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  • What is the Oldest Book?

    The question of what the world’s oldest book is isn’t actually easy to answer. Aside from the particular date that the book was written, it also depends on a few other factors, not the least of which is what one would consider as a proper book.

    If one were to ask someone off the street what is the oldest book, chances are the most common answer would be the Bible. The supposed logic behind this notion would be because the Bible is a written record of events dating back to the creation of the world itself.

    But the truth of it is that much of what is contained in the Bible had been written down many centuries after those said events had already occurred. It can be argued that the Christian Bible, as we have come to know it today, has only been around since the late 4th century. And there have been numerous books that are much older.

    But then, as has been mentioned, there is still the issue of what exactly constitutes a book. If we were to consider any written volume as a book, then Egyptian texts written on papyrus scrolls nearly 3,000 years in the past would certainly qualify. However, there are those who define a book as having proper printing and binding: basically, physically closer to the modern book as we know it today. Going by the second definition, the Gutenberg Bible would be the oldest book, printed in the 15th century (around 1450).

    Going by the first definition, a good candidate for what is the oldest book is the Epic of Gilgamesh, written on 12 clay tablets and dating back to around the 7th century BC. Earliest versions of this Ancient Mesopotamian epic date as far back as 2150 to 2000 BC, but the current final version is said to have been edited into its present version in 1600 BC.

    Another contender for oldest book is Homer’s Iliad. Most scholars place the poem in the 8th century BC, while others place it in the 7th century. It has also been claimed that the I-Ching is the world’s oldest book. Said to have been written by Lao-Tze over 2,000 years ago, it is considered as one of the oldest Chinese classic texts.

    Currently, Bulgaria’s National Museum of History plays host to what is supposed to be the oldest book in the world. Consisting of 6 pages of 24-carat gold enclosed in Etruscan script, it was estimated to be approximately 2,500 years old. This appears to be the official word for now, but one never knows if someday archaeologists might uncover yet another ancient volume that is even much older.

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