Like the Greek Theogony, the creation of the world in the Enuma elish begins with the universe in a formless state, from which emerge two primary gods, male and female:
After the waters of Apsu and Tiamat mix, the gods Lahmu and Lahamu ("slime,
mud") emerge. And from this pair come Anshar ("whole sky") and Kishar ("whole
earth"), meaning perhaps "the horizon, the circular rim of heaven and the
corresponding circular rim of earth" (Jacobsen 168). Anshar and Kishar
give birth to Anu, the sky god, who in turn begets what one translation
calls "his likeness" (Heidel 18) Ea, the trickster god of the flowing waters,
who is familiar to us as Enki. The following genealogical chart summarizes
the creation so far:
Apsu (sweet primeval waters)
Lahmu ("slime," "mud")
Anshar ("whole sky")
Nudimmud ("image fashioner"--another name for Ea or Enki).
+ Tiamat (salt primeval waters)
+ Lahamu (perhaps both mean "silt"?)
+ Kishar ("whole earth"--"horizon"?)
+ no female partner named
The young Ea was stronger than his father, and like any youngster he was fond of running around, playing with some other new gods (his brothers). All this noise and commotion disturbed Tiamat, "roiled Tiamat's belly" (Jacobsen 179). Apsu grew angry, but Tiamat, like many moms, put up with the noise much better than dad. Thorkild Jacobsen interprets this passage like this: "with the birth of the new gods, a new principle, movement, activity--has come into the world" (170). Finally, Apsu and his vizier Mummu go before Tiamat; Apsu suggests that since the noise keeps him from sleeping, he will destroy the young gods, "abolish their ways" (Dalley 234). Tiamat responds furiously, "How could we destroy / what we (ourselves) have brought into being?" (Jacobsen 171). Despite her objections, Apsu and Mummu plot to do away with the younger gods. However, the clever Ea overhears them and concocts a plan to defeat them. Ea makes and recites a magic spell that puts Apsu to sleep and Mummu in a daze. Ea then takes Apsu's insignia of power, his belt, his crown, and his "mantle of radiance," and puts them on himself. He holds Apsu down and kills him. Then he
Unlike the Theogony, which was put together by an individual independent poet, the Enuma elish was an official ritual text, recited every April on the fourth day of the Babylonian New Year festival. This festival went on for eleven days: on the fifth day, a ram was sacrificed, "and the priest who performed the sacrifice [was] sent out into the wilderness, not to return till after the days of the festival [were] over" (Sandars 49). On the evening of the fifth day, the king of Babylon would humble himself before the statue of the chief god Marduk and then would lead a procession of all the gods outside the city gates and back again. Scholars are uncertain which rituals were performed in the remaining days of the festival, but perhaps some sort of "sacred marriage" between the king and the goddess Ishtar was enacted. On the eighth and eleventh days of the festival, the gods were summoned to "fix the destinies" of the universe (Sandars 37). Spring was and still is harvest and threshing time in Iraq, while "the summer season, when Tammuz [Dumuzi] died and was mourned" was "the parched 'dead season' of a hot country" (Sandars 45). Since spring floods were unpredictable, the Enuma elish may celebrate the taming of the waters that make agriculture and life possible in this dry region.
The poem certainly celebrates a god who is new to us, Marduk. He was originally a local Babylonian god who was raised to chief god status when the city of Babylon conquered all of Mesopotamia. Earlier versions of the story may have featured Enlil as the hero, but since this is an official epic, the official god Marduk must be exalted. (Later, when Assyria conquered Babylon, the Assyrian scribe simply replaced Marduk's name with that of his chief god, Ashur.) Marduk's name means "'son-child' or 'son-of-the-sun'" (Sandars 32) or perhaps "bull calf of the sun." Marduk is more powerful than his father, and his physical appearance is impressive: he is very large, with four large eyes and four big ears, the better to see and hear everything. Fire blazes from his mouth when he speaks. His proud and doting grandfather Anu creates the four winds for Marduk to play with, and soon a group of unnamed gods goes to "their mother" Tiamat to complain about the resulting noise and commotion:
At the head of this army, Tiamat places a god named Kingu, whose name may mean "unskilled labourer" (Sandars 36). Tiamat also makes Kingu her second husband and gives him the "Tablet of Destinies," on which the decrees of the gods are written and which symbolize "supreme power over the universe" (Jacobsen 174). Kingu now has the power to fix destinies. According to N. K. Sandars, the Akkadian word for "destiny," shimtu,
Ea hears of this plot and runs to Anshar with the news. Anshar sends the powerful and wise Ea to tell Tiamat to cease and desist, but his mission fails. Next he sends Anu out, but he fails as well. Anshar gnashes his teeth, and the gods sit silently for a while, "tight-lipped." Finally they speak: "Will no (other) god come forward? Is fate fixed? / Will no one go out to face Tiamat?" (Dalley 242). Ea has the bright idea to speak to his mighty son Marduk and see what he can do.
Marduk promises Anshar, "You shall soon set your foot on the neck of Tiamat!" Pleased with this answer, Anshar urges Marduk to set out right away and "quell Tiamat with your pure spell" (Dalley 243). But Marduk has one condition--the gods must convene a meeting and proclaim Marduk top dog (or god):
Somewhat like Zeus freeing the Hundred-handers, Marduk prepares weapons for the coming battle. He makes a bow, fletches arrows, grabs a mace, throws lightning before him, fills his body with flame, makes a net "to encircle Tiamat within it," gathers the four winds "so that no part of her could escape" (Dalley 251), creates seven nasty new winds such as the whirlwind and tornado, and raises up his mightiest weapon, the "rain-flood" (Heidel 39). Then he sets out for battle, mounting his storm-chariot drawn by four horses with poison in their mouths. In his lips he holds a spell and in one hand he grasps "a herb to counter poison" (Dalley 252). Kingu and the rebel gods are "confused" and afraid when they see Marduk in his chariot. Marduk raises up his rain-flood weapon and challenges Tiamat to single combat. Tiamat loses her temper, accepts the challenge, and advances, all the while shouting spells. Marduk encircles Tiamat with his net, blows her up with his winds, and shoots "an arrow which pierced her belly, / Split her down the middle and slit her heart" (Dalley 253). After standing on Tiamatís corpse, he easily defeats the rebel gods, capturing most of them and smashing their weapons. He ties the arms of the monsters and leads them away with nose-ropes. He grabs the Tablet of Destiny away from Kingu and fastens it to his own breast. Marduk then proceeds to create the universe from Tiamatís body:
Marduk returns from creating the universe, leading the captive gods and monsters before the gods. He presents the Tablet of Destiny to Anu and them makes statues of the eleven monsters, setting them up "at the door of Apsu" (Dalley 257). The gods are extremely pleased with Marduk, so they arrange a reception for him at which they all come forward to kiss his feet. They invest Marduk with the regalia of his office--such as the crown, the sceptre, and "the mantle of radiance"--and they proclaim him king of the gods of heaven and earth. Marduk proclaims that he will create his own dwelling-place between the skies of heaven and the waters of the Apsu and invites the gods to stop by on their way up or down. He decides to name his new dwelling-place Babylon, which means "gate of god." The gods bow down to him, repeating their praises and promising to obey his command.
Now Marduk decides to "perform miracles"óhe outlines his plan to Ea:
Marduk invites the gods to a big feast in his new home. At the feast, all destinies are fixed, including "the seven destinies of the cult." Marduk gives the bow that slew Tiamat to the gods, and Anu is so pleased that he makes the bow an honorary god and gives it (her) a seat at the assembly of gods. The gods swear fealty to Marduk, "by touching their throats with oil and water" (Jacobsen 182). After Anshar orders the worship of Marduk by "the black-headed people," the gods confirm Mardukís kingship and mastery by chanting his fifty names.
1. What physical picture can you conjure up from the meanings (waters, mud, silt, whole sky and earth, sky) of the names of the gods at the beginning of the Babylonian Creation Epic? In terms of nature, what do you think Ea's conquest of Apsu and Mummu means?
2. Why do you think Tiamat decides to aid the opponents of noise the second time but not the first time?
3. Think of some similarities and differences between the rise of Zeus in Hesiod's Theogony and the rise of Marduk in this epic. For example, in what ways are Tiamat and Kingu like or unlike Kronos and Typhoios? Who do you think is more powerful, Marduk or Zeus? Why?
4. Name some similarities and differences between the Norse creation story and the Enuma elish. For example, in what ways is Ymir like and unlike Tiamat? In what ways is Kingu like and unlike Kvasir? How is Kingu like or unlike Prometheus?
5. Why do you suppose the gods are depicted as getting drunk when they make the decision to give Marduk supreme power?
6. When Marduk makes the constellation appear and disappear, do you think he creates something out of nothing? Notice the emphasis on the kingís words as absolute law: "May your utterance be law, your word never be falsified " (Dalley 250).
7. What do you think the defeat of Tiamat might mean? (Notice the winds vs. water and male vs. female symbolism.)
8. Compare the type of god used to make man in this epic with the kind of god used in Atrahasis. Do we get a different view of the relationship between men and gods? Compare and contrast with the attitude of God towards his creation in Genesis.
9. Why do you think the city of Babylon created right after mankind? Why do you suppose Zeus didn't get a similar city in the Theogony?
10. Which aspects of this myth seem to refer to natural events and which to ritual? What charter elements can you find?
The Esagila (Temple of Marduk), or the Tower of Babel: http://www-lib.haifa.ac.il/www/art/babel.html
Exploring Ancient World Cultures: The Near East: http://eawc.evansville.edu/nepage.htm
Christopher Sirenís Sumerian Myth site: http://pubpages.unh.edu/~cbsiren/sumer-faq.html
Christopher Sirenís Babylonian Myth site: http://pubpages.unh.edu/~cbsiren/assyrbabyl-faq.html
University of Chicago: http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/default.html
[Authoritative, impeccable scholarship, if a bit puzzling to navigate--check out their ABZU index to Ancient Near Eastern Resources on the web.]