B.C. to now:
The following was delivered at the Honors Convocation on April 6 by John Franklin, chair and professor of Addiction Studies and Counseling. Franklin was also the Grand Marshal of the University Commencement ceremony this past May. The University has had many requests for Franklin’s talk, which offers a provacative history lesson that applies our current world affairs in Iraq to the Middle East of thousands of years before the birth of Christ.
It is a terrible time. We mourn the dead. Many people are fearful. We find ourselves embroiled in a war on the other side of this pale blue planet, a war that many in this country and most of the rest of the world, it seems, think is unnecessary. Whatever your opinion about that, we have in fact young American women and men at risk in that far off and mysterious place. We love them, pray for them without knowing most of them and worry for their safety. Iraq is not now so far off and mysterious as it was before the embedded press and the media blitz. Studies in religion and history, two of the areas in the Core Curriculum, also make Iraq and the Iraqi people less far away and mysterious.
The land area now known as modern Iraq is almost equivalent to ancient Mesopotamia. The land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (those bridges that our troops have been crossing) was called the Fertile Crescent and it is known as the Cradle of Civilization. An advanced civilization, the Sumerian, flourished here 4000 years before the birth of Christ, long before that of Egypt, Greece and Rome. They had a highly developed irrigation system, complex agricultural practices and the earliest known writing, cuneiform. By 3000 B.C. they had the first written alphabet. They had already developed a math system based on the number 60, which is the foundation of time in the modern world.
The Sumerian society was matriarchal and women had a highly respected place in society. Banking originated in Mesopotamia as it was becoming known as Babylonia. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were constructed along the east bank of the Euphrates River, about 30 miles south of modern day Baghdad, one of the areas, it seems, where our troops first encountered remnants of the Republican Guard. Babylon was the commercial and cultural center of the Middle East for almost two thousand years.
In the 6th century B.C., Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King who built the Hanging Gardens for his wife, conquered Judaea, modern day Israel, and took an estimated 15,000 Jewish captives into exile back to Babylon. Thus began one of the creative periods in Old Testament literature.
Because of its ancient cultural richness it is no wonder that the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam owe their origins to this area. They are the Abrahamic religions, all descended from Abraham. God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to leave his homeland and settle in Canaan, the promised land, where he would make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. In Gen. 12, God is quoted as saying:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
Even though he and his wife Sara were advanced in years and she was childless, Abraham believed and he was rewarded. He became the father of many nations. So too, we must believe that there are better days ahead for the U.S., for Iraq and for this pale blue planet. And we must work toward that goal. Abraham did not become the father of many nations by sitting around and fretting.
It sounds like Abraham was Chaldean or at least he lived with the Chaldeans. The ancient city of Ur is about 25 miles northeast of modern day Mughair in Iraq. The Chaldean-Americans who live in Metro-Detroit and who attend UDM, along with Kurdish-Americans and the other Iraqi-Americans all come from this ancient and spiritually rich part of the pale blue planet. Perhaps some of you receiving honors today are Iraqi or Iraqi-American. If so, I applaud you. We are all cousins. Pope Pius the 11th, sixty-five years ago when Nazism reared its ugly head in Europe, stated that “we are all spiritually semitic.” By that he meant that we have the same religious roots. The word Semitic comes from Shem, the son of Noah. The nations descending from Shem are the Semites. The Semitic languages include Babylonian, Hebrew, Assyrian, Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, and Arabic. So we pray not only for our own sons and daughters today, but also for the sons and daughters of all our cousins in the Middle East.
The hymn, “This is My Song.” beautifully echoes these sentiments. The words are by Lloyd Stone. The melody is Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. It is the national anthem of Finland. I found it in the Methodist Hymnal. Joan Baez sang it in concert this week in Ann Arbor. Don’t panic. I will not be singing.
This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is. Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine, but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country's’ skies are bluer than the oceans and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine, but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine. Oh hear my song, thou God of the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.