The Enuma Elish: A Babylonian Creation Story
About this articleThis sidebar from the Living Justice and Peace textbook gives a brief theological analysis of the Babylonian creation myth, The Enuma Elish. The text of the myth is provided as well.
The Genesis story is not the only ancient creation story. In fact, almost every ancient culture had its own story of how the world came to exist. Each story reflected much about how the people of its culture viewed their world. For that reason, it is interesting to note that the view of the world reflected in the Genesis Creation story was much different from the worldview reflected by the creation stories of other cultures in the ancient world.
For instance, the Babylonians, powerful neighbors of the Israelites who at one time conquered them, had a creation story called the Enuma Elish. That story described a world born out of the violence of the gods.
In the beginning, the gods Apsu and Tiamat give birth to younger gods, who make so much noise that the older gods cannot sleep. Apsu and Tiamat decide to quiet their children by killing them--but one of the young gods, Ea, finds out about the plan and kills Apsu first.The Enuma Elish reflects a basic belief held by Babylonian culture: only violence can bring order out of chaos. By contrast, the Genesis story reflects the belief that love, not violence, is what brings goodness out of chaos.
That makes Tiamat very angry, and she vows to avenge her dead mate. Terrified, the children beg the youngest among them, Marduk, to fight Tiamat. He agrees, but only after the other gods say they will make him their ruler if he succeeds.
Marduk catches Tiamat in a net and drives an evil wind down her throat, making her belly blow up like a balloon. Then he shoots an arrow that bursts her belly and pierces her heart. He smashes her skull and stretches out her corpse.
Marduk creates the world out of Tiamat's dead body. The gods who had sided with Tiamat are imprisoned. Marduk and Ea kill one of the captive gods, and make human beings out of the god's blood. Human beings, according to the Babylonian story, are made to be servants of the gods. (Adapted from Wink, Engaging the Powers, pages 14–15)
While no one believes the Enuma Elish literally anymore, many people believe in its basic assumption--that violence, division, and dominance are necessary to keep order in the world. Christians, by contrast, believe that the way to a world of goodness is love and compassion.
Acknowledgments(This article is adapted from Living Justice and Peace: Catholic Social Teaching in Practice by Jerry Windley-Daoust, et al., published by Saint Mary's Press. Copyright © 2001 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this article to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This article may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this books, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org/catalog.cfm.)
Published February 2, 2002.