The Birth of Humanity
("Enki and Ninmah" and "Enki and the World Order")

Language: Sumerian
Length: 141 lines of writing
Approximate Date: 2500–2200 BCE

(Adapted from Jacobsen (1987:153-66)
In days of long ago,
the days when heaven and earth were formed,
in nights of long ago, the nights when heaven and earth were formed,
in years gone by,
in years when the modes of being were determined,
when the Anunnaki gods were born,
when the goddess-mothers had been chosen for marriage,
when the goddess-mothers had been assigned to heaven and earth,
and when the goddess-mothers had intercourse,
had become pregnant and had given birth,
did the gods for whom they baked their food portions
and set their tables,
did the major gods oversee labor,
while the minor gods took care of the menial work.
The gods were dredging the rivers,
they were piling up their silt on projecting bends—
and the gods carrying the clay
began complaining about the corvée labor.

In those days lay he of the vast intelligence,
the creator bringing the major gods into being,
Enki, in E-engar ["House of the Watery Deep"], a well into which water seeped
a place in which no god whatever had ever laid eyes,
on his bed, sleeping,
and he was not getting up.
The gods were weeping and saying,
"He made the present misery!"
Yet they dared not rouse the sleeper,
the sleeper, the one who lay at rest, from that bed.

Namma, the primordial mother, bearer of the major gods,
took the tears of the gods to her son:
"Since, after you will have rested,
since after you sit up,
you yourself will arise—
the gods are smashing at noon and evening what they just made.
My son, arise from your bed,
and when you in ingenuity have searched out the skill,
and you have fashioned a replacement worker for the gods,
may they be freed from their digging."

When his mother spoke,
Enki rose from his bed in Halankug,
his pondering room,
and he struck his thigh; the adept one, the wise one,
the skillful custodian of heaven and earth,
creator and builder of everything,
had Imma-en (the productive womb)
and Imma-shar (the bountiful womb) come out.
Enki stretched out his arm toward them,
and a fetus began growing there,
and it was awakening to consciousness for Enki
in the heart of his own creator and builder.
He called out to his mother, Namma,
"O my mother, since the sire you provided with an heir is still there,
have the divine birth-chair constructed.
When you have soaked the core of the Apsu's generative clay
Imma-en and Imma-shar can enlarge the fetus;
and when you have put limbs on it,
may Ninmah act as your helper,
and may Ninimma, Shuzidanna, Ninmada, Ninshara, Ninbara,
Ninmug, Dududuh, and Ereshguna assist you
at your giving birth.
O my mother, when you have determined what it will look like,
may Ninmah construct the birth-chair;
and when you have built it without a man's help,
may you give birth to humanity!"

Without male sperm, she gave birth to a child,
to the embryo of humanity.
When she had broadened its shoulders,
she poked a hole in its head for the mouth;
she [. . . . .]
and enclosed its body in an amnion

[2 lines unclear]

Enki tied swathing wool around it,
and its heart rejoiced.
He decided to hold a feast for his mother, Namma,
and for Ninmah.
To the gathering of Imma-en, Imma-shar, and princesses,
to the decision-makers and chief . . . .
he fed bread.
But for An and Enlil together,
the lord Nudimmud (fashioner of humanity roasted just right
a ritually pure kid.
The major deities wer offering up praise:
"Lord of vast intelligence,
who could have imagined it!
O great lord Enki,
who could equal the things you do?
You are like a father who produced a son,
you who are our decision-maker for the country."

Cooper, Jerrold S. "Sumer, Sumerians." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by D. N. Freedman, 6:231-34. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Hallo, William W. "Sumerian Literature." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by D. N. Freedman, 6:234-37. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Harps That Once. . . Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1987.
Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1963.
Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 2d ed. New York: Viking Penguin, 1980.
Schmandt-Besserat, Denise, editor. The Legacy of Sumer. Malibu: Undena, 1976.

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Last Modified: 24 August 2009