Description: Literature uses symbolism as a means of making the unfamiliar familiar. Myths and legends from Sumer, written approximately 5000 years ago, are filled with metaphors, allegory, and symbolism. Not only are these stories the oldest known stories in recorded history, but they are stories that share with us historical information on how the ancient Sumerians lived, what they believed, but more importantly, what was their enduring legacy. In studying the stories left us by the ancient Sumerians, who lived in the region known as Mesopotamia, we will not only learn about these far distant peoples, but we will also discover much about ourselves – how we became the people we are today.
Goals: The overall goal of these lesson plans is for students to gain an appreciation and interest in history, in ancient history in particular, through the medium of myth as well as to develop an enjoyment for literature from cultures different from their own.
Objectives: in general, benefits realized from this set of lessons will be:
- To broaden students’ reading horizons along with their vocabulary skills.
- To allow students to become familiar with devices such as metaphors, similes, allegory, and personification.
- To give students a greater understanding of moral issues and central themes.
- To allow students to better understand mythology; to explore a myth’s deeper purpose as well as its meaning in the context of a given culture.
- To gain knowledge of other cultures. Not only will they learn about the differences between cultures, but in the course of their reading they will also discover that there are very basic yet important similarities that we share with people everywhere.
- To permit students to explore their own creativity by letting them express their own ideas in writing.
- And ultimately to encourage students to engage in critical thinking.
- Inanna, Goddess of Love: Great Myths & Legends from Sumer by Marcella Kampman is the main resource to be used throughout. To purchase a copy of this book, please check out my Web Store on the above menu.
- Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History by William Ryan and Walter C. Pitman would be useful for its scientific analysis.
- A copy of the King James Bible (or even a Children’s Bible) would be useful for comparing stories, in particular the story of Noah and the Arc.
- Images from books or movies featuring Noah and the Arc may be used to illustrate the various flood stories which will be discussed in this selection.
- Read pages 16-17 from the book, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History by William Ryan and Walter C. Pitman. Discuss how terrifying such an inexplicable flood would have seemed to these primitive people. Discuss the following quote from Noah’s Flood, pages 238-239, “Signs of unsettled people on the move appear in the archaeological debris of southwest Asia and Europe immediately following the Great Flood. … refugees fled up the river valleys of Europe and western Asia. Desertions, occupations, and conflagrations occurred in Anatolia, migrants descended into the fringing hills of the Fertile Crescent, new farmers appeared on the Nile Delta, and peoples called Ubaid brought irrigation with them and cultivated southern Mesopotamia for the first time. … With not only a real Black Sea flood to work with, but also corresponding evidence of concurrent human migrations into Europe, Palestine, and the alluvium of Mesopotamia, Ryan and Pitman had to address seriously the question John Dewey had posed twenty years earlier: Could the violent rush of salt water into a depressed freshwater lake in a single catastrophe have been the inspiration for the flood mythology?” Discuss a quote by Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, the author of The Sumerians, where he states: “…we need not try to make history out of the legends, but we ought to assume that beneath much that is artificial or incredible there lurks something of fact.”
- Read out loud passages taken from pages 143-151 from Noah’s Flood, which tell of the factual information about the scientific possibility of such a flood occurring. Discuss climate change, and how the planet is still constantly changing.
- Read the first paragraph on page 9 from Inanna, Goddess of Love. Discuss with the students how important such a belief in the ‘nature of god’ would have been to the ancients who were desperately trying to create order out of the chaos of their lives.
- Then read “The Bellowing Land” from Inanna, Goddess of Love, pages 45-60, out loud. Discuss the story with the students. Does it sound familiar? Remind them that this story was written on clay tablets around 2000 years before the Bible was written. Get the students to think critically about the connection of this story to the findings by the scientists who wrote the Noah’s Flood book.
- Read the story of ‘Noah’s Arc and the Flood’ Genesis 6-9, from either the King James Bible or a Children’s Bible. What are the similarities between this story and “The Bellowing Land” story? What is different?
- Now read the commentary on page 60-61 from Inanna, Goddess of Love. Discuss how such a cataclysmic event can remain in mankind’s psyche down the ages, to be told over and over again. An excellent closing passage to share with the class can be found in Noah’s Flood from pages 232-237 where the two scientists tie together all of their research into a final analysis of all their studies.
- Read pages 7-8, beginning with the line “Around 1750 BC…” from Inanna, Goddess of Love out loud to the class. Discuss how trade and migration of people could bring about the sharing of stories and knowledge. Discuss how the ancient Hebrews (ancestors of the modern Jews) could have learned of the Flood story. Consider that Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites, was known to have come from Ur, a city in Mesopotamia. His own forefathers may have been part of that first exodus after the Bosporus dam burst and the Black Sea was so catastrophically flooded.
These assessments will all be age dependant. The teacher will know best how to grade the class. Class assignments will be evaluated in the following areas:
- For younger students the teacher can read a story a day from the Myths’ section and follow each reading with a discussion to encourage an understanding of the meaning of the story in question. After each story there is a brief explanation of the myth’s meaning and purpose. Discuss these ideas. Have the students write down their own interpretation of what else the Flood story could mean. Use this story to teach the concepts of metaphors , similes, and/or personification. A metaphor uses symbolism such as the sun’s light to represent something else such as justice. A simile only suggests that something is ‘like’ something else. And personification means that a thing or abstraction is represented as actually being a person, as in the forces of nature being represented as gods (in human form). Have the students find one of each example and write it down. Example: For a simile one would write, ‘The land was bellowing like a bull.’
- For older students, the teacher may assign certain myths for reading homework and ask for a short essay in which the story’s meaning is discussed and analyzed. They can also look up and compare different myths in the Inanna, Goddess of Love collection to other stories from the Bible, such as comparing creation stories from the Book of Genesis to “In the First Days” pages 14-26 and “The Servant of the Gods” pages 36-43. In this creation myth, man is made from clay, not so unlike the story from the Book of Genesis in the Bible where God creates Adam out of earth. But unlike the Flood story, which has elements of factual evidence, the true meaning within these two very similar creation stories is more symbolic rather than literal. This does not make these stories any less real or true than the more historically plausible ‘Flood’ story; just that their meanings are to be found in a deeper, more metaphorical sense. Read the commentary on pages 43-44 and discuss what it means for mankind to experience a ‘spiritual awakening’. Impress upon the students the importance of using discernment and critical thinking skills to enhance their ability to organize their ideas and thoughts into a reflective essay comparing stories from the Sumerian culture with those from the Bible. This would be an excellent exercise in learning how to understand allegory within the context of mythology. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures or symbolic representation rather than through a literal interpretation. Man cannot physically be made of clay, but figuratively clay can be easily molded, guided, strengthened into something else, something better. Clay bricks can shape a house or even a temple, and clay tablets can store the sum of human knowledge imprinted upon their surface. So the idea of making man out of clay may not have been as strange or random as one would initially think.