This headline and story appeared on my Smithsonian news email last Wednesday, May 11. It is a fascinating look at what is considered to be the world’s oldest printed book.
The first part of the story may be found below; read more at the link provided at the end.
No one is sure who Wang Jie was or why he had The Diamond Sutra printed. But we do know that on this day in 868 A.D.—or the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong in Jie’s time—he commissioned a block printer to create a 17-and-a-half-foot-long scroll of the sacred Buddhist text, including an inscription on the lower right hand side reading, “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents.” Today, that scroll is housed at the British Library and is acknowledged as the oldest dated printed book in existence.
Chances are you know a little something about the Gutenberg Bible, the first book made with moveable type, which came along almost 600 years later. Bibliophiles might also have a working knowledge of other famous manuscripts like the Book of Kells, The Domesday Book, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Well, The Diamond Sutra should be in that pantheon of revered books, as well. Here’s why:
The text was originally discovered in 1900 by a monk in Dunhuang, China, an old outpost of the Silk Road on the edge of the Gobi Desert. The Diamond Sutra, a Sanskrit text translated into Chinese, was one of 40,000 scrolls and documents hidden in “The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas,” a secret library sealed up around the year 1,000 when the area was threatened by a neighboring kingdom.