Babylonian mythology is a set of stories depicting the activities of Babylonian deities, heroes, and mythological creatures. While these stories are in modern times usually considered a component of Babylonian religion, their purpose was not necessarily religious in nature. Often these stories explained a mystery of nature, depicted the rewards for proper behavior,illustrated punishments for taboo behavior, or performed a combination of these or other purposes. Some mythological texts did, however, serve some ceremonial purpose in religious activity.
The Babylonian canon is largely derived from Sumerian mythology. This was written in Akkadian, a Semitic language, using cuneiform script on clay tablets. Most texts known today are copies made in scribal schools bystudent scribes, likely at a time when Akkadian was no longer the spoken language in Babylon.
Some Babylonian texts were even translations into Akkadian from the Sumerian language of earlier texts, though the names of some deities were changed in Babylonian texts. Some Babylonian deities and myths are unique to that culture, however, such as the god Marduk and the Enûma Elish, a creation mythepic.
When the 7 tablets that contain this myth were first discovered, evidence indicated that it was used as a "ritual" myth, meaning it was recited during a ceremony or celebration. The occasion in this instance is the Babylonian new year. This myth tells of the yearly cycle of death and rebirth of Marduk, the greatest king of the gods (some fifty different names are attributed toMarduk). The first tablet describes the beginning of the world, before earth and sky had any definition or identification. There existed two gods from which all others were descended, Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female), the sweet and salt water oceans respectively. From the union of these two were born Lahmu and Lahamu, who are believed to represent silt (such as from river deltas) and are representedas snakes. Each generation brings more gods: Lahmu and Lahamu begat Anshar and Kishar, who bore a son named Anu. Anu sired a son most often called Ea, known as the "all-wise". Each new god born was more perfect and powerful than his predecessors. They soon became unruly and insubordinate, while Tiamat, the mother of them all, sat idly by and did nothing despite the pains their rambunctiousbehavior caused. They refused to heed their father’s pleas to calm themselves.
In anger, Apsu decided to unmake that which he had made. But Ea learned of Apsu's plans, and so he wove a spell of sleep upon Apsu and slew him while he slept. Tiamat remained inactive while all of this occurs. Ea built a great temple upon Apsu's body, and resided there in comfort and luxury with Damkina, his lover. Damkinabore Ea a son, Marduk, the hero-king. He is described as perfect from the start, with four ears and four eyes, all of which were overlarge and his form is said to be incomprehensible in its perfection. Marduk's grandfather, Anu, created the four winds for Marduk to let loose and play with. This had the unfortunate side effect of constantly disturbing Tiamat’s body (an ocean if you'll recall), andthe other gods who dwelled within her. The other gods became enraged and irritable with lack of rest, and they hounded Tiamat for sitting quietly by while Ea slew Apsu. Through all their goading they pushed the great ocean goddess to action. Tiamat, who had a notably short temper, decided on war.
Tiamat assembled a great host of gods and monsters to fight for her. At the head of this monstroushorde she placed Kingu, who is variously described as her son or lover (neither translation refers to him as both, only one or the other) and affixed the Tablet of Destinies to his breast, declaring him greatest among the gods. The few remaining gods that did not join Tiamat learn of her mobilization and assembled to deliberate a course of action. The tablet describing this part of the story was...