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The Enûma Eliš (Akkadian Cuneiform: 𒂊𒉡𒈠𒂊𒇺, also spelled "Enuma Elish"), 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). A form of the myth was first published by George Smith in 1876; active research and further excavations led to near completion of the texts, and improved translation.
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 Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script. Most 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 world view. Over the seven tablets it describes the creation of the world, a battle between gods focused on supremacy of Marduk, the creation of man destined for the service of the Mesopotamian deities, and ends with a long passage praising Marduk. Its primary original purpose is unknown, although a version is known to have been used for certain festivals. There may also have been a political element to the myth, centered on the legitimization or primacy of Mesopotamia over Assyria. Some later versions replace Marduk with the Assyrian primary god Ashur.
The Enûma Eliš exists in various copies from Babylon and Assyria. The version from the Library of Ashurbanipal dates to the 7th century BCE. The composition of the text probably dates to the late second millennium BCE, or even earlier, to the time of Hammurabi during the Old Babylonian Period (1900 – 1600 BCE). Some elements of the myth are attested by illustrations that date to, at least, as early as the Kassite era (roughly 18th to 16th centuries BCE).
Prior to the discovery of the tablets, substantial elements of the myth had survived via the writings of Berossus, a 3rd-century BC Babylonian writer and priest of Bel (Marduk). These were preseved in Alexander Polyhistor's book on Chaldean History, which was reproduced by Eusebius in Book 1 of his Chronicon. In it are described the primeval state of an abyssal darkness and water, the two primeval beings existing therein, said to be of a twofold principle. The description then relates the creation of further beings, partly human but with variants of wings, animal heads and bodies, and some with both sex organs. (Berossus states images of these are to be found at the temple of Bel in Babylon.) The text also describes a female being leading over them, named as Omoroca (Chaldean: Thalatth), and her slaying by Bel, who cut her in half, forming Heaven of one part and Earth of the other – this, Berossus claims to have been an allegory. The text also describes the beheading of a god, and the mixing of the god's blood with the Earth's soil, leading to the creation of men (people). Finally, there is also reference to Bel's creation of the stars, Sun, Moon, and planets. Berossus also gave an account of the Oannes, a sort of fish-man hybrid, who appeared from the sea and taught people all manner of knowledge, including writing, lawmaking, construction, mathematics, and agriculture; Berossus presented the account of creation in the form of a speech given by the Oannes. The neo-platonist Damascius also gave a short version of the Babylonian cosmological view, which closely matches the Enuma Elis.
Clay tablets containing inscriptions relating to analogues of biblical stories were discovered by A.H. Layard, Hormuzd Rassam, and George Smith in the ruins of the Palace and Library of Ashur-bani-pal (668–626 BC) during excavations at the mound of Kuyunjik, Nineveh (near Mosul) between 1848 and 1876. Smith worked through Rassam's find of ~20,000 fragments from 1852, and identified references to the kings Shalmaneser II, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and other rulers mentioned in the Bible – furthermore he discovered versions of a Babylonian deluge myth (see Gilgamesh flood myth), as well as creation myths.
On examination it became clear that the Assyrian myths were drawn from or similar to the Babylonian ones. Additionally Sir Henry Rawlinson had noted similarities between Biblical accounts of creation and the geography of Babylonia; he suggested that biblical creation stories might have their origin in that area. A link was found on a tablet labeled K 63 at the British Museum's collection by Smith, as well as similar text on other tablets. Smith then began searching the collection for textual similarities between the two mythoses, and found several references to a deluge myth with an 'Izdubar' (literal translation of cuneiform for Gilgamesh). Smith's publication of his work led to an expedition to Assyria funded by the Daily Telegraph – there he found further tablets describing the deluge as well as fragmentary accounts of creation, a text on a war between good and evil 'gods', and a Fall of man myth. A second expedition by Smith brought back further creation legend fragments. By 1875 he had returned and began publishing accounts of these discoveries in the Daily Telegraph from 4 March 1875.
Smith envisioned that the creation myth, including a part describing the fall of man must have originally spanned at least nine or ten tablets. He also identified tablets that in part were closer with Borusus' account. Some of Smith's early assignments, such as references to the stories of the temptation of Eve, to the Tower of Babel, and to instructions given from God to Adam and Eve, were later held to be erroneous.
The connection with the Bible stories brought a great deal of additional attention to the tablets – in addition to Smith's early scholarship on the tablets, early translation work included that done by E. Schrader, A.H. Sayce, and Jules Oppert. In 1890 P. Jensen published a translation and commentary Die Kosmologie der Babylonier (Jensen 1890) Harv error: no target: CITEREFJensen1890 (help), followed by an updated translation in his 1900 "Mythen und Epen" (Jensen 1900) Harv error: no target: CITEREFJensen1900 (help); in 1895 Prof. Zimmern of Leipzig gave a translation of all known fragments, (Gunkel & Zimmern 1895) Harv error: no target: CITEREFGunkelZimmern1895 (help), shortly followed by a translation by Friedrich Delitzsch, as well as contributions by several other authors.
In 1898 the trustees of the British Museum ordered publication of a collation of all the Assyrian and Babylonian creation texts held by them, a work which was undertaken by L.W.King. King concluded that the creation myth as known in Nineveh was originally contained on seven tablets. This collection was published 1901 as "Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum" (Part XIII) (British Museum 1901) Harv error: no target: CITEREFBritish_Museum1901 (help). King published his own translations and notes in two volumes with additional material 1902 as The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends concerning the creation of the world and of mankind.(King 1902) Harv error: no target: CITEREFKing1902 (help) By then additional fragments of tablet six had been found, concerning the creation of man – here Marduk was found to have made man from his blood combined with bone, which brought comparison with Genesis 2:23 ("This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man") where the creation of woman required the use of a man's bone.
New material contributing to the fourth and sixth tablets also further corroborated other elements of Berossus' account. The seventh tablet added by King was a praise of Marduk, using around fifty titles over more than one hundred lines of cuneiform. Thus King's composition of the "Enuma Elis" consisted of five parts – the birth of gods, legend of Ea and Apsu, Dragon (Tiamat) myth, account of creation, and finally a hymn to Marduk using his many titles. Importantly, tablets, both Assyrian and Babylonian, when possessing colophons had the number of the tablet inscribed.
Further expeditions by German researchers uncovered further tablet fragments (specifically tablet 1, 6, and 7) during the period 1902–1914 – these works replaced Marduk with the Assyrian god Ashur; additional important sources for tablets 1 and 6, and tablet 7 were discovered by expeditions in 1924–5, and 1928–9 respectively. The Ashur texts uncovered by the Germans necessitated some corrections – it was Kingu not Marduk who was killed and whose blood made men. These discoveries were further supplemented by purchases from antiquity dealers – as a result by the mid 20th century most of the text of the work was known, with the exception of tablet 5.(Although a version of tablet 5 was recently discovered in 2011 in the Iraq museum archives)  These further discoveries were complemented by a stream of publications and translations in the early 20th century.
In the 21st century, the text continues to be a subject of active research, analysis, or discussion – significant publications include The Standard Babylonian Creation Myth Enūma Eliš (Talon 2005) Harv error: no target: CITEREFTalon2005 (help); Das Babylonische Weltschopfungsepos Enuma Elis (Kammerer & Metzler 2012) Harv error: no target: CITEREFKammererMetzler2012 (help), and Babylonian Creation Myths (Lambert 2013) Harv error: no target: CITEREFLambert2013 (help); as well as other works.
King's set of tablets dated to no earlier than the 7th century BC, being from the library of Ashur-bani-pal at Nineveh – however King proposed that the tablets were copies of earlier Babylonian works as they glorified Marduk (of Babylon), and not the Assyrians' favored god, Ashur. He also thought sculptures found at the temple of Ninib at Nimrud depicted Marduk fighting Tiamat and so date the dragon legend to at least Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC), two centuries earlier than the date of Ashur-bani-pal's library. Legends of Tiamat and her monsters existed much earlier, as far as the Kassite ruler Agum I, ~17th C. BC.
It has been suggested that the myth, or at least the promotion of Marduk in it, dates to the ascendancy of the First Babylonian dynasty (1894–1595 BC), during the same period that Marduk became a national god. A similar promotion of Marduk is seen in the first lines of the Code of Hammurabi (c.1754 BC).
Numerous copies of the tablets exist – even by 1902 fragments of four copies of the first tablet where known, as well as extracts, possibly examples of 'handwriting practice'. Tablets from the library of Ashur-bani-pal tended to be well written on fine clay, whereas the Neo-Babylonian tablets were often less well written and made, though fine examples existed. All tablets, both Assyrian and Babylonian had the text in lines, not columns, and the form of the text was generally identical between both.
A tablet at the British Museum (No 93014.), known as the "bilingual" version of the creation legend describes a version of the creation legend that describes the creation of man, and animals (by Marduk with the aid of Aruru), as well as the creation of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, of land and plants, as well as the first houses and cities.
Other variants of the creation myth can be found described in King 1902, pp. 116–155 Harv error: no target: CITEREFKing1902 (help) and Heidel 1951, pp. 61–81 Harv error: no target: CITEREFHeidel1951 (help)
The epic itself does not rhyme, and has no meter – it is composed of couplets, usually written on the same line, occasionally forming quatrains. The title Enuma Elish, meaning "when on high", is the incipit.
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
(And) Mummu†-Tiamat, she who bore them all, Their waters commingling as a single body;
No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared,
When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined—
Then it was that the gods were formed within them.
The tale begins before the advent of anything, when only the primordial entities Apsu and Tiamat existed, co-mingled together. No other things or gods are said to exist, nor had any future destinies been foretold .. then from the mixture of Apsu and Tiamat two gods were made – Lahmu and Lahamu; next Anshar and Kishar were created. From Anshar came firstly the god Anu, and from Anu, came Nudimmud (also known as Ea).
Then these new gods disturbed Tiamat through their motions, and Apsu could not calm them. Further Tiamat found this abhorrent – Apsu called Mummu so that they might speak with Tiamat – he proposed to destroy them, but Tiamat was reticent on destroying what they had made. Mummu advised Apsu to destroy them, and he took it to do so, and embraced Mummu. The new gods heard of this and were worried – Ea however crafted a spell against Apsu's plan, and put Apsu to sleep with it.
Mummu sought to wake Apsu but could not – Ea took Apsu's halo and wore it himself, slew Apsu, and chained Mummu. Apsu became the dwelling place of Ea, together with his wife Damkina. Within the heart of Apsu Ea and Damkina created Marduk. Marduk exceeded Ea and the other gods in his godliness – Ea called him "My son, the Sun!". Anu creates four winds.
Other gods then say to Tiamat – 'when your consort (Apsu) was slain you did nothing', and complain about the wind which disturbs them. Tiamat then proposed to make 'Monsters' and do battle with the other gods. She creates eleven chimeric creatures armed with weapons, and makes the god Kingu chief of the war party, and her new consort too. The 'Tablet of Destinies' is then given to Kingu, making his command unchallengeable.
Ea heard of Tiamat's plan to fight and avenge Apsu. He speaks to his grandfather Anshar – he tells that many gods have gone to Tiamat's cause, and that she has created eleven monstrous creatures fit for war, and made Kingu their leader, given him the 'Tablet of Destinies'. Anshar is troubled. Eventually Anshar tells Anu to go speak with Tiamat, see if he can calm her, but is too weak to face her and turns back. Anshar becomes more worried, thinking no god can or will stand against Tiamat.
After thinking, Anshar proposes Marduk as their champion. Marduk is brought forth, and asks what god he must fight—to which Anshar replies that it is not a god but the goddess Tiamat. Marduk confidently assures the other gods that he will defeat Tiamat in short order, but presents the condition that he will be proclaimed supreme god—and be given authority over even Anshar—if he succeeds.
Anshar speaks to Gaga, his advisor, who tells him to fetch Lahmu and Lahamu – tell them of Tiamat's war plans, of the eleven monsters she has created, and so on, telling also of Marduk's willingness to fight, and his demands for overlordship if he wins. Lahmu and Lahamu and other Igigi (heavenly gods) are distressed by this tale. The gods then drank together, becoming drowsy, whilst agreeing the contract with Marduk.
Marduk is given a throne, and sits presiding over the other gods – the other gods honor him, agreeing to his overlordship.
Say but to wreck or create; it shall be.
Open thy mouth: the Images will vanish!
Speak again, and the Images shall be whole!
Marduk is given both the throne, as well as sceptre and vestments. He is given weapons, and sent to fight Tiamat – bow, quiver, mace, and bolts of lightning, together with the four winds – his body was aflame.
Using the four winds Marduk made a trap so that Tiamat could not escape – he added a whirlwind, a cyclone, and Imhullu ("the Evil Wind") – together the seven winds stirred up Tiamat. In his war chariot drawn by four creatures he advanced. He challenges Tiamat stating she has unrightfully made Kingu her consort, accusing her of being the source of the trouble. Tiamat becomes enraged and single combat begins.
Marduk uses a net, a gift from Anu, to entrap Tiamat; Tiamat attempts to swallow Marduk, but 'the Evil Wind' enters her mouth, preventing this. With the winds swirling within her she becomes distended – Marduk then fires his arrow, hitting her heart – she is slain. The other gods attempt to flee but cannot, and Marduk captures them, breaks their weapons, and are trapped in the net. Her eleven monsters are also captured and chained; whilst Kingu is taken to Uggae (the Angel of Death) – the 'Tablet of Destinies' is taken from Kingu. Marduk then smashes Tiamat's head with the mace, whilst her blood is carried off by the North Wind.
Marduk then splits Tiamat's remains in two – from one half he makes the sky – in it he made places for Anu, Enlil, and Ea.
Marduk makes likenesses of the gods in the sky, creating constellations, and defines the days of the year from them. He creates night and day, and the moon also. He creates clouds, causes them to rain, and their water to make the Tigris and Euphrates. He gives the 'Tablet of Destinies' to Anu.
Statues of the eleven monsters of Tiamat are made and installed at the gate of Apsu.
Marduk then speaks to Ea – saying he will use his blood to create man – and that man will serve the gods. Ea advises one of the gods be chosen as a sacrifice – the Igigi advice that Kingu be chosen – his blood is then used to create man.
Let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it 'The Sanctuary.'
Marduk then divides the gods into "above" and "below" – three hundred are placed in the heavens, and six hundred on earth. The gods then propose that they should build a throne or shrine for him – Marduk tells them to construct Babylon. The gods then spend a year making bricks – they build the Esagila (Temple to Marduk) to a great height, making it a place for Marduk, Ea, and Enlil.
A banquet is then held, with fifty of the great gods taking seats. Anu praises Enlil's bow, then Marduk is praised.
The first nine names or titles of Marduk are given.
The remainder of Marduk's fifty names or titles are read.
Tablets Smith examined also contained attributions on the rear of the tablet – the first tablet contained eight lines of a colophon – Smith's reconstruction and translation of this states :
Palace of Assurbanipal king of nations, king of Assyria
to whom Nebo and Tasmit attentive ears have given :
he sought with diligent eyes the wisdom of the inscribed tablets,
which among the kings who went before me,
none those writings had sought.
The wisdom of Nebo; † the impressions? of the god instructor? all delightful,
on tablets I wrote, I studied, I observed, and
for the inspection of my people within my palace I placed
The Enuma Elis is the primary source for Mesopotamian cosmology. According to Heidel its main purpose was as a praise of Marduk, and was important in making that Babylonian god head of the entire pantheon, through his deeds in defeating Tiamat, and in creation of the universe. Heidel also considers the text to have a political as well as religious message; that is, the promotion to primacy of a Babylonian god to better justify any Babylonian influence over the whole Mesopotamian region. The text as a whole contains many words which are Sumerian in origin, including the names of Tiamat's monsters, Marduk's wind, and the name for man used is the Sumerian lullu; however the chief god in the epic is the Babylonian Marduk, and not the Sumerian Enlil.
A ritual text from the Seleucid period states that the Enuma Elis was recited during the Akitu festival. The purpose of the reading, if it occurred, and even the identity of the said text to be used as this festival is a matter of debate amongst scholars. Most analysists considered that the festival concerned and included some form of re-enactment of Tiamat's defeat by Marduk, representing a renewal cycle and or triumph over chaos, however a more detailed analysis by Jonathan Z. Smith led him to argue that the described ritual should be understood in terms of its post-Assyrian and post-Babylonian imperial temporal context, and may include an elements of psychological and political theater addressing the non-native origin of the Seleucid rulers who then controlled the area; he also questions whether the Enuma Elis read during that period was the same as that known to the ancient Assyrians. Whether the Enuma Elis creation myth was created for the Akitu ritual, or vice versa, or neither, is unclear; nevertheless there are definite connections in subject matter between the myth and festival, and there is also evidence of the festival as celebrated during the neo-Babylonian period that correlates well with the Enuma Elis myth. A version of the Enuma Elis is also thought to have been read during the month of Kislimu.
It has been suggested that ritual reading of the poem coincided with spring flooding of the Tigris or Euphrates in following the melting of snow in mountainous regions upstream – this interpretation is supported by the defeat of the (watery being) Tiamat by Marduk.
The Enuma Elis contains numerous parallels with the Old Testament, and has led to a general conclusion amongst some researchers that the paralleled Old Testament stories were based on the Mesopotamian work. Overarching similarities include: reference to a watery chaos before creation; a separation of the chaos into heaven and earth; different types of waters and their separation during the creation process; as well as the indirect textual similarity between the number of tablets and the number of days of creation: seven. However, a deeper analysis (Heidel 1951) Harv error: no target: CITEREFHeidel1951 (help) notes many differences, including polytheism vs. monotheism, and personification of forces or properties in the Babylonian myth vs. imperative creation by God in the biblical stories; permanence of matter vs. creation out of nothing; and the lack of any real parallel for the extended description of Marduk's battles with monsters. He also notes some broad commonalities with other religions in both e.g. a watery chaos found in Egyptian, Phoenician, and Vedic works; and that the linguistic analysis of both belief system's texts are complicated by a common Semitic root for both languages. In terms of creation of man there are similarities in terms of the use of dust or earth (clay) for his creation, but man's purpose is inverted in the two texts—in the Enuma Elis man is created as a servant of gods, whereas in Genesis man is given more agency—nevertheless in both man contains "godhood"—either through a god's blood in the Babylonia, or being made "in His own Image" in Genesis; in both man is the final creative act. In terms of the seven tablets and seven days of each system—the numbered itineraries in general do not closely match—but there are some broad commonalities in order of occurrence i.e. creation event; theme of darkness; light created; firmament created; dry land created; man created; followed by inactivity.
Different theories have been proposed to explain the similarities. Based on an analysis of proper names in the texts A.T. Clay proposed that the Enuma Elish was a combination of a Semitic myth from Amurru and a Sumerian myth from Eridu—this theory is thought to lack solidity, and specifically any historical or archaeological evidence. An alternative theory is a westward migration of the Mesopotamian myth, being known to other cultures such as the Hebrews, and so influencing their own beliefs; additionally the Hebrews specifically would be expected to have been influenced by Mesopotamian culture during their Babylonian captivity. A third explanation supposes a common ancestor for both sets of belief.
Conrad Hyers of the Princeton Theological Seminary suggests that the Genesis creation myth polemically addressed earlier Babylonian and other creation myths to "repudiate the divinization of nature and the attendant myths of divine origins, divine conflict, and divine ascent," thus rejecting the idea that Genesis borrowed from or appropriated the form of the Enûma Eliš. According to this theory, the Enûma Eliš was comfortable using connections between the divine and inert matter, while the aim of Genesis was to state the superiority of the Hebrew God Yahweh Elohim over all creation (and subsequent deities).
Reconstruction of the broken Enûma Eliš tablet seems to define the rarely attested Sapattum or Sabattum as the full moon. This word is cognate or merged with Hebrew Shabbat (cf. Genesis 2:2–3), but is monthly rather than weekly; it is regarded as a form of Sumerian sa-bat ("mid-rest"), attested in Akkadian as um nuh libbi ("day of mid-repose"). This conclusion is a contextual restoration of the damaged tablet, which is read as "[Sa]bbath shalt thou then encounter, mid[month]ly."
The last decade has seen important advances in scholarship on the Babylonian poem Enuma Elis. Three new editions, by Talon (2005), Kammerer and Metzler (2012), and Lambert (2013), have collected the extant manuscripts and on that basis established a much improved text.