Ancient Religion, Creative Writing, and Comic Books

As teaching becomes increasingly important in universities, it becomes increasingly necessary for graduate students to seek out creative, new ways of effective teaching practices. In the last few days, an article on the role of creative writing in the classroom was published. Then, on August 16th, a short piece on Mesopotamian figures in marvel comics was published. When taken together, these articles provide a potential example of how to address religion in the ancient world.

First, Sara Ronis included a creative writing assignment in her course “Home, Exile, and Diaspora in the Hebrew Bible” (original article here). The assignment was described as follows:

The Creative Lamentation assignment asked students to write their own “biblical” lamentation (in English) about an event that occurred in the last hundred or so years. To prepare for the assignment, we read excerpts from Sumerian city and cultic laments, the biblical book of Lamentations, and a modern Lamentation about the Holocaust. Together we generated a list of features common to the genre: repetition, personification, specific forms of imagery, self-reflection, rhetorical questions, and the use of multiple voices. With our list in mind, students chose a modern event and went off to do research so that their Lamentation could include rich contextual detail. Then students wrote their own Lamentation about the event, in an alphabetical acrostic, and composed a separate reflection on why they made the artistic choices that they did. They could write their reflection either as a standalone paragraph or as a series of comments in the margins of the Word Document (a la Rap Genius).

This approach enabled students to demystify the Hebrew Bible, engage with it critically and thoughtfully, and identify the rhetorical strategies of laments. Needless to say, incorporating creative writing assignments into coursework could be very productive.

I wonder, though, if this could be expanded beyond creative writing. In an article by Louise Prkye, she points out that Mesopotamian literary figures like Gilgamesh and Inanna appears in a few Captain America and Conan the Barbarian comic books (original article here).

So while students can create modern laments as a means of understanding rhetorical strategies of laments and demystification of the Hebrew Bible, I wonder if it would be possible to incorporate a comic book creation project as means of understanding certain elements of characters in ancient Near Eastern myth and the Hebrew Bible.

For example, a course could focus on how certain “Biblical heroes” or “Mesopotamian heroes” function within their respective literary and social contexts. Next, we would read through the representation of ancient figures in these comic books. Then, just as Ronis did, we would work as a class to develop features common to the genre and these types of figures. Subsequently, students could create a particular hero, employ the types of figures and the genre as found in ancient texts and comics, and create a short comic book reflective of contemporary concerns. It would be framed, though, in the style of these ancient heroes.

Of course, this would only work for the more artistically minded students. Nonetheless, it would be a good opportunity for students to critically and thoughtfully engage with the representation of Mesopotamian myths and their relevance. They would do so by creating a modern hero based on the motifs, themes, and genres of ancient heroes.

In the midst of doing so, students would have to engage with the relationship between heroes and religion. Though I don’t know exactly how this would pan out, it would be an interesting, and potentially fruitful, experiment.

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