Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Creation Mythology: Babylonian

Religious Rites Being Performed Before the Gilded Statue of the God Marduk by Roger Payne

There are quite a few different versions of the Babylonian creation myth.  The best known, however, is contained within the Enuma Elish, or the Epic of Creation, with Enuma Elish meaning 'when on high'.  It is believed to have been recorded in around 1100 BC to celebrate King Nebuchadnezzar's capture of the city's statue of Marduk, the hero of the following story.

The Enuma Elish was first written in Akkadian, with parts of the poem also being present on clay tablets in cuneform from around 2500 BC.  It has been suggested that much of the Enuma Elish is based on earlier 
 Sumerian texts.  The Babylonian myth of creation is one of the oldest creation stories in existence and also one of the most famous. 

Tablets from the Enuma Elish
While the story is influenced by the Sumerians, the landscape that the Babylonians lived in is another possible inspiration.  The Babylonians lived in an unpredictable river valley bordered by the Persian Gulf, called the Fertile Crescent, which is now Iraq.  Their creation myth, which glorifies Marduk's control over the natural forces of the universe, reflects the Babylonian dominance over the region in which they lived.  Added to this are the cultural changes within Mesopotamia: from an agricultural, earth-based society ruled by a king which had descended from the last, to a society ruled by a military power.

In the beginning there was only the primordial ocean, Apsu, and the tubulent sea, Tiamat and from the blending of the two, three generations of gods were born.  There was Mummu, spirit of the waves and the serpents Lakhmu and Lakhamu, and from them came Anshar and Kishar.  And from Anshar and Kishar came Anu, Ea, and the deities of the sky, the earth, and the underearth. 

However, these new gods were rowdy and unruly.  No matter how hard he tried, Apsu could find no peace and, whether it be night or day, he could not rest or sleep.

'By day I cannot rest, by night I cannot lie down in peace,' Apsu complained to his wife Tiamat.  'Let us destroy them so we can lie down again in peace.'

Tiamat by Mitchellnolte
But Tiamat was incensed by her husband's proposal and she demanded to know how they could possibly destroy that which they had created.

Knowing that Tiamat would never agree to his plan, Apsu made his own furtive plans to kill the new gods.  Ea, who knows all and sees all, foresaw what Aspu planned and imprisoned Mummu and Apsu with magic.  He took Apsu's crown, stealing all the glory for himself before slaying Apsu and building a palace upon his back.

Tiamat was enraged by what Ea had done and her fury was so great that she brought forth many monsters to aid her in what would be her revenge for the murder of her husband.  From her body Tiamat created all manner of monsters to aid her in battle.

Tiamat, sea goddess by Mephmmb
'She spawned monster-serpents, sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang; with poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies.  Fierce monster-vipers she clothed with terror, with splendor she decked them, she made them of lofty stature.  Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him, their bodies reared up and none could withstand their attack.  She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu, and hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men, and mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams; they bore cruel weapons, without fear of a fight.  Her commands were mighty, none could resist them; after this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters.'

Surrounded by this horrifying array of monsters and a group of faithful gods, Tiamat set out to do battle.

The chief god of Babylon dominated Mesopotamia- Marduk
 When the other gods saw Tiamat and her army of monsters, they were filled with fear.  First, Anshar sent his eldest son, Anu, against Tiamat, but Anu was not brave enough to stand against her and quickly returned.  Ea tried next to repel her but, like Anu, he hadn't the courage.  At last Ea summoned his son Marduk, who he sent to Anshar in preparation for his confrontation with the great all-mother.

However, upon presenting himself to Anshar, Marduk demanded that he be given command over all the gods, to rule over as he wished, if he were to slay Tiamat.  A deal was struck and Marduk was given the throne, the sceptre, the royal ring, and the thunderbolt.  He set to work, building a net in which he would entrap his enemy and collecting the weapons which he would use in battle - the lightning, the hurricane, and the winds of the four corners of the earth.  Once done, Marduk mounted his storm chariot, drawn by the four horses, Killer, Pitiless, Trampler, and Flier, and went to do battle with Tiamat.

Tiamat and Marduk by P Tinkler

Marduk battles Tiamat
 Marduk managed to entangle Tiamat in his net and loosed a great wind against her.  Tiamat opened her mouth wide, attempting to swallow Marduk.  But Marduk would not be swallowed.  He drove the 'evil wind' into her mouth and it filled her belly.  Then, seizing his spear, Marduk sliced open her belly, severed her inner parts, and pierced her heart.  Tiamat fell lifeless and her host, who had been so fierce in the beginning, trembled with fear and took flight to save their lives.  Alas, they were surrounded and Marduk took them captive in his net before breaking their weapons to pieces.

Once done with Tiamat's army, Marduk returned to the corpse of the once great all-mother.  He smashed her skull and cut through her arteries, which the North wind took away to secret places.  He then divided up Tiamat's flesh, splitting her into halves.  One half he made 'as a covering for heaven' and with the second half he formed the earth.  Next, Marduk made 'the stations for the great gods; the stars, their images, as the stars of the Zodiac, he fixed.'  He fixed the length of the year, dividing it into months.  Finally Marduk fashioned mankind using his own blood and bone.  This he did so that man could build temples to worship their gods.

Useful Resources
Hamilton History: Myths Retold by Diana Ferguson
Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia by David A. Leeming
Enuma Elish: The Epic of Creation translated by L. W. King

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