Etymology: Deep Ocean, ab meaning “ocean,” zu meaning “to know” or “deep”
Other names: Absu, Apsu (Akkadian), Apzu (Assyro-Babylonian), Engur (Sumerian), Apsu-Rushtu (Babylonian), Nun (Sumerian), Aphson (Babylonian), Apason (Akkadian), Ἀπασών (Apasṓn in Greek)
Epitaphs: God of Sweet Waters, The Heavenly Oceans of Wisdom
Abzu or Apsu is a primordial god in Mesopotamian mythology. Before this, the name Abzu is the name given for freshwater found in underground aquifers. All freshwater from lakes to springs, rivers, wells and other sources were all held as coming from the abzu. This water, due to being freshwater, was held with religious reverence by the ancient Akkadians and Sumerians.
More modern theology and thought tend to see that if Tiamat is a dragon, then Abzu must be a dragon as well. The mixing of the salt and sweet or freshwater is a metaphor for the two getting it on and sparking off all of creation.
Tiamat – In the Babylonian Epic, she is the consort to Abzu.
Anu – The god of the sky in Sumerian mythology.
Kingu – One of Kingu’s sons, he leads Tiamat’s armies as well as becomes her consort after Abzu’s death.
Lachmu and Lachamu – The first pair of gods born. From them, all of the other gods within the Mesopotamian pantheon come.
Monstrous Children & Demon – After the death of Apsu, Tiamat creates a host of monstrous children, among whom dragons and serpents are but a few.
Anšar and Kišar – Through Lachmu and Lachamu.
Igigi – Ultimately the second and third generation of gods.
An important note is that water, freshwater, or sweet water as the ancient Mesopotamian cultures called it was held in high religious regards for its powers of fertility and granting life. All sources of freshwater, from lakes to springs, to wells and rivers were all believed to originate from abzu, the vast ocean of water beneath the land.
In both Akkadian and Sumerian mythologies and beliefs, abzu is the primeval sea below the underworld or Kur and the earth or Ma above. Much as the Greeks and Romans had the river Styx to cross to get to the underworld, in Mesopotamian lore, there is the river Hubur that abzu was connected to in order to reach Kur.
Holy Water Tanks – Some tanks holding holy water outside the temple courtyards in Babylon and Assyria were called abzu. These tanks are similar to the washing pools and baptismal fonts of Islamic and Christian churches where ritual or religious washing is performed.
It is only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish that Abzu is described as a god and not the name for the primordial waters found beneath the earth.
The Enuma Elish was found in the library of Assurbanipal, dating from about 630 B.C.E. Though the text is thought to be some 500 years older.
This is an ancient epic creation poem written in the 18th century B.C.E. (1700 to 2000 B.C.E. are other estimated guesses) when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds, and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of a time when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater (or the abyss) represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods and other beings. Their most notable children are Lachmu and Lachamu along with others who become the other gods and goddesses, known as the Anunnaki. The other children of Apsu and Tiamat are giant sea serpents, dragons, snakes, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu on the other hand didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night, and unable to get any work done during the day. After consulting with his advisor Mummu, Apsu planned to kill his children, specifically the younger, Igigi deities.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki (later version its Ea) of what Apsu and Mummu has planned. Apsu’s plan for killing off all of his children was with a flood. Learning this, Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to capture and put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth, and the marshy region of Eridu.
Kingu, one of Tiamat and Apsu’s sons, soon to be the new consort to Tiamat is upset and goes to report what happened. This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raised up an army of chaos consisting of twelve monsters: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmahhu, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušhuššu, “Furious Snake,” Lahmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umu dabrutu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man” who are all led by Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames, and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated, and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans who would be the servants of the Igigi (the younger Mesopotamian gods). The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Early versions of this story have Anu, later replaced by Enlil and then in the last version, it is Marduk who gets the promise from the other gods about becoming head of the pantheon.
Marduk’s version dates from the first dynasty of the Babylonians, whereas the other versions are much older. Even then, depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki at all. Scholars who look at when the Enuma Elish was written generally believe that it represents political and religious propaganda meant to justify and install Marduk as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as the city-state rose to political power in the region.
In Sumer, Enki’s temple in the city of Eridu was known as E2-Abzu, the House of the Cosmic Waters. It was located at the edge of a swamp, a place called an abzu. Enki was believed to have lived in the abzu long before humans were created. Enki’s wife, Damgalnuna, and his mother, Nammu, along with Isimud his advisor, and several others all lived in the abzu.
Nun – Egyptian Deity
Considered to be the oldest of the Egyptian gods, Nun was the father of Ra, the Sun god. Nun is the waters of chaos and creation from which Ra-Atum created all life. Nun was also responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile River.