Man and the Primeval Sea

The oldest creation account of the Sumerians was found in Enlil's ancient city of Nippur, and is known as the Nippur Tablet or Eridu Genesis. Although Nippur seems to have been the religious capital of the Akkadians, who generally lived north of Sumer, the story itself is Sumerian. The Akkadian region is known to have been inhabited since 3000 B.C. at the latest, about 400 years after concrete evidence of the Sumerians. The first Akkadian names attested to have been found in Sumerian documents dating to 2900-2800 B.C. The first texts written fully in the Akkadian language found date to 2500 BC. Akkadian stories are written in a Proto-Semitic language, an ancestor language of ancient Hebrew. Like the Sumerian, Elamite, and Hittite languages, the Akkadian language was written using cuneiform.

Although badly fragmented, the Eridu Genesis gives an account of how the black headed people were created by An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag (Ninmah) to instigate some sort of peace and how kingship descended from heaven to Eridu. The Sumerian text Enki and Ninmah elaborates more fully, entailing how Nammu, mother of all the gods, went down to a place called the engur, which was deep inside the abzu, bringing the tears of the gods. She woke Enki from his deep slumber and told him of how the lesser gods were suffering under Enlil's rule. She asked him to apply the skill deriving form his wisdom to create a substitute for the gods so that they could be freed from their toil. Enki went into the halankug, his pondering room, until he discovered the answer. He slapped his thigh in annoyance as he fashioned the design. He then returned from his pondering room saying:

"My mother, the creature you planned will really come into existence. Impose on him the work of carrying baskets. You should knead clay from the top of the abzu; the birth-goddesses [?] will nip off the clay and you shall bring the form into existence. Let Ninmah act as your assistant; and let Ninimma, Shu-Zi-Anna, Ninmada, Ninbarag, Ninmug, ...... and Ninguna stand by as you give birth. My mother, after you have decreed his fate, let Ninmah impose on him the work of carrying baskets."

Ninmah ("The Exalted Lady") is the sister of Enlil and is also known as Ninhursag ("Lady of Mt. Hursag"). It has been suggested that she is a later incarnation of Ki given Ninmah's 'Mother Earth' characterizations.5 Through the help of her and Enki, the primeval sea gives birth to mankind. But the part of the text that deals with the birth is fragmented.

The birth of man is described in a later version of the creation story, the Epic of Atrahasis, which dates to the Babylonian times (1600 B.C.) and is written in the language of the time, Akkadian. The Epic of Atrahasis tells how each of the elements of the world were divided amongst the gods at random:

They took the box of lots and cast the lots; the gods made the division. Anu [An] went up to the sky, and Ellil [Enlil] took the earth for his people. The bolt which bars the sea was assigned to far-sighted Enki.

This is very similar to how the Greek poet Apollodorus describes how Zeus and his brothers divided the world amongst themselves:

Armed with these weapons the gods overcame the Titans, shut them up in Tartarus, and appointed the Hundred-handers their guards; but they themselves cast lots for the sovereignty, and to Zeus was allotted the dominion of the sky, to Poseidon the dominion of the sea, and to Pluto the dominion in Hades.

The Dead Sea Scrolls version of the book of Deuteronomy also speaks of the division of lands amongst the "Sons of God," which has been changed to "Sons of Israel" in most Bibles. The divisions in this case are based not on the elements, but on nationalisty:

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. When the Elyon [Most High] gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Elohim. For Yahweh's portion is his people, Yah-Akov his allotted inheritance. -Deuteronomy 32:7-9

Yah-Akov ("Struggles with Yahweh") is better known as Jacob, who was later given the name Yisra-El (Israel) in a divine encounter. His name is given here as a anachronism for the nation of Yisra-El. Yah-Akov was given the name after wrestling with a mysterious man until daybreak. As daybreak came and the man realized he couldn't overpower Yah-Akov, he touched his hip, crippling it, and told Yah-Akov to let go of him. But Yah-Akov said he wouldn't let go unless he got blessed by him. So the man asked Yah-Akov's name and then gave him the name Yisra-El. Now forced to limp due to his injuries, he dubs the place Peni-El ("Face of El") because he "saw the face of Elohim and lived." This all happens the night before he meets with his estranged twin brother while in fear for his life.

In the Epic of Atrahasis, the Anunnaki forced the Igigi, the lesser gods, to dig the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Their work was enormous but they groaned and blamed each other. This changed after 3,600 years when they rose up in rebellion, set fire to their tools, and surrounded Enlil's home, E-Kur ("House of the Mountain").

E-Kur ("House of the Mountain"), Nippur

Enlil's vizier Nusku barred the door while Enlil sent for An and Enki. Nusku then went out to find out which one of them had declared the rebellion, but when he returned he told Enlil that all of them had made the decision since the excessive workload was killing them. At this, Enlil's tears began to flow, and he called on An to destroy them. An and Enki told Enlil that the Igigi were right and that the warning sounds should have been heard. Nintu then came up with the solution, saying:

On the first, seventh, and fifteenth of the month I shall make a purification by washing. Then one god should be slaughtered and the gods can be purified by immersion. Nintu shall mix the clay with his flesh and blood. Then a god and a man will be mixed together in clay. Let us hear the drumbeat [heartbeat] forever after, let a ghost come into existence from the god's flesh, let her proclaim it as her living sign, and let the ghost exist so as not to forget the slain god.

Geshtu-E, the god of intelligence was chosen to be sacrificed and Nintu mixed his flesh and blood with clay and the spittle of the Igigi. Mami (Nintu) then relieved the Igigi of their burden and for that the lesser gods kissed her feet and gave her the title Mistress of All Gods. Enki and Ninmah then went into the room of fate. Ninmah cast a spell and pinched off 14 pieces of clay and made seven males and seven females. The birth goddesses were assembled and counted out ten months and then Nintu slipped her staff into the womb, covered her head and performed her cosmological midwifery. She then decreed that when a mother gave birth mud brick would be set down and a celebration would be given in the father-in-law's house for nine days.

Ninmah and the Tree of Life
Birth goddesses attending Ninmah as she forms man next to the Tree of Life

An earlier Sumerian story, Enki and Ninmah, also portray the two gods as creating the first humans out clay:

Enki and Ninmah drank beer, their hearts became elated, and then Ninmah said to Enki: "Man's body can be either good or bad and whether I make a fate good or bad depends on my will." Enki answered Ninmah: "I will counterbalance whatever fate -- good or bad -- you happen to decide." Ninmah took clay from the top of the abzu in her hand and she fashioned from it first a man who could not bend his outstretched weak hands. Enki looked at the man who could not bend his outstretched weak hands, and decreed his fate: he appointed him as a servant of the king.

When Ninmah makes a blind person, Enki appoints him as the king's chief musician. Then she fashions one with broken feet and Enki appoints him as a silversmith. Next she fashions someone with no bladder control, so Enki bathes him enchanted water and drives out the 'namtar' ("fate") demon from his body. (Namtar demons were said to have no hands or feet and were responsible for death.) When Ninmah fashions a woman who can not give birth, Enki makes her a weaver for the queen. Finally, Ninmah fashions a neuter without sex organs, so Enki decrees that the person would stand before the king. In frustration, Ninmah throws the clay down. Enki then picks it up and says:

"I have decreed the fates of your creatures and given them their daily bread. Come, now I will fashion somebody for you, and you must decree the fate of the newborn one!"

Enki then fashions someone with a lolling head, bad eyes, a bad neck, bad lungs, shaky ribs, a bad heart and unhealthy bowels. He asks that she give his creature "it's daily bread". She tries to feed the babe bread but it can't eat, nor can it stand up or sit down. Ninmah tells Enki the man he created is neither dead nor alive. Most of the rest of the conversation is fragmented, but it seems that Enki admits that his work is incomplete without her. Enki then announces that his penis be praised and that her wisdom be confirmed and the text ends saying that Ninmah could not rival Father Enki. A drunken god being the explanation for crippled people is also a theme of the Yoruba legends from Africa.

The Sumerian garden of paradise was called Dilmun. The Sumerian text Enki and Ninhursag describes this paradise with a striking number of Biblical parallels:

In Dilmun the raven was not yet cawing, the partridge not cackling. The lion did not slay, the wolf was not carrying off lambs, the dog had not been taught to make kids curl up, the pig had not learned that grain was to be eaten.

This part of the text bears a striking resemblance to a long repeated phrase written in the book of Yesha-Yahu (Isaiah):

The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together, and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young ones will lie down together. The lion will eat straw like the ox." -Isaiah 11:6-7

There were also no diseases in Dilmun, no pain and no aging:

No eye-diseases said there: "I am the eye disease." No headache said there: "I am the headache." No old woman belonging to it said there: "I am an old woman." No old man belonging to it said there: "I am an old man." No maiden in her unwashed state ...... in the city. No man dredging a river said there: "It is getting dark." No herald made the rounds in his border district. No singer sang an elulam there. No wailings were wailed in the city's outskirts there.

Yesha-Yahu writes a similar description of the New Jerusalem that Yahweh gives to him:

"I will rejoice in Yerushalayim [Jerusalem], and joy in my people; and there shall be heard in her no more the voice of weeping and the voice of crying. There shall be no more there an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed." -Isaiah 65:19-20

This paradise of immortality is located on the island of Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, two days sail from Mesopotamia according to Sumerian texts. The island is thought to have broken away from the Arabian mainland around 6000 B.C. Excavations on the island have retrieved the remains of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to 3500 B.C. But people did die there; the island hosts one of the largest necropolises ever excavated, turning up an estimated 170,000 burial mounds dating back to the second millenium B.C. The Dilmun empire also controlled a large part of the western shore.

It was eventually annexed by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. The Greeks arrived there in 300 B.C., naming it Tylos. Bahrain remained a Hellenistic culture for some 600 years. After going through Christian, Zoroastrian, and Manichian influences in the 600's A.D., it came under the conversion of Islam, some say by Mohammed himself.

In Enki and Ninhursag, Enki came to Dilmun and blessed the land, asking that when Utu, the sun god, stepped into the heavens, the pools of salt water turned into fresh water. When the sun rises, the pools of salt water are purified for the people to drink. Enki begins to take the reed beds in a lovers' embrace when Ninhursag (Ninmah) brushes him aside and says "No man takes me in the marsh." Enki cries out and adjures her to lie down with him in the marsh and together they conceive a daughter named Ninsar ("Lady of Plants"). The pregnancy lasts nine days instead of nine months and the labor is painless. When Ninsar comes out to the bank, Enki has his servant Isimud sail him over to her and they conceive another daughter, Ninkurra ("Lady of the Mountains"). When Ninkurra goes to the bank, Isimud sails Enki over again and Enki conceives Uttu, who is possibly the Spider Goddess of Weaving5. Nintu (Ninmah) then tells Uttu that she will be seen when she goes to the bank and gives her some advice. When Uttu goes there and runs into Enki, she tells him that if he gathers some fruit for her then he will "indeed have hold of her halter." Enki fills the dykes with water and cucumbers, and grapes and apples grow from it. Enki brings the fruit to Uttu's house and makes love to her, but Uttu begins to feel great pain so Ninhursag takes the water (semen) out of her, and using it Ninhursag grows eight plants. Enki sees them from the marsh and decides to go and check them out. His servant Isimud tells him the names of the plants and Enki decides the destiny for each of them, but eats each of them as he does so. Ninhursag grows angry at this and curses him, saying she will not look at him with the life-giving eye until his dying day and then disappears. The Anunnaki begin to despair and sit down in the dust. A fox agrees to find her if Enlil will erect two standards of him in his city. Enlil agrees and when the fox finds her it tells her how all the other cities are suffering, so she rushes back to Enki and asks him where it hurts. Enki names eight parts of him that are in pain, so Ninhursag gives birth to eight deities to heal each body part, each with a name subsequent to that body part. When Enki's ribs hurt, Ninhursag gives birth to Ninti, which can be translated "Lady of the Rib" or "Lady of Life" since the Sumerian word ti means both. Chavah (Eve) was made from the rib of Adam ("Man") and her name also means "Lady of Life". Similarly, the eating of the fruit that causes the "Lady who gave birth" to curse Enki calls to mind the curse pronounced on Adam and Chava for eating the fruit of the Tree of Wisdom of Good and Evil. The gods giving birth painlessly gives a background for the pain of childbirth that is pronounced on woman-kind after Chavah eats the fruit.

The Sumerians also had their own version of the Biblical flood story, with King Ziusudra of Shurrupuk in the role of Noah. Although the king lists record the last king of Shuruppak as Ubara-Tutu ("Friend of Utu"), the Eridu Genesis names Ziusudra ("Life of Long Days") as the last king and only survivor. Another Sumerian text, Instructions of Shurrupuk identify Ziusudra as King Ubara-Tutu's son. The Eridu Genesis is the oldest text that describes how An and Enlil sent the great flood to destroy humankind. Although the reason for causing the flood is lost, other texts describe that it was the noise of mankind that irritated Enlil. The gods convened a meeting in Shuruppak where An and Enlil convinced the council that mankind needed to be destroyed, although Enki, Nintur (Ninmah) and the love goddess Inanna were set against it. While King Ziusudra was humbly wording his wishes to an idol, he began to hear the voices of the divine council. He then heard Enki warning him of the decision to destroy mankind, enabling Ziusudra to build a large boat and gather all the animals and vegetation into it before the great flood came and killed off all mankind. Other accounts say that Enki was made to swear not to tell anyone so he instead whispered his advice to a wall where the king could hear him. After seven days and nights Ziusudra drilled a hole (or opened a window) and Utu sent his light into the boat's interior. Ziusudra came out of the boat, kissed the ground, and then offered an ox and a sheep to the sun god. Here the text is fragmented at the point where Enlil appears, angry at Ziusudra's survival, but Enki convinces Enlil that it's a good thing. The text comes back with An and Enlil uttering the "breath of heaven" and "breath of earth", granting Ziusudra "life like a god" and taking him "east, over the mountains, to Mount Dilmun.", the Sumerian Eden.

The flood story is most definitely the most plagiarized legend to spread throughout the ancient world and Noach (Noah) has the largest number of cultural doppelgangers than any other Biblical hero: Ziusudra, Atrahasis, Utnapishtim (all kings). At 950, Noach is the second oldest man recorded in the Bible, right next to his seemingly inconsequential grandfather Metushelach (Methusaleh), who lived to be 969. When the flood came, it was a consequence of the wickedness of man (Gen. 6:5). This statement is directly preceeded by an event in which the "sons of Elohim" had children by the "daughters of men" who were "heroes of old". Although Genesis doesn't make a connection between the events, the Book of 1 Enoch does. It lays out when the 200 of the "Watchers", led by Azaz-El, came down from heaven and sired giants with the daughters of man. Azaz-El taught them all the evil crafts of the world: how to make weapons, armor, astronomy, how to cast spells and apply make-up. This caused much blood to be spilled, and five of the Watchers who in Heaven: Micha-El, Gabri-El, Rapha-El, Sari-El, and Uri-El called out to the Elyon (Most High) for justice. This was the catalyst that caused the earth's flooding. Genesis describes it as a rift in the heavens separating the primeval sea from the Earth:

"In the 600th year of Noach's life, on the 17th day of the 2nd month- on that day the springs of the great tehom [deep] burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened." -Genesis 7:11

Just as the primeval ocean took part in the creation of the world, so to did it act on the earth's destruction. Instead of seven days and nights of flooding, Noach is warned seven days about the flood seven days beforehand and is told to bring seven of each animal (Gen. 7:1-4). Noach's flood instead lasts for another special number of days and nights: 40. The number 40 appears constantly throughout the Bible and is considered to be holy. When Noach left the ark, he sacrificed clean birds to Yahweh and Yahweh promises never to flood the earth again. Noach's three sons Yafet (Japheth), Cham (Ham), and Shem become the ancestors of three major families: The Yafethites (Europe), the Chamites (Africa and Canaan), and the Semites (Elam, Assyria, Aram, and Israel). The short story on the Tower of Babel then serves as a bridge to the story of Avram (later given the name Avraham). There is a break between the stories of the patriarch's Noach and Avram in the Bible unparalleled in the rest of Genesis. Similar to Eridu Genesis, the first 10 chapters of Genesis act as a cohesive unit with the primeval flood breaking through acting as a finishing climax to the primeval separation of the waters for the creation. These chapters act almost like a prologue to the stories associated with the ancestral line of the Patriarchs of Genesis: Avram (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac), Yah-Akov (Jacob; later given the name Israel), and Yosef (Joseph). Exodus then begins a generation or so later with the prophet Moshe (Moses), and not breaking again until the end of Deuteronomy, the last of the 5 books known as the Torah, which are believed to have been dictated directly by God to Moshe.

In the Greek version of the world flood, Zeus visits the castle of King Lyacon and discovers the meat he was served was human. He then burned everyone to death in the castle except Lyacon, whom he turned into a wolf for the sake of poetic justice. Disgusted with humans in general, Zeus ordered the gods to kill mankind with a flood, but Prometheus sent a secret message to his son Deucalion in a dream and told him to build a large chest and escape the destruction with his wife Pyrrha. Prometheus ("Fore-thought") is called the fashioner of man, and also like Enki is considered the wisest of the Titans, but Prometheus is best known for providing man with fire and then paying for it by being strapped to a rock by Zeus and having his liver eaten each day by an eagle. Another story tells how Prometheus tricked Zeus into allowing humans to sacrifice the worst parts of the animal. Going back to the story, when Zeus looked down and saw that only Deucalion and Pyrrha had lived, he ordered the gods to have the floods recede since he knew them to be good people. After nine days the chest landed on Mount Parnassus. The couple found a temple, brushed away the seaweed, and gave thanks to Themis, the Great Goddess of the Titans. She told them each to pick up the bones of their mother and throw it behind them. After they figured out what she meant, they picked up stones from the earth and threw them behind their back. The ones Deucalion threw turned into men and the ones Pyrrha threw became women. The new stone-men had tougher skin than the original clay-made humans.

The Chinese flood story from Chou dynasty, 1000 BC, is of a different origin, although many people believe the flood that it refers to is the same devastating event that Middle Eastern texts commemorate. In it, the water god Gong Gong (Kung Kung) fought with the king Zhuan Xu to settle who was superior. When Gong Gong lost the fight, he smashed the Buzhou ("Imperfect") Mountain, breaking off a corner of the earth and one of the heavenly supports. The firmament tilted to the northwest, causing the sun, moon and stars all to drift in that direction. The void it created caused the rivers' waters to rush in and cause a flood. Ti ("Lord"), who was either the emperor or the supreme god, ordered Kun to deal with it, but after nine years was executed by the emperor. His son Yu successfully completed his father's work by channeling the waters to the sea.

It has been determined that the Euphrates did flood over in the year 2900 BC and caught some of the Sumerian cities in it's wake, including Shuruppak. This would also fit in well with when the flood would have been based on the timeline derived from the Sumerian king lists. However, some geologists believe the flood stories came from a much more cataclysmic flood that occurred around 5600 B.C., when an ending Ice Age caused the world's oceans to overflow into the Black Sea, which at the time had been a freshwater oasis, a veritable Garden of Eden.9

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