What Are the Myths of Babylon? - Definition & Significance

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  • 0:01 Dating of Myth
  • 0:59 Apsu & Tiamat
  • 2:35 Marduk vs. Tiamat
  • 4:19 Humans Created
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the creation myth of ancient Babylon as compiled in the Enuma Elish. In doing this, it will highlight the Babylonian belief in Marduk as the supreme being and the creation of humans to serve him.

Dating of Myth

Like most cultures, the Babylonians of Mesopotamia had their own creation myth. Believed to be written sometime between 1900 and 1500 BCE, with many linking it to the rule of King Hammurabi, the creation myth is compiled in the writings of the Enuma Elish. Although there is some disagreement concerning the dating and authenticity of all the text, one thing is rather certain. The Babylonian's creation myth, like their culture, was full of violence and the fight for power.

As we go over this creation myth, the characters and the names can get a bit confusing, so we'll just focus on the main players. While doing so, there are two themes to remember, which give us a glimpse into Babylonian life. First, Marduk was the Babylonian's supreme god. Second, humans were created to serve Marduk and the other lesser gods.

Now onto the myth.

Apsu and Tiamat

In the beginning, there was water - no mountains, no meadows, no firm ground, just water.

Within these waters, there were gods who sort of existed together as one. Eventually two of these gods, Apsu and Tiamat, came together and produced offspring. Like most kids do, Apsu and Tiamat's offspring started getting pretty noisy, and this made it hard for Apsu, the dad figure, to get his sleep. Becoming impatient, and maybe grouchy from lack of sleep, Apsu went to Tiamat and suggested they kill their unruly children.

Not surprisingly, Tiamat, playing the mom figure, got pretty angry with this murderous suggestion and put the kybosh on her husband's plans. However, really missing his sleep, Apsu decided to kill the kids anyway. Unfortunately for Apsu, some of the young gods became privy to his plans before he could carry them out.

Although some were frightened into silence, all were not so easily intimidated. When Ea, one of the noisy offspring, heard of Apsu's plan, he decided to hatch his own murderous coup. Turning from prey to predator, Ea struck first. He murdered Apsu and took his crown.

With this, we come to the most supreme of all Babylonian gods; for it was here, that Ea fathered Marduk, the four-eared, four-eyed god. It was Marduk who would save his father, Ea, from the consequences of killing Apsu.

Now, back to our tale of treachery and murder.

Marduk Versus Tiamat

When Tiamat's husband was killed by Ea, she and the other gods retaliated in anger. Enraged, she granted magical powers to another god named Kingu and sent him, along with a host of monsters and dragons, to avenge her husband's death.

Knowing this force was coming for him, Ea turned to his son Marduk for help. Marduk was happy to defend his father, but he required payment of sorts for his service. When he defeated Tiamat and her army of creatures, he wanted supreme reign over all the other gods. Greatly fearing the armies of Tiamat, Ea agreed to Marduk's terms.

Fanned on by his chance for ultimate power, Marduk went to battle. When he finally faced his adversary, he used his powers to conjure up a devastating tempest. As thunder and lightning rolled, Tiamat's armies were sent into confusion. With this, only Tiamat herself stood to face Marduk.

In a scene that'd be great on the big screen, Tiamat and Marduk began their fight. Trading the advantage back and forth, Marduk was eventually able to capture his adversary in his nets. However, when he came too close to his prey, the entangled Tiamat opened her mouth and actually tried to eat him!

However, this proved her undoing as Marduk used his powers to his ultimate advantage. Seeing her huge mouth open and moving in for the kill, Marduk filled it with wind. With her mouth full and forced open by his gusts, Marduk shot an arrow down her throat and right to her heart. With this, the mighty Tiamat was vanquished, and Marduk was ready to take his place as the supreme God.

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