Babylonian mythology

Babylonian mythology

Babylonian mythology is a set of stories depicting the activities of Babylonian deities, heroes, and mythological creatures. While these stories are in modern times usually considered a component of Babylonian religion, their purpose was not necessarily religious in nature. Often these stories explained a mystery of nature, depicted the rewards for proper behavior, illustrated punishments for taboo behavior, or performed a combination of these or other purposes. Some mythological texts did, however, serve some ceremonial purpose in religious activity.

The Babylonian is largely derived from Sumerian mythology. This was written in Akkadian, a Semitic language, using cuneiform script on clay tablets. Most texts known today are copies made in scribal schools by student scribes, likely at a time when Akkadian was no longer the spoken language in Babylonia and serious belief in the myths had faded amongst educated people.

Some Babylonian texts were even translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, though the names of some deities were changed in Babylonian texts. Some Babylonian deities and myths are unique to that culture, however, such as the god Marduk and the "Enûma Elish", a creation myth epic.


When the seven tablets that contain this myth were first discovered, evidence indicated that it was used as a "ritual" myth, meaning it was recited during a ceremony or celebration. The occasion in this instance is the Babylonian new year. This myth tells of the yearly cycle of death and rebirth of Marduk, the greatest king of the gods (some fifty different names are attributed to Marduk). The first tablet describes the beginning of the world, before earth and sky had any definition or identification. There existed two gods from which all others were descended, Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female), the sweet and salt water oceans respectively. From the union of these two were born Lahmu and Lahamu, who are believed to represent silt (such as from river deltas) and are represented as snakes. Each generation brings more gods: Lahmu and Lahamu begat Anshar and Kishar, who bore a son named Anu. Anu sired a son most often called Ea, known as the "all-wise". Each new god born was more perfect and powerful than his predecessors. They soon became unruly and insubordinate, while Tiamat, the mother of them all, sat idly by and did nothing despite the pains their rambunctious behavior caused. They refused to heed their father’s pleas to calm themselves.

In anger, Apsu decided to unmake that which he had made. But Ea learned of Apsu's plans, and so he wove a spell of sleep upon Apsu and slew him while he slept. Tiamat remained inactive while all of this occurs. Ea built a great temple upon Apsu's body, and resided there in comfort and luxury with Damkina, his lover. Damkina bore Ea a son, Marduk, the hero-king. He is described as perfect from the start, with four ears and four eyes, all of which were overlarge and his form is said to be incomprehensible in its perfection. Marduk's grandfather, Anu, created the four winds for Marduk to let loose and play with. This had the unfortunate side effect of constantly disturbing Tiamat’s body (an ocean if you'll recall), and the other gods who dwelled within her. The other gods became enraged and irritable with lack of rest, and they hounded Tiamat for sitting quietly by while Ea slew Apsu. Through all their goading they pushed the great ocean goddess to action. Tiamat, who had a notably short temper, decided on war.

Tiamat assembled a great host of gods and monsters to fight for her. At the head of this monstrous horde she placed Kingu, who is variously described as her son or lover (neither translation refers to him as both, only one or the other) and affixed the Tablet of Destinies to his breast, declaring him greatest among the gods. The few remaining gods that did not join Tiamat learn of her mobilization and assembled to deliberate a course of action. The tablet describing this part of the story was damaged, and the exact happenings can only be guessed at. Both Ea and Anu attempted to turn Tiamat from her course, but both returned unsuccessful, though details are unobtainable. Then, at Ea’s behest, Marduk agreed to do battle with Tiamat. After demanding that in return for his service he be named supreme god, Marduk was named the gods' champion and prepared for battle.

Marduk's arsenal for the battle was listed as a great bow, a single arrow, a mace, lightning, and a net held by the four winds. He also crafted seven windstorms and filled his body with fire. He then mounted his storm chariot and rode off to battle. The seven hurricanes trailed behind him, causing disturbances in Tiamat's ocean. Marduk challenged her to single combat. He cast the net upon her, and snared her and the army of monsters. She tried to swallow him, and he split her jaws with the hurricanes, then split her heart and body with the arrow. He reclaimed the Tablet of Destinies from Kingu and attached it to his own breast, securing his place as overlord of all. He then embarked on his destined course of creation. Among his exploits are the developing of the calendar, and the creation of man. Mankind he crafted from the blood of Kingu, and man’s purpose was to toil and do physical labor so that the gods might spend their time in leisure. It is also worth noting that because of Tiamat’s actions, goddesses were forever after excluded from the various councils the gods held.

Thus ends the myth of creation for the Babylonians. The entire story takes place over five tablets, though two more make the complete set. These last two are merely for the recitation of Marduk's fifty names.


*Dalley, Stephanie M. "Myths From Mesopotamia". New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989.
*Hooke, S. H. "Middle Eastern Mythology". 1963. 1975 ed. Baltimore, MA: Penguin Books Ltd., 1975.
*"Lahmu and Lahamu." Mesopotamian Mythology. Britannica Online. "Encyclopædia Britannica". 14 Feb. 2006 .
*Leach, Marjorie. "Guide to the Gods". Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1992. 1992. Clark Memorial Library, Portsmouth. 13 Feb. 2006 []

ee also

*Enuma Elish
*Epic of Gilgamesh
*Family tree of the Babylonian gods
*Ancient Semitic religion

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