GRC20280 Near Eastern Myth and Religion

Academic Year 2024/2025

*** Not available in the academic year indicated above ***

This module explores stories passed down from Mesopotamia and other ancient near eastern/western Asian societies that were long in contact with the Mediterranean world. Lectures will situate the mythology and divine pantheon of Mesopotamia in its various historical, religious, political, and geographical contexts during the second and first millennia BC. During that time poets crafted literature that was still copied, retold, and even adapted under the rule of Hellenistic kings and even Roman emperors. These traditions reflect concern about the nature of the gods and humanity and what made us 'human'; they preserved traditions about the creation of the universe, of great floods and battles, of friendship, of love and loss, the qualities that make a leader great, as well as a few quests to the edges of the known world. As we explore each tradition we will delve into wider debates about the nature of myth, folklore, and story telling across cultures, as well as how stories might relate to longstanding rituals and local traditions or adaptation to shifting political realities. We will try to come to grips with the types of big questions that such stories asked of, and suggested about, their ancient audiences and why some of them still resonate today. You will gain experience analysing ancient texts, material culture, and iconography. In so doing, we will explore how the ancient Middle East was connected to and distinct from more familiar Greco-Roman mythical traditions, as well as how foreign rulers from the Mediterranean engaged with these traditions. There are no formal prerequisites, though a desire to explore the themes of love, war, life and death, who we are and where we come from, will be a plus!

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Module Specific Skills
Upon completion of the module, students will be able to demonstrate:
• awareness of the basic pantheon and surviving mythologies from ancient Mesopotamia and how these evolved over time
• greater awareness of the history of the Near Eastern civilisations that created these stories and sometimes appropriated and re-cast them in order to justify their rule over local populations (e.g. Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Macedonian, and Roman).
• the ability to engage directly with literary, visual, and material culture from the ancient near east in the first millennium BC.
• awareness of various methods used by modern scholars to study comparative literature/mythology and story telling across ancient cultures and compare these traditions to other story-telling traditions (e.g. Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, etc).

Personal and Key Transferable/ Employment Skills and Knowledge:
• Through engagement with complex texts and trans-cultural traditions students will develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also will hone their ability to communicate their ideas and argument through oral and written presentations in lectures, tutorials, and coursework.
• Students will develop their ability to manage deadlines and balance conflicting demands on their time.

Indicative Module Content:

In lectures students will be introduced to ancient Mesopotamia both as a distinct region with longstanding connections to the Mediterranean world and as a source of a rich story-telling tradition that influenced Greece and Rome. Today we engage with these stories as paper or digital books, but some originated as parts of oral traditions and only survive for us to read today as archaeological artefacts made of clay. To that end we will explore the material challenges involved in compiling a canon of Mesopotamian myth, such as the nature of their preservation on clay tablets that were first written by scribes under the rulers of Sumer and Akkad, and later were copied and adapted by scribes living under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and eventually Roman and Parthian rulers under whom the last cuneiform texts were written. Students also will consider how this material record affords us the rare opportunity to trace the development of these stories over time.

The module is divided into three units. In unit 1, lectures will explore the general pantheon of Mesopotamia and shorter works concerning key themes, such as creation, fertility, the flood, conflict, human mortality and the underworld, and the relationships between human beings and the divine. Each week will examine a key myth(s) in the Mesopotamian canon. Unit 2 builds on this foundational knowledge to explore one of the great masterpieces of ancient poetry, the Epic of Gilgamesh, for which we will read the 2nd edition of Andrew George's translation, which was published in 2020. The final lectures will reflect on some of the legacies of these stories.

Indicative Lecture Topics:
1) Introduction to Ancient Mesopotamia: From Sumer to Rome
2) Who's who? an Evolving Mesopotamian Pantheon
3) Combat Myths: the Gods at War
4) In the Beginning... Myths of Creation and Destruction
5) Fertility, Mortality, Death and the Underworld
6) Mesopotamian Monsters
7) The Epic of Gilgamesh: an Introduction
8) Creation and Companionship in Gilgamesh
9) Sexuality and Gender in Gilgamesh and the Ancient Near East
10) Combat Myths in Gilgamesh: Humbaba of the Cedar Forest and the Bull of Heaven
11) To the Edge and Back: Mortality, Loss, and Remembering in Gilgamesh
12) Legacies of Mesopotamian Myth I: From Hellenistic and Roman Mesopotamia to Anime and Star Trek

Indicative Tutorial Topics:
1) Foundlings
2) The Creation of Humanity
3) Trips to the Underworld
4) The Great Flood

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning








Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
In this module lectures provide an overview of, and context for, the myths that students will read in their own time. They are not a substitute for reading the myths themselves.

The module handbook will offer guidance about what students should read either before a lecture or as soon after the lecture as possible. It will also point students to wider reading that they can explore in order to help develop ideas introduced in the lectures and follow up on on the basis of their own interests and/or needs.

In tutorials students will gather in smaller groups in order to discuss and debate the stories we are reading together each week. In this setting you will have a chance to apply the knowledge that you gain from: your own reading of the myths in translation, attending weekly lectures, and engaging with some of the modern scholarship on these topics. The aim of these sessions is to compare and contrast mythical traditions about particular topics and themes. In this process you are encouraged to ask questions about the texts and to offer your own views on key issues and debates surrounding these texts and topics.

This course encourages students to develop as writers, readers, and thinkers. You are encouraged to think critically and to come to your own conclusions about the myths and works of scholarship that you will encounter. You will also practice communicating your ideas to others and how you can back up your ideas with direct reference to the texts and the scholarship about these texts. To this end you will receive informal feedback in group discussions in seminars/lectures and formal feedback on your coursework. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade

Not yet recorded.

Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Within 20 working days from the date of submission.