Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations

Required Books:

  • A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, 3000-330 B.C., 2 vols. Routledge pb.
  • J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East, 2 vols. Princeton U. Press pb.
  • H. Shanks, Ancient Israel, rev. and expanded ed., Prentice-Hall pb.
  • N.B.! You will find it helpful to have access to a Bible when we discuss ancient Israel.

The Scope of the Course:

The course is an introduction to the major civilizations of Mesopotamia (Sumerians, Babylonians, Kassites, Assyrians, etc.), Syria-Palestine (Canaanites, Israelites, Phoenicians, etc.), Anatolia (Hittites, Urartians) and Iran (Medes and Persians) during the four millennia preceding the conquest of the area by Alexander the Great. Some attention will be paid to parallel developments in Egypt. Stress will be placed on general issues of continuity and diversity, as well as on such specific topics as: urbanization, political organization, imperialism, law, social structure(class, family, gender), literature and art. We will rely heavily on ancient documents and artifacts. The course concludes with a look at the interaction between the cultures of this region and Greece, as well as the impact of Christianity. The use of documents and archaeological data are intended to make clear how the history and culture of the ancient Near East has been reconstructed and interpreted.

Format and Requirements:

The format will be primarily lectures, but there will be room for discussion dependent of course on the size of the class. The lectures will be ‘informal’, meaning that you may interrupt – in a civil manner – at any time for questions, clarifications or, perhaps, suggestions for alternative interpretations of the evidence. The readings represent only part of the “stuff” of the course; the lectures will include additional source materials, discussions of cultures not adequately covered in the readings and recent new interpretations. You are under no obligation to accept any of these interpretations – mine or the books’ – but you must know them all.

Your final grade will be based on a one-hour, in-class mid-term examination and a two-hour final, both of the essay type. Your will have a choice of questions, and I will distribute a study sheet for each examination at least a week in advance. The final examination will not be cumulative. The grades on the two essays on the final will be entered as separate grades, so that your final grade will be based on the three essay grades.

An effort has been made to select representative readings on the civilizations we will consider. You need to read them carefully, taking notes on your reading. I will show you how to read the ancient sources.

Last Updated: 11/19/14