Sumerian creation myth

The origins of human beings according to ancient Sumerian texts

Sumer, or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and writing, architecture and arts, astronomy and mathematics. Their religious system was a complex one comprised of hundreds of gods. According to the ancient texts, each Sumerian city was guarded by its own god; and while humans and gods used to live together, the humans were servants to the gods.

The Sumerian creation myth can be found on a tablet in Nippur, an ancient Mesopotamian city founded in approximately 5000 BC.

The creation of Earth ( Enuma Elish ) according to the Sumerian tablets begins like this:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being...

Sumerian mythology claims that, in the beginning, human-like gods ruled over Earth. When they came to the Earth, there was much work to be done and these gods toiled the soil, digging to make it habitable and mining its minerals.

The texts mention that at some point the gods mutinied against their labour.

When the gods like men
Bore the work and suffered the toll
The toil of the gods was great,
The work was heavy, the distress was much.

Anu, the god of gods, agreed that their labour was too great. His son Enki, or Ea, proposed to create man to bear the labour, and so, with the help of his half-sister Ninki, he did. A god was put to death, and his body and blood was mixed with clay. From that material the first human being was created, in likeness to the gods.

You have slaughtered a god together
With his personality
I have removed your heavy work
I have imposed your toil on man.

In the clay, god and man
Shall be bound,
To a unity brought together;
So that to the end of days
The Flesh and the Soul
Which in a god have ripened –
That soul in a blood-kinship be bound.

This first man was created in Eden, a Sumerian word which means ‘flat terrain’. In the Epic of Gilgamesh , Eden is mentioned as the garden of the gods and is located somewhere in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Sumerian tablet depicting Enki in the creation myth. (

Initially human beings were unable to reproduce on their own, but were later modified with the help of Enki and Ninki. Thus, Adapa was created as a fully functional and independent human being. This ‘modification’ was done without the approval of Enki’s brother, Enlil, and a conflict between the gods began. Enlil became the adversary of man, and the Sumerian tablet mentions that men served gods and went through much hardship and suffering.

Adapa, with the help of Enki, ascended to Anu where he failed to answer a question about ‘the bread and water of life’. Opinions vary on the similarities between this creation story and the biblical story of Adam and Eve in Eden.

Featured image: Sumerian chaos monster and sun god. ( Wikipedia)

Note: Ancient Sumerian translations were taken from William Bramley’s book, The Gods of Eden .

Related Links

Adam and Adapa: Two Anthropological characters

Sumerian creation myth

Enuma Elish - The Epic of Creation

Sumerian Myths of Origins

Sumerian Deities

Related Books


By John Black


to be accounted for if the myths deals with once apon a time global flooding. (Which it doesn´t since it deals with the mythology of the Milky Way River in the Sky, "running" above the Earth.

Google "Milky Way (mythology" and "List of names for the Milky Way"

Tsurugi's picture

Again, I do not dispute your idea that it deals with Milky Way mythology. I dispute your apparent assertion that because it deals with Milky Way mythology, it cannot be a story of real events.

It seems to me that a massive global flood event is exactly the kind of thing that would be interpreted through such mythology.

You have to deal with all the Flood Myth contents before taking any firm stands.
"Noa building a ship which can contain a pair of all animals"?
This is impossible.
But if you interpret "all the animals" in the zodiak and the ship depicting the crescent MIlky Way contours, you get the right mytho-cosmological interpretation.
Remember, this telling deals with the Story of Creation and the cosmological and cosmogonical facts.

Tsurugi's picture

"You have to deal with all the Flood Myth contents before taking any firm stands."
Agreed. I have no "firm" stance on this topic; it could be pure symbolic mythos, it could be an account of some type of real event, it could be both simultaneously, etc.

Interesting possibility there with the correlation to the zodiak. If that is the case, what does it mean when it talks about taking them "in pairs, male and female"? Seems an odd thing to say if it is talking about the zodiak symbols.

I agree also that it would be physically impossible to cram a breeding pair of every species of animal into a ship built to the specifications given in the text, which is 300x50x30 cubits.
That's not small, but it is definitely too small to hold two of every animal, plus all the food necessary to keep said animals alive, plus Noah and his extended family and all the food and supplies for them. As you said, it is thus necessary to decide how to interpret that part of the text.

One idea that has always fascinated me is the possibility that this is hinting at a genetic, rather than a physical, storage. It would be possible to store DNA samples of every species in a ship that size...and taking them that way means you don't have to worry about storing all the food for them. Hell, you don't have to feed them. You don't have to worry about taking care of them at all. Most of the spatial and logistical problems are solved with this possibility.

Of course, it begs the question of how the hell Noah got DNA samples of all those animals. But the same question occurs if the animals were would Noah have managed to find a male and female of every species, then coax them onto his ship?

Fortunately, there is a supernatural being in this story. Getting the animals(or their DNA samples) and bringing them to the Ark is his department, as the text makes clear.

As you said, we must deal with all the flood myth contents when trying to come up with a reasoned explanation, and there are a lot of interesting little details when it comes to the animals.

For instance, Noah is told there will be seven pairs of some types of animals and of all birds, and one pair of everything else. Why seven pairs? Why all birds? Very interesting.

In the description of the actual loading of the animals, it says they came aboard "in pairs, male and female, two by two."
I think this is highly interesting. The first two descriptive phrases, "in pairs" and "male and female", establish what each "set" of animals consists of: two specimens, one of each gender. Yet the last phrase, "two by two" suggests a "set" of four.
Of course, if what they were really loading on board were not physical animals but rather the DNA samples of animals, then "two by two" makes sense; because each DNA strand is a double helix.

Anyway, all of that is pure speculation on my part. Just giving an example of how the impossibility of getting all those animals into the Ark doesn't preclude an interpretation of the story as a recounting of real events. :)

I think people take all this too literally. To me, it has always seemed like the story of one family, and their livestock; Not every species of animal. Think about it for a second; If there was a deluge on the way, and someone were to build an ark; Wouldn't it to be to secure the safety of their family? And as they wouldn't be able to take all their animals on board, it would make sense for them to take the best breeding pair of each animal they kept.


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