Instructions of Shuruppak

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A fragment from an early version of the Instructions of Shuruppak, dated from 2600 BCE.

The Instructions of Shuruppak is one of the oldest known pieces of writing in existence, dating back to around 2600 BCE. It's a list of proverbs as told by King Shuruppak to his son Ziusudra who would be the final king before the Sumerian Deluge.

There are multiple fragments of Instructions of Shuruppak, but none of them are complete. Also, each fragment that has been discovered has differences compared to the others. A complete translation is therefore impossible, instead we must combine fragments across centuries to try and get an idea of what the various versions said.

Status

I don't own this book, but have read an English translation of a conglomerate.

Review

Good

  • It's very easy to draw parallels between this book and the later lists of proverbs. For example, "you should not steal anything," and, "you should not play around with a married young woman." Similar commandments appear in the Tanakh, New Testament, and Koran, which certainly diminishes their supposed divinity.

Bad

  • Many of the instructions are trivial (don't steal, don't lie, don't make important decisions while drunk, etc.), while others are antiquated (ancient farming practices, what to look for in livestock, etc.). Because of this, I found it to be just as useless as later books of so-called wisdom like the Book of Proverbs.
  • Most of the book presents everything in a negative light. It's a long list of "thou shalt not..." rather than, "it's a good idea to...".
  • There is very little structure. Even its framing device, that Shuruppak gave the advice to his son, is out of place. It's more likely that this book is just an amalgam of various sources.

Ugly

  • There is a great deal of talk about slaves and the proper way to buy them.

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