Middle Eastern Mythologies

Mythology of Babylon

What is the Enuma Elish?

The Enuma Elish (“When Above”), composed in the twelfth century B.C.E., is one of the earliest epics of the historical period. It is the creation story of the Babylonians, one intended to establish the Babylonian patron god, Marduk, as the dominant power in the pantheon (in Assyria Ashur was substituted in the epic for Marduk).

The epic opens with the beginning of time (“When the skies above were still unnamed”) and describes the creation of the gods through the union of Apsu and Tiamat. The new gods made so much noise that father Apsu determined to get rid of them. Mother Tiamat, however, objected to the destruction of her children. Much later, in Greece, the mother goddesses Gaia and Rhea will struggle with their mates, Uranos and Kronos, on similar grounds. It is Ea who plays the role of Zeus here, using his magic powers to enchant Apsu, then sending him to sleep forever in the underground waters where Ea, with his earth goddess wife Damkina (Sumerian Damgalnuna) produces Marduk. The new god had four heads and made a great deal of noise and disturbance. Anu with his winds added to the noise and Tiamat decided she had to do something. So she formed an army of monsters led by her son Kingu (Qingu) to attempt to eliminate Marduk and the noise. The gods became afraid and called on Ea and Anu to fight Tiamat, now a dragon-like monster herself, but they refused. Ea suggested that Marduk fight her, and he agreed to do so if the old gods would recognize him as their new king. The gods agreed to Marduk’s terms.

The Babylonian god Marduk, shown with his dragon, is illustrated on this ancient seal.


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