Perhaps you have heard of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, who invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.C. On a six-sided clay prism inscribed in cuneiform known as “The Annals of Sennacherib,” he claimed to have destroyed 46 fortified cities, taken more than 200,000 prisoners, and to have shut up Judah’s King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.”
Sennacherib did not conquer Jerusalem, however. The story in 2 Kings 19:35 declares that God sent a plague that struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, leading Sennacherib to withdraw and return to a quieter life in his capital city of Nineveh. Some 20 years later, however, while praying “in the house of Nisroch his god,” according to 2 Kings 19:37, Sennacherib was stabbed in the back (literally) by two of his sons, who then fled the country, leaving their brother Esarhaddon to take over the throne.
You may not have recalled the name of Nisroch, reported to be Sennacherib’s patron god, but it could become a lot more common if there’s any truth to The Onion’s report that the Coca-Cola Company’s Powerade line of sports drinks is reviving the old agricultural deity as the namesake of a pumped up new drink to be called “Nisroch: Eagle Heart X-TREME WHIRLWIND!”
I couldn’t find confirmation on the Coca-Cola website, and I don’t know how much credence you can give to anything published on the Onion, which is known for its satirical bent. The whole thing is probably bogus, but how often do old Mesopotamian gods get any airplay? Indeed, why would anyone choose a little-known Assyrian character as the marketing symbol for a sports drink?
Nisroch is thought by some to be identified with an eagle-headed deity that is usually depicted with a bucket in one hand and a fir cone in the other, sprinkling water on a tree (i.e., making it rain). Whether this deity is really called Nisroch (and for that matter, whether the reading “Nisroch” is correct in 2 Kings) is not at all clear and Assyriologists would no doubt question it, but the target audience for sports drinks is unlikely to do much Assyriological research.
Reliefs of the image in question typically have boldly defined muscles, though no more so than other images of gods or protective spirits portrayed in wall reliefs that were common to Assyrian palaces. The desktop image on my Blackberry is a photo of three protective spirits from Assurbanipal’s palace in Nineveh, and they all have serious calf muscles, too.
Sports drink marketers, though, could like the image of a muscle-bound eagle-headed mascot who provides liquid nourishment, hoping will inspire sweaty gym-rats to believe they can both fly and flex like an Assyrian god.
It’s too bad the drink wasn’t available when Egypt’s King Tut was around — National Geographic is reporting that recent DNA tests combined with a careful examination of his mummy show that he was a very frail pharaoh who had bone disease and needed a cane to walk — due in part, perhaps, to the fact that his mother was his father’s full sister, if the genetic analysis is correct (his mother’s identity had been previously unknown).
Perhaps a daily shot of Nisroch: Eagle Heart X-TREME WHIRLWIND! would have been just what King Tut needed to replenish his electrolytes and gain the energy needed to be remembered as more than Egypt’s “boy king.”