Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Apzu and the creation

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 31, 2015

Considered the master shaper of the world, god of wisdom and of all magic, Enki was characterized as the lord of the Abzu (Apsu in Akkadian), the freshwater sea or groundwater located within the earth.

In the later Babylonian epic Enûma Eliš, Abzu, the “begetter of the gods”, is inert and sleepy but finds his peace disturbed by the younger gods, so sets out to destroy them.

His grandson Enki, chosen to represent the younger gods, puts a spell on Abzu “casting him into a deep sleep”, thereby confining him deep underground.

Enki subsequently sets up his home “in the depths of the Abzu.” Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.

In another even older tradition, Nammu, the goddess of the primeval creative matter, the Goddess Sea (Engur), is the mother-goddess portrayed as having “given birth to the great gods.”

As the watery creative force Nammu was said to preexist Ea-Enki. According to the Neo-Sumerian mythological text Enki and Ninmah, Enki is the son of An and Nammu.

Nammu 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.

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. Enki thus takes on all of the functions of the Abzu, including his fertilising powers as lord of the waters and lord of semen.

Benito states “With Enki it is an interesting change of gender symbolism, the fertilising agent is also water, Sumerian “a” or “Ab” which also means “semen”.

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 one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn, Enki stands at the empty riverbeds and fills them with his “water”. This may be a reference to Enki’s hieros gamos or sacred marriage with Ki/Ninmah/Ninhursag (the Earth).

Ninhursag had many epithets including shassuru or “womb goddess”, tabsut ili “midwife of the gods”, “mother of all children” and “mother of the gods”. As the wife and consort of Enki Ninhursag was referred to as Damgulanna (great wife of heaven) or Damkina (faithful wife).

Nin-hursag means “lady of the sacred mountain” (from Sumerian NIN “lady” and ḪAR.SAG “sacred mountain, foothill”,[9] possibly a reference to the site of her temple, the E-Kur (House of mountain deeps) at Eridu.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The subsequent tale, with similarities to the Biblical story of the forbidden fruit, repeats the story of how fresh water brings life to a barren land. Enki, the Water-Lord then “caused to flow the ‘water of the heart” and having fertilised his consort Ninhursag, also known as Ki or Earth.

After “Nine days being her nine months, the months of ‘womanhood’… like good butter, Nintu, the mother of the land, …like good butter, gave birth to Ninsar, (Lady Greenery)”. When Ninhursag left him, as Water-Lord he came upon Ninsar (Lady Greenery).

Not knowing her to be his daughter, and because she reminds him of his absent consort, Enki then seduces and has intercourse with her. Ninsar then gave birth to Ninkur (Lady Fruitfulness or Lady Pasture), and leaves Enki alone again.

A second time, Enki, in his loneliness finds and seduces Ninkur, and from the union Ninkur gave birth to Uttu (weaver or spider, the weaver of the web of life). Uttu in Sumerian means “the woven” and she was illustrated as a spider in a web. In an alternative tradition Ninkur was the mother (by Enki) of Nin-imma, the deification of the female sex organs.

A third time Enki succumbs to temptation, and attempts seduction of Uttu. Upset about Enki’s reputation, Uttu consults Ninhursag, who, upset at the promiscuous wayward nature of her spouse, advises Uttu to avoid the riverbanks, the places likely to be affected by flooding, the home of Enki.

Uttu bears seven new child/trees from Enki, the eighth being the Ti (Tree of “Life”, associated with the “Rib”). When Enki then ate Uttu’s children, or forbidden flowers, Ninhursag cursed him with eight wounds and disappears. She was later persuaded by the other gods to heal him.

In another version of this myth Ninhursag takes Enki’s semen from Uttu’s womb and plants it in the earth where eight plants rapidly germinate. With his two-faced servant and steward Isimud Enki, in the swampland, despite warnings, consumes the other seven fruits.

Consuming his own semen he fall pregnant (ill with swellings) in his jaw, his teeth, his mouth, his hip, his throat, his limbs, his side and his rib. The gods are at a loss to know what to do, chagrinned they “sit in the dust”.

As Enki lacks a womb with which to give birth, he seems to be dying with swellings. The fox then asks Enlil King of the Gods, “If i bring Ninhursag before thee, what shall be my reward?” Ninhursag’s sacred fox then fetches the goddess. Ninhursag relents and takes Enki’s Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to gods of healing of each part of the body.

The last one, Ninti is also a pun on Lady Life (Sumerian Ti means rib and to live), a title of Ninhursag herself. She is the Sumerian goddess of life and her specific healing area was the rib. The story thus symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess.

Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis. Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the Hurrian goddess Kheba, the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living” and “Queen of the deities”.

In the Hurrian language Hepa is the most likely pronunciation of the name of the goddess. In modern literature the sound /h/ in cuneiform sometimes is transliterated as kh. During Aramaean times Hebat also appears to have become identified with the goddess Hawwah, or Eve.

The title “the mother of all living” is is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah, who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam — not Enki — walks in the Garden of Paradise.

The Atrahasis-Epos has it that Enlil, known as the inventor of the mattock (a key agricultural pick, hoe, ax or digging tool of the Sumerians) and helped plants to grow, 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.

According to the epic of Gilgamesh, Enlil requested the creation of a slave race, but then got tired of their noise and tried to kill them by sending a flood. A mortal known as Utnapishtim, who is tasked by Enki (Ea) to abandon his worldly possessions and create a giant ship to be called The Preserver of Life, survived the flood through the help of another god, Ea, and he was made immortal by Enlil after Enlil’s initial fury had subsided.

In the epic, overcome with the death of his friend Enkidu, the hero Gilgamesh sets out on a series of journeys to search for his ancestor Utnapishtim (Xisouthros) who lives at the mouth of the rivers and has been given eternal life. Utnapishtim counsels Gilgamesh to abandon his search for immortality but tells him about a plant that can make him young again.

Gilgamesh obtains the plant from the bottom of the sea in Delmun (current day Bahrain) but a serpent steals it, and Gilgamesh returns home to the city of Uruk having abandoned hope of either immortality or renewed youth.

The pool of the Abzu at the front of his temple was adopted also at the temple to Nanna (Akkadian Sin) the Moon, at Ur, and spread from there throughout the Middle East. It is believed to remain today as the sacred pool at Mosques, or as the holy water font in Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.

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