MARDUK (also known as Bel, "lord") was a god of the city of Babylon who rose from being an obscure god of the Sumerian pantheon to become head of the Babylonian pantheon by the first millennium bce. The name was probably pronounced Marutuk, which possibly had the short form Marduk. Etymologically it is probably derived from amar-Utu ("bull calf of the sun god Utu"). This name may not be genealogically accurate, since Marduk was normally considered to be the son of Enki, the god of underground fresh waters. It may reflect an earlier genealogy, or may have had a political origin, in which case it would indicate that the city of Babylon was in the cultural orbit of the more important city of Sippar (whose god was Utu, the sun god) in the Early Dynastic times (early third millennium bce). Marduk was probably already the god of Babylon in this early period, but he first became a great god with the rise of Babylon as capital of the Old Babylonian kingdom under Hammurabi in the eighteenth century bce. The kings of the Old Babylonian dynasty owed special allegiance to Marduk as god of Babylon, and he became in effect the royal god.
Marduk continued to rise in popularity after the decline of the Old Babylonian period. When his (captured) cult statue was returned to Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar I in the twelfth century bce, Marduk was officially recognized as head of the Babylonian pantheon. His rise was effected in theological terms through his identification with Asarluhi, the god of the minor southern city of Kuaru, who was closely associated with Enki and was considered his firstborn son. The process of identifying Marduk and Asarluhi began before the establishment of the Old Babylonian kingdom, for it is attested in a letter-prayer of King Siniddinam of Larsa in which Asarluhi is called "god of Babylon." Marduk became known as the firstborn of Enki, and he took Asarluhi's place as Enki's assistant/partner in the magical literature. The identification of Marduk with Asarluhi was eventually so thorough that Asarluhi ceased to be remembered as an originally distinct god, and the name "Asarluhi" was simply used as the name for Marduk, both in Akkadian literature and in the Sumerian portion of bilingual Sumerian-Akkadian literature (where Marduk appears in the parallel Akkadian line).
The ultimate rise of Marduk to become king of the Babylonian pantheon is described in Enuma elish, the most important mythological work in which Marduk appears. This lengthy myth was written in the second half of the second millennium, probably circa 1200 bce. It declares its main purpose to be the exaltation of the god Marduk. Enuma elish was a state myth, and it was read aloud to the assembled populace as part of the Akitu festival, the spring New Year celebration, in the first millennium bce.
Marduk's political fortunes are also mythologized in an esoteric text called the Tribulations of Marduk or the Ordeal of Marduk. Although it was originally understood to be a tale of a dying and resurrected god, there is no basis for this interpretation and no evidence at all that Marduk was a vegetation-type dying god. The text is cast in the form of an esoteric cultic commentary, possibly of events of the New Year ritual. Unlike other extant esoteric commentaries, this one was written for wide distribution. It relates cultic elements of the ritual to the misfortunes of Marduk, who has been captured, sentenced, and imprisoned by other gods; at the time of the text someone is interceding on behalf of Marduk, and there is a hint in the text that Marduk is or is about to be freed. The text is manifestly political, with the enmity between Ashur and Marduk alluding to that between Assyria and Babylonia. There may also be an allusion to the return of the statue of Marduk in 669 bce from the "Assyrian captivity" it had remained in since Sennacherib's destruction of the temple of Marduk twenty years earlier. The celebration of the statue's return as a vindication of Marduk may be analogous to the composition of Enuma elish on the occasion of an earlier return of the god's statue.
Marduk is prominent in the magical literature, particularly in the Marduk-Ea (originally, Asarluhi-Enki) type of incantation. In these texts, a problem situation (such as illness) is described. Asarluhi (Marduk) relates the problem to Enki (Ea), who responds with a formulaic "My son, what do I know that you do not know, to your knowledge what can I add?" Enki then spells out a ritual to be followed to alleviate the problem. Here Asarluhi-Marduk is seen as almost the overseer of humanity. This involvement with humanity is also underscored in Shurpu, a ritual text used to relieve the distress of someone suffering for a sin of which he has no knowledge; in it Marduk is addressed as the god who is able to preserve and restore his worshipers. Marduk was considered a powerful and fierce god who punished sinners but who at the same time could be merciful and pardon his followers. In this judgmental role he is the subject of several literary prayers and of Ludlul bel ne-meqi ("I will praise the wise lord"), sometimes called "the Babylonian Job," a wisdom work about a righteous sufferer whose fortunes declined abysmally but who was ultimately restored by Marduk.
Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. "The Tribulations of Marduk: The So-Called 'Marduk Ordeal Text.'" Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (January–March 1983): 131–141.
Lambert, W. G. "Three Literary Prayers of the Babylonians." Archiv für Orientforschung 19 (1959–1960): 47–66.
Lambert, W. G. Babylonian Wisdom Literature. Oxford, 1960. See pages 21–62.
Lambert, W. G. "The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar I." In The Seed of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Theophile James Meek, edited by W. S. McCullough, pp. 3–13. Toronto, 1964.
Lambert, W. G. "Studies in Marduk." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 47 (1984): 1–9.
Soden, Wolfram von. "Gibt es ein Zeugnis defür, dass die Babylonier an die Wiederauferstehung Marduks geglaubt haben?" Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 51 (May 1955): 130–166.
Sommerfeld, Walter. Der Aufstieg Marduks: Die Stellung Marduks in der babylonischen Religion des zweiten Jahrtausends v. Chr. "Alter Orient und Altes Testament," vol. 213. Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1982.
Black, Jeremy A. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. Austin, 1992.
Bottéro, Jean. Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods. Chicago, 1995.
Bottéro, Jean. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago, 2001.
Greenspahn, Frederick E. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York, 1991.
Janzen, J. Gerald. "On the Moral Nature of God's Power: Yahweh and the Sea in Job and Deutero-Isaiah." Catholic Bible Quarterly 56 (July 1994): 458–479.
Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1987)
MARDUK (Heb. מְרֹדָךְ, Jer. 50:2), patron deity of the city of Babylon. Although known as a minor god as early as the third millennium, Marduk became an important local deity at the time of the advent of the First Babylonian Dynasty as can be seen mainly from the literary introduction of the *Hammurapi Stele and other documents. However, he was elevated to the rank of the chief deity and national god of Babylon only during the Middle Babylonian period and especially during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar i (c. 1100 b.c.e.; post-Kassite period) and not, as is commonly assumed, during the reign of Hammurapi (1848–1806 b.c.e.). This can be ascertained from the diffusion during the Old and Middle Babylonian periods of the name Marduk as a component of personal names or as a titular deity in legal and other procedures. Apart from its appearance in Jeremiah 50:2, the name Marduk is found in the Bible in personal names such as *Evil-Merodach and *Merodach-Baladan. In Jeremiah 50:2, the name of Marduk is paralleled by the word bel (Heb. בֵּל), a transliteration of the Akkadian attribute of Marduk, bēlum, "lord" (Sumerian en), which he inherited in the second millennium from Enlil, the "former" most powerful god of the Mesopotamian pantheon. (According to the Old Babylonian conception expressed in the introduction to the Hammurapi Code, he received at this time only the illilūtu, the governorship of the people, which had formerly rested on Enlil.) The origin of Marduk's name is unknown but there are some suggested etymologies, the most accepted being from Sumerian (a) mar. utu (k), "the young bull [or calf] of Samaš [Utu] the Sungod." This explanation was well known in the Babylonian tradition. (For "the 50 names of Marduk" see below.) Another etymology, put forward by Th. Jacobsen, is "the son of the storm" (or "maker of storm"?), Marud(d)uk, which brings the form of his name closer to the Aramaic-Hebrew transliteration. Abusch understands the name to reflect original Sumerian amar.uda.ak, meaning "Calf of the Storm," because Marduk was never a solar deity.
Marduk's rise to the status of national god was slow but exceptionally comprehensive. It is very possible that, apart from being an historical process, his elevation was deeply influenced by his connection – not entirely proven – with Enki (Ea), the benevolent god of wisdom, incantations, and the sweet waters of the deep (Sum. abzu, Akk. apsû), from Eridu, the most ancient holy city of Sumer.
This connection with Enki was maintained in the theology and practice of the cult of Marduk, e.g., in his identification with Asalluhi, the son of Enki, active in healing or exorcistic incantations, and in the naming of his temple in Babylon Esagila ("the house of the [high] raised head") after that of Enki in Eridu. Thus Marduk emerges as a national and popular god of the "second [younger] generation," who exercises influence in every walk of life as the healer and saviour of the Babylonians. In this capacity he appears in incantations, prayers, hymns, philosophical poems (e.g., Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, "Let me praise the God of wisdom," a variant of which was known also in Ugarit, see *Job), and epics such as the Erra Epic, where the "disappearance" of Marduk because of displeasure wreaks havoc in the world and brings about the temporary rule of Erra, the god of destruction.
Marduk is the hero of Enūma eliš ("When above …"), the Babylonian creation myth. In this myth the Son of the Storm is appointed by the gods to lead the fight against Tiāmat (Heb תְּהוֹם, "Ocean") who has planned to destroy them. In the struggle between these two personified natural elements, Marduk gains the upper hand. At the end of the didactic-cultic epic the assembly of gods praises Marduk with 50 name-exegeses and builds the Esagila in his honor.
Enūma eliš was read aloud in front of Marduk's statue during the akītu (New Year; see Klein), Babylonia's most important festival. In these ceremonies the statues of Marduk and his son Nab – (Heb. נְבוֹ) were carried from Marduk's temple in Babylon to the house of the akītu festival outside the city walls. The elaborate ritual of this festival, known chiefly from a late (Seleucid) edition, greatly influenced many theories about supposed parallel developments in the Israelite cult (see *Psalms, *Kingship).
The cult and theology of Marduk began its expansion during the renewed expansion of Babylonian culture beyond Babylon in the Middle Babylonian-Assyrian period. Marduk was accepted into the Assyrian royal pantheon after Aššur and other important gods. The Babylonian elaboration of the theology of Marduk, which expressed itself also in speculative identification and the absorption of the functions of other gods into that of Marduk (this was not exclusive to Marduk), as well as the identification of Marduk with the Babylonian national entity, had momentous consequences in that in the course of time Marduk became identified as a symbol of Babylonian resistance to Assyria. The conception of Marduk decisively influenced the cult of Aššur who was also elevated to a parallel or even higher position. Thus, for example, in the Assyrian version of Enūma eliš, Aššur takes the place of Marduk. The tension between the two nations resulted in a most decisive dislike of Marduk in the middle of the first millennium. After the "experiments" of *Tiglath-Pileseriii and *Sargon, who were kings of Babylon in every respect, came *Sennacherib who during most of his reign was uniformly anti-Babylonian and "anti-Marduk," and who expressed this by destroying Babylon and Esagila. The emblems and statues of Marduk went into "captivity" many times. The return of the statue of Marduk, which was always connected with Babylonian resurrection, was interpreted as a theological change of destiny and as a punishment inflicted by Marduk on Babylon's enemies, as in the case of Sennacherib. Thus, this antagonism became a major issue in the entire destiny of the Ancient Near East in the middle of the first millennium. A very striking example of this antagonism is found in an Assyrian satirical, quasi-theological composition (correctly reinterpreted by W. von Soden) which, far from being an "apotheosis" of the "dead and resurrected Marduk" (as was suggested earlier), is a "mock trial" of Marduk ending probably with his "execution," as a god who – from the point of view of the Assyrians and other peoples – caused much enmity and treachery (see below). This trial is a "logical" continuation of that of the god Kingu and of his execution in Enūma eliš, where Marduk was the judge.
In the time of the final Assyrian period (Esarhaddon, Ašhurbanipal) and the Neo-Babylonian Dynasty, from Nabopolossar on, and again in the Early Persian period (Cyrus), Marduk was the chief god of Babylon. Because they opposed the oppressive measures of Nabonidus, the last Neo-Babylonian king, the priests of Marduk were those who made possible the peaceful occupation of Babylon by Cyrus (539; see also *Babylon; *Mesopotamia).
Marduk in the West and in the Bible
Marduk is first mentioned in the West (Syria-Palestine) in Akkadian documents from Ugarit (Middle Babylonian period around 1350; see: Ugaritica, 5 (1968), 792) where, as mentioned, one version of the philosophical treatise Ludlul bēl nēmeqi was known. Also there is an incantation letter against nambul ("The Wrong"; "The Bad") directing him to appear before Marduk. The first appearance of Marduk in Palestine occurs in the same period and takes the form of the personal name of Šulum-Marduk in the *el-Amarna letters (ea). According to ea 256:20, as interpreted by Albright (in basor, 89 (1943), 12ff.), the royal house at ʿAštartu (the contemporary king being A-ia-ab (= Job)) was called "The House of Šulum-Marduk." (Another reading for "house" is advocated by Moran, 309, but the name Šulum-Marduk remains.) Marduk was known also among the Hittites, and Middle Babylonian cylinder seals dedicated to him have been found at Thebes, Greece. In the first millennium Marduk's name appears in Assyrian and Aramean treaties from Sefire that were concluded with King Matiʾilu of Arpad (cos ii, 213). In the Bible, apart from Marduk (see above), Bel (his appellative attribute) together with his son Nab – (see above) is mentioned in Isaiah 46:1 and Jeremiah 51:44. In both these prophecies divine judgment (not the judgment of a "rival" as in the case of Aššur) is pronounced against a symbolic polytheistic entity within the framework of a particular stage in history. The historical placement of these verses is difficult. Nevertheless, the announcement of biblical-prophetic judgment is consistent with the attitude of the other antagonists to Marduk and Babylon, described above.
S.A. Pallis, The Babylonian Akîtu Festival (1926); W.F. Albright, in: basor, 89 (1943), 12; E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie (1949), 139–50; F.M. Th. Boehl, Opera Minora (1953), 282–312; W. von Soden, in: za, 51 (1955), 130–66; 53 (1957), 229–34; Pritchard, Texts, 60–72, 331–4; H. Schmoekel, in: Revue d'assyrologie et d'archéologie orientale, 53 (1959), 183ff.; H. Tadmor, in: Eretz-Israel, 5 (1959), 150–63; W.G. Lambert, in: W.S. McCullough (ed.), The Seed of Wisdom (1964), 3–13; B. Meissner, Die Keilschrift, ed. by K. Oberhuber (1967), 153–4; Th. Jacobsen, in: jaos, 88 (1968), 104–8; P. Artzi, in: em, 5 (1968), 442–5. add. bibliograpy: W. Moran, The Amarna Letters (1992); J. Klein, in: abd, 1:138–40; L. Handy, in: ABD, 4:522–23; T. Abusch, in: ddd, 543–49.
[Pinḥas Artzi and
Marduk, chief god of the Babylonian pantheon from the 18th century on, is a relative a newcomer in the genealogy of the gods of ancient Mesopotamia (see mesopotamia, ancient, 3). Originally Marduk (from Sumerian amar-utu-ka, "calf of the sun") was the god of the rising sun and spring vegetation and the local city god of Babylon. But with the establishment of the First Dynasty of Babylon c. 1830 b.c. by the amorrites and the development of Babylon into a capital of an empire under ham murabi, Marduk became the chief god of Mesopotamia. On the one hand, he was identified with En–lil of Nippur, the leading god of the ancient Sumerian pantheon, and as such was called bel (from ba’al, "lord"); on the other hand, he was identified with Asaru of the city of Eridu, who, as the son of En-ki, the lord of the abyss, was "the lord of wisdom," i.e., of the knowledge of the magical properties of the life-giving waters of the abyss. Because of this double character, Marduk was represented Janus-like with two faces. The main temple of Marduk was the É-sag-ila (Sumerian, "the house that raises high its head"), with its famous step tower (ziggurat; see tower of babel), the É-temen-an-ki (Sumerian, "house of the foundation of heaven and earth"). The temple's great eastern portal, the holy door, bricked up the whole year, was opened only on Marduk's principal feast, the Akitu feast on New Year's Day, the first day of Nisan, when in a solemn procession his image was carried through it (see the application to Yahweh in Ez 44.1–3). On this day, Marduk's wedding with his bride Sarpanitu (Zēr-bānītu, "seed-creating") was celebrated by bringing their two statues together and by sexual intercourse of the king, Marduk's representative on earth, with a priestess representing the goddess. This was to ensure the land's fertility for the coming year. The enuma elish creation epic was recited, thus pantomimically reenacting Marduk's enthronement as creator and king, and finally Marduk determined the fate of the gods and of men for the coming year. Toward the end of the Neo–Babylonian period (6th century b.c.), Marduk's son, the scribe god Nabu (Biblical nebo), began to supplant his father in popularity. The only mention of Marduk by name is in the Old Testament (besides the proper names Merodach-Baladan; Mardochai is in Jer 50.2 in reference to Marduk's overthrow at the coming capture of Babylon; here the name of the god appears as Merodach (m erōdāk, perhaps by taking the vowels of m ebōrāk, "accursed"). In Jer 51.44, Is 46.1, and especially in Dn 14.1–22 and Baruch ch. 6, Marduk's helplessness as god of Babylon under the name of Bel is ridiculed.
Bibliography: m. jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 2 v. (Giessen 1905–12) 1:110–111, 493–495. b. meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 v. (Heidelberg 1920–25) 2:15–17. h. zimmern, Das babylonische Neujahrsfest (Leipzig 1926). j. bottÉro, La Religion babylonienne (Paris 1952) 40–41. f. m. t. de liagre bÖhl, Die fünfzig Namen des Marduk (Gröningen 1953) 282–312; Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65); suppl. Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 7:15–16. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 1443–45.
The Enuma Elish
Son of Ea and Damkina
The chief god of the Babylonians (pronounced bab-uh-LOH-nee-uhnz) and Mesopotamians (pronounced mess-uh-puh-TAY-mee-uhnz), Marduk created an ordered world out of the original state of chaos and disorder. He was a powerful and fierce god who punished sinners, but was also merciful toward his followers. His exploits are described in the Babylonian creation epic known as the Enuma Elish.
Before the birth of Marduk there were two ancient gods: Apsu, god of the sweet waters; and his wife Tiamat (pronounced TYAH-maht), goddess of the salt waters. This pair produced children, who in turn gave birth to Marduk and other gods. In time, a great conflict arose between the young gods and the ancient gods. Tiamat created an army of demons to attack and destroy the young gods. After giving her son Kingu (pronounced KIN-goo) the tablets of destiny, which allowed him to command the gods in her service, Tiamat placed him in charge of the army. The young gods chose Marduk as their champion to do battle with Tiamat. He accepted on the condition that he be named the leader of all the gods.
Armed with a net, a bow, a mace (a type of club), and the four winds, Marduk went out to face Tiamat. She appeared in the form of a dragon. Marduk caught Tiamat in his net, but she opened her mouth to swallow him. At that point, Marduk drove fierce winds into her mouth, causing her body to blow up like a balloon. He then shot an arrow at Tiamat's heart and killed her. After splitting her body into two pieces, he set one piece in the sky to create the heavens and the other at his feet to form the earth.
Marduk took the tablets of destiny from Kingu and placed them on his own chest to proclaim his power over the gods. Then he created time by establishing the first calendar. Finally, he killed Kingu and used his blood to create humans as servants of the gods. In recognition of his power, the other gods built a great temple to Marduk in the city of Babylon, located in Mesopotamia.
Marduk in Context
Marduk was long considered the protector god of the city of Babylon. When the city became the center of the ancient world, Marduk likewise became the center of Mesopotamian myth. Scholars suggest that the myth described in the Enuma Elish was written to justify Marduk's place at the head of the pantheon (collection of recognized gods), which was only fitting for a god associated with the most important city in the land.
Key Themes and Symbols
In ancient Mesopotamian myth, Marduk represents the supreme power of the gods over humans. According to myth, he created humans for the sole purpose of doing labor for the gods, thus allowing the gods to rest and play. Marduk also represents youth and strength, which overcome the army of the older gods and Tiamat.
Marduk in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Marduk is best known as the hero of the creation myth documented in the Enuma Elish. The god may have also been the source of the name Mordechai. In modern times, the name Marduk is used in many fantasy-based video games and television shows, though most have little to do with the ancient god. Marduk did appear as a character within another character's body in an episode of the animated series Sealab 2021 (2002).
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, find out where the ruins of ancient Babylon are located and what their current status is. During the recent war in Iraq, what happened to Babylon and the archeological treasures that once lay within its ruins? What is the United Nations, through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), trying to do to restore the beauty and importance of Babylon? Write a short paper on the state of “modern Babylon.”
The chief god of the Babylonians*, Marduk created an ordered world out of the original state of chaos. His exploits are described in the Babylonian creation epic known as the Enuma Elish.
Before the birth of Marduk, there were two primeval gods: Apsu, god of the sweet waters; and his wife, Tiamat, goddess of the salt waters. This pair produced children, who in turn gave birth to Marduk and other deities. In time, a great conflict arose between the young gods and the primeval gods. Tiamat created an army of demons to attack and destroy the young gods. After giving her son Kingu the tablets of destiny, which allowed him to command the gods in her service, Tiamat placed him in charge of the army. The young gods chose Marduk as their champion to do battle with Tiamat. He accepted on the condition that he be named the leader of all the gods.
Armed with a net, a bow, a mace, and the four winds, Marduk went out to face Tiamat. She appeared in the form of a dragon. Marduk caught Tiamat in his net, but she opened her mouth to swallow him. At that point, Marduk drove fierce winds into her mouth, causing her body to blow up like a balloon. He then shot an arrow at Tiamat's heart and killed her. After splitting her body into two pieces, he set one piece in the sky to create the heavens and the other at his feet to form the earth.
chaos great disorder or confusion
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
primeval from the earliest times
deity god or goddess
Marduk took the tablets of destiny from Kingu and placed them on his own chest to proclaim his power over the gods. Then he created time by establishing the first calendar. Finally, he killed Kingu and used his blood to create humans as servants of the gods. In recognition of his power, the other gods built a great temple to Marduk in the city of Babylon.
See also Creation Stories; Enuma Elish; Tiamat.
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.