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Enuma Elish

The Enûma Eliš (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 Mesopotomia over Assyria.

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 Bronze Age, or even earlier, to the time of Hammurabi. 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. The text also describes the beheading of a god, and the mixing of the god's blood with the earth, leading to the creation of Men (people). Finally there is also reference to Bel's creation of the stars, sun, moon, and planets.

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.

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.

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.

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).


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 a firstly the god Anu, and from Anu, came Nudimmud (also known as Ea).

"When on high the heaven had not been named,

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."

First eight lines of the Enuma Elis. Pritchard 1969


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 - that is - seven. 

- 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 of the god/gods.

-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 god/god's inactivity.

- 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."

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