitted in your lips. ... That I might make you know the certainty of the words of truth; that you might answer the words of truth to them that send unto you?” 

  • Proverbs 22:17–21

“Give your ears, hear the sayings,
Give your heart to understand them;
It profits to put them in your heart,
Woe to him who neglects them!
Let them rest in the casket of your belly,
May they be bolted in your heart;
When there rises a whirlwind of words,
They’ll be a mooring post for your tongue.”

  • Instruction, 3:9–16

Note how the texts obviously relate to each other, yet do not appear to be direct quotations. This is the way the entire comparison reads.

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor:
neither oppress the afflicted in the gate.” 

  • Proverbs 22:22

“Beware of robbing a wretch,
of attacking a cripple.”

  • Instruction, 4:4–5

Rich and poor, and how to properly relate to them, is a major theme in both works.

“Labor not to be rich:
Cease from your own wisdom.
By humility and the fear of the Lord
are riches, and honor, and life.”

  • Proverbs 23:4–5

“Do not set your heart on wealth,
There is no ignoring Fate and Destiny;
Do not let your heart go straying,
Every man comes to his hour,
Do not strain to seek increase.”

  • Instruction, 11:12–13

Part of the problem is that many of the Egyptian words in the “The Instruction of Amen-em-otep” are unique and the meanings are up for interpretation, less so than with this section of Proverbs, although here too there are problems of understanding word meanings. 20

“Make no friendship with an angry man 21; and with a furious man you shall not go: Lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.” 

  • Proverbs 22:24–25

“Do not befriend the heated man,
Nor approach him for conversation, ...
He is the ferry-man of snaring words.”

  • Instruction, 27:16–17

Landmarks and boundary markers for fields were important to the agricultural society of Egypt, where on a yearly basis the Nile River inundated the fields and left a deposit of rich mud which became fertile soil when the floods receded and the new earth dried. Who owned what piece of land was a matter of life and death to the lower classes, and advantage was frequently taken by the rich and powerful.


“Remove not the ancient landmark,
which thy fathers have set.” 

  • Proverbs 22:28

“Do not move the markers on the borders of the fields ...
Nor encroach on the boundaries of a widow ...
Beware of destroying the borders of fields.”

  • Instruction, 7:11, 15

An “evil eye” meant someone who is stingy and greedy.

“Eat you not the bread of him that has an evil eye, neither desire you his dainty meats: ... The morsel which you have eaten shall you vomit up, and lose your sweet words.”

  • Proverbs 23:6–8

“The big mouthful of bread
you swallow, you vomit it,
And you are emptied of your gain.”

  • Instruction, 14:16–18

Dealing with rulers or superiors is a large part of the discussion in both Proverbs chapters 22 and 23, and the “The Instruc­tion of Amen-em-otep”

“When you sit to eat with a ruler,
consider diligently what is before thee.”

  • Proverbs 23:1

“Do not eat in the presence of an official,
And then set your mouth before

  • Instruction, 23:13–14

Hard work is praised. Sloth is demeaned. A courtier is a court official or a friend of the ruler, most always a nobleman by birth.

“See you a man diligent in his business?
he shall stand before kings;
he shall not stand before mean men.”

  • Proverbs 22:29

“The scribe who is skilled in his office,
He is found worthy to be a courtier.”

  • Instruction, 27:16–17

As mentioned before the Proverbs and “Instructions” are not exact parallels, although they are close enough that scholars recognize their relationship. The Proverbs of this section were collected to be advice to those acquainted with rulers (Proverbs 23:1–3), those with access to the king (Proverbs 22:11), and those with opportunities and expectations for wealth (hence the warning against striving after riches, Proverbs 24:4–5), all of which shows that the intended audience was composed of nobility. So too, the “Instructions” were not written to peasants but to those who could expect make good use of the advice, again, the nobility.


As both the Proverbs and “Instructions” indicate, people are free to pursue their various courses in life, but there are certain courses of action, borne out by experience that tend toward success. This is not information that has anything to do with your spiritual salvation, but it may help you live life a little better than you otherwise would, until the day when God takes control of this earth and directly shows us how to maximize our lives to our benefit and to the glory of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you ignore the advice that is available in the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, you may be missing out on tangible benefits to your present life here and now. God has made wonderful resources of the world’s wisdom available to you. Read them, use them, and learn from them.

You have nothing to lose except ignorance.

Ernest L. Martin, 1983
Edited and expanded by David Sielaff, April 2004


[ NOTE: I am reprinting a short commentary that deals with Joseph and Egypt.   DWS ]

God Enslaves the Egyptians — Commentary for June 10, 2003

In today's world “freedom” is very important. Freedom of nations, peoples, families, and in the western world, the freedom of individuals to live their lives as they see fit is one of our cherished ideals. Freedom is such a central principal that it is surprising to learn that God has created circum­stances whereby men and women were made less free, and became servants or slaves of other men.

Dr. Martin explained the story of Genesis 47 (I do not remember the occasion), and he pointed out that the Egyptians were free before the 7 years of plenty and the 7 years of famine. During the long famine Joseph kept the Egyptians alive by providing them grain he ordered stored during the 7 years of plenty. However, Joseph did not give them grain, he sold it to them in stages. First he sold them grain in exchange for their goods, then in exchange for their lands and in exchange of their freedom,

“And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the store­houses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.”

• Genesis 47:56–57

Before 7 years of famine Egyptian farmers were free men. They were not “subject” to Pharaoh. After the famine Pharaoh was the majority landholder and most all Egyptians were servants of Pharaoh.

In the first year the people of Egypt spent all their money on food (Genesis 47:13–15). Then Joseph exchanged grain for all the cattle of the Egyptians (Genesis 47:16–17). The second year Joseph gave the Egyptians grain in exchange for ownership of their land so that Pharaoh owned all the land except that of the priest (Genesis 47:18–22). Joseph sold them the seed to grow food on land that Pharaoh now owned (Genesis 47:23–24). The payment price was their freedom. The Egyptians made a covenant with Pharaoh through Joseph. They said, “We will be Pharaoh's servants” (Genesis 47:25).

Then Joseph did something even more interesting, “Joseph made it a law ... that Pharaoh should have” one-fifth of the produce of the land, in perpetuity. This law existed even to the time of Moses “unto this day” (Genesis 47:26). It was during this period of time that the Israelites prospered (Genesis 47:27), probably because they were free and unencumbered by the one-fifth tax on their agricultural produce. In addition, the Israelites probably owned their land in Goshen, unlike the Egyptians.

God, through Joseph, transformed the Egyptians from being free men into being servants of Pharaoh in less than three years. It is therefore not surprising that the Egyptians were so willing to oppress the Israelites when God brought up “a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1). The Jewish historian Josephus stated in Antiquities of the Jews Book 2, chapter 9, that the new king was from a new family that arose in Egypt. We now would say that a new “dynasty” had taken rulership over Egypt. The Thackeray translation of Josephus in fact uses the term “dynasty.”

Through the famine God made the Egyptians servants to Pharaoh. The Egyptians in turn oppressed the Israelites (with Pharaoh's approval), then God later freed the Israelites through His mighty acts at the Exodus. God is sovereign. If God so chooses He will make those who are free to be slaves, and those who are slaves to be free.

Remember the main message of Paul’s letter to Philemon in the New Testament. We should always attempt to improve our situation in life. That is good and proper. However, keep in mind that prayer has great effect at times, we should also be willing to accept from God both good and bad, not cheerfully necessarily, but with the understanding that He is sovereign and He will do what He will do, sometimes regardless of our wishes or current understanding.

David Sielaff, 2003, 2004  


1 Note that 2 Chronicles 32:32 where the word “and” is in italics in the King James Version. If that word is removed, as it should be, it shows that Isaiah wrote the biblical Book of Kings up to his time.  ELM

2 1 Kings 4:32 tells us about Solomon that, “He spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.” We have only 1 of the 1,005 songs in the biblical canon. It is the best song. In Hebrew it is “the Song of Songs” which the King James titles as the Song of Solomon.  DWS

3 See Appendix Two, “The Book of Proverbs: The Book of Proverbs: Its Structure, Design and Teaching” in Dr. Martin’s Restoring the Original Bible (Portland: ASK, 1994), pp. 483–492 on this subject. As Dr. Martin understood their structure, the Divisions of the book of Proverbs are:

Introduction Proverbs 1:1 to 1:6
Division 1 Proverbs 1:7 to 9:18
Division 2 Proverbs 10:1 to 22:16
“The Proverbs of Solomon”
Division 3 Proverbs 22:22 to 24:22
“The Words of the wise
Division 4 Proverbs 24:23 to 24:34
“These also belong to the wise
Division 5 Proverbs 25:1 to 29:27
“These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied”
Division 6 Proverbs 30
“The words of Agar the son of Jakeh”
Division 7 Proverbs 31 (whole chapter)
“The words of king Lemuel”

For more information see R.N. Whybray’s The Composition of the Book of Proverbs (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement 168; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1964). It gives a summary of the history of composition and organizational studies of the book of Proverbs. Some consider that there are only 6 Divisions. They combine together into one all of the sayings from Divisions 3 and 4.  DWS  

4 There is an excellent discussion in “Excursus on the Book of Proverbs and Amenemope” by Murphy, Roland E. in Vol. 22, Word Biblical Commentary: Proverbs (Dallas: Word Biblical Commentary, 1998). “The Instruction of Amen-em-opet” was not written by Joseph. Joseph was not Amen-em-opet. Its importance is that it is used as a source for a section of Proverbs. See below, “Addendum Two: The Instruction of Amen-em-opet.”  DWS  

5 See James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 421–424, for more information and the complete Egyptian text. According to Miriam Lichtheim:

It can hardly be doubted that the author of Proverbs was acquainted with the Egyptian work and borrowed from it, for in addition to similarities in thought and expression — especially close and striking in Proverbs 22 and 23 — the line of [Proverbs] 22:20: ‘Have I not written for you thirty sayings of admonition and knowledge’ derives its meaning from the author’s acquaintance with the ‘thirty’ chapters of Amenemope.”

Lichtheim’s quote is in The Context of Scripture, Volume 1: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World, William W. Hallo, General Ed., (Boston: Brill, 2003), p. 115. This selection in Context of Scripture was taken from Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3 volumes (University of California Press, 1973–1980).  DWS  

6 Recall that the husband of Mary (the New Testament Joseph) was only the legal father of Christ, though the Gospel of Luke records his name as though he were the real father Luke 3:23.  ELM  

7 See James Henry Breasted, A History of Egypt: From Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest, 2nd ed. (New York: Scrivner, 1937), p.83.  DWS  

8 Howard Osgood, Records of the Past: Being English Translations of the Ancient Monuments of Egypt and Western Asia, Vol. I, A. H. Sayce, ed. (Concord, NH; Washington, D.C.: Archaeological Institute of America, c1914–1934), p. 313.  DWS  

9 Osiris was a human, later attributed divine status by the Egyptians. See the articles by Dr. Martin, “The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! – Part 1” at and “The Secret of Ancient Religion Revealed! – Part 2” Note what  Roman historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in The Library of History, Book 1, 13 ( in the 1st century B.C.E.:

“And besides these there are other gods, they say, who were terrestrial, having once been mortals, but who, by reason of their sagacity and the good services which they rendered to all men, attained immortality, some of them having even been kings in Egypt. Their names, when translated, are in some cases the same as those of the celestial gods, while others have a distinct appellation, such as Helius, Cronus, and Rhea, and also the Zeus who is called Ammon by some, and besides these Hera and Hephaestus, also Hestia, and, finally, Hermes. ... Then Cronus became the ruler, and upon marrying his sister Rhea he begat Osiris and Isis, according to some writers of mythology, but, according to the majority, Zeus and Hera, whose high achievements gave them dominion over the entire universe. From these last were sprung five gods, one born on each of the five days which the Egyptians intercalates: the names of these children were Osiris and Isis, and also Typhon, Apollo, and Aphrodite; and Osiris when translated is Dionysus, and Isis is more similar to Demeter than to any other goddess.”   DWS  

10 There are several complete translations of the two Egyptian documents mentioned in this Article. One modern translation is found in Ancient Near Eastern Texts edited by J.B. Pritchard (see Note 4 above). This work can be found in most major libraries. We cannot furnish photocopies of these translations because of copyright laws, but because they are easily obtained in public libraries, we thought to make mention of them at the conclusion of this Article. Modern discoveries are revealing more information about the Bible and its contents. Several complete English translations of “The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep” are on the internet at: This version has excellent notes, but it does not show all of the Precept numbers. Other English translations are at:, and  

11 Breasted, History of Egypt, p. 83.  ELM  

12 Breasted, History of Egypt, p. 126.  ELM  

13 Osgood, Records of the Past, p. 313.  DWS  

14 For more information see the articles: “The Importance of Egyptian History” at and the accompanying “Newsletter for July 2003” at See also “Free Men into Slaves” at  

15 Unfortunately, this book was never written, nor did Dr. Martin compile writings that could be published before he died in January 2002. As I mentioned before, in my opinion one book has gone far to accomplish what I understand Dr. Martin wanted to do with regard to understanding the Egyptian dynastic chronology. The book is called Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity by Roger Henry (New York: Algora Publishing, 2003; It seeks to correct Egyptian chronology for the middle and later dynasties and resolves major historical problems in biblical and Greek archaeology. Mr. Henry takes the literary history seriously.  DWS  

16 It is possible that the biblical reference to 30 sayings may in fact be indicating the source of the sayings that are in this section of Proverbs, a source that the original audience may have known was “The Instruction of Amen-em-otep,” hence no further explanation was necessary beyond “thirty sayings.”  

17 See Martin, Restoring, chapter 10, pp. 128–135.  DWS  

18 Murphy, “Excursus on the Book of Proverbs and Amenemope” in  Proverbs.  DWS  

19 The translations are Lichtheim’s (contained in Context of Scripture) and are somewhat different from the ANET translation Dr. Martin used in his Appendix Two of RestoringDWS  

20 Lichtheim, “Instruction,” p. 116 states, “Amenemope is a difficult text. It abounds in rare words, elliptic phrases and allusions whose meaning escapes us. Further, the copying scribes introduced numerous errors.”  DWS  

21 See Proverbs 15:18, 17:27, and 29:22 which also discuss angry men.  DWS

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