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Kate Taliaferro and three of her children share their opinions about a new book about job opportunities in ancient Egypt.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A question fondly asked by grandparents, parents, and teachers alike. Currently in our household, we have an aspiring dolphin trainer nun, an Air Force intelligence officer author, a video game designer environmental activist, and a gymnastics coach teacher mom. It is definitely going to be exciting to see which of these career choices comes to fruition!  

We have been having lots of conversations about jobs, careers, and vocations thanks especially to a delightful new book, Be a Scribe! Working for a Better Life in Ancient Egypt, by Michael Hoffen, Christian Casey, and Jen Thum. This book, born of 16-year-old Michael Coffen’s deep dive into ancient Egypt and hieroglyphs during the Covid-19 pandemic, has invited our family to learn more about the Egyptian world and consider what sorts of jobs each person might want to have. Be a Scribe! is based on a piece of Egyptian literature, “The Satire of the Trades” also called “The Instruction of Khety.” As a parent, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Khety describe the variety of jobs available to his son as they traveled up the Nile.  




Khety clearly wants his son to be a scribe, and in some cases goes out of his way to make sure to highlight the lesser qualities of the available jobs: the jeweler is surrounded by gold but owns none of it, the launderer has to work next to crocodiles, the potter is covered in mud all day. While these were often comical, there is so much additional information Coffen and Egyptologists Casey and Thum, have included about the phrases and nuances of the translated hieroglyphs. There are also many pictures, artifacts, and drawings which further flesh out what each job would have entitled.  

In addition to the twelve available jobs Khety describes to his son, there is also a section of wisdom Khety offers which is still applicable to today. Khety explores topics like mind your manners, don’t gossip or tell secrets, follow directions given to you and maintain self-control. This ancient wisdom is ageless for all people, whether we are dreaming of fabulous careers or are already settled in our vocations.  

As if this weren’t enough already to make this book well worth the read, the “About the Images” section is a fabulous resource for all of the images, artifacts, and depictions from each section. It also includes where to find the artifacts because every single one is from a museum.   

I asked my nine-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds to give Be a Scribe! a good read and then asked them which job they would have liked to have if they had been on that Nile boat with Khety. Here are their answers:  

Clare, age nine: I would like to be a scribe because all the other jobs seem like they would be really, really, really hard. You could get hurt doing them if you weren’t careful.  

Rosie, age eleven: Based on everything Khety says about the other jobs, I am convinced I would want to be a scribe. All the other jobs sound cool, but a scribe was a privileged job and you could get in with a lot of important people and have a profitable life. Though I do think Khety is over exaggerating the bad parts of the other jobs.   

John, age twelve: I would want to be a bird catcher because you get to use a throw stick which is similar to a boomerang. You can get plenty of exercise and a decent profit if you have a successful. But birds are hard to catch so I would be very tired every day also.  





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Copyright 2024 Kate Taliaferro
Images: Canva