Friday, August 16, 2019

Reading Through History: The Three Brothers of Ur (1964) and The Journey of the Eldest Son (1965) by J.G Fyson

In the city of Ur in Ancient Mesopotamia, a successful and well-known merchant named Teresh the Stern has three sons: Shamashazir, Naychor, and Haran. Haran is a bit of a trouble-maker, and The Three Brothers of Ur opens with him leaving school early for the day without permission in order to see his father's caravan return from its recent journey. Realizing he will need to appease the schoolmaster, Haran gets the idea to give him a nugget of gold, which he sets out to obtain by way of a trade with his father's camel master. When Uz, the camel master's son, brings the gold, however, he is spotted trying to make the delivery, and the secret bargain is found out. Though Uz receives an unexpected apprenticeship to an artist who makes clay images as a result of his role in the transaction, Haran does not have the same good fortune. While his father is away, he accidentally destroys the image of his family's teraphim (or god), bringing what he believes will be terrible misfortune to the household. Haran must rely upon the kindness and talent of Uz once more in order to make things right.

Throughout the first book, the eldest brother, Shamashazir, longs to journey with his father's caravan, but he must first prove to Teresh that he is trustworthy. When Haran breaks the teraphim while he is in charge of the household, he becomes concerned that he will never be given the opportunity. At the start of The Journey of the Eldest Son, however, Shamashazir has been granted his father's permission and is off on a trek over the mountains with the caravan. Unfortunately, a nasty fall from a mountain ledge soon leaves him injured and presumed dead. When he finally regains consciousness, he has been rescued by members of the tribe of Enoch, including Enoch Son of Enoch. Among the tribe, Shamashazir first learns of the Lord of All the Earth, the one God who rules over everything, and soon accepts that faith in one God makes much more sense than faith in teraphim and dingirs (spirits).  When Shamashazir and Enoch encounter a tribe that uses human sacrifice to appease the Corn Dingir, they are both deeply disturbed by this misguided tradition, and they immediately come up with a plan to rescue the two young boys who will be sacrificed next. If they can avoid having the entire tribe hunt them down, they might just be able to bring these boys back to Ur to start their lives anew.

These two books bring Ancient Mesopotamia to life in a way nothing else can. Though the author has obviously invented many of the details surrounding daily life in this time and place, she bases the story - which is really one coherent unit, despite being divided into two books - on Biblical stories from the book of Genesis and ancient religious history, giving it the ring of truth. I was fascinated by the way various characters came to accept monotheism, and equally delighted by the way the second book, in particular, gives voices and faces to figures known in the Bible only by name and brief description.

Even if kids don't recognize all of the Biblical references (they are quite subtle), these books are also wonderfully written page-turners full of adventure and suspense. Despite living 4000 years ago, the three sons of Teresh are the kind of very real and relatable boys that young readers gravitate toward, and the human flaws of these characters easily transcends time and space. These books are also excellent resources for understanding what family life, education, clothing, travel, trade, and living arrangements might have been like during ancient times. These will be absolutely perfect additions to our homeschool curriculum when we cover the ancients the second time around, probably in 5th grade.

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