I read Maps of Meaning and checked Peterson’s references, and it turns out that the commentary included in the translation that Peterson cites (by Alexander Heidel) does not even support Peterson’s claim. In fact, it basically says the exact opposite — that Enuma Elish was a myth created, first and foremost, for the purpose of placing Marduk at the head of the Babylonian pantheon.

Subsequent translators, including W. G. Lambert and Ola Wikander corroborate this view and add political context. Lambert says Enuma Elish is “not a norm of Babylonian or Sumerian cosmology,” but rather “a sectarian and aberrant combination of mythological threads” which cobbles together a narrative from various traditions “perverted to such an extent that conclusions based on this text alone are suspect.” Wikander, who translated Enuma Elish into Swedish, believes unequivocally that the work was authored by a single writer, incorporating elements from earlier myths to fit an agenda which likely has to do with justifying the transition from collective rule to monarchy.

The likely context for the story is an expansion of empire during Hammurabi’s reign (1792–1750 BCE). Marduk is cited in the epilogue of the Code of Hammurabi as a fellow conquerer, just like Hammurabi. The myth echoes the legal and political changes brought about by a powerful new ruler who sees himself as the “father to his subjects” in a newly unified kingdom.

In other words, if Peterson effectively demonstrates anything with his reading of Enuma Elish, it’s that his personal philosophy regarding the entire nature of human consciousness maps neatly onto a patriarchal myth cobbled together from disparate sources in order to justify a power cosmic grab that mirrored a real-life power grab.

Great post!

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. Bylines at The Wire Magazine, Art in America + more.

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