The Oldest Book in the World
Have you ever wondered what the oldest book is? I was instantly
intrigued when I saw that claim on a book that crossed my desk at the
library where I work. Coming down to us from around 2400 BCE, The Wisdom
of Ptah-Hotep is the work of a Grand Vizier to a fifth dynasty Pharaoh.
Lost for centuries, it resurfaced when a Frenchman passionate about
Egyptian art purchased a papyrus in Thebes in 1843, the only complete
copy of this work. Edited by noted contemporary Egyptologist Christian
Jacq, the 2004 edition I saw presents some 45 maxims and epilogues along
with the hieroglyphs line by line above the text.
Ptah-Hotep tells us that he is 101 years old, and wants to pass on
the benefit of his experience through this collection of sayings, or
"wisdoms." Here are some samples:
Maxim 1: "Donít be conceited about your own knowledge. Take
advice from the ignorant as well as from the wise."
Maxim 9: "Donít blame or criticize those who have no children,
nor boast about your own offspring. There are many unhappy fathers and
as many unhappy mothers; a woman without children is more serene. God
grants spiritual growth to the solitary, whereas the head of a family
clan prays anxiously to find a successor."
Maxim 11: "Follow your heart, your conscience and your ka--your
creative power--all your life . . . donít cut short the time spent on
the spiritual life . . . do not pervert the course of your day-to-day
life by spending too long on mundane chores . . ."
Maxim 14: "The one who is not a slave to material goods can
acquire possessions provided he keeps in mind that he wants them only
for a specific purpose . . . but he who obeys the impulses of his greed
loses his own conscience, and provokes disdain rather than love . . . A
big heart, in a man or woman, is a gift from God."