Children and the Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh the kingMarcus Borg is often quoted as having said something to the effect that the average adult has but a grade five understanding of Christianity. Which is okay if you are in grade five but it won’t sustain you through a lifetime of questions. While I agree with Borg that a good many people have rejected Christianity on the basis of what they learned as children and we have a great deal of work to do to educate adults about the breadth and depth of the Christian faith, I wonder what it would mean for the church if we stepped up our game when it comes to the education of children.

I can still remember taking my first religious studies class as an adult and being The Last Quest of Gilgameshblown away by the revelation that so many of the biblical stories that I was struggling with actually had their origins in tales that were told long before a wandering Aramean went down to Egypt. I remember being both fascinated with the story of Gilgamesh and angry at the Church for failing to let me in on the reality that human’s have been myth-making since forever. I’m sure that I would have been far less traumatized by the realization that the biblical writers engaged in the ancient art of myth-making had I been introduced to it in my adolescence. Needless to say, since I have been teaching Confirmation classes (ages 11-15) I have taken the opportunity to introduce the Epic of Gilgamesh as a precursor to discussions on the book of Genesis.

revenge of ishtarSeveral years ago, the task of introducing Gilgamesh to young people was illuminated by the discovery of a two of books by Ludmila Zeman designed to bring the tales first carved onto clay tables in Mesopotamia to life. Both Gilgamesh the King and The Last Quest of Gilgamesh are beautiful illustrated and even though they are recommended for children ages 8 and up, provide an engaging experience for adolescents. For those Confirmation students who are particularly keen, I have added Zeman’s The Revenge of Ishtar  to the Confirmation class’s collection of resources. I have even been known to use this speeded little tomes in Adult Education Classes.  Ludmila Zeman emigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia and lives, works and creates in Vancouver.