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Ashur – The Sky God and Enûma Eliš

ENUMA ELISH


In Akkadian mythology and Sumerian mythology, Ashur is a sky god – husband of his sister Kishar; their children Lahmu and Lahamu, and the parents of Anu and Ea (and, in some traditions, Enlil). He is sometimes depicted as having Ninlil as a consort. As Anshar, he is progenitor of the Akkadian pantheon; as Ashur, he is the head of the Assyrian pantheon. He led the gods in the war against Tiamat.

In Akkadian mythology, Anshar (also spelled Anshur), which means “sky pivot” or “sky axle”, is a sky god. He is the husband of his sister Kishar. They might both represent heaven (an) and earth (ki). Both are the second generation of gods; their parents being the serpents Lahmu and Lahamu and grandparents Tiamat and Abzu. In their turn they are the parents of Anu another sky god.

During the reign of Sargon II, Assyrians started to identify Anshar with their Ashur, the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion, worshipped mainly in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and parts of north east Syria and south east Asia Minor which constituted old Assyria, in order to let him star in their version of Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation mythos (named after its opening words).

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose, however, is not an exposition of theology or theogony but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.

Babylonian religion is the religious practice of Babylonia. In Babylonian religion, the ritual care and worship of the statues of deities was considered sacred; the gods resided simultaneously in their statues in temples and in the natural forces they embodied. An elaborate ceremony of washing the mouths of the statues appeared sometime in the Old Babylonian period.

The pillaging or destruction of idols was considered to be a withdrawal of divine patronage; during the Neo-Babylonian period, the Chaldean prince Marduk-apla-iddina II fled into the southern marshes of Mesopotamia with the statues of Babylon’s gods to save them from the armies of Sennacherib of Assyria.

Babylonian mythology is a set of stories depicting the activities of Babylonian deities, heroes, and mythological creatures. These stories served many social, political, ceremonial purposes, and at times tried to explain natural phenomena. Chaldean religion was largely centered around civilization.

Babylonian mythology was greatly influenced by their Sumerian counterparts, and was written on clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script derived from sumerian cuneiform. The myths were usually either written in Sumerian or Akkadian. Some Babylonian texts were even translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, though the names of some deities were changed in Babylonian texts.

Many Babylonian deities, myths and religious writings are singular to that culture; for example, the uniquely Babylonian deity, Marduk, replaced Enlil as the head of the mythological pantheon. The Enûma Eliš, a creation myth epic was an original Babylonian work.

The Enûma Eliš exists in various copies from Babylon and Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal’s library dates to the 7th century BC. The composition of the text probably dates to the Bronze Age, to the time of Hammurabi or perhaps the early Kassite era (roughly 18th to 16th centuries BC.), although some scholars favour a later date of ca. 1100 BC.

Many of the stories of the Tanakh are believed to have been based on, influenced by, or inspired by the legendary mythological past of the Near East. The Enûma Eliš was recognized as being related to the Jewish Genesis creation mythos from its first publication (Smith 1876), and it was an important step in the recognition of the roots of the account found in the Bible and in other Ancient Near Eastern (Canaanite and Mesopotamian) myths.

In one interpretation, Genesis 1:1-3 can be taken as describing the state of chaos immediately prior to God’s act of creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. ”

The Enûma Eliš and Genesis, however, have different aims according to some researchers. To address these similarities within a Christian framework, Conrad Hyers of the Princeton Theological Seminary for example stated that the Genesis mythos polemically addressed earlier Babylonian and other pagan world views to “repudiate the divinization of nature and the attendant myths of divine origins, divine conflict, and divine ascent,” thus rejecting the idea that Genesis borrowed from or appropriated the form of the Enûma Eliš.

According to this view, The Enûma Eliš was comfortable using connections between the divine and inert matter while aim of Genesis was supposedly to trumpet the superiority of the Israelite Elohim over all creation (and subsequent deities).

Reconstruction of the broken Enûma Eliš tablet seems to define the rarely attested Sapattum or Sabattum as the full moon. This word is cognate or merged with Hebrew Shabbat (cf. Genesis 2:2-3), but is monthly rather than weekly; it is regarded as a form of Sumerian sa-bat (“mid-rest”), attested in Akkadian as um nuh libbi (“day of mid-repose”). This conclusion is a contextual restoration of the damaged tablet, which is read as: “[Sa]bbath shalt thou then encounter, mid[month]ly.”

The deified city Ashur dates from the mid 3rd millennium BC and was the capital of the Old Assyrian kingdom. Ashur did not originally have a family, but as the cult came under southern Mesopotamian influence he came to be regarded as the Assyrian equivalent of Enlil, the chief god of Nippur, which was the most important god of the southern pantheon from the early 3rd millennium BC until Hammurabi founded an empire based in Babylon in the mid-18th century BC, after which Marduk replaced Enlil as the chief god in the south. In the north, Ashur absorbed Enlil’s wife Ninlil (as the Assyrian goddess Mullissu) and his sons Ninurta and Zababa – this process began around the 14th century BC and continued down to the 7th century.

In Enuma Elish Anshar’s spouse was Ninlil. They do evil, unspeakable things. Then, Abzu decides to try to destroy them. They both hear of the plan and kill him first. Tiamat gets outraged and gives birth to 11 children. They then kill them both and then are outmatched by anyone. Marduk (God of rain/thunder/lightning) kills Tiamat by wrapping a net around her and summoning the 4 winds to make her swell, then Marduk shoots an arrow into her and kills her. Half of her body is then divided to create the heavens and the Earth. He uses her tears to make rivers on Earth and take her blood to make humans.

During the various periods of Assyrian conquest, such as the Assyrian Empire of Shamshi-Adad I (1813-1750 BC), Middle Assyrian Empire (1391-1056 BC) and Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-605 BC), the Assyrians did not require conquered peoples to take up the worship of Ashur; instead, Assyrian imperial propaganda declared that the conquered peoples had been abandoned by their gods.

When Assyria conquered Babylon in the Sargonid period (8th-7th centuries BC), Assyrian scribes began to write the name of Ashur with the cuneiform signs AN.SHAR, literally “whole heaven” in Akkadian, the language of Assyria and Babylonia. The intention seems to have been to put Ashur at the head of the Babylonian pantheon, where Anshar and his counterpart Kishar (“whole earth”) preceded even Enlil and Ninlil. Thus in the Sargonid version of the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian national creation myth, Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, does not appear, and instead it is Ashur, as Anshar, who slays Tiamat the chaos-monster and creates the world of humankind.

Ashur, together with a number of other Mesopotamian gods, continued to be worshipped by Assyrians long after the fall of Assyria, with temples being erected in his honour in Assyria (Athura/Assuristan) until the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, but by this time most Assyrians had adopted East Syrian Rite Christianity.

The city of Ashur, named in honour of the deity, was inhabited until the 14th century CE, when a massacre of Assyrian Christians by Tamurlane left it finally emptied. Ashur is still a common given and family name amongst Assyrians to this day.

Enûma Eliš (Enuma Elish) – The Babylonian Creation Myth

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