Carr-the extent of the Mesopotamian curriculum

After outlining the Old Babylonian educational system, David M. Carr in Writing on the Tablet of the Heart goes on to show that that system’s influence reached beyond Babylonia (located in modern Iraq) to several other places.

In Syria at Ebla we have found copies of various lists, treaties, hymns, prayers and incantations.  These go back to before 2000 BCE.  At Mari we have found archives that include school texts on the Mesopotamian pattern.  These would be from around 1700 BCE.  At Nuzi and Alalakh we have found evidence of the influence of the Mesopotamian school system in the Mitani empire around 1400 BCE.

The Hittites (in modern Turkey) seem to have taken over and built upon the Mitani educational practices.

From around the thirteenth and twelfth centuries we have evidence of a scribal family at Emar in Syria producing school copies of old Sumerian texts like the Gilgamesh epic.  This is one of the things that shows that the scribal curriculum remained much the same over the centuries and across ethnic and language lines.

Even in Egypt, the tablets of the Amarna letters show that the old Mesopotamian language of Akkadian had become an international language for written communication.  And, of course, that many of the letters were produced in Palestine and Syria shows that the scribal profession was widespread there.

Carr’s point is that the scribal educational system that arose in Old Babylon spread through the Near East.

He discusses in more depth the finds at Ugarit.  He thinks that the Phoenicians there had, like the Hittites, derived their scribal system from the Mitanni empire.  We have extensive texts from Ugarit that we have been able to study with modern scientific and linguistic methods.

One thing that I had not realized is that, although some of these texts were found connected to the palace or temples, the vast majority were found in private homes.  They were usually the homes of priests.  It is very likely that these were tablet houses where young scribes learned the profession.

An important point is that in all these settings, and particularly at Ugarit, we see that scribal education went way beyond what they would have needed for legal, administrative and commercial purposes.  The old texts that taught cultural and religious values were a major part of the curriculum.  According to Carr, this means that scribal education aimed to produce master scribes through a passing on of works that formed the mind and heart.

This leads to critics who argue that there could not have been this kind of scribal system in Israel.  In Israel there was a simple alphabet that would not have required scribes to have the full treatment of Mesopotamian scribal education.

Carr says that the finds at Ugarit undermine this argument.  As is well-know, the Hebrew alphabet (and ours) derives from the Phoenicians.  At Ugarit we see the old Akkadian pictoral writing system along side the alphabetic system.  And we see the Mesopotamian scribal education system applied to the new form of writing using an alphabet.  All the texts of the traditional scribal curriculum get brought over into the new alphabetic script.

The difference between Ugarit and societies like Israel, Moab and Edom is that the later did not usually write on stone or clay tablets.  They used perishable materials so most of what they wrote is not preserved.  It is important to realize that this does not mean writing and fully trained scribes did not exist in these societies.  It just means that what we have from Ugarit and the other places where we have found tablets is better documented.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel, Bible and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Carr-the extent of the Mesopotamian curriculum

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    On the last paragraph, a professor of mine in a class made that point by referring to the altar in the Book of Joshua: it was covered with plaster, which is perishable, and on the plaster was written the law. She was saying that (among possibly other considerations) could explain the dearth of surviving written material from early pre-exilic Israel. That could be. At the same time, there does seem to be a consciousness within the Hebrew Bible or writing on stone: I think of the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

    • I am glad you have completed your move and are back to blogging. The Israelite and Judean kings seem to have left no stone inscriptions like the Moabite Stone. Baruch Halperin, though, thought 2 Samuel 8:1-15 was meant to be on such and inscription for David.  I wonder if scruples about graven images made the Israelites less likely to carve anything in stone.

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