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The Babylonian Legends of the Creation
Fight Between Bel and the Dragon
Told by Assyrian Tablets From Nineveh
Discovery of the Tablets.
The baked clay tablets and portions of tablets which describe the views and beliefs of the Babylonians and Assyrians about the Creation were discovered by Mr. (later Sir) A.H. Layard, Mormuzd Rassam and George Smith, Assistant in the Department of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum. They were found among the ruins of the Palace and Library of Ashur-bani-pal (B.C. 668-626) at K?uyûnjik? (Nineveh), between the years 1848 and 1876. Between 1866 and 1870, the great “find” of tablets and fragments, some 20,000 in number, which Rassam made in 1852, was worked through by George Smith, who identified many of the historical inscriptions of Shalmaneser II, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and other kings mentioned in the Bible, and several literary compositions of a legendary character, fables, etc. In the course of this work he discovered fragments of various versions of the Babylonian Legend of the Deluge, and portions of several texts belonging to a work which treated of the beginning of things, and of the Creation. In 1870, Rawlinson and Smith noted allusions to the Creation in the important tablet K.63, but the texts of portions of tablets of the Creation Series at that time available for study were so fragmentary that it was impossible for these scholars to find their correct sequence. During the excavations which Smith carried out at K?uyûnjik? in 1873 and 1874 for the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph and the Trustees of the British Museum, he was, he tells us, fortunate enough to discover “several fragments of the Genesis Legends.” In January, 1875, he made an exhaustive search among the tablets in the British Museum, and in the following March he published, in the Daily Telegraph (March 4th), a summary of the contents of about twenty fragments of the series of tablets describing the creation of the heavens and the earth. In November of the same year he communicated to the Society of Biblical Archaeology1 copies of:–(1) the texts on fragments of the First and Fifth Tablets of Creation; (2) a text describing the fight between the “Gods and Chaos”; and (3) a fragmentary text which, he believed, described the Fall of Man. In the following year he published translations of all the known fragments of the Babylonian Creation Legends in his “Chaldean Account of Genesis” (London, 1876, 8vo, with photographs). In this volume were included translations of the Exploits of Gizdubar (Gilgamish), and some early Babylonian fables and legends of the gods.
Publication of the Creation Tablets.
The publication of the above-mentioned texts and translations proved beyond all doubt the correctness of Rawlinson’s assertion made in 1865, that “certain portions of the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends of the Creation resembled passages in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis.” During the next twenty years, the Creation texts were copied and recopied by many Assyriologists, but no publication appeared in which all the material available for reconstructing the Legend was given in a collected form. In 1898, the Trustees of the British Museum ordered the publication of all the Creation texts contained in the Babylonian and Assyrian Collections, and the late Mr. L. W. King, Assistant in the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, was directed to prepare an edition. The exhaustive preparatory search which he made through the collections of tablets in the British Museum resulted in the discovery of many unpublished fragments of the Creation Legends, and in the identification of a fragment which, although used by George Smith, had been lost sight of for about twenty-five years. He ascertained also that, according to the Ninevite scribes, the Tablets of the Creation Series were seven in number, and what several versions of the Legend of the Creation, the works of Babylonian and Assyrian editors of different periods, must have existed in early Mesopotamian Libraries. King’s edition of the Creation Texts appeared in “Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum,” Part XIII, London, 1901. As the scope of this work did not permit the inclusion of his translations, and commentary and notes, he published these in a private work entitled, “The Seven Tablets of Creation, or the Babylonian and Assyrian Legends concerning the creation of the world and of mankind,” London, 1902, 8vo. A supplementary volume contained much new material which had been found by him since the appearance of the official edition of the texts, and in fact doubled the number of Creation Texts known hitherto.
Babylonian map of the world, showing the ocean surrounding the world and making the position of Babylon on the Euphrates as its centre. It shows also the mountains as the source of the river, the land of Assyria, Bît-Iakinu, and the swamps at the mouth of the Euphrates. [No. 92,687.]
The Object of the babylonian Legend of the Creation.
A perusal of the texts of the Seven Tablets of Creation, which King was enabled, through the information contained in them, to arrange for the first time in their proper sequence, shows that the main object of the Legend was the glorification of the god Marduk, the son of Ea (Enki), as the conqueror of the dragon Tiâmat, and not the narration of the story of the creation of the heavens, and earth and man. The Creation properly speaking, is only mentioned as an exploit of Marduk in the Sixth Tablet, and the Seventh Tablet is devoted wholly to the enumeration of the honorific titles of Marduk. It is probable that every great city in Babylonia, whilst accepting the general form of the Creation Legend, made the greatest of its local gods the hero of it. It has long been surmised that the prominence of Marduk in the Legend was due to the political importance of the city of Babylon. And we now know from the fragments of tablets which have been excavated in recent years by German Assyriologists at K?al’at Shark?ât (or Shargat, or Shar’at), that in the city of Ashur, the god Ashur, the national god of Assyria, actually occupied in texts2 of the Legend in use there the position which Marduk held in four of the Legends current in Babylonia. There is reason for thinking that the original hero of the Legend was Enlil (Bel), the great god of Nippur (the Nafar, or Nufar of the Arab writers), and that when Babylon rose into power under the First Dynasty (about B.C. 2300), his position in the Legend was usurped at Babylon by Marduk.
Excavations in Babylonia and Assyria.
Variant Forms of the Babylonian Legend of the Creation.
The views about the Creation which are described in the Seven Tablets mentioned above were not the only ones current in Mesopotamia, and certainly they were not necessarily the most orthodox. Though in the version of the Legend already referred to the great god of creation was Enlil, or Marduk, or Ashur, we know that in the Legend of Gilgamish (Second Tablet) it was the goddess Aruru who created Enkidu (Eabani) from a piece of clay moistened with her own spittle. And in the so-called “bilingual” version3 of the Legend, we find that this goddess assisted Marduk as an equal in the work of creating the seed of mankind. This version, although Marduk holds the position of pre-eminence, differs in many particulars from that given by the Seven Tablets, and as it is the most important of all the texts which deal directly with the creation of the heavens and the earth, a rendering of it is here given.
The “Bilingual” Version of the Creation Legend.
1. “The holy house, the house of the gods in the holy place had not yet been made.
2. “No reed had sprung up, no tree had been made.
3. “No brick had been laid, no structure of brick had been erected.
4. “No house had been made, no city had been built.
The Bilingual Version of the Creation Legend. [No. 93,014.]
5. “No city had been made, no creature had been constituted.
6. “Enlil’s city, (i.e., Nippur) had not been made, E-kur had not been built,
7. “Erech had not been made, E-Aena had not been built,
8. The Deep4 (or Abyss) had not been made, Eridu had not been built.”>
9. “Of the holy house, the house of the gods, the dwelling-place had not been made.
10. “All the lands were sea
11. “At the time that the mid-most sea was [shaped like] a trough,
12. “At that time Eridu was made, and E-sagil was built,
13. “The E-sagil where in the midst of the Deep the god Lugal-dul-azaga5 dwelleth,
14. “Babylon was made, E-sagil was completed.
15. “The gods the Anunnaki he created at one time.
16. “They proclaimed supreme the holy city, the dwelling of their heart’s happiness.
17. “Marduk laid a rush mat upon the face of the waters,
18. “He mixed up earth and moulded it upon the rush mat,
19. “To enable the gods to dwell in the place where they fain would be.
20. “He fashioned man.
21. “The goddess Aruru with him created the seed of mankind.
22. “He created the beasts of the field and [all] the living things in the field.