The Place of Eridu (NUN.KI) in Mythology and Reality
Posted by Fredsvenn on July 14, 2015
Sumer – Eridu (NUN.KI)
Eridu (Cuneiform: NUN.KI; Sumerian: eridu; Akkadian: irîtu modern Arabic: Tell Abu Shahrain) is an archaeological site in southern Mesopotamia (modern Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq). It was long considered the earliest city in southern Mesopotamia, and is still today argued to be the oldest city in the world.
Located 12 km southwest of Ur, Eridu was the southernmost of a conglomeration of Sumerian cities that grew about temples, almost in sight of one another. Eridu, also transliterated as Eridug, could mean “mighty place” or “guidance place”.
The Egyptologist David Rohl has conjectured that Eridu, to the south of Ur, was the original Babel and site of the Tower of Babel, rather than the later city of Babylon, for several reasons.
The ziggurat ruins of Eridu are far larger and older than any others, and seem to best match the Biblical description of the unfinished Tower of Babel.
One name of Eridu in cuneiform logograms was pronounced “NUN.KI” (“the Mighty Place”) in Sumerian, but much later the same “NUN.KI” was understood to mean the city of Babylon.
The much later Greek version of the King-list by Berossus (c. 200 BC) reads “Babylon” in place of “Eridu” in the earlier versions, as the name of the oldest city where “the kingship was lowered from Heaven”.
Rohl further equate Biblical Nimrod, said to have built Erech (Uruk) and Babel, with the name Enmerkar (-KAR meaning “hunter”) of the king-list and other legends, who is said to have built temples both in his capital of Uruk and in Eridu.
Other scholars have discussed at length a number of additional correspondences between the names of “Babylon” and “Eridu”. Historical tablets state that Sargon of Akkad (ca. 2300 BC) dug up the original “Babylon” and rebuilt it near Akkad, though some scholars suspect this may in fact refer to the much later Assyrian king Sargon II.
Eridu appears to be the earliest settlement in the region, founded ca. 5400 BC, close to the Persian Gulf near the mouth of the Euphrates River. Because of accumulation of silt at the shoreline over the millennia, the remains of Eridu are now some distance from the gulf at Abu Shahrain in Iraq. Excavation has shown that the city was originally founded on a virgin sand-dune site with no previous occupation.
Kate Fielden reports “The earliest village settlement (c.5000 BC) had grown into a substantial city of mudbrick and reed houses by c.2900 BC, covering 8-10 ha (20-25 acres). Mallowan writes that by the Ubaid period, it was as an “unusually large city” of an area of approx. 20¬25 acres, with a population of “not less than 4000 souls”.
The Ubaid house is a dwelling used by the Ubaid culture of the Neolithic era. The Ubaid house is the predecessor of the Ubaid temple as well as Sumerian domestic and temple architecture.
The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-Ubaid where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.
In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvium although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.
In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period (6100-5400 BC) and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.
The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 BC.
The Leyla-Tepe culture includes a settlement in the lower layer of the settlements Poilu I, Poilu II, Boyuk-Kesik I and Boyuk-Kesik II. They apparently buried their dead in ceramic vessels. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture. The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region (Arslan-tepe, Coruchu-tepe, Tepechik, etc.).
The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets. It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture (ca. 3700 BC-3000 BC), a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.
The Maykop culture extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.
Its inhumation practices were characteristically Indo-European, typically in a pit, sometimes stone-lined, topped with a kurgan (or tumulus). Stone cairns replace kurgans in later interments. The Maykop kurgan was extremely rich in gold and silver artifacts; unusual for the time.
The culture has been described as, at the very least, a “kurganized” local culture with strong ethnic and linguistic links to the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. It has been linked to the Lower Mikhaylovka group and Kemi Oba culture, and more distantly, to the Globular Amphora and Corded Ware cultures, if only in an economic sense.
Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, whose views are highly controversial, suggest that the Maykop culture (or its ancestor) may have been a way-station for Indo-Europeans migrating from the South Caucasus and/or eastern Anatolia to a secondary Urheimat on the steppe. This would essentially place the Anatolian stock in Anatolia from the beginning, and in this respect only, agrees with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis.
Considering that some attempt has been made to unite Indo-European with the Northwest Caucasian languages, an earlier Caucasian pre-Urheimat is not out of the question (see Proto-Pontic). However, most linguists and archaeologists consider this hypothesis incorrect, and prefer the Eurasian steppes as the genuine IE Urheimat.
In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500—2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300—2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.
The Kuban River is navigable for much of its length and provides an easy water-passage via the Sea of Azov to the territory of the Yamna culture, along the Don and Donets River systems. The Maykop culture was thus well-situated to exploit the trading possibilities with the central Ukraine area.
New data revealed the similarity of artifacts from the Maykop culture with those found recently in the course of excavations of the ancient city of Tell Khazneh in northern Syria, the construction of which dates back to 4000 BC. Radiocarbon dates for various monuments of the Maykop culture are from 3950 – 3650 – 3610 – 2980 calBC.
After the discovery of the Leyla-Tepe culture in the 1980s it was suggested that elements of the Maykop culture migrated to the south-eastern slopes of the Caucasus in modern Azerbaijan.
The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 B.C. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture.
The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region. The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets.
It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture. An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.
In 2010, nearly 200 Bronze Age sites were reported stretching over 60 miles between the Kuban and Nalchik rivers, at an altitude of between 4,620 feet and 7,920 feet. They were all “visibly constructed according to the same architectural plan, with an oval courtyard in the center, and connected by roads.”
In the early 20th century, researchers established the existence of a local Maykop animal style in the artifacts found. This style was seen as the prototype for animal styles of later archaeological cultures: the Maykop animal style is more than a thousand years older than the Scythian, Sarmatian and Celtic animal styles.
The Maykop people lived sedentary lives, and horses formed a very low percentage of their livestock, which mostly consisted of pigs and cattle. Archaeologists have discovered a unique form of bronze cheek-pieces, which consists of a bronze rod with a twisted loop in the middle and a thread through her nodes that connects with bridle, halter strap and headband. Notches and bumps on the edges of the cheek-pieces were, apparently, to fix nose and under-lip belts.
An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.
The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of “Trans-egalitarian” competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility.
Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order.
It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one’s peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.
Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. “A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions”.
According to Gwendolyn Leick, Eridu was formed at the confluence of three separate ecosystems, supporting three distinct lifestyles that came to an agreement about access to fresh water in a desert environment.
The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation.
Whatever the ethnic origins of this group this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.
Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The oldest agrarian settlement seems to have been based upon intensive subsistence irrigation agriculture derived from the Samarra culture (5500–4800 BC) to the north, characterised by the building of canals, and mud-brick buildings.
The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia. It partially overlaps with Hassuna (5600-5350 BC) and early Ubaid. Samarran material culture was first recognized during excavations by German Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld at the site of Samarra. Other sites where Samarran material has been found include Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe.
Hassuna was one of the earliest cultures in Northern Mesopotamia. Before this time, Southern Mesopotamia was considered the cradle of civilization. When settlements began forming in the north, such as Hassuna, Jarmo, dating back to 7090 BC, Samarra, and Tell Halaf, the north became the important region. Jarmo is broadly contemporary with such other important Neolithic sites such as Jericho in the southern Levant and Çatal Hüyük, which existed from approximately 7500 BC to 5700 BC, and flourished around 7000 BC, in Anatolia.
At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known for its finely made pottery decorated with stylized animals, including birds, and geometric designs on dark backgrounds.
This widely exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.
The fisher-hunter cultures of the Arabian littoral were responsible for the extensive middens along the Arabian shoreline, and may have been the original Sumerians. They seem to have dwelt in reed huts.
The third culture that contributed to the building of Eridu was the nomadic Semitic pastoralists of herds of sheep and goats living in tents in semi-desert areas.
All three cultures seem implicated in the earliest levels of the city. The urban settlement was centered on an impressive temple complex built of mudbrick, within a small depression that allowed water to accumulate.
According to the Sumerian kinglist it was the first city in the World. The opening line reads: “When kingship from heaven was lowered, the kingship was in Eridu.” In Sumerian mythology, it was said to be one of the five cities built before the Deluge occurred.
In the Sumerian king list, Eridu is named as the city of the first kings. The king list continues: “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalngar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.”
Kumarbi is the chief god of the Hurrians. He is the son of Anu (the sky), and father of the storm-god Teshub. He was identified by the Hurrians with Sumerian Enlil, and by the Ugaritians with El.
Kumarbi is known from a number of mythological Hittite texts, sometimes summarized under the term “Kumarbi Cycle”. These texts notably include the myth of The Kingship in Heaven (also known as the Song of Kumarbi, or the “Hittite Theogony”.
The Song of Kumarbi or Kingship in Heaven is the title given to a Hittite version of the Hurrian Kumarbi myth, dating to the 14th or 13th century BC. The song relates that Alalu, considered to have housed “the Hosts of Sky”, the divine family, because he was a progenitor of the gods, and possibly the father of Earth, was overthrown by Anu who was in turn overthrown by Kumarbi. Alalu fled to the underworld.
The name “Alalu” was borrowed from Semitic mythology and is a compound word made up of the Semitic definite article al and the Semitic supreme deity Alu. The -u at the end of the word is an inflectional ending; thus, Alalu may also occur as Alali or Alala depending on the position of the word in the sentence. He was identified by the Greeks as Hypsistos (the “Most High” God). He was also called Alalus.
When Anu tried to escape, Kumarbi bit off his genitals and spat out three new gods. In the text Anu tells his son that he is now pregnant with the Teshub, Tigris, and Tašmišu. Upon hearing this Kumarbi spit the semen upon the ground and it became impregnated with two children. Kumarbi is cut open to deliver Tešub. Together, Anu and Teshub depose Kumarbi.
In another version of the Kingship in Heaven, the three gods, Alalu, Anu, and Kumarbi, rule heaven, each serving the one who precedes him in the nine-year reign. It is Kumarbi’s son Tešub, the Weather-God, who begins to conspire to overthrow his father.
From the first publication of the Kingship in Heaven tablets scholars have pointed out the similarities between the Hurrian creation myth and the story from Greek mythology of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus.
The king list gave particularly long rules to the kings who ruled before a great flood occurred, and shows how the center of power progressively moved from the south to the north of the country.
Adapa, a man of Eridu, is depicted as an early culture hero. Identified with U-an, a half-human creature from the sea (Abgallu, from ab=water, gal=big, lu=man), he was considered to have brought civilization to the city during the time of King Alulim.
Alulim was the first king of Eridu, and the first king of Sumer, according to the mythological antediluvian section of the Sumerian King List. Enki, the god of Eridu, is said to have brought civilization to Sumer at this point, or just shortly before.
The Sumerian King List has the following entry for Alulim: “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug (Eridu). In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.”
In a chart of antediluvian generations in Babylonian and Biblical traditions, Professor William Wolfgang Hallo associates Alulim with the composite half-man, half-fish counselor or culture hero (Apkallu) Uanna-Adapa (Oannes), and suggests an equivalence between Alulim and Enosh in the Sethite genealogy given in Genesis chapter 5. Hallo notes that Alulim’s name means “Stag”.
William H. Shea suggests that Alulim was a contemporary of the biblical figure Adam, who may have been derived from Adapa of ancient Mesopotamian religion.
In Sumerian mythology, Eridu was originally the home of Enki, later known by the Akkadians as Ea, who was considered to have founded the city. The urban nucleus of Eridu was Enki’s temple, called House of the Aquifer or E-Abzu (Cuneiform: E.ZU.AB; Sumerian: e-abzu; Akkadian: bītu apsû, literally, ab=”ocean” zu=”deep”), also called engur, (Cuneiform: LAGAB×HAL; Sumerian: engur; Akkadian: engurru), an aquifer from which all life was believed to stem, which in later history was called House of the Waters, as Enki was believed to live in Abzu.
His consort Ninhursag (“lady of the sacred mountain”, from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”, possibly a reference to the site of her temple, the E-Kur, “House of mountain deeps”), a mother goddess of the mountains, and one of the seven great deities of Sumer, had a nearby temple at Ubaid. She is principally a fertility goddess. Her temple, the Esagila (from Sumerian E (temple) + SAG (head) + ILA (lofty)) was located on the KUR of Eridu, although she also had a temple at Kish.
According to legend her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta in order to commemorate his creation of the mountains. As Ninmenna, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple.
As the wife and consort of Enki she was also referred to as Damgulanna (great wife of heaven) or Damkina (faithful wife). She had many epithets including shassuru or ‘womb goddess’, tabsut ili ‘midwife of the gods’, ‘mother of all children’ and ‘mother of the gods’. In this role she is identified with Ki in the Enuma Elish. She had shrines in both Eridu and Kish.
Temple hymn sources identify her as the ‘true and great lady of heaven’ (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were ‘nourished by Ninhursag’s milk’. Her hair is sometimes depicted in an omega shape, and she at times wears a horned head-dress and tiered skirt, often with bow cases at her shoulders, and not infrequently carries a mace or baton surmounted by an omega motif or a derivation, sometimes accompanied by a lion cub on a leash.
In the legend of Enki and Ninhursag, Ninhursag bore a daughter to Enki called Ninsar (“Lady Greenery”). Through Enki, Ninsar bore a daughter Ninkurra. Ninkurra, in turn, bore Enki a daughter named Uttu.
Enki then pursued Uttu, who was upset because he didn’t care for her. Uttu, on her ancestress Ninhursag’s advice buried Enki’s seed in the earth, whereupon eight plants (the very first) sprung up. Enki, seeing the plants, ate them, and became ill in eight organs of his body. Ninhursag cured him, taking the plants into her body and giving birth to eight deities: Abu, Nintulla (Nintul), Ninsutu, Ninkasi, Nanshe (Nazi), Azimua, Ninti, and Enshag (Enshagag).
In the text ‘Creator of the Hoe’, she completed the birth of mankind after the heads had been uncovered by Enki’s hoe. In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind.
Her symbol, resembling the Greek letter omega Ω, has been depicted in art from around 3000 BC, though more generally from the early second millennium. It appears on some boundary stones — on the upper tier, indicating her importance. The omega symbol is associated with the Egyptian cow goddess Hathor, and may represent a stylized womb. Hathor is at times depicted on a mountain, so it may be that the two goddesses are connected.
Abzu was the name for the primeval sea below the void space of the underworld known as Kur, and Ma, a Sumerian word meaning “land” that in Sumerian mythology was also used to regard Primordial Land.
The underworld Kur is the void space between Abzu and Ma, which seems a likely pairing for parentage, in a fuzzy set of records. Ma was being referred to as “Mother of the mountain” – in this case of Kur (“Mountain” or “foreign land”), usually referred to the Zagros Mountains to the east of Sumer.
Although the word for earth was Ki, Kur came to also mean land, and Sumer itself, was called “Kur-gal” or “Great Land”. “Kur-gal” also means “Great Mountain” and is a metonym for both Nippur and Enlil who rules from that city. Ekur, “mountain house” was the temple of Enlil at Nippur. A second, popular meaning of Kur was “underworld”, or the world under the earth.
Kur was sometimes the home of the dead. It is possible that the flames on escaping gas plumes in parts of the Zagros Mountains would have given those mountains a meaning not entirely consistent with the primary meaning of mountains and an abode of a god. The eastern mountains as an abode of the god are popular in Ancient Near Eastern mythology.
Kur is almost identical with “Ki-gal”, “Great Land” which is the Underworld (thus the ruler of the Underworld is Ereshkigal “Goddess of The Great Land”. In later Babylonian myth Kur is possibly an Anunnaki, brother of Ereshkigal, Inanna, Enki, and Enlil.
In the Enuma Elish in Akkadian tablets from the first millennium BC, Kur is part of the retinue of Tiamat, and seems to be a snakelike dragon, the first dragon god. In one story the slaying of the great serpent Kur results in the flooding of the earth.
A first millennium BC cylinder seal shows a fire-spitting winged dragon—a nude woman between its wings—pulling the chariot of the god who subdued it, another depicts a god riding a dragon, a third a goddess.
She was a local goddess at Ma and a Phrygian alternative name for Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”; Lydian Kuvava; Greek: Kybele, Kybebe, Kybelis) was an originally Anatolian mother goddess. She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity.
Cybele has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük (in the Konya region) where the statue of a pregnant goddess seated on a lion throne was found in a granary dated to the 6th millennium BC. This corpulent, fertile Mother Goddess appears to be giving birth on her throne, which has two feline-headed hand rests.
Abzu may also refer to fresh water from underground aquifer that was given a religious fertilizing quality. Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the Abzu.
In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is the symbol of the chaos of primordial creation, depicted as a woman, she represents the beauty of the feminine, depicted as the glistening one. She is a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with Abzû (the god of fresh water) to produce younger gods.
Tiamat was the “shining” personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu (the god of fresh water) filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is “Ummu-Hubur who formed all things”.
According to some analyses there are two parts to the Tiamat myth, the first in which Tiamat is creator goddess, through a “sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.
It is suggested that there are two parts to the Tiamat mythos, the first in which Tiamat is a creator goddess, through a “Sacred marriage” between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations.
In the second “Chaoskampf” Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos. Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon. In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation of deities; her husband, Apsu,(correctly) assuming they are planning to kill him and usurp his throne, later makes war upon them and is killed.
Enraged, she, too, wars upon her husband’s murderers, taking on the form of a massive sea dragon, she is then slain by Enki’s son, the storm-god Marduk, but not before she had brought forth the monsters of the Mesopatmian cosmotology, including the first dragons, whose bodies she filled with “poison instead of blood”. Marduk then forms heavens and the earth from her divided body.
The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motifs in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo’s killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.
Abzu (apsû) is depicted as a deity only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Elish, taken from the library of Assurbanipal (c 630 BCE) but which is about 500 years older. In this story, he was a primal being made of fresh water and a lover to another primal deity, Tiamat, who was a creature of salt water.
Abzu fathered upon Tiamat the elder deities Lahmu and Lahamu (masc. the “hairy”), a title given to the gatekeepers at Enki’s Abzu/E’engurra-temple in Eridu. Lahmu and Lahamu in turn were the parents of the ends of the heavens (Anshar, from an = heaven, shár = horizon, end, “whole heaven”) and the earth, Kishar (“Whole Earth”); Anshar and Kishar were considered to meet at the horizon, becoming, thereby, the parents of Anu (“Heaven”), the god of heaven, lord of constellations, king of gods, spirits and demons, and Ki (“Earth”).
Kishar appears only once in Enuma Elish, in the opening lines of the epic, and then disappears from the remainder of the story. She appears only occasionally in other first millennium BCE texts, where she can be equated with the Babylonian goddess Antu or Antum, the first consort of Anu. The pair were the parents of the Anunnaki and the Utukki.
Antu was a dominant feature of the Babylonian akit festival until as recently as 200 BC, her later pre-eminence possibly attributable to identification with the Greek goddess Hera. Antu was replaced as consort by Ishtar or Inanna, who may also be a daughter of Anu and Antu.
But Anu spent so much time on the ground protecting the Sumerians he left her in Heaven and then met Innin, whom he renamed Innan, or, “Queen of Heaven”. She was later known as Ishtar. Anu resided in her temple the most, and rarely went back up to Heaven. He is also included in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and is a major character in the clay tablets.
In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu, upset with the chaos they created, was planning to murder the younger deities; and so captured him, holding him prisoner beneath his temple the E-Abzu. This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned eleven monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu’s death.
Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the deity she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host, and who was also one of her children. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as “king of the gods”, overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.
Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates, her tail became the Milky Way. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities.
The principal theme of the epic is the justified elevation of Marduk to command over all the deities. “It has long been realized that the Marduk epic, for all its local coloring and probable elaboration by the Babylonian theologians, reflects in substance older Sumerian material,” American Assyriologist E. A. Speiser remarked in 1942 adding “The exact Sumerian prototype, however, has not turned up so far.”
Without corroboration in surviving texts, this surmise that the Babylonian version of the story is based upon a modified version of an older epic, in which Enlil, not Marduk, was the god who slew Tiamat, is more recently dismissed as “distinctly improbable”, in fact, Marduk has no precise Sumerian prototype.
It is generally accepted amongst modern Assyriologists that the Enûma Elish – the Babylonian creation epic to which this mythological strand is attributed – has been written as political and religious propaganda rather than reflecting a Sumerian tradition; the dating of the epic is not completely clear, but judging from the mythological topics covered and the cuneiform versions discovered thus far, it is likely to date it to the 15th century BCE.
Tiamat was later known as Thalattē (as a variant of thalassa, the Greek word for “sea”) in the Hellenistic Babylonian writer Berossus’ first volume of universal history. It is thought that the name of Tiamat was dropped in secondary translations of the original religious texts (written in the East Semitic Akkadian language) because some Akkadian copyists of Enûma Elish substituted the ordinary word for “sea” for Tiamat, since the two names had become essentially the same due to association.
Thorkild Jacobsen and Walter Burkert both argue for a connection with the Akkadian word for sea, tâmtu, following an early form, ti’amtum. Burkert continues by making a linguistic connection to Tethys. He finds the later form, thalatth, to be related clearly to Greek thalatta or thalassa, “sea”.
The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: “When above” the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, “the first, the begetter”, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, “she who bore them all”; they were “mixing their waters”.
It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki. Tiamat also has been claimed to be cognate with Northwest Semitic tehom (the deeps, abyss), in the Book of Genesis 1:2.
The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos. In the epic Enki and Ninhursag, Enki, as lord of Ab or fresh water (also the Sumerian word for semen), is living with his wife in the paradise of Dilmun.
Despite being a place where “the raven uttered no cries” and “the lion killed not, the wolf snatched not the lamb, unknown was the kid-killing dog, unknown was the grain devouring boar”, Dilmun had no water and Enki heard the cries of its Goddess, Ninsikil, and orders the sun-God Utu to bring fresh water from the Earth for Dilmun.
Dilmun was identified with Bahrein, whose name in Arabic means “two seas”, where the fresh waters of the Arabian aquifer mingle with the salt waters of the Persian Gulf. This mingling of waters was known in Sumerian as Nammu, and was identified as the mother of Enki.
In the city of Eridu, Enki’s temple was known as E2-abzu (house of the cosmic waters) and was located at the edge of a swamp, an abzu. Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû). Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to the washing pools of Islamic mosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.
The Sumerian god Enki (Ea in the Akkadian language) was believed to have lived in the abzu since before human beings were created. His wife Damgalnuna, his mother Nammu, his advisor Isimud and a variety of subservient creatures, such as the gatekeeper Lahmu, also lived in the abzu.
In Sumerian mythology, Nammu (also Namma, spelled ideographically NAMMA = ENGUR) was a primeval goddess, corresponding to Tiamat in Babylonian mythology.
Nammu was the Goddess sea (Engur) that gave birth to An (heaven) and Ki (earth) and the first gods, representing the Apsu, the fresh water ocean that the Sumerians believed lay beneath the earth, the source of life-giving water and fertility in a country with almost no rainfall.
Nammu is not well attested in Sumerian mythology. She may have been of greater importance prehistorically, before Enki took over most of her functions. An indication of her continued relevance may be found in the theophoric name of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur.
According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu. Nammu is the goddess who “has given birth to the great gods”. It is she who has the idea of creating mankind, and she goes to wake up Enki, who is asleep in the Apsu, so that he may set the process going.
The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil requested from Nammu the creation of humans. And Nammu told him that with the help of Enki (her son) she can create humans in the image of gods. Reay Tannahill in Sex in History (1980) singled out Nammu as the “only female prime mover” in the cosmogonic myths of antiquity.
Ap (áp-) is the Vedic Sanskrit term for “water”, which in Classical Sanskrit only occurs in the plural, āpas (sometimes re-analysed as a thematic singular, āpa-), whence Hindi āp. The term is from PIE hxap “water”.
The Indo-Iranian word also survives as the Persian word for water, āb, e.g. in Punjab (from panj-āb “five waters”). Here, a similarity can be seen between the concept of ap (waters/river) and the Sumerian ab (ocean), which is a language that is widely believed to be a language isolate. In archaic ablauting contractions, the laryngeal of the PIE root remains visible in Vedic Sanskrit, e.g. pratīpa- “against the current”, from *proti-hxp-o-.
In the Rigveda, several hymns are dedicated to “the waters” (āpas). In the oldest of these, 7.49, the waters are connected with the drought of Indra. Agni, the god of fire, has a close association with water and is often referred to as Apām Napāt “offspring of the waters”. The female deity Apah is the presiding deity of Purva Ashadha (The former invincible one) asterism in Vedic astrology.
Apam Napat is an eminent figure of the Indo-Iranian pantheon. In the Rig Veda, Apām Napāt is the supreme god of creation. Apam Napat created all existential beings (Rig Veda 2.35.2). In Zoroastrianism, Apąm Napāt is a divinity of water.
Sanskrit and Avestan napāt (“grandson”) are cognate to Latin nepōs and English nephew, but the name Apām Napāt has also been compared to Etruscan Nethuns and Celtic Nechtan and Roman Neptune.
In Yasht 19 of the Avesta Apąm Napāt appears as the Creator of mankind. Here, there is an evident link between the glory of sovereignty (Khvarenah) and Apąm Napāt who protects Khvarenah as the royal glory of Iranian kings.
Apām Napāt is sometimes, for example in Rigveda book 2 hymn 35 verse 2, described as the supreme creator deity who originates in the cosmic waters. Apam Napat has a golden splendour and is said to be kindled by the cosmic waters.
The reference to fire may have originally referred to flames from natural gas or oil seepages surfacing through water, as in a fire temple. There is a conjecture that the word “naphtha” came (via Greek, where it meant any sort of petroleum) from the name “Apam Napat”.
In Hindu philosophy, the term refers to water as an element, one of the Panchamahabhuta, or “five great elements”. In Hinduism, it is also the name of the deva Varuna a personification of water, one of the Vasus in most later Puranic lists.
Apas (āpas) is the Avestan language term for “the waters”, which—in its innumerable aggregate states—is represented by the Apas, the hypostases of the waters. Avestan apas (from singular āpō) is grammatically feminine, and the Apas are female. The Middle Persian equivalents are ābān/Ābān (alt: āvān/Āvān), from which Parsi Gujarati āvā/Āvā (in religious usage only) derive. The Avestan common noun āpas corresponds exactly to Vedic Sanskrit āpas, and both derive from the same proto-Indo-Iranian word, stem *ap- “water”.
In the myth and folklore of the Near East and Europe, Abyzou is the name of a female demon. Abyzou was blamed for miscarriages and infant mortality and was said to be motivated by envy (Greek: phthonos), as she herself was infertile.
In the Jewish tradition she is identified with Lilith, in Coptic Egypt with Alabasandria, and in Byzantine culture with Gylou, but in various texts surviving from the syncretic magical practice of antiquity and the early medieval era she is said to have many or virtually innumerable names.
In Sumerian religion, Ninlil (NIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. As “Lady Wind” she may be associated with the figure of the Akkadian demon “Lil-itu”, thought to have been the origin of the Hebrew Lilith legend.
Her parentage is variously described. Most commonly she is called the daughter of Haia (god of stores) and Nunbarsegunu (or Ninshebargunnu [a goddess of barley] or Nisaba). Another Akkadian source says she is the daughter of Anu (aka An) and Antu (Sumerian Ki). Other sources call her a daughter of Anu and Nammu.
Abyzou (also spelled Abizou, Obizu, Obizuth, Obyzouth, Byzou etc.) is pictured on amulets with fish- or serpent-like attributes. Her fullest literary depiction is the compendium of demonology known as the Testament of Solomon, dated variously by scholars from as early as the 1st century AD to as late as the 4th.
A.A. Barb connected Abyzou and similar female demons to the Sumerian myth of primeval Sea. Barb argued that although the name “Abyzou” appears to be a corrupted form of the Greek word abyssos (“the abyss”), the Greek itself was borrowed from Assyrian Apsu or Sumerian Abzu, the undifferentiated sea from which the world was created in the Sumerian belief system, equivalent to Babylonian Tiamat, or Hebrew Tehom in the Book of Genesis.
The entity Sea was originally bi- or asexual, later dividing into male Abzu (fresh water) and female Tiamat (salt water). The female demons among whom Lilith is the best-known are often said to have come from the primeval sea.
In classical Greece, female sea monsters that combine allure and deadliness may also derive from this tradition, including the Gorgons (who were daughters of the old sea god Phorcys), Sirens, Harpies, and even water nymphs and Nereids.
In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, the word Abyssos is treated as a noun of feminine grammatical gender, even though Greek nouns ending in -os are typically masculine. Abyssos is equivalent in meaning to Mesopotamian Abzu as the dark chaotic sea before Creation.
The word also appears in the Christian scriptures, occurring six times in the Book of Revelation, where it is conventionally translated not as “the deep” but as “the bottomless pit” of Hell. Barb argues that in essence the Sumerian Abzu is the “grandmother” of the Christian Devil.
During the Ur III period a ziggurat was built over the remains of previous temples by Ur-Nammu. Aside from Enmerkar of Uruk (as mentioned in the Aratta epics), several later historical Sumerian kings are said in inscriptions found here to have worked on or renewed the e-abzu temple, including Elili of Ur; Ur-Nammu, Shulgi and Amar-Sin of Ur-III, and Nur-Adad of Larsa.
Like all the Sumerian and Babylonian gods, Enki/Ea began as a local god, who came to share, according to the later cosmology, with Anu and Enlil, the rule of the cosmos. His kingdom was the sweet waters that lay below earth (Sumerian ab=water; zu=far).
The stories of Inanna, goddess of Uruk, describe how she had to go to Eridu in order to receive the gifts of civilization. At first Enki, the god of Eridu attempted to retrieve these sources of his power, but later willingly accepted that Uruk now was the centre of the land. This seems to be a mythical reference to the transfer of power northward.
Babylonian texts talk of the creation of Eridu by the god Marduk (“bull calf of the sun god Utu”) as the first city, “the holy city, the dwelling of their [the other gods] delight”. In the perfected system of astrology, the planet Jupiter was associated with Marduk by the Hammurabi period.
Marduk’s original character is obscure but he was later associated with water, vegetation, judgment, and magic. His consort was the goddess Sarpanit. He was also regarded as the son of Ea (Sumerian Enki) and Damkina and the heir of Anu.
Jacobsen describes that “Eridu was for all practical purposes abandoned after the Ubaid period”, although it had recovered by Early Dynastic II as there was a Massive Early Dynastic II palace (100 m in each direction) partially excavated there.
Ruth Whitehouse called it “a Major Early Dynastic City”. By c.2050 BC the city had declined; there is little evidence of occupation after that date. Eighteen superimposed mudbrick temples at the site underlie the unfinished Ziggurat of Amar-Sin (c. 2047 – 2039 BC).
The finding of extensive deposits of fishbones associated with the earliest levels also shows a continuity of the Abzu cult associated later with Enki and Ea. This apparent continuity of occupation and religious observance at Eridu provide convincing evidence for the indigenous origin of Sumerian civilization.
Eridu was abandoned for long periods, before it was finally deserted and allowed to fall into ruin in the 6th century BC. The encroachment of neighbouring sand dunes, and the rise of a saline water table, set early limits to its agricultural base so in its later Neo-Babylonian development, Eridu was rebuilt as a purely temple site, in honour of its earliest history.
In the court of Assyria, special physicians trained in the ancient lore of Eridu, far to the south, foretold the course of sickness from signs and portents on the patient’s body, and offered the appropriate incantations and magical resources as cures.
Egypt – NU/NUN
Nu (“watery one”), also called Nun (“inert one”) is the deification of the primordial watery abyss in ancient Egyptian religion. In the Ogdoad (the “eightfold”), eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis during what is called the Old Kingdom, the third through sixth dynasties, dated between 2686 to 2134 BC, cosmogony, the word nu means “abyss”.
The Ogdoad includes eight deities which are arranged in four male-female pairs: Naunet and Nun (the primordial waters), Amaunet and Amun (air or invisibility), Hauhet and Heh (eternity or infinity), and Kauket with Kuk (darkness). The males were associated with frogs and females were associated with snakes.
Apart from their gender, there was little to distinguish the male gods and female goddesses; indeed, the names of the females are merely derivative female forms of the male name. Essentially, each pair represents the male and female aspect of one of four concepts.
Together the four concepts represent the primal, fundamental state of the beginning. They are what always have been. In the myth, however, their interaction ultimately proved to be unbalanced resulting in the arising of a new entity depicted either as an egg or as a lotus bud. When the entity opened, it revealed Ra, the fiery sun, inside. After a long interval of rest, Ra, together with the other deities, created all other things.
The Ancient Egyptians envisaged the oceanic abyss of the Nun as surrounding a bubble in which the sphere of life is encapsulated, representing the deepest mystery of their cosmogony.
In Ancient Egyptian creation accounts the original mound of land comes forth from the waters of the Nun. The Nun is the source of all that appears in a differentiated world, encompassing all aspects of divine and earthly existence. In the Ennead cosmogony (meaning a collection of nine things) Nun is perceived as transcendent at the point of creation alongside Atum the creator god.
Among Egyptian pesedjets, the most important was the Great Pesedjet, also called the Ennead of Heliopolis (Egyptian: Aunu, “place of pillars”), after its centre of worship. The Ennead were worshipped at Heliopolis and consisted of the god Atum, his children Shu and Tefnut, their children Geb and Nut and their children Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys.
The Greek term Ennead, denoting a group of nine, was coined by Greeks exploring Egypt, its culture and religion, especially after the conquest by Alexander the Great and during the subsequent rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.
The creation account of Heliopolis relates that from the primeval waters represented by Nun, a mound appeared on which the self-begotten deity Atum sat. Bored and alone, Atum spat or, according to other stories, masturbated, producing Shu, representing the air and Tefnut, representing moisture.
Some versions however have Atum – identified with Ra – father of Shu and Tefnut with Iusaaset (“the great one who comes forth”), who is accordingly sometimes described as a “shadow” in this pesedjet. Iusaset is also described as “the grandmother of all of the deities”.
In turn, Shu and Tefnut mated and brought forth Geb, representing the earth, and Nut, representing the nighttime sky. Because of their initial closeness, Geb and Nut engaged in continuous copulation until Shu separated them, lifting Nut into her place in the sky. The children of Geb and Nut were the sons Osiris and Set and the daughters Isis and Nephthys, which in turn formed couples.
In Ancient Egyptian art, Iusaaset appears as a woman wearing the horned vulture crown with the uraeus and the solar disk in it, and she carries an ankh in one hand and a scepter in the other. The horns, the uraeus, and the solar disk make a religious connection to Bat and Hathor.
Although her origins are unclear, Iusaaset seems to be attested quite early in the Egyptian pantheon, being associated with creation and the creation of the deities. Many myths relate that she was seen as the mother of the first deities and the grandmother of the following deities, having watched over the birth of the ones that were her grandchildren.
She remains as a primary deity in the pantheon throughout all eras of the culture, even through the Persian, Hyksos, Greek, and Roman occupations, and regardless of changes in the specific myths.
One belief held that Iusaaset and Atum (Ra) were the parents of Shu and Tefnut, the first deities. In this myth she often was described as his shadow, sister, or wife. Later other goddesses also became associated with Atum and one variant even relates that he gave birth to the deities, although that variant seems to have been rejected by many cultural and religious centers.
During the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead pharaoh’s soul from the tomb to the starry heavens. By the time of the New Kingdom, the Atum myth had merged in the Egyptian pantheon with that of Ra, who later was described as a creator and a solar deity as his cult arose. Their two identities were joined into Atum-Ra. After they were combined, Ra was seen as the whole sun and Atum came to be seen as the sun when it sets in the west (depicted as an old man leaning on his staff), while Khepri was seen as the sun when it was rising. At these later times Iusaaset sometimes is described as the eye of Ra.
Iusaaset was associated with the Acacia tree (considered the tree of life, alluding to the interconnection of all life on our planet and used as a metaphor for common descent) and thus with the oldest one known being situated just north of Heliopolis and, thereby, which became identified as the birthplace of the deities.
Iusaaset was said to own this tree, which was renowned for its strength, hardiness, medical properties, and edibility. Many useful applications gave it a central importance in the culture.
Nu was shown usually as male but also had aspects that could be represented as female or male. Nunet (also spelt Naunet) is the female aspect, which is the name Nu with a female gender ending. The male aspect, Nun, is written with a male gender ending.
As with the primordial concepts of the Ogdoad, Nu’s male aspect was depicted as a frog, or a frog-headed man. In Ancient Egyptian art, Nun also appears as a bearded man, with blue-green skin, representing water. Naunet is represented as a snake or snake-headed woman.
Beginning with the Middle Kingdom Nun is described as “the Father of the Gods” and he is depicted on temple walls throughout the rest of Ancient Egyptian religious history.
Like the other Ogdoad deities, Nu did not have temples or any center of worship. Even so, Nu was sometimes represented by a sacred lake, or, as at Abydos, by an underground stream.
In the 12th Hour of the Book of Gates Nu is depicted with upraised arms holding a “solar bark” (or barque, a boat). The boat is occupied by eight deities, with the scarab deity Khepri, connected with the scarab beetle (kheprer), because the scarab rolls balls of dung across the ground, an act that the Egyptians saw as a symbol of the forces that move the sun across the sky, standing in the middle surrounded by the seven other deities.
During the late period when Egypt became occupied, the negative aspect of the Nun (chaos) became the dominant perception, reflecting the forces of disorder that were set loose in the country.
Khepri was thus a solar deity. Young dung beetles, having been laid as eggs within the dung ball, emerge from it fully formed. Therefore, Khepri also represented creation and rebirth, and he was specifically connected with the rising sun and the mythical creation of the world.
The Egyptians connected his name with the Egyptian language verb kheper, meaning “develop” or “come into being”. Kheper (or Xeper) is a transcription of an ancient Egyptian word meaning to come into being, to change, to occur, to happen, to exist, to bring about, to create, etc.
During the late period when Egypt became occupied, the negative aspect of the Nun (chaos) became the dominant perception, reflecting the forces of disorder that were set loose in the country.
There was no cult devoted to Khepri, and he was largely subordinate to the greater sun god Ra. Often, Khepri and another solar deity, Atum (sometimes rendered as Atem or Tem), considered to be the first god, having created himself, sitting on a mound (benben) (or identified with the mound itself), from the primordial waters (Nu), were seen as aspects of Ra: Khepri was the morning sun, Ra was the midday sun, and Atum was the sun in the evening.
Early myths state that Atum created the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut by spitting them out of his mouth. To explain how Atum did this, the myth uses the metaphor of masturbation, with the hand he used in this act representing the female principle inherent within him. Other interpretations state that he has made union with his shadow.
In the Old Kingdom the Egyptians believed that Atum lifted the dead king’s soul from his pyramid to the starry heavens. He was also a solar deity, associated with the primary sun god Ra. Atum was linked specifically with the evening sun, while Ra or the closely linked god Khepri were connected with the sun at morning and midday.
In the Book of the Dead, which was still current in the Graeco-Roman period, the sun god Atum is said to have ascended from chaos-waters with the appearance of a snake, the animal renewing itself every morning.
Atum is the god of pre-existence and post-existence. In the binary solar cycle, the serpentine Atum is contrasted with the ram-headed scarab Khepri—the young sun god, whose name is derived from the Egyptian hpr “to come into existence”. Khepri-Atum encompassed sunrise and sunset, thus reflecting the entire solar cycle.
Atum is one of the most important and frequently mentioned deities from earliest times, as evidenced by his prominence in the Pyramid Texts, where he is portrayed as both a creator and father to the king.
He is usually depicted as a man wearing either the royal head-cloth or the dual white and red crown of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, reinforcing his connection with kingship. Sometimes he also is shown as a serpent, the form he returns to at the end of the creative cycle, and also occasionally as a mongoose, lion, bull, lizard, or ape.
Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created his children—the first deities, out of loneliness.
He produced from his own sneeze, or in some accounts, semen, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. The brother and sister, curious about the primeval waters that surrounded them, went to explore the waters and disappeared into the darkness. Unable to bear his loss, Atum sent a fiery messenger, the Eye of Ra, to find his children. The tears of joy he shed on their return were the first human beings.
Atum’s name is thought to be derived from the word tem which means to complete or finish. Thus he has been interpreted as being the ‘complete one’ and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to watery chaos at the end of the creative cycle. As creator he was seen as the underlying substance of the world, the deities and all things being made of his flesh or alternatively being his ka.