Guest Author - Michelle Roberti
Perhaps one of the best known creation myths of the ancient world is that of the ancient Babylonian’s “Enuma elish,” which translates literally to “When on high…” Unlike many other ancient Babylonian myths and texts, which borrowed heavily from Sumeria, the “Enuma elish” is clearly Babylonian in origin and is a celebration not only of the city Babylon, but Marduk himself. This seven tablet epic justifies the rise of Marduk to chief of the Babylonian pantheon; and was perhaps written as propaganda to exalt him. The “Enuma elish” was possibly composed as early as 900 BC, but comes to us in its present form around the year 1100 BC, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar I. (This time period also marks the triumphal return of the statue Marduk to Babylon after its humiliating capture by the warrior peoples, the Assyrians.) The “Enuma elish” is also a milestone in its marked deterioration of the “goddess power.”
Marduk, was the son of the father sky-god An and Nammu, the mother riverbed goddess. Marduk was a storm-weather god who was given the four winds to play with. He, along with other gods, made such noise that it irritated Tiamat, a Sumerian primordial chaos goddess and goddess of the salt water seas. In an effort to thwart the noise she created “warrior gods” to destroy the young restless gods. Marduk was assigned the task of defeating Tiamat, for he was four-headed, four eared, huge, and very powerful. In agreement to this commission his preparation for combat is written on the second and third tablets; however, his stipulation would be that he would forever be venerated as supreme god and recognized as their king supreme. After his defeat of Tiamat he was henceforth referred to as Bel-Marduk meaning Marduk the god. Marduk’s defeat of Taimat is written on the fourth tablet:
Then joined issue Tiamat and Marduk, wisest of gods,
They strove in single combat, locked in battle,
The lord spread out his net to enfold her,
The Evil Wind, which followed behind, he let loose in her face.
When Tiamat opened her mouth to consume him,
He drove in the Evil Wind that she close not her lips.
As the fierce winds charged her belly,
Her body was distended and her mouth was wide open.
He released the arrow, it tore her belly,
It cut through her insides, splitting the heart.
Having thus subdued her, he extinguished her life.
He cast down her carcass to stand upon it.
Marduk split Tiamat’s body in half lengthwise creating the sky and the Earth. From her body he created mountains from her head, and hills from her breasts. From her nostrils he created reservoirs and from her eyes the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The fifth tablet it is written where he established the constellations and instructed the moon of its cycles.
In the sixth tablet, Marduk designed “Lullu” the primeval savage “man,” who was crafted to bear the drudgery of the gods. With instructions incomprehensible to humans, the god Ea was coached to create humankind using the blood of Kingu, Tiamat’s son. (The creation of man via use of a sacrificial “renegade” god is a common theme in ancient Mesopotamian religion, the use of a rebel god confirms man’s sinful ways.)
Marduk cared about human beings and their problems and was easily assessable through prayers. He was a god of springtime and of renewal and established patriarchy, a newer thought over that of the “mother goddess.” He was often depicted as a young bull, as well as a dragon, which was representative of his crushing Tiamat. He taught the benefits of a stable government, and was a god of order. He instructed the lesser gods to build a city with a palace and a temple in his honor, its name: Babylon. Although fragmentary, the seventh tablet is assigned to the fifty names given to Marduk by the gods describing aspects of Marduk’s character.
The eleven day New Year festival held in ancient Babylonia celebrated Marduk’s victory over Tiamet. The first four days consisted of rites and ceremonies by the high priest all to the chanting of the “Enuma-Elish”. On the sixth day evil forces were represented and thrown into a blazing fire. Purification rituals within the temple continued and sheep were slaughtered to absorb any impurities within. A “sky-canopy” was also erected for the arrival of Nabu, Marduk’s son.
The reigning king went through many humiliating rituals in an effort to make him realize he was nothing more than a servant to Marduk and responsible for the welfare of the people. His royal garments and insignia were removed and placed before the image of Marduk. King Nebuchadnezzar I builder of the Hanging Gardens, humbly addresses Marduk in prayer which is reminiscent of psalms and piety:
Without thee, Lord, what could there be
For the king thou lovest, and dost call his name?
Thou shall bless his title as thou wilt,
And unto him vouchsafe a path direct,
I, the prince obeying thee,
Am what they hands have made.
Tis thou who art my creator,
Entrusting me with the rule of hosts of men.
According to thy mercy, Lord,…
Turn into loving-kindness thy dread power,
And make to spring up in my heart
A reverence for thy divinity.
Give as thou thinkest best.
Durant, Will. Our Oriental Heritage; Simon and Schuster, NY. 1954