Enki (Ea, Yah)
lord of the earth

Prince of Eridu, The Great Shepherd, , one of the Annunaki.

The Sumerian high god of water and intellect, creation, wisdom and medicine who could restore the dead to life. He was the source of all secret and magical knowledge of life and immortality. Enki possessed the secret of me, 'culture, civilization', which is the genius of progress in knowledge to lead humanity. He invented civilization for the people and assigned to each his destiny. He created order in the cosmos. He filled the rivers with fish. He invented the plough and the yoke so that farmers could till the earth with oxen. He made the grain grow. He is the father of all plants.
In one relief Enki is depicted holding Zu, the storm-bird. His main cult center was Eridu in ancient Sumer, one of the first cities in the world. He was called Ea in Akkadian/Babylonian, King of the Abzu.

Enki was the deity of water, intelligence and creation. The main temple of Enki was the so-called -engur-a, the "house of the lord of deep waters"; it was in Eridu, which was then located in the wetlands of the Euphrates valley not far from the Persian Gulf. He was the keeper of the holy powers called Me, the gifts of civilised living. Enki is also the master shaper of the world, God of wisdom and of all magic. The exact meaning of his name is not sure: the common translation is "Lord of the Earth": the Sumerian en is translated as "lord", was originally a title given to the High Priest; ki means "earth"; but there are theories that ki in this name has another origin, possibly kur (= mound). In this way it is just possible that in origin Enki was a divinitized human, high priest of the mound of Eridu, on which the first Sumerian temple was built.

He is the lord of the Apsu (Akkadian, Abzu in Sumerian, hence Greek and English Abyss) , the fresh-water ocean of groundwater under the earth. His name is possibly an epithet bestowed on him for the creation of the first man, Adamah or Adapa. His symbols included a goat and a fish, symbols at the opposite ends of the year (Pisces and Capricorn) which later combined into a single beast, the Capricorn, which became one of the signs of the zodiac. Enki in Sumerian astronomy also represented the planet Mercury, known for its ability to shift rapidly, and its proximity to the Sun, Sumerian Utu, Akkadian Shamash, the God of Justice.

In character Enki is not a joker or trickster God, he is never a cheat, a fool nor a shapeshifter. Enki uses his magic for the good of others when called upon to help either a God, a Goddess or a Human. Enki is always true to his own essence as a masculine nurturer. He is fundamentally a trouble-shooter God, and avoids or disarms those who bring conflict and death to the world. He is the mediator whose compassion and sense of humour breaks and disarms the wrath of his stern half-brother, Enlil, king of the Gods. He is the Challenger who tests the limits of Inanna in the myth Enki and Inanna and the Me and then concedes graciously his defeat by the young goddess of Love and War, by strengthening the bonds between Eridu and her city of Uruk. So he becomes the Empowerer of Inanna. Enki is always direct and upfront. Enki does not hide, or have any hidden agenda.

Enki has been said to be:
The most complete and modern mirror of masculine wholeness in Mesopotamia and world religion. His values and attributes are timeless, and it is not surprising to see that He is one of the most beloved gods of Mesopotamia. How can He be so whole? Because in Him the passionate and joyous Lover, the Mystic, the Strategist, the Sorcerer, the Divine Manager, the Keeper of World Order and Rescuer of Humankind and Gods alike are all One.
Enki is ... the gallant, impetuous, energetic Lord of Wisdom, the Seeker after truth, and Master Adept in sorcery, enchantment and seduction.

Enki, the creator of Humankind

In Sumerian and later Akkadian or Babylonian Cosmology there were six generations of Gods that led to the creation of the Younger (Igigi) divinities of the Anunaki (Anu = heaven, Na = And, Ki = Earth). In the seventh generation (Akkadian "Shappatu" hence the Hebrew Shabbath => English Sabbath), the younger Gods went on strike, put down their tools and refused to keep the creation working. In the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish, Abzu, the water lord, threatens to take back the creation with a universal flood, but Enki averts the threat by imprisonning Abzu beneath the Earth. Kingu, his son, informs his mother, Abzu's wife, the serpentine Tiamat (Ti = Life, Ama = mother, Biblical tehwom = the deeps), and in anger she threatens to take back the whole of creation. The Gods gather in terror, but Enlil (his place in the Enuma Elish is later taken by Enki's son Marduk) subdues and slays Tiamat with the arrows of his winds which he shoots down her throat. The Bible refers indirectly to this in Genesis 1:3 "And the breath of God moved across the face of the waters".

But the problem created by the "strike of the Gods" remains, how is creation to continue? Enki proposes that the Gods make humankind as their servant, and give humans the task of keeping creation going. It is agreed, and Enki wroughts humanity out of the red earth (Hebrew Adamah), mingled with the red blood of the God Kingu, slain for his part in Tiamat's attack. Enlil fills his lungs with air (Hebrew ruach, Greek pneuma, Latin spiritus), and humans are alive. In this way, Humanity is given the task of maintaining the balance of nature and keeping the created order in place.

Another myth, "Enki and Adapa", tells of how humanity loses the chance at immortality. Adapa, who is Abgallu (Ab = Water, Gal = Great, Lu = Man) (Akkadian Apkallu), Enki's advisor, to the first king of Eridu, Allulim, inadvertantly breaks the wings of the South Wind, Ninlil (See Lilith) (Nin = Lady, Lil = Air), daughter of Anu (the Heavens) and wife to Enlil, King of the Gods. In terror at the thought of their retribution, Adapa seeks the advice of Enki. Enki advises that Adapa make a deep and sincere atonement, but advises Adapa to eat nothing given to him by the Gods, as he will probably be given the food of death, out of their anger at his deeds. Adapa takes Enki's advice, but the Gods, so impressed by the sincerity of Adapa's sorrow and grief as to what he did, offered instead the fruit of immortality. Adapa remembering Enki's words, refuses, and so misses out on the chance of eternal life.

Enki, restorer of balance

Enki had a penchant for beer and a string of incestuous affairs. In the epic Enki and Ninhursag, he and his consort Ninhursag had a daughter Ninsar. When Ninhursag left him he came upon and then had intercourse with Ninsar (Lady Greenery) who gave birth to Ninkurra (Lady Fruitfulness or Lady Pasture). A second time, he had intercourse with Ninkurra, who gave birth to Uttu, the spider, the one who maintains interconnectedness of all with all. A third time Enki succumbs to temptation. Upset about Enki's reputation, Uttu consults Ninhursag, who, upset at the promiscuous nature of her spouse, advises Uttu to avoid the riverbanks. Ninhursag takes Enki's semen and plants it in the earth where six or eight plants rapidly germinate. With his two-faced servant and steward Isimud, Enki finds the plants and immediately starts consuming their fruit. Unaccountably he falls ill in his jaw, his teeth, his mouth, his throat, his limbs and his rib. The Gods are at a loss to know what to do, until Ninhursag's sacred fox fetches the Goddess.

Ninhursag relents and takes Enki's Ab (water, or semen) into her body, and gives birth to Gods of healing of each part of the body. The last one - Ninti, Sumerian = Lady Rib, is also a pun on Lady Life, a title of Ninhursag herself. The story symbolically reflects the way in which life is brought forth through the addition of water to the land, and once it grows, water is required to bring plants to fruit. It also counsels balance and responsibility, nothing to excess. In this way Enki learns painfully what happens when things are out of balance - Enki is thus a God of ecology. Ninti, is given the title of the mother of all living. This is also the title given to Eve, the Aramaic Hawwah, who was made from the Rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth.

Enki, Champion of Humankind

According to Sumerian mythology, Enki also assisted humanity to survive the Deluge designed to kill them. In the Legend of Atrahasis Enlil, the jealous king of the Gods sets out to elimate humanity, whose noise is offensive to his ears. He successively sends drought, famine and plague to eliminate humanity, but Enki thwarts his half-brother's plans by teaching Atrahasis irrigation, granaries and medicine. Humans again proliferate a fourth time. Enraged Enlil, convenes a Council of Deities and gets them to promise not to tell humankind that he plans their total annihilation. Enki, doesn't tell Atrahasis, but tells of Enlil's plan to the walls of Atrahasis' reed hut, thus covertly rescuing the man Atrahasis, or Ziusudra by either instructing him to build some kind of a boat for his family, or by bringing him into the heavens in a magic boat. After the seven day Deluge, the flood hero, Utnapishtim, Atrahasis or Ziusudra frees a swallow, a raven and a dove in an effort to find if the flood waters have receded. On the boat landing, a sacrifice is organized to the Gods. Enlil is angry his will has been thwarted yet again, and Enki is named as the culprit. As God of what we would call ecology, Enki explains that Enlil is unfair to punish the guiltless Atrahasis for the sins of his fellows, and secures a promise that the Gods will not eliminate humankind if they practice birth control and live within the means of the natural world. The threat is made, however, that if humans do not honour their side of the covenant the Gods will be free to wreck havok once again. This is apparently the oldest surviving source of the Noah's Ark myth and other parallel Middle Eastern Deluge myths.

Enki was considered a god of life and replenishment, and was often depicted with two streams of water emanating from his shoulders, one the Tigris, the other the Euphrates. Alongside him were trees symbolising the male and female aspects of nature, each holding the male and female aspects of the 'Life Essence', which he, as apparent alchemist of the gods, would masterfully mix to create several beings that would live upon the face of the earth.

Eridu, was the oldest settlement in the Euphrates valley, and is now represented by the mounds known as Abu Shahrein. In the absence of inscriptions from excavations on that site, we are dependent for our knowledge of Ea on material found elsewhere. This is, however, sufficient to enable us to state definitely that Ea was a water-deity lord, especially of the water under the earth, the Apsu. Whether Ea (or A-e as some scholars prefer) represents the real pronunciation of his name we do not know.

Older accounts sometimes suppose that by reason of the constant accumulation of soil in the Euphrates valley, Eridu was formerly situated on the Persian Gulf itself (as indicated by mention in Sumerian texts of its being on the Apsu), but for a long time it was thought that the opposite is true, that the waters of the Persian Gulf have been eroding the land and that the Apsu must refer to the fresh water of the marshes surrounding the city. Today it is known that during the Ubaid period the waters of the world were between 1.5 and 5 metres higher than their current level, with the result that Eridu was a port city with a quai, and shipping from Dilmun (Bahrein), Makan (Oman), and Melluhha (the Indus).

Enki's Influence

Ea was apparently depicted, sometimes, like Adapa, as a man covered with the scales of a fish, and this representation, as likewise the name of his temple E-apsu, "house of the watery deep", points decidedly to his original character as a god of the waters (see Oannes). Of his cult at Eridu, which goes back to the oldest period of Mesopotamian history, nothing definite is known except that his temple was also called named Esaggila = "the lofty sacred house" (E = house, Sag = sacred, Ila = High), a name shared with Marduk's temple in Babylon, pointing to a staged tower or Ziggurat (as with the temple of Enlil at Nippur, which was known as Ekur ("Kur" = mountain "E" = house), and that incantations, involving ceremonial rites in which water as a sacred element played a prominent part, formed a feature of his worship. The pool of the Abzu at the front of his temple, was adopted also at the temple to Nanna (Akkadian Sin) the Moon, at Ur, and spread throughout the Middle East. It remains, as the sacred pool at Mosques, and as the Baptismal font in Christian Churches.

Whether Eridu at one time also played an important political role in Sumerian affairs is not certain, though not improbable. At all events the prominence of "Ea" led, as in the case of Nippur, to the survival of Eridu as a sacred city, long after it had ceased to have any significance as a political centre. Myths in which Ea figures prominently have been found in Assurbanipal's library, indicating that Ea was regarded from the first as the protector and teacher of mankind, and as far back as the Hattusas archive in Hittite Anatolia. Enki/Ea is essentially a god of civilization, wisdom and culture. He was also the creator and protector of man, and of the world in general. Traces of this view appear in the Marduk epic celebrating the achievements of this god and the close connection between the Ea cult at Eridu and that of Marduk. The correlation between the two rise from two other important connections: (1) that the name of Marduk's sanctuary at Babylon bears the same name, Esaggila, as that of Ea in Eridu, and (2) that Marduk is generally termed the son of Ea, who derives his powers from the voluntary abdication of the father in favour of his son. Accordingly, the incantations originally composed for the Ea cult were re-edited by the priests of Babylon and adapted to the worship of Marduk, and, similarly, the hymns to Marduk betray traces of the transfer of attributes to Marduk which originally belonged to Ea.

It is, however, as the third figure in the triad (the two other members of which were Anu and Enlil) that Ea acquires his permanent place in the pantheon. To him was assigned the control of the watery element, and in this capacity he becomes the shar apsi, i.e. king of the Apsu or "the deep." The Apsu was figured as the abyss of water beneath the earth, and since the gathering place of the dead, known as Aralu, was situated near the confines of the Apsu, he was also designated as En-Ki, i.e. "lord of that which is below", in contrast to Anu, who was the lord of the "above" or the heavens. The cult of Ea extended throughout Babylonia and Assyria. We find temples and shrines erected in his honour, e.g. at Nippur, Girsu, Ur, Babylon, Sippar and Nineveh, and the numerous epithets given to him, as well as the various forms under which the god appears, alike bear witness to the popularity which he enjoyed from the earliest to the latest period of Babylonian-Assyrian history. The consort of Ea, known as Ninhursag, Ki, Uriash Damkina, "lady of that which is below," or Damgalnunna, "great lady of the waters," originally was fully equal with Ea but in more patriarchal Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian times plays a part merely in association with her lord. Generally, however, Enki seems to be a reflection of pre-patriarchal times, in which relations between the sexes were characterised by a situation of greater gender equality. In his character, he prefers pursuasion to conflict, which he seeks to avoid if possible.

Enki, Ea and Yahweh

In Ebla, the city in Syria conquered in about 2250 BCE by Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin, Dr Giovanni Pettinato, who translated the archive found that at the time of the greatest Southern Mesopotamian influence, during the reign of Ebrum, there was a tendency to replace the name of El, king of the Gods of the Canaanite Pantheon, (as for example Michael = Mikael) with Yah (as in Mikiah). Jean Bottero and many others, have suggested that Yah in this case is a West Semite or Canaanite way of saying Ea, Enki's Akkadian name.

Yah, Yahu, or Yaw becomes the God of the Waters, of Yamm (the Sea) and Nahar (the Rivers) in Levantine Mythology, contesting with Baal Hadad, the storm God (the Canaanite divinity equivalent to Enlil), for supreme power. It has been suggested that this God - Canaanite Yah (Ea/Enki), unified with the Aramaic "Mother of all Living" - the Goddess Hawwah (Akkadian Ninhursag), into a single androgenous creator divinity, may be the origin of the Tetragrammaton YHWH (Yahweh, from Yah and Hawwah). This would explain Yahweh's role as Creator, the God who made Humankind, and the God who saved Noah from the Flood, all attributes of Enki. Thus it may be that behind Yahweh himself, lies the nature and character of the earlier Sumerian God.

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identical to
Ea in Mesopotamian Gods

son of Anu and Antu
spouse of Ninhursag
spouse of Damkina
father of Ninsar, Marduk

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this entry was last changed Oct 29, 2006