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The Role of Creation in Enūma eliš*

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AbstractThe seven tablets of Enūma eliš, “The Chaldean Genesis,” contain multiple creations artfully woven in a story that has the god Marduk as the hero. Most creation accounts found in Enūma eliš are reminiscent of earlier traditions. Former narratives as well as related themes and motives are adopted and adapted by means of intentional alterations to suit the purpose of the new text. In this paper I study the ways in which various creations are included, tailored, and arranged to promote Marduk’s position as the head of the Babylonian pantheon.

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60. FN0 * I wish to thank Walter Farber for discussing passages of Enūma eliš with me and for his comments. Thanks are also due Annalisa Azzoni, Deena Ragavan, Tom Urban, and Norman Yoffee for their suggestions.
61. FN1 1Recent translations include Bottéro and Kramer’s 1989: 497–502 in French; Hecker’s 1994: 608–609 in German; and Foster’s 2005: 487–487 in English.
62. FN2 2Note also three Sumerian texts dealing with the “Beginning” from the Early Dynastic, the Ur III, and the Old Babylonian periods respectively; see Sjöberg 2002.
63. FN3 3The passage from the bīt rimkiseries is bilingual and comes from a late Uruk tablet that begins with an address to the god Utu/Šamaš, SpTU 3 67: 1–14; see Dietrich 1995. The ritual for the preparation of foundation figurines consists of an Akkadian incantation included in a ritual procedure, see Borger 1973a: 180. The ritual for the restoration of temples from Babylon is a Late Babylonian text written in Akkadian, see Weissbach 1903 no. 12: 24–26, and Horowitz 1991: 76. For Old Babylonian incantations against ergot ( merḫu) in Akkadian see Landsberger and Jacobsen 1955: 14–16, texts A and B; and Landsberger 1958. The incantation against toothache is known from an Old Babylonian exemplar written in Hurrian, see Thureau-Dangin 1939: 4–5, and from first millennium exemplars in Akkadian, e.g., CT 17 50; see Bottéro and Kramer 1989: 483–485; Hecker 1994: 603–604; Foster 2005: 995. The incantation šundu anu irḫû šamê, written in Akkadian, is known from a number of copies, e.g., BAM 4 333: 1–2; see Bottéro 1985: 291–293, no. 3. The prayer of a kalû-priest comes from a late bilingual manuscript from Uruk, see Mayer 1978: 438. For the first-millennium astronomical series enūma anu enlil, see Weidner 1954–6 and Rochberg-Halton 1988: 270–271. The Creation of the Pickaxe was written in Sumerian and is known from several manuscripts, see Pettinato 1971: 82–83. Also in Sumerian are Gilgameš, Enkidu and the Netherworld; Enki and Ninmah; Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave; the debates between Bird and Fish, and between Ewe and Grain; and the Song of the Hoe. English translations of these Sumerian compositions can be found in ETCSL ( with information concerning various manuscripts and editions; for English translations with ETCSL numbers see Black 2004.
64. FN4 4Recently, D. Katz 2011: 127 pointed out three differences between the beginning of Enūma eliš and Mesopotamian literary conventions: the introduction goes back earlier than other accounts, Enlil is not mentioned, and Anu is not the head of the pantheon as in the Sumerian tradition.
65. FN5 5The first two lines of the first tablet read enūma eliš lā nabû šamāmū, šapliš ammatu šuma lā zakrat, “When above the Heavens had not been named, (and) below the Earth had not been called a name . . .” (I: 1–2). Quotations from Enūma eliš follow the line numbering of Talon’s edition; see Talon 2005. A similar primitive vacuum exists at the beginning of the Debate between Ewe and Grain: Anu gave birth to the Anuna gods, but did not create grain, did not fashion the yarn of Uttu (the divine weaver), did not peg out the loom for Uttu, the Ewe had not appeared, and there were no lambs, no goats, no kids, and the Anuna gods did not even know the names of grain or sheep; see Alster and Vanstiphout 1987: 15, ll. 1–27.
66. FN6 6Different dates have been proposed for the composition of Enūma eliš, namely, the Old Babylonian period, e.g., Jacobsen 1968: 107; Dalley 1997; the Kassite period, e.g., Sommerfeld 1982: 175; the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I, Lambert 1964; and the first millennium, Abusch 1999: 547–548.
67. FN7 7Note that in I: 81–84 nabnûand banûare employed to describe the birth of Marduk, who was born to Ea and Damkina: ina qereb apsî ibbanimarduk, ina qereb elli apsî ibbanimarduk, ibnīšumaea abašu, d a m k i n a ummušu ḫaršassu“In the midst of Apsû Marduk was created, / In the midst of pure Apsû Marduk was created, / Ea, his father, created him, / Damkina his mother was in confinement with him.”
68. FN8 8Note already the observation by Lambert 2008: 26: “(. . .) are Anšar—Kišar the third generation in turn, offspring of Laḫmu—Laḫamu, or a second pair born to Apsû—Tiāmat?”
69. FN9 9I excluded Damkina because she appears unexpectedly, without being born or created, to be Marduk’s mother. After Marduk was born, Damkina’s role is nil.
70. FN10 10For comparisons between the generation of gods in Enūma eliš and a number of other god-lists, see Lambert 2008: 26–32.
71. FN11 11In OB Atra-ḫasīs, for instance, Anu is described as king of the gods (I: 7; see Lambert and Millard 1999: 43).
72. FN12 12Qingu first appears in I: 148. His origins and affiliation are never explained. Qingu is a rather obscure deity outside Enūma eliš.
73. FN13 13Note that in lines 24 and 26 the verb qabûhas the 3ms dative pronominal suffix - šum. A literal translation should be “speak to it (i.e., to the constellation) again,” and “he spoke to it again,” respectively. The use of the pronominal suffix suggests that Marduk addresses the lumāšu-constellation personally and that lumāšuobeys his command.
74. FN14 14The expression niklāti ibanni“he creates artful things” appears four times in connection with Marduk (IV: 136, VI: 2, VII: 112 and 116).
75. FN15 15Note that both gods use spells against their contenders, Ea to subdue Apsû (I: 62) and Marduk to fight against Tiʾamat (IV: 61), who in turn casts her own spell (IV: 90).
76. FN16 16In Enūma eliš Heaven is designated by the words šamû, šamāmū, and ašratu. The last two are poetic terms.
77. FN17 17For Lambert 1975: 57 and Livingston [1986] 2007: 80–81, Ešara is not the earth but an extra layer of the universe. See my discussion towards the end of this paper under the section “Stage 3: The Creation of the World” subheading c.4. “The creation of Babylon and Esaĝila,” footnote 28.
78. FN18 18For Marduk’s star Nēberu, see Schott 1936; Hunger and Pingree 1989: 126; Koch 1991; and Horowitz [1998] 2011: 156, 159, 161–2, especially for Nēberu in the Astrolabes.
79. FN19 19Lines of the Epic of Gilgameš are from George’s (2003) edition.
80. FN20 20As pointed out by George 1992: 296 when commenting on Enūma eliš IV: 137–40, “E-sagil and Babylon are thus to be at the center of the Universe, above Apsû, Ea’s domain, but below the heavens (. . .).”
81. FN21 21The construction of Esaĝila is skillfully expressed: šae s a ĝ i l meḫret apsî ullû rēšīšu / ibnû ziqqurrat apsî elīti“Of Esaĝil, the replica of Apsû, they raised its head high. They built the high ziqqurratof Apsû” (VI: 62–63). This passage implies that Esaĝil is right on top of Apsû, and that it is its mirror image. This equation will surface later in one of king Esarhaddon’s inscriptions: e s a ĝ i l ekal ilī maṭlatapsî tamšīle š a r a meḫretšubat ea tamšīlikî“Esaĝil, palace of the gods, mirror image of Apsû, likeness of Ešara, replica of the dwelling of Ea, likeness of the Ikû-star;” see Borger 1967: 21, ll. 47–51. Note the alternate use of maṭṭaltu, tamšīlu, and meḫertuin these lines to qualify Marduk’s temple, see George 1992: 296.
82. FN22 22The expressions employed to convey the equations are: meḫrete š a r a (IV: 142), e š g a l a tamšīlašu(IV: 144), meḫrete š a r a (V: 120), and meḫret apsî(VI: 66).
83. FN23 23As George 1997: 129–130 explained, in the Nippur tradition, Nippur was the oldest city; whereas in other texts such as the Sumerian King List that privilege was attributed to Eridu. Although Uruk, Keš, and Sippar were also each considered to be the oldest city in other texts, in Enūma eliš, Babylon displaces Nippur and assimilates with Eridu. The choice of Eridu and Nippur is not coincidental, for they represent the city of Marduk’s father, and the city of the god Marduk seeks to replace.
84. FN24 24Alster and Vanstiphout 1987: 2 have compared the introduction of the Debate between Ewe and Grain with the opening of Enūma eliš. They pointed out that the absence of Ewe and Wheat is repeated twice and that “it is an inversion of the scheme used in Enūma eliš,” because in the Debate “not-yet-being is followed by not-being-named.”
85. FN25 25Irene Winter has pointed out that on the Stele of Vultures it is the god Ninĝirsu who holds the net; whereas in the Sargon stele it is king Sargon. See Winter [1987] 2010: 74.
86. FN26 26Note that the nouns are kept parallel whereas the order of verbs is inverted.
87. FN27 27In Enūma eliš the cosmic bond is called d u r - m a h, “lofty bond,” (V:59). The word is also part of one of Marduk’s fifty names, l u g a l d u r - m a h (VII:95). In other traditions d u r - m a h is known as d u r - a n - k i, “the Bond of Heaven and Earth.” Duranki, is by extension, a by-name of Nippur, Enlil’s city. See George 1992: 256–7, 261–2, and 1997: 128–9.
88. FN28 28Atra-ḫasīs has similarly three levels with the arrangement Anu in Heaven, Enlil on the Earth, and Ea in Apsû (I: 13–18); see Lambert and Millard [1969] 1999: 43; and George and Al-Rawi 1996: 153. For Lambert 1975: 57 and Livingston [1986] 2007: 80–81, in Enūma eliš Ešara is not the Earth but an additional level of the universe. Lambert argues that Ešara is not the Earth because Esaĝila will be built “opposite” to Ešara and not “upon” it. He bases his interpretation on Ee V: 119–122 (see supra) and suggests that Ešara is the lower Heaven, a concept taken from a different tradition that has three levels of Heaven, namely, the commentaries AfO19: 110 iv:20–22 and KAR 307 obv. 30–8 (= VAT 8917). One should consider, however, that to accept the four-level interpretation, one would have to understand “opposite” as “below” Ešara. As a matter of fact, meḫertuconveys the idea of “at the same level.” The passage (V: 119–122) has a pun, for every line starts with a locative: elēnu(“above”), meḫertu(“at the same level”), and šapliš(“below”). But as I interpret it, the syntax of the Akkadian sentence does not follow the parallelism, because šaplišis part of the subordinate clause that starts in ša abnûand ends in qaqqarša.The exchange of the terms meḫertuand tamšīluelsewhere makes the pun more sophisticated (and ambiguous) because the words can also convey the idea of replica.

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Affiliations: 1: Oriental Institute, University of Chicago 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, Email:


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