Ea (written by means of two signs signifying "house" and "water"), in the Babylonian religion, originally Enki, the patron deity of the city of Eridu, situated in ancient times at the head of the Persian Gulf, but now, by reason of the constant accumulation of soil in the Euphrates valley, at some distance from the gulf.
Eridu, meaning "the good city," was one of the oldest settlements in the Euphrates valley, and is now represented by the mounds known as Abu Shahrein. In the absence of excavations on that site, we are dependent for our knowledge of Ea on material found elsewhere. This is, however, sufficient to enable us to state definitely that Ea was a water-deity, and there is every reason to believe that the Persian Gulf was the body of water more particularly sacred to him. Whether Ea (or A-e as some scholars prefer) represents the real pronunciation of his name we do not know.
All attempts to connect Ea with Yah and Yahweh are idle conjectures without any substantial basis. He is figured as a man covered with the body of a fish, and this representation, as likewise the name of his temple E-apsu, "house of the watery deep," points decidedly to his character as a god of the waters (see Oannes). Of his cult at Eridu, which reverts to the oldest period of Babylonian history, nothing definite is known beyond the fact that the name of his temple was E-saggila, "the lofty house"--pointing to a staged tower as in the case of the temple of Bel at Nippur, known as E-Kur, i.e. "mountain house"--and that incantations, involving ceremonial rites, in which water as a sacred element played a prominent part, formed a feature of his worship.
Whether Eridu at one time also played an important political role is not certain, though not improbable. At all events, the prominence of the Ea cult led, as in the case of Nippur, to the survival of Eridu as a sacred city, long after it had ceased to have any significance as a political centre. Myths in which Ea figures prominently have been found in Assurbanipal's library, indicating that Ea was regarded as the protector and teacher of mankind. He is essentially a god of civilization, and it was natural that he was also looked upon as the creator of man, and of the world in general. Traces of this view appear in the Marduk epic celebrating the achievements of this god, and the close connexion between the Ea cult at Eridu and that of Marduk also follows from two considerations: (1) that the name of Marduk's sanctuary at Babylon bears the same name, E-saggila, as that of Ea in Eridu, and (2) that Marduk is generally termed the son of Ea, who derives his powers from the voluntary abdication of the father in favour of his son. Accordingly, the incantations originally composed for the Ea cult were re-edited by the priests of Babylon and adapted to the worship of Marduk, and, similarly, the hymns to Marduk betray traces of the transfer of attributes to Marduk which originally belonged to Ea.
It is, however, more particularly as the third figure in the triad, the two other members of which were And and Bel, that Ea acquires his permanent place in the pantheon. To him was assigned the control of the watery element, and in this capacity he becomes the shar apsi, i.e. king of the Apsu or "the deep." The Apsu was figured as an ocean encircling the earth, and since the gathering place of the dead, known as Aralu, was situated near the confines of the Apsu, he was also designated as En-Ki, i.e. "lord of that which is below," in contrast to Anu, who was the lord of the "above" or the heavens. The cult of Ea extended throughout Babylonia and Assyria. We find temples and shrines erected in his honour, e.g. at Nippur, Girsu, Ur, Babylon, Sippar and Nineveh, and the numerous epithets given to him, as well as the various forms under which the god appears, alike bear witness to the popularity which he enjoyed from the earliest to the latest period of Babylonian-Assyrian history. The consort of Ea, known as Damkina, "lady of that which is below," or Nin-Ki, having the same meaning, or Damgal-nunna, "great lady of the waters," represents a pale reflection of Ea and plays a part merely in association with her lord.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.