Applied Cosmic Anthropology
-Asian Social Institute (ASI)

the origin of the cosmos: the sumerian account

by Paul J. Dejillas, Ph.D.

 

 

The earliest known texts that document in some detail the histories of the universe, the genealogies of the gods and goddesses, the beginnings of life, and the creation of mankind are those recorded in what is now known as the Ancient Mesopotamian texts. Dated to be written in as early as 8,500 B.C., they are acknowledged to be much older by at least a thousand years than those recorded in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible. Many scholars now agree that whatever was written in these ancient texts about the Universe have great influences on subsequent civilizations like Greece, India, Egypt, Rome, including our modern times.

 

Mesopotamia comes from the Greek words μέσος "between" and ποταμός "river," referring to the big area in between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. Translated literally, it means "between two rivers;" it is where Iraq lies today. It was here that the first metropolis developed in the late 4th millennium B.C., the time which is attributed to by many historians as the beginning of its history.[1] Mesopotamia’s most known places during its time---Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria---are also known sources of our so-called Ancient texts.

 

Its version of the origin of the cosmos is recorded first in Sumeria, but known to us today by way of the Babylonian version’s Epic of Creation. The epic is said to be sung in annual festivals to honor the gods of Babylon. “It retells the ancient myths of creation, the flood and the events which led to the supernatural building of Babylon to be a home for the gods.” This version, written in Akkadian, an old Babylonian dialect, is recorded in cuneiform on seven clay tablets sometime in the 12th century BC.[2]

 

The idea that in the beginning there was Chaos and that the gods and goddesses emerged from this already existing Chaos is a central belief in the ancient Near Eastern creation stories, in particular, the Sumerians, Akkadian, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, Canaanites, and the Egyptians.

 

The more famous and oft-quoted texts about creation, and which are of our interest here, are the Enuma Elish, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.[3] These ancient creation stories have several English translations already, but these translations are observed to be not exact for valid several reasons: damaged tablets, missing lines and words, and differing interpretations of the meaning of some words. Thus, some translators oftentimes attempted to construct the text based on what remains and is legible in the cuneiform, or simply capture the sense rather than offer a literal translation.[4] What is certain, however, is that there are no earlier civilizations, as of yet known to modern man, which could be traced as the sources of knowledge and inspiration of these Ancient Mesopotamian texts, since there are no existing records or archeological findings that speak of civilizations earlier than that of Mesopotamia.

 

From the Sumerian epic of creation, the emergence of the gods and goddesses parallels the appearance of the Universe. Put it in another way, the creation of the gods and goddesses from Chaos is at the same time the creation of the Universe. This becomes evident when we consider that the names of the gods also correspond or are representations of the various planets in our solar system.

 

All in all, a total of twelve gods and goddesses can be counted, which, nterestingly, in the Sumerian tradition, are also personifications of the celestial bodies that make up our solar system.  These are:

  1.    Apsu: “one who existed from the beginning,” “the begetter of the great gods” is translated to be another name for the SUN

  2.    Tiamat: “the mother of them all,” “who formed all things,” and “the maiden of life” is believed to be an early planet named NIBIRU still unknown to modern science; and home of the celestial gods and goddesses

  3.    Lahmu: “deity of war,” probably denotes the planet MARS

  4.    Lahamu: “lady of the battles,” represents the planet VENUS

  5.    Anshar: “foremost of the heavens” is the planet SATURN

  6.    Kishar: “foremost of firm lands” is the planet JUPITER. The largest of the planets, Jupiter is indeed, “foremost” of the planets, the location of “firm lands” (Dan Ward 1995).

  7.    Anu: “he of the heavens” is attributed to as URANUS

  8.    Nudimmud or Ea,“artful creator” is believed to be NEPTUNE

  9.    Mummu: “counselor and emissary of Apsu,” a possible description of the planet MERCURY

  10. Gaga: “counselor and emissary of Anshar” is said to be PLUTO, with a destiny of its own

  11. Kingu: “the exalted,” “the one who directs the battle,” and “the maiden who gave life” is said to be the MOON, formed after a fiery explosion caused by the collision of Tiamat (NIBIRU)

  12. Ki: representing the EARTH which also emerged as a result of the collision, and believed to be the other half of Tiamat. The other half is, as can be gleaned from the creation story formed the HEAVENS, which is now the Asteroid Belt, situated between Mars and Jupiter.

 

How these gods and goddesses came to be linked with the planets of our solar system is a story in itself which the Sumerian creation epic masterfully interweaves. As one plows through the seven tablets of the creation epic, one only marvels at how the writers of the story were able to depict the personality and behavior of our planets in our solar system into the character of the gods and goddesses.

 

There was no “big-bang” to speak of. Utmost, what could be heard is perhaps the noise or sound caused by the rushing or meeting of the two great oceans that produced what could be the first sound of the universe or cosmos.

 

During the early stages of creation, i.e., right after the commingling of Apsu (the SUN) and Tiamat (NIBIRU), the Universe was still said to be in disorder and in confusion, a condition that persisted even after the appearance of many gods and goddesses. In fact, as the number of the sons and daughters of the celestial gods increased, a celestial battle between Tiamat and Anshar (SATURN) loomed in the heavens. While some of the lines in the Sumerian epic of creation are either incomplete or missing, the cause of the confusion is so great that it had polarized the gods (or planets) into two major factions: on the one hand, the “mother of them all” and the “foremost of the heavens.”

 

During the early stages of creation, i.e., right after the commingling of Apsu (the SUN) and Tiamat (NIBIRU), the Universe was still said to be in disorder and in confusion, a condition that persisted even after the appearance of many gods and goddesses. In fact, as the number of the sons and daughters of the celestial gods increased, a celestial battle between Tiamat and Anshar (SATURN) loomed in the heavens. While some of the lines in the Sumerian epic of creation are either incomplete or missing, the cause of the confusion is so great that it had polarized the gods (or planets) into two major factions: on the one hand, the “mother of them all” and the “foremost of the heavens.”

Tiamat and Apsu were still in confusion...

They were troubled and...

In disorder...

 

Apsu was not diminished in might...

And Tiamat roared...

She smote, and their deeds...

Their way was evil...

Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods,

Cried unto Mummu, his minister, and said unto him:

"O Mummu, thou minister that rejoicest my spirit,

Come, unto Tiamat let us go!

So they went and before Tiamat they lay down,

They consulted on a plan with regard to the gods, their sons.

Apsu opened his mouth and spake,

And unto Tiamut, the glistening one, he addressed the word:

...their way...

By day I can not rest, by night I can not lie down in peace.

But I will destroy their way, I will...

Let there be lamentation, and let us lie down again in peace."

 

When Tiamat heard these words,

She raged and cried aloud...

She... grievously...,

….

And Tiamat harkened unto the word of the bright god, and said:

... shalt thou entrust! let us wage war!"

... the gods in the midst of...

... for the gods did she create.

They banded themselves together and at the side of Tiamat they advanced;

Lamentation they sat in sorrow

….

They were furious; they devised mischief without resting night and day.

They prepared for battle, fuming and raging;

They joined their forces and made war, …

 

On the other side, another group of gods and goddesses band together and made their plea for peace in the Universe to Anshar. Unable to do the battle himself, we are told in the second Tablet that Anshar turned to his son Anu (URANUS). But Anu, unable to confront the might and power of Tiamat, turned back and retreated. Replacing Anu was Nudimmud (NEPTUNE), but since he was also afraid and he turned his back.

Ea harkened to this thing, and

He was grievously afflicted and he sat in sorrow.

The days went by, and his anger was appeased,

And to the place of Ansar his father he took his way.

He went and, standing before Ansar, the father who begat him,

All that Tiamat had plotted he repeated unto him, …

 

When Ansar heard how Tiamat was mightily in revolt,

he bit his lips, his mind was not at peace,

..., he made a bitter lamentation:

... battle,

... thou...

Mummu and Apsu thou hast smitten

But Tiamat hath exalted Kingu, and where is one who can oppose her?

 

Ansar unto his son addressed the word:

"... my mighty hero,

Whose strength is great and whose onslaught can not be withstood,

Go and stand before Tiamat,

That her spirit may be appeased, that her heart may be merciful.

But if she will not harken unto thy word,

Our word shalt thou speak unto her, that she may be pacified."

 

He heard the word of his father Ansar

And he directed his path to her, toward her he took the way.

Ann drew nigh, he beheld the muttering of Tiamat,

But he could not withstand her, and he turned back.

 

In the third Tablet, we are told that, with nobody else strong enough to withstand Tiamat, Marduk was persuaded to take up the cudgel. But he demanded a lot of conditions that Anshar and the rest of the Annunaki who were on his side agreed after consulting Lahmu (“Deity of War” linked to MARS) and Lahamu (“Lady of the Battles” identified as VENUS). The condition, as set out vehemently by Marduk, revolved around the idea of making him the greatest of all gods.

But Marduk hath set out, the director of the gods, your son;

To set out against Tiamat his heart hath prompted him.

He opened his mouth and spake unto me, saying:

'If I, your avenger,

Conquer Tiamat and give you life,

Appoint an assembly, make my fate preeminent and proclaim it.

In Upsukkinaku seat yourselves joyfully together;

With my word in place of you will I decree fate.

May, whatsoever I do remain unaltered,

May the word of my lips never be changed nor made of no avail.'

 

Lahmu and Lahamu heard and cried aloud

All of the Igigi [The elder gods] wailed bitterly, saying:

What has been altered so that they should

We do not understand the deed of Tiamat!

Then did they collect and go,

The great gods, all of them, who decree fate.

They entered in before Ansar, they filled...

They kissed one another, in the assembly...;

They made ready for the feast, at the banquet they sat;

They ate bread, they mixed sesame-wine.

The sweet drink, the mead, confused their...

They were drunk with drinking, their bodies were filled.

They were wholly at ease, their spirit was exalted;

Then for Marduk, their avenger, did they decree the fate.

 

In the fourth Tablet, Mardul’s fate is proclaimed. Marduk got even more than what he had bargained for.

They prepared for him a lordly chamber,

Before his fathers as prince he took his place.

"Thou art chiefest among the great gods,

Thy fate is unequaled, thy word is Anu!

0 Marduk, thou art chiefest among the great gods,

Thy fate is unequaled, thy word is Anu!

Henceforth not without avail shall be thy command,

In thy power shall it be to exalt and to abase.

Established shall be the word of thy mouth,

irresistible shall be thy command,

None among the gods shall transgress thy boundary.

Abundance, the desire of the shrines of the gods,

Shall be established in thy sanctuary, even though they lack offerings.

 

O Marduk, thou art our avenger!

We give thee sovereignty over the whole world.

Sit thou down in might; be exalted in thy command.

Thy weapon shall never lose its power; it shall crush thy foe.

O Lord, spare the life of him that putteth his trust in thee,

But as for the god who began the rebellion, pour out his life."

Then set they in their midst a garment,

 

And unto Marduk,- their first-born they spake:

"May thy fate, O lord, be supreme among the gods,

To destroy and to create; speak thou the word,

and thy command shall be fulfilled.

Command now and let the garment vanish;

And speak the word again and let the garment reappear!

 

Then he spake with his mouth, and the garment vanished;

Again he commanded it, and. the garment reappeared.

When the gods, his fathers, beheld the fulfillment of his word,

They rejoiced, and they did homage unto him, saying, " Marduk is king!"

They bestowed upon him the scepter, and the throne, and the ring,

They give him an invincible weapony which overwhelmeth the foe.

 

Go, and cut off the life of Tiamat,

And let the wind carry her blood into secret places."

After the gods his fathers had decreed for the lord his fate,

They caused him to set out on a path of prosperity and success.

 

The battle, indeed, occurred. In fact, we can glean that this is inevitable from some of the titles carried by the gods and goddesses: “deity of wars,” “lady of the battles,” and “the one who directs the battle.” As the epic unfolds, we learn that Marduk battles with Tiamat, and he defeats her and divides her body into two parts: the water above (the sky) and the water below (the ocean and the depths). As the story continues to unfold, the Babylonian cosmogony (i.e. the theory or model of the origin and evolution of the universe) becomes further developed, and the various gods are given their assigned stations in the heavens and on the earth.

He made ready the bow, he chose his weapon,

He slung a spear upon him and fastened it...

He raised the club, in his right hand he grasped it,

The bow and the quiver he hung at his side.

He set the lightning in front of him,

With burning flame he filled his body.

He made a net to enclose the inward parts of Tiamat,

The four winds he stationed so that nothing of her might escape;

The South wind and the North wind and the East wind and the West wind

He brought near to the net, the gift of his father Anu.

He created the evil wind, and the tempest, and the hurricane,

And the fourfold wind, and the sevenfold wind,

and the whirlwind, and the wind which had no equal;

He sent forth the winds which he bad created, the seven of them;

To disturb the inward parts of Tiamat, they followed after him.

Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,

He mounted the chariot, the storm unequaled for terror,

He harnessed and yoked unto it four horses,

Destructive, ferocious, overwhelming, and swift of pace;

... were their teeth, they were flecked with foam;

They were skilled in... , they had been trained to trample underfoot.

... . mighty in battle,

Left and right....

His garment was... , he was clothed with terror,

With overpowering brightness his head was crowned.

 

Then he set out, he took his way,

And toward the raging Tiamat he set his face.

On his lips he held ...,

... he grasped in his hand.

Then they beheld him, the gods beheld him,

The gods his fathers beheld him, the gods beheld him.

And the lord drew nigh, he gazed upon the inward parts of Tiamat,

He perceived the muttering of Kingu, her spouse.

As Marduk gazed, Kingu was troubled in his gait,

His will was destroyed and his motions ceased.

And the gods, his helpers, who marched by his side,

Beheld their leader's..., and their sight was troubled.

But Tiamat... , she turned not her neck,

With lips that failed not she uttered rebellious words:

"... thy coming as lord of the gods,

From their places have they gathered, in thy place are they! "

Then the lord raised the thunderbolt, his mighty weapon,

And against Tiamat, who was raging, thus he sent the word:

Thou art become great, thou hast exalted thyself on high,

And thy heart hath prompted thee to call to battle.

          ….

When Tiamat heard these words,

She was like one posessed, .she lost her reason.

Tiamat uttered wild, piercing cries,

She trembled and shook to her very foundations.

She recited an incantation, she pronounced her spell,

 

And the gods of the battle cried out for their weapons.

Then advanced Tiamat and Marduk, the counselor of the gods;

To the fight they came on, to the battle they drew nigh.

The lord spread out his net and caught her,

And the evil wind that was behind him he let loose in her face.

As Tiamat opened her mouth to its full extent,

He drove in the evil wind, while as yet she had not shut her lips.

The terrible winds filled her belly,

And her courage was taken from her,

and her mouth she opened wide.

He seized the spear and burst her belly,

He severed her inward parts, he pierced her heart.

He overcame her and cut off her life;

He cast down her body and stood upon it.

 

When be had slain Tiamat, the leader,

Her might was broken, her host was scattered.

And the gods her helpers, who marched by her side,

Trembled, and were afraid, and turned back.

They took to flight to save their lives;

But they were surrounded, so that they could not escape.

He took them captive, he broke their weapons;

In the net they were caught and in the snare they sat down.

The ... of the world they filled with cries of grief.

They received punishment from him, they were held in bondage.

 

And on the eleven creatures which she had

filled with the power of striking terror,

Upon the troop of devils, who marched at her...,

He brought affliction, their strength he...;

Them and their opposition he trampled under his feet.

 

Paradoxically, this violent celestial battle finally brought order and harmony into the Universe. But what was the disorder in the first place. The creation story tells us that Tiamat exalted and favored Kingu (the MOON) over and above all the other gods. In so doing, Tiamat gave him the Tablets of Destiny that the MOON enormous power to lead and command all the other celestial bodies. And this was the mission of Marduk– to retrieve from the Moon this Tablet of Destiny.

She exalted Kingu; in their midst she raised him to power.

To march before the forces, to lead the host,

To give the battle-signal, to advance to the attack,

To direct the battle, to control the fight,

Unto him she entrusted; in costly raiment she made him sit, saying:

I have uttered thy spell, in the assembly of the gods I have raised thee to power.

The dominion over all the gods have I entrusted unto him.

 

She gave him the Tablets of Destiny, on his breast she laid them, saying:

Thy command shall not be without avail, and the word of thy mouth shall be established."

Now Kingu, thus exalted, having received the power of Anu,

…..

Moreover, Kingu, who had been exalted over them,

He conquered, and with the god Dug-ga he counted him.

He took from him the Tablets of Destiny that were not rightly his,

He sealed them with a seal and in his own breast he laid them.

 

The battle having been won and the Tablet of Destiny retrieved, Marduk, then, established order and harmony in the entire Universe.

He (Marduk) made the stations for the great gods;
The stars, their images, as the stars of the Zodiac, he fixed.
He ordained the year and into sections he divided it;
For the twelve months he fixed three stars.
After he had ... the days of the year ... images,
He founded the station of Nibiru  to determine their bounds;
That none might err or go astray,
He set the station of Bel and Ea along with him.
He opened great gates on both sides,
He made strong the bolt on the left and on the right.
In the midst thereof he fixed the zenith;
The Moon-god he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him.
He appointed him, a being of the night, to determine the days;
Every month without ceasing with the crown he covered him, saying:
"At the beginning of the month, when thou shinest upon the land,
Thou commandest the horns to determine six days,
And on the seventh day to divide the crown.
On the fourteenth day thou shalt stand opposite, the half....
When the Sun-god on the foundation of heaven...thee,
The ... thou shalt cause to ..., and thou shalt make his...
... unto the path of the Sun-god shalt thou cause to draw nigh,
And on the ... day thou shalt stand opposite, and the Sun-god shall...
... to traverse her way.
... thou shalt cause to draw nigh, and thou shalt judge the right.
... to destroy..."

 

Other Babylonian stories of origin and creation exist, such as the Atrahasis myth, which is the largest surviving mythological narrative poem from the Old Babylonian period. The story of Atrahasis begins with the gods Anu, Enlil, and Enki having divided the cosmos into the three realms of the heavens, the earth, and the watery depths, with each responsible for a realm. When Enlil enforces hard labor upon the lesser gods, they rebel, and Enlil enlists Anu to create a new world order, which includes the creation of humankind so that humans may now take up the work of the gods.

 

Other myths, such as “Marduk, Creator of the World,” “The Myth of the Plow,” and “The Creation of Mankind” are scarcer textually and, in many cases, badly preserved. However, they do provide further background into the conception and evolution of Babylonian cosmogony and creation myth. These narratives and other origin myths from the Middle Babylonian period are found in Foster, Before the Muses, 487-497.



[1]Its dominance and influence extends to the 4th century B.C., the time when Alexander the Great conquered the land and marking its "end."

[2]This version stars Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon; the earlier version in ancient Sumerian has Anu, Enlil and Ninurta as the heroes.

[3]According to D. Bratcher: “The translation of these texts is not exact. In some cases, badly damaged tablets make reading the text difficult. Some translators leave the gaps, while others attempt to reconstruct the text based on what remains. In other cases, there are differing interpretations of the meaning of words or the reading of the cuneiform itself. Many translations of the tablets try to capture the sense of the text rather than a literal translation.” (See Dennis Bratcher, Enuma Elish: “When on High…” The Mesopotamian/Babylonian Creation Myth.” In view of these, the version presented here is a combination of several translations that include: N. K. Sandars; L.W. King, published in 1902, in his The Seven Tablets of Creation; E. A. Speiser in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edition, edited by James Pritchard (Princeton, 1969).

 

[4]See Dennis Bratcher, Enuma Elish: “When on High…” The Mesopotamian/Babylonian Creation Myth.”

Recent Videos

2701 views - 2 comments
2914 views - 0 comments
2767 views - 2 comments