Eridu Genesis

The oldest known Mesopotamian flood myth.

Note: The Eridu Genesis is the oldest known Mesopotamian flood myth. It formed the inspiration for later flood stories like the Akkadian/Babylonian Atrahasis. Unfortunately, the tablets on which the Eridu Genisis was recorded were badly damaged making large parts of the story unreadable. 

Anu, Enki, Enlil, and Ninhursag were content. They had just created the Sumerian people. On top of that, they had fashioned large herds of animals to live in the fields. Humankind could take upon them all tedious tasks the gods no longer wanted to do. The animals would serve as food supply for the humans and, more importantly, as sacrifices for the gods. Ah, all was well indeed. However, there was a serious lack of shade to take shelter from the blistering sun.

The shady thoughts of the gods

And so it was that the gods decided that cities should be built in order to provide shadow. After the creation of the first cities, a deity was appointed to protect and oversee each one of them. The first city, Eridu, was given to Enki. Bad-Tibira, the second city, was granted to the Dumuzid and Inanna. Pahilsag would serve as the protector of Larak and the fourth city, Sippar, was granted to Utu. Since Utu was the sun god, one might wonder why the gods did not save themselves a lot of effort by just asking him to make the sun less intense. One might also wonder why the sun god should oversee a city which main purpose is to provide shade from the sun. Unfortunately, the answer to these riddles isn’t captured on the tablets. Finally, the fifth city, Šuruppak, was given to Ninlil.

After the distribution of the cities amongst the gods, a large part of the story was lost due to substantial damage to tablet. The story continues when the gods have decided that all humans should be destroyed. It is unclear what caused the wrath of the gods. Similar to the Atrahasis, it could be that the growing cities caused too much noise which disturbed the gods. However, we will probably never be sure.

The gods give and the gods take away

Ziusdra, a king and priest, was totally unaware of the upcoming destruction. One day, he was standing besides a statue in the courtyard of the temple uttering his wishes to the gods when he could hear a voice. This voice came from the mouth of Enki, who instructed Ziusdra to go to one of the walls surrounding the courtyard. As he approached, Enki told him from behind the wall that the gods had decided that mankind was to be destroyed in a great flood.

Here, another big chunk of the tablets is missing. However, it seems plausible that Enki instructs Ziusdra to build an ark like he did in the Atrahasis. For those of you wondering why Enki did not appear directly to Ziusdra; this might have to do with an oath to Enlil. In the Atrahasis, Enlil forces Enki to promise to not inform any human of the upcoming destruction. By talking against a wall, Enki might have tried to inform Ziusdra without breaking his oath to Enlil. Again, this reasoning is based on the similarities the Eridu Genesis shares with the Atrahasis.

A powerful storm rose. For seven days and seven nights terrible winds swept the lands and heavy rain caused a massive flood which destroyed everything in its path. All humans and animals drowned, except for Ziusdra who remained safe in the boat he built after Enki’s warning. After the storm, Utu sent rays of sunlight to warm the watery world again. It was then, that Ziusdra decided to drill a hole in the roof of his boat, allowing Utu’s sunrays to come in. While he warmed himself in Utu’s embrace, Ziusdra prepared a grand sacrifice to honor the gods.

Page break again, the story continues with the ark being opened.

The savior of the human race

Ziusdra opened the doors of the ark and the animals he kept safe inside disembarked and populated the world again. The gods were grateful to Ziusdra for preserving the animals and the seed of man. We guess they were truly happy that Ziusdra maintained his ability to multiply. To express their gratitude, they granted him life as a god in the land of Dilmun, where the sun rises.

The Eridu Genesis does not end here. However, due to substantial damage to the tablet, the last part of the story isn’t readable. How the gods evaluated their attempt on the destruction of mankind will therefore forever be unknown.