Imhotep “God of Reasonable Thinking” was an Egyptian chancellor to the Pharaoh Djoser, possible architect of Djoser’s step pyramid, and high priest of the sun god Ra at Heliopolis. Very little is known of Imhotep as a historical figure, but in the 3,000 years following his death, he was gradually glorified and deified. Traditions from long after Imhotep’s death treated him as a great author of wisdom texts and especially as a physician. No text from his lifetime mentions these capacities and no text mentions his name in the first 1,200 years following his death. Apart from the three short contemporary inscriptions that establish him as chancellor to the Pharaoh, the first text to reference Imhotep dates to the time of Amenhotep III (c. 1391–1353 BC). It appears that this libation to Imhotep was done regularly, as they are attested on papyri associated with statues of Imhotep until the Late Period (c. 664–332 BC). Wildung (1977) explains the origin of this cult as a slow evolution of intellectuals’ memory of Imhotep, from his death onward. Gardiner finds the cult of Imhotep during the New Kingdom (c. 1550–1077 BC) sufficiently distinct from the usual offerings made to other commoners that the epithet “demigod” is likely justified to describe his veneration.
History Imhotep’s historicity is confirmed by two contemporary inscriptions made during his lifetime on the base or pedestal of one of Djoser’s statues (Cairo JE 49889) and also by a graffito on the enclosure wall surrounding Sekhemkhet’s unfinished step pyramid. The latter inscription suggests that Imhotep outlived Djoser by a few years and went on to serve in the construction of Pharaoh Sekhemkhet’s pyramid, which was abandoned due to this ruler’s brief reign.
Architecture and engineering the step pyramid of Djoser Imhotep was one of the chief officials of the Pharaoh Djoser. Concurring with much later legends, Egyptologists credit him with the design and construction of the Pyramid of Djoser, a step pyramid at Saqqara built during the 3rd Dynasty. He may also have been responsible for the first known use of stone columns to support a building. Despite these later attestations, the pharaonic Egyptians themselves never credited Imhotep as the designer of the stepped pyramid, nor with the invention of stone architecture.