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The origin of humans as told by the Ancient Sumerians

Assyrian-Ancient Sumerians

There are many stories which describe the origin of humans. One of those stories was told by the Ancient Sumerians.

The kingdom of Sumer was an advanced civilization in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) reaching a golden age around 4500 BC. The people in the ‘land of civilized kings’ invented an elaborate language with writing, had access to advanced architecture, astronomy and mathematics, and were ardent artists.

The Sumerian religious cosmology featured hundreds of gods and a comprehensive belief system. According to their historical texts, humans and gods once lived together, although humans were servants to the gods. In addition, each city had its own guardian god.

The Sumerian creation story was found on a tablet discovered in the ancient city of Nippur founded around 5000 BC. Their creation myth, known as Enûma Eliš, begins with this phrase:

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…

In the beginning, there were gods who had human characteristics, and they ruled the world. They came to Earth and saw that there was work to be done, so they began working the soil and mining the natural resources. But at some point, the work became too much and the gods mutinied:

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.

Father sky god Anu saw that they labored too much. His son Enki, or Ea, recommended the creation of a being to bear the weight of the work, and so created man with his half sister Ninki. This was done by putting a god to death and mixing the body and blood with clay, and from that mixture the first human being was created. Of course, they bore the likeness of 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.

So, this is how the first man was created. He resided in Eden, which is a Sumerian word meaning ‘flat terrain.’ In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Eden is mentioned as a sort of garden of the gods located somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The human workers were not able to reproduce until they were modified by Enki and Ninki. The result was Adapa, the first fully functional human, independent of gods.


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