These days I find it hard to write – I feel plagued with negativity, and the news and violence and overall hateful actions of others have weighed deeply on my soul. While I personally am ready to celebrate a milestone birthday, am another year closer to completing my Ph.D., witnessed the graduation of one daughter, experienced the independence of another, a milestone for my twins, as well as my father’s successful completing of another orbit around the sun after a year plagued with health issues – rather than joy, my heart is filled with pain – pain of the election, pain of the failure of our political system’s supposed checks and balances, pain of violence and bigotry like that enacted in Charlottesville, pain of terror attacks in England, Spain, Finland, France, etc. Where we ought to be united, we are divided. Thus, I write from a place of remembering – a place of strength – a place to say I count (as you count) – and I begin this blog in the voice of Enheduanna, where she becomes the first voice in history to reveal herself – her name, by simply stating – – “I AM.”
I am who I am. This line brings to mind when Yahweh reveals himself to Moses in the story of the Ten Commandments. However, “I am” was first written by Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon the Great (of Akkad or Sargon of Kish) over 4300 years ago (2285-2250 B.C.E.). She was the world’s first historian and literary author who wrote psalms, prayers, and poetry used in the ancient world (and, it should be noted, predates the psalms we see in Hebrew Scripture and influenced the early writers of the Hebrew Bible as well as Homeric hymns). At the conclusion of her writings, she would often write:
She is also referred to as a prophet:
Considered the first non-anonymous author in world literature, the authority of her colophon declares the hymns to be hers, as does her employment of her first name, in the first person narrative, “I, Enheduanna.
Often we are taught or led to believe that women were always property and that we are moving toward crushing that glass ceiling. However, history tells us that the glass ceiling was previously non-existent and over time was built and became thicker as women were denied the right to own property – denied the rights to their own bodies – and actually became less than human……in other words, became property herself without rights.
Cultural memory is identity constructing and identity maintaining and women have become oppressed by the writers of revisionist history. “History” is political and invented by a group of people and, as we see time and time again, has the ability to marginalize and even relegate groups to extinction. Women’s voices were silenced by history. However, cultural memory can be reclaimed as can the creation of a communicative voice and collective identity. A communicative voice and collective identity existed: I argue that they should not be created but must be reclaimed. Communicative voices are more difficult to silence – they, like Enheduanna’s voice, live on in history – and never silenced (though maybe forgotten).
Enheduanna was a princess and priestess – she created and validated her father’s reign. Roberta Brinkley reminds us that “writers know that voice must emerge from a strong persona. Without self-confidence, without a personal identification of self-some kind of self-knowledge and confidence.” The establishment of this revisionist history is a continuation of an oppressive narrative meant to shut down women, relegating them to the sidelines of history – something that we continue to fight against day after day.
As I struggle to make sense of what continues to go on around me, how hate and bigotry escalates in a world where I once thought the treatment of the sexes were close to meeting in a somewhat level ground, I found solace in Enheduanna’s words – I am, Enhuduanna. So today, in a world filled with strife and oppression, we should never be afraid to say “I am.” Through the assertion of our own voices, we become authoritative, powerful, and uniting to others who also need to hear and be reminded of the value of their own voice.
Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Her research and areas of focus are Religion, Cultural Identity and Memory Studies, Forced Migration and Exile, Cultural Heritage and Human Rights, Biblical Archaeology, Provenance of Antiquities and Art (including Nazi-Era Looting) and international dialogue surrounding the protection, conservation, and education of cultural heritage. She is the 2015 recipient of the P. E. MacAllister Excavation Fellowship where she participated in the Bethsaida Archaeology Project. Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013 and 2014). She wrote, “The Catholic Church and Social Media: Embracing [Fighting] a Feminist Ideological Theo-Ethical Discourse and Discursive Activism” in Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century, edited by Gina Messina-Dysert and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Find her website here.