Enūma Eliš ("When on high")

The Babylonian poem of creation, written in Akkadian, was named after its first line, referring to the world before all creation:

When on high no name was given to heaven
Nor below was the Netherworld called by name

It is typically Babylonian in the sense that it praises the powers and strength of Marduk, the protective deity of Babylon, and narrates how he became the ruler of all gods. It is thus an ideological and political work, as it exalts the city of Babylon and justifies its predominance. In some Assyrian manuscripts, Marduk was replaced by Aššur, the protective deity of the Assyrian dynasty, but that is not the case in the Huzirina and Kalhu manuscripts.

Enūma Eliš runs to approximately 1,100 lines, covering seven Tablets. The date of its composition is still under debate, but it was probably written during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar I (1125-1104 BC).

Most known manuscripts of the epic come from Assyrian "libraries", mainly from Nineveh, but also from Huzirina (13 manuscripts) and Kalhu (1 fragmentary manuscript). The manuscripts from Huzirina are particularly precious as they provide some passages that are missing from the Nineveh version.

During the first millennium, Enūma Eliš was a classic of scribal education. This is clearly evident in Huzirina, where there are several duplicates (STT 1, 3-8 [/cams/gkab/P338319,P338320,P338321,P228322,P338323,P338324] of Tablet 4 and STT 1, 10-11 [/cams/gkab/P338326,P338327/] of Tablet 5). The colophon on STT 1, 2 [/cams/gkab/P338318/] states that the tablet was copied by the young apprentice Iddi-Meslamtaea PGP , who also was the copyist of manuscripts of a god list and Tablet 2 of Ludlul. Even though the poem belonged to scribal training in Huzirina, the distribution of the surviving manuscripts over the seven Tablets of the epic is even, not skewed to the beginning as might be expected: only Tablet 3 is missing.

No manuscripts of Enūma Eliš have been found in the "libraries" of Uruk, by contrast with the Gilgameš epic . However, it was known and recounted by ancient Greek authors.

Further reading

Marie-Françoise Besnier

Marie-Françoise Besnier, 'Enūma Eliš ("When on high")', The Geography of Knowledge, The GKAB Project, 2019 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/cams/gkab/scribalapprenticeship/literaryworks/enmaeli/]

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