Enuma Elish

The Seven Tablets of Creation are more commonly known as the “Enuma Elish,” which receives its title from the first couple of words of the text translated as, “When on high.” It is an important document for Mesopotamia in that it explains the creation of the universe, mankind, and the rise of Marduk as the god of gods. OT scholars find the story important on account of its age and its description of creation.

The story line depicts the rise of Marduk to the highest ranking god by means of his defeat of Tiamat. Tiamat is the goddess of the seas or waters that are on the face of the globe. In ancient myths like this one, the god or goddess and their physical representation are often conflated. In this case, the Akkadian word tiamat means seas, but it is also the proper name of the goddess of the seas. Tiamat, however, is not the only god. Apsu, (land?) is her husband. Another god couple consists of Ea and Damkina who are the parents of Marduk.

As with many cosmogonies, the gods begin to fight with one another, and in this narrative, Tiamat is the antagonist. She raises an army from her own children in order to take by force the highest position amongst the gods for herself. Ea learns of her schemes, and seeks counsel from Anshar, evidently the eldest of the gods. Anshar asks for Marduk so that he might persuade him to fight against Tiamat. Marduk agrees to fight against Tiamat for a price–that he be exalted as the god of gods. Anshar agrees to the terms.

Marduk, then, marches off to battle Tiamat, and again we see the conflation of the seen and unseen worlds, for how can one do battle against the sea and gain victory. Marduk brings with him seven winds to assist him. As he approaches Tiamat, all of her children shrink back in fear of Marduk so that Marduk and Tiamat are left alone in hand-to-hand combat. In order to defeat her, he uses one wind to hold open her mouth, and a second wind to open her throat. With her distended, he then shoots an arrow down her throat, killing her instantly.

After the death of Tiamat, Marduk begins to arrange the world to his liking. He first splits Tiamat into two parts, placing one in the sky, and leaving the other on the ground. Thus, there is an expanse of water above the sky, and one on the earth, which is similar to the description found in Gen. 1:9-10. Then Marduk places the images in the sky, which would be the constellation of the stars. He also puts Ea and Enlil in the sky to dwell there. Finally, he creates mankind to serve the gods and to worship Marduk, the god of gods.

Marduk, when he created humankind, actually performed two wonders at the same time. He took Kingu, the chief of Tiamat’s army and her counselor, and he killed him. The reason for killing Kingu was to atone for the sins of the gods who rebelled. Then, with the spilled blood, he created mankind. On account of the fact that he redeemed the gods, they created a heavenly shrine to worship him. Marduk enjoyed the worship so much, that he asked them to build him an earthly shrine for mankind to worship him, and he called the shrine Babylon. At the dedication of this new temple, the gods praised the 50 names of Marduk, and so also his parents, Ea and Damkina came and worshiped him.

The significance for Old Testament studies is found in the parallels in the creation story: the dividing of the waters from above and below, the creation of the stars, the sun and moon, and of humankind. The long section of praise to Marduk also parallels passages in the Old Testament where God’s people exalt him and praise his name. The Enuma Elish does not correct the biblical narrative. It corroborates the creation account in Genesis, and the parallels perhaps help us to understand better the details of the biblical text.

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