the primary manuscript for an important Late period Demotic Wisdom text. Purchased in 1895 by J. H. Insinger for the Rijksmuseum in Leiden, the Netherlands, the papyrus lacked its first eight or nine columns when it entered that collection; these have since been identified in the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The Insinger Papyrus's provenance was probably Akhmim, in Middle Egypt. Additional published or known fragmentary versions are today in Berlin, Cairo, Copenhagen, Florence, Lille, and Paris. Each displays minor, but not insignificant, differences. Greek jottings on a papyrus strip used to reinforce Insinger suggest, but by no means prove, an early Roman date; the original composition (and the papyrus itself) may be Ptolemaic.

As probably the latest lengthy Egyptian didactic text, the Insinger Papyrus is firmly in the native tradition, although it possesses unique features. Most of the twenty-five published chapters (called “Instructions”) are identified by a heading. In common with the scribes who composed other Late period Wisdom texts, the author of the Insinger Papyrus was much concerned with the nature of god, the qualities of the good or evil man, and the role of the individual in society. On the basis of Karl Zauzich's description in Miriam Lichtheim's Late Egyptian Wisdom Literature (1983), pp. 107–109, the still unpublished first chapters of Insinger dealt, for example, with god (“In the hand of god are sustenance, work, and life”); the avoidance of envy; and the effects of wealth (“Property causes praise to come into existence for a fool who is loaded down with stench”). The published chapter headings illustrate the wide range of subjects, which include the following:

  • 7. self-restraint
  • 8. avoidance of gluttony
  • 9. rejection of foolishness
  • 10. instruction of a son
  • 11. acquiring protection in life
  • 12. carefulness in relationships with others
  • 13. crime and sin (lacks heading)
  • 14. the inferior and stupid man
  • 15. warning against greed
  • 16. caution against miserliness (lacks heading)
  • 17. strictures on worry
  • 18. the nature and importance of patience
  • 19. calmness
  • 20. warning not “to slight a small thing”
  • 21. “the teaching not to slight lest you be slighted”
  • 22. the advantages of staying in one's home town
  • 23. god and punishment (lacking a heading)
  • 24. greatness of god
  • 25. retaliation

The composition also touched on other topics not apparent from the headings; among them, Insinger's view of women—column 7, line 11: “[Even] a wise man is harmed because of a woman he loves.” Such negative statements were balanced by the admission that a woman might indeed be good, if difficult to fathom—column 8, line 9: “There is she who is mistress of praise as mistress of the house through her character.” In column 12, line 22: “One does not ever discover the heart of a woman any more than [one knows] the sky.”

Fate, an important concept in Late period Egypt and in the Greco-Roman world in general, also played an important role in the composition. The chapters often conclude with the line: “The fate and the fortune that come it is the god who sends [or determines] them,” as in column 21, line 6.

The Insinger Papyrus shares with the other products of Late period Egyptian wisdom a tendency to organize subject matter and themes loosely; the Insinger Papyrus, however, seems to be more tightly structured than most. The climax of the work appears to be the striking hymn to god in the Twenty-fourth Instruction (cols. 31–32, lines 9–21). While the sayings are generally monostichs, that is, “single sentences that are grammatically and logically complete and self-contained,” they can be paired, forming a sort of couplet (Lichtheim, 1983, pp. 1, 110). For example, “A fool before whom there is no stick has no concern in his heart” and “A fool who has no concern gives concern to him who sends him [on an errand].” An unusual feature of the Insinger Papyrus is that the total number of individual sayings is given at the end of each chapter or section.

The tone of Insinger is rather more elevated than that of other Late period didactic texts. It is often contrasted with the Wisdom text of Onkhsheshonqy, which is characterized by more practical, earthy, and self-interested sayings. For example, Onkhsheshonqy column 16, line 5: “Do not drink water in the house of a merchant; he will charge you for it.” The author of the Insinger Papyrus assumed, at times, a mildly humorous or ironic attitude, declaring, for example, “A son does not die from being punished by his father.” There was also a marked fondness for paradoxes (which are not often found in older Wisdom texts). For example, “There is the one who lives on little so as to save, yet he becomes poor” and “There is one who does not know, yet the fate gives [to him] wealth.”

The relationship between the Insinger Papyrus and earlier works, such as Amenemope and Ptahhotep, is not completely clear. While a few direct borrowings have been identified, the debt of the Insinger Papyrus to its predecessors is probably one of similarities in attitude and subject matter, rather than in close verbal parallels or quotations. Significant questions remain, as well, concerning the possible contact between Late Egyptian Wisdom, represented by such texts as the Insinger Papyrus, and other traditions—as, for example, those preserved in Hellenistic, Hermetic, and Jewish didactic literature.


Text Editions and Facsimiles

  • De Cenival, F. “Fragment de Sagesse apparentée au Papyrus Insinger (P. Université de Lille III Inv. P. dem. Lille 34).” Cahiers de recherches de l'Institut de papyrologie et égyptologie de Lille 12 (1990), 93–96.
  • Houser, Jennifer R. “Missing Fragments of P. Insinger in the Collection of the University of Pennsylvania Museum (E16333A and E16334B).” In Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, Cambridge, 3–9 September 1995, edited by Christopher Eyre, p. 88.
  • Lexa, František. Papyrus Insinger. 2 vols. Paris, 1926. Includes hand copy and glossary.
  • Smith, M. “Weisheit, demotische.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 6: 1197–1198. Wiesbaden, 1986. A useful list of the manuscript witnesses to Insinger.
  • Suten-Xeft, Le Livre Royal. 2 vols. Leiden, 1899–1905. Photographic reproduction of the Insinger Papyrus.
  • Volten, Askel. Kopenhagener Texte zum Demotischen Weisheitsbuch. Copenhagen, 1940.
  • Volten, Askel. Das Demotische Weisheitsbuch, Studien und Bearbeitung. Copenhagen, 1941. The recently identified columns are not yet published, but a detailed description by Karl-Theodor Zauzich is in Lichtheim (1983), pp. 167–109.


  • Lichtheim, Miriam. Late Egyptian Wisdom Literature in the International Context: A Study of Demotic Instructions. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, 52. Freiburg, 1983. An invaluable translation and discussion of Insinger.
  • Thissen, H.J. Demotische Weisheitstexte, vol. 3.2. Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, edited by Otto Kaiser, et al., pp. 280–319. Gütersloh, 1991.

Monographs and Articles

  • Quack, J. “Korrekturvorschläge zu einigen demotischen literarischen Texten.” Enchoria 21 (1994), 63–72.
  • Ritner, Robert. “A Misinterpreted Passage in Insinger.” Enchoria 11 (1982), 113–114.
  • Schneider, T. “Hiob 38 und die demotische Weisheit.” Theologische Zeitschrift 46 (1991), 108–124.
  • Williams, Ronald. J. “The Morphology and Syntax of Papyrus Insinger.” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1948.
  • Zauzich, K.-Th. “Pap. Dem. Insinger.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 898–899. Wiesbaden, 1982. With bibliography listing earlier text editions, translations, and studies.
  • Zauzich, K.-Th. “Paläographische Herausforderungen II.” Enchoria 21 (1994), 90–100.


  • Jasnow, Richard. A Late Period Hieratic Wisdom Text, pp. 36–42. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 52. Chicago, 1992. On the connection between earlier and later Egyptian wisdom.
  • Mahé, J.P. Hermés en Haute Égypte. Vol. 2. Quebec, 1982. Heavily utilizes Insinger and other Egyptian didactic texts in his analysis of the classical Hermetic corpus.
  • Pezin, M. “Premiers raccords effectués sur les documents démotiques de Lille.” Cahiers de recherches de l'Institut de papyrologie et égyptologie de Lille, 8 (1986), 89–98.
  • Quack, J. Die Lehren des Ani: Ein neuägyptischer Weitheitstext in seinem kulturellen Umfeld, pp. 204–205. Orbis biblicus et orientalis, 141. Freiburg, 1994. Notes possible quotations from or allusions to the Wisdom of Any in Insinger.
  • Sanders, Jack T. Ben Sira and Demotic Wisdom. Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series, 28. Chicago, 1983. Presents the case for the dependence of Ben Sira on Insinger, but see also the review by H.-J. Thissen, Enchoria 14 (1980), 199–201.
  • Worp, K. “The Greek Text on the P. Dem. Insinger; A Note on the Date.” Oudheidkundige Mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leuven 63 (1982), 39–40.

Richard Jasnow