The Babylonian Legends of the Creation

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[Cuneiform] and LAKHAMU [Cuneiform]. Their attributes cannot at present be described, but they seem to represent two forms of primitive matter. They appear to have had no existence in popular religion, and it has been thought that they may be described as theological conceptions containing the notions of matter and some of its attributes.

Terra-cotta figure of a Babylonian Demon. [No. 22,458.]

After countless aeons had passed the gods ANSHAR [Cuneiform] and KISHAR [Cuneiform] came into being; the former represents the "hosts of heaven," and the latter the "hosts of earth."

After another long and indefinite period the independent gods of the Babylonian pantheon came into being, e.g., ANU [Cuneiform], EA [Cuneiform], who is here called NUDIMMUD [Cuneiform], and others.

Bronze figure of a Babylonian Demon. [No. 93,078.]

As soon as the gods appeared in the universe "order" came into being. When APSÛ, the personification of confusion and disorder of every kind, saw this "order," he took counsel with his female associate TIÂMAT [Cuneiform] with the object of finding some means of destroying the "way" [Cuneiform] (al-ka-at) or "order" of the gods. Fortunately the Babylonians and Assyrians have supplied us with representations of Tiâmat, and these show us what form ancient tradition assigned to her. She is depicted as a ferocious monster with wings and scales and terrible claws, and her body is sometimes that of a huge serpent, and sometimes that of an animal. In the popular imagination she represented all that was physically terrifying, and foul, and abominable; she was nevertheless the mother of everything, 8 and was the possessor of the DUP SHIMATI or "TABLET OF DESTINIES" [Cuneiform]. No description of this Tablet or its contents is available, but from its name we may assume that it was a sort of Babylonian Book of Fate.9 Theologically, Tiâmat represented to the Babylonians the same state in the development of the universe as did tôhû wâ-bhôhû (Genesis i. 2), i.e., formlessness and voidness, of primeval matter, to the Hebrews She is depicted both on bas-reliefs and on cylinder seals in a form which associates her with LABARTU, 10 a female devil that prowled about the desert at night suckling wild animals but killing men. And it is tolerably certain that she was the type, and symbol, and head of the whole community of fiends, demons and devils.

Terra-cotta plaque with a Typhonic animal in relief. [No. 103,381.]

In the consultation which took place between APSÛ and TIÂMAT, their messenger MU-UM-MU [Cuneiform] took part; of the history and attributes of this last-named god nothing is known. The result of the consultation was that a long struggle began between the demons and the gods, and it is clear that the object of the powers of darkness was to destroy the light. The whole story of this struggle is the subject of the Seven Tablets of Creation. The gods are deifications of the sun, moon, planets and other stars, and APSÛ, or CHAOS, and his companions the demons, are personifications of darkness, night and evil. The story of the fight between them is nothing more nor less than a picturesque allegory of natural phenomena. Similar descriptions are found in the literatures of other primitive nations, and the story of the great fight between Her-ur, the great god of heaven, and Set, the great captain of the hosts of darkness, may be quoted as an example. Set regarded the "order" which Ḥer-ur was bringing into the universe with the same dislike as that with which APSÛ contemplated the beneficent work of Sin, the Moon-god, Shamash, the Sun-god, and their brother gods. And the hostility of Set and his allies to the gods, like that of Tiâmat and her allies, was everlasting.

between Marduk (Bel) and the Dragon. Drawn from a bas-relief from the Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, 885-860 B.C., at Nimrûd. [Nimrûd Gallery, Nos. 28 and 29.]

At this point a new Text fills a break in the First Tablet, and describes the fight which took place between Nudimmud or Ea, (the representative of the established "order" which the rule of the gods had introduced into the domain of Apsû and Tiâmat) and Apsû and his envoy Mummu. Ea went forth to fight the powers of darkness and he conquered Apsû and Mummu. The victory over Apsû, i.e., the confused and boundless mass of primeval water, represents the setting of impassable boundaries to the waters that are on and under the earth, i.e., the formation of the Ocean. The exact details of the conquest cannot be given, but we know that Ea was the possessor of the "pure (or white, or holy) incantation" and that he overcame Apsû and his envoy by the utterance of a powerful spell. In the Egyptian Legend of Rā and Āapep, the monster is rendered spell-bound by the god Ḥer-Ṭuati, who plays in it exactly the same part as Ea in the Babylonian Legend.

When Tiâmat heard of Ea's victory over Apsû and Mummu she was filled with fury, and determined to avenge the death of Apsû, her husband.

The first act of TIÂMAT after the death of Apsû was to increase the number of her allies. We know that a certain creature called "UMMU-KHUBUR" [Cuneiform] at once spawned a brood of devilish monsters to help her in her fight against the gods. Nothing is known of the origin or attributes of UMMU-KHUBUR, but some think she was a form of TIÂMAT. Her brood probably consisted of personifications of mist, fog, cloud, storm, whirlwinds and the blighting and destroying powers which primitive man associated with the desert. An exact parallel of this brood of devils is found in Egyptian mythology where the allies of Set and Āapep are called "Mesu beṭshet" [Hieroglyphics] i.e., "spawn of impotent revolt." They are depicted in the form of serpents, and some of them became the "Nine Worms of Ȧmenti" that are mentioned in the Book of the Dead (Chap. Ia).

Not content with Ummu-Khubur's brood of devils, Tiâmat called the stars and powers of the air to her aid, for she "set up" (1) the Viper, (2) the Snake, (3) the god Lakhamu, (4) the Whirlwind, (5) the ravening Dog, (6) the Scorpion-man, (7) the mighty Storm-wind, (8) the Fish-man, and (9) the Horned Beast. These bore (10) the "merciless, invincible weapon," and were under the command of (11) Kingu, whom Tiâmat calls "her husband." Thus Tiâmat had Eleven mighty Helpers besides the devils spawned by Ummu-Khubur. We may note in passing that some of the above-mentioned Helpers appear among the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac which Marduk "set up" after his conquest of Tiâmat, e.g., the Scorpion-man, the Horned Beast, etc. This fact suggests that the first Zodiac was "set up" by Tiâmat, who with her Eleven Helpers formed the Twelve Signs; the association of evil with certain stars may date from that period. That the Babylonians regarded the primitive gods as powers of evil is clear from the fact that Lakhamu, one of them, is enumerated among the allies of Tiâmat.

The helpers of Tiâmat were placed by her under the command of a god called KINGU [Cuneiform] who is TAMMUZ. He was the counterpart, or equivalent, of ANU, the Sky-god, in the kingdom of darkness, for it is said in the text "Kingu was exalted and received the power of Anu," i.e., he possessed the same power and attributes as Anu. When Tiâmat appointed Kingu to be her captain, she recited over him a certain spell or incantation, and then she gave him the TABLET OF DESTINIES and fastened it to his breast, saying, "Whatsoever goeth forth from thy mouth shall be established." Armed with all the magical powers conferred upon him by this Tablet, and heartened by all the laudatory epithets which his wife Tiâmat heaped upon him, Kingu went forth at the head of his devils.

When Ea heard that Tiâmat had collected her forces and Was determined to continue the fight against the gods which Apsû and Mummu had begun, and that she had made her husband Kingu her champion, he was "afflicted" and "sat in sorrow." He felt unable to renew the fight against the powers of darkness, and he therefore went and reported the new happenings to Anshar, representative of the "host of heaven," and took counsel with him. When Anshar heard the matter he was greatly disturbed in mind and bit his lips, for he saw that the real difficulty was to find a worthy antagonist for Kingu and Tiâmat. A gap in the text here prevents us from knowing exactly what Anshar said and did, but the context suggests that he summoned Anu, the Sky-god, to his assistance. Then, having given him certain instructions, he sent him on an embassy to Tiâmat with the view of conciliating her. When Anu reached the place where she was he found her in a very wrathful state, and she was muttering angrily; Anu was so appalled at the sight of her that he turned and fled. It is impossible at present to explain this interlude, or to find any parallel to it in other ancient Oriental literature.

Shamash the Sun-god rising on the horizon, flames of fire ascending from his shoulder. The two portals of the dawn, each surmounted by a lion, are being drawn open by attendant gods. From a Babylonian seal cylinder in the British Museum. [No. 89,110.]