Enuma Elish

(ca. 1500 BCE)

The civilization of ancient Mesopotamia that emerged around six thousand years ago is the earliest ancestor of Western culture, and its religion is the precursor of all later Western religion. Perhaps the single most important religious text of Mesopotamian culture is the Babylonian hymn Enuma Elish, which tells of the creation of the universe by Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Like many ancient books, it has no title in the modern sense, but it is known by three different names: Enuma Elish, its first two words (meaning “When in the height”); the Epic of Creation, after its subject matter; and the Seven Tablets of Creation, after its length. Its main themes are the emergence of order from chaos and the imposition of civilization on a hostile and destructive world—themes that relate to the precarious security of Mesopotamia in its natural and political environment.

Enuma Elish was a hymn sung on New Year’s Day (which fell toward the middle of April on the Babylonian...

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The ruins of Babylon (Library of Congress)

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