Sumerian scribal education (1 Chronicles 2)

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In the ancient world scribes held a position of high prestige, and select young men attended scribal schools to learn the trade. Several pieces of Old Babylonian literature tell us about Mesopotamian scribal schools. From at least two sources we learn that older, more advanced students, called “big brothers”, supervised younger pupils and assisted them with their lessons. Students were taught not only how to read and write cuneiform signs but also to speak Sumerian, the scholarly language of the day (the people’s first language was Akkadian). Students repeatedly copied works of literature and “lexical lists” (bilingual dictionaries covering both Akkadian and Sumerian words, similar to today’s English-Spanish dictionaries) until they had mastered sign and their meanings. Mathematics, weights and measures, budgeting and business management were all included in the curriculum. Such an education taught the aspiring scribe how to prepare contracts (for adoptions, sales, marriages, wage agreements etc).

No prallel literature outlining Israel’s educational system is known. We are aware that specific clans of Kenites were closely associated with the Israelites and trained in scribal art (1 Chronicles 2:55). The Levites, as keepers of the Biblical texts, appear to have served a scribal function as well. Regardless of the lack of texts related specifically to scribal training, we know from Biblical references to scribes, as well as from abundant evidence of their work, that the scribes of ancient Israel were highly trained and took pride in their work, as was the tradition throughout the ancient Near East.


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