One of the earliest known creation myths is the Enuma Elish; a Mesopotamian account which contains the origin of the world, the gods, and mankind, as well as presents the supremacy of the Babylonian god Marduk (Mark). Written in cuneiform on seven clay tablets, copies of which were discovered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries A.D. (Heidel 1), and has been dated from the tenth to the fifteenth century B.C (13). The Enuma Elish parallels the Genesis creation account on many levels, of interest herein is how Marduk’s relationship to Babylon compares to Yahweh’s relation to Jerusalem.
Babylon is mentioned a total of four times in the Enuma Elish, the first mention of the city occurs in line 129 of Tablet V, it states; “I shall call its name ‘Babylon’, “The Homes of the Great Gods” (Mark). Previously Marduk was made the king of the gods (Lines 109-110), and he states he will rule the land from a chamber in the house where his shrine is established (Lines 122-124), giving reference to an ancient Near Eastern temple where deity came to earth and resided (Walton 113). Temples were built as a place of rest for a god, meaning that he had defeated chaos and established order and stability (114), it was in the innermost chamber of the temple where an idol was kept, which acted as the physical embodiment of the deity in the temple (116). The idol was worshiped and fed as acts to ensure that order was kept and promote the success of the worshiper’s endeavors (128). Which is illustrated in the next reference to Babylon and reads “In Babylon, as you have named it, put our [resting place] for ever. [ . . . . . . . . . ] let them our bring regular offerings” (Tablet V, Line 137-139).
Tablet VI of the Enuma Elish contains the next two references to Babylon, and refer to the actual building of the temple. After Marduk created mankind and gave them the work the Anuakki gods thereby setting them free (Lines 33-34), these gods proposed the building of the temple in appreciation for their freedom. Upon hearing this Marduk “beamed as brightly as the light of day, ‘Build Babylon, the task you have sought. Let bricks for it be moulded, and raise the shrine!'” (Lines 56-58). The Anuakki spent a year fashioning the bricks and constructed the temple as a replica of Apsû (Line 62), the male deity representing the cosmic waters (Mark). Next to the temple they “built the lofty temple tower of the Apsû” (Line 63). This tower, or ziggurat, was a feature of Mesopotamian temples and acted as a stairway by which the gods traveled to the earthly realm (Walton 122). The next reference to Babylon is after the temple is completed and acts as a dedication, it reads;
Be-l [Marduk] seated the gods, his fathers, at the banquet. In the lofty shrine which they had built for his dwelling, (Saying,) “This is Babylon, your fixed dwelling, Take your pleasure here! Sit down in joy!” The great gods sat down, Beer-mugs were set out and they sat at the banquet. After they had enjoyed themselves inside They held a service in awesome Esagil [temple]. The regulations and all the rules were confirmed” (Lines 70-78).
Temples in the ancient Near East were considered to be the cosmic, moral, and economic center of the cosmos (Walton 128), the temple being established in Babylon then indicates that Babylon is, therefore, the control center of the cosmos. This and similar myths served to reassure the inhabitants that their city was greater than all others because it is the city which housed the greater god (Kaiser 917).
The temple of Jerusalem is the permanent representation of the tabernacle, the place where Yahweh met with and instructed the Israelites (NASB, Ex. 25:22), also from the innermost chamber (1 Ki. 8:6). While there are many similarities between pagan temples and that of Jerusalem’s, one of the key differences is that the Holy of Holies held no idols as the Mesopotamian temples did, as Yahweh had no needs to be met (Ps. 50:8-15). The tabernacle was mobile, it moved with the Israelites, and until the Temple was built in Jerusalem, Yahweh was not grounded to a city, but to a people group (2 Sam. 7:6-7).
Second Samuel gives an account of how David seized the Canaanite city of Jerusalem, with a Jebusite fortress known as Zion:
Now the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land . . . David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David . . . So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him (2 Sam. 5:6-10).
It is important to note that God was with David, the king of a people who were under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. Yahweh was voluntarily grounded in the children of Israel. So, when David plans to build a temple Yahweh makes a covenant with him, promising to settle and secure the people of Israel (2 Sam. 7:10), to give David rest from his enemies and build a house for him (v. 11), and to raise a descendant of David who will establish His kingdom and build His temple (v. 12). In the future context this refers to Jesus (Mt. 21:9), in the more immediate context, it refers to Solomon, who built the temple (1 Ki. 6:1).
In many ways, Solomon’s Temple reflected a Mesopotamian temple, but as stated previously no idol was in the innermost room, and no ziggurat was required. God himself could not be contained; even Solomon remarked “But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built” (2 Chr. 6:18). Regardless of this, God chose to dwell among his people in Jerusalem, thereby making Jerusalem the theological center of the people of Israel. In Solomon’s dedication of the temple we find a parallel from the dedication of Marduk’s temple in the Enuma Elish, “I have built You a lofty house, and a place for Your dwelling forever” (2 Chr. 6:2), indicating that Yahweh is now attached to Jerusalem. Though it is important to note that unlike Marduk, Yahweh is not attached to Jerusalem because of the Temple rather because of His covenant promise to David.
It can be seen in the poetry how the designation of Zion shifted from the Jebusite stronghold (2 Sam. 5:7) to the Temple (Ps. 2:6), and at times is used to encompass the entire city of Jerusalem (Ps. 76:1-2). It would appear that the term Zion is attached to the location where God dwells, and as His temple is in Jerusalem, the designation can be extended to the city (Ps. 135:21). Psalm 128 relates a blessing of those who revere Yahweh, “The Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life” (v. 5). The Psalms exalt Zion and by extension Jerusalem as the chosen city of God.
From the Enuma Elish, another parallel can be drawn. Tablet V reads; “I will found my chamber and establish my kingship . . . This will be your resting place before the assembly” (Lines 124, 126). This text is preceding Marduk’s founding of Babylon, and can be related to Psalm 132 which reads; “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. ‘This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it’” (v. 13-14). Both of these texts refer to the divinely chosen city from which the deity will dwell and rest; however, the difference is exemplified in verse 11 “The Lord has sworn to David, a truth from which He will not turn back”. Marduk chose Babylon, but Yahweh chose David. Zion, and by extension Jerusalem, were elevated because of Yahweh’s covenant promise to David.
What does this mean for those under the New Covenant of which Jesus is the mediator (Heb. 9:15), and whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)?
- Enûma Eliš. Digital Image. Coffee House Apologetics. April 23, 2015. Web. March 8th, 2017. coffeehouseapologetics.wordpress.com
- Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation. University of Chicago Press, 1963.
- Kaiser, Walter. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Zondervan, 2005.
- Mark, Joshua J. “Enuma Elish – The Babylonian Epic of Creation,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. March 02, 2011. http://www.ancient.eu /article/225/. Accessed on November 25, 2016.
- NASB – New American Standard Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1979.
- Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Baker Academic, 2006.