Marduk (bull calf of the sun) In Near Eastern mythology (Babylonian), hero-god who defeated the monster of chaos, Tiamat, and was proclaimed king of the gods. Marduk’s myth is told in the Babylonian creation epic poem Enumu Elish (“When on high . . .”). Recited at Zag-Muk, the New Year celebration, the poem was composed between 1200
and 1000 b.c.e.
“When on high . . .” is the opening of the poem, when the sky was not yet named and “the earth below was nameless.” Only Apsu, the abyss, and Tiamat, or chaos, existed. From their mingled waters came forth Mummu, the “tumult of the waves,” and the monstrous serpents Lakhmu and Lakhamu. These two in turn gave birth to Anshar and Kishar, two primeval gods. Anshar and Kishar then gave birth to the gods Anu (lofty); Ea, god of sweet waters, earth, and wisdom; Marduk, the hero god; the Igigi, a group of gods who took up their post in the heavens; and the Anunnaki, another group of gods who took their position in the underworld.
Shortly, this new creation angered the peace of Apsu, and he complained to his wife. “During the day I have no rest and I cannot sleep at night,” he said to Tiamat.
The married couple then argued about what to do. Their son Ea overheard the argument in which Apsu planned to destroy his offspring. Using magic incantations, Ea seized Apsu and Mummu. Tiamat, angered at this move, gathered a host of gods and gave birth to a group of monsters to fight Ea. Among the monsters were some “with sharp teeth, merciless in slaughter,” terrible dragons, storm monsters, savage dogs, scorpion men, fish men, and rams. At the head of her army she appointed Kingu, another monster.
Ea then went to his father, Anshar, to tell of Tiamat’s plans to destroy them all. Anshar sent Anu with a message to Tiamat:
Go and step before Tiamat.
May her liver be pacified, her heart softened.
Anu obeyed his father, but as soon as he saw how ugly Tiamat’s face was, he took flight. Failing with Anu, Anshar then sent his son Ea, but he was no more courageous. Finally, Anshar decided to send his son Marduk against
Marduk heard the word of his father.
His heart rejoiced and to his father he
Marduk told his father he was ready to have a contest with Tiamat and would come out the victor. He addressed the assembled gods:
When I shall have become your avenger,
Binding Tiamat and saving your life,
Then come in a body,
In Ubshu-kenna [chamber of fate or destiny], let yourselves down joyfully,
My authority instead of yours will assume
Unchangeable shall be whatever I do,
Irrevocable and irresistible, be the command of my lips.
The gods, in no position to offer resistance, accepted Marduk’s claim to full authority. Marduk then took his weapon, the thunderbolt, mounted his chariot drawn by fiery steeds, and went forth to the enemy camp:
The lord comes nearer with his eye fixed on Tiamat,
Piercing with his glance Kingu her consort.
Kingu, unable to endure the “majestic halo” of Marduk, was killed. Then all of the host of Tiamat left the battlefield except for Tiamat.
“Stand up,” cried Marduk. “I and thou,
come let us fight.”
When Tiamat heard these words of challenge, she “acted as possessed, her senses left her,” and she shrieked “wild and loud.” All of her rage, however, had no effect on Marduk.
The poem describes her undoing:
The lord spread out his net in order to enclose her.
The destructive wind, which was behind
him, he sent forth into her face.
As Tiamat opened her mouth full wide,
Marduk drove in the destructive wind,
so that she could not close her lips.
The strong winds inflated her stomach.
Her heart lost its reason, she opened her
mouth still wider, gasping for breath.
He seized the spear and plunged it into
He pierced her entrails, he tore through
He seized hold of her and put an end to
He threw down her carcass and stepped
upon her. (Jastrow translation)
Finished, he then cut her “like one does a flattened fish into two halves.” From one half he created a covering for the heavens, from the other, the earth. From the blood of the monster Kingu he created the first man.
In the Old Testament Marduk is often called Bel. Jeremiah (50:2) uses both names when he writes: “Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach [Marduk] is broken in pieces.”
In art he is often depicted as a composite of a snake and a dragon holding a marrn, a hoe shaped instrument.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Since the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians and others all shared essentially the same pantheon and belief systems, these articles are all combined under the Mesopotamian mythology / deities / legendary creatures category.