Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

The only parallel this Egyptian myth of Creation presents to the
Hebrew cosmogony is in its picture of the primaeval water,
corresponding to the watery chaos of Genesis i. But the resemblance is
of a very general character, and includes no etymological equivalence
such as we find when we compare the Hebrew account with the principal
Semitic-Babylonian Creation narrative.[1] The application of the Ankh,
the Egyptian sign for Life, to the nostrils of a newly-created being
is no true parallel to the breathing into man’s nostrils of the breath
of life in the earlier Hebrew Version,[2] except in the sense that
each process was suggested by our common human anatomy. We should
naturally expect to find some Hebrew parallel to the Egyptian idea of
Creation as the work of a potter with his clay, for that figure
appears in most ancient mythologies. The Hebrews indeed used the
conception as a metaphor or parable,[3] and it also underlies their
earlier picture of man’s creation. I have not touched on the grosser
Egyptian conceptions concerning the origin of the universe, which we
may probably connect with African ideas; but those I have referred to
will serve to demonstrate the complete absence of any feature that
presents a detailed resemblance of the Hebrew tradition.

[1] For the wide diffusion, in the myths of remote peoples, of a vague
theory that would trace all created things to a watery origin, see
Farnell, /Greece and Babylon/, p. 180.

[2] Gen. ii. 7 (J).

[3] Cf., e.g., Isaiah xxix. 16, xlv. 9; and Jeremiah xviii. 2f.

When we turn to Babylonia, we find there also evidence of conflicting
ideas, the product of different and to some extent competing religious
centres. But in contrast to the rather confused condition of Egyptian
mythology, the Semitic Creation myth of the city of Babylon, thanks to
the latter’s continued political ascendancy, succeeded in winning a
dominant place in the national literature. This is the version in
which so many points of resemblance to the first chapter of Genesis
have long been recognized, especially in the succession of creative
acts and their relative order. In the Semitic-Babylonian Version the
creation of the world is represented as the result of conflict, the
emergence of order out of chaos, a result that is only attained by the
personal triumph of the Creator. But this underlying dualism does not
appear in the more primitive Sumerian Version we have now recovered.
It will be remembered that in the second lecture I gave some account
of the myth, which occurs in an epitomized form as an introduction to
the Sumerian Version of the Deluge, the two narratives being recorded
in the same document and connected with one another by a description
of the Antediluvian cities. We there saw that Creation is ascribed to
the three greatest gods of the Sumerian pantheon, Anu, Enlil, and
Enki, assisted by the goddess Ninkharsagga.

It is significant that in the Sumerian version no less than four
deities are represented as taking part in the Creation. For in this we
may see some indication of the period to which its composition must be
assigned. Their association in the text suggests that the claims of
local gods had already begun to compete with one another as a result
of political combination between the cities of their cults. To the
same general period we must also assign the compilation of the
Sumerian Dynastic record, for that presupposes the existence of a
supreme ruler among the Sumerian city-states. This form of political
constitution must undoubtedly have been the result of a long process
of development, and the fact that its existence should be regarded as
dating from the Creation of the world indicates a comparatively
developed stage of the tradition. But behind the combination of cities
and their gods we may conjecturally trace anterior stages of
development, when each local deity and his human representative seemed
to their own adherents the sole objects for worship and allegiance.
And even after the demands of other centres had been conceded, no
deity ever quite gave up his local claims.

Enlil, the second of the four Sumerian creating deities, eventually
ousted his rivals. It has indeed long been recognized that the /rôle/
played by Marduk in the Babylonian Version of Creation had been
borrowed from Enlil of Nippur; and in the Atrakhasis legend Enlil
himself appears as the ultimate ruler of the world and the other gods
figure as “his sons”. Anu, who heads the list and plays with Enlil the
leading part in the Sumerian narrative, was clearly his chief rival.
And though we possess no detailed account of Anu’s creative work, the
persistent ascription to him of the creation of heaven, and his
familiar title, “the Father of the Gods”, suggest that he once
possessed a corresponding body of myth in Eanna, his temple at Erech.
Enki, the third of the creating gods, was naturally credited, as God
of Wisdom, with special creative activities, and fortunately in his
case we have some independent evidence of the varied forms these could

According to one tradition that has come down to us,[1] after Anu had
made the heavens, Enki created Apsû or the Deep, his own dwelling-
place. Then taking from it a piece of clay[2] he proceeded to create
the Brick-god, and reeds and forests for the supply of building
material. From the same clay he continued to form other deities and
materials, including the Carpenter-god; the Smith-god; Arazu, a patron
deity of building; and mountains and seas for all that they produced;
the Goldsmith-god, the Stone-cutter-god, and kindred deities, together
with their rich products for offerings; the Grain-deities, Ashnan and
Lakhar; Siris, a Wine-god; Ningishzida and Ninsar, a Garden-god, for
the sake of the rich offerings they could make; and a deity described
as “the High priest of the great gods,” to lay down necessary
ordinances and commands. Then he created “the King”, for the equipment
probably of a particular temple, and finally men, that they might
practise the cult in the temple so elaborately prepared.

[1] See Weissbach, /Babylonische Miscellen/, pp. 32 ff.

[2] One of the titles of Enki was “the Potter”; cf. /Cun. Texts in the
Brit. Mus., Pt. XXIV, pl. 14 f., ll. 41, 43.

It will be seen from this summary of Enki’s creative activities, that
the text from which it is taken is not a general Creation myth, but in
all probability the introductory paragraph of a composition which
celebrated the building or restoration of a particular temple; and the
latter’s foundation is represented, on henotheistic lines, as the main
object of creation. Composed with that special purpose, its narrative
is not to be regarded as an exhaustive account of the creation of the
world. The incidents are eclective, and only such gods and materials
are mentioned as would have been required for the building and
adornment of the temple and for the provision of its offerings and
cult. But even so its mythological background is instructive. For
while Anu’s creation of heaven is postulated as the necessary
precedent of Enki’s activities, the latter creates the Deep,
vegetation, mountains, seas, and mankind. Moreover, in his character
as God of Wisdom, he is not only the teacher but the creator of those
deities who were patrons of man’s own constructive work. From such
evidence we may infer that in his temple at Eridu, now covered by the
mounds of Abu Shahrain in the extreme south of Babylonia, and regarded
in early Sumerian tradition as the first city in the world, Enki
himself was once celebrated as the sole creator of the universe.

The combination of the three gods Anu, Enlil, and Enki, is persistent
in the tradition; for not only were they the great gods of the
universe, representing respectively heaven, earth, and the watery
abyss, but they later shared the heavenly sphere between them. It is
in their astrological character that we find them again in creative
activity, though without the co-operation of any goddess, when they
appear as creators of the great light-gods and as founders of time
divisions, the day and the month. This Sumerian myth, though it
reaches us only in an extract or summary in a Neo-Babylonian
schoolboy’s exercise,[1] may well date from a comparatively early
period, but probably from a time when the “Ways” of Anu, Enlil, and
Enki had already been fixed in heaven and their later astrological
characters had crystallized.

[1] See /The Seven Tablets of Creation/, Vol. I, pp. 124 ff. The
tablet gives extracts from two very similar Sumerian and Semitic
texts. In both of them Anu, Enlil, and Enki appear as creators
“through their sure counsel”. In the Sumerian extract they create
the Moon and ordain its monthly course, while in the Semitic text,
after establishing heaven and earth, they create in addition to
the New Moon the bright Day, so that “men beheld the Sun-god in
the Gate of his going forth”.

The idea that a goddess should take part with a god in man’s creation
is already a familiar feature of Babylonian mythology. Thus the
goddess Aruru, in co-operation with Marduk, might be credited with the
creation of the human race,[1] as she might also be pictured creating
on her own initiative an individual hero such as Enkidu of the
Gilgamesh Epic. The /rôle/ of mother of mankind was also shared, as we
have seen, by the Semitic Ishtar. And though the old Sumerian goddess,
Ninkharsagga, the “Lady of the Mountains”, appears in our Sumerian
text for the first time in the character of creatress, some of the
titles we know she enjoyed, under her synonyms in the great God List
of Babylonia, already reflected her cosmic activities.[2] For she was
known as

“The Builder of that which has Breath”,
“The Carpenter of Mankind”,
“The Carpenter of the Heart”,
“The Coppersmith of the Gods”,
“The Coppersmith of the Land”, and
“The Lady Potter”.

[1] Op. cit., p. 134 f.

[2] Cf. /Cun. Texts in the Brit. Mus./, Pt. XXIV, pl. 12, ll. 32, 26,
27, 25, 24, 23, and Poebel, /Hist. Texts/, p. 34.

In the myth we are not told her method of creation, but from the above
titles it is clear that in her own cycle of tradition Ninkhasagga was
conceived as fashioning men not only from clay but also from wood, and
perhaps as employing metal for the manufacture of her other works of
creation. Moreover, in the great God List, where she is referred to
under her title Makh, Ninkhasagga is associated with Anu, Enlil, and
Enki; she there appears, with her dependent deities, after Enlil and
before Enki. We thus have definite proof that her association with the
three chief Sumerian gods was widely recognized in the early Sumerian
period and dictated her position in the classified pantheon of
Babylonia. Apart from this evidence, the important rank assigned her
in the historical and legal records and in votive inscriptions,[1] especially in the early period and in Southern Babylonia, accords
fully with the part she here plays in the Sumerian Creation myth.
Eannatum and Gudea of Lagash both place her immediately after Anu and
Enlil, giving her precedence over Enki; and even in the Kassite
Kudurru inscriptions of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries, where
she is referred to, she takes rank after Enki and before the other
gods. In Sumer she was known as “the Mother of the Gods”, and she was
credited with the power of transferring the kingdom and royal insignia
from one king to his successor.

[1] See especially, Poebel, op. cit., pp. 24 ff.

Her supreme position as a goddess is attested by the relative
insignificance of her husband Dunpae, whom she completely overshadows,
in which respect she presents a contrast to the goddess Ninlil,
Enlil’s female counterpart. The early clay figurines found at Nippur
and on other sites, representing a goddess suckling a child and
clasping one of her breasts, may well be regarded as representing
Ninkharsagga and not Ninlil. Her sanctuaries were at Kesh and Adab,
both in the south, and this fact sufficiently explains her comparative
want of influence in Akkad, where the Semitic Ishtar took her place.
She does indeed appear in the north during the Sargonic period under
her own name, though later she survives in her synonyms of Ninmakh,
“the Sublime Lady”, and Nintu, “the Lady of Child-bearing”. It is
under the latter title that Hammurabi refers to her in his Code of
Laws, where she is tenth in a series of eleven deities. But as Goddess
of Birth she retained only a pale reflection of her original cosmic
character, and her functions were gradually specialized.[1] [1] Cf. Poebel, op. cit., p. 33. It is possible that, under one of her
later synonyms, we should identify her, as Dr. Poebel suggests,
with the Mylitta of Herodotus.

From a consideration of their characters, as revealed by independent
sources of evidence, we thus obtain the reason for the co-operation of
four deities in the Sumerian Creation. In fact the new text
illustrates a well-known principle in the development of myth, the
reconciliation of the rival claims of deities, whose cults, once
isolated, had been brought from political causes into contact with
each other. In this aspect myth is the medium through which a working
pantheon is evolved. Naturally all the deities concerned cannot
continue to play their original parts in detail. In the Babylonian
Epic of Creation, where a single deity, and not a very prominent one,
was to be raised to pre-eminent rank, the problem was simple enough.
He could retain his own qualities and achievements while borrowing
those of any former rival. In the Sumerian text we have the result of
a far more delicate process of adjustment, and it is possible that the
brevity of the text is here not entirely due to compression of a
longer narrative, but may in part be regarded as evidence of early
combination. As a result of the association of several competing
deities in the work of creation, a tendency may be traced to avoid
discrimination between rival claims. Thus it is that the assembled
gods, the pantheon as a whole, are regarded as collectively
responsible for the creation of the universe. It may be added that
this use of /ilâni/, “the gods”, forms an interesting linguistic
parallel to the plural of the Hebrew divine title Elohim.

It will be remembered that in the Sumerian Version the account of
Creation is not given in full, only such episodes being included as
were directly related to the Deluge story. No doubt the selection of
men and animals was suggested by their subsequent rescue from the
Flood; and emphasis was purposely laid on the creation of the
/niggilma/ because of the part it played in securing mankind’s
survival. Even so, we noted one striking parallel between the Sumerian
Version and that of the Semitic Babylonians, in the reason both give
for man’s creation. But in the former there is no attempt to explain
how the universe itself had come into being, and the existence of the
earth is presupposed at the moment when Anu, Enlil, Enki, and
Ninkharsagga undertake the creation of man. The Semitic-Babylonian
Version, on the other hand, is mainly occupied with events that led up
to the acts of creation, and it concerns our problem to inquire how
far those episodes were of Semitic and how far of Sumerian origin. A
further question arises as to whether some strands of the narrative
may not at one time have existed in Sumerian form independently of the
Creation myth.

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