In the late afternoon the urigallu priest of Esagila, the Temple that Raises its Head, is preparing for what many consider to be the most important part of the festival. When he has partaken of the second meal of the late afternoon, he collects the seven sacred clay tablets and enters the Palace of Heaven and Earth.
The walls of the Seat of Kingship gleam with gold, glow with deep blue lapis-lazuli and shine with pure white alabaster. Delicate silver ornaments adorn the floor and in the centre stands the golden statue of Marduk, supreme god of Babylon and thus of the entire world.
The urigallu priest raises his hand and begins to read from the first clay tablet:
Enuma elish la nabu shamamu,
Shaplish ammatum shuma la zakrat…
When heaven on high had not yet been named,
Nor had solid Earth below been called by name,
Then was naught but primordial Apsu, he who begot them,
And Mummu Tiamat, she who bore them all.
Over the next hour, as he reads the story engraved upon those seven clay tablets, the urigallu priest of Esagila recapitulates the creation of the Universe, the birth of the gods, the disputes between them and the creation of heaven and Earth from the dead body of Tiamat, the triumph of the god Marduk and the creation of mankind to serve him.
Why was this annual recapitulation of the history of the Universe so important to the Babylonians?
Its main intent was political, to establish the right of Marduk (and therefore of his city Babylon) to rule over all Mesopotamia. But it was also important for the Babylonians to be reminded of where they came from. Throughout history, societies have created their own myths of creation. There seems to be a widespread need among mankind to understand our origins.
Perhaps this is not surprising. The world is complex; life can be hard and painful. At some point in our lives we all ask fundamental questions, such as: “Why am I here?”, “Where did I come from?” and “Where am I going?”
We think that people still need to know the answers to these questions. Indeed, it is even more important today, now that we have so much more power in our hands than the Babylonians. And, at least in those countries with a working democratic government, this power is ultimately in the hands of us, the people. So it is us, rather than the king or the gods, who need to be told this story of creation.
The story we tell here incorporates the latest ideas about the origin and history of the universe, from its creation to the present day, and uses the lessons of that story to make some predictions about the future. On this site we condense the story down to its essentials. In our sister site, History of the Universe, we tell the story in much more detail.
Following a 3000 year old tradition, Wyken Seagrave retells the 21st century version of the story of creation on the spring equinox. Please add your comments to help us improve the video. … Continue reading →
I think it would be an useful innovation if, following a very ancient tradition, on the first day of spring every year people could hear the modern version of the story of the creation. Why? Because, at some point in … Continue reading →