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Home » Creation stories » Creation stories from Central Asia and West Asia

CREATION STORIES FROM CENTRAL AND WEST ASIA

Written by Graham | Created: Tuesday 6th October 2020 @ 1142hrs | Revised: Sunday 20th December 2020 @ 2353hrs

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MESOPOTAMIA

THE ENÛMA ELIŠ

When the heavens above did not exist,
And earth beneath had not come into being -
There was Apsû, the first in order, their begetter,
And demiurge Tia-mat, who gave birth to them all...

The Enûma Eliš is the longest and most comprehensive Mesopotamial creation myth we know of. It appears on seven tablets recovered from the Library of Ashurbanipal, and is written in the Old Babylonian language. These tablets were discovered in 1849 by A.H. Layard and have long since had an important impact on Biblical studies. The initial creation myth can be summarised as follows: -

THE FIRST GODS

Apsû and Tiamat (personifications of the fresh and salty primordial waters) exist before the heavens and earth come into being. Upon joining their waters, the first of the gods are fashioned within them: these are Laḫmu and Laḫamu, who go on to sire Anšar and Kišar, the parents of Anu, the god of the heavens. Anu became father of Nudimmud (i.e. Enki or Ea).

by this stage, the noise of their increasingly-mighty god children caused Apsû and Tiamat a great deal of annoyance, leading to much distress. Eventually, Apsû dispatches his vizier Mummu to complain about the noise. Mummu counsels Apsû to take action and, as a result of Mummu's counsel, Apsû plans to kill the gods. Tiamat, however, warns Ea, who induces Apsû to fall asleep, before killing him and imprisoning Mummu.

Ea is thus installed as lord of the Apsû, the subterranean source of all fresh water. He marries and has a son, Marduk.

MARDUK'S CONFLICT WITH TIAMAT

Some time later, at the instigation of the gods, Tiamat rises in an attempt to avenge Apsû, to which end, she brings forth eleven monsters: -

  • Bašmu ("Venomous Snake");
  • Ušumgallu ("Great Dragon");
  • Mušmaḫḫū ("Exalted Serpent");
  • Mušḫuššu ("Furious Snake");
  • Laḫmu ("Hairy One");
  • Ugallu ("Big Weather-Beast");
  • Uridimmu ("Mad Lion");
  • Girtablullû ("Scorpion-Man");
  • Umū dabrūtu ("Violent Storms");
  • Kulullû ("Fish-Man"); and
  • Kusarikku ("Bull-Man").

Additionally, Tiamat marries her associate Kingu, and grants him the three "Tablets of Destiny," which confer upon him the supreme power. The gods prove powerless to oppose Tiamat's forces - all apart from Marduk, who extracts a promise of supremacy, before agreeing to sally forth on the gods' (those, that is, who haven't defected to Tiamat's cause) behalf.

Marduk defeats Tiamat and her retinue with the various special weapons at his disposal, and proceeds to tear her cadaver in two, from which he forms the earth and the heavens, before proceeding to order the newly-founded cosmos. Tiamat's erstwhile allies are forced to labour on behalf of those loyal to Marduk's cause: their toil is brought to an end when Marduk slays Kingu and, from the blood, fashions the first humans to serve as the gods' labour force.

Notably, some of Tiamat's creations feature in myths relating to subsequent eras: the Girtablullû are set as guardians at the entrance to the cosmic axis Mount Mašu in the Epic of Gilgameš, while the Kulullû may be associated with Uanna, the first of the Abgal/Apkallu who brought knowledge to prediluvian mankind. Significantly, Uanna - known in Greek as Oannes, is said to have "finished the plans for heaven and earth."

THE ERIDU GENESIS

The Eridu Genesis (so named by Thorkild Jacobsen) is a Sumerian account of creation, covering the period from the creation of the "black-headed people" to the time of the great Deluge during the time of the king Zi-ud-sura: -

I will [...] the perishing of my mankind; for Nintur, I will stop the annihilation of my creatures, and I will return the people from their dwelling grounds.

The "black-headed people" are created by An, Enlil, Enki and Ninḫursaĝa shortly before the text picks up the story (animals too are created). In the account, mankind is assigned the task of labouring on the gods' behalf. Kingship then "descend[s] from heaven," and cities are allocated to particular deities: -

  • "The first of the cities, Eridug, was given to Nudimmud the leader;
  • "The second, Bad-tibira, was given to the Mistress;
  • "The third, Larag, was given to Pabilsaĝ.
  • "The fourth, Zimbir, was given to the hero Utu.
  • "The fifth, Šuruppag, was given to Sud."

Eventually, An and Enlil decree that they will send a flood, seemingly to wipe out humanity and all other life: Enki, however, apparently manages to warn Zi-ud-sura (in contravention of a vow), who builds a boat and, eventually, manages to survive the cataclysm, along with animals. Zi-ud-sura is subsequently made immortal, and takes his place as "king in an overseas country, in the land Dilmun, where the sun rises."

THE DEBATE BETWEEN SHEEP AND GRAIN AND THE DEBATE BETWEEN WINTER AND SUMMER

Among other notices of creation from ancient Mesopotamian sources are those contained within the Sumerian class of "Debates," viz. the Debate Between Sheep and Grain; and the Debate Between Winter and Summer.

In the former, the scene begins with an assembly of the gods on the Harsag-anki ("Mountain of Heaven and Earth"), and describes a time when "[a] tree of Ezinu had not been born, had not become green," and "[l]and and water Takku had not created." The sun god Shamash appears and plans the creation of mankind, which is subsequently carried out.

THE BARTON CYLINDER - AN ENIGMATIC TEXT FROM NIPPUR

Those days were indeed faraway days.
Those nights were indeed faraway nights.
Those years were indeed faraway years.
The storm roared,
the lights flashed.
Heaven talked with Earth.
Earth talked with Heaven.

With the "Grand-Good-Lady-of-Heaven,"
Enlil's older sister,
with Ninhursag,
with the "Grand-Good-Lady-of-Heaven,"
Enlil's older sister,
with Ninhursag,
he had intercourse.
He kissed her.
The semen of seven twins
he impregnated into her womb.

In the beginning, according to the Barton Cylinder, a Sumerian document dating back to the Ur III dynasty, there was An ("Heaven") and Ki ("Earth"), whose matings led to cataclysmic storms between them. They gave rise to a second pair of gods, Enlil and, most probably, Ninhursag (more often seen as Enki's bride). They gave birth to seven sons, whilst a variety of watercourses came into being, borne of the Supreme Divine River. The world is then made abundant.

Some time later, there is a crisis at Nibru (Nippur), with droughts and famines causing an interruption of the food supply for the temple there, a crisis which is resolved by Ninurta, the hero-god who is, most likely (based on other sources), one of Enlil's sons.


PHOENICIAN

THE COSMOGONY OF TAAUTUS

The cosmology ascribed to the Phoenician Sanchuniathon appears in the work of Eusebius of Caesarea, who reports that, between himself & the original author, the material had been transmitted via Philo of Byblos. Sanchuniathon himself is, according to the Neoplatonist Porphyry, said to have gotten information from Hierombalus, priest of the god Ieuo during the reign of Abibalus of Berytus.

One creation account is ascribed to a certain Taautus, almost certainly none other than the Egyptian god & culture hero Thoth. This version - which bears some similarity to that given at the beginning of the Bible - features the following: -

  • the first principle was "a dark and condensed windy air, or a breeze of thick are and a Chaos turbid and black as Erebus." Eusebius reports that "these were unbounded";
  • this primordial picture remained in place for a span of time, before the wind and the Chaos engage in a union called Pothos, generating Môt or Ilus (mud or a stagnating watery mixture);
  • the Zophasemin ("watchers") were "animals without sensation, from which intelligent animals were produced" in the form of an egg;
  • the sun, moon and stars emerged from Môt;
  • the air and light produced winds and clouds, separating heaven from earth;
  • stormy conditions ensued, with thunder and lightning. The thunder awoke the intelligent animals (on earth and sea, male and female).

GENERATIONS BEFORE THE GODS

According to "Sanchuniathon," the wind Colpias and his wife Baau ("Night") sired two mortals: Æon (who discovered food from trees) and Protogonus. Succeeding generations are named as follows: -

  • Genus and Genea, who experienced droughts and worshipped Beelsamim (the sun god);
  • Phôs ("Light"), Pûr ("Fire") and Phlox ("Flame"), who discovered the art of fire;
  • their sons were gigantic and lent their names to the mountains Cassius, Libanus, Antilibanus and Brathu;
  • Memrumus and Hypsuranius were born to these men by wanton mothers. The latter lived at Tyre but became the enemy of his brother Usous, who was the first to make clothing and to create a log canoe: Usous raised two pillars to Fire and Wind (there were violent rainstorms at that time);
  • Agreus and Halieus were the descendants of Hypsuranius: they discovered hunting and fishing;
  • Chrysor (= Hephaestus) was one of two brothers, discoverers of iron. Subsequent to his death, Chrysor received divine honours as Diamichus;
  • two youths called Technities and Geïnus Autochthôn, inventors of mud brick and tiling;
  • Agrus and Agrouerus or Agrotes, great builders who were venerated after their deaths as the Aletæ or Titans;
  • Amynus and Magus;
  • Misor and Sydyc;
  • Misor was the ancestor of Taautus (i.e. Thoth), whilst Sydyc was ancestor to the Dioscuri, Cabeiroi, Corybantes or Samothraces: these were the first to build a ship;
  • a generation who discovered medicinal herbs: they were contemporary with Elioun or Hypsistus and his wife Beruth.

ZOROASTRIAN

The Zoroastrian religion posits an essential Dualism between two competing opposites: Ahura Mazda (later: Ohrmazd), the good god; and Angra Mainyu (later: Ahriman), the origin of evil.

THE BUNDAHISHN

The Middle Persian Bundahishn recounts that Ahura Mazda (who knew of his nemesis' existence, while Angra Mainyu was ignorant of his) made the first move, creating a spiritual world in order to stymie Angra Mainyu's nefarious intentions. The material world (getig) was formed three thousand years later. In turn, he formed: -

  • the sky;
  • water;
  • earth;
  • plants;
  • animals; and
  • mankind.

With regards to the luminaries, they were created in the following order: -

  • "illumination between the sky and the earth, the constellation stars and those not of the constellations," forming the celestial sphere, followed by the twelve Zodiacal constellations and filling out the 28 astronomical regions;
  • the moon; and
  • the sun.

The primitive earth was inhabited by Gayomart, the first man, as well as the "uniquely created bull" (Goshorun), a gigantic white bovine. Subsequently, Angra Mainyu breaks through the outer shell containing the nascent cosmos and crosses the outer sea, causing the passage of time (the sun begins to move), whilst the topography of the earth is changed.

Angra Mainyu's actions result in the death of the bull, whose soul cries out to Ahura Mazda for justice. Gayomart also dies.

Afterwards, battle is joined between the forces of good and evil, waged in the following order: -

  • with the sky;
  • with water;
  • with the earth;
  • with plants;
  • with animals;
  • with mankind; and
  • with fire.

THE PRE-EMINENCE OF TIME - THE ZURVANIST HERESY

Zurvanism was a heretical form of Zoroastrianism which posited the existence of time - Zurvan or Zruvan - as the first entity in existence and father of both Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu.

The Zurvanite account of creation, as reconstructed by R.C. Zaehner, proceeds as follows: -

  • in the beginning, the androgynous Zurvan was alone;
  • he desired offspring to form the cosmos, and so sacrificed for a millennium;
  • beginning to doubt that sacrifice could bring about his desire, a seed was planted within his mind;
  • this seed became the twins Ohrmuzd (on account of the sacrifice) and Ahriman (because of Zurvan's doubts);
  • Zurvan decided to grant his first-born mastery over the coming creation;
  • Ohrmuzd understood Zurvan's intentions and communicated them to Ahriman;
  • in order to secure his place of dominion over creation, Ahriman made the first move, tearing open the womb and emerging ahead of Ohrmuzd;
  • realising the implications of Ahriman's dominion, Zurvan stipulated that, as he intended, Ahriman would be the dominant force over creation;
  • however, he also placed a limit on Ahriman's rule of 9,000 years, after which Ohrmuzd would rule for the remainder of time.

Zaehner also gleaned three particular schools of Zurvanism: -

AESTHETIC ZURVANISM

Zurvan ("time") is divided into reason (male) and lust (female): this idea shares similarities with Indic cosmology and gnostic ideas;

MATERIALIST ZURVANISM

proposed that nothing could come from noting, but that there must be a first cause: one caveat of this belief system is that the spiritual realm did not exist per se, but represented that which had not yet acquired material form; and

FATALISTIC ZURVANISM

took the idea that, given the 9,000 year limit on Ahriman's rule commanded by Zurvan, there was nothing which could alter this preordained course of the cosmos.

ZURVANISM CONDEMNED

The Bundahishn declares that "one is he who is independent of unlimited time, because Ohrmazd and the region, religion, and time of Ohrmazd were and are and ever will be" [1.3] in what must be understood as an anti-Zurvanite statement.

MAZDAKISM - AN EGALITARIAN HERESY

Mazdakism was an extreme egalitarian form of Zoroastrianism developed by the mobad ("priest") Mazdak, which was fiercely opposed by the Sassanid rulers. Mazdak's worldview has come down to modernity only in distorted form. A brief synopsis follows: -

Light and darkness are two primal principles and "modes of being" which exited before the world. In common with the standard Zoroastrian interpretation, light acts with intent and through the agency of knowledge, perception and reason, whilst darkness acts blindly and arbitrarily. At the end of the world, these principles will be separated by chance rather than through free will.

Furthermore, and somewhat bizarrely given the origins of this sect, the "object of veneration" is comparable with the king. This object has four particular powers (i.e. four "'generals' of the heavens"): -

  • discernment;
  • understanding;
  • memory; and
  • joy.

These are comparable with the four great Sassanian court offices: -

  • the high priest;
  • the great teacher;
  • the commander of the army; and
  • the court musician.

These four powers rule the world through the agency of seven ministers (perhaps the classical planets): -

  • the commander;
  • the provost;
  • b'lwn;
  • brv'n (the messenger?);
  • the expert;
  • the statesman; and
  • the page.

These ministers "revolve" within twelve spiritual beings, most likely the zodiac, and the ruler of the upper world exercises governance through the "letters that represent the sum of his name."

Sir Graham ATLANTIS WITCHES CREATION VOYAGES