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Lesson 2.6: Religious Imagery and Ideas in the Mediterranean over Time


Lesson 2.6: Religious Imagery and Ideas in the Mediterranean over Time


Topic 6: Spiritual Life


This lesson invites students to appreciate the variety of religious experience in the Mediterranean region through objects that express religious imagery, and through texts that express religious concepts. The lesson is designed to suggest connections and comparisons rather than to provide an overview of any one tradition, which teachers would do in connection with closer study of various civilizations in the region. The Mediterranean was a region of exchange and dissemination of religious ideas and practices traces the emergence and spread of narratives, belief systems and migrations during the long period covered by this module.


Susan Douglass


Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: A World History Curriculum Project for Educators


Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University




2014, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University, published under Creative Commons – Attribution-No Derivatives 3.0 License


1 class period for imagery activity + 1-2 for texts activity (depending on the number of group rounds with the 10 texts)


• Students will identify common and divergent motifs and images used in artwork and texts to express divinity and the sacred, from polytheistic to monotheistic traditions, and be able to compare themes in religious imagery.

• They will identify some major texts and trends in religious literature, scripture and thought during the period from 1500 BCE to 700 CE and important people and groups associated with them

• They will analyze texts to trace aspects of the development of ideas about the human condition, the soul, and concepts of divinity and the relationship of humankind to the divine over time and among traditions.

• They will analyze and compare religious and philosophical texts for the ideas that they convey.


• Student Handout 2.6.1 (religious imagery)

• Student Handout 2.6.2 (religious texts)

• Classroom atlas or wall map suitable for attaching images temporarily

• Butcher paper or posterboard

• Glue sticks, temporary adhesive or tacks (if using bulletin board)

• Scissors

• Paper for note-taking (texts activity)

Lesson Plan Text

1. Distribute Handout 2.6.1, scissors, adhesive and butcher paper for each of several small groups (2-4). If this lesson is done toward the end of a unit on the era, have students recall the religious images they have already learned about. If it is done early, have them recall some imagery from prior learning. How have deities been portrayed, and what visual symbols have been used in different cultures? With this introduction, students will cut apart the images with their identifying tags and look at them. Note: in this activity, each group will do the same work and compare differing results at the end. Each group’s task is to categorize the images of sacred objects, deities, and spaces. I have already created categories in the handout, but hid them in white text (view by clicking “Select All” and scroll through the file); they are Mother and Child Images, Female Figures, Enthroned God as King and Warrior, Sun and Moon as Deities, Altars and Sacrifice, Acts of Worship, Winged Representations. Students will create other categories that may mix the ones created in the handout (since they are cutting apart the images this will be easier).

2. Enrichment: (a) Have students locate the objects’ pictured on a map by their place of origin. This will provide a basis for making comparisons and proposing connections. (b) Increase the number of images in the activity by adding houses of worship, art objects and scenes portraying public and private worship, and categorize them. Other handouts, such as those on Ugarit and the Uluburun shipwreck, also contain images of cult objects. See also images of places of worship in Student Handout 2.6.2 on religious texts.

3. When charts are complete, share the results from each group and discuss the findings. Ask why they chose the categories, and how they decided what belonged in each? What connections around spiritual imagery in the Mediterranean region seem to have occurred over time? Why did certain concepts and deities become part of the shared heritage of several cultures, even to the point that art historians cannot be sure which deity some objects portray? How did socieities concepts of the sacred come to be shared, even after the spread of monotheistic Abrahamic religion? Did this cause controversy? Did any group categorize objects according to public and private worship?

4. This may serve as a review activity for teaching about religions during this formative period.

Lesson Procedure: Religious Texts

1. Refer to Student Handout 2.6.2 to identify selected texts for these activities, and to decide which texts to assign to groups of students. The handout includes 10 texts from religious sources ranging over a period from about 15th century BCE to the 6th century CE, from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, to Jewish, Christian and Islamic scripture and thought. Divide students into groups of 2-4. Each group will read and discuss the questions for 2-3 texts only. It is up to the teacher to decide how to distribute them, depending on the topics and level of detail in religious history studied in relation to this period and to the Mediterranean region as a whole. Copy only as many handouts as needed for the groups assigned to the readings.

2. There are many ways to group the texts. For example, Texts 1 & 2 are hymns to the Egyptian and Greek sun gods; Texts 3 & 10 are versions of the Abrahamic story of the sacrifice from Jewish and Islamic scriptures (with reference to Christian scripture online); Texts 5 & 6 compare Plato with the Hellenistic Philo on the soul, but they could both be compared with 1 & 2, the hymns, for the concept of the sacred. The texts from Pliny and Paul explore the fledgling Christian community and its challenges. There are many other creative ways to challenge students to see connections and contrasts.

3. Post the titles of Texts 1-10 and the names of the students in each group and their assigned texts on the board. This will be needed for the second round (and third if there is time)

4. Each text has two questions associated with it. Depending on which texts are combined in the groups, some of the questions may refer to texts that other groups are assigned—save these for discussion time. Have students develop 2 additional questions for each text and try to answer them in writing. When the groups have completed their reading and discussion internally, have each present a 2 minute overview of their text (who, when, what tradition, and a sense of what it’s about). Each group then chooses another group with which to meet and discuss their texts in terms of what they have in common (or don’t). The idea of these two rounds is to get a sense of what spiritual concerns people had, and what they felt moved to act upon in terms of ritual, ways of life, etc. Secondly, to analyze how these religious figures saw the relationship between humans and the divine, or God, and what that meant for the human condition.

5. After these two rounds, 1 person from the paired groups will present to the whole group for 2-3 minutes on the ideas they discussed with the group they chose. As a summative activity, pull 3 or 4 ideas from the discussions and explore them with relation to several of the 10 texts, comparing and contrasting. 6. An assessment could involve a writing assignment in which the students choose one or more texts to read more closely and to compare, using the questions as prompts for a paragraph or longer piece, either the prepared questions on the handout or ones generated by the students themselves in the first round. 7. Extension: Students may research one or more of the religious figures associated with the text and read beyond the excerpts to gain a fuller sense of their thought and its impact.



Susan Douglass, “Lesson 2.6: Religious Imagery and Ideas in the Mediterranean over Time,” Our Shared Past in the Mediterranean: Teaching Modules , accessed January 19, 2018,

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