The Enuma Elish (also known as The Seven Tablets of Creation) is the first two words of the epic and simply meant “When on high”. It is widely famous as the creation myth of ancient Mesopotamia. This is the Babylonian version of a much older Sumerian myth. Originally the chief figure of the myth was Enlil, the Sumerian storm god. When Babylon conquered the rest of Mesopotamia and established the Old Babylonian Empire around 1800 BCE, it became necessary to explain how the local god of Babylon, Marduk, had now become supreme among the gods. Therefore, the older Sumerian myth of creation was retold and Marduk was substituted for Enlil.
The Seven tablets of creation date to c. 1100 BCE but are designated as copies of a much older version of the myth. The god of each city was always considered the best and most powerful. This story is one of the oldest and in the world, and concerns the birth of the gods and the creation of the universe and human beings. In the beginning there was only undifferentiated water swirling in chaos. Out of this swirl, the waters divided into sweet, fresh water, known as the god Apsu, and salty bitter water, the goddess Tiamat. Once differentiated, the union of these two entities gave birth to the younger gods. Majority of the Mesopotamians read and recited the Enuma Elish. They held special importance in the New Year Festival in Babylon. The Enuma Elish is sung or chanted during this procession.
The seven tablets of Enuma Elish describes in an embellishment of words- the creation myth of Mesopotamia, and the many incidents that took shape behind the curtains. What they tell is what the post is all about. Hope you enjoy reading the summary of Enuma Elish…
1 The primordial universe and the emergence of the gods
Before heaven and earth appeared, there were only the sweet waters of the fertile Apsu and the salty waters of the oceanic Tiamat, which mingled indistinctly in a single abyssal body. Nothing at all had appeared, neither the swamp, nor the reed, nor even the gods, nor had anything gained name or destiny determined. It was from this net mass inform that the gods began to be formed and by their so-called names: Lahmu and Lahamu, and soon Anshar (the horizon line of the sky) and Kishar (the horizon line of the earth), who were the parents of Anu, the sky – that generated in his image, among others, the powerful and wise Ea.
However, in their ceaseless, noisy and arbitrary movements the gods disturbed the entrails of their nurse Tiamat and irritated their father Apsu, who (with help of his son and minister Mummu) tried in vain to persuade his mother to extinguish their offspring. Outraged by the proposal, Tiamat suggested patiently exposing the gods’ attitudes, but Apsu preferred to heed Mummu’s counsels favorable to extermination.
The gods were dumbfounded to know what was being done against them, but the wise Ea conceived and executed a ploy: he elaborated, recited, and cast a spell which, spreading in the abyss, fell asleep deeply Apsu and immobilized Mummu. Then, stripping Apsu of his protective aura, he killed him, building on his abyssal body his own holy abode and leaving imprisoning Mummu. There dwelling with his wife Damkina, And with this begat the mighty and wise Marduk, lord of storms and keeper of the rays, the most beautiful, mighty and haughty of the gods.
The wrath of Tiamat against the gods
The whirlwind of the powerful quadruple wind – which Anu created and with which he presented Marduk – bothered Tiamat, as the storm tormented the gods, who appealed to the mother of all:
“Oh, Tiamat, they killed Apsu, your husband without your help; Now they have created the fourfold wind that disturbs your organs and takes away the rest. Remember what they did to your husband and the vanquished Mummu, how alone you were left! Avenge yourself, so that we may rest!
Then Tiamat made dreadful creatures to fight against the gods and ordered Hubur – who gives form to all things – to arm them terribly with monstrous venomous snakes and dragons that paralyze of fear to who sees them. Thus were created the Viper, the Dragon, the Sphinx, the Giant Lion, the Crazy Dog, the Scorpion Man, the Lion Demons, the Wing Dragon and the Centaur. And he summoned the Assembly to demand union of all to her and to establish supreme commander to his son Kingu, whom he took as his husband and to whom he delivered the Tables of Destiny – which rightfully belonged to Anu – which endowed with irresistible power his words of command.
In the face of these preparations, Ea pondered and decided to turn to Anshar, his grandfather, who in a panic ordered him to kill Kingu as he had killed Apsu. But on seeing Tiamat’s plans, Ea frightened herself and returned without daring to go to her. Then Anshar sent his son Anu in order to calm Tiamat’s wrath, but neither did he dare to approach her. Despondent, the gods fell silent, hopeless to find anyone daring to defy Tiamat, but finally Ea instructed his son Marduk to stand fearlessly before Anshar and persuade him to give him his blessing to appear before Tiamat and appease her. Marduk accepted the terrible mission but imposed a condition:
“Father, may the gods in the Assembly proclaim to me their sovereign, that my word of command will forever determine destiny, and that whatever it brings into existence is unalterable, can not be renamed or altered!
2 The fight between Marduk and Tiamat
Sent to Anshar, he became convinced of the merits of Marduk and ordered his minister Gaga to seek the support of the ancestors Lahmu and Lahamu and the other gods to institute Marduk as their avenger. Fearful, they all appeared before Anshar, and in Ubshukinna they fraternized and solemnly agreed to make Marduk their commander. They recognized him as sovereign of the gods and of the universe, his decrees instituted as unalterable. In order to test his word of command, a garment was placed before him, and he won the challenge of making them disappear and reappearing, thus confirming the efficacy of his decrees. Proclaimed and crowned king, Marduk was armed and to him the gods entrusted their salvation:
Go and kill Tiamat! May the winds spread their blood through the most hidden corners of the universe!
Marduk made himself a bow to throw his arrows, and armed himself with the mace, the lightning, and a net whose chants commissioned the south, north, east, and west winds. And he created Imhullu (the Grim Reaper), the Whirlwind, the Hurricane, the Quadruple Wind, the Sevenfold Wind, the Cyclone and the Incomparable Wind, reserving them to send them to the entrails of Tiamat. At last he lifted up the torrential flood, and the Storm (his mightiest weapon) tied four deadly and destroying animals, and on each side of his chariot he put the Terrible Combatant and Combatant.
3 The god Marduk in combat
Clad in his armor of terror and carrying his fearsome aura, Marduk set out to face Tiamat’s indomitable face. His lips uttered a spell, and poison he carried in his hands, struck blows around him. Marduk approached to look at Tiamat’s guts and Kingu’s strategy. As he watched, he lost his way, and distracted himself. His actions were confused, to the despair of his companions.
Tiamat then cried out a terrible challenge, and Marduk on raising the storm of the Flood, cried out to him:
“Because your exalted heart stirred up conflicts; Because the sons have rejected their fathers while you no longer love them; Because you have married Kingu, and have unjustly given him what belonged to Anu; Because you seek evil against Anshar and the gods, my parents, I challenge you to singular combat!”
They then threw themselves against each other, bogged down in battle of weapons and spells. At last Marduk spread his net over her, thrust Ventania Nefasta into her face, and-as Tiamat opened his mouth to devour him-he guided her to the interior, which the terrible winds swelled. Then Marduk took the bow and crossed Tiamat’s belly with his arrow, opening his bowels, tearing his heart and extinguishing his life.
When they saw Tiamat’s corpse fall, they retreated, but were surrounded, imprisoned, disarmed and immobilized under the net of the conqueror. They were at the mercy of his wrath as the eleven creatures which Tiamat had filled with terror and his commander Kingu – was tied up and handed over to Uggae, the god of death, after being retaken the Table of Destinies. Finally, Marduk crushed Tiamat’s skull with his mace and cut his arteries, and the North Wind spread his blood to the remotest places.
4 The creation of the Cosmos by Marduk
Looking at Tiamat’s corpse, Marduk saw that he could intelligently perform great works with him. Then like a mollusk he divided it in two, with the upper half covering the sky and pulling the edges down so as not to allow the waters to escape. In heaven, he measured and delimited the Apsu, the abode of Ea, and established the Esharra, the great heavenly abode in which he assigned the regions of Anu, Enlil and Ea.
He demarcated with the stars of the Zodiac the seasons of the great gods, thus determining the year and its divisions, with three constellations for each of the twelve months. And having defined the days of the year by means of celestial figures, he founded the station of Nebiru, the Polar Star. He created the bright moon to take charge of the night and demarcate the days of the month according to the aspect of his crown.
The bright moon would henceforth appear on the first six days of each month as a pair of luminous horns rising above the earth. Shaping the head of Tiamat, he made the mountains in which he opened places for the flow of the waters of the depths, causing the Tiger and the Euphrates to flow out of their orbits, but stagnating the flow of their nostrils; And of the breasts made the high mountains, in which he pierced wells to contain water. And so everything was established on the Apsu.
The heavens were covered and the earth stabilized. Boundaries and rules were imposed upon them, and then Marduk founded the holy places and charged them with Ea, and gave back to Anu the resumed Table of Destinies of Kingu. As for the prisoners, he led them to the presence of the gods, his parents, and those of the eleven creatures raised by Tiamat made statues and posted them at the gate of the Apsu, for eternal remembrance.
The gods rejoiced immensely and brought gifts to him, and Usmi, who brought him offerings from his mother Damkina. He granted the Apsu chancellery and shrine management. They all pay homage to him and call him King, naming him Lugaldimmerankia. Then Marduk announced that between the Apsu and celestial Esharra, on earth, would build for himself a rich abode, Babylon. It would be a great temple in which there would be rooms to host the gods when in transit to Assembly, or of returning.
5 The creation of man
The gods begged to commission Ea to organize this domicile of the gods on earth so that they would never lack supplies and thus all could carry out their tasks in the universe. It was then that Marduk conceived the idea of a being named- man, to be created with blood and bones. He would go on to serve the gods, freeing them from their labors. They would better administer heaven and earth. In order to soften the designed plan Marduk, Ea suggested:
Choose one of the defeated gods and save the others! May he be judged before the Assembly most guilty of Tiamat’s revolt, and may he perish so that he may become man!
Marduk then summoned the gods and ordered them to tell him, under oath, who conceived the revolt and led Tiamat to desire war. They denounced Kingu, who was then tied up and suspended before Ea. He went on to order his veins to be cut off from the blood he had made the man imagined by Marduk.
6 The abode of the gods
To portray gratitude for the benefits they would enjoy, the gods offered to build the shrine of Marduk in Babylon, the Esagila, destined for the repose of the gods. For this they spent a whole year to fashion bricks, and the following year they raised it to the height of the Apsu. Also added to it was a tower of steps as high as this, as well as dwellings for the great gods – from the very base of celestial Esharra.
The Gods came to feast when the Esagila was finished, and the rites and norms were fixed therein. The seasons of heaven and earth were divided-three hundred gods for each, according to the decision of the fifty great gods and the seven gods of destiny. Before the gods, then, Enlil raised his bow. Anu adopted, to which he gave names destined to shine in the sky. The gods prostrated and exalted the fate of Marduk and solemnly vowed to commit their lives for their sovereignty.
7 The fifty names of Marduk
Anshar finally began to announce the fifty names of Marduk:
Let us revere His name Asarluhi, and let His declarations be supreme determinations both above and below! Let him lead like a shepherd his creatures! May your parents’ livelihood be! Let the ways which he determined in heaven resemble them on earth! Let his fifty names be proclaimed!
Anshar, Lahmu, and Lahamu each proclaim three more of the divine names, which – like the first – evoke the attributes and exploits of the god: Marduk, Marukka, Marutukku; Barashakushu, Lugaldimmerankia, Nari – Lugaldimmerankia; Asaruludu, Namtillaku and Namru.
The other gods were then asked to proclaim them as well. In effect, they sat down and began to determine destinations. They pronounced the names in the sanctuary: Asaru, Asarualim, Asarualimnunna, Tutu, Ziukkinna, Ziku, Agaku, Tuku, Shazu, ZISI, Suhrim, Suhgurim, Zahrim, Zahgurim, Embilulu, Epadun, Enbilulugugal, Hegal, Sirsir, Malah, Gil.
Marduk had formed the dry land, and was hence called by the Enlil as Lord of the Lands. And Ea, recognizing in his son his own nature, called him Ea. He was destined to administer and perform the rites and instructions of the father.
Marduk himself wrote down the account of his deeds for remembrance and eternal instruction, so that the testimony of how he overcame Tiamat would be preserved forever. His sovereignty conquered the god whose words of command always imposed for the universe to continue to thrive.
Here is the complete audio book on Enuma Elish Summary
Video Credit – Ancient Recitations