The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

nbmarduknabu

During the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia, empires rose and fell. In the Enuma Elish, the creation story of the Babylonians, this is told in mythic terms. One part of the Enuma Elish tells of the rise of the Sumerians. Their generation of Gods were Anu (An), Enlil (Ellil), and Enki (Ea), who focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine law. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. These Gods had overthrown Tiamat of the Saltwater and Apsu of Sweet Water, the original Gods of the Ubaid people of the late Stone Age.

The Sumerians drained the swamps, dug out the canals, and began irrigation. They tamed the “sweetwater” thereby killing Apsu as a God. Moreover, they transformed the salt marshes into farmland. Then in 2330 BCE, Sargon of the Akkadians established the first empire. He began the first dynasty by deciding that his son should rule next. This was the beginning of having males be the heads of families as father figures (paterfamilias).

Then came the dark times, starting in 2218-2047 BCE, when the Gutians invaded from Iran. The wars between the Sumerians, Akkadians, Elamites and Assyrians became endless. The Enuma Elish describes this time as Tiamat raising an army, and defeating Enlil and the other Gods. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Mesopotamians infertile. Faced with dwindling resources including water, the various cities fought each other to gain these precious resources for their peoples. During this awful time, the suffering people wrote lamentations describing their misery — bodies melting in the sun and cities shrouded in smoke.

Into this war-torn landscape came the Amorites, who adopted the Sumerian culture and established their main city of Babylon. Under their king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians cemented their empire and imposed law and order in Mesopotamia. The Babylonians described their victory in the Enuma Elish. The Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk, their principal God. Then He defeats Tiamat, and remakes the Cosmos with her body.

Like Marduk, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), who expanded the Babylonian Empire, established order. He wrote down and organized existing laws of various cities into the Code of Hammurabi. These statutes consisted of 282 laws, which ranged from setting wages to punishments for stealing to arranging for divorce. His reign was one of peace and prosperity.

Works Used:
Baigent, Michael, “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Bear & Company: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Black, Jeremy and Green, Anthony, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary.” University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976.
Mark, Joshua, “Sumer.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 28, April 2011. Web. https://www.ancient.eu/sumer/. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
Siren, Christopher, “Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web.
https://stason.org/TULARC/education-books/assyro-babylonian-mythology/index.html. <accessed 12 October 2018.>
–, “Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web. http://humanpast.net/files/sumerianmyths.htm. <accessed 12 October 2018.>

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

  1. Reblogged this on Traditional Polytheist and commented:
    An excellent post–this is my comment to it:
    This is one of those topics that is extremely rich for study, and even a little dangerous! I wonder if the list of events here are your own, or are drawn from a book. The Mesopotamian legacy seems foundational in the histories & mythologies of Near Eastern and Western civilizations, although systematized Egyptian theology seems early. Civilization is always at war with “primordial chaos” and that’s why we see the serpent figure of Tiamat also present in the marshes of the Egyptian Delta as Apep, the creature that battles with Ra.

    Theology, as a system, arises from the interaction of various peoples, their Gods and their myths. But it always tends to become increasingly complex, and dare I say arbitrary in its detail, with imperialism. This is because the power of one state or group or region sets itself above the subjected others, and expresses the hegemony in divine terms. So, since the first Pharaohs (i.e. conquerors) of Egypt came from Nekhen in the South, they set their tutelary God Horus to a very high position, but that stature later declined somewhat because of rising influences from the solar theology of Ra in the North (the Pharaohs settled around that region), which was one of the several Gods of the Sun in Egypt. Ra was later to be joined with Amun after the second re-unification of Egypt by a king of Thebes (Ahmose), and thus Amun of Thebes (like Horus before) rose to a pre-eminent position. It’s interesting to note, however, that during the first re-unification, which also was achieved by a king of Thebes, the tutelary God of the city was different: Montu, and this God also arose to a supreme theological position for a time.

    The Enuma Elish was Babylonian theology and it was used to elevate the rank of Babylonians in Mesopotamia. An early nation-state was forming there, just as with Egypt before, and the Sumerian Eannutum (a little earlier than Sargon) was actually the first true founder of imperialism in the region. The Assyrians, much like the Thebans in Egypt, later replaced Marduk with their own tutelary God Ashur, in order to attribute their new power to him. And when Babylon rebelled, a myth was commissioned by Sennacherib the Assyrian King, where Marduk is brought to trial by Ashur and found guilty! The nation-state ultimately failed in Mesopotamia and that is a reason why the theologies of that region are much more easy to comprehend than any attempt at a unified Egyptian theology. In fact, any unified Egyptian theology makes little sense, and I have a theory that Akhenaten’s monotheism grew out of that confusion and struggle for power.

    I have reflected on this topic of divine genealogy and hierarchy (the two are related) for some time past, even as it regards the Hellenic pantheon. The Gods are the Gods, but their changing positions can be traced sometimes to certain events. There is no unified scripture, and thus myths and epic poems take their place. Homer sung about a Greece that was soon to be dominated by Dorian peoples, said to be descended from Herakles and whose tutelary God was therefore Zeus. It’s actually plausible Poseidon might have risen to a pre-eminent position if the Mycenaeans had continued, because although Zeus was important, he was not as exalted as later. So, there may after all be some truth to what Herodotus says about Homer and Hesiod, in that they established the positions of the Gods and distinguished their functions more neatly.

    Lastly, one observation: Since you mention the notion of paterfamilias, I can’t help but notice its centrality within civilization in general. It’s also expressed within the desire to end “chaos” by power (it’s interesting Tiamat is made female) and thus, by extension, is attached to imperialism. We see a hegemony of male Gods over female ones, or at the very least, the masculine over the feminine. The Athenians were actually the most patriarchal in all Greece. I think my position against imperialism has made me somewhat of a “feminist” in this respect–civilization is a kind of masculine chaos in itself that needs to be controlled.

    Like

  2. This is one of those topics that is extremely rich for study, and even a little dangerous! I wonder if the list of events here are your own, or are drawn from a book. The Mesopotamian legacy seems foundational in the histories & mythologies of Near Eastern and Western civilizations, although systematized Egyptian theology seems early. Civilization is always at war with “primordial chaos” and that’s why we see the serpent figure of Tiamat also present in the marshes of the Egyptian Delta as Apep, the creature that battles with Ra.

    Theology, as a system, arises from the interaction of various peoples, their Gods and their myths. But it always tends to become increasingly complex, and dare I say arbitrary in its detail, with imperialism. This is because the power of one state or group or region sets itself above the subjected others, and expresses the hegemony in divine terms. So, since the first Pharaohs (i.e. conquerors) of Egypt came from Nekhen in the South, they set their tutelary God Horus to a very high position, but that stature later declined somewhat because of rising influences from the solar theology of Ra in the North (the Pharaohs settled around that region), which was one of the several Gods of the Sun in Egypt. Ra was later to be joined with Amun after the second re-unification of Egypt by a king of Thebes (Ahmose), and thus Amun of Thebes (like Horus before) rose to a pre-eminent position. It’s interesting to note, however, that during the first re-unification, which also was achieved by a king of Thebes, the tutelary God of the city was different: Montu, and this God also arose to a supreme theological position for a time.

    The Enuma Elish was Babylonian theology and it was used to elevate the rank of Babylonians in Mesopotamia. An early nation-state was forming there, just as with Egypt before, and the Sumerian Eannutum (a little earlier than Sargon) was actually the first true founder of imperialism in the region. The Assyrians, much like the Thebans in Egypt, later replaced Marduk with their own tutelary God Ashur, in order to attribute their new power to him. And when Babylon rebelled, a myth was commissioned by Sennacherib the Assyrian King, where Marduk is brought to trial by Ashur and found guilty! The nation-state ultimately failed in Mesopotamia and that is a reason why the theologies of that region are much more easy to comprehend than any attempt at a unified Egyptian theology. In fact, any unified Egyptian theology makes little sense, and I have a theory that Akhenaten’s monotheism grew out of that confusion and struggle for power.

    I have reflected on this topic of divine genealogy and hierarchy (the two are related) for some time past, even as it regards the Hellenic pantheon. The Gods are the Gods, but their changing positions can be traced sometimes to certain events. There is no unified scripture, and thus myths and epic poems take their place. Homer sung about a Greece that was soon to be dominated by Dorian peoples, said to be descended from Herakles and whose tutelary God was therefore Zeus. It’s actually plausible Poseidon might have risen to a pre-eminent position if the Mycenaeans had continued, because although Zeus was important, he was not as exalted as later. So, there may after all be some truth to what Herodotus says about Homer and Hesiod, in that they established the positions of the Gods and distinguished their functions more neatly.

    Lastly, one observation: Since you mention the notion of paterfamilias, I can’t help but notice its centrality within civilization in general. It’s also expressed within the desire to end “chaos” by power (it’s interesting Tiamat is made female) and thus, by extension, is attached to imperialism. We see a hegemony of male Gods over female ones, or at the very least, the masculine over the feminine. The Athenians were actually the most patriarchal in all Greece. I think my position against imperialism has made me somewhat of a “feminist” in this respect–civilization is a kind of masculine chaos in itself that needs to be controlled.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The chronology is both mine and various sources. Yes, it is fruitful for uncovering many insights.
    I was writing in response to the “Gods of All Nations” section in Oberon Zell-Ravenheart’s “Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard.” They posited that all mythic ages go through a decline for all cultures.

    Here is a part of the passage:
    World Ages
    Just as modern Archaeologists refer to the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age, many peoples have divided their conception of history into a sequence of “World Ages.” Unlike our modern notion of “progress,” however, these usually begin with a vision of a perfect utopian world in its original creation, with a progressive deterioration over the ages to the present time of woe and misery. Ages are often ended by a great cataclysm, such as a flood, asteroid impact, glaciation or volcanic destruction. A typical example of such a sequence of World Ages is the Greek version:
    The Golden Age—A time of perfect innocence and happiness, when Truth and Justice prevailed. War was unknown, and the gods walked among immortal humans in an eternal Spring. (Perhaps corresponding to the Neolithic, c. 8500-5000 BCE)
    The Silver Age—A time of harsh seasons, with suffering, hardship, and mortality. The gods withdrew from the Earth, and men had to labor hard tilling the soil and building homes. (Perhaps corresponding to the Copper Age, c. 5000-3000 BCE)
    The Bronze Age—A time of war and violence, in which powerful men destroyed each other. (c. 3000-1500 BCE)
    The Age of Heroes—The Greeks inserted here a period of demigods and heroes, culminating in the Trojan War. (c. 1500-1200 BCE)
    The Iron Age—A time of labor and toil, with rampant crime. Positive ideals are stifled, while greed, deceit, hatred, and war rule people and nations. (From 1200 BCE…)

    Successions
    The longer a culture lasts, the more its pantheon evolves and changes. In many areas of the world, successions of new peoples moved in, invaded, conquered and intermarried with the previous inhabitants. The old Neolithic agricultural civilizations in India, Iran, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Scandinavia centered on a worship of the Earth Mother Goddess with her sons and daughters as minor deities. These peoples were conquered some 3,500 years ago by the patriarchal nomadic Indo-European warrior tribes, who worshiped mainly male divine ancestors.
    Each of these new waves brought their own gods, requiring adjustments in the myths to account for them. Most of the immediate pre-Christian religions were syncretisms between Indo-European ancestor worship and Neolithic goddess worship. Some, like the Neolithic Vanir and the Indo-European Aesir in Scandinavia, reached a peaceful accord, both pantheons being merged. Others, such as in Greece, treated the new gods as generational descendants of the old (the Titans). Jewish, Christian and Moslem myth regarded the old gods of the peoples they supplanted as fallen angels or demons.


    There is also a strain of thought that says that the Mother Goddess was conquered by the Father God, which can be traced through mythic cycles, if you look hard enough. Such as Persephone being older than Hades and that he usurped Her through rape.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Decline seems to be a universal idea throughout ancient cultures, and Hesiod’s “Five Ages of Man” that you present is the best known one. The modern classification is derived later from Lucretius the Epicurean philosopher, who spoke of progress rather than decline. There’s much to examine in Hesiod’s text (Works and Days), and it’s important to analyze it all from his perspective as not only a farmer, but also as a Theban and rival of Homer. There’s almost a hint of criticism towards Zeus, even as he praises him, because after all, Zeus could not bring back the Golden Age of his father Cronus–on the contrary, every time Zeus created a new generation, it would become worse than the preceding, except for the Heroic (fourth) age. It’s been theorized that the Titans were pre-Indo European and were supplanted by Indo-European Gods and peoples, at the head of whom was Zeus. There may be some truth to this, but its extent is disputed. The theory of an Old European (or indeed Eurasian) Mother Goddess worshipped by the pre-Indo-European peoples offers some insight, but its implications (first theorized by the feminist archaeologist Gimbutas) on matriarchy and peaceful societies has been seriously challenged. I think the Bronze Age is conflated with the Indo-European peoples; it was the introduction of new technology & weapons and its effects on expanding civilization (more division of labor, higher population, larger conflicts, etc) that led to “patriarchy” and the subjugation of the female to the male. If the Indo-Europeans contributed anything directly, it must have been little: There is double proof for this. First, we see the earliest imperialism in Egypt in 3100 BCE (so-called unification) and the later developments in Mesopotamia, including the Enuma Elish. Settled societies tend to grow in population and then clash endlessly (culminating in imperialism). For this reason, in the Iranian Steppes (among the almost purely Indo-European Scythians), we see quite a different situation with the nomadic, tribal culture in which both men and women were warriors and had far more equal rights than among farming cultures. The same could be said about the Celts, Germans and Slavs, but this slowly changes also with the progression of the Bronze Age and the advent of the Iron Age, where increasing settlement and violence became common. As for the rapes we see in mythology sometimes, there is likely a connection with the Bronze and Iron Ages. Even though hunter-gatherers and small tribes are known to raid and capture women sometimes, subjugating a Goddess to a God suggests a more complex society and larger population, something beyond the Stone Age.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s