A Practical Peacemaker Ponders . . .

Back Up Next

The Oldest Book in the World
11/19/2009

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."