Babylonian Creation

The Babylonians lived in the so-called Fertile Crescent, the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq. Their great civilization followed that of the Sumerians, which influenced their culture. These cultures brought high civilization to Mesopotamia several millennia b.c.e. The best known of the Babylonian creation stories is contained in the Enuma Elish, the great epic named after its first two words, enuma elish, meaning “when on high.”

The Enuma Elish is a world-parent type of creation myth. Recorded in the form we have come to know it best in about 1100 b.c.e. during a celebration of Nebuchadnezzar’s recapture of the city’s statue of Marduk, the poem is written in a Semitic language, Akkadian—the language of Mesopotamia in the third millennium b.c.e. Parts of the story have been found in cuneiform script on clay tablets dating from about 2500 b.c.e., and it seems more than likely that it is based in part on earlier Sumerian texts, especially since many of the gods mentioned are of Sumerian origin. However we date it, the Enuma Elish is one of our oldest extant creation stories, and it is one of the most famous. 

The work is an unusual creation epic for the polytheistic world of the ancient Near East in that Marduk assumes many of the functions and responsibilities traditionally given to other gods in the local pantheon. It is also quite unlike the monotheistic biblical Genesis in that it concentrates on the process of creation rather than its results. Creation for the Babylonians is a form of procreation or of craftsmanship.

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