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Enûma Eliš
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Agasaya, Bel

The Enûma Eliš (Akkadian Cuneiform: 𒂊𒉡𒈠𒂊𒇺) 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), and published by George Smith in 1876.[1]

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 text. Most of Tablet V has never been recovered, but aside from this lacuna the text is almost complete. A duplicate copy of Tablet V has been found in Sultantepe, ancient Huzirina, located near the modern town of Şanlıurfa in Turkey.

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose, however, is not an exposition of theology or theogony, but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.

The Enûma Eliš exists in various copies from Babylon and Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal's library dates to the 7th century BCE. The composition of the text probably dates to the Bronze Age, to the time of Hammurabi or perhaps the early Kassite era (roughly 18th to 16th centuries BCE), although some scholars favour a later date of ca. 1100 BCE.[2]


When the 7 tablets that contain this were first discovered, evidence indicated that it was used as a "ritual", meaning it was recited during a ceremony or celebration. That celebration is now known to be the Akitu festival, or Babylonian new year. This tells of the creation of the world, and of Marduk's triumph over Tiamat, and how it relates to him becoming king of the gods. This is then followed by an invocation to Marduk by his fifty names.[3]

The title, meaning "when on high" is the incipit. The first tablet begins:

e-nu-ma e-liš la na-bu-ú šá-ma-mu When the sky above was not named,
šap-liš am-ma-tum šu-ma la zak-rat And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
ZU.AB-ma reš-tu-ú za-ru-šu-un And the primeval Apsû, who begat them,
mu-um-mu ti-amat mu-al-li-da-at gim-ri-šú-un     And chaos, Tiamat, the mother of them both,
A.MEŠ-šú-nu iš-te-niš i-ḫi-qu-ú-ma Their waters were mingled together,
gi-pa-ra la ki-is-su-ru su-sa-a la she-'u-ú And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
e-nu-ma dingir dingir la šu-pu-u ma-na-ma When of the gods none had been called into being.

The epic names two primeval gods: Apsû (or Abzu) and Tiamat. Several other gods are created (Ea and his brothers) who reside in Tiamat's vast body. They make so much noise that the babel or noise annoys Tiamat and Apsû greatly. Apsû wishes to kill the young gods, but Tiamat disagrees. The vizier, Mummu, agrees with Apsû's plan to destroy them. Tiamat, in order to stop this from occurring, warns Ea (Nudimmud), the most powerful of the gods. Ea uses magic to put Apsû into a coma, then kills him, and shuts Mummu out. Ea then becomes the chief god, and along with his consort Damkina, has a son, Marduk, greater still than himself. Marduk is given wind to play with and he uses the wind to make dust storms and tornadoes. This disrupts Tiamat's great body and causes the gods still residing inside her to be unable to sleep.

They persuade Tiamat to take revenge for the death of her husband, Apsû. Her power grows, and some of the gods join her. She creates 11 monsters to help her win the battle and elevates Kingu, her new husband, to "supreme dominion." A lengthy description of the other gods' inability to deal with the threat follows. Marduk offers to save the gods if he is appointed as their leader and allowed to remain so even after the threat passes. When the gods agree to Marduk's conditions he is selected as their champion against Tiamat, and becomes very powerful. Marduk challenges Tiamat to combat and destroys her. He then rips her corpse into two halves with which he fashions the earth and the skies. Marduk then creates the calendar, organizes the planets, stars and regulates the moon, sun, and weather. [4]

The gods who have pledged their allegiance to Tiamat are initially forced into labor in the service of the gods who sided with Marduk. But they are freed from these labors when Marduk then destroys Tiamat's husband, Kingu and uses his blood to create humankind to do the work for the gods.[4] Babylon is established as the residence of the chief gods—the chief gods who made much babel or noise. Finally, the gods confer kingship on Marduk, hailing him with fifty names. Most noteworthy is Marduk's symbolic elevation over Enlil, who was seen by earlier Mesopotamian civilizations as the king of the gods.

Relationship with the Bible

The Enûma Eliš was recognized as bearing close relation to the Jewish creation in Genesis from its first publication (Smith 1876), and it was an important step in the recognition of the roots of the account found in the Bible, and in earlier Ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite and Mesopotamian) myth.

The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the earth was a flat circular disc surrounded by a saltwater sea. The habitable earth was a single giant continent inside this sea, and floated on a second sea, the freshwater apsu, which supplied the water in springs, wells and rivers and was connected with the saltwater sea. The sky was a solid disk above the earth, curved to touch the earth at its rim, with the dwelling of the gods above the sky or on top of the solid sky, and sometimes the gods were denizens of the heights between the earth and the sky. So far as can be deduced from clues in the creation story in the Bible and in the New Testament's Matthew 4:8, the ancient geography was identical with that of the Babylonians: a flat circular earth floating above a freshwater sea, surrounded by a saltwater sea, with a solid sky-dome (raqia, the "firmament") above. It is the creation of this world which Enûma Eliš and Genesis 1 describe.[5][6]

Genesis 1:1-3 can be taken as describing the state of chaos immediately prior to God's creation:[7]

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.


In both Enûma Eliš and Genesis, creation is an act of divine speech; the Enûma Eliš describes pre-creation as a time "when above, the sky or heights had not been named, and below the earth had not been called by name", while in Genesis each act of divine creation is introduced with the formula: "And God said, let there be...". The sequence of creation is similar: light, firmament, dry land, luminaries, and man. In both Enûma Eliš and Genesis the primordial world is formless and empty (the tohu wa bohu of Genesis 1:2), the only existing thing the watery abyss which exists prior to creation (the god of Tiamat in the Enûma Eliš, təhôm, the "deep", a linguistic cognate of tiamat, in Genesis 1:2), as with the one of the Egyptian creation myths, the watery abyss being a deity named Nu. In both, the firmament, conceived as a solid inverted bowl, is created in the midst of the primeval waters to separate the sky or heights from the earth (Genesis 1:6–7, Enûma Eliš 4:137–40). Day and night precede the creation of the luminous bodies (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, and 14ff.; Enûma Eliš 1:38), whose function is to yield light and regulate time (Gen. 1:14; Enûma Eliš 5:12–13). In Enûma Eliš, the gods consult before creating man (6:4), while Genesis has: "Let us make man in our own image..." (Genesis 1:26) – and in both, the creation of man is followed by divine rest.

However, these parallels do not necessarily suggest that Hebrew beliefs about the nature of God and creation can be completely explained as having their origins in the creation myths of the time. Rather, many biblical scholar see the Genesis texts as polemically addressing the Babylonian worldview. For example, Conrad Hyers, from Princeton Theological Seminary, argues that the composition of the Genesis 1 creation account is not "a matter of borrowing, as one might borrow an egg here and a cup of sugar there, or even a new recipe. The aim is not to appropriate a superior form, or to make an eclectic compromise, or even to improve upon pagan cosmologies. It is rather to repudiate the divinization of nature and the attendant myths of divine origins, divine conflict, and divine ascent. Even the great Marduk, who was said to be born of the gods, victorious over chaotic forces, and elevated to supremacy among the gods, was no god at all." [9]

Editions and translations

  • The Seven Tablets of Creation, The Babylonian Legends of Creation, by E. A. Wallis Budge, [1921], at
  • Seven Tablets of Creation, Luzac's Semitic Text and Translation Series, No 12 & 13, ISBN 978-0404113445 (1973).
  • L. W. King, Enûma Eliš: The Seven Tablets of Creation, London (1902); 1999 reprint ISBN 978-1585090433; 2002 reprint ISBN 1402159056.
  • Anton Deimel, Enûma Eliš (1936).
  • W. C. Lambert, S. B. Parker, Enûma Eliš. The Babylonian Epic of Creation, Oxford (1966).
  • D. D. Luckenbill, The Ashur Version of the Seven Tablets of Creation, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Oct., 1921), pp. 12-35 .

See also


  1. G. Smith, "The Chaldean Account of Genesis" (London, 1876).
  2. Bernard Frank Batto, Slaying the dragon: mythmaking in the biblical tradition, Westminster John Knox Press, 1992, ISBN 9780664253530, p. 35.
  3. Jacobsen, Thorkild "The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion".
  4. 4.0 4.1 See:
    • Foster, B.R. (1995). From Distant Days : Myths, Tales, and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia. vi. Bethesda, Md: CDL Press. p. 438. 
    • Bottéro, J. (2004). Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. x. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
    • Jacobsen, T. (1976). The Treasures of Darkness : A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 273. 
  5. Seeley The Geographical Meaning of "Ëarth" and "Seas" in Genesis 1:10, Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997), p.246
  6. Paul H. Seely, The Firmament and the Water Above, Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991)
  7. Harry Orlinsky, Notes on the New JPS Translation of the Torah: Genesis 1:1-3 (1969), at
  8. Richard Elliott Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed, HarperOne, 2003. ISBN 0060530693
  9. Conrad Hyers, "The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science", John Knox, 1984.


  • F. N. H. Al-Rawi, J. A. Black, A New Manuscript of Enūma Eliš, Tablet VI, Journal of Cuneiform Studies (1994).
  • H. L. J. Vanstiphout, Enūma eliš: Tablet V Lines 15-22, Journal of Cuneiform Studies (1981).
  • B. Landsberger, J. V. Kinnier Wilson, The Fifth Tablet of Enuma Eliš, Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1961).
  • Arvid S. Kapelrud, The Mythological Features in Genesis Chapter I and the Author's Intentions, Vetus Testamentum (1974) (jstor link).
  • Alexander Heidel, "Babylonian Genesis" (1951) (google books link)

External links