Taken from: http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d040501.htm
“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.”
“The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep,” Precept XLIV
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.”
Howard Osgood, Records of the Past 8
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.”
“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.
|(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.|