The Seven Tablets of Creation
by Leonard William King
Luzac’s Semitic text and translation series. vol. xii-xiii
Luzac and Co.
This is an etext of L.W. Kings’ authoritative work on the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth. This etext includes the complete introduction, and the English text of the Enuma Elish and other related texts, with selected footnotes. The Enuma Elish is the earliest written creation myth, in which the God Marduk battles the chaos Goddess Tiamat and her evil minions. The name ‘Enuma Elish’ is derived from the first two words of the myth, meaning ‘When in the Height’. Tiamat takes the form of a gigantic snake, and Marduk battles and defeats her using an arsenal of super-weapons. After his victory Marduk is made the leader of the Gods by acclamation. Marduk divides Tiamat’s corpse into two portions, the upper half becoming the sky and the lower half, the earth. Marduk then creates humanity from his blood and bone.
The Enuma Elish has long been considered by scholars to be primary source material for the book of Genesis. It has also been hypothesized that this is a legend about the overthrow of the matriarchy or records of some cosmic catastrophe.
Table of Contents
The Seven Tablets of the History of Creation
- The First Tablet
- The Second Tablet
- The Third Tablet
- The Fourth Tablet
- The Fifth Tablet
- The Sixth Tablet
- The Seventh Tablet
Other Accounts of the History of Creation
- Another Version of the Dragon-Myth
- A Reference to the Creation of the Cattle and the Beasts of the Field
- A reference to the Creation of the Moon and the Sun
- An Address to the River of Creation
- Another Version of the Creation of the World by Marduk
PERHAPS no section of Babylonian literature has been more generally studied than the legends which record the Creation of the world. On the publication of the late Mr. George Smith’s work, “The Chaldean Account of Genesis,” which appeared some twenty-seven years ago, it was recognized that there was in the Babylonian account of the Creation, as it existed in the seventh century before Christ, much which invited comparison with the corresponding narrative in the Book of Genesis. It is true that the Babylonian legends which had been recovered and were first published by him were very fragmentary, and that the exact number and order of the Tablets, or sections, of which they were composed were quite uncertain; and that, although they recorded the creation of the heavens and of the heavenly bodies, they contained no direct account of the creation of man. In spite of this, however, their resemblance to the Hebrew narrative was unmistakable, and in consequence they at once appealed to a far larger circle of students than would otherwise have been the case.
After the appearance of Mr. Smith’s work, other scholars produced translations of the fragments which he had published, and the names of Oppert, Schrader, and Sayce will always be associated with those who were the first to devote themselves to the interpretation of the Creation Legends. Moreover, new fragments of the legends have from time to time been acquired by the Trustees of the British Museum, and of these the most important is the fine text of the Fourth Tablet of the Creation Series, containing the account of the fight between the god Marduk and the dragon Tiamat, which was published in 1887 by Dr. Wallis Budge, and translated by Professor Sayce in the same year. Professor Sayce’s translation of the Creation Legends marked a distinct advance upon those of his predecessors, and it was the most complete, inasmuch as he was enabled to make use of the new tablet which restored so much of the central portion of the story. In the year 1890, in his important work Die Kosmologie der Babylonier, Professor Jensen of Marburg gave a translation of the legends together with a transliteration and commentary; in 1895 Professor Zimmern of Leipzig translated all the fragments then known, and a year later Professor Delitzsch of Berlin also published a rendering. Finally, two years ago, Professor Jensen issued a new and revised translation of the Creation Legends in the opening pages of the first part of his work Mythen and Epen, the second part of which, containing his notes and commentary, appeared some months ago.
In the course of the year 1900, the writer was entrusted with the task of copying the texts of a number of Babylonian and Assyrian legends for publication in the series of Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, etc., in the British Museum, and, among the documents selected for issue, were those relating to the Creation of the world. Several of the texts of the Creation Legends, which had been used by previous translators, had never been published, and one tablet, which Mr. George Smith had consulted in 1876, had not been identified by subsequent workers. During my work I was so fortunate as to recognize this tablet, and was enabled to make copies of all the texts, not only of those which were previously known, but also of a number of new duplicates and fragments which I had meanwhile identified. These copies appeared in Cuneiform Texts, Part XIII (1901), Plates 1-41. The most interesting of the new fragments there published was a tablet which restored a missing portion of the text of the Second Tablet of the Creation Series, and of this, on account of its interest, I gave a translation in a note to the plate on which the text appeared. It was not my intention at that time to publish anything further upon the subject of the Creation Legends.
While I was engaged, however, in searching for fragments of other Babylonian legends for publication officially, it was my good fortune to come across a fine duplicate of the Second Tablet of the Creation Series. A further prolonged search was rewarded by the finding of other fragments of the poem, and a study of these showed me that the earlier portions of the text of the Creation Story, as already known, could be considerably augmented. Among them, moreover, was a fragment of the poem which refers to the Creation of Man; this fragment is extremely important, for in addition to its valuable contents it also settles the disputed question as to the number of Tablets, or sections, of which the Creation Series was composed. In view of the additional information as to the form and contents of the poem which this new material afforded, it was clearly necessary that a new translation of the Creation Legends should be made, and this I undertook forthwith.
The new fragments of the poem which I had identified up to the summer of last year are inscribed upon tablets of the Neo-Babylonian period. At the conclusion of the examination of tablets of this class, I lithographed the newly identified texts in a series of plates which are published in the second volume of the present work. These plates were already printed off, when, at the beginning of the present year, after my return from Assyria, I identified a fresh group of fragments of the poem inscribed, not upon Neo-Babylonian, but upon Assyrian tablets. At that time I was engaged on making a detailed catalogue, or hand-list, of the smaller fragments in the various collections of Assyrian tablets from Kuyunjik, and, as a result of previous study of the legends themselves and of the Assyrian commentaries to the Seventh Tablet of the series, I was enabled to identify ten new fragments of the poem which are inscribed upon tablets from the library of Ashur-bani-pal at Nineveh. In order to avoid upsetting the arrangement of the plates in Vol. II, the texts of the new Assyrian fragments are published by means of outline blocks in Appendices I and II to the present volume.
Those who have studied the published texts of the Creation Series will remember that the material used by previous translators of the legends has consisted of some twenty-one tablets and fragments inscribed with portions of the poem. The number of new tablets and fragments belonging to the Creation Series which are here used and translated for the first time reaches the total of thirty-four, but, as I have joined up six of these to other similar fragments, this total has been reduced to twenty-eight. Thus, in place of the twenty-one tablets previously known, forty-nine separate tablets and fragments have now been identified as containing portions of the text of the Creation Series.
The new information, furnished by the recently discovered material regarding the Story of Creation, may here be briefly summarized. Hitherto our knowledge of the contents of Tablets I and II of the series has been very fragmentary. After the narrative of the creation of the great gods in the opening lines of the poem, and a fragmentary reference to the first symptoms of revolt exhibited by the primeval monsters, Apsû and Tiamat, and Mummu, the minister of Apsû, there occurred a great gap in the text, and the story began again with the account of how Tiamat prepared to wage war against the gods. Apsû and Mummu have at this point entirely disappeared from the narrative, and the ally of Tiamat is the god Kingu, whom she appoints to command her forces. What followed the creation of the great gods, what was the cause of the revolt, what was the fate of Apsû and Mummu, and what were the events which led up to Tiamat’s preparations for battle, are questions that have hitherto remained unanswered. We now know that the account of the creation of the gods was no fuller than that which has come down to us from Damascius. After the birth of Lakhmu and Lakhamu, Anshar and Kishar, Anu, Bêl (i.e., Enlil, or Illil), and Ea (Nudimmud), the text does not proceed to narrate in detail the coming forth of the lesser deities, but plunges at once into the story of the revolt of the primeval forces of chaos. We now know also that it was Apsû, and not Tiamat, who began the revolt against the gods; and that, according to the poem, his enmity was aroused, not by the creation of light as has been previously suggested, but by the disturbance of his rest in consequence of the new “way” of the gods, which tended to produce order in place of chaos.
One of the most striking facts which the new fragments furnish with regard to the contents of the legends is the prominent part played by the god Ea in the earlier episodes of the story. After Apsû and Mummu had repaired to Tiamat and had hatched with her their plot against the gods, it was the god Ea, who, abounding in all wisdom, detected their plan and frustrated it. The details of Ea’s action are still a matter of uncertainty, but, as I have shown in the Introduction, it is clear that Apsû and Mummu were overthrown, and that their conqueror was Ea. Moreover, it was only after their downfall, and in order to avenge them, that Tiamat began her preparations for battle. She was encouraged in her determination by the god Kingu, and it was in consequence of the assistance he then gave her that she afterwards appointed him leader of her host.
Another point which is explained by the new fragments concerns the repetitions in Tablets I, II, and III of the lines containing the account of Tiamat’s preparations for battle. The lines describing this episode are given no less than four times: in Tablet I, in Tablet II, and twice in Tablet III. We now know that the first description of Tiamat’s preparations occurs after the account of her determination to avenge her former allies; and in the Second Tablet the lines are put into the mouth of Ea, who continues to play a prominent part in the narrative, and carries the tidings to Anshar. How Anshar repeated the lines to Gaga, his messenger, and how Gaga delivered the message to Lakhmu and Lakhamu, is already well known.
Perhaps the most striking of all the new fragments of the poem here published is that which contains the opening and closing lines of the Sixth Tablet, and, at last, furnishes us with a portion of the text describing the Creation of Man. We now know that, as in the Hebrew narrative, the culminating act of Creation was the making of man. Marduk is here represented as declaring to Ea that he will create man from his own blood, and from bone which he will form; it is important to note that the Assyrian word here used for “bone,” issimtu, which has not hitherto been known, corresponds to the Hebrew word ‘esem, “bone,” which occurs in Gen. ii, 2 3, in connection with the account of the creation of woman. The text thus furnishes another point of resemblance between the Babylonian and the Hebrew stories of Creation. The new fragment also corroborates in a remarkable degree the account given by Berossus of the Babylonian version of the creation of man. According to the writer’s rendering of the passage, Marduk declares that he will use his own blood in creating mankind, and this agrees with the statement of Berossus, that Bêl directed one of the gods to cut off his (i.e. Bêl’s) head, and to form mankind from his blood mixed with earth. This subject is discussed at length and in detail in the Introduction, as well as a number of new points of resemblance between the Babylonian and the Hebrew accounts of the Creation which are furnished by other recently identified fragments of the poem.
With regard to the extent and contents of the Creation Series, we now know that the Tablets of which the series was composed are seven in number; and we also possess the missing context or frame-work of the Seventh Tablet, which contains addresses to Marduk under his fifty titles of honour. From this we learn that, when the work of Creation was ended, the gods gathered together once more in Upshukkinakku, their council-chamber; here they seated themselves in solemn assembly and proceeded to do honour to Marduk, the Creator, by reciting before him the remarkable series of addresses which form the contents of the last Tablet of the poem. Many of the missing portions of the Seventh Tablet, including the opening lines, it has been found possible to restore from the new fragments and duplicates here published.
In the following pages a transliteration of the text of the Creation Series is given, which has been constructed from all the tablets and fragments now known to be inscribed with portions of the poem, together with a translation and notes. For comparison with the legends contained in the Creation Series, translations have been added of the other Babylonian accounts of the history of Creation, and of some texts closely connected therewith. Among these mention may be made of the extracts from a Sumerian text, and from a somewhat similar one in Babylonian, referring to the Creation of the Moon and the Sun; these are here published from a so-called “practice-tablet,” or student’s exercise. A remarkable address to a mythical river, to which the creation of the world is ascribed, is also given.
In the first Appendix the Assyrian commentaries to the Seventh Tablet are examined in detail, and some fragments of texts are described which bear a striking resemblance to the Seventh Tablet, and are of considerable interest for the light they throw on the literary history of the poem. Among the texts dealt with in the second Appendix one of the most interesting is a Babylonian duplicate of the tablet which has been supposed to contain the instructions given by Marduk to man after his creation, but is now shown by the duplicate to be part of a long didactic composition containing moral precepts, and to have nothing to do with the Creation Series. Similarly, in the fourth Appendix I have printed a copy of the text which has been commonly, but erroneously, supposed to refer to the Tower of Babel. The third Appendix includes some hitherto unpublished astrological texts of the period of the Arsacidae, which contain astrological interpretations and explanations of episodes of the Creation story; they indicate that Tiamat, in her astrological character, was regarded as a star or constellation in the neighbourhood of the ecliptic, and they moreover furnish an additional proof of the identification of her monster brood with at any rate some of the Zodiacal constellations.
During the preparation of this work I have, of course, consulted the translations and renderings of the Creation Legends which have been made by other workers on the subject, and especially those of Professors Jensen, Zimmern, and Delitzsch. I have much pleasure in expressing here my indebtedness to their published works for suggestions which I have adopted from them.
To Mr. R. Campbell Thompson I am indebted for the ready assistance he has afforded me during my search for new fragments and duplicates of the legends.
In conclusion, my thanks are due to Dr. Wallis Budge for his friendly suggestions which I have adopted throughout the progress of the work.
—L. W. KING.
LONDON, July 31st, 1902.
Note: The transliteration of the Babylonian and most of the footnotes in this section have been omitted for technical reasons. All ellipsis have been turned into three periods, no matter how long in the original document. Scanned, proofed, and formatted at sacred-texts.com, December, 2002. This text is in the public domain.
Note: Text reformatted for WordPress. March 2016. (ZSI)