Enuma Elish

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When in the height heaven was not named, and the earth beneath did not yet bear a name, and the primeval Apsu, who begat them... Full text of the Enuma Elish.

The Enuma Elish
A ancient tablet containing some of the Enuma Elish
RELATED TOPICS
SERMONS, ESSAYS AND OPINIONS
CONTENTS

The Enûma Eliš is the Mesopotamian creation epic. It was first discovered by modern scholars (in fragmentary form) in the ruined library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (Mosul, Iraq).

The Enûma Elish has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Akkadian on seven clay tablets. The majority of Tablet V has never been recovered, but aside from this lacuna the text is almost complete.

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the existence of mankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose is to elevate Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.

The Enûma Elish has existed in various versions and copies from Babylonia as well as from Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal's library dates to the 7th century BC. The story itself probably dates to the eighteenth century BC on account of the fact that this is the time when the god Marduk seemed to have a prominent status. Some scholars date it later (14th to 12th centuries BC).

Summary of the myth

The epic names three primeval gods: Apsu, the fresh water, Tiamat, the salt water, and their son Mummu. Several other gods are created (Ea and his brothers) who reside in Tiamat's vast body. They make so much noise that it annoys Tiamat and Apsu greatly. Apsu wishes to kill the young gods, but Tiamat disagrees. Mummu, agrees with Apsu's plan to destroy them. Tiamat, to stop this from occurring, tells Ea (Nudimmud), at the time the most powerful of the gods, who, using magic, puts Apsu into a coma and kills him, and shuts Mummu out. Ea then becomes the chief god, and along with his consort Damkina, has a son, Marduk, greater still than himself. Marduk is given wind to play with and he uses it to make dust storms and tornadoes. This disrupts Tiamat's great body and causes the gods still residing inside her to be unable to sleep.

They persuade Tiamat to take revenge for the death of her husband. Her power grows, and some of the gods join her. She creates 11 monsters to help her win the battle and elevates Kingu, her new husband, to "supreme dominion." A lengthy description of the other gods' inability to deal with the threat follows. Ultimately, Marduk is selected as their champion against Tiamat, and becomes very powerful. He defeats and kills Tiamat, and forms the world from her corpse. The subsequent hundred lines or so constitute the lost section of Tablet V.

The gods who sided with Tiamat are initially forced to labor in the service of the other gods. They are freed from their servitude when Marduk decides to slay Kingu and create mankind from his blood. Babylon is established as the residence of the chief gods. Finally, the gods confer kingship on Marduk, hailing him with fifty names. Most noteworthy is Marduk's symbolic elevation over Enlil, who was seen by earlier Mesopotamian civilizations as the king of the gods.

Comparing Genesis 1 with the Enuma Elish

Genesis 1 gives the Biblical account of creation. Some major points of difference between the Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 are

  • There were many gods in the Enuma Elish; there is only one God in Genesis
    • Apsu the primordial god begat with Mummi-Tiamat all the gods in the Enuma Elish
    • Marduk created the sky and earth with body parts of another god that he had vanquished
  • Humans were created to do the work of gods in the Enuma Elish; humans are given great importance in Genesis
    • Marduk creates man to serve the gods: "a savage man I will create; he will be charged with the service of the gods"
    • There is a high view of humans in Genesis, with God giving authority to man
  • Creation is good in Genesis; some of creation was evil in the Enuma Elish
    • Genesis 2:2 reveals that all that God created was good
    • In the Enuma Elish, some things created are evil, for example monster-serpents are borne by Mother Hubur
  • Genesis shows structure and order to creation; the Enuma Elish does not
    • In Genesis we are shown a picture of a purposeful creation
    • In comparison, there is a very chaotic picture of creation in the Enuma Elish, where creation is often due to begetting - for example, wind was begot by another god

These points of difference may be significant, in that many Christian scholars feel that they reveal that God was trying to reveal specific points to the Israelites about creations. For example, that he wanted to reveal that he was the only creator.

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