The Babylonian Enuma Elish

This is one of the oldest Creation Myths in the world and dates from around 1400 Bc. It tells of the unverse as a watery chaos and with no sky or land. There is salt water, personified by the goddess Tiamat and there is salt water personified by Apsu. The two waters mingle and from this the first Gods are born.

But, as we learn, the younger gods are noisy and this upsets their parents, the elder Gods. Apsu plots with his page Mummu to kill the younger Gods. Tiamet is not happy with this plan. However, Ea, one of the sons, magically sends Apsu in to a deep sleep and he kills him. Ea builds a shrine and lives there on the dead body with his wife Dunkina. From theis union, Marduk is born.

Tiamat is mad with the death of her consort and now gives birth  to a host of dragons and monsters. What happens next is one of the most powerful moments in the Mythic History of the World. It was the foundations of a mythology and world view that was to become ever present in Western Culture…. 

Listen to Fiona’s engaging telling of this hugely formative myth. It is in three parts. Scroll down to see parts 2 and 3.

Enuma Elish Part 1

So this is a story of one of the oldest, if not the oldest, creation myth. It concerns the birth of the gods and the creation of the universe and even of human beings. So a long, long time ago, even before there was time, when on high, meaning Enuma Elish, the heavens above, they were not yet named, nor the earth below. And in the beginning there was only undifferentiated water swirling around in chaos. And out of this swirl, the waters divided into sweet, fresh water, known as the god Apsu, and salty water, the goddess Tiamat.

Apsu, the first god in Tiamat, the mother of all, live in a space of nothingness, without pastures or reed beds, or gods or names or destinies or dominions. And so the two of them mingled their waters, together birthing the first gods, Lamnu and Lahamnu, Anshar and Kishar, each growing to maturity and speaking their names aloud for the very first time. So then those were the gods of the lands, then of the upper and lower spheres, then the god of the heavens, and finally, the god of sweet waters, which irrigate crops, Ea. And Ea was respected by all, distinguished by his intelligence and strength. Anshar and Kishar, giving birth to Ea, saw that he was good and that he was sweet, and they knew that he was filled with wisdom that was equal to all four of the previous generation. And Ea was exceedingly wise and greater than his father and grandfathers.

Many other gods were born too. And all of these new gods would get together and basically party all day. Well, in fairness, there’s not much else to do in a floating void. And all their noise and activity stirred up the waters and began to really play on the nerves of the first two gods. Apsu and Tiamat were used to the peace and quiet of nothingness. The mother of all, Tiamat, was inclined to indulge them, as mothers would. But even then they still annoyed her. Their father, Apsu, yelled at them to turn it all down and be quiet, but like youngsters everywhere and throughout all time, the rowdy teenagers just ignored the elders who were trying to spoil their fun. Finally Apsu summoned his advisor, Mumu, who counselled him to hold a meeting with Tiamat and sort it all out.

And so they floated over to Tiamat and chatted with the mother goddess. And Apsu said, look, this is intolerable. I can’t even nap. Never mind, have a good night’s sleep. So why don’t we just destroy them all? These kids horsing around, they’re wrecking my buzz and absolutely fed up. So this idea to murder all her children did not sit well with Tiamat. She was shocked and enraged, and she screamed that she couldn’t possibly destroy what she had given life to.

He agreed they needed to be trained in the ways of silent abiding in the void. Apsu would just need to be a wee bit more patient and understanding with the kids. Mumu, however, did not agree with Chamath’s benevolent stance. So he had a quiet word with Apsu and said, Apsu, have you heard what she said? Did you catch that vibe? You know, there was a lot of tension in her voice. She’s tired, you know, she really is tired. She’s a woman, she doesn’t want to make this decision, but you could do it for her, and I think she’d be glad of it. And Apsu was delighted with what Mumu said. He was so pleased that he gave him a huge embrace and Mumu hopped in his lap and made a big old kiss and they decided that that was going to be the plan.

However, the younger gods caught wind of what was going to happen. And for the first time, they were silent, shocked in quietness. What were they to do? Now Ea, being wise and brave, figured he was not going to allow this to happen. Now, what you didn’t know about Ea was that he was the god of enchantment as well. And so he summoned forth a very strong enchantment and he lulled Apsu and Mumu to sleep. And while they were asleep, he jumped in, he stole Apsu’s crown and mental radiance for himself.

He skillfully murdered Apsu and enslaved Mumu. And then he set himself up as a supreme ruler in his new palace, which was made out of the carcass of Apsu, whom he’d killed. Now in this wonderful temple of his dead grandfather, he took himself a wife. Now his wife, whose name I can’t remember right now, I’m going to have to look up, and himself, gave birth, he impregnated her and she bore him a son who was the most magnificent God yet. His name was Marduk.

Now Marduk had limbs that were so bright and so beautiful and so awesome It was hard to look at them, never mind describe them. He had four eyes and four ears, and he could shoot fire from his mouth. And above him there was a constellation of lights. And he was wonderful and awesome. And everyone rejoiced when they saw this young God and he was nursed by all the goddesses and he was given all things.

And his grandfather was delighted in him. And his grandfather was so pleased, he gave him the four winds to play with, and he taught him how to make thunderstorms and how to cause desert storms. He taught him to play with earth. He taught him to hold back the tide. And Marduk loved playing with his new toys, so much so that he increased the level of noise in the kingdom, in the creation, by his constant tinkering and playing, and the noise increased. Now Tiamat was not only pissed off that her lover and partner had been killed and dismembered, she also was deeply unhappy with the increase in general noise.

So she finally decided to take matters into her own hands and be done with them all. Begotten of her or not, she was going to just wipe them out. And she took onto herself her own advisor, Quingu. She promised Quingu that he would have the throne. She’d left with him. She conferred on him the tablet of destiny. And she promised that if he helped her, he would be the supreme ruler. And she thought about making an army, an army that would destroy her children. And in that army, she created 11 strange and fearsome creatures.

And I’m just going to, I’m going to have to read from the actual tablet here because it bears, you need to hear the words. She created the Hydra, the dragon, the hairy hero, the great demon, the savage dog and the scorpion man, fierce demons, the fish man and the bull man, carriers of merciless weapons, fearless in the face of battle. She made a scorpion and a snake and replaced their blood with venom. And she assembled these fearsome creatures and she conferred with the elder gods and made a plan to vanquish all of her children.


And so Quingu, whom she had amplified and magnified and herself set about all the day when they would destroy all.

Enuma Elish Part II

Enuma Elish Part 2

Though Ea hears the cares that an army is amassing and assembles the lesser gods to inform them that Tiamat is bringing an army of miracle monsters, so horrifying to look at that just seeing them will cause anyone to collapse in terror and run away. But the gods agree that Ea is responsible for Tiamat’s wrath, as he killed her husband Absu, and surely any woman can be defeated by a man, so Ea needs to confuse her armies and calm her down.

However, twice Ea went to confront Tiamat, who had taken the form of the most fearsome dragon, and each time his wisdom and courage desert him, and he returns to the court of gods, reporting that the power of venom and fierce monsters are beyond his ability to tame, and that no invocation could affect Tiamat, Quingu, or the elder gods and monsters. Ben-Ea’s son, the magnificent god Marduk, stepped forward. He agreed to battle with Tiamat, but he named his price. He demanded that supreme kingship and power be his, and that his dominion can never be changed or opposed.

And then the minor gods put together a feast and a princely shrine with the nice throne on top and they gave a big chant about how great and wonderful Marduk, the champion of the gods, is, who is sovereign over the whole universe. And as an example, they put some lights in the sky, a new constellation, And they encourage Marduk to shout the light out.

 And so he does. He shouts out the light and the stars disappear. And then he shouts again and they reappear. And he does this for a while until he gets bored. And then poof, the lights are gone again. And then he creates his weapons, each massive and fit for his hand alone, a mighty bow, his primary weapon, and well-crafted arrows, and he straps them all to his body and his reserve weapon is a one-handed mace that is so powerful it can cause an earthquake and the tide to turn. He arms himself with a lightning bolt and fills his body with fire. He creates a massive war net to catch out all his enemies and summons the four winds to be Thurban’s north, south, east, west, and to these winds he adds an evil wind, the tempest and the tornado, making him the master of seven winds.

And these winds he releases to wreak havoc and announce the beginning of the war. And as he steps onto his storm chariot, which is drawn by venomous horses, Their teeth are sharp and poisoned. They know not exhaustion. They can only devastate. Marduk stands clothed in awesome armour, wearing a regal crown on his lips, a magic spell, and in his left hand he has herbs to counter poison as he facedown the road towards Tiamat. All the lesser gods and the disorganised mob are parading behind him and in fact some are drunk. But as he looks more and more at Quingu and the fearsome monsters, he begins to get lightheaded and feels a bit faint. And he gets confused. Tiamat used womanly magic to take Marduk out in a single stroke.

He wavers on his chariot and all the gods who followed him grew worried for a moment but Marduk withstood his mental pressure and he held his battle mace high calling Tiamat, calling out to Tiamat, why all the tricks? Why this army? Just because your sons were noisy and disrespected their fathers? Should you, our mother, reject compassion by seeking evil? You are the one who has wronged us, and you are the one who has an army that I challenge you for glory. I challenge you, Tiamat, to single combat.

At this provocation, Tiamat flew into a rage, screaming and charging at Marduk. Soon he had an opening to toss his net and ensnare her. She opened her mouth to scream and in that moment, Marduk shot the evil wind into her mouth and forced it open. All the winds entered her and tore up her insides, swelling her with wind, a single strong spear split open her distended stomach and punched right into her heart, extinguishing her life in a swift and vicious stroke. The gods were captured and imprisoned. He captured Quingu, cleaving him in two and seizing the tablets of destinies from his cold dead fingers. Then he turned to the corpse of Tiamat and smashed her neck with his mace. Then he sliced her in half and put half of her up in the sky and assigned a guard to keep her bolted firmly to the roof of the world.

Then he created a lamp to imprison the waters, Tiamat, and ensure that they could never escape by creating the oceans in the process. And with that total victory, Marduk created the world order, making temples for his favorite gods, placing stars wherever suited him, marking out the days and creating the annual calendar so that he could rule over time itself. He makes time, day and night and clouds and rain and the Tigris and the Euphrates River created from the blood that streamed from both Tiamat’s eyes.

And at some point he disposes of all his battle captives and he keeps each of the fierce eleven monsters created by Tiamat and the gods, and he creates statues of them and puts them at his feet. And then he announces that he will build a temple, and that temple will be set at Babylon, which will become his dwelling place. And so the gods spend a year feasting and drinking and creating bricks, And then they spend another year building a ziggurat just for Marduk’s glory.

After a while Marduk thought to himself that this is quite a lot of work and he went and consulted with Ea saying and consulted with Ea saying, father, surely we should have help. The gods need help. Why don’t we create mankind? Why don’t we create helpers?

And he took the energy of the gods that he had defeated with Tiamat, and he took the blood of Quingu, and he mixed up some earth, and he poured the blood into the earth. And therefore the divine blood of the gods and the earth and called forward the first man, Amun. And he set the men to work in service of the gods, to irrigate, to plant.

And the space between the Euphrates and the Tigris became the greatest, most wonderful, glorious place that the earth had ever seen. And thus was the world created, and thus was order created, And thus was man set as co-creators and guardians of creation against chaos.

Now, There was a bit at the end of this which I’d like to read which is in the last tablet. When the gods saw how powerful and wonderful Marduk was, when they saw his plan and the magnificence of Babylon which had been imagined by Marduk, each of the gods came forward and spoke an incantation and in that incantation they praised Marduk and they themselves gave him their name and their powers and conferred on him more greatness. And so it went on for 50 times, and I’ll just read out one small bit of it, which I think gives a sense of what this great epic sounded like, remembering that the tablets themselves were kind of an aid memoir for oral storytelling. This was an oral epic that was told at the beginning, at the end of every year to bring in the new year, when Marduk’s statue would be taken and brought outside of the ziggurat and all of this would be sung by all the people. I’m just looking for it now, so excuse me. Okay.

So all of the gods, one after the other, gave him their name and their attributes. So Kinma, the director of all the gods who gives counsel, at whose name the gods bend down in reverence as before a hurricane. Dinger Escur, let him take his lofty seat in the house of benediction.

Let the gods bring their presence before him until he received their offerings, no one but he accomplishes clever things. The four blackheads are his creation. Apart from him, no god knows the measure of their days. Yiru, who makes weapons hard, who has accomplished clever things in the battle with Yamat. Comprehensive in wisdom, skilled in understanding, a deep mind that all the gods combined do not understand. Let Adu be his name, let him cover up the whole span of heaven, let him thunder with his pleasant voice upon the earth. May the rumble fill the clouds and give sustenance to the peoples below. As the Ruh, who, as his name says, muster the divine face, he indeed is the warden of absolutely all peoples. As Nei-Baru, let him hold the crossing place of heaven and underworld. They should not cross above or below, but should wait for him. Neighbor is a star, which caused him to shine in the sky. Let him take his stand in the heavenly staircase that they may look on him. Yes, he was constantly crossing the sea without resting. Let his name be neighbor who grasps her middle. Let him fix the paths of the stars of heaven. Let him shepherd all the gods like sheep. Let him bind Tiamat and put her life in mortal danger to generations yet unborn to distant future days. May you continue unchecked, may you persist into eternity. Since he created the heavens and fashioned the earth, Enlil, the father, called him by his own name, Lord of the lands. Ea heard the names which all the Igigi called, and his spirit became radiant.

Why? He whose name was extolled by his fathers, let him be like me, he called Ea, let him control the sum of all my rights, let him administer all my decrees. With the word 50, The great gods called his 50 names and assigned him an outstanding position. They should be remembered. A leading figure should expound them. A wise and learned should confer about them. A father should repeat them and teach them to his son. One should explain them to shepherds and herdsmen. If one is not negligent to Marduk, the endle of gods, may one’s land flourish and oneself prosper.

For his word is reliable, his command unchanged. No god can alter the utterance of his mouth. When he looks in fear, he does not relent. When his anger is ablaze, no god can face him. His mind is deep, his spirit is all-embracing, before whom sin and transgression are sought out instruction which a leading figure repeated before him Marduk he wrote it down and stored it so that generations can come to hear it. Marduk who created the Igi gods, though they diminish, let them call on his name, the song of Marduk who defeated Tiamat and took kingship.

So that’s pretty much it. I should have done the, Tiamat was dismembered and basically all of heaven and earth and the underworld and the sky and landforms were created out of her body. So that’s pretty much it.

Enuma Elish Part III

Enuma Elish Part 3 Text

So we’re going to pick up in tablet four out of seven when Marduk had just slain Tiamat and what happened after that. To Tiamat he now turns his attention, the one he had caught, and the Lord Marduk trod upon the lower parts of her body, raising his merciless hammer high, he pulverized her skull, Then sliced open the arteries that carried her watery blood, he caused the north wind to take it. To convey good tidings, when his forebearers sought, they were jubilant and all sang out. Then made plans to meet him with presents, gifts of greeting.

The Lord took a moment to rest and looked over her corpse. He split the monster’s cadaver and made marvellous things, severing it up the middle, flaying it in half like a drying fish, one of which he thrust up to make the vault of the heavens. He drew a gate in front of it, put into the care of a guardian. Her waters were bounded so that they may not surge free. And he went forward traversing the sky seeking a holy place. He made the Apsu, Nidimud’s dwelling, entirely smooth and the Lord then measured out the Apsu’s total dimensions, The immense shrine which he had built to resemble it was Eshara, and in the temple of Eshara, which he made to resemble heaven. There he placed the centers of veneration for Anu, Elil and Ea.

He constructed various stations for each one of the high gods and concerning the stars he placed constellations for each one. Then he established the year and set forth its subdivisions. He assigned three stars to signify each of the 12 months and as he formulated his intentions for every day of the year he set forth the station of Nedru to delineate their movement.

And wherever there is an indicator proceed over its own course, then do not fail to enter the hall of judgment and divide. Make your selection of the bow star for robbery and war. Make your choice Ninma for pregnancy and the unborn. Make your choice the harrow for the fertility of the field, make your choice the wild boar for growth and productivity and so on and so on throughout all of the stars of the constellations.

Now with the dribble of Tiamat be the next thing to be utilized, remembering that Tiamat had transformed herself into a dragon and her spittle was venomous. Marduk had collected together all of the dribble that had spilled. He collected it into clusters and made the scurrying clouds, giving rise to the winds and making it a source for the rains. By gathering together her venom, he caused mist to swell. These he managed himself to be controlled by his own hand. He set her head out and heaped up deep mounds of terrain, severing open bursting spring from which the stream poured.

He made a tigress in the Euphrates river pour from her eyes, sealed up her nostrils so that the baleful river would not flow. He gathered together from her udder the treeless mountains and drilled out holes so as to drain away the stagnant waters. Bound her tail across, fixing it fast to tie up the heavens and establish the waters of the Apsu underneath his feet. Then he placed her thigh so as to bolster up the sky vault. Half of her body was used to make the sky, half the earth. He twirled the creation so that the insides of Tiamat spun. He spread out his net so that it spanned the entire world, then he fixed its end points to places upon heaven and earth, binding them with knots of looping them around pillars.

Then after he had set forth religion designating its rituals, he tossed down the reins which were taken up by Ea. Then he took up the tablet of fate that Kingu had taken and he delivered it to Ea to be used at the initial reading. Then the prisoners of war he’d shackled were rank-ordered and he marched them in enslavement before his forebearers. As for the eleven demons Kiamat had spawned, he took them, destroyed their arms and had them bound beneath his feet. Then he had pictures made of them and fixed at Apsu’s gate. Let these be an indication that are recalled in future years.” And there’s another bit, there’s a whole pile about his gods and forebears and remember Apsu was the father god that he had, that Ea had slain and had become a temple. It now became a sort of a landmass, the whole area around the crescent of fertility.

Listen to our Stories
Become a Subscriber
Contact Us

Subscribe to our Newsletter