Sumerian God, well-known since the Old Sumerian Period, the Chamberlain of the Anunnaki, the Great Gods of Mesopotamia, whose figure evolved to become later in Assyria the image of the Divine Son and Avenger of His Father Ashur, Assyriaīs main deity. Thus, Ninurta, from the original Lord Plough (suggested by Thorkild Jacobsen in "Treasures of Darkness", Yale University Press, 1973) and Master of the Fields representing the victory of Humankind Laborsī on Earth, turns into the Young Warrior and Champion of the High Gods, whose attributions also involved the defense of the empire against invaders, especially from the North. In Sumer, Ninurta is the son of Enlil and Ninlil, whereas in Assyria Ashur and Ishtar are His parents. His growing importance in Mesopotamia is attested by the way his image is syncretised in the figures of Ningirsu, the patron god of Lagash and Zababa, the god of Kish. Ninurta's consort is generally thought to be the goddess of healing, Gula. However, due to his association with Ningirsu, he is sometimes paired with the goddess Bau. His main cult center was the temple E-sumesa at Nippur. His primary symbol is the plough, as well as his mace Sharur.

Ninurtaīs character is known to be tempestuous, and Jacobsen says that this is due to his identification as an ancient thunder god viewed as the personification of the spring storms which brought life to the land. I agree with this view, and would only add that these powerful elementals were under Ninurtaīs will, thus being a manifestation of the godīs raging aspect all farmers, ancient and modern, still have to deal with. In his martial aspect, Ninurta can command the Seven of Battle, who can generate whirlwinds.

Ninurta vs. Azag
This plate probably shows Ninurta's victory over the blind demon Azag.



Ninurtaīs farming abilities and his warrior character is best reconciled in a composition called Lugal-e, or "The Exploits of Ninurta (O Warrior King)" . In it, Ninurta is feasting with the other gods, when he receives bad news from Sharur - his mace and loyal weapon, whose name means Smasher of Thousands. High up in the mountains, the rocks and plants had risen a revolt against the plains, led by a fierce warrior called Asag. Asag does not have human qualities, being a sort of stone, resistant to the blows of the spear and the axe. Incited by Asag, the rocks keep rolling down the mountains to crush cities on the plains. Sharur warns Ninurta that Asag is taking control of the eastern border districts and plotting to snatch away kingship.

Ninurta gets dressed and prepares himself to war. Sharur goes ahead and comes back with a warning: although Ninurta has conquered monsters in the past, Asag is like none of his previous opponents. But Ninurta ignores Sharurīs warnings and presses on his attack to Asag, who fling at Ninurta massive landslides and rocks. Ninurta isforced to retreat.

Enlil then advises Ninurta to wait for the appropriate time and with the rainstorms eventually Asag would be defeated. So this happens, and little by little Ninurta learns to direct hte mountain streams not to flow down into the plains so that their waters are not wasted. Long and strenous were those times, and along the process, Ninurta learns the art of digging and piling up rocks to create embankments for watercourses and to channel the flow into a river sot aht the mountain waters could be used to sustain the barley in the fields and the fruits and vegetables in the orchards and gardens.

These tasks kept Ninurta away from home for a long time, and Ninmah, the Great Mother Goddess, decided to check up on him. Upon Her arrival, Ninurta calls her by the name of Ninhursag, the Mistress of the Rocky Foothills.

Ninurta embarks then on the second stage of his plan to use the rocks advantageously. He analyses each kind of rock and decides on a function for it. This section of the myth gives an explanation for the technological use of a wide range of important minerals imported from the mountains into Mesopotamian cities. Each use is presented as either honourable or humiliating, according to Ninurtaīs decision either to reward or to punish that particular type of rock for tis conduct in the mountain revolt. Not all of the rocks referred to in this myth can be identified, and some of the processes associated with them are hard to envisage. Some rocks Ninurta punished by making them vulnerable to erosion, others were forced to become grinding powders used to break down other rocks. Others were carved, pierced and polished in various ways. He punished lava and basalt, which had formed ramparts against him, by making them into moulds for goldsmiths. Limestone, which had plotted to seize Ninurtaīs office, was designated for use in foundations on muddy ground; it was also destined to crumble rapidly in water. Flint was punished by having to flake at the touch of an animalīs horn. I also believe that bad rocks is a metaphor for invaders of Mesopotamia, a plague our Soul Ancestors could not avoid, because the land has no natural barriers to prevent the advance of enemiesī armies.

However, the rocks that had changed their allegiance from Asag to Ninurta during the battle and refrained from assaulting the young warrior god were highly rewarded. It was, for instance, decided that lapis lazuli and other precious stones would be assigned to the gods.

Thus, in this myth we have a wondrous account of the taming of the wild environment symbolised by rocks and landslides to serve agriculture and the people in the cities. And furthermore, the foundation for metallurgy, and, I will press on, for alchemy, because precious stones were chosen and honoured for use in godsī statues.

I have mentioned earlier in Alchemical Symbolism and Sumerian Myth and Religion that the roots of alchemy can be traced straight to Mesopotamia. Here is the proof, in a wondrous myth that shows how this came into being. Again, Ninhursag is the main character: the living Earthmother, the Mistress of the Rocky Foothills. And Ninhursag has in Ninurta now her metalsmith and favorite son, whereas in Enki She had Her shaman. Thus, again we have a Mesopotamian first!

The second myth that should be mentioned regarding Ninurta is when he conquers the Tablet of Destinies for Enlil, his father, acting as the chosen Champion of the High Gods. The storyline is as follows: Enlil is the Keeper of the Tablet of Destinies, where all the laws that rule over order and peace in the land are inscribed. A strange creature then is born in the mountains, a fierce bird-lion called Anzu, and Enlil, in his divine wisdom, brings the creature to court. The Anzu bird is of a selfish nature, and one day steals the Tablet, abusing thus of Enlilīs trust. To conquer the Tablet back for Enlil, Ninlil chooses her beloved son, Ninurta, who is aided by Enki and his own wits, manages to defeat the treacherous Anzu bird and bring the Tablet back to Nippur. Upon arrival in Nippur, the goddess Nisaba performs a purification cerimony on Ninurta, and He receives the following new names and shrines (according to Dalleyīs account of the Myth of Anzu)

" They call your name in the furrow Ningirsu.
They designate for you the entire shepherding of peoples,
Give your great (?) name as Duku for kingship.
In Elam they give your name as Hurabtil,
They speak of you as Shushinak in Susa.
Your name is Anuīs..... they give you as Lord of the Secret
[ ] among the gods your brothers
[ ] your father.
[ ] who marshes in front.
They give [your name as Pabilsag] in Egalmah,
Call your name ...... in Ur,
Give your name as Nin-Azu in Ekurmah,
[ ] Duranki was your birthplace.
[In ] they speak of you as Ishtaran,
[In ] Zababa.
[ ] they call his name.
Your bravery much greater than all the other gods,
[ ] your divinity is surpassing;
Wholehearted (?) I praise you!
They give your name in ...... as Lugalbanda.
In E-igi-kalama (?) they give you as Warrior Tishpak,
They call you (?) .... or ...... in E-nimma-anku.
[ ] son of Belet-ili, your mother,
[ ] lord of the Boundary-Arrow,
[ ] Panigara,
[In E-akkil (?)] they call......
[ Your name ] Papsukkal, who marshes in front.
[ ] surpassing are your names among the gods by far!
[ ] you are thoughtful, capable, awesome,
Your counsellor (?) the far-sighted one, your father Anu,
[ ] battle and combat,
He granted you [ ]

Fundamentally, this myth shows loyalty, aggressive and positive action and single-minded determination to a noble cause, the main qualities of a young hero, as well as the consecration of the young god as one of the leading deities of Mesopotamia as attested by the multiple shrines and names of power the gods bestow upon Him for the retrieval of the Tablets of Destiny.

The third myth that should be mentioned here is a bilingual composition called The Return of Ninurta to Nippur. It begins with a long description of Ninurtaīs character and achievements, especially on the battlefield. He is returning to Nippur in his chariot which is decorated all over with awe-inspiring trophies, surrounded by a large and terrifying retinue. The momentum of his cavalcade threatens the well-being of the country and Nusku, Enlilīs vizier, tries to persuade the young god to slow down and to dim his fearsome radiance. He also points out that Enlil will reward him highly upon his return but that he finds his present style of progress objectionable. Ninurta does put away his whip and mace, but drives the rest of the trophies to Nippur. The gods are greatly impressed and even frightened at the display of booty and his mother, Ninlil, greets him affectionately. The text ends in a speech of self-glorification by Ninurta in which he also refers to his battle with the stones described in O Warrior King! Ninurtaīs one fault seems to have been arrogance and impetuousness, which can also be seen in another Sumerian composition called Ninurta and the Turtle, when the young hero is taught a lesson in humility by Enki. Who comes to rescue the stubborn Ninurta? Ninhursag, who also has the last word. She and Enki are mentioned as father and mother to Ninurta, but this refers to the closeness of family ties rather than a direct blood relation. Jacobsen saw this myth as an incantation to appease the thunderstorms that threatened Nippur.



The Farmerīs Almanac (ca. 1700 BCE), is a manual written in Sumerian, on how to cultivate barley. Basically, it is a series of instructions addressed by a father to his son for the purpose of guiding him throughout his yearly agricultural activities, and the farmerīs handbook, which predates Virgilīs Georgics and Hesiodīs Work and Days by a millennium.. Ninurta is called the Farmer of Enlil and the composition praises Him as the life-giving semem, the source of fertility and abundance throughout the land: "you fill the canal, let grow the barley, you fill the pond with carp, let reed and grass grow in the canebrake, you fill the forest eith game, let the tamarisk grow in the steppe, you fill the orchard and garden with honey and wine, cause long life to sprout in the palace". The composition begins with the inundation of the fields in May-June and ends with the cleaning and winnowing of the freshly harvested crops in the following April-May. Irrigation, fundamental for Sumerīs parched soil, was stressed, and the son "should be very careful not to allow the water to rise too high over the field, the wet ground should be carefully guarded against trampling oxen and other prowlers and the field should be then cleared of weeds and stubble and fenced about". There are detailed instructions on prayers to be addressed to the goddess Ninkilim, the goddess of field mice and vermin, lest these harm the growing grain, the sequence of watering the "royal grain", harvesting, threshing and hired help. The document closes with the statement that the agricultural rules laid down were not for the farmerīs own but those of the god Ninurta, the son and true farmer of Enlil.

Clearly, agriculture and agribusiness (growing crops and trade) were of paramount importance for Mesopotamians, as well as the protection of the land without natural barriers against invaders especially from the North ("bad stones"?) became a royal task, and as such marks the transformation of the dedicated farmer to the Hero/Warrior view of Ninurta.

Source: Kramer, Samuel Noah, History Begins at Sumer, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981.



Assyrians viewed their kings as sons of god. Kingship was a sacred institution rooted in heaven, and the king should be a human image of wholeness before the gods that the community should also emulate. The kingīs son in Assyria took the form of a young hero/savior, as in Babylon, but there He was Ninurta, not Marduk or Nabu. The choice of Ninurta to represent the Divine Prince of the Gods, Hero and Warrior makes much sense, because He embodies the values of the earth, faithful to His origins as Lord Plough, to encompass the qualities of the young savior who will fight for the values of the king (by conquering the Tablet of Destiny from Anzu), by defending the kingdom against invading forces (Lugal-e), by taming his youthful arrogance/impetuousness (Ninurtaīs Return to Nippur) and by becoming the young god who knows how to deal with all landīs resources, from agiculture (The Farmerīs Instructions or the Instructions of Ninurta) to the knowledge and knowing of stones for all purposes (including, we may risk an educated guess, notions of metallurgy in the use of rocks and even alchemy - "good" and "bad" stones also in Lugal-e). It is also very important to point out that Ninurta is extremely close to his mother and father, and that He is always xalted at their side.

The Assyrian king therefore should be as Ninurta incarnate, the "perfect likeness of god," who shared all the attributes of the godhead: omniscience, omnipotence, profoundly wise and prudent, perfectly just and merciful, all love, glorious and superbly strong. Thus the king would be able to exercise a just rule and maintain a cosmic harmony, guaranteeing his people divine blessings, prosperity and peace. This divine order did not exist for its own sake, but to provide mankind with a living example of spiritual perfection, the attainment of which would open the way to eternal life.

Here we have another very important healing. Assyrians are in general only seen as warlike and ferocious. Unfortunately, the defense of the Northern boundaries became a full time concern to our soul ancestors. The farmer then had to become a warrior, but the link to order and stability should be stressed here.

Sources: Archaeology Odyssey magazine, November/December 1999. Additional material was also taken from Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria by Georges Contenau. 


The gifts brought by Ninurta are therefore positive aggressiveness as a stance towards life that rouses and motivates. As the Divine Farmer, he brings determination, training and constancy to the Work. Finally, as the Young Warrior, he shows courage and loyalty, because as the Beloved Son and Heir He is committed to the ideal of fighting for king and kingdom (Enlil and Mesopotamia). And it is not by chance that the Mighty Farmer Turned Warrior has as his consort the goddess of Healing. A Justified Prince and Heir for sure, another powerful mirror of male wholeness that makes this face of the Mesopotamian God so vital to be retrieved by us here and now.


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