“The Oldest Book In The World” -- By: Howard Osgood

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 045:180 (Oct 1888)
Article: “The Oldest Book In The World”
Author: Howard Osgood


“The Oldest Book In The World”

Society, Ethics, Religion, In Egypt Before 2000 B. C.

The French Version of the Papyrus Prisse, by M. Philippe Virey, and of the Maxims of Ani, by M. Francois Chabas. Translated by

Howard Osgood

This work is not published because it is a literary curiosity, but for its importance in the history of man. In the opinion of pre-eminent Egyptologists, Chabas, de Rougé, Naville, Maspero, Renouf, and many others, it is the oldest book now extant in the world, and they, not I, have assigned its title. It professes to have originated at an era many centuries before the epoch of the Exodus. This claim, if alone, would demand too much of our credulity, but with the numerous monuments of the first six dynasties telling their clear story of the high civilization, of the art and literature, of Egypt in hoar antiquity, this claim appears to be without exaggeration. The fragment of the work of Kakimna is assigned to the third, and the work of Ptah-hotep to the fifth dynasty.

As to the civilization of Egypt in Pyramid times, the numerous other monuments of this early age have led those most competent to give a sound opinion to tell us as follows: —

It is certain that at least three thousand years before Christ there was in Egypt a powerful and elaborately organized monarchy, enjoying a material civilization in many respects not inferior to that of Europe in the last century.1

The fourth dynasty ascended the throne about 3124 B. c, and at that time, long before our usual ideas of the development of nations, there is found a people highly instructed in all the arts of peace; a state completely organized; a hierarchy, firmly founded, minutely divided, and organized

even to the smallest external matters; an universally diffused system of writing, and the common use of papyrus; in short, a civilization, which in all essential points has already attained its full maturity, and only by sharp investigation is the further development in some directions discovered.2

Art under the fourth and fifth dynasties obtained a height never surpassed by following dynasties. Egypt had also a complicated administration, the result of efforts pursued through long years. There were civil grades and religious grades, bishops as well as prefects. Registration of lands was maintained. The King had his court, and a whole world of officials, powerfully and wisely organized, gravitated around him. Literature was held in honor. 3

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