Exploring a Myth: 
The Enuma Elish


One of the better preserved myths from an ancient culture is the Babylonian Creation myth known as the Enuma Elish.  The title comes from the first two words of the myth: "when on high." The myth itself was probably written down during the 12th Century BCE, but most scholars agree that its origins are much older. The Enuma elish tells the story of the creation of the cosmos, the hierarchy of gods and the creation of the world and the creation of humanity.  

The text consists of seven tablets. It tells how Marduk  the god of Babylon, was chosen king of the gods to defeat Tiamat, the personified sea representing chaotic evil. After killing her, Marduk split her in two, created the world from her corpse, and stationed the various gods in their appropriate spheres. Then he created the human race from the blood of the rebel god Kingu to be the slaves of the gods. Finally he established Babylon. The text ends with the gods praising Marduk by reciting his 50 names.

Click here to read the Enuma Elish online

A Brief Analysis

(Note: The following comments rely heavily on those of James Livingston in The Anatomy of the Sacred. Prentice-Hall, 4th ed. pages 232-235.) 
To understand the Enuma Elish, we must first understand something of the community in which it functioned as sacred language. Ancient Babylon was located in the area of the Middle East known as Mesopotamia.  Mesopotamia literally means "the land between two rivers."  The land itself is literally created silt deposited by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The silt is formed where the fresh water meets the salt water. This phenomenon is expressed in the Enuma Elish as the mingling or sexual union of fresh water and salt water. 
The conflict between Marduk and Ti'amat explains a realistic feature of life in Mesopotamia. The battle is reflected in the annual flooding of the Mesopotamian plain and the contest between the waters (chaos) and the winds which can fight back the waters and bring back dry land. The myth thus suggests that the natural order is a reflection of the archetype (model) of the struggle between Tiamat and Marduk. 
The Enuma Elish also suggests that the social order is patterned after the order of the sacred. Notice that the myth describes the establishment of the cosmic government and explains why there is a hierarchy of gods and why Marduk is to be worshipped as the supreme god.  This government of the gods is also reflected in the political reality of this world: "Scholars point out that the myth dramatizes the political crises of Mesopotamian history, from primal warring communities to city-states, and finally to empire." What is significant is that the myth sees the emerging political structure as the human-social reflection of the order already achieved by the pantheon of the gods.
But where did humans come from? What is their purpose in the order of creation?  The Enuma Elish also answers this question. Humans were created by Marduk to relieve the gods of their labors.  Thus, humans are given the work once assigned to the gods.
What is significant about the city of Babylon and its temple to Marduk?  The myth tells us that the gods themselves built the capital of the Babylonian empire along with the temple where Marduk is to be worshipped.  Babylon is thus destined by the gods to be a city of prominence, majesty and might where Marduk's rule is established on earth.

This brief analysis should be sufficient to demonstrate how myths function to explain where the world came from, why things are the way they are and what humanity's purpose is.