The underworld god Erra was a violent deity associated with warfare, anarchy, and plague in Babylonian literature. His activities are known mainly from a myth called Erra and Ishum, preserved in copies produced in the ﬁrst millennium B.C.E. The myth, written on four tablets, is concerned with the sources of violence.
Erra and Ishum
The myth begins with the introduction of Ishum, a minor deity of the Mesopotamian pantheon who dwelled in the underworld, and Erra, a warrior of the gods. Both were restless and itching to do battle.
The demons referred to as the Seven were presented to Erra by the god Anu and were to be used to crush the noise of humans when they threatened the balance between mortals and their gods. According to some interpretations, the noise refers to humankind’s bent for violence and strife, behavior that threatens the world order.
The Seven complained that they were restless. In response, Erra suggested to Ishum that they begin a campaign to destroy the people. Ishum objected, but Erra insisted that the blackheaded people, meaning the Mesopotamians, would not listen to the god Marduk’s commands and deserved to be punished.
Erra and Marduk
Erra went to Marduk, the king of the gods, ostensibly seeking advice. Erra’s real intention was to depose Marduk and rule in his place. Marduk was away from his palace because his statue had been damaged and was in need of repair. With the absence of the god from his abode, the lesser gods became terriﬁed.
While repairs to the statue were being made, Erra stationed himself as guardian of the temple and schemed to usurp Marduk’s powers. When Marduk returned, Erra’s help as a guardian was no longer required.
Erra unleashed a barrage of rage and hatred, praising his own ability to create terror. He released the Seven to begin his violent campaign.
Erra’s Contempt for Humanity
Ishum tried to calm Erra, asking why he was so determined to attack both gods and humans. Erra, replied, full of contempt, that humans were stupid and that when Marduk had left his dwelling, kings and princes were negligent in their duties to the gods. The bond between the people and the deities was thus broken.
Ishum then described in detail the havoc, plunder, atrocities, and destruction that were occurring on Earth. All of humankind was suffering: the strong and the weak, the young and the old, the priests, the rulers, and the righteous as well as the unrighteous.
Satisﬁed that his power was recognized, Erra decreed that the enemies of Babylon should ﬁght one another. Afterward, only Babylon would remain to rule. Erra instructed Ishum to do as he wished with the Seven. Ishum set out for the mountain lands of the Sutaeans, the archenemies of Babylon. With the Seven before him, Ishum devastated Babylon’s enemies. He destroyed their cities, obliterated their wildlife, and returned the people to clay.
At last, Erra was calmed. He addressed the gods, saying that he had erred in his anger and had slain without distinction between good and evil. He apologized for his frenzy and loss of reason and praised Ishum for his restraint. Erra then instructed Ishum to begin the work of restoring the fertility of the land and sea and, using the booty from the Sutaeans, to rebuild its temples.
The poem ends with praise to the warrior Ishum.