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The God Ninurta in the Mythology and Royal Ideology of Ancient Mesopotamia
State Archives of Assyria Studies, Volume XIV
by Amar Annus

Helsinki 2002 • 175 x 250 mm • Pp. xvi + 242
Paper • $62.00 • ISBN 951-45-9057-0

The current investigation has been divided into three broad areas which correspond to the main chapters of this book. In the first two chapters, the primary focus is the relationship between Ninurta and kingship. The first chapter gives a diachronic overview of the cult of Ninurta during all historical periods of ancient Mesopotamia. The present study has tried to show that the conception of Ninurta's identity with the king was present in Mesopotamian religion already in the third millennium BC. Ninurta was the god of Nippur, the religious centre of Sumerian cities, and his most important attribute is his sonship to Enlil. While the mortal gods were frequently called the sons of Enlil, the status of the king converged to that of Ninurta at his coronation, through the determination of the royal fate, carried out by the divine council of gods in Nippur. The fate of Ninurta parallels the fate of the king after the investiture.

Religious syncretism is studied in the second chapter. The configuration of Nippur cults had a legacy in the religious life of Babylonia and Assyria. The Nippur trinity of the father Enlil, the mother Ninlil and the son Ninurta had direct descendants in the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon, realized in Babylonia as Marduk, Zarpanitu and Nabû and as Aššur, Mullissu and Ninurta in Assyria. While the names changed, the configuration of the cult survived, even when, from the eighth century BC onwards, Ninurta's name was to a large extent replaced with that of Nabû.

In the third chapter various manifestations or hypostases of Ninurta are discussed. Besides the monster slayer, Ninurta was envisaged as farmer, star and arrow, as healer, or as tree. All these manifestations confirm the strong ties between the cult of Ninurta and kingship. By slaying Asakku, Ninurta eliminated evil from the world, and accordingly he was considered the god of healing as well. The healing, helping and saving of the believer in personal misery was thus a natural result of Ninurta's victorious battles. The theologoumenon of Ninurta's mission and return was used as the mythological basis for quite many royal rituals and this fact explains the extreme longevity of the Sumerian literary compositions Angim and Lugale from the third until the first millennium BC. Ninurta also protected legitimate ownership of land, and granted protection for refugees in a special temple of the land. The “faithful farmer” is an epithet of both Ninurta and the king.

Kingship myths similar to the battles of Ninurta are attested in an area far extending the bounds of the Ancient Near East. The conflict myth, on which the Ninurta mythology was based, is probably of prehistoric origin, and various forms of the kingship myths continued to carry the ideas of usurpation, conflict and dominion until late Antiquity.


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