Mesopotamian Mondays: Multiple Creation Myths

Creation myths in ancient Mesopotamia explain why things exist in the way that they exist. This is also known as a cosmogony. For example, in a text by Plato, “a divine demiurge (craftsman)… transforms a preexistent chaos into an ordered cosmos in imitation of an eternal model” [1]. Likewise, some Rabbinic Jewish texts are devoted to establishing ties between the Jewish calendar and creation itself [2]. Through reading each of these traditions, modern readers can get a sense of how these respective people-groups made sense of the world. In doing so, the important principles within the respective cultures become more apparent. So, the Rabbinic Jewish text demonstrates how the Jewish calendar was central to Jewish culture, which is therefore explained within a cosmogony, or creation myth. Likewise, the Plato text demonstrates the cultural importance of the eternal model.

And within a single culture, multiple, competing cosmogonies can exist simultaneously, each focusing on a different aspect of the culture [3]. This is true with Mesopotamian myths [4]. So, in this blog post, I will briefly discuss how one particular creation myth centers around the renovation of a temple.

The creation myth itself is commonly called “The First Brick.” Rather than being a pure literary text, though, it is framed as an Akkadian incantation, presumably recited during temple-renovation rites. Incorporation of creation myths into rituals and incantations is not uncommon in Mesopotamian literature. As with most creation myths, it is framed with language akin to “in the beginning”: “When Anu had created the heaven” [5]. Subsequently, Ea is described as taking clay from the Apsu, typically understood as “primeval waters,” and creating a variety of deities (ln. 26). This is followed by a list those created by Ea, including deities and humanity (lines 27-39). The second half of the text describes the various activities to be performed by those who Ea had created. Of paramount importance, each created subject is built to perform a particular deed as it concerns the renovation of a temple. Activities range from providing food-offerings to performing particular rites.

What is evident as the central aspect of this creation myth, then, is the temple renovation. Each character within the narrative sequence has the expressed purpose of somehow contributing to a temple renovation. By contrast, “The Theogony of Dunnu” focuses on the descent of gods and their subsequent deposition [6]. Moreover, “The River Incantation” focuses on the role of the River as both creator and a means by which ritual impurity and sin are carried away [7]. In other words, while each creation myth may include some aspects of temples in creation and cosmogony, the temple renovation is a central concern of the creation myth “The First Brick,” unique to this particular text.

[1] Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions, 213.

[2] Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions, 215.

[3] In the Hebrew Bible, we see the two creation accounts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, commonly designated as the Priestly Source; and Genesis 2:4b-3:24, commonly designated as the Elohistic Source. Most relevant to this post, though, is that each cosmogony has a distinct focus.

[4] W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Creation Myths (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013),

[5] Lambert (2013), “The First Brick,” ln. 24, p. 381. This is analogous to the language in Genesis 1:1.

[6] Lambert (2013), “The Theogony of Dunnu,” 387-395.

[7] Lambert (2013), “The River Incantation,” 396-398.

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