THE ORIGIN OF EDUCATION
The Sumerians invented writing (as far as the West is concerned). We who are literate might assume that this was a great blessing to all of the Mesopotamian people simply because writing is a great blessing to all of us modern people. But we would not be entirely correct in our assumption because in Mesopotamia, writing was restricted to only a select few. It was not a universal knowledge even among the “Haves” and it was a total mystery among the “Have-Nots”.
Education was undertaken only by wealthier families; the poor could not afford the time and cost for learning. Administrative documents from 2000 BC list about five hundred scribes who are further identified by the names and occupations of their fathers. Their fathers were governors, “city fathers,” ambassadors, temple administrators, military officers, sea captains, important tax officials, priests, managers, accountants, foremen, and scribes, in other words, the wealthier citizens of the city. There are references to poor orphan boys adopted and sent to school by generous patrons. But once educated in the secrets of the cuneiform script, these poor boys became well-paid scribes.
There is only one reference to a female scribe. However, cloistered women, celibate devotees of the sun god Shamash and his consort Aya, served as scribes for their own cloister administration. Celibate priestesses may also have devoted themselves to scholarly pursuits. In fact, school texts have been excavated at most private homes in the first half of the second millennium, thereby implying that all boys in wealthy families were sent to school.
It should be noted, too, that these religious people understood the importance of a celibate priesthood. Although many of their priests married and had sons who inherited their father’s priestly office, only a celibate priesthood could, as it was believed in by many who gravitated towards the exoteric teachings of enlightenment, achieve the higher Knowledge of God unfettered by the cares and distractions of married life. While all people could have an intimate relationship with the Supreme Being, only a celibate priesthood was believed to most easily commune with God to the level of transcendence. Unlike modern people who are deluded by a million and one things with no end in sight. While, in the modern world the same result can be attained if celibacy can be achieved at a mental level only: DETACHMENT.
While the children of the wealthy studied hard in the tablet house to prepare them to be professional scribes, the children of the poor farmers and laborers helped their parents in the fields or worked in the various industries such as basket weaving, pottery, brick making, fishing, etc. Not all of the sons of kings or of the wealthy would go to school to learn to read and write. They were employed as their father’s assistants or spent their days learning warfare, hunting, administration and business. They, like their fathers, relied upon the scribes to write all correspondence and calculate all arithmetic problems. With money, they could hire a scribe to do this sort of work so they didn’t need to learn it on their own. Being both wealthy and illiterate was common and not a matter for concern in those days. Even priests, kings, governors, and judges were illiterate, with few exceptions. They had wealth but not education.