The Golden Bull

The Golden Bull

4.0 1
by Marjorie Cowley

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A brother and sister's search for a new life and new home . . .

5,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia during a terrible drought, Jomar and Zefa's father must send his children away to the city of Ur because he can no longer feed them. At fourteen, Jomar is old enough to apprentice with Sidah, a master goldsmith for the temple of the moongod, but there is no


A brother and sister's search for a new life and new home . . .

5,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia during a terrible drought, Jomar and Zefa's father must send his children away to the city of Ur because he can no longer feed them. At fourteen, Jomar is old enough to apprentice with Sidah, a master goldsmith for the temple of the moongod, but there is no place for Zefa in Sidah's household. Zefa, a talented but untrained musician, is forced to play her music and sing for alms on the streets of Ur.

Marjorie Cowley vividly imagines the intrigues, and harsh struggle for survival in ancient Mesopotamia.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Elizabeth Sulock
The Golden Bull tells the fictional story of the relationship between a teenager named Jomar and his younger sister Zefa as they leave their family's farm due to a great drought. They journey to the city of Ur (present-day Iraq). Jomar is set to become an apprentice to the master goldsmith Sidah. However, Zefa, an untrained but talented musician, is not welcomed into Sidah's home. Their relationship diverges when Zefa is accused of stealing a valuable bead, and she sets out to find her place in the foreign city alone. The two must defeat the schemes of Malak, an evil official who works for the temple, and help Sidah's family overcome a terrible loss. Cowley has created a simple historical story that offers great insight into what everyday life must have been like in Mesopotamia. This is an intriguing read for students of Egyptian history and anyone interested in learning about life in this ancient culture. Reviewer: Elizabeth Sulock
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8

Jomar, 14, and his younger sister have been forced to go to the city of Ur to bring income to their poverty-stricken family. Jomar will be an apprentice to a goldsmith, but Zefa has little talent for anything other than playing the lyre that her brother has made for her. He considers the instrument a toy and a burden, but Zefa's talent charms the siblings' way out of one dangerous situation after another. When they finally reach their destination, Jomar is warmly greeted, but Zefa is accused of stealing and runs away. The goldsmith's wife accuses her of stealing and she runs away. It is not until Jomar begs the help of a high priestess that he is able to clear the girl's name and entice her to play the honored temple lyre. This well-researched historical drama opens readers' eyes to the perils of starving farmers in ancient Mesopotamia. The simple story line, colorful descriptions, and endearing characters result in an entertaining tale.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL

Kirkus Reviews
Young readers will identify with the up-and-down sibling relationship at the center of this historical tale, in spite of its uncommonly petrified dialogue ("Early tomorrow morning I'll take you to the broad, well-traveled road that leads to the city") and a less-than-suspenseful plot. Dispatched from their drought-stricken farm to make their way as best they can in the ancient city of Ur, grumpy teenager Jomar and his tempestuous little sister Zefa spend at least as much energy quarreling as they do fretting about finding work while staying out of the clutches of Malak, a malicious official of the prosperous temple of the moongod. By the end, Jomar has proven himself an apt apprentice to a kindly goldsmith, and Zefa has parlayed a natural talent with the lyre into a position as a Temple musician-but more importantly, each has earned the other's respect. Along with glimpses of ancient goldsmithing techniques, Cowley tucks healthy measures of cultural and historical detail into her uncomplicated Mesopotamian tale. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Product Details

Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2008 Marjorie Cowley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58089-181-3

Chapter One


The drought had lasted for months. Jomar dug for edible roots in the dry, sandy soil, but found only three small, misshapen carrots that once he would have given to the pigs. He glanced up at the squawking blackbirds as they flew high above him. When he was younger, it had been his job to wave his arms and yell at the birds to scare them off before they ate the precious barley seeds. Now they no longer swooped down to pick at the brown and brittle grain.

Jomar stopped digging when he heard the bellowing of a cow. He had promised his father to help with the birthing of her calf.

As he ran across the scorched fields toward the cowshed, the rocky soil cut into his frayed leather sandals. The entire region was so barren that it was hard for Jomar to recall that all the farms in the area had once produced abundant grain, melons and grapes, plums and pears, cabbage and carrots. Gazelle and other wild animals had once been plentiful, attracted to the crops and to the water in the irrigation canals that cut through the countryside. Now the canals were empty, and the farm looked as if nothing had ever grown in the sunbaked land that stretched around him.

Jomar heard his younger sister, Zefa, singing as he passed the goat hutch. As she sang she strummed on a small wooden lyre, a stringed instrument he'd made for her when she was a little girl.

Veering from the path to the cowshed, Jomar darted into the hutch. Zefa sat on an overturned bucket, so intent on her song that she didn't look up at him. Squinting into the shadows, he saw that Zefa's eyes glistened like pieces of glassy black obsidian as she began a song to Nanna, the mighty moongod:

"Moon-glowing Nanna, all-knowing Nanna, Look down from the heavens and pity us—"

Jomar broke in. "Pity! What pity? Why make up a song to the moongod when he lets his people go hungry?" He didn't wait for an answer. "And don't let Father hear this sad song—he's worried enough as it is." He turned to leave the hutch.

"Wait," Zefa said. "I'm in here so he won't hear me, but you should listen. This will be the last time you'll hear my music."

He stared at her and realized why her eyes glistened— they were filled with tears. "What do you mean? Why are you crying?"

Zefa gave her news haltingly. "I heard Father talking to Mother last night. They thought I was asleep. Tomorrow he's sending you away ... to the city ... to live in Ur."

Jomar's breath went out of him. "I don't believe this! You're sure?"

"There's not enough food for us all," Zefa said. "Haven't you noticed they're growing weaker?"

"Yes, I've noticed," Jomar said, but he knew he had been pushing this knowledge away. Too full of hurt and anger to talk further, and aching to escape from his sister's sad eyes, Jomar abruptly left the hutch. His mouth was dry; he could feel his heart pounding. Where would he live in the city? What would he do there? Farming was all he knew and all he wanted to know.

Trying to calm himself, Jomar looked out across the flat fields and saw the massive mud-brick temple of Ur looming in the distance like a mountain. Nanna, the powerful moongod of Ur, lived in the temple. Jomar had grown up feeling protected by him, but now he felt abandoned by Nanna. And by his father.

Again he heard the bellowing of the cow. Again he'd forgotten his promise to help with the birth of her calf. He started running, but dread as well as hunger made his stomach tighten with cramps. Because of the drought two boys his age who lived in surrounding farms had been sold into slavery in exchange for food. Would my father do that to me? It was unthinkable, but he could think of nothing else as he raced toward the cowshed.

Chapter Two


Jomar burst into the shed and found his father, Durabi, kneeling over a newborn calf struggling to free itself from its birth pouch.

"The birthing was hard ... the little one's so weak," his father said. "It must be released from its pouch so it can nurse." Durabi handed Jomar his knife, sat back on his heels, and stared at his son with dull eyes.

Jomar took the knife and cut open the pouch that imprisoned the calf. He brought the newborn to its feet, stroking the small, slippery creature that had somehow survived its difficult delivery. Then Jomar lifted the calf to its mother, but it was so wobbly that he had to put his arms around its body to keep it from falling. The cow turned to lick her offspring as it nursed.

Jomar saw his father watching him, his face creased with care. Was his father worried about the calf ? Their last cow, so thin that her ribs could be counted? Or was he worried about him?

Jomar raised his chin and blurted out his concern. "Zefa said you're sending me away to the city. This can't be true!"

His father winced, but the silence in the hot shed was broken only by the noise of the newborn calf's weak suckling.

"Father, speak to me!" Jomar persisted. "I'm needed here."

"The farm grows nothing," Durabi said bitterly. "Our barley is gone, and the only wheat left is emmer." He picked up some of the hard, reddish grain on the floor and let it slip through his fingers. "We planted this to feed our animals. Now it feeds us."

"Yes, I know, but—"

Durabi continued as if he hadn't heard. "Our pigs and sheep are gone ... taken by the temple, traded for barley, or slaughtered to keep us alive." He pointed to Jomar's worn sandals and shook his head. "Without hide I can't even make you a new pair."

"Father, listen! I know nothing but farming. What will I do in the city?"

"I haven't told you this because I prayed that the snows would melt...." He faltered, then gathered his strength. "The last time I was in Ur—to give my last two pigs to the temple—I stopped at a bazaar to eat my midday meal. There I met a man named Sidah, a goldsmith who works for the temple. We talked. I told him I feared I would have to send you to the city to survive because of desperate conditions on the farm. He told me his only child, a son about your age, had recently died. Sidah and I made an agreement...." Again he stopped speaking, and looked away. "You will be his new apprentice."

"I have no interest in being a goldsmith's apprentice!" Jomar's throat closed up and his words came out in a whisper. "Will I be his slave?"

"He'll take you into his house and teach you his skills, but I didn't sell you to him," Durabi said. "How could I do this to you? Or to your sister?"

Jomar stared at his father. "Zefa?"

"She must go with you," Durabi said. "She grows too thin, and her hair has lost its luster."

"This isn't fair! How can I learn new skills and look after her at the same time?"

"You can't," Durabi answered. "She must have her own work."

"And what would that be?" Jomar asked in a challenging tone he had never used with his father before.

Durabi bit off his words. "I made no arrangements for her because I had no thought of sending her away. You're fourteen—soon you'll be a man. Zefa will be your responsibility."

Jomar felt his stomach hollow out. "I beg you, Father, let us both stay. The snows will melt, the river will run full again, and the canals and reservoirs will fill with water. Then you'll need me to help with the replanting. Mother will need Zefa to help with her chores."

Durabi shook his head sadly, the anger drained out of him. "I can't wait any longer—I must act before you and Zefa weaken. The arrangement I've made for you with the goldsmith is good. Early tomorrow morning I'll take you to the broad, well-traveled road that leads to the city. You must stay on it until you get to the great gate of Ur."

"You're not taking us all the way?" Jomar asked, embarrassed by the catch in his voice.

"That was my first thought, but your mother's too weak for me to leave her for that long a time," Durabi said. "She's been giving you and Zefa most of her food, pretending that she's eaten earlier or will eat later."

Jomar's anger lifted as he listened to his father's words and saw his sorrowful expression. "When did you make your decision to send Zefa to the city?" he asked softly.

"Only yesterday afternoon, when I found our last two goats dead of starvation in the far field," Durabi said. "They were nothing but bones, their hair matted and coarse. I thought of Zefa's hair ... how it used to shine...." He let the words fade away.

The calf stopped nursing and made small, plaintive noises. There was no more milk. The cow bent her scrawny neck to lick her newborn again. Jomar felt his future was as shaky as the calf's. He was certain of only one thing: he would not be here to find out if this small, struggling creature lived or died.

Chapter Three


Jomar turned restlessly on his narrow cot throughout the hot night. He felt the gritty sting of sand that had drifted into the house in spite of his mother's unending efforts to sweep it out. How completely his life would change when the darkness lightened into dawn. Not only was he being forced to leave, but in the city he would have the heavy burden of caring for Zefa.

Jomar must have finally dozed, because the familiar scent of sesame woke him. His mother came in carrying a lamp that burned the pungent oil made from crushed sesame seeds.

"My son, my son," Lilan crooned, putting down the lamp and kneeling beside his bed. "I never wanted this to happen to you, to Zefa," she said, burying her face in her hands.

"I know you didn't," Jomar said, taking her hands away from her thin, lined face and holding them in his own. "Has Zefa found out what's going to happen to her?"

"I took her up to the roof last evening to tell her," Lilan said. "She cried in my arms like a toddling child through half the night. Oh, Jomar, help her. Her strong spirit has fled."

"I don't think she'll let me help her—she's always gone to you when she's needed comforting." Jomar stopped talking as Zefa came down the ladder from the roof. Rumpled and red-eyed, she stared sullenly at Jomar as if this upheaval were his fault.

Lilan stood up and brushed the tears from her eyes. "The journey to the city will take a full day. You must leave soon so you'll have some cool walking time before sunrise." She brought out two reed traveling baskets. "Both of you have a change of clothing and what food I could give you. You must make it last until you get to Ur."

Durabi appeared in the low doorway. "I've come from the cowshed. The little one is weak and needs more milk than its mother can give it, but it survived the night."

"Good news, Father," Jomar said, then busied himself attaching his basket to his back and adjusting its leather straps.

Zefa rummaged in her basket. "My lyre isn't here!"

Lilan patted her arm. "I didn't want to burden you with anything unnecessary."

"Your basket's heavy enough," Jomar said, thinking that he would have to shoulder it along with his own when Zefa got tired.

But Zefa spoke slowly, emphasizing each word. "I want my lyre."

Lilan stroked her daughter's face, then added the instrument to Zefa's belongings. When she hung the basket from Zefa's thin shoulders, her mother received the glimmering of a smile. Jomar received an angry look.

Durabi turned to Jomar. "I've heard a guard has been stationed at the city gate during these troubled times. When he asks your reason for entering the city, tell them you are to be apprenticed to Sidah, a temple goldsmith."

"You're working for a goldsmith?" Zefa asked, wide-eyed. "What will I do?"

"Work will be found for you," Durabi said quickly, then turned to Jomar. "Sidah told me that his house is on a street in the back of the temple where craftsmen live. When you find him, present yourself as the son of Durabi."

"And Zefa?" Jomar asked.

"I've told you what your responsibilities are," his father said.

When Jomar frowned, Zefa glared at him with narrowed eyes.

"Go while it's still cool," Lilan said. Now openly weeping, she drew her children to her and touched each of their faces tenderly. "We do this for you ... only for you."

Durabi patted his wife's shoulder. "I'll return as soon as I can."

Jomar, Zefa, and their father went out through the low doorway into the still-dark morning. They could hear Lilan's soft, insistent crying as they walked away from the farmhouse. Finally the only sound heard was the slap-slap of their sandals on the hard, dry ground.


Excerpted from THE GOLDEN BULL by MARJORIE COWLEY Copyright © 2008 by Marjorie Cowley. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marjorie Cowley was trained at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles, and taught prehistoric history to students from first grade through high school. In this capacity she was designated a professional expert by the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has written two previous novels with settings in ancient history, DAR THE SPEAR-THROWER and ANOOKA'S ANSWER. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

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The Golden Bull 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
CareBearM_2005 4 months ago
The Golden Bull; a Mesopotamian Adventure by Marjorie Cowley is a story of survival by 14 year old Jomar, and his younger sister Zefa. Their father and mother, Durabi and Lilan, can no longer take care of them. “I heard father talking to Mother last night, They thought I was asleep. Tomorrow he’s sending you away... to the live in Ur. (p.3)” Zefa told Jomar what was getting ready to happen to him since their farm had been devastated by the drought. This was probably one of the saddest parts of the story. I could not imagine a 14 year old would have to go live on his own. Later during the story, we found out that Jomar was not going alone; he was bringing Zefa with him, also. They traveled for days and nights, on a long dirt road, with very little to eat. They came upon a crew of slaves working for a temple officer name Malak. He ordered Jomar and Zefa to work for him, Zefa as a cook and Jomar as a worker moving rocks from canal to canal. After a long day of work, the men were so exhausted, they didn’t realize Jomar and Zefa were escaping! Jomar was a brave big brother for his sister. Finally, Jomar and Zefa made it to the entrance to the city of Ur. Jomar announced to the gatekeeper who he was and why he should be allowed into the city. He was a hard worker who planned to make his parents proud. “Then enter.” He looked a Zefa. “And this young girl? (p.46)” Arrangements for Zefa had not been made, so Jomar did not know how he would get his sister into the city. I wondered if Zefa would have to go back to the country or go work for Malak and his crew. This was a very good story. I would recommend this book to all my classmates. It is a good example of bravery and survival. It keeps your attention from the beginning to the end.