|This article's citation style may be unclear. The references used may be made clearer with a different or consistent style of citation, footnoting, or external linking. (July 2010)|
In Babylonian mythology, Tiamat is a chaos monster, a primordial goddess of the ocean, mating with the god Abzû to produce younger gods. In the Enûma Eliš she opposes when Abzû conspires to kill the younger gods, and she warns the most powerful of those, Ea, who puts Abzû under a spell and kills him.
Later when Ea's son Marduk creates problems for her yet sleeping god youngsters by playing with sand storms and tornadoes, she conspires to retaliate by creating eleven frightening monsters and erecting her son Kingu as their general, but this plot fails when Marduk slays them all including Tiamat herself. From Tiamat's body the world is formed, land and sea.
Tiamat was known as Thalattē (as variant of thalassa, the Greek word for "sea") in the Hellenistic Babylonian Berossus' first volume of universal history. It is thought that the name of Tiamat was dropped in secondary translations of the original religious texts because some Akkadian copyists of Enûma Elish substituted the ordinary word for "sea" for Tiamat, because the two names essentially were the same, due to association.
|Part of a series on|
|Ancient Mesopotamian religion|
|Ancient Mesopotamian religion|
|Arabian · Levantine · Near Eastern religions|
Burkert continues by making a linguistic connection to Tethys. He finds the later form, thalatth, to be related clearly to Greek thalassa, "sea". The Babylonian epic Enuma Elish is named for its incipit: "When above" the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, "the first, the begetter", and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, "she who bore them all"; they were "mixing their waters". It is thought that female deities are older than male ones in Mesopotamia and Tiamat may have begun as part of the cult of Nammu, a female principle of a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, which predates the appearance of Ea-Enki.
Harriet Crawford finds this "mixing of the waters" to be a natural feature of the middle Persian Gulf, where fresh waters from the Arabian aquifer mix and mingle with the salt waters of the sea. This characteristic is especially true of the region of Bahrain, whose name in Arabic means, "two seas", and which is thought to be the site of Dilmun, the original site of the Sumerian creation beliefs. The difference in density of salt and fresh water, driving a perceptible separation.
Though Tiamat is often described by modern authors as a sea serpent or dragon, no ancient texts exist in which there is a clear association with those kinds of creatures. The Enûma Elish specifically states that Tiamat did give birth to dragons and serpents, but they are included among a larger and more general list of monsters including scorpion men and merpeople, none of which imply that any of the children resemble the mother or are even limited to aquatic creatures.
Within the Enûma Elish her physical description includes a tail, a thigh, "lower parts" (which shake together), a belly, an udder, ribs, a neck, a head, a skull, eyes, nostrils, a mouth, and lips. She has insides (possibly "entrails"), a heart, arteries, and blood.
The strictly modern depiction of Tiamat as a multi-headed dragon was popularized in the 1970s as a fixture of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game inspired by earlier sources[who?] associating Tiamat with later mythological characters, such as Lotan.
Apsu (or Abzu, from Sumerian ab = water, zu = far) fathered upon Tiamat the Elder deities Lahmu and Lahamu (the "muddy"), a title given to the gatekeepers at the Enki Abzu temple in Eridu. Lahmu and Lahamu, in turn, were the parents of the axis or pivot of the heavens (Anshar, from an = heaven, shar = axle or pivot) and the earth (Kishar); Anshar and Kishar were considered to meet on the horizon, becoming thereby, the parents of Anu (the Heavens, Biblical "Shemayim") and Ki (the Earth, Biblical "Eretz" created by Elohim in Genesis 1:1).
Tiamat was the "shining" personification of salt water who roared and smote in the chaos of original creation. She and Apsu filled the cosmic abyss with the primeval waters. She is "Ummu-Hubur who formed all things".
In the myth recorded on cuneiform tablets, the deity Enki (later Ea) believed correctly that Apsu, upset with the chaos they created, was planning to murder the younger deities; and so captured him, holding him prisoner beneath is temple the E-Abzu. This angered Kingu, their son, who reported the event to Tiamat, whereupon she fashioned monsters to battle the deities in order to avenge Apsu's death. These were her own offspring: giant sea serpents, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men and many others.
Tiamat possessed the Tablets of Destiny and in the primordial battle she gave them to Kingu, the god she had chosen as her lover and the leader of her host. The deities gathered in terror, but Anu, (replaced later, first by Enlil and, in the late version that has survived after the First Dynasty of Babylon, by Marduk, the son of Ea), first extracting a promise that he would be revered as "king of the gods", overcame her, armed with the arrows of the winds, a net, a club, and an invincible spear.
- And the lord stood upon Tiamat's hinder parts,
- And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
- He cut through the channels of her blood,
- And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.
Slicing Tiamat in half, he made from her ribs the vault of heaven and earth. Her weeping eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates. With the approval of the elder deities, he took from Kingu the Tablets of Destiny, installing himself as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Kingu was captured and later was slain: his red blood mixed with the red clay of the Earth would make the body of humankind, created to act as the servant of the younger Igigi deities.
The principal theme of the epic is the justified elevation of Marduk to command over all the deities. "It has long been realized that the Marduk epic, for all its local coloring and probable elaboration by the Babylonian theologians, reflects in substance older Sumerian material," American Assyriologist E. A. Speiser remarked in 1942 adding "The exact Sumerian prototype, however, has not turned up so far." Without corroboration in surviving texts, this surmise that the Babylonian version of the story is based upon a modified version of an older epic, in which Enlil, not Marduk, was the god who slew Tiamat, is more recently dismissed as "distinctly improbable", in fact, Marduk has no precise Sumerian prototype.
The Tiamat myth is one of the earliest recorded versions of the Chaoskampf, the battle between a culture hero and a chthonic or aquatic monster, serpent or dragon. Chaoskampf motives in other mythologies linked directly or indirectly to the Tiamat myth include the Hittite Illuyanka myth, and in Greek tradition Apollo's killing of the Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle.
According to some analyses there are two parts to the Tiamat myth, the first in which Tiamat is creator goddess, through a "Sacred marriage" between salt and fresh water, peacefully creating the cosmos through successive generations. In the second "Chaoskampf" Tiamat is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.
Robert Graves (1955[page needed] considered Tiamat's death by Marduk an outstanding example of how occurred the shift in power from matriarchy to patriarchy. Merlin Stone in When God Was a Woman (1976) follows Graves and also links the supposed rise of Patriarchal power structures and the assumption of power by the monarchial "lugal" (Lu = Man, Gal = Big), during the Early Dynastic period of Sumerian History, and the institutionalisation of warfare.
- Jacobsen 1968:105.
- Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influences on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age 1993, p 92f.
- Steinkeller, Piotr. "On Rulers, Priests and Sacred Marriage: tracing the evolution of early Sumerian kingship" in Wanatabe, K. (ed.), Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East (Heidelberg 1999) pp.103-38
- Crawford, Harriet E. W. (1998), Dilmun and its Gulf Neighbours (Cambridge University Press).
- Crawford, Harriet; Killick, Robert and Moon, Jane, eds.. (1997). The Dilmun Temple at Saar: Bahrain and Its Archaeological Inheritance (Saar Excavation Reports / London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition: Kegan Paul)
- Yahuda, A., The Language of the Pentateuch in its Relation to Egyptian (Oxford, 1933)
- Speiser, "An Intrusive Hurro-Hittite Myth", Journal of the American Oriental Society 62.2 (June 1942:98-102) p. 100.
- Expressed, for example, in E. O. James, The Worship of the Skygod: A Comparative Study in Semitic and Indo-European Religion (London: University of London, Jordan Lectures in Comparative religion) 1963:24, 27f.
- As by W. G. Lambert, reviewing James 1963 in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 27.1 (1964), pp. 157-158.
- e.g. Thorkild Jacobsen in "The Battle between Marduk and Tiamat", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 88.1 (January-March 1968), pp 104-108.
- Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia (Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 329.
- Stone, Merlin "When God was a Woman", (1976),[page needed]