The First Book Ever Written

Let’s begin at the beginning. The first book ever written.  No.  It isn’t The Book of Genesis. Contrary to popular belief, at least  in  certain circles, it wasn’t written by God or Adam or even Moses.

 

The invention of writing marks the boundary between pre-history and history. The first written language  that we know of  was archaic cuneiform. It is believed to have appeared  around 3400 BC during the early period of  ancient Sumerian civilization in the region  between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers  in what is now Iraq.  Cuneiform  was originally a pictographic language gradually becoming syllabic and  composed of wedge shaped characters ( the word, “cuneiform,” comes from the latin term cuneus meaning wedge.)   The  earliest writings  were on clay tablets and were probably administrative lists.

The first written story  that has come down to us  is The Epic of Gilgamesh.  It is a mythologized account of an historical figure, Gilgamesh, a ruler of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk,  believed to have ruled  sometime between 2700-2500 BC.

There are a number of fragmentary  versions of the story. The oldest known    are dated around 2100 BC.  But some scholars believe  that these could be transcriptions of earlier Sumerian texts.  Integrated versions have been found dating from around 2000-1700 BC.   The most complete “standard”  version  was written on 12 clay  tablets sometime  between 1500 – 1200 BC.  It was discovered in the ruins of   the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s library in Nineveh, which was the largest library in the pre-Hellenic ancient world.

The definition of  “book” has  become more flexible in the last few years. It used to be that  a “book”  was defined as    a collection of  printed sheets of  bound paper,  encased between two covers.  But with the advent of the e-book, the definition is changing almost daily.  One would have to conclude that a  story written and read on clay tablets  is no less a book than  one on an iPad.

The Gilgamesh Epic continues to be available in hardback, paperback and as an e-book edition. There is only  one copy  available on clay tablets. This can  be found at the British Museum.

We don’t know the first book ever written in the Americas, but the oldest book in the Western Hemisphere  still in existence is a Maya fig bark manuscript, believed to have been written in the 13th century AD. It is called the Dresden Codex, named for  the city in which it resides.

The first book published  in North America was  The Whole Booke of Psalmes. It was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640. Eleven copies of this first edition  are known to exist.

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38 Responses to “The First Book Ever Written”

  1. Ilana DeBare Says:

    Oh dear. The title of this blog post suggests that at some point there will be a post, “The Last Book Ever Written.” When the only things people will be reading are tweets and wikipedia entries.

    Just kidding… I think. :-)

    • andyrossagency Says:

      Ilana, funny you should mention that. No, I don’t have any insight on the last book to be written. But I am reading a very good book that makes one think about it.

      It is called THE SHALLOWS by Nicholas Carr. It talks about how the Internet has changed the way the mind works. The title should give you a good idea of where he is coming from. It’s an interesting book and quite troubling.

  2. rob Says:

    If God wasn’t the author of the first book(Holy Bible) then who created them.Like Adam and Eve?You didn’t mention anything about them.If you believe in evolution no wonder your’e wrong.Apes still die apes and people still die people.The remains of very large people with foreheads with a bump suffered from “gigantism disease.”Like we see in the world today.Andre the ‘giant”the ex wrestler to the guiness records of abnormally large people.Most don’t live that long.Don’t believe it.Look at the photos of these people.

  3. Anare boseniyasana Says:

    Writings were in existence before Moses writes the first five books of the Old Testament.How did Moses learns how to write?
    It is all a part of Gods plan in the salvation of mankind.
    God is the author of his Words and Moses His tool in writing down Gods command in human languages.

  4. E. J. Mims Says:

    I continue to be amazed at how intelligent people have been brainwashed with the biblical Adam & Eve myth. Adam & Eve were “sent” to the earth to upstep the human race. They were not naked or nor simple as the bible would have us believe. They were trained for 15,000 earth years for their mission of racial uplift. They were commissioned by The Ancients of Days to come to our rebellion-torn world…to try and salvage mankind. They instituted a 24 character alphabet, and taught it to the inhabitants that lived around and near the 1st Garden. The first book…who knows, time and exploration will probably uncover many writings that originated during and even before Adam & Eve arrived on earth.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Wow… is all I have to say to E.J. That is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I have ever read. Go try to prove that the earth is millions of years old and you’ll be amazed that it isn’t.

      • Anonymous Says:

        I guess, for me, ridiculous is to eliminate science from the total cosmology of our universe. When we do that, we relegate God to being something “spooky” instead of real. It is absolute arrogance for mankind to believe that we created civilization, government, and human intelligence & spirit. I will not go back and forth with staunch athiests, christians, muslims, jews, or any other religion or belief-system. I simply say that none of us can prove or disprove the existence of God….I “Choose” to Believe that God exists and rules His orderly universe(s). In the end, it should always be about choice because our outcomes are directly proportional to our choices….in my humble opinion.

      • E. J. Mims Says:

        I guess, for me, ridiculous is to eliminate science from the total cosmology of our universe. When we do that, we relegate God to being something “spooky” instead of real. It is absolute arrogance for mankind to believe that we created civilization, government, and human intelligence & spirit. I will not go back and forth with staunch athiests, christians, muslims, jews, or any other religion or belief-system. I simply say that none of us can prove or disprove the existence of God….I “Choose” to Believe that God exists and rules His orderly universe(s). In the end, it should always be about choice because our outcomes are directly proportional to our choices….in my humble opinion…~~E. J. Mims

      • AJ Says:

        The earth is approximately 5.45 BILLION years old. Just thought I’d point that out.

    • Anonymous Says:

      You are going to hell.

      • E.J. Mims Says:

        Well, Anonymous, I guess you would know….if you are God. I will never attempt to judge anybodys’ fate, fath…or anything else for that matter. I pray that you, most of all, get understanding.

    • Luke mark John Heaton Says:

      what were on this Earth did you come up with this info? its ones choice to belive in the Holy word of God, but why put to shame other folks faith? for we all will see our maker one day, thats a fact, Death comes for us all, Jesus was and is the light of the world, a world that is full of Darkness and shame. there are so many honest to God true facts and Record Accounts everywere that are found in the Bible, scientist also conclude some of this research findings. I mean what more do we want? if christ came Back Today, what would you say? just food for thought. Remember people Jesus loves and cares for us all. this is why he Died for u and I. God Bless people

    • Anonymous Says:

      EJ- check the history of the Urantia Book before you use it as your proof k.

  5. ejmims Says:

    I cease to be amazed at how circumscribed the minds of people that claim faith have become. Suffice it to say that, in the end, all will understand much more than we understand now. As for the person that said that I will be going to hell….well, I am so glad that you won’t be making any decisions about my fate….short or long-term. What would I say to Christ if He came back today?….”Praise be to You Christ-Michael, my Lord, Savior, and Creator-Father/Brother…and welcome back to the “world-of-the-cross”, that after 20 centuries, still does not understand who You are, or why You really came to us lowly mortals here on Urantia(Earth), and incarnated in physical form. So many of my brothers and sisters have been led astray by allegory, magic, & myth…that their traditions have made your Word of little effect….forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do,and have done. Forgive me Lord, for not having the wisdom to know the words that could convey the truth that you have revealed to me and so many others concerning our true relationship with The Eternal Father…. and about Your purpose for creating us, the history, heirarchy, and vastness of Your Kingdom in Heaven”.
    Amen.

    • jess Says:

      I just had surgery so I don’t know if you are a hilarious, genious comedian that made me crack up with laughter or if you are serious. Either way, you managed to make my night, and my vicoden kick in. All hail and thanks be given to you my GOD!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    probably the Hebrew torah or the ancient Egyptian book of the dead

  7. majcel Says:

    God decided he needed a vacation. One of his aides(Angels if you will) suggested Venus. “Forget it,” God said. “I went there 10,000 years ago and got sunburned. Another aide suggested Jupiter. “No” God replied. “I went there 5,000 years ago and froze”. A third advisor, new to their position, suggested Earth. They each gasped… “That’s the worst,” God answered. “I went there 2,000 years ago and they’re still accusing me of knocking someone up!”

    Some light humor… =)

    AndyRossAgency – Thanks for the book recommendation: The Shallows

  8. George de Wet Says:

    I’m sorry to say,no matter which of the three religions christian,Jew or Muslim,your only reason for doing so is so that you want to enjoy an after life.What a load of b.s.
    The true god of this world is money,nothing, and I repeat nothing happens without there being money involved,and so everybody is always busy finding out ways to make more,no matter who or what they damage or destroy.
    Believing in god,and thus believing that Jesus is going to come back some time to fetch all those who believe in him is probably the biggest reason that no one is or was concerned about looking after mother earth,because god is going to destroy this world and take his followers to some other place,Ha f****n Ha,and then his followers will stuff up this new place,what then??I’m willing to bet that in another 2000 years, believers will still be sitting around waiting for Jesus to come take them away,only difference is that there will be no more oil to burn or any coal either,back to being cave men again he he he
    After all there is nothing around us that does not come from earth,yes we rely on the sun for energy,but that is the way everything evolved,and some time in the future the earth is going to be further from the sun,and everything is going to freeze,that is if another large meteor or some other space rock does not hit the earth first.
    So you believers,go thru life with your eye flaps on,and remember what I have said.

    • Luke Heaton Says:

      Im sorry you fill this way, being a christian is all Faith based, you eather belive or you dont, Life is to short, there is a God and there is his son Jesus the christ, that is the christian faith, thats my faith and all others, life is to short to question of beliving or not, pont is by the time evrything is all said and done and we are no longer here I like to think I lived it for a higher purpose and that is to serve my creator. may all who dont know christ its my prayer they do, before its all to late.

      • Anonymous Says:

        But you can’t use the word IS if its faith based philosophy. You can say believe but not is.

      • andyrossagency Says:

        Thanks. We don’t really know the first book ever written. It may have been destroyed. Arguably (and it is certainly arguable), it is the Epic of Gilgemish.

  9. andyrossagency Says:

    This blog post has had a remarkable number of responses that seem to have nothing much to do with my intention. I was trying to raise a kind of archeological question about what was the first book. Of course, we don’t know for sure, but the earliest (probably ) was The Gilgamish Epic. Of course that raises lots of other fundamental questions, like “What is a book?” The responses seem to have raised questions about the nature of God and Faith and whether I am going to be damned in hell.

  10. George de Wet Says:

    My apologies Andy,will chat on another site.Regards George

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    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday.
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  13. Norma Paynton Says:

    Well I stumbled on your site Andy when I popped a search for the oldest book ever written and got your fascinating website. I then read through all the responses on religion which were also interesting and as we will never actually know the true answers then I think we should just try to go through life being nice and not ridiculing people for their beliefs. @majcel. Loved it xx thanks for the laugh.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Norma, thank you for your wisdom and your tolerance

  15. Earl Says:

    I’m sorry, pictograph is “not” writting, it has at the least a investigative nature, one has to try and figure out what was going on in the pictures. I’m sorry, but that is “not” writing… If it does not house the simple rule of understanding, then it is no better then the pictures you can find in any cave understood to be the earliest writing “known” to man. Gee, my character has a spear, my character throws the spear, the character’s spear hits an animal, end of story… The age of understanding began with the bible, it was and is the first book to introduce laws that could if followed, lead any person to a better life, a life that would and could help you become productive and understanding….. Before the bible, were attempts of communication………… For those of you who want to listen to the rederich of idiots, then koodos, but nothing you read before the bible has the plausible attempt of giving you anything more then “what the hell does that mean”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Anonymous Says:

    The one thing the bible has accomplished better than any other book known to humans was to keep people ignorant for thousands of years.

  17. Khwezi Says:

    Gilgamesh, pretty neat.. good read.
    comments are rather fun too

  18. QUIET NOISE (@noisyquietness) Says:

    on undercover record, THE TEACHINGS OF PTAHHOTEP/BOOK OF PTAH. HOUSED AT BIBLIOTEQUE NAIONALE in PARIS.

  19. icedmocha34 Says:

    Reblogged this on Icedmocha34 and commented:
    I was wondering what the oldest book ever written was and this popped up on Google. See, writing has been around since the beginning of time. God’s a writer, Paul was…pretty much we’re all writers, but our motivations and frequencies are different. Great post!

  20. X Says:

    In case some do not understand: Writing has many stages: Pictographic, Ideographic, Phonographic, and last but not least Alphabetic. Those who say that what was written before the bible didn’t make any sense: check the definition of writing again. PS: Read the epic of Gilgamesh, it makes as much sense as your scriptures.

    • Luke Says:

      this topic is real interesting, I am Christian but no the Bible alone would not be considered the first book ever made. Geneses in General. I see this topic has gone of course, but some very interesting theory’s and or other things. but please people respect people that have faith .don’t turn it into a debate. just respect it and move on. I for one would love to brain storm on the original topic on hand, that is the first book ever made.

  21. Sarah Says:

    Thanks so much for putting this info up, I really needed it for my English class!!

  22. ik Says:

    i learnt thhat the world has been existing before the advent of writing so i wanted to know the first book written because i felt that if it true that the world has been existing before the advent of writng, then the bible may not be the first book written but i would have loved to know about what is written in that book whether it is still ralevant as the bible still is today.

  23. Melody Cavanaugh Says:

    I’m looking to start a blog on the history of books and the many different kinds of books that have sprung up over the centuries. I decided I would research where to begin, which would, logically, be the first actual book made. When I stumbled onto this blog I was impressed by the knowledge of the author. However, I was appalled at some of the responses. I have Christian friends and am trying to learn to have a belief system in something greater than I am, however, people like Anonymous, make it difficult to believe in the Christian God. There is plenty of scientific proof that the Earth is millions of years old. I’m not saying God and Jesus didn’t, or don’t, exist, but is it really necessary to slam someone else for what they believe, or don’t believe? By the way, the it is true that the Bible was not the first book ever written, it is however, the most popular selling book and has been rewritten a couple of times. I don’t want to get in to a debate about it so I’ll leave you with this thought. The Bible talks about tolerance and love for all, especially those who are deemed non-believers. Jesus talks about leading the lost lambs back to the flock. Do you really think that slamming someone for not having the same beliefs that you do is being tolerant or loving? Do you really think that is what he would want you do? Just saying. It’s something to think about the next time you want to give someone hell for not having your beliefs.

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