The Enuma Elish is the most well-known Babylonian creation composition. It exists in various copies, the oldest dating to at least 1700 B.C.E. Originally it was written on six tablets, to which was added a seventh containing a hymn to the god Marduk. The Enuma Elish reveals a great deal about the Babylonian realm of the gods and how the people imagined creation. But the overall intention of the piece is to extol the strength and superiority of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon. The work has obvious affinities with the biblical text (see Heidel 1963). The following are excerpts from the Enuma Elish (Pritchard 1969).
When on high the heaven had not been named,
The name of the document, Enuma Elish, is the Akkadian language original of the first phrase "when on high." Most ancient works were titled by their first word or phrase.
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,
And Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
Their waters commingling as a single body;
No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared,
When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined-
Then it was that the gods were formed within them.
Before heaven and earth were formed there were two vast bodies of water. The male sweetwater ocean was called Apsu, and the female saltwater ocean was called Tiamat. Through the fusion of their waters, successive generations of gods came into being.
As seems to be the case with Genesis, water is the primeval element in the Enuma Elish. But here water is identified with the gods, and the gods have unmistakable gender. The creation of the younger gods takes place through sexual union.
In contrast to Genesis, the Enuma Elish is intensely interested in the realm of the gods. While the first divine beings Apsu and Tiamat are not accounted for, the successive generations are.
Tiamat prepared for battle against the gods, her offspring.
The younger, noisy gods disturbed the tranquility of Apsu. When Apsu devised a plan to dispose of the younger gods, their wisest one, Ea, found out about it. He killed Apsu. Tiamat was very angry that they had killed her husband. She decided finally to do away with the younger gods, with the help of her henchman Kingu.
To avenge Apsu, Tiamat wrought evil.
They erected for Marduk a princely throne.
When the younger gods heard about this, they found a champion in the god Marduk. He agreed to defend them only if they would make him king. After he passed a test of his powers, they did so.
Facing his fathers, he sat down, presiding.
"We have granted thee kingship over the universe entire.
When in the Assembly thou sittest, they word shall be supreme."
One of the big concerns of this text is explaining how Marduk came to be the supreme god of Babylonia. He became king because he defended the other gods, and subdued the threat of Tiamat, the great threatening ocean goddess.
Then joined issue Tiamat and Marduk, wisest of gods.
When finally they met on the field of battle, Tiamat opened her considerable mouth as if to swallow Marduk and plunge him into the immeasurable deeps. Marduk rallied and cast one of the winds into her body, expanding her like a balloon. Marduk took his bow and shot an arrow into her belly. It split her in half and killed her.
They strove in single combat, locked in battle.
The lord spread out his net to enfold her,
The Evil Wind, which followed behind, he let loose in her face.
When Tiamat opened her mouth to consume him,
He drove the Evil Wind that she close not her lips.
As the fierce winds charged her belly,
Her body was distended and her mouth was wide open.
He released the arrow, it tore her belly,
It cut through her insides, splitting the heart.
Having thus subdued her, he extinguished her life.
Notice how the winds were the friends and weapons of Marduk. With them he achieved victory over Tiamat. Genesis also records the importance of the wind of God, which hovered over the untamed waters before creation.
He split her like a shellfish into two parts:
Marduk split her in two like a clam. Out of her carcass he made the heavens. The "clamshell" of heaven became a barrier to keep the waters from escaping-a parallel to the Genesis notion of a barrier or firmament. The victory over Tiamat is associated with keeping the primeval waters under control.
Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky,
Pulled down the bar and posted guards.
He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.
The text follows with a description of Marduk fixing the stellar constellations in the heavens. And they, along with the moon, established the course of day and night, and the seasons.
"Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.
Thus, Marduk devised a plan to relieve the drudgery of the gods. They were tired of laboring to meet their daily needs. Marduk created humankind out of the blood of Kingu to be the servants of the gods. So, humankind had a divine origin in so far as Kingu was from the Divine Council. But the creation of humankind was the result of revenge against Kingu and Tiamat. Humankind does not have the high sense of purpose that is present in Genesis 1.
I will establish a savage, 'man' shall be his name.
Verily, savage-man I will create.
He shall be charged with the service of the gods
That they might be at ease!"
They bound Kingu ä
They imposed on him his guilt and severed his blood vessels.
Out of his blood they fashioned mankind.
In appreciation for their deliverance, the gods built Marduk a palace in Babylon. Called Esagila, it meant "house with its head in heaven." There Marduk sat enthroned.
The similarities and differences between Genesis 1 and the Enuma Elish are intriguing. One of the most striking features of Genesis that the Enuma Elish helps to bring to light is the struggle between order and chaos that lies just under the surface of the Genesis text. Marduk's battle with Tiamat reveals that the effort to create the world, in Mesopotamian lore, took the form of a battle. The victory secured Marduk's position as king over creation. The comparison may help to explain the claims of Yahweh's kingship over creation in such places as Psalm 29 and 93, where he is proclaimed to sit enthroned over the floods.
The water imagery of Genesis 1 suggests that we are in the same realm of water ideas as the Enuma Elish. Struggle for supremacy dominates the Enuma Elish. While little of the struggle is outwardly evident, the creation of the world by way of creating order dominates the text of Genesis 1.
The notion of struggle is, however, by no means absent in other texts of the Hebrew Bible. They reveal that God battled a dragon-like creature and secured his people against the threat of the waters of chaos. The monster of chaos was variously called Leviathan (Psalm 74:14), Rahab (Psalm 89:10), Dragon (Isaiah 27:1), and Sea (Job 7:12).
The historical enemies of Israel are frequently pictured as manifestations of the forces of chaos, as when Egypt is called Rahab, and the crossing of the Red Sea is equated with God's cutting the primeval water monster in pieces (Isaiah 51:9-10). An appreciation of creation imagery is necessary for understanding texts such as these.
Comparison of the biblical account of creation and the Enuma Elish suggests that Genesis 1 was intended to refute claims made about Marduk in Babylonia. Remember that the creation story of Genesis 1 probably took final shape during the Babylonian exile, at which time the Israelites were most certainly exposed to the creation myths of the Babylonians. The biblical account asserts that Israel's God, and by implication not Marduk, brought the world into being.