Legends of Babylon and and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition

[3] Cf. Budge, /Gods of the Egyptians/, Vol. I, pp. 324 ff. The
inclusion of the two versions of the Egyptian Creation myth,
recording the Birth of the Gods in the “Book of Overthrowing
Apep”, does not present a very close parallel to the combination
of Creation and Dragon myths in the Semitic-Babylonian poem, for
in the Egyptian work the two myths are not really combined, the
Creation Versions being inserted in the middle of the spells
against Apep, without any attempt at assimilation (see Budge,
/Egyptian Literature/, Vol. I, p. xvi).

We have thus traced four out of the five strands which form the
Semitic-Babylonian poem of Creation to a Sumerian ancestry. And we now
come back to the first of the strands, the Birth of the Gods, from
which our discussion started. For if this too should prove to be
Sumerian, it would help to fill in the gap in our Sumerian Creation
myth, and might furnish us with some idea of the Sumerian view of
“beginnings”, which preceded the acts of creation by the great gods.
It will be remembered that the poem opens with the description of a
time when heaven and earth did not exist, no field or marsh even had
been created, and the universe consisted only of the primaeval water-
gods, Apsû, Mummu, and Tiamat, whose waters were mingled together.
Then follows the successive generation of two pairs of deities, Lakhmu
and Lakhamu, and Anshar and Kishar, long ages separating the two
generations from each other and from the birth of the great gods which
subsequently takes place. In the summary of the myth which is given by
Damascius[1] the names of the various deities accurately correspond to
those in the opening lines of the poem; but he makes some notable
additions, as will be seen from the following table:


{‘Apason—Tauthe} Apsû—Tiamat
{Moumis} Mummu
{Lakhos—Lakhe}[2] Lakhmu—Lakhamu
{‘Assoros—Kissare} Anshar—Kishar
{‘Anos, ‘Illinos, ‘Aos} Anu, [ ], Nudimmud (= Ea)

[1] /Quaestiones de primis principiis/, cap. 125; ed. Kopp, p. 384.

[2] Emended from the reading {Dakhen kai Dakhon} of the text.

In the passage of the poem which describes the birth of the great gods
after the last pair of primaeval deities, mention is duly made of Anu
and Nudimmud (the latter a title of Ea), corresponding to the {‘Anos}
and {‘Aos} of Damascius; and there appears to be no reference to
Enlil, the original of {‘Illinos}. It is just possible that his name
occurred at the end of one of the broken lines, and, if so, we should
have a complete parallel to Damascius. But the traces are not in
favour of the restoration;[1] and the omission of Enlil’s name from
this part of the poem may be readily explained as a further tribute to
Marduk, who definitely usurps his place throughout the subsequent
narrative. Anu and Ea had both to be mentioned because of the parts
they play in the Epic, but Enlil’s only recorded appearance is in the
final assembly of the gods, where he bestows his own name “the Lord of
the World”[2] upon Marduk. The evidence of Damascius suggests that
Enlil’s name was here retained, between those of Anu and Ea, in other
versions of the poem. But the occurrence of the name in any version is
in itself evidence of the antiquity of this strand of the narrative.
It is a legitimate inference that the myth of the Birth of the Gods
goes back to a time at least before the rise of Babylon, and is
presumably of Sumerian origin.

[1] Anu and Nudimmud are each mentioned for the first time at the
beginning of a line, and the three lines following the reference
to Nudimmud are entirely occupied with descriptions of his wisdom
and power. It is also probable that the three preceding lines (ll.
14-16), all of which refer to Anu by name, were entirely occupied
with his description. But it is only in ll. 13-16 that any
reference to Enlil can have occurred, and the traces preserved of
their second halves do not suggestion the restoration.

[2] Cf. Tabl. VII, . 116.

Further evidence of this may be seen in the fact that Anu, Enlil, and
Ea (i.e. Enki), who are here created together, are the three great
gods of the Sumerian Version of Creation; it is they who create
mankind with the help of the goddess Ninkharsagga, and in the fuller
version of that myth we should naturally expect to find some account
of their own origin. The reference in Damascius to Marduk ({Belos}) as
the son of Ea and Damkina ({Dauke}) is also of interest in this
connexion, as it exhibits a goddess in close connexion with one of the
three great gods, much as we find Ninkharsagga associated with them in
the Sumerian Version.[1] Before leaving the names, it may be added
that, of the primaeval deities, Anshar and Kishar are obviously
Sumerian in form.

[1] Damkina was the later wife of Ea or Enki; and Ninkharsagga is
associated with Enki, as his consort, in another Sumerian myth.

It may be noted that the character of Apsû and Tiamat in this portion
of the poem[1] is quite at variance with their later actions. Their
revolt at the ordered “way” of the gods was a necessary preliminary to
the incorporation of the Dragon myths, in which Ea and Marduk are the
heroes. Here they appear as entirely beneficent gods of the primaeval
water, undisturbed by storms, in whose quiet depths the equally
beneficent deities Lakhmu and Lakhamu, Anshar and Kishar, were
generated.[2] This interpretation, by the way, suggests a more
satisfactory restoration for the close of the ninth line of the poem
than any that has yet been proposed. That line is usually taken to
imply that the gods were created “in the midst of [heaven]”, but I
think the following rendering, in connexion with ll. 1-5, gives better

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not bear a name,
And the primaeval Apsû who begat them,[3] And Mummu, and Tiamat who bore them[3] all,–
Their waters were mingled together,
. . .
. . .
. . .
Then were created the gods in the midst of [their waters],[4] Lakhmu and Lakhamu were called into being . . .

[1] Tabl. I, ll. 1-21.

[2] We may perhaps see a survival of Tiamat’s original character in
her control of the Tablets of Fate. The poem does not represent
her as seizing them in any successful fight; they appear to be
already hers to bestow on Kingu, though in the later mythology
they are “not his by right” (cf. Tabl. I, ll. 137 ff., and Tabl.
IV, l. 121).

[3] i.e. the gods.

[4] The ninth line is preserved only on a Neo-Babylonian duplicate
(/Seven Tablets/, Vol. II, pl. i). I suggested the restoration
/ki-rib š[a-ma-mi]/, “in the midst of heaven”, as possible, since
the traces of the first sign in the last word of the line seemed
to be those of the Neo-Babylonian form of /ša/. The restoration
appeared at the time not altogether satisfactory in view of the
first line of the poem, and it could only be justified by
supposing that /šamâmu/, or “heaven”, was already vaguely
conceived as in existence (op. cit., Vol. I, p. 3, n. 14). But the
traces of the sign, as I have given them (op. cit., Vol. II, pl.
i), may also possibly be those of the Neo-Babylonian form of the
sign /me/; and I would now restore the end of the line in the Neo-
Babylonian tablet as /ki-rib m[e-e-šu-nu]/, “in the midst of
[their waters]”, corresponding to the form /mu-u-šu-nu/ in l. 5 of
this duplicate. In the Assyrian Version /mé(pl)-šu-nu/ would be
read in both lines. It will be possible to verify the new reading,
by a re-examination of the traces on the tablet, when the British
Museum collections again become available for study after the war.

If the ninth line of the poem be restored as suggested, its account of
the Birth of the Gods will be found to correspond accurately with the
summary from Berossus, who, in explaining the myth, refers to the
Babylonian belief that the universe consisted at first of moisture in
which living creatures, such as he had already described, were
generated.[1] The primaeval waters are originally the source of life,
not of destruction, and it is in them that the gods are born, as in
Egyptian mythology; there Nu, the primaeval water-god from whom Ra was
self-created, never ceased to be the Sun-god’s supporter. The change
in the Babylonian conception was obviously introduced by the
combination of the Dragon myth with that of Creation, a combination
that in Egypt would never have been justified by the gentle Nile. From
a study of some aspects of the names at the beginning of the
Babylonian poem we have already seen reason to suspect that its
version of the Birth of the Gods goes back to Sumerian times, and it
is pertinent to ask whether we have any further evidence that in
Sumerian belief water was the origin of all things.

[1] {ugrou gar ontos tou pantos kai zoon en auto gegennemenon
[toionde] ktl}. His creatures of the primaeval water were killed
by the light; and terrestrial animals were then created which
could bear (i.e. breathe and exist in) the air.

For many years we have possessed a Sumerian myth of Creation, which
has come to us on a late Babylonian tablet as the introductory section
of an incantation. It is provided with a Semitic translation, and to
judge from its record of the building of Babylon and Egasila, Marduk’s
temple, and its identification of Marduk himself with the Creator, it
has clearly undergone some editing at the hands of the Babylonian
priests. Moreover, the occurrence of various episodes out of their
logical order, and the fact that the text records twice over the
creation of swamps and marshes, reeds and trees or forests, animals
and cities, indicate that two Sumerian myths have been combined. Thus
we have no guarantee that the other cities referred to by name in the
text, Nippur, Erech, and Eridu, are mentioned in any significant
connexion with each other.[1] Of the actual cause of Creation the text
appears to give two versions also, one in its present form impersonal,
and the other carried out by a god. But these two accounts are quite
unlike the authorized version of Babylon, and we may confidently
regard them as representing genuine Sumerian myths. The text resembles
other early accounts of Creation by introducing its narrative with a
series of negative statements, which serve to indicate the preceding
non-existence of the world, as will be seen from the following

No city had been created, no creature had been made,
Nippur had not been created, Ekur had not been built,
Erech had not been created, Eanna had not been built,
Apsû had not been created, Eridu had not been built,
Of the holy house, the house of the gods, the habitation had not
been created.
All lands[3] were sea.
At the time when a channel (was formed) in the midst of the sea,
Then was Eridu created, Esagila built, etc.

Here we have the definite statement that before Creation all the world
was sea. And it is important to note that the primaeval water is not
personified; the ordinary Sumerian word for “sea” is employed, which
the Semitic translator has faithfully rendered in his version of the
text.[4] The reference to a channel in the sea, as the cause of
Creation, seems at first sight a little obscure; but the word implies
a “drain” or “water-channel”, not a current of the sea itself, and the
reference may be explained as suggested by the drainage of a flood-
area. No doubt the phrase was elaborated in the original myth, and it
is possible that what appears to be a second version of Creation later
on in the text is really part of the more detailed narrative of the
first myth. There the Creator himself is named. He is the Sumerian god
Gilimma, and in the Semitic translation Marduk’s name is substituted.
To the following couplet, which describes Gilimma’s method of
creation, is appended a further extract from a later portion of the
text, there evidently displaced, giving additional details of the
Creator’s work:

Gilimma bound reeds in the face of the waters,
He formed soil and poured it out beside the reeds.[5] [He][6] filled in a dike by the side of the sea,
[He . . .] a swamp, he formed a marsh.
[. . .], he brought into existence,
[Reeds he form]ed,[7] trees he created.

[1] The composite nature of the text is discussed by Professor Jastrow
in his /Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions/, pp. 89 ff.; and in his
paper in the /Journ. Amer. Or. Soc./, Vol. XXXVI (1916), pp. 279
ff.; he has analysed it into two main versions, which he suggests
originated in Eridu and Nippur respectively. The evidence of the
text does not appear to me to support the view that any reference
to a watery chaos preceding Creation must necessarily be of
Semitic origin. For the literature of the text (first published by
Pinches, /Journ. Roy. Asiat. Soc./, Vol. XXIII, pp. 393 ff.), see
/Sev. Tabl./, Vol. I, p. 130.

[2] Obv., ll. 5-12.

[3] Sum. /nigin-kur-kur-ra-ge/, Sem. /nap-har ma-ta-a-tu/, lit. “all
lands”, i.e. Sumerian and Babylonian expressions for “the world”.

[4] Sum. /a-ab-ba/, “sea”, is here rendered by /tâmtum/, not by its
personified equivalent Tiamat.

[5] The suggestion has been made that /amu/, the word in the Semitic
version here translated “reeds”, should be connected with
/ammatu/, the word used for “earth” or “dry land” in the
Babylonian Creation Series, Tabl. I, l. 2, and given some such
meaning as “expanse”. The couplet is thus explained to mean that
the god made an expanse on the face of the waters, and then poured
out dust “on the expanse”. But the Semitic version in l. 18 reads
/itti ami/, “beside the /a./”, not /ina ami/, “on the /a./”; and
in any case there does not seem much significance in the act of
pouring out specially created dust on or beside land already
formed. The Sumerian word translated by /amu/ is written /gi-dir/,
with the element /gi/, “reed”, in l. 17, and though in the
following line it is written under its variant form /a-dir/
without /gi/, the equation /gi-a-dir/ = /amu/ is elsewhere
attested (cf. Delitzsch, /Handwörterbuch/, p. 77). In favour of
regarding /amu/ as some sort of reed, here used collectively, it
may be pointed out that the Sumerian verb in l. 17 is /kešda/, “to
bind”, accurately rendered by /rakašu/ in the Semitic version.
Assuming that l. 34 belongs to the same account, the creation of
reeds in general beside trees, after dry land is formed, would not
of course be at variance with the god’s use of some sort of reed
in his first act of creation. He creates the reed-bundles, as he
creates the soil, both of which go to form the first dike; the
reed-beds, like the other vegetation, spring up from the ground
when it appears.

[6] The Semitic version here reads “the lord Marduk”; the
corresponding name in the Sumerian text is not preserved.

[7] The line is restored from l. 2 o the obverse of the text.

Here the Sumerian Creator is pictured as forming dry land from the
primaeval water in much the same way as the early cultivator in the
Euphrates Valley procured the rich fields for his crops. The existence
of the earth is here not really presupposed. All the world was sea
until the god created land out of the waters by the only practical
method that was possible in Mesopotamia.

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