Babylonian Religion and Mythology

by Leonard William King | 1903 | 52,755 words

An account of the principal facts concerning Babylonian religion and mythology. This account is based upon the cuneiform inscriptions which have been excavated in Mesopotamia during the last fifty-five years....

Chapter III - The Legends Of Creation

Legends of Creation.

The nations of the ancient world who have left behind any remains or traces of their literature possessed theories as to the manner in which the world came into being. Such theories, or cosmogonies as they are termed, are generally told in the form of myths or stories, and, although we only know them in their later and fully developed forms, their origin may be assumed to go back to a considerable antiquity. If we may judge from the studies and observations that have been made of undeveloped races at the present-day, it may be concluded that primitive man was essentially a maker of myths. Believing as he did that every object and force in nature possessed a personality and will like his own, he would explain the changes he saw taking place in the world around him by means of legends and stories.

In these he would ascribe to the mysterious beings, which seemed to him to animate the natural world, motives similar to those which would control his own actions. At a more mature stage in his development he began to perceive a connection or dependence between the various powers of nature, such as the alternation of day and night, the movements of the stars, and the regular recurrence of the seasons; these would tend to suggest that some plan or system had been followed in the creation of the world, and in seeking for the reason of things along the familiar lines of myth, he would in process of time develop a cosmogony or story of creation. We have evidence that at least two such stories were current in Babylonia and Assyria in the later periods of their history.


The Version of Berosus.

The story of the creation of the world as told in Babylon about the year B.C. 300 we know in brief outline from the extracts that have come down to us from the history of Berosus, a Chaldean priest, who ministered in the temple of Bēl at Babylon at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the third century before Christ. Berosus wrote a history of Babylonia, beginning with the creation of the world and extending down to his own time, and although his work, which he translated into Greek, has been lost, extracts from it have been preserved in the books of .later writers. His account of the creation, for instance, was reproduced by Alexander Polyhistor, from whom Eusebius quotes in the first book of his Chronicon.[1] From this we learn that the Babylonians pictured to themselves a time when the world had no existence, a time before things came into being, when darkness and water alone existed. The water, however, did not remain uninhabited for long, for monsters arose in it, i.e., men with wings, and creatures with four wings and two human heads, and beings with two heads, one male and one female.

Some creatures had the bodies of men, but had the feet and horns of goats; some had the legs of horses, and others, like hippocentaurs, had the bodies and legs of horses but the upper parts of a man. Others, again, were in the form of bulls with the heads of men, or dogs with four bodies ending in the tail of a fish, or men and horses with the heads of dogs, and some had the head and body of a horse but the tail of a fish. In the water also creeping things, and serpents, and many other monsters of strange and varied shapes existed. Over these monsters a woman reigned called Omoroka (or Omorka), in Chaldee Thamte,[2] or in Greek Thalassa, “the Sea.” in this world of chaos was brought about by the death of the woman Omorka, who was slain by a god named Bēl. Bēl cleft her in twain, and from one half he made the earth, and from the other he made the heavens; and he slew also the monsters of the deep over whom she ruled.

The account then goes on to say that after Bēl had created the earth, he perceived that it was barren and had no inhabitants; he therefore decided to use his own blood for creation. He bade one of the gods to cut off his head and mix the earth with the blood which flowed from him, and from the mixture he directed him to fashion men and animals. Although deprived of his head Bēl did not die, for he is said to have also created the stars, the suu and moon, and the five planets, after his head was cut off. Such is the account of the Babylonian cosmogony as narrated by Berosus, which Eusebius has preserved. But as the latter writer quoted the story at second hand, it is more than probable that he accidentally misrepresented or misunderstood certain portions of it.


Discovery of the Creation Tablets.

Fortunately we have not to depend on Eusebius alone for our knowledge of the Babylonian stories of creation, for we now possess far fuller accounts on Assyrian and Babylonian tablets which have been published within the last twenty-five years. The credit of having made known to the world the Babylonian Creation tablets belongs to the late Mr. George Smith who, in 1875, published a story very like that told by Berosus, inscribed upon some of the tablets and fragments of tablets that had been brought to England from the site of Ashur-bāni-pal’s library at Nineveh several years before. The publication of the text and translations of the Creation tablets by Mr. Smith[3] threw great light upon the Babylonian cosmogony, and evoked considerable interest in the subject.


Their Number and Contents.

From the date of their first publication the tablets have been closely studied, and from time to time fresh fragments of the legend have been identified in the British Museum. During this period, moreover, the knowledge of the Assyrian language has greatly increased, so that a more accurate rendering of the texts can now be given than was possible at the time of their discovery.[4] From these inscriptions we gather that at about the middle of the seventh century before Christ the Babylonian story of the creation was preserved at Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in the form of a great poem, divided into a number of parts or sections, each of which was inscribed upon a separate tablet. The tablets were distinguished by numbers, and the whole series was named Enuma elish, “When in the height,” from the opening words of the First Tablet. The poem is incomplete in passages, and the end is very imperfect. We know that the series when complete contained at least six tablets, but it is impossible to say definitely how many tablets it originally contained. In spite of the fragmentary condition of many parts of the poem, however, the thread of the narrative can generally be followed.


Summary of the Babylonian Legend.

This version of the Babylonian cosmogony is practically identical with that given by Berosus about three hundred and fifty years later. According to the version on the Assyrian tablets, chaos in the beginning, before the world was created, consisted of a watery mass. Two primeval beings personified chaos, namely Apsū, the “Deep,” and Tiāmat, the universal mother, who corresponds to the woman named Omorka, or Thamte, by Berosus. Beside Apsū and Tiāmat no other being existed, and they mingled their waters in confusion. In the course of time the gods were created; the first were Lakhmu and Lakhamu, Anshar and Kishar came next, after many ages, and after a further period the other great gods were born. But Tiāmat, the monster of the Deep, who had taken the form of a huge serpent, and Apsū, her consort, revolted against the gods, and created a brood of monsters to destroy them.

Anshar, the leader of the gods, having entrusted in vain the god Anu, and after him the god Ea, with the task of resisting Tiāmat, prevailed on Marduk, the son of Ea, to be the champion of the gods and to do battle with the monster. The gods were summoned by Anshar to a council that they might confer supreme power upon Marduk and arm him for the fight. After completing: his preparations Marduk went out to meet Tiāmat and her host and succeeded in slaying her and in taking her helpers captive. He then split Tiāmat’s body in half and from one half he formed the heaven, fixing it as a firmament to divide the upper from the lower waters, and placing bars and sentinels that the waters should not break through.

Marduk then created the heavenly bodies that they might regulate the seasons, and he appointed the moon to rule the night. The poem at this point becomes mutilated, but there is evidence to show that Marduk then created the earth, and the green herb, and cattle, and the beasts of the field, and creeping things, and man, in the order here given.


Its Resemblance to Genesis.

From the above summary of the Babylonian story of creation it will be seen that it presents some very remarkable points of resemblance to the narrative of the creation as preserved in the first chapter of Genesis; and it is chiefly to this fact that the widespread interest in the legend is due. The bare outline given by Berosus does not suggest a very close parallel to the Biblical account, but from the more detailed narrative as given on the tablets we see that many features of the story of creation narrated in Genesis are also characteristic of the Babylonian cosmogony. Thus according to each account the existence of a watery chaos preceded the creation of the present world. The Hebrew word tehōm translated “the deep” in Genesis,[5] corresponds exactly with the Babylonian “Tiāmat,” the monster of the deep who personified chaos and confusion.

The creation of light recorded in Genesis is the equivalent of the statement on the Creation tablets that Tiāmat was vanquished by Marduk, for he overcame the monster in his character as a solar god. Then there follows in each narrative the description of the creation of a firmament, or solid dome of heaven, to keep the upper waters in place; in each account the narrative of the creation of the heavenly bodies follows that of the firmament, and in each also they are appointed to regulate the seasons. It has been suggested that the seven days of creation in Genesis correspond to seven definite acts of creation in the Babylonian account; but a careful study of the Babylonian poem has shown that such an arrangement was not contemplated by the Babylonian scribes, nor is there any evidence to show that the creation was deliberately classified in a series of seven acts.


The Biblical and Babylonian Accounts.

A slight perusal of the legend is, however, sufficient to prove that the two accounts present in many ways a very striking resemblance to each other; but in some respects the contrast they present is no less striking. When we examine the aims and ideas which underlie and permeate the two narratives, all resemblance between them ceases. The monotheism of Genesis finds no echo in the Babylonian poem, and in the latter no single and pre-existing deity created the universe from chaos by his word, but the gods themselves emerged from chaos, and it was only after one of their number had fought with and slain the mother of them all that the creation of the world took place.


The Creation of the Gods.

Before we proceed to consider the problem of the relationship of these two stories of the creation it will be well to give a translation of those portions of the Babylonian legends that have been preserved, and to trace their age and history so far as they can be ascertained.

The beginning of the First Tablet contains a description of chaos and of the birth of the oldest gods; it reads:—

“ When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name;[6]
And Apsū the primeval, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiāmat, the mother of them both—
Their waters were mingled together, and
No field was formed, no marsh was to be seen ;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies [were ordained] ; 
Then were created the gods, [all. of them], 
Lakhmu and Lakhamu were called into being. . .
Ages increased.............
Anshar and Kishar were created......
Long were the days...........
Anu, the father...... .....
Anshar and Anu...........”

The last line but one evidently refers to the creation of the god Anu ; and from a passage in Damascius, where this Babylonian theogony is reproduced,[7] we may infer that the gods Bēl and Ea were created along with him. It is probable that the creation of the other great gods was then described. Chaos was, in fact, giving place to order, but the gods were not for long allowed to remain in peace, for Tiāmat, their mother, conceived a hatred for them, and with Apsū, their father, plotted their destruction. The First Tablet ends with a description of the brood of monsters which Tiāmat spawned to aid her in her fight with the gods.


Repetitions in the Text.

Of the Second Tablet very little has been preserved, but, as in the case of the First Tablet, sufficient fragments of the text remain to indicate the general course of the story. The piecing together of the narrative, however, would be well nigh impossible were it not for a strange characteristic of Babylonian poetry, that is to say, the practice of frequent repetition. But for this practice the description of Tiāmat’s brood of monsters, and of her selection of Kingu as their captain would be lost, for hardly any of it remains on the fragments of the First Tablet. The description, however, is repeated in the form of a message to the god Anshar at the beginning of the Second Tablet; it is also repeated on the Third Tablet, once by Anshar to his minister Gaga, and again by Gaga when delivering Anshar’s message to Lakhmu and Lakhamu. Had we the complete text of the First and Second Tablets of the poem such repetition might be wearisome, but in their present imperfect condition its advantages for the restoration of the text are obvious.


Anshar’s Instructions to Gaga.

On hearing the news of Tiāmat’s preparations for battle the god Anshar was troubled, and he sent his son Anu to speak with her and to try to appease her anger. Anu went to her, but when he saw her he turned back in fear. The god Ea was next sent by Anshar, but he met with no better success. Anshar then invited the god Marduk to do battle with Tiāmat, and he consented on condition that the gods would meet together and solemnly declare him their champion. The Second Tablet ends with Marduk’s speech to Anshar, and the Third Tablet opens with Anshar’s instructions to his minister Gaga to summon a council of the gods. Gaga was ordered to carry tidings of Tiāmat’s revolt to Lakhmu and Lakhamu, and to direct them to summon the gods who were to appoint Marduk as their champion.

The Third Tablet begins:—

“Anshar opened his mouth, and
[To Gaga] his minister spake the word :
[Go Gaga, thou minister] that rejoicest my spirit,
[To Lakhmu and La]khamu I will send thee.
..... let the gods, all of them,
[Make ready for a feast], at a banquet let them sit,
[Let them eat bread], let them mix wine,
[That for Marduk], their [avenger], they may decree the fate.
[Go Ga]ga, stand before them,
[And all that I] tell thee, repeat unto them, (and say):


The Revolt of Tiāmat.

‘Anshar your son has sent me,
The purpose of his heart he has made known to me.
He says that Tiāmat our mother has conceived a hatred for us,
With all her force she rages, full of wrath.
All the gods have turned to her;


Her Brood of Monsters.

With those, whom you created, they go at her side.
They are banded together, and at the side of Tiāmat they advance;
They are furious, they devise mischief without resting night and day.
They prepare for battle, fuming and raging;
They have joined their forces and are making war.
Ummu-Khubur,[8] who formed all things,
Has made in addition weapons invincible, she has spawned monster-serpents,
Sharp of tooth, and cruel of fang;
With poison instead of blood she has filled their bodies.
Fierce monster-vipers she has clothed with terror,
With splendour she has decked them, and she has caused them to [mount ?] on high.
Whoever beholds them is overcome by dread.
Their bodies rear up and none can withstand their attack.
She has set up the viper, and the dragon, and the (monster) Lakhamu,
And the hurricane, and the raging hound, and the scorpion-man,
And mighty tempests, and the fish-man, and the ram;
They bear merciless weapons, without fear of the fight.
Her commands are mighty, none can resist them;
After this fashion, huge of stature, she has made eleven (monsters).


Kingu and the Rebel Host.

Among the gods who are her sons, inasmuch as he gave her support, 
She has exalted Kingu ; in their midst she has raised him to power. 
To march before the forces, to lead the host, 
To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack, 
To direct the battle, to control the fight,
To him has she entrusted; in costly raiment she has made him sit, (saying):
‘I have uttered thy spell, in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power,
The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted to thee.
Be thou exalted, thou my chosen spouse,
Let them magnify thy name over all [the world].’
Then did she give him the Tablets of Destiny,[9] on his breast she laid them, (saying):
‘Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established.’
Now Kingu, (thus) exalted, having received the power of Anu,
Decreed the fate for the gods, her sons :
‘Let the opening of your mouth quench the Fire-god;
Whoso prides himself on valour, let him display (his) might!’”

So far Anshar has described the revolt of Tiāmat and the creation of the monsters who were to help her in the fight, and her selection of Kingu as the captain of her host; all these things are described in the First Tablet in exactly the same language.


Marduk, The Champion of the Gods.

He next mentions the measures he has taken on hearing of Tiāmat’s treachery in the following words :—

“I sent Anu, but he was unable to go against her;
Kudimmud[10] was afraid and turned back.
Marduk has set out, the director of the gods, your son;
To set out against Tiāmat his heart has prompted (him).
He opened his mouth and spake unto me:
‘If I, your avenger,
Conquer Tiāmat and give you life,
Appoint an assembly, make my fate pre-eminent and proclaim it.
In Upshukkinnaku[11] seat yourselves joyfully together.
With my mouth like you will I decree fate.
Whatsoever I do, shall remain unaltered,
The word of my lips shall never be changed nor made of no avail.’
Hasten therefore and swiftly decree for him the fate which you bestow,
That he may go and fight your strong enemy!”

The narrative continues :—

“Gaga went, he took his way and
Humbly before Lakhmu and Lakhamu, the gods, his fathers,
He made obeisance, and he kissed the ground at their feet.
He humbled himself; then he stood up and spake unto them.”

Gaga then repeats the message which Anshar has given to him, but, as it corresponds word for word with the speech of Anshar quoted above, it may here be omitted.


The Assembly of the Gods.

The narrative describes the effect of Gaga’s message in the following words :—

“Lakhmu and Lakhamu heard and [were afraid],
All of the Igigi wailed bitterly, (saying) :
‘What has been changed that they should conceive [this hatred] ?
We do not understand the deed of Tiāmat!’
Then did they collect and go,
The great gods, all of them, who decree fate.
They entered in before Anshar, they filled [the chamber] ;
They pressed on one another, in the assembly . . .
They made ready for the feast, at the banquet they sat;
They ate bread, they mixed sesame-wine.
The sweet drink, the mead, confused their [senses],
They became drunk with drinking, their bodies were filled (with meat and drink).
Their limbs were wholly relaxed, and their spirit was exalted;
Then for Marduk, their avenger, did they decree the fate.”

At this point the Third Tablet of the series ends.

The Fourth Tablet opens with a description of the ceremony of decreeing fate for Marduk thus:—

“They prepared for him a lordly chamber,
Before his fathers as counsellor he took his place.”


Their Address to Marduk.

When Marduk had taken his seat, the gods addressed him in the following words:—

“Thou art chiefest among the great gods,
Thy fate is unequalled, thy word is Anu ![12]
O Marduk, thou art chiefest among the great gods,
Thy fate is unequalled, thy word is Anu!
Henceforth not without avail shall be thy command,
In thy power shall it be to exalt and to abase.
Established shall be the word of thy mouth, irresistible shall be thy command ;
None among the gods shall transgress thy boundary.
Abundance, the desire of the shrines of the gods,
Shall be established in thy sanctuary, even though they lack (offerings).
O Marduk, thou art our avenger !
We give thee sovereignty over the whole world.
Sit thou down in majesty, be exalted in thy command.
Thy weapon shall never lose its power, it shall crush thy foe.
O lord, spare the life of him that putteth his trust in thee,
But as for the god who led the rebellion,[13] pour out his life!”


Marduk tests His Power.

But before Marduk set out to do battle with Tiāmat, the gods wished him to put to the test the power which they had conferred upon him, and with this object in view they brought a garment into their midst, and then addressed their avenger, saying:—

“‘May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods,
To destroy and to create; speak thou the word, and (thy command) shall be fulfilled.
Command now and let the garment vanish;
And speak the word again and let the garment reappear!”’

In obedience to the words of the gods Marduk

“Spake with his mouth, and the garment vanished;
Again he commanded it, and the garment reappeared.
When the gods, his fathers, beheld (the fulfilment of) his word,
They rejoiced, and they did homage (unto him, saying), ‘Marduk is king !’
They bestowed upon him the sceptre, and the throne, and the ring,
They gave him an invincible weapon, wherewith to overwhelm the foe.
‘Go’ (they said), ‘and cut off the life of Tiāmat,
And let the wind carry her blood into secret places.’
(Thus) did the gods, his fathers, decree for the lord his fate;
They caused him to set out on a path of prosperity and success.


He Prepares for Battle.

He made ready the bow, he girded his weapon upon him,
He slung a spear upon him and fastened it, . . .
He raised the club, in his right hand he grasped (it),
The bow and the quiver he hung at his side.
He set the lightning in front of him,
With burning flame he filled his body.
He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiāmat,
The four winds he set so that nothing of her might escape;
The South wind, and the North wind, and the East wind, and the West wind
He brought near to the net which his father Anu had given him.
He created the evil wind, and the storm, and the hurricane,
The four-fold wind, and the seven-fold wind, and the whirlwind, the wind which was without equal;
He sent forth the winds which he had created, seven in all,
To destroy the inward parts of Tiāmat; and they followed after him.
Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,
He mounted the chariot, an object unequalled for terror,
He harnessed four horses and yoked them to it,
[All of them] ferocious, and high of courage, and swift of pace ;
[They gnashed with] their teeth, their bodies were flecked with foam,
They had been [trained to gallop], they had been taught to trample underfoot.”


The Meeting of Marduk and Tiāmat.

Thus, standing in his chariot, and followed by the seven winds he had created, did Marduk set out for the fight. His advance against Tiāmat in the sight of all the gods is described in the following words : —

“Then the lord drew nigh, on Tiāmat he gazed,
He beheld the scorn (?) of Kingu, her spouse.
As (Marduk) gazed, (Kingu) was troubled in his gait,
His will was destroyed and his movements ceased.
And the gods, his helpers, who marched by his side,
Beheld their leader’s [distress], and their sight was troubled.”

But Tiāmat stood firm, with unbent neck, and taunted Marduk and the gods who were gathered in safety behind him; to these taunts Marduk replied by reproaching her with her treachery, and he bade her prepare for battle in these words:—

“‘Let thy hosts be equipped, and let thy weapons be set in order!
Stand! I and thou, let us join battle!’
When Tiāmat heard these words,
She was like one possessed, she lost her senses,
She uttered loud, angry cries.
She trembled and shook to her very foundations.
She recited an incantation, she pronounced her spell,
And the gods of the battle cried out for their weapons.
Then advanced Tiāmat and Marduk, the counsellor of the gods;
To the fight they came on, to the battle they drew nigh.
The lord spread out his net to catch her,
The evil wind that was behind (him) he let loose in her face.


The Death of Tīamat.

As Tiāmat opened her mouth to its fall extent,
He drove in the evil wind, while as yet she had not shut her lips.
The terrible winds filled her belly,
And her courage was taken from her, and her mouth she opened wide.
He seized the spear and broke through her belly,
He severed her inward parts, he pierced her heart.
He overcame her and cut off her life;
He cast down her body and stood upon it.
When he had slain Tiāmat, the leader,
Her might was broken, her force was scattered,
And the gods, her helpers, who marched by her side,
Trembled, and were afraid, and turned back.
They took to flight to save their lives;


Capture of the Rebel Host.

In an enclosure they were caught, they were not able to escape.
He took them captive, he broke their weapons ;
In the net they were caught and in the snare they sat down.
[The whole] world they filled with cries of grief.
They received punishment from, him, they were held in bondage.
And on the eleven creatures whom she had filled with the power of striking terror,
The troop of devils which marched at her bidding (?),
He brought affliction, [he destroyed] their power;
Them and their opposition he trampled under his feet.
Moreover Kingu, who had been made leader [over all of] them,
He conquered and like unto the god ... he counted him.
He took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny that were not [rightly] his,
He sealed them with a seal and on his own breast he laid them.
Now after the valiant Marduk had conquered aud destroyed his enemies,
And had made the arrogant foe even like a broken reed (?),
He fully established Anshar’s triumph over the enemy,
And attained the purpose of Nudimmud.
Over the gods that were captive he strengthened his durance.
To Tiāmat, whom he had conquered, he returned,
And the lord stood upon Tiāmat’s hinder parts;
With his merciless club he smashed her skull;
He cut the channels of her blood,
He made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
His fathers beheld, they rejoiced and were glad;
Presents and gifts they brought unto him.


The Creation of Heaven.

Then the lord rested, and gazed on her dead body.
He divided the flesh of the body, having devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves.
One half of her he set in place as a covering for the heavens.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed watchmen,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions (thereof),
Over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-shara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-shara, which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bēl and Ea in their districts to inhabit.”

With these words the Fourth Tablet of the series ends.



The Meaning of E-shara.

Marduk having conquered Tiāmat, thus began the work of creation. Erom one half of the monster’s body he fashioned heaven in the form of a solid covering, which he also furnished with bolts and watchmen to keep the waters which were above it in their place. The dwelling of Nudimmud he fixed in the deep, i.e., the abyss of waters beneath the earth, and he also founded E-shara. Some think that E-shara is the earth;[14] and according to this view Marduk may be regarded as having now created and set in place, the heavens, and the earth, and the waters which were beneath the earth. Others, however, consider E-shara to be a name for heaven, or for a part of it, and the last two lines of the Fourth Tablet of the poem certainly favour this view.

The most natural meaning of the passage is that Marduk made the mansion of E-shara to be heaven, which he then divided between the three gods Anu, Bēl and Ea. Moreover we know from other sources that these three gods, in addition to ruling the heaven, and the earth, and the abyss respectively, in their astrological characters divided the heaven between them;[15] and the position of certain stars is noted in astrological tablets by apportioning them to the various dominions of these deities. According to the former view this passage in the poem means that Marduk created E-shara (the earth) “like a heavenly vault,”[16] i.e., in the form of a hollow hemisphere like the firmament overhead; but to obtain this sense the ordinary meaning of the words has to be strained considerably.


Creation of the Heavenly Bodies.

In the Fifth Tablet of the series Marduk continued the work of creation. He had already portioned out the heavens and the abyss, and he now assigned to each part its separate function, and laid down laws for the regulation of the whole. The tablet describes the creation of the heavenly bodies and the regulation of the seasons, but unfortunately only the beginning part has been preserved. The text reads:—

“He made the stations for the great gods,
The stars, their images, (and) the constellations he fixed;
He ordained the year and into sections he divided it.
For the twelve months he fixed three stars.
From the day when the year comes forth[17] until (its) close,
He founded the station of Nibir[18] to determine their bounds;
That none might err or go astray,
He set the stations of Bēl and Ea along with him.
He opened great gates on both sides (of the firmament),
He made strong the bolt on the left and on the right,
In the midst thereof he fixed the zenith.


The Moon to rule the Night.

The Moon-god he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him.
He appointed him, a being of the night, to determine the days.
Every month without ceasing with the crown he covered (?) him, (saying):
‘At the beginning of the month, at the shining of the . . . ,
Thou shalt command the horns to determine six days,
And on the seventh day to [divide] the crown.’”

Here the text becomes too broken to make a connected translation, though from what remains it may be gathered that Marduk continued to address the Moon-god, and to define his position with regard to Shamash, the Sun-god, at the different points of his course. What the actually missing portion of the text contained we cannot say with certainty, but we may conjecture that it described further acts of creation. That there was a Sixth Tablet is proved by the catch-line at the end of the Eifth Tablet, and the text of this also must have referred to the same subject. There is no evidence to show how many tablets were comprised in the Creation Series, although some have thought that the number was greater than six. Fragments of tablets have been found which refer to acts of creation, and as these cannot be fitted into places in the tablets already described, it has been suggested they formed parts of the tablets which seem to be missing.


Creation of Beasts of the Field.

One such fragment is of especial interest, for it contains a reference to the creation of the “beasts of “the field, the cattle of the field, and the creeping “ things of the field.” It is improbable that the fragment belonged to the Creation Series, inasmuch as the gods as a body, and not Marduk alone, are credited by it with the creation of the world, and besides this the god Ea, Marduk’s father, is mentioned as taking a prominent part in the work. The fragment in fact reproduces a variant form of the creation legend, but its description of the creation of the beasts may well be cited in favour of the view that some missing portion of the poem contained a similar episode.

The fragment which contains the opening lines of the tablet begins:—

“When all the gods had made [the world],
Had created the heavens, had formed [the earth],
Had brought living creatures into being . . . ,
The cattle of the field, the [beasts] of the field, and the creeping things [of the field], . . .”

The rest of the fragment is too broken to admit of a trustworthy restoration of the text, though the reference to Nin-igi-azag, i.e., “the lord of clear vision,” a title of the god Ea, seems to connect him with some further act of creation.


Creation of Mankind.

There are also some grounds for believing that in addition to the creation of animals some portion of the poem described the creation of mankind. A hymn has been found inscribed upon a tablet which contains a number of remarkable addresses in honour of the god Marduk, and, as many of them refer to his acts of creation, it has been thought that the composition formed the concluding tablet of the series.[19] After addressing him as one who shewed mercy to the gods he had taken captive, and who removed the yoke from the neck of the gods his enemies,[20] the hymn refers to his having created men and declares that his word shall be established and shall not be forgotten “in the mouth of the black-headed ones (i.e., mankind) whom his hands have created.” In view of this evidence it may be concluded that the description of the creation of mankind had a place in the tablets that are missing; and it is probable that upon another fragment of a tablet[21] we have a copy of the instructions which Marduk was believed to have given to man after his creation.


The Duties of Man.

The following extracts from this fragment reveal a very lofty conception of man’s duties towards his god and towards his neighbour:—

“Towards thy god shalt thou be pure of heart,
For that is the glory of the godhead ;
Prayer and supplication and bowing low to the earth,
Early in the morning shalt thou offer unto him . .
A little further on Marduk continues :—
The fear of god begets mercy,
Offerings increase life,
And prayer absolves from sin.
He that fears the gods shall not cry aloud [in grief],
He that fears the Anunnaki[22] shall have a long [life].
Against friend and neighbour thou shalt not speak [evil].
Speak not of things that are hidden, [practice] mercy.
When thou makest a promise (to give), give and [hold] not [back].”


The Tablet of the Poem.

In the hymn which has been referred to in the previous paragraph as having not improbably formed the concluding tablet of the series, the other gods are represented as addressing Marduk, their deliverer, by every conceivable name and title of honour.

They called him

“the life of all the gods,”
“the god of “ pure life,”
“the bringer of purification,”
“the god of the favouring breeze,”
“the lord of hearing and mercy,”
“the creator of abundance and mercy, who establishes plenteousness, and increases all that is small”;

and it is also said that when the gods themselves were in sore distress they felt his favouring breeze. The text continues in the above strain, referring to his mercy towards his opponents, his conquest of Tiāmat, and his acts of creation, and Bēl and Ea are made to bestow their own titles upon him. Finally the wise are bidden to ponder on the story, the father is to teach it to his son, and the prince or ruler is to listen to its recital. With such an ode to Marduk as the god of creation the great poem might fitly conclude.


Another Description of Tiāmat.

In addition to the great poem, there is reason to believe that several different accounts of the creation were current in Babylonian literature. One such account is preserved on a broken tablet from Ashur-bāni-pal’s library, which contains a very different description of the great battle with the dragon to that given in the Fourth Tablet of the Creation Series. In this version the fight does not precede the creation of the world but takes place after man has been created and cities built. In fact, men and gods are equally terrified at the dragon’s appearance, and it is to deliver the lands from the monster that one of the gods goes out and slays him.

The text begins with a description of the terror which came upon creation at the advent of Tiāmat, who has, however, become a male monster, and says :—

“The cities sighed, men [groaned aloud],
Men uttered lamentation, [they wailed grievously].
For their lamentation there was none [to help],
For their grief there was none to take [them by the hand].
Who was the [great] dragon ?
Tiāmat[23] was the [great] dragon !
Bēl in heaven has formed [his image].
Fifty Kasbu[24] is his length, one kasbu [is his breadth],
Half a rod (?) is his mouth, one rod (?) [his . . .].”


The Dragon's Blood.

The next few lines continue the description of the dragon, and give the measurements of other parts of his body as being “sixty rods” and “sixty-five rods,” and narrate how he wallowed in the water and lashed his tail. All the gods in heaven were afraid. They bowed down and grasped the robe of the Moon-god Sin, and they cried out asking who would go out and slay the monster, and deliver the broad earth, and so make himself king. They then appealed to the god Sukh to undertake the task, but he made excuses. Who eventually consented to do battle with the dragon we do not know, for the text is broken, but it is probable that in this version also Marduk was the hero.

The end of the composition, in which we find the god, whoever he may have been, setting out to do battle, while one of the other gods cries to him in encouragement, has fortunately been preserved; it reads :—

“‘Stir up cloud, storm [and tempest],
Set the seal of thy life before thy face[25] . . . ,
And slay the dragon !’
He stirred up cloud, and storm [and tempest],
He set the seal of his life before his face . . . ,
And he slew the dragon.
For three years and three months, day and [night],
The blood of the dragon flowed . . .”

The details as to the size of the dragon and the amount of his blood are of considerable interest. In the Creation Series the North wind is said to have carried the blood away into secret places, and the prominence given to the dragon’s blood in both versions lends colour to a suggestion that has been made with regard to one of the details in the account of creation given by Berosus. In that version Bēl is said to have formed animals and men from earth mixed with his own blood after one of the gods had, at his command, cut off his head. The account would afford a much closer parallel to the legend as we find it on the tablets if we might assume that it was not his own blood, but that of Tiāmat, which Bēl used for the purpose. It is possible that either Polyhistor or Eusebius, or both, misunderstood the original story.


Other Versions of the Creation Story.

We have described the great story of the creation which was current in Assyria during the seventh century before Christ, as far as its contents can be ascertained from the fragments that have come down to us. The numerous tablets and duplicates inscribed with the legend, which have been found in the ruins of Ashur-bāni-pal’s library, indicate the important position it held among the religious and mythological works of the period; and we are right in assuming that this version of the creation was the one most widely accepted during the reigns of the later Assyrian kings. But, although the poem in the form in which we now have it represents the belief most generally held by the Babylonians and Assyrians at this comparatively late period with regard to the manner in which the world came into being, it can only have attained this position gradually.

Babylonian literature, in fact, comprises fragments of other myths and legends which give different accounts of the way in which creation took place, and, as one of these is of considerable importance, by reason of the light it throws upon the age and history of such legends in Babylonia, it will be convenient to describe it before considering what connection there may have been between the Babylonian poem and the story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis.


The Sumerian Story of Creation.

After the great Creation Series the longest, and indeed the only other distinct version of the story of the creation in Babylonian literature now known is found upon one side of a broken incantation-tablet,[26] which was inscribed in the Neo-Babylonian period not earlier than 600 B.C. It was found at Abu-habbah, the site of the ancient city of Sippar in Northern Babylonia, in 1882.

The inscription is of great interest, for it is written in the ancient Sumerian language, and to each line is attached a translation in Semitic Babylonian. The account of the creation here given offers few parallels to the great Creation Series which has been described above. It is true that the god Marduk is credited with the creation of the world, but there is no mention of the battle which the god successfully waged against the powers of chaos before the earth came into being. In fact the god proceeds to the work of creation without any previous struggle and entirely of his own free will.


Desciption of Chaos.

The tablet opens with a description of chaos at a period when the ancient cities and temples of the land had no existence, when no towns had been built, nor any vegetation created—in short, all lands were sea. In the account of the creation that follows it is possible that the order in which the various acts are described is not intended to be chronological, but is dictated by the structure of the poem. Otherwise we must assume that the cities of Eridu and Babylon and the temple E-sagil were the things first created, and that their creation preceded not only the construction of the cities of Nippur and Erech and their temples, but even the creation of mankind, and the beasts of the field, and vegetation, and the rivers of Babylonia.

Marduk’s act of laying a reed, or bank of reeds, upon the waters and creating dust which he poured out round about it would appear to be merely a device for forming dry land in the expanse of waters, and his object in laying in a dam or embankment at the edge of the waters was evidently to keep the sea from flooding the land he had so formed.

The text reads as follows:—

“The holy temple, the temple of the gods, in the holy place had not yet been made ;
No reed had sprung up, no tree had been created.
No brick had.been laid, no building had been set up;
No house had been erected, no city had been built;
No city had been made,no dwelling-place had been prepared.
Nippur had not been made, E-kur had not been built;
Erech had not been created, E-ana had not been built;
The Deep had not been created, Eridu had not been built;
Of the pure temple, the temple of the gods, the habitation had not been made.
All lands were sea.


The Formation of Dry Land.

At length there was a movement in the sea,
Then was Eridu made, and E-sagil was built,
E-sagil, where in the midst of the Deep the god Lugal-dul-azaga dwells.
The city of Babylon was built, and E-sagil was finished.
The gods, the Anunnaki, were created at one time;
The holy city, the dwelling of their hearts’ desire, they proclaimed supreme.
Marduk laid a reed upon the face of the waters,
He formed dust and poured it out upon the reed.


The Creation of Men and Cities.

That he might cause the gods to dwell in the habitation of their hearts’ desire,
He formed mankind.
The goddess Aruru together with him created the seed of mankind.
He formed the beasts of the field and the cattle of the field.
He created the Tigris, and the Euphrates, and he set them in their place,
Their names he declared to be good.
The ushshu-plant, the dittu-plant of the marsh, the reed and the forest he created,
The lands, and the marshes, and the swamps;
The wild cow and her young, that is the wild ox ; the ewe and her young, that is the lamb of the fold;
Plantations and forests ;
The he-goat, and the mountain-goat, and the . . .
The lord Marduk laid in a dam by the side of the sea, before he had not made,
.........he brought into existence.
..........trees he created,
[Bricks] he made in their place. 
. . . . brickwork he made;
[Houses he made], cities he built;
[Cities he made], dwelling-places he prepared.
[Nippur he made], E-kur he built;
[Erech he made], E-ana he built.”

The rest of the legend is broken off, and the reverse of the tablet does not contain a continuation of the legend, but a prayer, or incantation, which was to be recited for the purification of the temple E-zida in Borsippa. The connection between the legend and the incantation is not obvious, but the fact that the legend is found upon an incantation tablet does not detract from its value, and does not indicate a late date for its composition. In fact, as will presently be pointed out, there are grounds for believing that the legend may go back to a time when Sumerian was still a living language, and when it was not merely a dead tongue employed in religious ritual and known only to the scribes.


The “Cuthæan Legend of Creation.”

In this connection mention must be made of two tablets, which are frequently said to contain the “Cuthæan legend of Creation,” and have been thought to describe a local account of the creation which was current in the ancient city of Cuthah. It has been asserted that this legend gives an account of the creation of the world by Nergal, the god of Cuthah, after he had conquered the brood of monsters which Tiāmat had brought forth. Eecently, however, it has been pointed out[27] that the tablets are not concerned with the creation, but with the fortunes of an early Babylonian king.


Invasion of the Land by Monsters.

In the reign of this king, whose name is unknown, the land was invaded by a strange race of monsters who were descended from the gods, and for three years the king waged war against this foe unsuccessfully, but at length he defeated them. In fact, the tablets have nothing whatever to do with the creation or with the fight between Tiāmat and the gods; but, as the two tablets which contain this story have been regarded as fragments of a legend of the creation, it will perhaps be well to give a translation of them.

The words of the text are put in the mouth of the king himself, who throughout speaks in the first person; the beginnings of both the tablets are missing, but where the text becomes continuous we find a description of the strange monsters, which had invaded the land, in the following words:—

“A people who drink turbid water, and who drink not pure water,
Whose sense is perverted, have taken (men) captive, have triumphed over them, and have committed slaughter.
On a tablet nought is written, nought is left (to write).[28] In mine own person
I went not forth, I did not give them battle.
A people who have the bodies of birds of the hollow, men who have the faces of ravens,
Did the great gods create.
In the ground the gods created'a dwelling for them,
Tiāmat gave them suck,
The lady of the gods brought them into the world.
In the midst of the mountain (of the world), they became strong, they waxed great, they multiplied exceedingly.
Seven kings, brethren, fair and comely,
360,000 in number were their warriors,
Banini, their father, was king; their mother, Melili, queen.
Their eldest brother, their leader, was named Memangab,
Their second brother was named Medudu.”

The tablet then gives the names of the other five brethren, all of which are, however, broken. After the names a gap occurs in the legend, for the beginning of the second column of the principal tablet is missing. Where the story is again connected we find the king had enquired of the gods if he should give the enemy battle. He addressed them through his priests, and offered up to them offerings of lambs, which he placed in rows of seven.


Defeat of the King’s Forces.

The answer of the gods was evidently favourable, for he decided to engage the enemy; but for a space of three years every man he sent, against the foe was destroyed.

The text continues :—

“As the first year drew near,
120,000 warriors I sent out, but not one of them returned alive.
As the second year drew near,
90,000 warriors I sent out, but not one of them returned alive.
As the third year drew near,
60,700 warriors I sent out, but not one returned alive.
Despairing, powerless, perishing, I was full of woe, and I groaned aloud,
And said I to my heart: ‘By my life!
What have I brought upon my realm!
I am a king, who hath brought no prosperity to his country,
And a shepherd, who hath brought no prosperity to his people.
But this thing will I do. In mine own person will I go forth !
The pride of the people of the night I will curse with death and destruction,
With fear, terror, . . . and famine,
. . . and with misery of every kind !’”


His Final Victory.

The king then foretold the destruction of his enemies by means, apparently, of a deluge, and before setting out to meet them he again offered up offerings to the gods. How he conquered the enemy we do not know, but the fact that he went forth in his own person to do battle against them evidently secured for him the favour of the gods, and victory over the monstrous creatures who had so long oppressed his land. In the latter portion of the legend the king addresses words of encouragement to any future prince who shall rule over his kingdom.

The king exhorts his successor when in peril, not to despair, but to take courage from his own example, in the following words :—

“Thou, O king, or ruler, or prince, or any one whatsoever,
Whom the god shall call to rule over the kingdom,
A tablet concerning these matters have I made for thee, and a record have I written for thee.
In the city of Cuthah, in the temple E-shidlam,
In the shrine of Nergal have I deposited it for thee.
Behold this record, and
To the words thereof hearken,
That thou mayest not despair, nor be feeble,
That thou mayest not fear, nor be affrighted.
Stablish thyself firmly,
Sleep in peace beside thy wife,
Strengthen thy walls, .
Fill thy trenches with water,
Bring in thy treasure-chests, and thy corn, and thy silver, and thy goods, and thy possessions,
[And thy weapons], and thy household stuff.”

The ruler himself is bidden to take heed unto his own safety, not to go forth nor to draw near his foe. The meaning of the exhortation seems to be that as indays of old the gods helped the king of the land and turned his mourning into victory, so in the future when the land is in sore trouble and the foe is at the gate the king is not to despair but to expect that the gods will help him also.


The Legend of Cuthah.

This legend has for some years been known as “the Cuthæan legend of Creation,” but from the above translation it will be seen that the description is inaccurate. It was thought that the poem was spoken by the god Nergal, who was supposed to be waging war against the brood of Tiāmat, and it was assumed that Nergal took the place of Marduk in accordance with local tradition at Cuthah. It is clear, however, that although the tablet on which the legend was inscribed was meant to be preserved at Cutliah in the shrine of Nergal (as stated towards the end of the poem) the speaker is not the god Nergal but an old Babylonian king; and we have already seen that this king recounts how the gods delivered him and his land from the hosts of the monsters.


Not a Creation Legend.

It is true that in the description of the monsters, some of which had the bodies of birds and others the heads of ravens, Tiāmat is mentioned as having suckled them; but this statement hardly affords sufficient evidence to justify their identification with her monster brood which has already been described in the Creation story. It is more probable that Tiāmat is called their foster-mother in order to indicate their terrible nature. Moreover, the speaker in the poem does not perform any acts of creation, but does battle with the monsters merely to deliver his land from their assault.

In conclusion it may be mentioned that last year a fragment of a Babylonian tablet preserved in the Imperial Ottoman Museum at Constantinople was published,[29] which contains part of a copy of this legend; the inscription upon it is a parallel and not a duplicate text. If, as has been stated, this fragment belongs to the old Babylonian period, it will afford valuable evidence of the early existence of these legends in Babylonia.


Date of the Creation Legend.

The great Babylonian legend of creation has been examined and its variant forms have been traced, so far as they can be restored from late Assyrian and Babylonian tablets, and from the extract from the history of Berosus which has come down to us. Not one of the tablets on which the legends are written belongs to a period earlier than the seventh century B.C., and the question naturally arises, Do the legends they contain also date from the seventh century, or must they be referred to some earlier period? In other words, Were they composed by the priestly scribes who had them written upon the actual tablets which we possess, or did these scribes simply copy the documents belonging to an older period ? And, if the scribes of the seventh century were mere copyists and not composers, we must also ask, To what period must we assign the origin of the old texts which they copied ? These questions can, fortunately, be decided by a careful examination of the available evidence.


Indications of their Early Origin.

The first question is best answered by considering the various forms which the Creation legends assume on different tablets. Were the legends brand-new compositions of the seventh century we should expect to find all the copies which were written at the same time and preserved in the same library agreeing closely with each other. It is true that we do find several copies of the Creation tablets which correspond with each other word for word, and these were, no doubt, made from some common archetype. But we also possess another tablet from Ashur-bāni-pal’s library, which gives quite a different account of the struggle with Tiāmat. The tablet has been already referred to,[30] and we have seen that on it the fight is described as taking place after and not before creation, and that Tiāmat’s body is not used to form the vault of heaven; moreover, the dragon is a male and not a female monster, and the description of it is quite different from that in the Creation Series; and finally another god than Ann is first of all asked to go forth and slay her.

Other events differently described may have been narrated on the tablet, for only a fragment of it has been preserved ; but those that we have enumerated are sufficient to prove our point. Such variant forms of the same story cannot have arisen in one generation. They presuppose many centuries of tradition, during which the two accounts were handed down independently. Though the two stories were derived from a common original, they were related in different cities in different ways. At first they were probably identical in form, but in course of time variations crept in, and two or more forms of the story were developed along different lines. The process must have been gradual, and the resultant forms of the story afford sufficient evidence as to the great age of their common ancestor. That they were found together in Ashnr-bāni-pal’s library is to be explained as the result of that monarch’s energy in scouring the country for literary and religious works.


Evidence from Separate Versions.

A similar conclusion follows if we compare the two separate and distinct versions of the creation which have also been described above.[31] In both of them Marduk is the creator of the world, but, while the great Creation Series is chiefly taken up with the revolt and conquest of Tiāmat as a necessary preliminary to the creation of the world, in the shorter Sumerian version there is no trace of such a conflict, nor is the dragon Tiāmat even mentioned. In this tablet we have an instance of quite a different version of the creation which we may perhaps assume goes back to a period when the dragon-myth had not become associated with the creation of the world.

The so-called “Cuthæan legend of Creation” cannot be cited as a true variant form of the legend, for, as we have seen, it is not a creation legend at all, but a story of an old Babylonian king. It contains a reference to the dragon Tiāmat, however, and evidently presupposes on the part of the reader a knowledge of the story concerning the monsters to which she is said to have given birth. If the fragmentary duplicate of the inscription which has recently been found[32] was written in the old Babylonian period, this reference to Tiāmat in the legend is important evidence for the early date of the dragon-myth. But, even if we leave the Cuthaean tablet out of account altogether, the existence of the two versions of the Creation story and the variants we have traced in the accounts of the fight with Tiāmat prove conclusively their early origin.


Evidence from Sculpture.

So far we have considered the internal evidence of date offered by the legends themselves. Additional evidence, pointing in the same direction, is afforded by a study of certain aspects of Babylonian and Assyrian art. In a temple built by Ashur-nātsir-pal at Nimrūd, the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Calah, there was found a slab sculptured in relief with a representation of the fight between Marduk and Tiāmat.[33] The monster, half bird, half lion, turns roaring in anger towards the god who, in human form and borne upon four wings, swoops down to give battle. Now Ashur-nātsir-pal reigned from B.C. 884 to B.C. 860, so that we here have evidence of the existence of the legend more than two hundred years before the formation of the library of Ashur-bāni-pal, who reigned from B.C. 669 to about B.C. 625.


Evidence from Cylinder-seals.

Moreover the battle between Marduk and Tiāmat was a very favourite subject for engraving upon cylinder-seals. Numbers of these have been found, and many give quite different representations of Tiāmat. The god Marduk is generally represented in human form with wings, but the monster assumes many guises. Sometimes she is pictured as a winged and human-headed lion, at other times she has the body of a horse or bull, and the wings and crested head of a bird. On certain cylinder-seals she figures simply as a beast, while on others though she has an animal’s body she has a woman’s head.[34]

On a very interesting cylinder, here published for the first time, she is represented as a huge dragon on whose back the god Marduk, fully armed, has leapt, and he and his ministers are in the act of slaying her. It is true that many of these cylinder-seals belong to the late Assyrian and Persian periods, i.e., from about B.C. 700 to B.C. 300 ; a few, however, are archaic in style and may be assigned to a somewhat earlier date. But without laying too much stress on the possibly early date of some of them, the great variety of treatment of the same subject which they present certainly points to the existence of many variant forms of the legend, and so indirectly bears witness to its early origin.

Image: The god Marduk armed with the thunderbolt and other weapons standing on tha back of Tiāmat and slaying her. (From a cylinder-seal. 111 tue British Museum, No. 89.680)


Evidence from Historical Inscriptions.

A third class of evidence for the early date of the legends of creation may be found in certain passages in the historical inscriptions which record the erection of statues and the making of temple furniture, etc., in the earlier periods of Babylonian history. In the copy of an inscription of Agum, an early Babylonian king, who flourished not later than the seventeenth century before Christ, we have, fortunately, an allusion to the dragon-myth of Babylonia. Now although we do not possess an actual inscription of this king’s reign, the copy of one in the British Museum, which, we know, was made for Ashur-bāni-pal,[35] is to all intents and purposes just as good. From this we learn that Agum brought back to Babylon a statue of the god Marduk and one of the goddess Tsarpanitum, which at some previous time had been carried off to the land of Khanī which lay to the north-west of Babylonia. The statues were carried to the temple E-sagil in Babylon, and with much pomp and ceremony were re-installed in their shrines.


Agum’s Temple-furniture.

Agum recounts at length the sumptuous temple furniture which he caused to be made for this occasion, and also the apparel and head-dresses for the statues of these gods, which he caused to be made of fine gold and inlaid with precious stones. In the shrine itself, he teślls us, he also set a dragon, which must have resembled those made at a later time by Nebuchadnezzar and Neriglissar,[36] and that this dragon was connected with Tiāmat of the Creation legend is clear from the fact that along with her he also set up figures of monsters, including vipers, and monsters called lakhmu, and a ram, and a hurricane, and a raging hound, and a fishman, and a goat-fish. The list of the eleven classes of monsters in the Creation Series gives us monster-serpents, and monster-vipers, and a viper, and a dragon, and monsters called lakhamu, and a hurricane, and a raging hound, and a scorpion-man, and tempests, and a fish-man, and rams. We are not here concerned with the astrological character of these monsters, nor with their connection with the origin of the signs of the Zodiac; but what is evident from the two lists is that already in the time of Agum the legend of Tiāmat and her monster brood had been accepted and had become absorbed into the ancient religious traditions of the land.


The “Deeps” of Bur-sin and Ur-ninā.

A further reference to the legend may be seen in the mention of another object used for ceremonial purposes which was given by Agum to Marduk’s temple. In Marduk’s shrine, beside the great serpent he set what he terms a tāmtu, or “sea”; this was, no doubt, a large basin, or “laver,” similar to the brazen sea of Solomon’s temple which stood upon twelve oxen.[37] Such a vessel, as its name indicates, was symbolical of the abyss of water personified in the legend by Apsū and Tiāmat, and its mention in the inscription in such close connection with the dragon and the brood of monsters is peculiarly significant. Similar vessels, called apse, i.e., “abysses,” or “deeps,” as we know from other inscriptions, were placed in the temples of Babylonia from the earliest periods.

Bur-Sin, a king of Ur who lived about B.C. 2500, erected for the god Enki, or Ea, a zit-ab ki-ag-ga-ni, “an abyss that was dear to him”;[38] and in the reign of Ur-Mnā, an ancient Sumerian king of Shirpurla, and one of the earliest rulers of that city whose names have come down to us, such vessels were already used in religious ceremonies. The latter monarch caused a limestone tablet to be inscribed with the list of the temples erected during his reign, and in the inscription upon it we read that he constructed a zu-ah gal, or “great abyss.”[39]


Sumerian Influence.

The fact that at these early periods Ur-Ninā and Bur-Sin provided their temples with “seas” and “deeps,” i.e., lavers, does not, of course, prove that the Creation legends were current among the Sumerians in the forms in which we find them on Assyrian tablets of the seventh century before Christ. But the references at least indicate the source and period to which the legends may be traced. The Semitic Babylonians learnt from the Sumerians the art of writing; in their business transactions they adopted the legal forms and phrases that were current in the land before they came there, while as for the gods of the conquered race they either adopted them or identified them with their own deities. It is probable, therefore, that from the Sumerians also they took their ideas of the creation of the world.

We know that at the time of Khammnrabi the Semitic scribes copied out and studied Sumerian religious texts, and from the ancient libraries of Southern Babylonia we have recovered religious compositions bearing a striking resemblance to those which were employed in the Assyrian temples of the later period; but in this early Sumerian literature we have not yet found any fragment of the story of the creation, or indeed of any mythological legend. The shorter version of the creation inscribed upon a Neo-Babylonian tablet is, however, written in Sumerian and furnished with a Semitic translation; and, although the scribes of that late period, in all probability, frequently attempted to compose in the Sumerian language, that version of the Creation story may well have been copied from an early original Sumerian document.


Probably Source of the Legends.

As the study of the Sumerian language progresses and the mass of tablets that have been brought to light within the last few years are examined and published, we may in time find definite proofs of the existence of such legends. Meanwhile the evidence available is sufficient to show that the legends of the creation current in Assyria and Babylonia during the seventh and succeeding centuries before Christ were based upon archetypes the existence of which may date from Sumerian times. The actual text of the legends, no doubt, underwent many processes of editing; the division of the great poem into sections, each written on a separate tablet, may well have been the work of later scribes; but the legends themselves were ancient and had their origin in the earliest period of Babylonian history.

We have now described the contents of the great Babylonian poem of the creation, we have referred to the variant traditions that have come down to us concerning the several episodes of the story, and we have also examined a second version of the creation which bears but small resemblance to the great poem. We have suggested that the existence of so many variants is a proof of the great age of the legends, and it has been seen that this evidence is corroborated by the traces which the legends have left in Babylonian and Assyrian art, and by certain indirect references to them in some early historical inscriptions. The extracts given from the tablets will have conveyed better than any summary would have done the exact nature of their contents, and, as the translations have been made as literal as possible, the reader has been able to form his own opinion as to the nature of the resemblance which may be detected between these ancient Babylonian stories and the account of the creation in the Book of Genesis. It now remains to consider what connection there is between the Hebrew and the Babylonian accounts of the creation of the world.


Babylonian and Hebrew Narratives.

That there must have been a connection between the two accounts is generally admitted, for it is only necessary to read the tablets to be struck by their resemblance to the Biblical narrative in many particulars ; the question now to be decided is, In what does this connection consist ?

Three possible solutions of the problem suggest themselves:

  1. The Babylonians may have derived their legends from the Hebrews;
  2. both Babylonians and Hebrews, as different branches of the same Semitic race, may have inherited the legends from a common ancestral stock ;
  3. and the Hebrews may have derived their legends from Babylonia.

Of these possible solutions the first may be dismissed at once. During whatever period of their history the inhabitants of Mesopotamia came in contact with the peoples of the Mediterranean coast, they always came in the character of conquerors, and we know from their inscriptions that the Babylonians and Assyrians regarded the other nations of Western Asia only in the light of payers of tribute. It is inconceivable, therefore, that they should have borrowed their sacred traditions from a race they considered inferior to themselves; moreover, the existence of the legends in Babylonia has been traced to a very early period, before any contact between the Babylonians and the Hebrews can have taken place. The second theory has far more to recommend it, and has met with warm supporters.


The Reason of their Resemblance.

It has been urged that, coming of the same stock, both Babylonians and Hebrews possessed the legends of the creation as a common inheritance, and that each of these nations modified and developed them independently. Against this explanation is to be set the distinctly Babylonian character and coloux--ing of the stories, and it is generally regarded as impossible for them to have other than a Babylonian origin. In the account of the Flood given in Genesis, which will be referred to in the following chapter, the Babylonian origin is still more apparent. We are, therefore, reduced to the third solution as being the most probable of the three. The legends, we may conclude, are Babylonian in origin and character, and the resemblances which the account in Genesis bears to them must, we think, be put down to Babylonian influence. We may then ask, At what time, and by what means, was this influence exerted which has left its traces on the Hebrew story in Genesis ?

The critical study of the text of Genesis has shown that this book, like the rest of the Pentateuch, is not from the pen of a single writer, and that it is made up of a number of separate works. In the earlier periods of Hebrew history these works had not been woven into a continuous narrative, and they were not in the form in which they are now known to us; each work had a separate existence. The evidence on which this conclusion rests consists in part of the numerous repetitions which occur throughout the books, and in the existence of two separate and sometimes quite different narratives of the same event, and in difficulties in chronology, and the like. A careful study of the Hebrew text by scholars throughout the present century[40] has further shown that there are three principal works on which the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua are based. These works dealt with the early history of the Hebrew race, and, as each of them frequently goes over the same ground as the others, it is easy to explain the repetitions which the combined narrative contains. Each of these books, or histories, can be recognized with tolerable certainty by their differences in style and treatment, the use of phrases peculiar to themselves, the names for God which they employ, etc.


The Hexateuch.

One of these works was used to form the groundwork of the “Hexateuch,” or first six books of the Bible, and it was well adapted for the purpose, inasmuch as it presented an orderly system of chronology. It dealt with the laws and customs of the people, and explained their origin; and from the general nature of its contents it is usually termed the “Priestly writing,” or the “Priests’ code.” The other two books which were incorporated with this “Priestly writing,” dealt with the legends and early history of the Hebrew race; they are far more primitive and picturesque in style than the more formal and annalistic narrative with which they are combined. The writers of these two narratives are generally distinguished by the names “Jehovist” and “Elohist,” from the fact that in one of them the Divine name employed is Jahweh or Jehovah, translated as “the Lord” in the Authorized Version; while in the other it is Elōhīm, which is translated as “God.”


Its Composite Character.

It is needless for our purpose to discuss here the relations which these three works bear to one another, or to enumerate any additional documents of which use was made in the Hexateuch. It 'will suffice to state that in the early chapters of Genesis, two only, of the three writings referred to, have been used —the “Priestly writing”[41] and the “ Jehovistic narrative.”[42]


The Biblical Versions of Creation.

Thus the account of the creation in Genesis i. 1—ii. 4 (first half of the verse) is from the former writing, and contains a complete account of the history of creation in a series of successive acts. The story of the garden of Eden, which follows in chapters ii. 4 (second half of the verse)—iii. 24, is taken from the “Jehovistic narrative,” and it gives another account of creation which is not marked by the literary precision and balanced structure of the first chapter. That account had given a complete description of the making of the world; the second narrative begins at the beginning again, going back to a time when there were no plants, nor beasts, nor men, and then narrates their creation. If we compare these accounts with the two principal traditions of the creation preserved in Babylonian literature, and which we have already described,[43] we see that the account in the first chapter agrees more closely with the longer Babylonian narrative than with the shorter; on the other hand the earlier part of the story of the garden of Eden, both in its structure and in several of its phrases, is not unlike the shorter Babylonian version.


The Garden of Eden.

To the greater part of the story of the garden of Eden, no parallel has been found in Babylonian mythology; it has, however, been pointed out that in the description of Paradise Babylonian sources have been largely drawn upon. The illustration here given has been by some supposed to be a Babylonian representation of the story of the temptation of Eve; but as no cuneiform text in support of this view has been forthcoming, the identification of the female figure with Eve must be regarded as somewhat fanciful. Writers on Babylonian mythology have sought to find in the Babylonian legends the counterparts of Adam and Eve, but without success. Eeeently Ea-bani, a mythical and savage hero of the Gilgamesh legend,[44] has been identified with Adam, and the maiden Ukhat, by whom he was tempted, with Eve,[45] but the grounds on which the identifications are made are not convincing.

Image: Impression of a cyltnder-seal representing a male and a female figure seated near a sacred tree; behind the woman is a serpent. (British Museum, No. S9,326.)


Jews and Babylonians.

In consequence of the many points of identity between the Hebrew and the Babylonian versions of the creation, some advanced critics hold that the Jews heard the Babylonian stories for the first time during their exile in Babylon, and that on their return from captivity they brought them back with them and incorporated them in their sacred writings. Against this assumption it has been urged that it is hardly likely tlie captive Jews would have adopted strange legends from their conquerors, and raised them to a place of honour among their national traditions. But, apart from this consideration, such an assumption is not necessary in order to explain the resemblances— indeed it is hardly admissible, for it takes no account of the striking differences and variations which the narratives present. Moreover, in many passages throughout the Old Testament, we find traces of the Babylonian dragon-myth, and it is scarcely possible that all such references should date from the post-exilic period.


Traces of the Dragon-myth.

In several passages we find allusions to a dragon or serpent who is thought to inhabit the deep. Thus the prophet Amos, describing how none shall escape God’s hands when He comes in judgment, exclaims,

“And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them.”[46]

This serpent or dragon is sometimes referred to as “Leviathan” or “Eahab,” and in several passages allusion is made to a battle with the dragon of the deep, in which the dragon was pierced or slain.

“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the days of old, the generations of ancient times. Art thou not it that cut Eahab in pieces, that pierced the dragon ?”

Here the allusion to a battle with a dragon, that took place “in days of old,” is unmistakable.

“Thou didst divide” (Heb. “break up”) “the sea by thy strength :
“ thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters.
Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces,
thou gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.”[48]

In this and in the following passage from the Book of Job the connection of the dragon with the deep is brought out:[49]

“He stirreth up the sea with his power, and by his understanding he smiteth through Bahab. By his spirit the heavens are garnished; his hand has pierced the swift serpent.”[50]

In the last sentence quoted the parallelism between the garnishing of the heavens and the piercing of the serpent recalls the Babylonian myth, in which Marduk formed the heavens from half of the dragon’s body. A phrase in an earlier chapter of Job appears to reflect another episode of the Babylonian legend ; in the course of a description of the power of God in comparison with man’s impotence it is stated:

“ God will not withdraw his anger; the helpers of Bahab do stoop under him.”[51]

The “helpers of Rahab,” stooping beneath their conqueror, call to mind “the gods, her “ helpers,” who went at the side of Tiāmat, and shared her defeat.


Babylon and Leviathan.

It is doubtful if the Babylonian form of the name Bahab has been found in a synonym employed for the dragon on one of the creation fragments,[52] but at least the conception and description of the monster may be regarded as based on the Babylonian myth. Egypt is sometimes referred to as Rahab,[53] but this application of the term does not conflict with its Babylonian origin. The origin of the kindred monster “Behemoth” may, on the other hand, be rightly traced to Egypt, for many of the characteristics assigned to him in Job xl. 15 ff., are evidently taken from the hippopotamus; while the picture of Leviathan, which immediately follows that of Behemoth, offers a distinct contrast to it, and would not be inappropriate as a description of the monster Tiāmat. In the passages cited above a dragon-myth is clearly and unmistakably referred to.

The passages are poetical, and the language is to a great extent figurative and symbolical; the figures and symbols employed, however, are drawn from mythology, and presuppose a knowledge of the legend. Traces of the myth may perhaps also be seen in certain phrases or expressions, as in Gen. xlix. 25, where the expression “thedeep that coucheth beneath” seems to suggest the picture of a beast about to spring. But it is very easy to press imagery too far, and to see mythological references in pictures suggested to the poet by his own observations of nature. If, however, we select only those passages in the Old Testament, in which the dragon-myth is definitely referred to, we have sufficient evidence to show that the myth must have been familiar to the Hebrews long before the exile.


Period of Babylon Influence.

It now remains to enquire at what period before the exile these legends from Babylon could have reached the Hebrews. The question is one that does not admit of any certain or definite answer, but it is permissible at least to search for any evidence on which a conjectural theory may be based. Such evidence is furnished by one of the most surprising discoveries of Babylonian tablets that has been made during recent years.



The Tell El-amarna Tables.

In 1887 at Tell el-Amarna, a village in Upper Egypt on the east bank of the Nile, the natives unearthed about three-hundred-and-twenty clay tablets inscribed in the Babylonian character. The ruins near the village mark the site of a town that was built by Khu-en-aten, or Amenophis IV., who was king of Egypt about B.C. 1500. The finding of these Babylonian tablets on Egyptian soil was of the greatest historical interest, and has considerably modified the notions generally held up to the time of their discovery with regard to the early influence of Babylonia upon the other nations of the nearer East.


Babylon and Western Asia.

An examination of the tablets showed that some were letters and drafts of letters that passed between the kings of Egypt, Amenophis III. and IV., and contemporary kings of countries and districts of Western Asia; others proved to be letters and reports addressed by princes and governors of cities in Palestine, Phoenicia, and Syria to the King of Egypt. It is not necessary for our present purpose to give a detailed description of the contents of these documents, and it will suffice to point to the evidence which they furnish of the far-reaching influence of Babylonian culture during the XVth century B.C. That correspondence between kings of Assyria, or Babylon, and Egypt should be conducted in the Babylonian language is not so very surprising, but that governors of Egyptian cities and provinces on the Mediterranean coast should make their reports in the same tongue shows that a knowledge of Babylonian was common throughout Western Asia, and that the Babylonian language, like French at the present day, was at this period the language of diplomacy.

It is obvious that the Babylonian literature must have found its way among the nations that used its language, and that this was the case there is conclusive evidence among the Tell el-Amarna tablets themselves. Two of these documents, in fact, are not letters or reports, but relate to Babylonian legends, one containing a legend concerning the goddess Ereshkigal, the other inscribed with the legend of Adapa.[54] It is clear, therefore, that the legends of Babylon were known to the Egyptians of this time and the inference is justified that the tribes of Syria and the Mediterranean coast must have also been acquainted with them. We may conclude, therefore, that the Babylonian legends of creation had penetrated to Canaan long before the immigration of the Israelites, and, as the Israelites after the conquest of the country had close intercourse with its previous inhabitants, it is not improbable that they received from them many of the legends and myths, which they in their turn had derived from Babylon.


The Jews of the Captivity.

It has even been suggested that the Hebrews of a still earlier time, during the patriarchal period, may have acquired the legends by direct contact with Babylonia. Tradition held that Terah, the ancestor of the Israelites, had dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees,[55] which is now generally identified with the city of Ur in Southern Babylonia, and it is urged that Abraham, Terah’s son, when migrating from Mesopotamia to Canaan may have carried with him the legends of the land of his nativity. If this were so, however, we should expect to find more frequent references to them among the earlier literature of the Hebrews, and it seems to be more probable that the acquisition of the legends should be assigned to a time subsequent to the conquest of Canaan. At some unknown period, then, whether by inheritance from the Canaanites or by contact with Babylonia itself, we may assume that the Hebrews acquired the Babylonian legends which we find incorporated in their national traditions.

In the absence of any positive information one point, at least, is clear, that is to say, the Jews of the exile did not come across Babylonian mythology as an entirely new and unfamiliar subject, much of which they adopted and modified on their return to Jerusalem. It is possible that their sojourn in Babylon during the captivity may have given an impetus to their study of the Babylonian elements in their own traditions, but the wide differences which these present to the forms of the corresponding legends that have been recovered in the cuneiform inscriptions forbid the supposition that they were directly borrowed at this period.

In the apocryphal story of the destruction of the great dragon in Babylon by Daniel we doubtless have a late reproduction of the Babylonian myth, and the contrast this narrative presents to the Biblical stories of creation is singularly instructive. From the absence in the latter of all grotesque and mythological detail, from the monotheism which is strictly in accord with the teaching of the prophets before the exile, we may infer that the stories had long been familiar in Israel, and that Ezra and the Jews of the restoration did not compose these narratives but were compilers of earlier traditions of their race.

Footnotes and references:


Chron. L, ed. Schoene, col. 14 ff.


The text reads Thalatth, which is probably a corruption of Thamte, i.e., tāmtu the Babylonian for “sea, ocean.” See Eobertson Smith, Zeitschrift fur Astyriologie, Bd. VI., p. 339.


See Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., Vol. IV. (1876) p. 363 f. (six plates), and The Chaldean Account of Genesis, London, 1876.


For the principal works dealing with the Creation tablets which have been published within recent years, see Jensen, Die Kosmologie der Babylonier, pp. 2(S3 ff., Guukel and Zimmern, Sclöpfung und Chaos, pp. 401 ff., and Delitzsch, Das babylonische Weltselöpfungsepos, pp. 7 ff.


Gen. i. 2.


According to Semitic ideas the name of a thing was regarded as its essence ; hence to bear a name was equivalent to being in existence.


Quaestiones de primis principiis, chap. 125 (ed. Kopp, p. 384).


Another name of Tiāmat.


The possession of the “Tablets of Destiny” carried with it supremacy among the gods; with a view of obtaining this supremacy the god Zū stole them from Bēl, but Shamash the Sun-god compelled him to restore them. See pp. 193 f.


A title of the god Ea.


The name of the place where the gods met together.


I.e., “Thy word has the same power as that of Anu.”


Literally, “began the evil.”


See Jensen, Die Koimologie āer Balyīonier, pp. 195 if.


See above, p. 26.


See Jensen, op. cit., p. 289.


I.e., begins


I.e., Jupiter.


British Museum, K. 8522. See G. Smith, Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch. Vol. IV., p. 363, and plates 3 and 4.


The allusion here is to the Fourth Tablet; see above, p. 74


British Museum K. 3364.


I.e., the Spirits of the Earth.


Here called Tāmtu, “the Sea.”


The Kanbu is a space that can be covered in two hours’ travelling; i.e., about six or seven miles.


I.e., as a protection against the monster.


British Museum, No. 82-5-22,1048.


See Zimmern, Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie, Bd. XH. (1898), pp. 317 ff.


I.e., the eity was in confusion, and no business was transacted, and no records kept.


See Schoil, Recueil de Travaux, Vol. XX., p. 65 f.


See pp. 84 If.


I.e., the great Creation Series on pp. 61 ff., and the Sumerian version of the Creation on pp. 88 ff.


See p. 97.


In the British Museum, Nimroud Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29. See the illustration on p. 75.


For reproductions of several cylinder-seals of this class, see the Collection de Clercq, Plates xxix. ff.


Published in Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, Vol. V., plate 33.


When Nebuohadnezzar II. set up colossal serpents in the gateways of Babylon in the sixth century before Christ, and when Neriglissar, his successor, set up eight such serpents which he had made of hronze and coated with silver, it is toleiahly cloar that these figures were intended to represent the dragon of the Creation story.


1 Kings vii. 23 ff.


The tablet containing this record is published in Can. Inscr. of We4. Asia, Vol. I., plate 3, No. XII. (I).


See De Sarzec, Découvertes en Chaldée, plate II., No. 1, Col. III., J. 5 f.


Cf. Cheyue, Founders of Old Testament Criticism: Biographical, Descriptive, and Critical Studies (London, 1893).


The “Priestly writing” also makes use of the word Elōhīm for “God”


An analysis of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Geuesis on these lines is given in Prof. Driver’s Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, (6 th ed.), pp. 14 ff.


See above, pp. 61 ff., and 88 ff.


See below, pp. 150 ff.


fee Jastrow, Amer. Jour. Semit. Lang., Vol. XV., No. 4 (July, 1899).


Amos ix. 3.


Isaiah li. 9.


Psalm lxxiv. 13 f.


See also Psalm lxxxix. 9 f.


Job xxvi. 12 f.


Job ix. 13.


See Gunkel’s Schöpfung und Chaos, pp. 29 and 418.


See Psalm lxxxvii. 4, and Laiali xxx. 7.


See below, pp. 18S ff.


Gen. xi. 28.

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