Tiamat, the Babylonian creation goddess.

Enuma Elish

The Babylonian Creation Myth

The Enuma Elish Creation

Enuma Elish is the old Babylonian creation myth, which has been preserved for thousands of years on clay tablets. It predates most of the creation myths of the world, although it's surely not the oldest one. Here is the translated text of the myth, investigated and explained.

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1 Enuma Elish — the beginning

When skies above were not yet named
Nor earth below pronounced by name,
Apsu, the first one, their begetter
And maker Tiamat, who bore them all,
Had mixed their waters together,
But had not formed pastures, nor discovered reed-beds;
When yet no gods were manifest,
Nor names pronounced, nor destinies decreed,
Then gods were born within them.
Lahmu (and) Lahamu emerged, their names pronounced.
As soon as they matured, were fully formed,
Anshar (and) Kishar were born, surpassing them.
They passed the days at length, they added to the years.
Anu their first-born son rivalled his forefathers:
Anshar made his son Anu like himself,
And Anu begot Nudimmud in his likeness.
He, Nudimmud, was superior to his forefathers:
Profound of understanding, he was wise, was very strong at arms.
Mightier by far than Anshar his father’s begetter,
He had no rival among the gods his peers.
The gods of that generation would meet together
And disturb Tiamat, and their clamour reverberated.
They stirred up Tiamat’s belly,
They were annoying her by playing inside Anduruna.

Notes on the Enuma Elish text

The version of Enuma Elish used in this and other quotes is from Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford 2000, 233ff.

Apsu comes from the Sumerian ab-zu, ‘the conscious sea’ or ‘the sea of wisdom’, and represents freshwater and the male principle. This freshwater sea was supposed to exist below ground, as a foundation on which the world rested.

The word for ‘maker’ is mummu. King translates it ‘chaos’, without explaining why [L. W. King, Enuma Elish: The Seven Tablets of Creation, volume I and II, London 1902]. Wikander explains the word as meaning a creative force, but also points out that a wordplay with the god name Mummu appearing later is intended [Ola Wikander, Enuma elish. Det babyloniska skapelseeposet, Stockholm 2005].

Tiamat represented the saltwater sea and the female principle. The name means ‘the ocean’.

Present-day Iraq on the world map.
Babylonia was part of Mesopotamia, in present-day Iraq (the latter marked on the map).

Lahmu is also used about one of the eleven monsters later in the text. Lahmu translates ‘the hairy one’, perhaps ‘muddy’, and are primeval heroes of undecided number, sometimes as many as 50.

About Anshar and Kishar: In Sumerian, an is heaven and ki is earth, whereas shar means horizon or everything. So, the names of the gods refer to above and below the horizon.

The six gods mentioned first in Enuma Elish – Apsu, Tiamat, Lahmu, Lahamu, Anshar, and Kishar – were primeval creatures who were probably never worshiped. For Tiamat, Apsu, and Mummu, the determinative sign for divinity seems not to have been used.

Anu (Sumerian An) means ‘sky’. He was the god of heaven.

Nudimmud is the name for Ea as a Sumerian creator-god. Ea (Sumerian form Enki) is the god of fresh water, wisdom and incantations, who taught men the arts and skills of civilization by sending them the Seven Sages.

About the last line: Instead of ‘playing’, Wikander uses ‘song’. He comments that the translation is uncertain, but the word surely refers to some kind of loud expression of joy. In King’s version of Enuma Elish this part is missing.

Anduruna is a Sumerian word that can be translated ‘Heavenly abode’, and probably refers to the home of the gods.


2   Enuma Elish: The Continued Story

Enuma Elish

The Babylonian Creation Myth
  1. Enuma Elish: The Creation

  2. Enuma Elish: The Continued Story

  3. Enuma Elish: The Source

  4. Enuma Elish: Theories

  5. Enuma Elish: Separation of purposes

  6. Enuma Elish: Mode of creation

This article about the Enuma Elish Babylonian Creation Myth was originally written in the year 2007 for a seminar at the Department of History of Ideas, Lund University, as a part of my dissertation in progress on Creation Myths and their patterns of thought. Transforming the text to webpages, I have excluded footnotes, or edited them into the text.

© Stefan Stenudd 2007

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I'm a Swedish author and historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. I've also written books about Taoism, the Tarot, and life force concepts around the world. Click the image to get to my personal website.