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Enûma Eliš

Category: Books sutras and myths

The Enûma Eliš is the Babylonian creation myth. It was recovered by 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. The majority of Tablet V has never been recovered, but aside from this, 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.

It is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview. Various copies have been found from Babylonia and Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal's library dates to the 7th century BC. The story itself probably dates to the 18th century BC.

The text is written allegorically using personifications to make it more memorable.  There are battles between gods and enough repetition to mean that it could more easily be remembered and passed down to succeeding generations, at a time when not many could read or write, and writing was itself something of a challenge based as it was on clay tablets.

The epic names two primeval 'gods': Apsu and Tiamat. Several other gods/Intelligences are created (Ea and his brothers) in the myth who reside in Tiamat's vast body. Tiamat is thus both the personification of the Egg and the 'Mother' figure.  Apsu is the 'Father' figure.

The myth attempts to make memorable the idea that the Father figure is not happy with what is essentially the Intelligence hierarchy being created.  Using a fair amount of violence to depict the theme, instead of castration as a symbol, but death - Ea uses magic to put Apsu into a coma, then kills him. Ea then becomes the chief god, and along with his consort Damkina, has a son, Marduk, greater still than himself.  The idea of the Intelligence hierarchy is thus common to that of the Greeks, but different symbols are used.

Tiamat is finally persuaded 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 ancient Mesopotamians believed that the world/universe thus created was a circular disc [the element Earth] on which floated the element of  WaterThe sky [Air] was a disk above the earth, with the heavens of the gods separated by the Fire level ‘above’, a view consistent with most other cultures. So far as can be deduced from clues in the Bible, the ancient Hebrew geography was identical with that of the Babylonians. It is the creation of this world which Enûma Eliš and Genesis 1 describe.


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