Imhotep – The Founder of Medicine & Biblical Figure of Joseph?


The evidence afforded by Egyptian and Greek texts support the view that Imhotep’s reputation was very respected in early times … His prestige increased with the lapse of centuries and his temples in Greek times were the centers of medical teachings.

–Encyclopedia Brittanica

The full list of his titles: Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief.

Imhotep lived in Egypt during the 26th century, BC. He is considered the first Renaissance Man, or more commonly, a scientific “jack of all trades”. He was employed by one of the earliest pharaohs of ancient Egypt, one King Djoser.

Imhotep is credited with being the founder of medicine. He was the author of a medical treatise remarkable for being devoid of magical thinking; the so-called Edwin Smith papyrus containing anatomical observations, ailments, and cures. The surviving papyrus was probably written around 1700 BC but may be a copy of texts a thousand years older. However, this attribution of authorship is speculative. The Papyrus can be viewed at the Brooklyn Children’s MuseumNew York City. The 48 cases contained within the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus concern:

  • 27 head injuries (cases #1-27)
  • 6 throat and neck injuries (cases #28-33)
  • 2 injuries to the clavicle (collarbone) (cases #34-35)
  • 3 injuries to the arm (cases #36-38)
  • 8 injuries to the sternum (breastbone) and ribs (cases #39-44)
  • 1 tumour and 1 abscess of the breast (cases #45-46)
  • 1 injury to the shoulder (case #47)
  • 1 injury to the spine (case #48) 

Descriptions of Imhotep by James Henry Breasted et al. :

“In priestly wisdom, in magic, in the formulation of wise proverbs; in medicine and architecture; this remarkable figure of Zoser’s reign left so notable a reputation that his name was never forgotten. He was the patron spirit of the later scribes, to whom they regularly poured out a libation from the water-jug of their writing outfit before beginning their work.” ‘

‘Imhotep extracted medicine from plants.’

‘Imhotep was portrayed as a priest with a shaven head, seated and holding a papyrus roll. Occasionally he was shown clothed in the archaic costume of a priest.’

‘Of the details of his life, very little has survived though numerous statues and statuettes of him have been found. Some show him as an ordinary man who is dressed in plain attire. Others show him as a sage who is seated on a chair with a roll of papyrus on his knees or under his arm. Later, his statuettes show him with a god like beard, standing, and carrying the ankh and a scepter.’

‘He is represented seated with a papyrus scroll across his knees, wearing a skullcap and a long linen kilt. We can interpret the papyrus as suggesting the sources of knowledge kept by scribes in the “House of Life”. The headgear identifies Imhotep with Ptah, and his priestly linen garment symbolizes his religious purity.’

Two thousand years after his death, Imhotep’s status was raised to that of a deity of medicine and healing. He was identified or confused with Thoth, the god of architecture, mathematics, medicine and patron of the scribes, having Imhotep’s cult merging with that of his former tutelary god. Taking this into consideration, he was thus associated with Amenhotep son of Hapu, who was another deified architect, in the region of Thebes where they were worshipped as “brothers” in temples dedicated to Thot and later in Hermopolis following the syncretist concept of Hermes-Thot, a concept that led to another syncretic belief, that of Hermes Trismegistus and hermeticism. Imhotep was also linked to Asklepios by the Greeks.

The Upper Egyptian Famine Stela, dating from the Ptolemaic period, bears an inscription containing a legend about a famine of seven years during the reign of Djoser. Imhotep is credited with having been instrumental in ending it. One of his priests explained the connection between the god Khnum and the rise of the Nile to the king, who then had a dream in which the Nile god spoke to him, promising to end the drought.

These dreams are another factor which has lead some scholars to associate Imhotep with the Biblical figure of Joseph.

Sources

Wikipedia

 

 

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