Man's golden age

This tablet (29.16.422 in the Nippur collection of the University Museum) is one of the unpublished pieces belonging to the Sumerian epic poem whose hero Enmerkar ruled in the city of Erech sometime during the fourth millennium B. C. The passage enclosed by the black line describes the blissful and unrivalled state of man in an era of universal peace before he had learned to know fear and before the "confusion of tongues"; its contents, which are very reminiscent of Genesis XI:1, read as follows:

In those days there was no snake, there was no scorpion, there was no hyena,
There was no lion, there was no wild dog, no wolf,
There was no fear, no terror,
Man had no rival.

In those days the land Shubur (East), the place of plenty, of righteous decrees,
Harmony-tongued Sumer (South), the great land of the "decrees of princeship,"
Uri (North), the land having all that is needful,
The land Martu (West), resting in security,
The whole universe, the people in unison,
To Enlil in one tongue gave praise.


The story of Atrahasis, the Babylonian story of the Flood and a precursor to the flood story in the Gilgameš Epic (Tablet XI), offers some evidence on the relationship between the Annunaki and the Igigu. The poem begins with the lines "When the gods like men bore the work and suffered the toil, the toil of the gods was great, the work was heavy, the distress was much" (lines 1-4) (Lambert and Millard 1999 [1969]: 43). The composition continues: "The Seven great Anunnaki were making the Igigu suffer the work" (lines 5-6) (Lambert and Millard 1969 [1999]: 43). What follows is partly fragmentary, but seems to indicate that the Igigu gods did not want to work any more and therefore the Anunnaki had to find a solution. Ultimately, this led to the creation of humans, who from then on had to bear the gods' work. In this story it appears that the Igigu were subordinate to the Anunnaki (von Soden 1989: 341-2). It is unclear which deities were included in the Igigu group.

The creation of man

Among the oldest known conceptions of the creation of man are those of the Hebrews and the Babylonians; the former is narrated in the book of Genesis, the latter forms part of the Babylonian "Epic of Creation." According to the Biblical story, or at least according to one of its versions, man was fashioned from clay for the purpose of ruling over all the animals. In the Babylonian myth, man was made of the blood of one of the more troublesome of the gods who was killed for that purpose; he was created primarily in order to serve the gods and free them from the need of working for their bread. According to our Sumerian poem, which antedates both the Hebrew and the Babylonian versions by more than a millennium, man was fashioned of clay as in the Biblical version. The purpose for which he was created, however, was to free the gods from laboring for their sustenance, as in the Babylonian version.

The gods complain, but Enki, the water-god, who, as the Sumerian god of wisdom, might have been expected to come to their aid, is lying asleep in the deep and fails to hear them. Thereupon his mother brings the tears of the gods before Enki, saying:
"O my son, rise from thy bed, from thy . . . work what is wise,
Fashion servants of the gods, may they produce their . . ,"
Enki says to his mother, Nammu
O my mother, the creature whose name thou hoist uttered, it exists,
       Bind upon it the . . . of the gods;
Mix the heart of the clay that is over the abyss,
The good and princely fashioners will thicken the clay,
       Thou, do thou bring the limbs into existence;
Ninmah (the earth-mother goddess) will work above thee,
. . . (goddesses of birth) will stand by thee at thy fashioning;
O my mother, decree thou its (the new-born's) fate,
       Ninmah will bind upon it the . . . of the gods,
. . . as man . . .

Ninmah takes some of the clay which is over the abyss and fashions six different types of individuals, while Enki decrees their fate and gives them bread to eat. The character of only the last two types is intelligible; these are the barren woman and the sexless or eunuch type. The lines read:

The . . . she (Ninmah) made into a woman who cannot give birth.
Enki upon seeing the woman who cannot give birth,
Decreed her fate, destined her to be stationed in the "woman house."
The . . . she (Ninmah) made into one who has no male organ, who has no female organ.
Enki, upon seeing him who has no male organ, who has no female organ,
To stand before the king, decreed as his fate.

After Ninmah had created these six types of man, Enki decides to do some creating of his own. The manner in which he goes about it is not clear, but whatever it is that he does, the resulting creature is a failure; it is weak and feeble in body and spirit. Enki is now anxious that Ninmah help this forlorn creature; he therefore addresses her as follows:

"Of him whom thy hand has fashioned, I have decreed the fate,
    Have given him bread to eat;
Do thou decree the fate of him whom my hand has fashioned,
     Do thou give him bread to eat."

Ea is the creator and protector of humanity in the Babylonian flood myth Atra-hasīs and the Epic of Gilgameš. He hatched a plan to create humans out of clay so that they could perform work for the gods. But the supreme god Enlil attempted to destroy Ea's newly created humans with a devastating flood, because their never-ending noise prevented him from sleeping. But clever Ea foresaw Enlil's plan; he instructed a sage named Atrahasis to build an ark so that humanity could escape the destruction.

In the myth Adapa and the South Wind, Ea helps humanity keep the gift of magic and incantations by preventing Adapa from becoming immortal (Foster 2005: 525-530; Izre'el 2001; Michalowski 1980).
Ea's creatures
Ea was served by his minister, the two-faced god Isimu/Akkadian Usmû. Other mythical creatures also dwelt in the abzu with Ea, including the seven mythical sages (apkallū) who were created for the purpose of teaching wisdom to humanity.

124-136. Ores (?) from Harali, the faraway land, ...... storehouses, ......, rock-crystal, gold, silver, ......, the yield of the uplands ......, heavy loads of them, were despatched by Enlil toward Erec. After the personal presents, the transported goods ......, Ninmah and the minister ....... The dust from their march reached high into the sky like rain clouds. Enormous marriage gifts were being brought for Nanibgal to Erec; the city was getting full inside and out, ...... it was to be replete. The rest ...... on the outlying roads ....... ...... blue sky .......

Enki also had sexual encounters with other goddesses, particularly in the Sumerian myth Enki and Ninhursanga (ETCSL 1.1.1). Ninhursanga gives birth to the goddess Ninmu after sexual relations with Enki. Later in the myth Enki becomes gravely ill and Ninhursanga then gives birth to eight healing deities in order to cure him. Enki then fathered the goddess Ninkurra with his daughter Ninmu, and the goddess Uttu with his granddaughter Ninkurra (Kramer and Maier 1989: 22-30).

The mother goddess also appears as the creator of humankind. In the Akkadian myth of Atrahasis, the Mesopotamian flood story, Nintur created humankind by mixing clay with blood of a slain god (Lambert and Millard 1969: 57-61), and in the Sumerian tale of Enki and Ninmah (ETCSL 1.1.2) the two deities compete by creating various creatures out of clay, resulting ultimately in the creation of humans. The clay is said to come from the top of the abzu TT , the cosmic underground waters. In her role as the creator of humankind she is eventually replaced by the god Enki/Ea, as visible in Enūma eliš TT  (tablet VI, lines 32-36). Frymer-Kensky (1992: 70-80) referred to the diminishing importance of goddesses even in primarily female functions, such as creation, as the "marginalization of goddesses".

The adam: a slave made to order
The mother called eve
Adam and Eve