The Enuma Elish: History as Mythology

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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.>

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Babylonian Creation Myth retold for Modern Times: The Mobsters (1991)

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Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey)

Pop Culture Pagans say that the old myths have no meaning for them. I wonder if they know how many old myths are today’s pop culture stories. I watch gangster movies, and found a Babylonian myth retold in U.S. gangster terms. I wonder how many other myths in pop culture guise are out there. I do not include “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman, since he was deliberately introducing ancient Gods to a modern audience.

In the Babylonian Creation Myth (Enuma Ellish), the world is first created by the two original Gods – Apsu of the Sweet Water and Tiamat of the Salt Water. These Gods mingled their waters and gave birth to the next generation of Gods. Chaffing under the rule of Apsu and Tiamat, these “New” Gods decide kill Them. After the murder of Apsu, her mate, Tiamat wages war against Them. In desperation, the leaders of the “New” Gods, Anu, Enlil, and Enki seek out Marduk, the principal God of the Babylonians for his help. He, only, agrees to fight Tiamat, if They will make Him their ruler. Then after defeating Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body, and assumes leadership over all the Gods.

The Babylonians recited this myth every New Year, reminding themselves of their place in the universe. The subtext of the creation myth is that other peoples (including the Sumerians) ruled Mesopotamia before the coming of the Babylonians. After constant warfare by the others, the Babylonians came to establish law and order in the region. Mesopotamia was then recreated into a Babylonian construct.

The movie, Mobsters (Michael Kabankoff, 1991), tells a similar story. Obviously, it is about the rise of Charles (Lucky) Luciano from a poor Sicilian immigrant to the boss of the new National Commission of the American mob. Although the film purports to depict an historical person and his deeds, the director and writer instead chose to only highlight certain elements of his life, and omit others. Moreover, they also added fictional elements to highlight their plot points. The result was a mythic retelling of Luciano as Marduk.

At first glance, the pairing of the activities of American mobsters in the 1920s to the Creation Epic of the Babylonians seems absurd. However, there are subtle similarities such as two original bosses ruling the criminal underworld of New York City. Furthermore, the subtext of both are the same – the overthrow of the old order, a period of disarray, and finally the establishment of the new order. The original world that Luciano inhabits is ruled by two Sicilian bosses – Joe Masseria and Salavatore Faranzano. Like Tiamat and Apsu, these two bosses spawn other bosses, who chafe under their rule. Fearing usurpation, Masseria and Faranzano kill off the others first. The war between the two finally ends when Luciano kills them both, and recreates the Mob as his own construct.

In both stories, ethnicity is stressed since new groups of peoples are moving in to replace the original groups. This is implied in the Babylonian epic with the Gods of the Sumerians becoming ruled by the Gods of the Babylonians. In Luciano’s world, Arnold Rothstein, who is Jewish, is the middle generation of bosses. Like Anu, Rothstein takes the next generation under his wing. He grooms the mixed ethnic group of Luciano, Frank Costello (Sicilian), Meyer Lansky (Russian Jew), and Bugsy Siegel (Ukrainian Jew) to be the future bosses.

Caught between the two bosses fighting for supremacy, Luciano decides that the old way of doing things has to end. Spurred into action when Rothstein is murdered, Luciano plots to kill both bosses, and then set up his new system of governing the criminal underworld. As part of his plan, he convinces Faranzano to let Masseria think that he won their war. After assuring Masseria of his “ultimate victory,” Luciano runs afoul of Faranzano, who scars and almost kills him. Still mindful of his ultimate goal, Luciano murders Masseria and returns to Faranzano.

Watching Faranzano divide the underworld of New York City into the Five Families, Luciano sees how he can organize the other mobsters effectively into a collective group. After Faranzano declares himself “Boss of Bosses” (Capo di tutti capi), Luciano decides that the wars over who is to be the next boss has to end. Faranzano knows this and sends Mad Dog Coll (Irish) to murder him, only to have Luciano kill him instead.

After confronting Faranzano, Luciano drops him to the pavement below, killing him. The scene of Luciano holding Faranzano’s body outside a window of a tall building is reminiscent of Marduk using the two halves of Tiamat’s body to form the heavens and the earth. In this scene, Luciano acts as Marduk in recreating his world.

The final scene has Luciano meeting with the crime bosses from all over the United States. He explains that the underworld will be run nationally by a commission of bosses. The head of the new Commission would be selected by the bosses. Of course, they choose Luciano, who, like Marduk, establishes a new order with himself as the boss.

Though two seemingly dissimilar stories, Mobsters and the Babylonian Creation Epic echo each other. Although Luciano and the formation of the National Commission are history, the movie reimagines their story in mythic terms. The result is the retelling of the Enuma Ellish for modern audiences.
 Works Used.

“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Capeci, Jerry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia, 2nd edition. Alpha: New York. 2004.
 Cawthorne, Nigel, Mafia: The History of the Mob. Arcturus: London. 2012.
 Cicero, Sandra, A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot. Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006.
 Cipollini, Christian, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend. Strategic Media: Rock Hill, SC. 2014.
 Mobsters. Kabankoff, Michael, Dr. Perf. Christian Slater, Patrick Dempsey, Richard Grieco, Costas Mandylor. Universal Studios. 1991 Movie. DVD.

Marduk and Tiamat (Enuma Elish: The Epic of Creation)

nbmarduknabuRead this myth at The World Mythology Course (new window opens)

At first glance the story of Marduk and Tiamat in the Enuma Elish seems to be a creation story of Mesopotamia as told by the Babylonians. However, the subtext tells how humans mastered the volatile environment of Mesopotamia. Layered below this is the rise of Babylon to be the principal power of the region. The Enuma Elish describes the lives of the succeeding generations of Gods, their conflicts with the Gods before Them, and ends with Marduk as their ruler. Each generation of Gods probably represents a prior group of peoples who lived the region. Since Marduk is the major God of the Babylonians, this myth then becomes the story of how Babylon came to rule Mesopotamia.

The myth starts by describing the ancient landscape of Mesopotamia, thousands of years ago. Apsu, the sweet water, mixes with Tiamat of the salt water. The symbol of their union is the mingling of the Tigris and Euphrates with the sea to produce the salt marshes. The sea was much farther inland then, and tides had more effect on the people living there. The landscape of the area is one of river bottoms, tidal marshes, swamps, and wetlands. Even the names of their children Lahamu and Lahmu which means mud reflect this as well.

The next generation of Gods were Anu, Enlil (Ellil), and Enki (Ea) of the Sumerians. Unlike the first group, these Gods focused on developing agriculture and decreeing divine laws. While Anu ruled the Gods, Enlil granted kingship, and Enki created people. (In a similar story to Apsu and the noisy Gods is Enlil and the noisy humans. In both cases, the Gods tried to destroy the noisemakers, since the activities of farming disturbed them.)

In Tiamat’s case, the noisy ones were the next generation of Gods, who were replacing the original ones. They were draining the swamps, digging the canals, and irrigating the fields. These Gods were taming the “sweet water”, thereby killing Apsu as a God. The efforts of the new Gods threatened Tiamat, since They were transforming the salt marshes into farmland.

Furious, Tiamat raises an army, which metaphorically reflects the violence of the times. Through continuous irrigation, salt made the land of the Sumerians 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 Sumerians 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.

This creation myth, the Enuma Elish, relates how the Babylonians came to power and recreated the world, making order out of chaos. Their principal God, Marduk, assumes power over the other Gods and defeats Tiamat. The Sumerian Gods, Enki and Enlil cede their power to Marduk by granting “Enlil-ship” to Him. Meanwhile, the other Gods confer “Anu-power” on Him. Hence, several generations of Gods pass from importance.

After adopting myths from the Sumerians, the Babylonians rewrote the creation myth to include the rise and rulership of Marduk. After Tiamat came Enlil, who was the original head of the pantheon. With each succeeding generation, Enlil shared his power first with Anu and then with Enki. While They ceded their power to Marduk, Anu remained in the titular rule. In Enuma Elish, the Babylonians acknowledge their predecessors, the Sumerians and the others. But they end the myth with Marduk recreating the world and establishing his reign. He does this by building the world on the bones of Tiamat, one of the Gods of the original peoples living there. Marduk remakes the world as the Babylonians remade Mesopotamia.

God of the Month: Marduk of Babylon

God of the Month: Tiamat of Babylon

Time as the Babylonians Saw It

archbab1 In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Enlil, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Anu, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted

In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Gestinana. After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Gestinana reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

In contrast, the Fall Harvest was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after.  Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

Works Used.
“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web.
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky.” Thames and Hudson: New York. 2009. Print.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web.
Siren, Christopher, “The Assyro-Babylonian Mythology FAQ.” 2003. Web.
Sumerian Mythology FAQ.” 2000. Web.
Smitha, Frank, “Civilization in Mesopotamia.” Macrohistory and World Time Line2015. Web.

Babylonians and Time

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Noted for their complex astrology, the Babylonians (the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia: Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria) were also accomplished astronomers. From their seven story Ziggurats, these astronomers watched the rising and setting of the stars, as well as, the five bright planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). By keeping meticulous records of lunar and solar events, the Babylonians were able predict the next eclipse. Some of their contributions to astronomy are the discovery of many of today’s constellations. 

Using their based-sixty numerical system, the Babylonians set circles at 360 degrees. Stemming from this, came the measurement of angles. With their degree system (similar to longitude and latitude), the astronomers could pinpoint the position of various stars. Using their records, they developed formulas to predict the next celestial event. Their observations were so accurate that some modern people wonder if the Babylonians had invented a primitive telescope.

Starting their month with the New Crescent of the Moon, the Babylonian astronomers divided the period into six phases, each with its own particular meaning. They measured synodic months to be the period between full moons. To insure that their year started on the first day of spring equinox, the Babylonians devised a nineteen year cycle (235 synodic months), that contained leap years. Six of the nineteen years had a month added called Addaru, and another year at the seventeen year mark had the month Ululu added. This cycle of 235 synodic months, known as the Saros cycle, allowed for the repetition of celestial eclipses at defined periodic intervals.

Since the Gods resided in the heavens, the Babylonian rulers had to understand the stars. Their power came from correctly interpreting the desires of the Gods. In fact, the dynasties of each city state and later empire were tied to particular Gods. Therefore before any decisions of State could be made, the Gods had to be consulted.

According to the Babylonians, the Gods communicated with humans through various celestial events. They built their Ziggurats to reflect this belief. Each of the tower’s seven stories represented the bright planets, the sun, and the moon. Using’ their careful records of correspondences of local and celestial events, the Babylonians astrologers could interpret the will of the Gods. The Babylonians used their astronomy/astrology to aid their rulers in the affairs of State.

Full-time astrologers became the intermediaries between the ruler and the Gods, by translating the will of the Gods. Some of their predictions were “when the Moon occults Jupiter that year a King will die.” On that particular day, the king would have a substitute king be killed. “When Jupiter goes out from behind the moon, there will be hostility in the land.” When the ruler was informed of that, he prepared his armies.

The Babylonians watched the skies to understand what their Gods were telling them. Since their ruler acted by the consent of the Gods, he had to know what They were telling him. His astrologers not only informed him of the will of the Gods but also what the future would be. In this way, Babylonian astrologers ensured a well-ordered society.

Works Used:
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky.” Thames and Hudson: New York. 2009. Print.

Halsall, Paul, “The Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon, c. 2500 – 670 BCE.” Ancient History Sourcebook. March 1999. Web. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/bablylonian-astrology.asp .

Kolev, Rumen, “Some Reflections About Babylonian Astrology.” Centre Universitaire de Recherche en Astrologie. 2001. Web. http://cura.free.fr/decem/09kolev.html .

Lendering, Jona, “Kidinnu, the Chaldaeans, and Babylonian Astronomy.” Livius.org: Articles on Ancient History. 2014. Web. http://www.livius.org/k/kidinnu/kidinnu.htm.

Magli, Guilio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy.” Copernicus Books: New York. 2009. Print.

White, Gavin, “The Exaltation System in Babylonian Astrology.” SKYSCRIPT.co.uk. May 2009. Web. http://www.skyscript.co.uk/exaltations.html .