We have come across several theories about how humans originated. Many of them have a religious and mythical take and there are some that hold the hands of science. One theory that goes unnoticed or unspoken is that of the Sumerian theory of human origins or the Sumerian Creation. In this article we will walk you through the Sumerian mythology, the Emuna Elish that explains how humans originated and who tread the face of earth before the humans.
Sumer was an ancient world that thrived around 4500 BCE (aka BC) in Mesopotamia which in modern world is known by the name Iraq. The Sumerians managed to create a very complex society with. The civilization was advanced and had its own writing language. The society was complete with mathematics, astronomy, architecture and arts. And is, they had a whole lot of gods to deal with – hundreds of them.
Sumer which literally translates into ‘land of civilized kings’ had a bountiful of texts that outlined their religion and mythology. As per the texts, every Sumerian city was under the guardianship of a god. The texts also mentioned that gods and humans coexisted in Sumer with the only different being, humans used to serve the gods.
The Sumerian mythology that speaks about the creation of humans was actually found on a tablet that was in turn found in ancient Mesopotamian city name Nippur. Nippur was established ca. 5000 BCE. What did the text say about creation of humans?
According to Sumerian literature, before the beginning of time, there was nothing but absolute darkness but heaven and earth existed as one massive pile of soil and sky. There was no sunlight and neither was there any moonlight. Only darkness prevailed. Earth did have water but there was no vegetation. Enuma Elish – The Epic of Creation stated that at first there was only Primordial Mother or the Primordial Sea – the goddess Nammu.
It was Nammu who gave birth to Anki – the Universe. Universe at that times was combined earth and sky. Anki in turn gave birth to Enlil – the air. It was Anki who broke Anki into An and Ki. An who was the sky was Enlil’s father and Ki who was earth was Enlil’s mother.
It was Enlil who pushed An up to form the heavens and pulled down Ki to form earth (solid ground). It was Enlil who then made Utu – the sun god and Nanna – the moon god. God of water, wisdom and vegetation named Enki was made when Enlil and Ki joined together.
It was Enki who gathered some parts of the Primordial Sea (Nammu) and squeezed it to form the two rivers – the Euphrates and the Tigris. Enki also made fish in rivers and cattle on earth and also made the marshlands surrounding the river. Enki also worked hard to make the soil fertile. Enki was also the one who founded cities, established kingship. Summer and winter, spring floods, fertility and abundance were made by Enlil’s copulation with hills that existed on earth.
The story says that Enki who was doing all the hard work of creating earth was unhappy with the labor he had to put in and complained the same to Nammu and proposed the creation of man. Enki and his half-sister Ninki was bestowed with the task of creating humans who would do the hard job of creating earth.
Something terrible happened after that. One god was put to death and his blood and body were mixed with clay and the first human was created in the likeness of the gods.
The first human to be created was in Eden which means flat terrain in Sumerian language. Eden in the Epic of Gilgamesh is considered to be a garden for the gods and is located somewhere between Euphrates and Tigris. The first human made was simply incapable of breeding and reproducing and hence, Enki and Ninki modified the human and gave reproduction abilities. However, Enlil became an adversary of man because the modifications by Enki and Ninki were made without the approval of Enlil.
This is one variant of the interpretation of Sumerian Creation but other variants also exist. The variations exist because of the differences in opinions.
In another variant of the interpretation of Sumerian Creation it is said that while Enki was busy creating earth, gods in heaven were enjoying a drunken banquet. It was in this banquet that the gods decided to make man and the first breed of humans was created using clay. The race was sent to live on earth made by Enki.
However, the gods were so drunk while creating the human race that the humans were made poorly. When the gods came to their sense, they found the race to be too inefficient to live on earth and had several problems. So, the gods decided to send a huge flood that would kill the entire human race except for two humans – Ziusudra and his wife who were worthy enough to continue living on earth.
Enki visited the two humans and asked them to create a wooden ark and hide in it, stating that the ark would help them stay afloat and survive the violent flood. Both of them followed Enki’s instructions and when the gods sent a violent flood by redirecting the water of Euphrates and Tigris, the two of them stayed afloat. The violent storms and the flood continued for days and no dry land was left. Every other human died.
Eventually when the gods eliminated the entire human race except Ziusudra and his wife, the floods ended and the waters of Euphrates and Tigris shrank back and the dry lands re-emerged. Ziusudra and his wife then started a new generation along the banks of the two rivers.
The Sumerian Creation or the Epic of Creation was written on 7 tablets in ca. 1600 BCE during the First Babylonian Dynasty. Other Sumerian myths also exist from the same period and are known as Debate between Winter and Summer, Debate between sheep and grain and Barton Cylinder.