Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Education

According to Kramer, the two most important innovations of the Sumerians were their educational system and cuneiform writing.  Both of these were represented in the Sumerian school or "edubba."  Although education was limited to wealthy and elite families, it was definitely advanced for its time.  In the edubba the student was instructed by stern teachers for many years,  sunup to sundown.  The most important subject was writing, followed by mathematics and science.  The students were expected to achieve perfection in their studies and any sloppiness or carelessness was severely punished.  Those who successfully completed their training could expect to be employed as scribes and clerks in government, the temple, or in private commerce.  The tablets mention thousands of such scribes employed in the palace, the temple, and in business in their various ranks and specialties.  
Over time the instructors developed "textbooks" which became somewhat standardized.  These included treatise on scientific subjects; myths and legends; complex lists of animals, plants, etc.; examples of model debates; essays on farming methods; and descriptions of medical practices and treatments. 
Kramer writes: "From the point of view of the history of civilization, Sumer's supreme achievements were the development of the cuneiform system of writing and the formal system of education which was its direct outgrowth (2910).  The Sumerian school was known as edubba, [or] 'tablet house' (2929).  It was first established for the purpose of training the scribes necessary to satisfy the economic and administrative needs of the land, primarily, of course, those of the temple and palace ... in the course of its growth and development it came to be the center of culture and learning in Sumer (2930).  The main school aim ... was to teach the scribe how to write the Sumerian language (2955).  Only the edubba graduate could read and write (2216)." 
Writing was done on moist clay tablets using a stylus with a wedge shaped tip.  Once dry, these tablets became a permanent  and enduring record.  Many of the Sumerian tablets which have been discovered are the exercises of the students from the edubbas - their school assignments copied from earlier histories and compositions. "[These exercises] consisted primarily of studying, copying, and imitating the large and diversified group of literary compositions (2967).  [They consisted of] whole compositions prepared by the ummia's, or professors, of the academy, which the student had to copy and recopy until he knew them by heart (1301)."
"The Sumerian school's curriculum consisted of two primary groups; the first may be described as semiscientific and scholarly and the second as literary and creative (2953)." 
In the school the scholar could study "whatever theological, botanical, zoological, geographical, mathematical, grammatical and linguistic knowledge [that] was current in his day (2830)."  The Sumerian school was also the center of creative writing.  There writings of the past were studied, copied and discussed.  
As mentioned, standardized "textbooks" were developed.  "In the course of the third millennium B.C., these textbooks became ever more complete and gradually grew to be more or less stereotyped and standard for all the schools of Sumer. Among them we find long lists of names of trees and reeds, of all sorts of animals (including insects and birds), of countries, cities, and villages, and of all sorts of stones and minerals (2958)."  
"Sumerian thinkers classified the natural world into the following categories: domestic animals, wild animals (from elephant to insect), birds (including some flying insects), fishes, trees, plants, vegetables, and stones. Lists of all possible items in these categories were compiled as textbooks for use in the edubba; these lists consist, however, of nothing but names, although the teachers no doubt added explanations-lectures, as it were-for the benefit of the students (1218)."
"These ... collections [of lists contained] literally thousands of words and phrases arranged according to meaning. Thus in the field of the 'natural sciences,' there were lists of the parts of the animal and human body, of wild and domestic animals, of birds and fishes, of trees and plants, of stones and stars. The lists of artifacts included wooden objects more than fifteen hundred items ranging from pieces of raw wood to boats and chariots; objects made of reed, skin, leather, and metal; assorted types of pottery, garments, foods, and beverages. A special group of these lists dealt with place names lands, cities, and hamlets as well as rivers, canals, and fields. A collection of the most common expressions used in administrative and legal documents was also included as well as a list of some eight hundred words denoting professions, kinship relations, deformities of the human body, etc. (2981)."
The curiculum also included mathematics of two types: tables and problems.  The tables included such advanced functions as multiplications, squares and square roots, cubes and cube roots, the sum of squares and cubes, exponential functions, coefficients, and calculations of areas.  
The problem texts included calculations using Pythagorean numbers, cubic roots, equations, and practice problems such as excavating canals, calculating the number of bricks, etc. (1241). 
The Sumerian originated the sexagesimal numbering system which was used in the mathematical calculations.  It was based on the number 60 (rather than on 10 in our present system).  Some aspects of this system are still in use today in the measurement of the angles of circles, geographic coordinates, and the measurement of time.  For a full explanation of this system see Wikipedia.
Kramer: "It is ... in the field of mathematics that the Sumerians made their major contribution to future generations by devising the sexagesimal system of place notation, which may have been the forerunner of the Hindu-Arabic decimal system now in use (3688)." 
"The student did not have an easy time of it. He attended school daily from sunrise to sunset; he must have had some vacation throughout the year, but we have no information on the point. He devoted many years to his school studies; he stayed in school from his early youth to the day when he became a young man (2992)."
"The competitive drive for superiority and pre eminence played a large role in Sumerian formal education, which entailed many years of school attendance and study. Together with the whip and the cane, it was consciously utilized by both parents and teachers to make the student exert himself to the utmost to master the complicated but far from exciting curriculum in order to become a successful scribe and a learned scholar (3391)."  
"If I am not mistaken, hatred played a rather dominant role in Sumerian behavior. As will be shown later, the Sumerian political, economic, and educational institutions were deeply colored by aggressive competition, by a drive for prestige and pre eminence, which must have inspired a high degree of hatred, scorn, and contempt (3320)."  
Who were these students of the Sumerian school?   One researcher "compiled a list of these data and found that the fathers of the scribes, that is, of the school graduates, were governors, 'city fathers,' ambassadors, temple administrators, military officers, sea captains, high tax officials, priests of various sorts, managers, supervisors, foremen, scribes, archivists, and accountants -- in short, all the wealthier citizens of an urban community (2942)."  Only one female was listed, so it is assumed that the edubba's student bodies were exclusively male.   
The school personnel consisted of the head master known as the ummia (expert or professor), also know as the "school father."  The student was called "school son."  The assistant professor was known as the "big brother", and his duties consisted of composing new material for the students to copy, examining their work, and hearing them recite their studies from memory.  There was also staff in charge of drawing, attendance, and discipline (2948).  
From the above information one gets the impression that knowledge in Sumer evolved over time.  This may be true for the cuneiform writing system, which seems to have developed from a more pictographic stage to a more phonetic one.  However it is likely that a knowledge of writing, history and science was available from the beginning of the post-flood world.  Noah and his immediate family kept records and passed on this knowledge.  This was undoubtedly taught to Abraham when he resided with them as a young man.   He later writes: "But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time ... But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of the Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands ; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me (Abr. 1:28, 31).   Unfortunately we don't have any of the writings of Noah or Shem, and very little until we come to the time of Moses.  But they were undoubtedly educated and faithfully educated their children, posterity and followers.

Parallels among the Jaradites:  The Olmecs had a written language which is now called Epi-Olmec.  It was pictographic in nature, much like early Sumerian writing, and blocked out the sections with vertical and horizontal lines in the same manner as the Sumerian examples.  They did not have any of the more recent cuneiform style writing, which to me would mean they exited Sumer before the more advanced cuneiform was developed.  
The Neo-Jaradite peoples had educational systems in the which scribes were trained and prepared for public service.  These scribal candidates came from the elite families and spent many years in training.  They were required to learn their respective writing systems perfectly, and were required to memorize vast quantities of historical and religious material.  


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