The Seven Tablets of Creation
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Pages (PDF): 112
Publication Date: 1902
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The Seven Tablets Of Creation contains the Enuma Elish which is the earliest written creation myth. It describes how the creation of the universe came about when Marduk battled the chaos Goddess Tiamat and her evil servants. This ancient text is considered by scholars to be the primary source material for the book of Genesis.
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PERHAPS no section of Babylonian literature has been more generally studied than the legends which record the Creation of the world. On the publication of the late Mr. George Smith's work, "The Chaldean Account of Genesis," which appeared some twenty-seven years ago, it was recognized that there was in the Babylonian account of the Creation, as it existed in the seventh century before Christ, much which invited comparison with the corresponding narrative in the Book of Genesis. It is true that the Babylonian legends which had been recovered and were first published by him were very fragmentary, and that the exact number and order of the Tablets, or sections, of which they were composed were quite uncertain; and that, although they recorded the creation of the heavens and of the heavenly bodies, they contained no direct account of the creation of man. In spite of this, however, their resemblance to the Hebrew narrative was unmistakable, and in consequence they at once appealed to a far larger circle of students than would otherwise have been the case.
After the appearance of Mr. Smith's work, other scholars produced translations of the fragments which he had published, and the names of Oppert, Schrader, and Sayce will always be associated with those who were the first to devote themselves to the interpretation of the Creation Legends. Moreover, new fragments of the legends have from time to time been acquired by the Trustees of the British Museum, and of these the most important is the fine text of the Fourth Tablet of the Creation Series, containing the account of the fight between the god Marduk and the dragon Tiamat, which was published in 1887 by Dr. Wallis Budge, and translated by Professor Sayce in the same year. Professor Sayce's translation of the Creation Legends marked a distinct advance upon those of his predecessors, and it was the most complete, inasmuch as he was enabled to make use of the new tablet which restored so much of the central portion of the story. In the year 1890, in his important work Die Kosmologie der Babylonier, Professor Jensen of Marburg gave a translation of the legends together with a transliteration and commentary; in 1895 Professor Zimmern of Leipzig translated all the fragments then known, and a year later Professor Delitzsch of Berlin also published a rendering. Finally, two years ago, Professor Jensen issued a new and revised translation of the Creation Legends in the opening pages of the first part of his work Mythen and Epen, the second part of which, containing his notes and commentary, appeared some months ago.
In the course of the year 1900, the writer was entrusted with the task of copying the texts of a number of Babylonian and Assyrian legends for publication in the series of Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, etc., in the British Museum, and, among the documents selected for issue, were those relating to the Creation of the world. Several of the texts of the Creation Legends, which had been used by previous translators, had never been published, and one tablet, which Mr. George Smith had consulted in 1876, had not been identified by subsequent workers. During my work I was so fortunate as to recognize this tablet, and was enabled to make copies of all the texts, not only of those which were previously known, but also of a number of new duplicates and fragments which I had meanwhile identified. These copies appeared in Cuneiform Texts, Part XIII (1901), Plates 1-41. The most interesting of the new fragments there published was a tablet which restored a missing portion of the text of the Second Tablet of the Creation Series, and of this, on account of its interest, I gave a translation in a note to the plate on which the text appeared. It was not my intention at that time to publish anything further upon the subject of the Creation Legends.
While I was engaged, however, in searching for fragments of other Babylonian legends for publication officially, it was my good fortune to come across a fine duplicate of the Second Tablet of the Creation. Series. A further prolonged search was rewarded by the finding of other fragments of the poem, and a study of these showed me that the earlier portions of the text of the Creation Story, as already known, could be considerably augmented. Among them, moreover, was a fragment of the poem which refers to the Creation of Man; this fragment is extremely important, for in addition to its valuable contents it also settles the disputed question as to the number of Tablets, or sections, of which the Creation Series was composed. In view of the additional information as to the form and contents of the poem which this new material afforded, it was clearly necessary that a new translation of the Creation Legends should be made, and this I undertook forthwith.
The new fragments of the poem which I had identified up to the summer of last year are inscribed upon tablets of the Neo-Babylonian period. At the conclusion of the examination of tablets of this class, I lithographed the newly identified texts in a series of plates which are published in the second volume of the present work. These plates were already printed off, when, at the beginning of the present year, after my return from Assyria, I identified a fresh group of fragments of the poem inscribed, not upon Neo-Babylonian, but upon Assyrian tablets.
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