Tales of Time: The 6 Oldest Surviving Books in the World

Books have always been a crucial part of human civilization. They serve as a medium to record history, knowledge, thoughts, ideas, and much more. The act of writing has existed for thousands of years, but it wasn't until the invention of paper and the book format that we know today that the preservation of this knowledge became widespread. In this post, we will delve into the fascinating world of six of the oldest surviving books on Earth. These ancient tomes bear testament to the rich heritage of human civilization, each with its own unique story to tell.

Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra, dating back to 868 AD, holds the title as the oldest surviving printed book in the world. This Buddhist text, a dialogue between Buddha and his disciple Subhuti, is part of the larger "Prajnaparamita" (Perfection of Wisdom) sutra. The text is named so because it "cuts like a diamond blade through worldly illusion". The Diamond Sutra, discovered in a hidden cave in Dunhuang, China in early 20th century, holds significant spiritual importance and continues to be revered by millions of Buddhists around the globe.

The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible, printed in the mid-15th century, is not just one of the oldest surviving books but also a significant milestone in human history. It was the first major book printed using movable type in the West, marking the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of printed books. The Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg, is written in Latin and is estimated to have initially had about 180 copies. Only 48 copies, incomplete and complete, survive today, and they are treasured for their historical and cultural significance.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of insular illumination. Believed to have been created in 800 AD, it is renowned for its extravagant decoration. The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. Today, it is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.

Codex Sinaiticus

The Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript of the Christian Bible written in the middle of the fourth century, is one of the oldest books in the world. It contains the oldest complete copy of the New Testament, and it is one of the most important books in the world. Found in St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula (hence its name) in Egypt, it is of immense value to biblical scholars and historians.

The Pyrgi Gold Tablets

The Pyrgi Gold Tablets, discovered in 1964 in the port town of Pyrgi, Italy, are three golden plates that date back to 500 BC. They contain a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician languages, providing key linguistic clues to scholars. The tablets, engraved with detailed inscriptions, are dedicated to the Phoenician goddess Astarte and provide valuable insights into ancient Mediterranean civilizations.

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. The most complete version, dating back to around 1800 BC, was discovered in the library ruins of the 7th-century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. The epic, written on clay tablets, tells the story of Gilgamesh, the historical king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, and his journey of self-discovery.

These ancient books, each with its own unique story, have survived through the centuries and offer us a fascinating glimpse into the past. They not only reflect the intellectual and artistic capabilities of our ancestors but also remind us of the enduring power of the written word. They are a testament to the human spirit's desire to record, reflect, and pass on knowledge, ideas, and experiences to future generations. Books will always remain an essential part of human civilization, reminding us of where we came from and perhaps providing clues about where we are headed.