Atraḫasis epic

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Epic fragments from the 1st panel
( British Museum )

The Atraḫasis epic (also Atraḫasis myth, Atrachasis epic, Atramḫasis epic, Atramchasis epic) was probably written by an unknown poet around or before 1800 BC. The old Babylonian scribe Nur-Ajja revised the work in the 12th year of Ammi-saduqa's reign . There are also other Babylonian fragments. Further copies and revisions followed in the first millennium BC. Chr.


The epic , which mainly reports on a conflict between two parties of the Sumerian gods and for this purpose falls back on mythologically older ideas such as the separation of heaven and earth in the cosmic primeval waters , was created without a direct Sumerian model. The unknown poet processed these ideas into a new epic in this form. A genealogy regarding descent and change of power among the gods, as it appears in other Mesopotamian myths and is similarly known from Hesiod's theogony , is not taken into account - the topics are work, rebellion and the creation of a first pair of people who serve as work slaves to the gods serve. The story of a tremendous flood, which the epic does not represent as a natural disaster, but rather a divine plan for the elimination of the now massively increased humanity, was published around 1200 BC. First adopted by the author of the Gilgamesh epic . Parts of the flood disaster dealt with in the Atraḫasis epic can be found there almost literally, without going into the extensive events of their actually political cause. Probably the authors of the Old Testament also referred to the mythical-epic account of that catastrophe, so that it is known to us from the Bible - now moralized in a monotheistic way because the polytheistic diversity of gods is missing - under the name of the flood unleashed by the God Yahweh . Via the detour of the Gilgamesh epic, Atraḫasis appears there as Noah .

Table 1

When the gods had to work like humans ( inuma ilu awilum = when the gods were humans), there was a dispute between the upper Anunnaki and the Igigu , the lower gods. While the latter had the task of securing the supply of the country through the construction of irrigation canals, for which they created the rivers Euphrates and Tigris , the Anunnaki ruled and divided the world among themselves. Due to the difficulty of their work, however, the Igigu felt overwhelmed and began to rebel against the gods above. At night they surrounded the home of Enlil , who was considered the main god of Sumerian culture. Enlil was surprised and called for Anu and Enki . Nusku - Enli's son and ambassador - tried to negotiate with the insurgent party, but was unsuccessful. Thereupon Enlil had the mother goddess Ninutu called and demanded that she create humans. Nintu explained that only with the help of Enki would she be able to create a human. Enki agreed and decreed that all gods must purify themselves. On the fifteenth day of the cleansing ritual , he killed Geštue and instructed the gods to bathe in his blood. With a bang he created the being Widimmu by taking clay from the steppe floor , mixing it with some of the blood and cosmic water ( Abzu ) and bringing it into its coming to life form. The mother goddess put a carrying basket on this creature and ordered it to work for the gods from now on.

There is a gap in the text in which it could have been described how a man and a woman were (made) out of the being Widimmu. Instead, it is also conceivable that the woman was intended to have her own act of creation. This alternative assumption would, however, be contrary to the Mosaic version of the creation story, according to which the woman (Eve) was made from a part of the body of the man (Adam).

Finally, the mother goddess decided that man and woman should celebrate a seven-day love festival in honor of the war and love goddess Ištar . After nine months the woman would give birth.

1200 years later, humans had multiplied so much that their noise disturbed the gods. Enlil was outraged and decided that the underworld god Namtar should snatch away some of the people with frost fever. But Enki warned his faithful priest Atraḫasis and advised him not to worship the other gods any more, but only to Namtar. Namtar was so flattered by this that he stopped killing people.

Table 2

After another 1200 years the people had grown many more and roamed around like a roaring herd of bulls. Because Enlil could no longer sleep, he sent the weather god Adad and again 1200 years later the fertility goddess Nisaba to dry up the land and let the crops dry up. But every time Enki told his priest Atraḫasis what to do about it. Only Adad and Nisaba were sacrificed, the other gods were starved. Adad and Nisaba were so ashamed of this undeserved privilege that they stopped their endeavors. Enlil was now completely angry at Enki and decreed that a huge punishment should kill all of humanity. In addition, he made Enki swear before the Anunnaki not to speak to the people anymore. He then gathered the gods together to unleash the flood .

Plate 3

Enki, however, went to his priest Atraḫasis and waited until he lay down to sleep in his reed hut. Apparently speaking to the reed wall, Enki told him what to do. "Separate yourself from your house, build a ship, spurn your belongings, save your life." The ship should be cube-shaped and lockable from above in a watertight manner. Atraḫasis shouldn't tell anyone about the coming flood, take enough fish and birds with him for seven days and keep an eye on the hourglass for a long time. So Atraḫasis left his belongings under a pretext and began building the ship. He invited his neighbors and relatives to help and organized a big festival for everyone. During this he was unable to eat anything, he was so sick of fear that the gods would punish him. When Adad gathered the clouds and the winds began to roar in every corner of the world, he and some special, selected people got into the ship and sealed the hatch with pitch . The ark whirled like a pot on the waves of the flood pouring down from the open sky locks of the cosmic primeval waters. How beside himself was Enlil in his anger over his frustrated project of the annihilation of mankind; the other gods, however, suffered from hunger, since there were almost no people left to feed them with sacrifices. They wept over the destruction.

Here again lines are missing, but they can be added after the Gilgamesh epic . After the ark stranded on Mount Nisir , Uta-napišti (the name of Atraḫasis in the Gilgamesh epic) sends out three birds one after the other, a dove, a swallow and a raven. The raven did not return, and so Utnapištim knew that the land was accessible again.

Atraḫasis got out of the ark and began to offer food to all the gods. And since the gods had starved for so long, they swarmed like flies and began to feast over the fire of the altar. Enlil, however, remained angry with Enki, since it was he who, thanks to whose advice, had some people managed to survive the great flood. However, Enki found a solution. He ordered that people should be mortal from now on and that they should know suffering and death from birth, that there should be sterile and untouchable women and that the increase in people should be regulated. Enlil could be content with that and make peace with Enki.

See also



  1. Dietz-Otto Edzard et al.: Reallexikon der Assyriologie and Near Eastern Archeology (RIA). Volume 1: A - Bepašte. de Gruyter, Berlin 1932 (reprint 1997), p. 122.
  2. s. Fritz Graf, Greek Mythology
  5. Dahlia Shehata: Atra Chasis. In: The scientific Bible portal of the German Bible Society, March 29, 2019 .
  6. Wolfram von Soden: The ancient Babylonian Atramḫasis myth. Gütersloh 1990, p. 612ff.

Web links

Dahlia Shehata: Atra-Chasis . In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (Eds.): The Scientific Biblical Lexicon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff.