The Enuma Elish

by Esteban

“THE great Assyrian poem, or series of legends, which narrates the story of the Creation of the world and man, was termed by the Assyrians and Babylonians Enuma elish, “When in the height,” from the two opening words of the text.

The poem consisted of some nine hundred and ninety-four lines, and was divided into seven sections, each of which was inscribed upon a separate Tablet. The Tablets were numbered by the Assyrian scribes, and the separate sections of the poem written upon them do not vary very much in length.

The shortest Tablet contains one hundred and thirty-eight lines, and the longest one hundred and forty-six, the average length of a Tablet being about one hundred and forty-two lines.

The poem embodies the beliefs of the Babylonians and Assyrians concerning the origin of the universe; it describes the coming forth of the gods from chaos, and tells the story of how the forces of disorder, represented by the primeval water-gods Apsû and Tiamat, were overthrown by Ea and Marduk respectively, and how Marduk, after completing the triumph of the gods over chaos, proceeded to create the world and man.

The poem is known to us from portions of several Assyrian and late-Babylonian copies of the work, and from extracts from it written out upon the so-called “practice-tablets,” or students’ exercises, by pupils of the Babylonian scribes.

The Assyrian copies of the work are from the great library which was founded at Nineveh by Ashur-bani-pal, king of Assyria from B.C. 668 to about B.C. 626; the Babylonian copies and extracts were inscribed during the period of the kings of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods; and one copy of the Seventh Tablet may probably be assigned to as late a date as the period of the Arsacidae.

All the tablets and fragments, which have hitherto been identified as inscribed with portions of the text of the poem, are preserved in the British Museum.”

Leonard William King, The Seven Tablets of Creation, London, 1902. pp. xxv-xxvi.