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Tag: The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon

Legends of Creation and Dragons

” … Both the source of the original form of the Legend of the Fight between Ea and Apsu, and Marduk and Tiâmat, and the period of its composition are unknown, but there is no doubt that in one form or another it persisted in Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

The apocryphal book of “Bel and the Dragon” shows that a form of the Legend was in existence among the Babylonian Jews long after the Captivity, and the narrative relating to it associates it with religious observances.

But there is no foundation whatsoever for the assertion which has so often been made that the Two Accounts of the Creation which are given in the early chapters in Genesis are derived from the Seven Tablets of Creation described in the preceding pages. It is true that there are many points of resemblance between the narratives in cuneiform and Hebrew, and these often illustrate each other, but the fundamental conceptions of the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts are essentially different.

In the former the earliest beings that existed were foul demons and devils, and the God of Creation only appears at a later period, but in the latter the conception of God is that of a Being Who existed in and from the beginning, Almighty and Alone, and the devils of chaos and evil are His servants.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

The seal may illustrate a scene from the epic of creation in which the forces of chaos, led by Tiamat, are defeated by a god representing cosmic order, probably Ninurta.

Among the primitive Semitic peoples there were probably many versions of the story of the Creation; and the narrative told by the Seven Tablets is, no doubt, one of them in a comparatively modern form.

It is quite clear that the Account of the Creation given in the Seven Tablets is derived from very ancient sources, and a considerable amount of literary evidence is now available for reconstructing the history of the Legend.

Thus in the Sumerian Account the narrative of the exploits of the hero called ZIUSUDU 19  begins with a description of the Creation and then goes on to describe a Flood, and there is little doubt that certain passages in this text are the originals of the Babylonian version as given in the Seven Tablets.

In the Story of ZIUSUDU, however, there is no mention of any Dragon. And there is reason to think that the Legend of the Dragon had originally nothing whatever to do with the Creation, for the texts of fragments of two distinct Accounts 20 of the Creation describe a fight between a Dragon and some deity other than Marduk.

In other Accounts the Dragon bears a strong resemblance to the Leviathan of Psalm civ, 26; Job xli, 1. In the one text he is said to be 50 biru 21 in length, and 1 biru in thickness; his mouth was 6 cubits (about 9 feet) wide, and the circumference of his ears 12 cubits (18 feet).

He was slain by a god whose name is unknown, and the blood continued to flow from his body for three years, three months, one day and one night.

In the second text the Dragon is 60 biru long and his thickness is 30 biru; the diameter of each eye is half a biru, and his paws are 20 biru long.

Thus there is every reason for believing that the Legend as it is given in the Seven Tablets is the work of some editor, who added the Legend of the Creation to the Legend of the Dragon in much the same way as the editor of the Gilgamish Legends included an account of the Deluge in his narrative of the exploits of his hero.

All forms of the Legend of the Creation and of the Dragon were popular in Babylonia, and one of them achieved so much notoriety that the priest employed recited it as an incantation to charm away the toothache.

The literary form of the text of the Seven Tablets fulfils the requirements of Semitic poetry in general. The lines usually fall into couplets, the second line being the antiphon of the first, e.g.:–

“When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name.”

Thus we have:–

enuma elish || lâ nabû shamamu
shaplish ammatum || shuma lâ zakrat

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

The Fifty Names of Marduk

” … it is clear that a dispute broke out between Marduk and the gods after he had created them, and the tradition of it has made its way into the religious literatures of the Hebrews, Syrians, Arabs, Copts and Abyssinians.

The cuneiform texts tell us nothing about the cause of the dispute, but tradition generally ascribes it to the creation of man by the supreme God; and it is probable that all the apocryphal stories which describe the expulsion from heaven of the angels who contended against God under the leadership of Satan, or Satnael, or Iblîs, are derived from a Babylonian original which has not yet been found.

The “Fifty Names,” or laudatory epithets mentioned above, find parallels in Seventy-five Praises of Rā, sung by the Egyptians under the XIXth dynasty, 15 and in the Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allâh, which are held in such great esteem by the Muḥammadans. 16

The respect in which the Fifty Names were held by the Babylonians is well shown by the work of the Epilogue on the Seventh Tablet, where it is said, “Let them be held in remembrance, let the first-comer (i.e., any and every man) proclaim them; let the wise and the understanding consider them together. Let the father repeat them and teach them to his son. Let them be in the ears of the herdsman and the shepherd.”

The object of the writer of the Fifty Names was to show that Marduk was the “Lord of the gods,” that the power, qualities and attributes of every god were enshrined in him, and that they all were merely forms of him.

This fact is proved by the tablet (No. 47,406), 17 which contains a long list of gods who are equated with Marduk in his various forms. 18

The tendency in the later Babylonian religion to make Marduk the god above all gods has led many to think that monotheistic conceptions were already in existence among the Babylonians as early as the period of the First Dynasty, about 2000 B.C. It is indisputable that Marduk obtained his pre-eminence in the Babylonian Pantheon at this early period.

But some authorities deny the existence of monotheistic conceptions among the Babylonians at that time, and attribute Marduk’s kingship of the gods to the influence of the political situation of the time, when Babylon first became the capital of the country, and mistress of the greater part of the known world.

Material for deciding this question is wanting, but it may be safely said that whatever monotheistic conceptions existed at that time, their acceptance was confined entirely to the priests and scribes. They certainly find no expression in the popular religious texts.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

Mankind Was Created from the Blood of a God and Earth

” … When Marduk had arranged heaven and earth, and had established the gods in their places, the gods complained that their existence was barren, because they lacked worshippers at their shrines and offerings.

To make a way out of this difficulty Marduk devised another “cunning plan,” and announced his intention of creating man out of “blood and bone” DAMI IṢṢIMTUM .

We have already quoted (see p. 11) the statement of Berosus that man was created out of the blood of a god mixed with earth; here, then, is the authority for his words.

Marduk made known to Ea his intention of creating man, and Ea suggested that if one of the gods were sacrificed the remainder of them should be set free from service, presumably to Marduk.

Thereupon Marduk summons a council of the gods, and asks them to name the instigator of the fight in which he himself was the victor.

In reply the gods named Kingu, Tiâmat’s second husband, whom they seized forthwith, and bound with fetters and carried to Ea, and then having “inflicted punishment upon him they let his blood.”

From Kingu’s blood Ea fashioned mankind for the service of the gods.

Now among the texts which have been found on the tablets at Ḳal’at Sharḳât is an account of the creation of man which differs from the version given in the Seven Tablets of Creation, but has two features in common with it. These two features are:

(1) the council of the gods to discuss the creation of man;

(2) the sacrifice which the gods had to make for the creation of man. In the variant version two (or more) gods are sacrificed, Ilu Nagar Ilu Nagari.e., “the workmen gods,” about whom nothing is known.

The place of sacrifice is specified with some care, and it is said to be “Uzu-mu-a, or the bond of heaven and earth.” Uzu-mu-a may be the bolt with which Marduk locked the two halves of Tiâmat into place.

The Anunnaki, wishing to give an expression of their admiration for Marduk’s heroism, decided to build him a shrine or temple. To this Marduk agreed, and chose Babylon, i.e., the “Gate of God,” for its site.

The Anunnaki themselves made the bricks, and they built the great temple of E-Sagila at Babylon. When the temple was finished, Marduk re-enacted the scene of creation; for, as he had formerly assigned to each god his place in the heavens, so now he assigned to each god his place in E-Sagila.

The tablet ends with a long hymn of praise which the Anunnaki sang to Marduk, and describes the summoning of an assembly of the gods to proclaim ceremonially the great Fifty Names of this god. Thus the gods accepted the absolute supremacy of Marduk.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

Again, Berossus

“Versions in Greek of the Legends found by George Smith had long been known to classical scholars, owing to the preservation of fragments of them in the works of later Greek writers, e.g., Eusebius, Syncellus, and others.

The most important of these is derived from the History of Babylonia, which was written in Greek by BEROSUS, a priest of Bel-Marduk, i.e., the “Lord Marduk,” at Babylon, about 250 B.C. In this work Berosus reproduced all the known historical facts and traditions derived from native sources which were current in his day.

It is therefore not surprising to find that his account of the Babylonian beliefs about the origin of things corresponds very closely with that given in the cuneiform texts, and that it is of the greatest use in explaining and partly in expanding these texts. His account of the primeval abyss, out of which everything came, and of its inhabitants reads:–

“There was a time in which there existed nothing but darkness and an abyss of waters, wherein resided most hideous beings, which were produced on a two-fold principle. There appeared men, some of whom were furnished with two wings, others with four, and with two faces. They had one body but two heads; the one that of a man, the other of a woman; and likewise in their several organs both male and female. Other human figures were to be seen with the legs and horns of goats; some had horses’ feet; while others united the hind-quarters of a horse with the body of a man, resembling in shape the hippo-centaurs. Bulls likewise were bred there with the heads of men, and dogs with four told bodies, terminated in their extremities with the tails of fishes; horses also with the heads of dogs; men too and other animals, with the heads and bodies of horses and the tails of fishes. In short, there were creatures in which were combined the limbs of every species of animals. In addition to these, fishes, reptiles, serpents, with other monstrous animals, which assumed each other’s shape and countenance. Of all which were preserved delineations in the temple of Belus at Babylon.” (Cory, Ancient Fragments, London, 1832, pp. 24-26.)

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight Between Bel and the Dragon, 1921.

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