Enuma Elish - The Babylonian Epic of Creation

Updated: Apr 19



The Story uncovered and pieced together by archeologists and scholars has to do with creating the world and humanity. This is a relatively common theme in ancient religious stories, but what makes the Enuma Elish unique is the particular way the Enuma Elish tells this Story. Rather than attributing creation to a single god or a single pantheon of gods, the Enuma Elish tells its Story in such a way as to suggest that there was an earlier time when gods such as Marduk did not yet exist, and that creation occurred through the conflict between different groups of gods. The Story is known both as "The Babylonian Epic of Creation" and more simply as "The Babylonian Creation Myth."



The Enuma Elish is one of the oldest known creation myths. When we say "oldest known creation myth," we mean that it is the oldest among those that have survived.

Even older creation myths may still be discovered, but for now, scholars agree that the Enuma Elish has survived longer than all others. The Enuma Elish was written down at least by 2100 BCE and possibly as early as 2350 BCE.

The Enuma Elish is the Babylonian creation myth; Babylon is an ancient city located on the Euphrates river in Iraq and a major center of civilization during its time. This fact alone should indicate how old this Story is: it predates Christianity and Judaism! There are parts of this Story similar to stories found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) - which shows just how closely related these ancient cultures were.

The Myth Begins

The Enuma Elish begins with the gods alone. There was no water or earth, no sun or moon, no stars, no sky, and not even an ocean. In this timeless void, only the gods existed. However, these were not the beautiful gods of Classical Greece that you might know from literature like Homer’s _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_. The Babylonian gods were far more monstrous and chaotic than those of their distant Mediterranean cousins. Within this primordial chaos appeared two deities: Apsu (the sweet waters) and Tiamat (the salty waters). As they began to procreate, they gave birth to a slew of other monsters who became known as the “first ones.”

Like any good parent, Apsu was concerned about his children growing up too fast and upsetting the equilibrium he had created within himself. Tiamat loved her children but agreed with her husband that peace should remain in their home for eternity, so she set out to destroy them. Hearing about their parents' plan to kill them, these first creatures rebelled against their parents! In doing so, they found a new leader named Marduk.




Apsu & Tiamat

Apsu & Tiamat

The first characters we encounter in the epic are Apsu and Tiamat, the first two gods, who were also husband and wife. The two of them were the parents of the first generation of gods.

Apsu was the god of the freshwater beneath the earth. He personified what was referred to as absu or abzu (also known as aqua profunda) in ancient Mesopotamian cosmology, which means “deep” or “freshwater.” As a primordial being and one who represented freshwater, he was also thought to be an ancestor to many other gods, including Enki (god of wisdom and magic), Ea (god of magic), and Marduk (the patron deity of Babylon). By extension, he became known as the god of fresh waters in general.

Apsu's consort was Tiamat, a primordial goddess who personified saltwater seas or oceans. She is sometimes described as having given birth to all other deities by herself, although it is equally possible that she did so with her husband, Apsu. However they came into being, their children certainly included Anshar (god of the sky), Kishar (goddess/female embodiment of earth), Lahmu (god/male embodiment of earth - his name means “hairy”), Lahamu (goddess/female embodiment of air – her name means “tidal wave”) among others whose names have been lost in antiquity.

In this respect, they were similar to some other primordial couples from different mythologies who served as both husband and wife and mother goddesses and father gods; for example, Nut & Geb from Egyptian mythology are two such deities.



Lahmu & Lahamu

You have just learned about Apsu, the first god that ever existed. He is the chaotic, roiling soup of energy before creation. Tiamat is next in line to be introduced – she is his wife and the embodiment of the saltwater ocean surrounding their home in the deep void of space.

We will introduce you to Lahmu and Lahamu, who were born to Apsu and Tiamat as they mated together over time. Lahmu and Lahamu are more significant than human beings – more like boulders. They are described as red siltstone rocks on which water trickles down (meaning they have a reddish hue).

They were two significant gods because they eventually gave birth to the Anunnaki gods – meaning all of those who will help Marduk create order out of chaos and ultimately bring humanity into existence for him to rule over.



Anshar & Kishar

Anshar and Kishar were the first generation of gods in the Enuma Elish and were the parents of the second generation of gods. They came into being when Marduk defeated Tiamat.

Anu

Anu was one of the most important gods of the Babylonian pantheon. He was the god of the heavens and the ruler of the gods. Anu was married to two different goddesses, Antu and Ki. Anu had three children with Antu, who were Uruk (the god of war), Nana (the goddess of fertility), and Inanna (also known as Ishtar or Asherah, she is considered by some to be a Canaanite goddess). He also had fifty other children with Ki.

He was mighty and influential, but he did not participate in any physical activity; instead, he preferred to let his children do things for him. Anu lived in a palace that floated in heaven that he shared with his wife Antu throughout his life. His throne sat upon a dais at the end of a bridge called "The Bond Heaven-Earth," which connected heaven and earth. When it came time for him to die, Anu handed over his kingdom on Earth to Marduk, who became king after him.


Marduk

Marduk was the son of Ea and Damkina. He was associated with the planet Jupiter. The Babylonian Empire was very fond of Marduk and considered him their patron god. The temple for Marduk - Esagila - sat in the center of Babylon, and it housed a statue that was considered a physical manifestation of their god. Additionally, every king in Babylon had to be anointed by Marduk as part of a New Year's festival (which lasted eleven days). This relationship may lead to Marduk becoming viewed as the supreme god.

The War Between Marduk & Tiamat

Ea said to Marduk on the third day: “I pray you, O Lord, fashion creational art. A net to enmesh her; a snare for her that she may not escape; a yoke so heavy for her neck... So that the host of the gods may bring under their sway your captive enemy."

Marduk made ready his art. He fashioned a net whose cords were not loosened; he set up his snare and spread it out (and) made fast the fastenings. He made a bow and furnished it with arrows; he fashioned a quiver and filled it with as many as it would hold. He made lances and set them in thoroughbreds' hands; swords he prepared, slingers he appointed. He stationed the four winds as his messengers at the side of Tiamat's belly... Then Marduk took up the thunderbolt, his great weapon... When Tiamat heard this, she was wroth and furiously raged against him... They joined the battle in single combat... With his unsparing mace, which no god can withstand, With his lightning which flashes before him like flames, Ea opened his mouth to speak, saying: "O Marduk, my son! ... Cast your net over her! Let her move about at will but let her not escape!"

The Story itself is pretty interesting, very violent at times, and gives us insight into how some of these gods were thought of in ancient Mesopotamia.

The Story itself is pretty interesting, very violent, and gives us insight into how some of these gods were thought of in ancient Mesopotamia. The gods battle through much of the poem until they create man and woman, who then take over many tasks that the gods were previously responsible for.



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