Heroes of the Gods

When the land of the gods was threatened from an external force, a new force, or a foreign adversary they turned to four gods as their champions. Each of these heroes is a champion of the Order of the Universe, but they are far from the same. Ninurta can be tempted, Ishkur is more cautious, Gibil is industrious, and Shara has an appreciation for beauty.

Ninurta: Starting out in form as an Imdugud bird, Ninurta was powerful symbol of aggressive power. The lion’s head and claws represented aggression on earth, while his eagle body and wings represented aggression in the heavens.

In Sumer Ninurta was the storm god of the north wind who did most of his raging against the mountains. He took on the Kur dragon when it again threatened Sumer through the mountains, and it was on the mountains that Ninurta fought the Asag and the Imdugud.

He wielded an intelligent sword by the name of Sharur. This sword could do things independent of Ninurta and it acted as Ninurta’s Sukkal (minister). In addition to serving as Ninurta’s blade for killing Sharur also served as Ninurta’s caution. Sharur suggested caution when the odds were too great, but suggested aggression when that was the more reasonable choice.

It was Ninurta who subdued the army of foreigner demons in the mountains. It was also he who defeated the Imdugud bird who had stolen the Tablet of Destiny from under Enlil’s nose. Ninurta is shown in a number of myths, while none of the other heroes is shown in a central role. Even myths we do not have a copy of, such as the one depicting the death of the seven dead heroes, have Ninurta as the central hero.

Ninurta has a dark side to him. He can be tempted by his ambition. When Imdugud stole the Tablet of Destiny it was dropped from Imdugud’s claws into Enki’s waiting hands. Ninurta wanted the Tablet of Destiny for himself and plotted to attack Enki to gain it. Enki predicted this and laid a trap for him. The gods did not end up fighting each other directly, and Enki made Ninurta’s mother do him a service in return for Ninurta’s release.

More than the other heroes Ninurta is ambitious. He wants glory and power. He was twice responsible for the expansion of the pantheon by force. Once in bringing in the Asag demons, and again in bringing in the Imdugud demons.

Ninurta is also a hero to modern Sumerians in the indexes of well researched books. The Ninurta test is a way to tell if a book is good or not before you know how to tell by experience. Open a book to the index page and look up Ninurta. He was immensely important to the people of Sumer, but he was not all that interesting to new agers and UFO nuts who do not like to do proper research. Related searches should include Nimrod and Ningirsu.

Ishkur: Like Ninurta, Ishkur is a storm god, a warrior god, and a hero among the gods. Ishkur is quite distinct from Ninurta however. Ishkur is the god of the south wind and is not nearly so reckless. When Imdugud stole the Tablet of Destiny, the physical repository for the Order of the Universe, he judged his skills a bad match for this opponent while Ninurta was more than willing to try his strength against one with a much superior position.

Ishkur was the storm god who favored the shepherds while Ninurta was favored by the farmers. At this time shepherds tended to wander the land with nothing less than a small army of trained fighters to act as herdsmen. This might imply that he would be cautious but militaristic, and daringly bold as a warrior but polite to a fault. This is only conjecture however.

As a god who favored shepherds it is no wonder that we have no myths surrounding him. The shepherds would have kept an oral record as stone tablets were heavy. That’s not saying that finding myths about him is beyond the realm of possibility, simply that it is understandable that no record has yet been found.

He is an older god and potentially an early convert to the religion. His Akkadian name is Adad and he may be similar to Tesep the Hurian god from the mountains to the north, but he is not associated with being from the north or from the mountains. Although he may bare some superficial resemblance to the Egyptian god of foreigners and unpredictable storms worship of him predates any real contact with Egypt.

Ishkur rides a lion dragon and his weapon is the lightning bolt. The lightning bolt can be seen in his iconography as being held like a spear, but with three prongs extending from each side of his hand. Like all storms in the middle east he could be unpredictable but, as was mentioned above, he was not known to be reckless.

His consort was Shala, a goddess known to have converted to the religion early on, but she might not have been his only consort as she was also noted to be the consort of several other gods. He had two ministers, Shullat and Hanish. His father was likely either An or Enlil, but, as with most genealogy of the gods, it could all simply be a term of respect.

In myths and proverbs where Ishkur is briefly mentioned he is described as the one who splits the mountains, or he is described as being loud and resounding. The part about splitting the mountain may refer to a myth we do not have. It is also sexually suggestive. The resounding refers to thunder. He is said to roar with Inanna and fall upon foreign enemies often in texts. This also might refer to a myth about him that we do not have.

Ishkur is the lord of the seven storms. He is also the bringer of good fortune who rules the sheep and makes the grain stand up. He is also the god of the dangerous flood whose helpers, the seven storms, rip up the plants and pile them up. This destructive element is often said to be done to foreigners.

Gibil: This is the god of fire and heat. He is an amazingly diverse god, but not as important as one would expect given how much power he had. Gibil was the messenger who ferried burnt offerings to the gods. He was the god of the forge. He was the god of the desert heat. He was the god who lit the streets at night with torches. He was the god who heated bricks in the kiln. He was the one who destroyed with wild fires.

The Sumerians considered him to be the founder of cities rather than the destroyer of cities. This is interesting only in that it reinforces the positive world view of a people generally considered to be pessimistic. As a Dingir god he would obviously support the advancement of civilization, and so the creative aspects of fire would outweigh the destructive ones. Even the destructive ones had their place in civilization as a way of clearing out the unwanted and as agents of war.

The god of fire is an interesting one. He has no myths surrounding him, but we do have some mention of him in magical texts. Like other light bearing gods such as Utu and Nanna he is somewhat associated with banishing demons. If you think of gidim as being similar to shadows Gibil is the obvious choice to turn to for defense.

As the son of the goddess Shala and possibly the god An he has a tangential connection to the god Ishkur. All it really says is that over the course of many centuries the goddess Shala lived an interesting life.

Shara: It is conjectured that he is the son of Inanna. He is definitely closely linked to the goddess of love and war in that he served as the hero of An, and also the singer, manicurist, and hairdresser of Inanna. There are no myths directly speaking of his parentage however, but when one considers that Inanna is the prostitute goddess this is not surprising.

He is specifically noted as being the champion of An. This is perhaps another indication that he is associated with Inanna. Both An and Inanna are the patron gods of the same city.

From a modern standpoint it might seem strange that Inanna’s hairdresser, singer, and manicurist would also be a hero, but that is because we have many stereotypes in modern culture that would not have necessarily been true in ancient Sumer. We associate men with interests in these things with homosexuality. We associate homosexuality with the effeminate and the weak. These stereotypes don’t properly fit today, they definitely wouldn’t fit in ancient cultures.

It should be pointed out that being a singer, hairdresser, and manicurist might or might not have been considered effeminate in ancient Sumer. Consider also that even if it was, the effeminate might not be associated with homosexuality. This is not an area where I can speak with any certainty. A specialist in that area would be better able to say.

What I can say however is that homosexuality is not something that Inanna would have found repulsive. Inanna was the goddess most associated with all types of sexuality with the least emphasis placed on marital sex. If Shara was a homosexual, a transsexual, or something else it would not have any negative stigma with Inanna.