Sep 24, 2011

Enuma Elish: The Babylonian Creation Myth

In the dark, primal world, Apsu and Tiamut decided to procreate gods. The first two of their offspring, born in the midst of heaven, they named Lahmu and Lahamu. After them Ansar, Anu and Nudimmud were born. The proud parents then established their progeny as the great gods.

While the great gods went about their business quietly, Tiamut continued to create many other gods in her vast body. However, Apsu could not bear the babble of his own sons. He called his trusted minister Mummu for a consult and together they went to Tiamut.

“I have not rested or lied down in peace since the day we have created these gods. They make too much noise and destroy my quiet,” Apsu complained. “But I have a plan,” he said. “I will destroy them and their noisy ways. Only then can we go back to the way we were, quiet and peaceful, enjoying our lives in all of eternity in each other’s arms.”

Tiamut, as much as she loved Apsu, could not bear to see her sons die. But Mummu egged her husband on. Desperate to save her children, Tiamut warned her favorite son Ea of the evil plan in the hopes that her children could escape. Instead, Ea killed Apsu and imprisoned Mummu in an act of self preservation and loyalty to his brothers.

Shocked by the death of her beloved and the treachery of her son, Tiamut raged and cried aloud. Like countless other scorned women to come after her, she wowed vengeance on the gods who had conspired and killed Apsu. She prepared to wage war and started creating and banding the gods on her side. The gods who were faithful to Tiamut prepared for battle by her side.

To assist her loyal followers, Tiamut then made invincible weapons, spawned monstrous poisonous serpents and gigantic vipers. Not satisfied with her deadly weapons she created the monster Lahamu and eleven other kinds of monsters. Then, she turned her attention to finding a spouse for herself. She chose Kingu because he was the one who had given her the most support and stood by her in her moment of grief. She gave him the ultimate power, the Tablet of Destiny and gave him the charge to lead Tiamut’s fierce host and to give the battle cry.

Meanwhile, Ea, saddened and afflicted by his deed, retreated to lick his wounds. A few days later, at peace with himself, he turned to his father Ansar and told him of Tiamut’s evil plan to destroy the gods. Hearing the whole account from Ea, Ansar was worried. He feared for the safety of the gods and worried at the fierce power that Tiamut had bestowed on Kingu. He did not want a war for he was a wise god. He decided to send Ea to talk to Tiamut and see if he could appease her with his words.

Ea agreed to the peace mission but when he reached Tiamut’s palace he could hear her wild mutterings and wisely decided to turn back. Not wanting to go back to his father empty handed Ea decided to go home. There, he met his son, Marduk, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He was delighted to find that his son had grown into a strapping, young man filled with confidence and strength of a thousand gods.

He took Marduk to meet Ansar and told him of his plan. Ansar beheld the powerful Marduk and his heart was filled with joy for there was still hope for him and his brethren. He kissed him on the lips and blessed him. Then Marduk, full of bravado said to Ansar, “O father, give me permission to go forth in battle and defeat Tiamut who is your enemy and who plans to attack you.”

Ansar was impressed and reassured at Marduk’s brave words and blessed him with success. Marduk was then happy and exulted. He was also clever and decided to seize the moment by asking for a boon. “O father,” he said, “I will gladly take on Tiamut to defend you and my brothers so you can seat yourself in Upsukkinaku in peace and happiness. If I succeed and conquer Tiamut, I want you to call an assembly and make me the undisputed leader of all the gods. Make my fate preeminent and proclaim it that I may take your place and decree fate in your place.”

Ansar, who did not seem to have an option but to give in to Marduk’s demands, granted him dominion over the endangered gods. Then, he called his minister Gaga and sent him as an emissary to the courts of Lahmu and Lahamu, the first born of Apsu and Tiamut. Biding what his master told him to do, Gaga stood before the two and said, “Your son has sent me to warn you of the great danger that will soon befall on you. Ansar has found a way to combat Tiamut, your mother who wishes to harm you. He has chosen Marduk to fight and defeat her. Ansar asks that you support and empower Marduk so he may trample on Tiamat’s neck and take dominion over the gods.”

On hearing Gaga’s account and learning the nature of Tiamut’s destructive army, Lahmu and Lahamu were distraught with grief and fear. They immediately informed all the other elder gods, Igigi as they were called, who became much troubled by this ominous news. They all banded together and went to consult Ansar who had set up a banquet of bread, sesame wine and mead for them. The gods dined on the sumptuous feast and they felt better for it. With a drunken body and an exalted spirit they elevated Marduk, their avenger, to the highest throne.

A lordly chamber was prepared for Marduk and he took his place as a prince before his fathers. Then, the Igigi sang praises of him as they equipped him with weapons of destruction, cunning and power. “We give you the sovereignty over the whole world and no one will be able to disobey your command. Your word will be the truth and your wish will be done. Your weapon will never lose its power and it will destroy your enemy.” Thus they revealed his powers to him but told him to vanquish Tiamut.

Marduk was well prepared and full of confidence and courage as he readied his bow and slung a spear on his back and fastened it. In his right hand he carried a club while the bow and quiver hung at his side. With foresight, he made a net to enclose Tiamat’s body parts and stationed the four winds, North, South, East and West, that his father Anu had given him, such that nothing of her might escape. Not trusting his chances to only four winds he created tempests, hurricanes, whirlwinds and the sevenfold wind. He sent them forth to disturb Tiamat’s insides and draw her out. Having provoked her, Marduk then mounted his chariot, raised his thunderbolt and spurred the four horses, Destructive, Ferocious, Overwhelming and Swift of Pace, on to the battle field.

As Marduk advanced fearlessly, he could see under Tiamat’s armor. He also heard the nervous mutterings of Kingu. Marduk immediately realized that though Kingu had the Tablet of Destiny, he did not have the courage to exercise its power. This knowledge gave Marduk advantage over Kingu and he lost no time in taking advantage of that knowledge. So fierce was Marduk’s gaze that Kingu’s steps faltered. Watching their leader hesitate in front of the mighty Marduk, Kingu’s followers were greatly dissuaded. They started losing courage but Tiamat, being a woman, was still more powerful than all the gods and Kingu combined. She uttered a rebellious cry and ordered the gods to unite.

Marduk then challenged her to the battle and hearing his words made Tiamat angry and unreasonable. This was also her undoing for Marduk spread out his net and caught her and set the evil wind in her face. As Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent, he lost no time in driving the evil wind down her throat and into her belly. This knocked the courage out of her and she opened her mouth wide in a scream of agony. Never the one to lose an opportune moment, Marduk drove his mighty spear into her and pierced her heart.

Having extinguished her life, he threw down her body and stood on top of it and loudly proclaimed victory. Seeing this horrible spectacle of their leader’s death, Tiamat’s host was scattered. The gods were scared and fled for their lives but they were surrounded by Marduk’s army who took them captive. Then he broke their weapons and cast them in bondage. The eleven monsters of Tiamut he trampled under the feet of his fierce horses.

Having taken care of the main threat, Marduk then turned his attention on to Kingu. He took the Tablet of Destiny from Kingu for his cowardly soul did not deserve it. Instead, Marduk the brave sealed the Tablet and wore it around his breast.

Thus having fully established Ansar’s triumph over the enemy he turned his attention once again to Tiamut’s corpse. He smashed her skull and split her like a flat fish in two halves. One half he established as a covering for heaven and then set up various districts for the friendly gods to inhabit. He then fixed the stars of Zodiac in the image of the gods and ordained the year and divided it into twelve months. He fixed the zenith and established the duties of the Sun and the Moon-god. The other half of Tiamat he fashioned into earth and set the captured gods to do his work on it.

The Igigi praised Marduk’s great feat and reinforced his dominion over the world. They also asked him to liberate the bonded Gods as an act of forgiveness. Marduk, after creating earth, was beginning to grow a fondness for it and did not want to let go of his free labor. But on the joyous occasion of his coronation he did not want to deny the Igigi their wish.

So he devised a cunning plan and to Ea he said, “With my blood and bone I will create man. Many of his kind I shall allow to inhabit the earth so they can service the gods and build shrines to them.” The gods marveled and agreed to this plan for not only were they going to reside in Upsukkinnaku from now on, they would also have mortals to worship them and stroke their egos. Besides, they dared not cross the mighty Marduk who was now all powerful thanks to them. So, they proceeded to praise his heroic deeds and bestowed him with fifty names befitting his valor and might.

This semester, for my humanities class I chose World Religions not only because it seemed like an interesting subject but because the class timings suited my schedule.  It has been an interesting class so far with spirited discussions and comments flowing freely between the professor and my fellow students.  For our first assignment, we were given Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth and write our impressions or interpretation of it.  Above was my interpretation and since this space is better known for its fictional pieces than anything else, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as A Tale of Ganesha.

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