Ancient Egypt & Near East, 3000-30 BCE focuses on the civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean, from the introduction of writing to the growth of empires, from their catastrophic collapse to their later conquest by the Persians, Greeks and Romans. We survey the literatures of cities and empires found within a common zone of contact and conflict, extending from the Iranian Plateau and Mesopotamia across to Anatolia and the Aegean; we pay particular attention to international cultural exchange, as when empires interacted with states they considered equals (e.g. Hatti, Egypt, Cyprus, Assyria, Babylonia) and with those considered vassals (e.g. Canaan, Amurru, Ugarit). We also privilege the Tanakh and narratives that inform our interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. We use a variety of primary texts (monumental inscriptions, diplomatic correspondence, ritual texts) and archaeological evidence (art and artifacts) in order to reconstruct these narratives.
We have selected samples from various literary genres—myths about the gods (e.g Creation, the Deluge), epics and folktales about heroes (e.g. Gilgamesh), ritual laments, invocations, and prayers, didactic or wisdom literature, love poetry, autobiography, political propaganda and epistolary correspondence. Most these texts or topics selected fit into at least two of the three designated Integrated Humanities Areas: (1) “Literature and Orality,” with key folklore motifs shared between and beyond Egypt and the Near East, (2) “Ideas and Beliefs,” particularly those beliefs and traditions relating to the Hebrew Bible; and (3) “Language, Art and Archaeology,” with interludes that will examine material culture in relation to specific texts and that will require site visits to monuments and museums, including the Library of Congress, the new Museum of the Bible, and the Smithsonian Institution, which displays Egyptian and Near Eastern materials both as artifacts (National Museum of Natural History) and as art (Freer|Sackler Gallery).
The core goals of the class are—
- to acquire factual and conceptual knowledge of ancient literature from the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Mesopotamia;
- to appreciate the study of antiquity, the analytical skills that scholars use to research, recover and write about ancient literature and material culture;
- to develop habits of historical thinking in order to appreciate change and continuity over time, in diverse regions, among diverse cultures;
- to become competent and confident in the skills necessary to write about ancient cultures; and
- to become an independent inquirer into the past and a lifelong learner;
This course will treat reading and writing as critical thinking processes; we will remove the mystery and emphasize the mechanics of active reading and persuasive writing. You will learn how—
- to read ancient literature critically
- to refute and/or accommodate opposing viewpoints
- to write with clarity, brevity, and specificity
- to avoid logical fallacies
- to collect, synthesize, and access data systematically, and
- to use this data to reinforce an effective argument