Instructions of Shuruppak

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Instructions of Shuruppak

Instructions of Shuruppak - Clay Fragment from Bismaya, Adab, Iraq.jpg

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

Author Anonymous
Type Ancient writing
Genre Wisdom
Themes Religion
Age Group Adult

The Instructions of Shuruppak is one of the oldest known surviving pieces of writing dating back to around 2600 BCE. It an example of wisdom literature including lists of commandments and proverbs. The story is framed as though King Shuruppak is imparting all his wisdom onto his son Ziusudra, the final king before the Sumerian deluge, but it's more likely an amalgam of ancient wisdom compiled over the centuries. This work is in the public domain.

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 making it impossible to get a complete translation, instead we must combine fragments across centuries to try and get an idea of what the various versions said.


Read?Mixed English translation.

After learning that this book was one of the oldest surviving books in history, I decided it would be important for me to read it. While it's dull to read, I found it to be important.





  • It's very easy to draw parallels between this book and other wisdom literature. For example, it contains the lines, "you should not steal anything," and, "you should not play around with a married young woman," which are very similar to the commandments which appear in the much later Tanakh, New Testament, and Quran, which certainly diminishes the supposed divinity of the such works.


  • Many of the instructions are trivial. Do you really need a book to tell you not to steal, lie, or make important decisions while drunk? Others are woefully out of date describing the "correct" way to farm and choose livestock. 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.


  • Much like the Torah, there is a great deal of talk about slaves and the proper way to buy them.


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