Marduk and Tiamat (“Enuma Elish”: The Babylonian Epic of Creation)

At first glance the story of Marduk and Tiamat in the “Enuma Elish” seems to be a creation story of Mesopotamia as told by the Babylonians. However, the subtext tells how humans mastered the volatile environment of Mesopotamia. Also, the myth grapples with understanding and accepting the cosmos as they understood it.

Layered below this creation myth is the rise of Babylon to become the principal power of the region. The “Enuma Elish” (Note 1) describes the lives of the succeeding generations of Gods, their conflicts with the Gods before Them, and ends with Marduk as their ruler. Each generation of Gods probably represents a prior group of peoples who lived the region. Since Marduk is the major God of the Babylonians, this myth then becomes the story of how Babylon came to rule Mesopotamia.

The myth starts by describing the ancient landscape of Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago. Apsu, the sweet water, mixes with Tiamat of the salt water. The symbol of their union is the mingling of the Tigris and Euphrates with the sea to produce the salt marshes. The sea was much farther inland then, and tides had more effect on the people living there. The landscape of the area is one of river bottoms, tidal marshes, swamps, and wetlands. Even the names of their first children, Lahamu (female) and Lahmu (male) which means “silt,” reflect this as well.

Into this watery beginning, Anshar (male) and Kishar (female) – the Gods of the Horizon and of the Rim of the Earth – are born. These two Gods are the parents of Anu, the Father of the Gods. Anu, the Ancestor of the Elder Gods, is the parent of Nudimmud, Marduk’s father. (Note 2). (Note 3).

The next generation of Gods were Enlil and Enki of the Sumerians. Unlike the first group, these Gods focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine laws. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. (In a similar story to Apsu and the noisy Gods is Enlil and the noisy humans. In both cases, the Gods tried to destroy the noisemakers, since the activities of farming disturbed them.)

In Tiamat’s case, the noisy ones were the next generation of Gods, who were replacing the original ones. They were draining the swamps, digging the canals, and irrigating the fields. These Gods were taming the “sweet water”, thereby killing Apsu as a God. The efforts of the new Gods threatened Tiamat, since They were transforming the salt marshes into farmland.

The “Emuma Elish” relates it as following: The noise was so great that Tiamat wanted those Gods gone. Apsu, Her Consort, tried to convince Her otherwise, but failed. When Enlil discovered Tiamat’s intent, He killed Apsu. Enlil’s reasoning was to allow the original waters of Apsu to become many forms of being such as canals.

Furious, Tiamat raises an army, which metaphorically reflects the violence of the times. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Sumerians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering Sumerians wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke. Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture, and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia.

This creation myth, the “Enuma Elish,” relates how the Babylonians came to power and recreated the world, making order out of chaos. Their principal God, Marduk, assumes power over the other Gods and defeats Tiamat. Unable to defeat Tiamat, the Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk by granting “Enlil-ship” to Him. Meanwhile, the other Gods confer “Anu-power” on Him. Hence, several generations of Gods pass from importance. The “Enuma Elish” says, “We gave You (Marduk) Kingship, power over all and everything.”

After adopting the myths from the Sumerians, the Babylonians rewrote the creation myth to include the rise and rulership of Marduk. After Tiamat came Anu, who was the original head of the pantheon. With each succeeding generation, Anu shared his power first with Enlil and then with Enki. While They ceded their power to Marduk, Anu remained in the titular rule. In the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonians acknowledge their predecessors, the Sumerians and the others. But they end the myth with Marduk recreating the world and establishing his reign. He does this by building the world on the bones of Tiamat, one of the Gods of the original peoples living there. Marduk remakes the world as the Babylonians remade Mesopotamia.

Note 1: The Mesopotamians have several creation myths. This is an analysis of one of them.
Note 2: An alternative interpretation has Ashar and Kishar be the children of Lahamu and Lahmu.
Note 3: The Sumerian myths have Ki, as the wife of Anu, help to create the heavens and the earth. Their children, Enlil and Ninlil create the world, and Enki sets the order of everything in the new world.

Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

Time According to the Babylonians

In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Anu, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Enlil, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted.

In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s (Inanna) Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz (Dumuzi) to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Belit-seri (Geshtinanna). After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Belit-seri reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

In contrast, the Autumn Equinox was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after. Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

Works Used.

“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Cohen, Mark, “Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East Calendar,” PDF. 2015.
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.