The Enuma Elish

The Babylonian creation story is called The Enuma Elish. It dates from around about 1250 BC, in written form, at least. An almost complete text— one tablet is damaged— was found in the ruins of the library of Ashurbanipal in what is now Mosul, Iraq. (Wikipedia)

Walter Wink called it "one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world," and you can read an outline here, and a full translation here

Apsu and Tiamat, the father and mother gods give birth to the other gods, who make so much noise that the older gods— there are lots of gods in this epic— decide to kill them off. But the plan is discovered by the young gods, and one of them, Ea, manages to kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat is furious, and in Tablet 2 of the saga, plans revenge. The young gods ask one of their number, Marduk, to defend them against Tiamat. He agrees, on the condition that they make him the head of all the gods, which they do.

Marduk defeats Tiamat and cuts her body up, using it to create the world. Wink describes it like this:

In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes (The Symbolism of Evil, Harper Collins 1967), order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolised by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.

The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this…

Wink's article alleges that "The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence." He says Genesis Chapter 1 was developed in the Jewish captivity in Babylon as a direct rebuttal of the claims of the Enuma Elish and Babylonian theology. And he says of today, "Only the names have changed."

Marduk subdues Tiamat through violence, and though he kills Tiamat, chaos incessantly reasserts itself, and is kept at bay only by repeated battles and by the repetition of the Babylonian New Year’s festival where the heavenly combat myth is ritually re-enacted. Theologian Willis Elliott’s observation underscores the seriousness of this entertainment: ”the birth of the world (cosmogony) is the birth of the individual (egogony): you are being birthed through how you see ’all things’ as being birthed”. Therefore “Whoever controls the cosmogony controls the children”.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. Its presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives.

We are going well beyond Genesis 1 here, but I wish to add to the point I make in the previous article. We are not dealing with an ancient and largely irrelevant text. We are dealing with the key issues of our time!  The sort of stories we are reading are Myth— not untrue stories— but stories which deal with the basic structure of our nature as human beings. Myth is not just story, it is, as Wink says, "enacted." It is a description of how we live. When we read the story of the plots and counter plots, it can seem like a Hollywood soap opera. But, in fact, the soap operas, the melodramatic representations of how we live, are the modern living out of the myth! They tell us who we are. And they control the way we think about ourselves.

There is one other point about the Enuma Elish which needs special mention. The tablet containing this part of the story is damaged, but it seems the gods complained they had too much work to do. So Marduk created human beings to "free the gods from menial labour" (Sarna The Meaning of Genesis pp1-4) and made the first human being from the blood of Tiamat's second husband, Kingu. We are born of violence in the Enuma Elish. We are born for servitude in the Enuma Elish.

Now to the first chapter Genesis which, we will see, has a vastly different understanding of reality.


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