The Epic of Erra


Erra was the warrior of the gods and the commander of the Sebitti, seven gods of war who marched at his side when he went into battle. There had been peace in Babylon for a long time, but the Sebitti began to cry loudly that they were growing bored and old with no more battles.

Erra’s weapons complained, “We have become blunt, and rusty, and covered in spiders’ webs, and we have almost forgotten how to fight! It is time for a war!”

Erra believed that Marduk had become a lazy ruler, allowing his people in Babylon to become too numerous and noisy, and he decided to begin a war in the city. But first he had to get Marduk out of the way.

“Your crown looks so battered and dirty,” he told Marduk. “It is not fit for a god who rules a city as beautiful as Babylon.”

Erra persuaded Marduk to go in search of the skilled craftspeople who could restore his crown to its original golden brilliance. The craftspeople lived far from Babylon, and Marduk was reluctant to leave his temple, not knowing what would happen if he was not there to protect his people.

Marduk consents to Erra’s plan but only when Erra promises to maintain order in his absence. Marduk returns Erra takes offence, either at some slight or because he has been tricked out of the opportunity to use his power. He vows to give Marduk and the other senior gods cause to remember him, and brags of his warlike prowess and destructive power. The effect of Erra’s anger is immediate bloodshed and anarchy.

Erra began to spread devastation – he set families against each other, creating conflict and wars. Shrines, temples, palaces, and houses were destroyed in the fighting, and many people were killed. The city is so polluted by bloodshed that Marduk cannot any longer abide in his temple and, amid bitter lament, leaves his station at the center of the cosmos. Erra now has the whole world at his mercy.

This violence is not the result of Marduk leaving his cosmic station a second time. Rather it seems that his earlier absence from his temple has produced an instability in the cosmos which has repercussions even after he reoccupied it

Next Erra vows to destroy the seat of cosmic government so that all voices of moderation are silenced.  And the effect of Erra’s ambition then becomes yet more terrible, as he launches on the world a conflict that will bring all countries to civil war. Only then will Erra permit the carnage to cease, when a new ruler will arise in Babylonia.

To facilitate this new order, Erra allows Ishum to bring an end to the conflict, which he does. At last he is content, basking in the gods’ acknowledgement of the supremacy of his power. He commands that the country shall thrive in a period of new prosperity. Erra gives to Ishum the tasks of perpetuating Ishum’s victory over the enemies of Babylon.

From: World Myths and other sources

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