Front Page Titles (by Subject) XIV: THE EDUCATION AND EARLY LIFE OF CHILDREN - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XIV: THE EDUCATION AND EARLY LIFE OF CHILDREN - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
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THE EDUCATION AND EARLY LIFE OF CHILDREN
Number and importance of scribesMuch has been made of the knowledge of writing shown by the Babylonians and Assyrians. The ability to draw up deeds and write letters seems at first sight to have been widely diffused. In the times of the First Dynasty of Babylon almost every tablet seems to have a fresh tupšar, or scribe. Many show the handiwork of women scribes.1 But most of the persons concerned in these documents were of the priestly rank. There is no evidence that the shepherds or workpeople could write. In the Assyrian times the scribe was a professional man. We find aba or tupšar used as a title. So, too, in later Babylonian times. The witnesses to a document can only be said to sign their names in so far as that they impressed their seals. This was done, at any rate, in early times. In the Assyrian period the only parties who sealed were the owners of the property transferred to a new owner. The whole of a tablet shows the same handwriting throughout. Anyone who reads carefully through the facsimile copies in Cuneiform Texts can readily see this. Different scribes, especially in early times, wrote differently, but this was still the case in Assyrian days. Yet no change of hand can be noted anywhere in one document, save where, as in the forecast tablets, a date or note was added by a different person, often in Assyrian script, to a text written in Babylonian. The only safe statement to make is that from the earliest times a very large number of persons existed, at any rate in the larger towns, who could write and draw up documents.
Sumerian words and expressions in the legal literatureThe use of Sumerian terms and phrases in the body of a document written in Semitic Babylonian might be ascribed to a mere tradition. But they were no meaningless formulæ. The many variations, including the substitution of completely different though synonymous words, show that these Sumerian phrases were sufficiently understood to be intelligently used. In later times they either disappear altogether, or are used with little variation. They had become stereotyped and were conventional signs, doubtless read as Semitic, though written as Sumerian. Our own retention of Latin words is a close parallel. The First Dynasty of Babylon was bilingual at any rate in its legal documents, though the letters are all pure Semitic. The earlier documents show few signs of Semitic origin, though its influence can be traced as far back as we can go.
SchoolsThe discovery at Sippara of a school dating from the First Dynasty of Babylon is very fully worked out by Professor Scheil in Une Saison de fouilles à Sippara, pp. 30-54. Professor Hilprecht gives further details in Explorations in Bible Lands, pp. 522-28 and passim.
The methods of learning to write and the lessons in Sumerian are well described by these authors, and illustrated by numerous extant examples of practice-tablets. The subjects were very numerous and included arithmetic, mensuration, history, geography, and literature. As Dr. Pinches has shown by his edition of some of these practice-tablets,1 these contain very valuable fragments of otherwise lost or imperfectly known texts.
ApprenticeshipSlaves were often bound as apprentices to learn a trade or handicraft. A man might adopt a child to teach him his trade, and his duty to him was sufficiently discharged by doing so.
Naming of childrenWe do not yet know in any authoritative way, when or with what ceremonies children were named. In the case of slaves we have a boy, still at the breast,1 or a girl of three months, not named.2 On the other hand, a girl still at the breast is named. Hence Meissner concludes, that at the end of one year, at latest, the child was given a name.3 But the usage with respect to slaves is hardly a rule, and, as appears from the above, they were not consistently named.
Rearing of babiesA child seems often to have been put out to nurse. From the phrase-book we learn that a father might “give a child to a wet-nurse to be suckled, and give the wet-nurse food and drink, oil for anointing, and clothing for three years.”4 That this was not only done with adopted children is clear from the Code;5 where we find a severe penalty laid on a wet-nurse, who substitutes another child for the one intrusted to her, without the parents’ consent.
Number of children who could read and writeIt will hardly do to interpret the phrase-book6 as meaning that all children were made to learn writing. But that this was commonly done is evident from the number, both of men and women, who could act as scribes.7
[1 ] Page 82.
[1 ] , xviii., pp. 250-56; xxiii., pp. 188-210.
[1 ] 832, 67.
[2 ] 100.
[3 ] D. S., p. 24, note.
[4 ] II. R. 9, 28 cd. ff.
[5 ] § .
[6 ] II. R. 9, 66 cd.
[7 ] Page 82.