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history,  homeschooling,  politics,  religion

Searching for Justice and Equality in Ancient Times

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One of the classes I’m teaching these days is a secular Bible study class. I treat the Bible like a work of literature. We discuss the different historical periods and the theologies within the Bible, but I’m not trying to convert them. I use the textbooks I had from university to help me, but simplifying stuff for children. I’m having wonderful fun with the class.
Then on a different day of the week I teach an ancient history class that is looking more at other ancient cultures of the Middle East.
So from this study of ancient times, what fascinates me is the frequency in which the different texts and stories deal with power and injustice.  Ancient Sumer had a number of different revolts where new people would take over to enact social reforms to help the poor. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh (a Babylonian work) starts out with the people calling to the gods because their king is oppressing them.
The city is his possession, he struts
through it, arrogant, his head raised high,
trampling its citizens like a wild bull.
He is king, he does whatever he wants,
takes the son from his father and crushes him,
takes the girl from her mother and uses her,
the warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride,
he uses her, no one dares to oppose him
But the people of Uruk cried out to heaven.
and their lamentation was heard, the gods
Were not unfeeling, their hearts were touched,
They went to Anu, the father of them all,
protector of the realm of sacred Uruk,
and spoke to him on the people’s behalf:
“Heavenly Father, Gilgamesh –
noble as he is, splendid as he is –
has exceeded all bounds. The people suffer
from his tyranny, the people cry out
That he takes the son from his father and crushes him,
takes the girl from her mother and uses her,
the warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride,
he uses her, no one dares to oppose him.
Is this how you want your king to rule?
Should a shepherd savage his own flock? Father,
Do something, quickly, before the people
overwhelm heaven with their heartrendering cries.
The Bible talks about the poor and oppressed frequently. Yesterday I was discussing the story of Job, and how Job’s friends give voice to the idea that people suffer because they have done something wrong – an idea still common today, when people view wealth as a sign of God’s favor. The book of Job counters that with the argument that we cannot know God’s long plan, but it isn’t as simple as the good get rewarded and the bad get punished.
In Ancient Egypt there are passages like this one, from the story of the eloquent peasant:
You are learned, skilled, accomplished,
But not in order to plunder!
You should be the model for all men,
But your affairs are crooked!
The standard for all men cheats the land!
The vintner of evil waters his plot with crimes,
Until his plot sprouts falsehood,
His estate flows with crimes!
So much of human history has been a struggle for justice.
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