Sumerian Mythology: War of the Gods

A Babylonian epic poem. A myth of the creation of the world and the establishment of the divine hierarchy, it formed a part of the New Year festival, in which it may have been acted out. It is known as the Enuma elish, from its opening words. The first gods were Apzu and his wife Tiamat, personifications respectively of the fresh and salt waters. From their union sprang two obscure gods of the deep, Lahmu and Lahamu, who in turn gave birth to Anshar and Kishar. These were the parents of Anu, the sky. Anu was the father of Ea, the god of wisdom. After his birth, a multitude of other gods came into being, but they were such rowdy lot that Apzu, against Tiamat’s advice, determined to destroy them all. Ea, however, drugged Apzu and his dwarfish counselor, Mummu, killed Apzu, and imprisoned the dwarf. Tiamat promptly took the god Kingu for her consort.

Ea now married Damikina, who bore him Marduk, the storm god. A mighty prince, he was given to such pranks as putting the winds on a leash. Many of the gods grew resentful and asked the primal mother, Tiamat, to destroy him. She created a variety of hideous monsters and, placing Kingu at the head of her forces, prepared to make war against the principal gods, who supported Marduk. Ea and Anu were both quickly routed, but Anshar sent Marduk to fight Tiamat. Arming himself with a bow and arrows, a bludgeon of thunder, and a flail of lightning, the young storm god marched against the ancient goddess. After a terrible battle, he destroyed her and imprisoned her monsters in the depths of the earth. Splitting Tiamat’s body into two pieces, he formed the firmament with one half, the foundations of the earth from the other. He then determined the spheres of the chief gods: Anu was to rule the area above the firmament; Enlil, that between the firmament and the earth; and Ea, the waters below the earth. In order to find someone to serve the gods, he finally created a puppet man, out of the blood and bones of Kingu, who was killed for the purpose. In gratitude, the gods built the city of Babylon, which was crowned by a great shrine for Marduk.

This story, one of the oldest known creation myths, bears striking parallels to Greek myth, in which the primal father (Uranus) is destroyed by a descendant (Cronos), and later the young storm god (Zeus) defeats various monsters spawned by the primal mother (Ge) and imprisons them in the earth. Marduk’s killing of Tiamat has its counterpart in Baal’s killing of Yam, the dragon of the sea, in the Canaanite Poem of Baal.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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