Enûma Eliš

marduk

The Enûma Eliš is the Babylonian creation myth (named after its opening words). It was recovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1849 (in fragmentary form) in the ruined Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (Mosul, Iraq), and published by George Smith in 1876. The Enûma Eliš has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding between 115 and 170 lines of text. Most of Tablet V has never been recovered, but aside from this lacuna, the text is almost complete. A duplicate copy of Tablet V has been found in Sultantepe, ancient Huzirina, located near the modern town of Şanlıurfa in Turkey.

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose, however, is not an exposition of theology but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.

When the seven tablets that contain this were first discovered, evidence indicated that it was used as a ‘ritual,’ meaning it was recited during a ceremony or celebration. That celebration is now known to be the Akitu festival, or Babylonian new year. This tells of the creation of the world, and of Marduk’s triumph over Tiamat, and how it relates to him becoming king of the gods. This is then followed by an invocation to Marduk by his fifty names.

The epic names two primeval gods: Apsû and Tiamat. Several other gods are created (Ea and his brothers) who reside in Tiamat’s vast body. They make so much noise that the babel annoys Tiamat and Apsû greatly. Apsû wishes to kill the young gods, but Tiamat disagrees. The vizier, Mummu, agrees with Apsû’s plan to destroy them. Tiamat, in order to stop this from occurring, warns Ea, the most powerful of the gods. Ea uses magic to put Apsû into a coma, then 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 the wind 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, Apsû. 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. Marduk offers to save the gods if he is appointed as their leader and allowed to remain so even after the threat passes. When the gods agree to Marduk’s conditions he is selected as their champion against Tiamat, and becomes very powerful. Marduk challenges Tiamat to combat and destroys her. He then rips her corpse into two halves with which he fashions the earth and the skies. Marduk then creates the calendar, organizes the planets, stars and regulates the moon, sun, and weather.

The gods who have pledged their allegiance to Tiamat are initially forced into labor in the service of the gods who sided with Marduk. But they are freed from these labors when Marduk then destroys Tiamat’s husband, Kingu and uses his blood to create humankind to do the work for the gods. Babylon is established as the residence of the chief gods—the chief gods who made much babel or noise. 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.

The Enûma Eliš was recognized as bearing close relation to the Jewish creation in Genesis from its first publication, and it was an important step in the recognition of the roots of the account found in the Bible, and in earlier Ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite and Mesopotamian) myth. However, these parallels do not necessarily suggest that Hebrew beliefs about the nature of God and creation can be completely explained as having their origins in the creation myths of the time. Rather, many biblical scholars see the Genesis texts as polemically addressing the Babylonian worldview. For example, Conrad Hyers, from Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that the composition of the Genesis creation account is not ‘a matter of borrowing, as one might borrow an egg here and a cup of sugar there, or even a new recipe. The aim is not to appropriate a superior form, or to make an eclectic compromise, or even to improve upon pagan cosmologies. It is rather to repudiate the divinization of nature and the attendant myths of divine origins, divine conflict, and divine ascent. Even the great Marduk, who was said to be born of the gods, victorious over chaotic forces, and elevated to supremacy among the gods, was no god at all.’

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