Ahikar, Book of
AHIKAR, BOOK OF
AHIKAR, BOOK OF , a folk work, apparently already widespread in Aramaic-speaking lands during the period of Assyrian rule. It was evidently well-known among the Jewish colonists in southern Egypt during the fifth century b.c.e. and at the beginning of the twentieth century the major part of an Aramaic text of the work was discovered among the documents of the Jewish community of *Elephantine. Greek writers were likewise acquainted with its contents. The book has survived in several versions: Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Turkish, and Slavonic. These texts bear a fundamental similarity to the ancient Elephantine version. It may be subdivided into two parts: (1) the life of *Ahikar; (2) the sayings uttered for the benefit of Nadan, his adopted son.
Ahikar the Wise, the hero of the work, is mentioned in the apocryphal book of Tobit as one of the exiles of the Ten Tribes. He purportedly attained high rank, being appointed chief cupbearer, keeper of the royal signet, and chief administrator during the reigns of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. In his later years, realizing that he would leave no offspring, he adopted his sister's son Nadan and groomed him for a high office at court. Ahikar's instructions to Nadan in preparation for this position are couched in the form of epigrams. Ahikar, however, ultimately convinced that his protegé was not equal to the task, disowned him. Nadan thereupon slandered Ahikar before the king. When this accusation was proved false, Nadan was handed over to Ahikar who imprisoned him near the gateway to his home. Thereafter, whenever Ahikar passed by this place, he uttered words of reproof to his former adopted son. These remarks, presented as aphorisms, comprise the last section of the Book of Ahikar. Both the contents and aim of the work indicate its Aramean-Assyrian milieu. In
textual format, it resembles Job, which also contains not only wisdom sayings, but also events associated with the hero of the tale. Also similar to Ahikar is Proverbs 31:1: "The words of King Lemuel"; which, though presently comprising only the apothegmatic section, may well originally have contained biographical data concerning Lemuel. Works along these lines were not unknown among the peoples of antiquity and in Israel too, the Wisdom literature did not fail to take ideas from non-Israelite sources. However, the Book of Ahikar, despite its dissemination and popularity among the Jews, left no imprint upon Hebrew literature. The reason may be that its many pagan features remain unblurred, even in late editions belonging to the Christian era. A profounder cause, however, is the fact that a spirit of total submissiveness to and awe of human rulers pervades the work to such an extent that their edicts and promulgations are regarded as inviolable law. This note of self-negation before a king of flesh and blood, which is of the very essence of the work, was entirely alien to the Jewish spirit.
Although the Book of Ahikar did not exert any direct influence on Jewish literature, Ahikar himself was assimilated in Jewish sources. Chapter 14:10 states that Ahikar raised Nadab (i.e., Nadan) and refers to the slander story described in the Book. According to 1:21–22, Ahikar is Tobias' cousin, son of Tobit's brother Anael. Chapter 11:18 raises textual problems, but the reading of the Codex Sinaiticus (Nadab), which makes both Ahikar and Nadab cousins of Tobias, is not impossible. Strictly speaking Nadab would be his second cousin.
The Jews made this hero of the pagan Wisdom tale into a pious Jew of the tribe of Naphtali, an instance of how they adopted and reused international Wisdom traditions. The transformation of Ahikar into an exiled Israelite was accompanied, in Tobit 14:10, by emphasis on the vindication of righteousness in the relationship between Ahikar and Nadab. Ahikar was also mentioned in Hellenistic literature and in a variety of later sources. Ahikar is now known from Babylonian sources as the court sage in the time of King Sennacherib.
[Michael E. Stone]
A. Yellin, Sefer Aḥikar he-Ḥakham (1938); R.Harris, et al., Story of Ahikar from Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, etc. (1898); Cowley, Aramaic, 204–48; Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 715–84; J.B. Pritchard (ed.), The Ancient Near East (1958), 245–49.