The Enuma Elish has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding between 115 and 170 lines of text. The majority of Tablet V has never been recovered, but aside from this lacuna the text is almost complete. A duplicate copy of Tablet V has been found in Sultantepe, ancient Huzirina, located near the modern town of Şanlıurfa in Turkey.
This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian worldview, centered on the supremacy of Marduk and the creation of mankind for the service of the gods. Its primary original purpose, however, is not an exposition of theology or theogony, but the elevation of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, above other Mesopotamian gods.
The Enûma Elish exists in various copies from Babylonia and Assyria. The version from Ashurbanipal's library dates to the 7th century BC. The story itself probably dates to the 18th century BC, the time when the god Marduk seems to have achieved a prominent status, although some scholars give it a later date (14th to 12th centuries BC.)
The epic names two primeval gods: Apsu, the fresh water, and Tiamat, the salt water. Several other gods are created (Ea and his brothers) who reside in Tiamat's vast body. They make so much noise that it annoys Tiamat and Apsu greatly. Apsu wishes to kill the young gods, but Tiamat disagrees. The vizier, Mummu, agrees with Apsu's plan to destroy them. Tiamat, to stop this from occurring, tells Ea (Nudimmud), at the time the most powerful of the gods, who, using magic, puts Apsu into a coma and kills him, and shuts Mummu out. Ea then becomes the chief god, and along with his consort Damkina, has a son, Marduk, greater still than himself. Marduk is given wind to play with and he uses it to make dust storms and tornadoes. This disrupts Tiamat's great body and causes the gods still residing inside her to be unable to sleep.
They persuade Tiamat to take revenge for the death of her husband. Her power grows, and some of the gods join her. She creates 11 monsters to help her win the battle and elevates Kingu, her new husband, to "supreme dominion." A lengthy description of the other gods' inability to deal with the threat follows. Ultimately, Marduk is selected as their champion against Tiamat, and becomes very powerful. He defeats and kills Tiamat, and forms the world from her corpse. The subsequent hundred lines or so constitute the lost section of Tablet V.
The gods who sided with Tiamat are initially forced to labor in the service of the other gods. They are freed from their servitude when Marduk decides to slay Kingu and create mankind from his blood. Babylon is established as the residence of the chief gods. Finally, the gods confer kingship on Marduk, hailing him with fifty names. Most noteworthy is Marduk's symbolic elevation over Enlil, who was seen by earlier Mesopotamian civilizations as the king of the gods.
The ancient Mesopotamians believed that the world was a flat circular disc surrounded by a saltwater sea. The habitable earth was a single giant continent inside this sea, and floated on a second sea, the freshwater apsu, which supplied the water in springs, wells and rivers and was connected with the saltwater sea. The sky was a solid disk above the earth, curved to touch the earth at its rim, with the heavens of the gods above. So far as can be deduced from clues in the bible, the ancient Hebrew geography was identical with that of the Babylonians: a flat circular earth floating above a freshwater sea, surrounded by a saltwater sea, with a solid sky-dome (raqia, the "firmament") above. It is the creation of this world which Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 describe.
Comparisons between the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts are often obscured by English translations, which impose on the Hebrew the Christian doctrines of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) and of the Trinity. Thus the opening of Genesis 1 is traditionally rendered: "In the beginning God created both Heaven and Earth...", whereas the Hebrew makes it clear that Genesis 1:1-3 is describing the state of chaos immediately prior to God's creation:
In the beginning of God's creating the skies and the earth, when the earth had been shapeless and formless, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and God's spirit was hovering on the face of the water, God said, 'Let there be light!'
In both Enuma Elish and Genesis, creation is an act of divine speech—the Enuma Elish describes pre-creation as a time "when above, the heavens had not been named, and below the earth had not been called by name", while in Genesis each act of divine creation is introduced with the formula: "And God said, let there be...". The sequence of creation is identical: light, firmament, dry land, luminaries, and man. In both Enuma Elish and Genesis the primordial world is formless and empty (the tohu wa bohu of Genesis 1:2), the only existing thing the watery abyss which exists prior to creation (Tiamat in the Enuma Elish, tehom, the "deep", a linguistic cognate of tiamat, in Genesis 1:2). In both, the firmament, conceived as a solid inverted bowl, is created in the midst of the primeval waters to separate the heavens from the earth (Genesis 1:6–7, Enuma Elish 4:137–40). Day and night precede the creation of the luminous bodies (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, and 14ff.; Enuma Elish 1:38), whose function is to yield light and regulate time (Gen. 1:14; Enuma Elish 5:12–13). In Enuma Elish, the gods consult before creating man (Enuma Elish 6:4), while Genesis has: "Let us make man in our own image..." (Genesis 1:26) – and in both, the creation of man is followed by divine rest. "Thus, it appears that the so-called Priestly Source account echoes this earlier Mesopotamian story of creation."