Tiamat

TIAMAT tĭ ä’ mät, the name of the goddess of the primordial salt water ocean, the antagonist of the hero-god in the great Babylonian national epic, Enūma eliš. In the Mesopotamian texts the name is written with a set of pseudoideographic signs, the phonetic element ti followed by the Sumer. compound GEMEAN, meaning in this case, “ti-(woman-mountain)” but pronounced as ti-am’at in the lexical lists. Tiamat is a great ugly monster who becomes angry with her own offspring of an innumerable set of lesser gods, similar to the cosmogony of Hesiod. The lesser gods select a champion, in the older stories Marduk, in the later Aššur, who then fights a cosmic battle with the chaotic sea. As a result the dead corpse of Tiamat is divided up and separated into the lower and upper cosmos. Enūma eliš states in its parallelistic fashion: “He split her like a bivalve into two parts, half of her he set above and ceiled it as sky, He set a bar, he set out watchmen, he exhorted them not to let her waters escape” (IV:137-140). There are literary allusions to this myth in many Near Eastern traditions.

The often proposed connection between the Biblical Heb. term תְּהוֹם, H9333, Genesis 1:2, usually tr. “the deep,” “the primaeval ocean,” and the name Tiamat is not verifiable. The Biblical and Ugaritic terms are more properly deduced from the Akkad. word for ocean or deep, tamtu(m), however, the Ugaritic term may be used as a divine attribute. The connection or dependence of the Biblical term with the Akkadian-Babylonian goes back to the pan-Babylonian theories of Zimmern and his students in the early days of Assyriological research and is now generally rejected.