The Sumerians had vanished as an identifiable people, but they left behind their myths. The Assyrians adopted and altered Sumerian stories, and they preserved the Sumerian language much as Christians were to preserve Latin. The Babylonians translated Sumerian religious writings, and these Babylonian translations influenced the Hurrians and Hittites. And after the Kassites conquered Babylon they came to accept Babylon's literature as sacred.
The Babylonians compiled separate Sumerian descriptions of the creation of the universe into a new version that was to become known as the Enuma Elish. It begins by describing heaven and earth as already existing but with these places not yet having meaning because the gods had not yet given them names. According to the Enuma Elish, the world began with the salt waters and the fresh waters not yet separated, and with the fertile marshlands not yet having appeared. The Enuma Elish describes creation as birth: a godly male in the form of fresh waters, called Apsu, mated with a goddess in the form of salt waters, called Tiamat, and the goddess Tiamat gave birth to a variety of gods and to the earth and all things upon it. The gods born of Tiamat grew and multiplied and became rivals of one another. Eventually the gods born of Tiamat chose one of their number as king of the universe. This was Marduk, the god of light, who could perform miracles. According to the Enuma Elish the other gods called out to Marduk, declaring: "Say but to destroy or create and it shall be."
Marduk, as king among the gods, did what kings did on earth: he went forth and battled his enemies – demon gods. According to the Enuma Elish, in pursuing these demon gods, Marduk created the winds from the north, south, east and west so that his enemy might not escape him. Then in victory he surveyed the heavens and added to Tiamat's creations. He created the firmament and stars. He designated the zones of constellations of stars and thereby created the year. He made the moon shine, and he created vegetation. Then, seeing wars among other gods, and knowing that the defeated served the victorious, Marduk decided to create humankind. No god, he decided, should be a servant. Instead, it would be the place of humans to serve the gods.
Text of the Enuma Elish: www.sacred-texts.com.
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