a reply to: Utnapisjtim
It wasn't that Enki didn't participate in the deluge, because he did, in very big ways. What it was, is that Enki served as the opposition to
Enlil's plans every step of the way.
When the Igigi rebelled against the Anunnaki, complaining that their work was too much, Enlil wanted to sacrifice a god to stifle the disquiet, but
Enki spoke up and challenged Enlil, asking why the Anunnaki were blaming the Igigi when, in reality, the Igigi were overtaxed and overworked. After
quieting Enlil's fury, Enki proposes the sacrifice of one god (named Geshtu or Ilawela) so that his blood may be mixed with clay handled by the
birth-goddess Mami. The result would be a new creature, with a heartbeat and a spirit: Mankind.
For six-hundred years Mankind fills its role as care-takers the Earth, but the population increases and the noise of living beings becomes too much
for Enlil, who can't sleep. In response, Enlil commands Namtar to send a plague to ravage the land. The plague descends and Mankind suffers. In
response, Enki reaches out to his chosen human being, Atra-hasis, and tells him to gather the elders. Atra-hasis does, and repeats Enki's command to
stop revering the gods, and instead seek out Namtar, because appeasing the god Namtar will cause the plague to be lifted. Mankind follows Atra-hasis'
advice and the plague is conquered.
For less than six-hundred years Mankind returned to care-taking, and the population again increased, producing even more noise that disturbed Enlil's
rest. Enlil, again, turned to trials to solve his dilemma. This time he caused the weather-god Ishkur to stop bringing the life-giving rains, for the
harvest-goddess Nisaba to prevent her bounty from rising, and for the demon-god Pazuzu to bring the deadly western-wind upon the land, killing the
crops. All of which happens, and Mankind suffers. Enki, however, returns to Atra-hasis again and issues a similar solution: do not revere your gods,
do not revere your goddesses, instead seek out and appease Ishkur, who will be shamed by what he has done, and release the heavenly rain to rejuvenate
the land. Mankind follows Enki's advice and the drought and famine are conquered.
The third trial is the one you mentioned: An seals off Upshinka, the Heavenly Hall; Nanna seals off the lunar realm, where he, Inana, and Utu reside;
Nergal seals off Irkalla, the Underworld realm of the dead; and Enki seals off Dilmun, the paradise garden that grows on the banks of the abyss. Enlil
then causes Namtar, Ishkur, and Nisaba to unleash plague, drought, and famine once more. Through Enki's assistance, Atra-hasis is able to keep a
small portion of the population alive, a feat which so angers Enlil that he moves on to his most drastic measure: the deluge.
Enlil, as King of the Anunnaki, issues a decree that no god shall speak to Mankind. He then commands Ishkur and Ninurta to prepare the deluge. Enki
objects though, as you stated, claiming that it is not the work of a loving creator to destroy his creations, implying that Enki sees himself as
father of Mankind, and has nothing but love and patience for us. Enki says that Enlil must reverse his plan, call off Ishkur's rains; do not to let
Hanish and Shullat (thunder and lightning) march before the storm-god; and stop Ninurta, whose presence is akin to thunderstorms, hail-storms, and
floods, from descending upon the land. Enlil ignores Enki's wisdom, and issues the flood anyway.
The remainder of the myth is the standard fare, which was used as a model for the later Biblical account. A few interesting differences though: Enki
speaks to a wall, and Atra-hasis listens, thereby undermining Enlil's command that no god speak directly to a human being. Atra-hasis, his wife, and
the people who help build his boat are allowed to live (unlike the Noah account), and the reason given for the building is that Atra-hasis believes if
he leaves the gods will "rain down" upon Mankind, a clever play on words so that Atra-hasis neither lied, nor told the truth.
At the end, Atra-hasis, his wife, and their builders survive, the Anunnaki and Igigi are horrified by what Enlil has commanded and go tearing their
hair and scratching their flesh in mourning for all the human beings Enlil has made them kill, and finally Enki confronts his brother when it is
revealed that Atra-hasis survived. The myth ends with Enki having outmaneuvered Enlil, and spared Mankind from extinction.
While many scholars see the myth as an account of over-population or the unpredictable nature of the Mesopotamian gods, I, myself, actually see the
myth as representative of Mankind's gradual mastery of nature. In the myth, with Enki's help, Mankind conquers plague, disease, drought, famine, and
flood: all of the natural disasters that could beset Sumerians and Akkadians. Mankind also learns to appease the wrath of the gods and earn their love
an favor. The myth, I think, is about Mankind coming into their own, and learning to conquer Nature, and, to an extent, some of the more primal,
chaotic gods of their pantheon.
~ Wandering Scribe