Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bonus 19 - Enuma Elish

Upper part of a Neo-Assyrian clay tablet from the library of Ashurbanipal in Kouyunjik (Nineveh). It is part of the Creation legend called the Enuma Elish I, 14 + 8 lines of the inscription. © David E. Graves. By permission of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The Enuma Elish [“When on high”] is one of the early creation myth tablets discovered by Henry Layard  in 1848 among the ruins of the royal library in the palace of Ashurbanipal at Kouyunjik (Nineveh). It was written from earlier sources sometime around 1000 BC in cuneiform on seven clay tablets. George E. Smith first published them in 1876 as The Chaldean Genesis.1. 

The Enuma Elish is a Mesopotamian (Babylonian) myth of creation that recounts the struggle between cosmic order and chaos. It is named after its opening words “When on High” and was recited on the fourth day of the ancient Babylonian New Year’s (Akitu) festival. Immediately scholars noticed parallels with the Genesis account. Niehaus provides three possible explanations for the parallels:
The Babylonian accounts depended on the Hebrew;2.  the Hebrew depended on the Babylonian;3.  or both the Babylonian and the Hebrew derived from a common source.4.  
The last option appears the most likely as God reveals his revelation in the context of common cultures. Niehaus proposes that “a shared theological structure of ideas existed in the ancient Near East, a structure that finds its most complete and true form in the Old and New Testaments.”5.

The basic creation story existed in various forms in the region. The Enuma Elish focuses on Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon.

The author examining a piece of the Enuma Elish
in the archives of the British Museum in 2005.

A similar earlier version, the Atrahasis Epic (18th cent. BC), is written in Akkadian, an old Babylonian dialect. This epic features the Sumerian gods Anu, Enlil and Enki (gods of sky, wind, and water) as the heroes which suggests that this version was adapted to justify the religious practices in the cult of Enlil in Babylon.6.

Peter Masters provides a good paraphrase of the Babylonian epic:
In the Mesopotamian story the two original gods Apsu, the male, and Tiamat, the female, are created from water. They then beget all other gods, but these “children” make so much noise that Apsu is unable to sleep and decides to kill them. However, before he can, one of the offspring puts a spell on him and kills him. Tiamat, to avenge his death, takes up the cudgels, but Marduk (another offspring) eliminates her, splitting her in two, and the two parts of her corpse become the heavens and the Earth. Marduk relieves the other gods of all manual work by creating man (from the blood vessels of a defeated giant god), and Marduk then becomes the chief god. Needless to say, none of this has anything in common with the biblical account of creation.7. 
Enuma Elish 6.1–8
When Marduk hears the words of the gods,
His heart prompts (him) to fashion artful works.
Opening his mouth, he addresses Ea.
To impart the plan he had conceived in his heart:
Blood I will mass and cause bones to be.
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!
Pritchard, ANE Texts, 68
For a modern translation see also  L. W. King, Enuma Elish: The Seven Tablets of the History of Creation. New York: FQ Classics, 2007.

  • 1. George E. Smith and Andrew Dickson White, The Chaldean Account of Genesis, Elibron Classics (Charleston, SC: Nabu, 2010).
  • 2. This option is unlikely due to the early date (1894-1595 BC) for the composition of the Babylonian accounts and the fact that Hebrew was not developed as a language this early.
  • 3. Hermann Gunkel, Creation And Chaos in the Primeval Era And the Eschaton: A Religio-historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12, trans. K. William Whitney, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), xvi; Friedrich Delitzsch, Babel and Bible: A Lecture on the Significance of Assyriological Research for Religion (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2009), 49–50.
  • 4. Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008), 21.
  • 5. Ibid., 30.
  • 6. Wilfred G. Lambert, “Babylonien Und Israel,” Theologische Realenzyklop√§die 5 (1980): 71–72.
  • 7. Peter Masters, Heritage of Evidence: In the British Museum (London, U.K.: Wakeman Trust, 2004), 85–86.
This bonus material was quoted from

David E. Graves, Key Themes of the Old Testament: A Survey of Major Theological Themes (Moncton, N.B.: Graves, 2013), 145-47.

For Further Study
  • Andersen, E. I. 1987 “On reading Genesis 1–3.” Pages 137–50 in Backgrounds for the Bible, ed. M. P. O’Connor and D. N. Freedman. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
  • Clifford, Richard J., “Cosmogonies in the Ugaritic Texts and in the Bible,” Orientalia 53 (1984): 183–201.
  • Clifford, Richard J. Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 26. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1994.
  • Dalley, Stephanie. Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • DeLano, Joan Heuer. “The ‘exegesis’ of ‘Enuma Elish’ and Genesis 1, 1875–1975: A Study in Interpretation.” Ph. D. diss., Marquette University, 1985.
  • Foster, B. R. trans. ““Epic of Creation [Enuma Elish].” Pages 390–402 in The Context of Scripture: Archival Documents from the Biblical World 3 Vols. Edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger. Leiden: Brill Academic, 2002), 1:111:391-400. 
  • Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.
  • Hess, R. S. “Genesis 1–2 in its literary context.” Tyndale Bulletin 41 (1990): 143–53.
  • Jacobsen, Thorkild. “The battle between Marduk and Tiamat.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88.1 (1968), 104–108.
  • Kapelrud, Arvid S. “Creation in the Ras Shamra texts.” Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology 34.1 (1980), 1–11.
  • King, L. W. Enuma Elish: The Seven Tablets of the History of Creation. New York: FQ Classics, 2007.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A. Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London: Tyndale, 1966.
  • Lambert, Wilfred G. “Babylonien und Israel.” Theologische Realenzyklopdie 5 (1980): 71–72.
  • ———. “A new look at the Babylonian background of Genesis.” Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1965): 287–300.
  • Speiser, E. A. “The Creation Epic.” Pages 60–72 in ANET. Edited by. J. B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1–15. Edited by David Allan Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 1. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1987.

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