Ahikar

AHIKAR ə hī’ kär (̓Αχιάχρος, ̓Αχείχαρος). The nephew of Tobit, the son of Tobit’s brother Anael (Tobit 1:21, 22; 2:10; 11:18; 14:10 f.) who, like Tobit, was the subject of Ancient Near Eastern wisdom lit. His wife was Eshfagni.

While there is no uniformity of detail, the story of Ahikar proceeds as follows: Ahikar was the vizier of Sennacherib, king of Assyria (704-681 b.c.) and noted for his wisdom. He was childless, and decided to adopt the son of his sister, named Nadan, and raise him as his successor in Sennacherib’s court. Ahikar began what turned out to be an arduous task of educating this young man by using a series of proverbs. He described his pupil as a “goodly apple,” but “rotten at the core.” Threatening to replace the ungrateful youth with his younger brother Nabouzadan only led to the betrayal of his uncle by Nadan. Nadan composed letters to the surrounding sovereigns in Egypt and Persia with Ahikar’s forged signature and seal in which he proposed betraying Assyria’s troops to them. Then to add insult to injury, he went to Sennacherib and accused Ahikar of treason, whereupon the poor man was condemned to die. Fortunately enough for the vizier, the executioner turned out to be a friend of Ahikar whose life he had saved in the past. Secretly he substituted a condemned criminal in Ahikar’s place and concealed Ahikar until the king’s wrath had subsided.

An occasion finally arose in which Sennacherib found himself wishing wise Ahikar were still around to solve a new provocation incited by the king of Egypt, who demanded that Assyria pay tribute or produce someone who could make a castle in the air or ropes twisted out of sand. When the servant produced Ahikar, he was wasted, withered, long-haired and with fingernails like the talons of an eagle.

He confronted his nephew with a number of rebukes cast into a series of proverbs such as “O my boy! you have been to me like a man who saw his comrade naked in the chilly time of winter; and he took cold water and poured it upon him” (Arabic, VIII. 5). Upon hearing these rebukes, Nadan’s body swelled and His “belly burst asunder.” As for the Egyp. provocation, Ahikar demonstrated that he still had the same wisdom when he used eagles to carry two boys into the air who thereupon urged the Egyptian to pass the bricks and mortar up to them so that the castle building could begin. Faulting the supplier, the builder was excused and Assyria was saved, whereupon Ahikar was restored to his original post.

Versions of this story now exist in Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Greek, Turkish and Slavonic. The original was prob. in Aram. (or Heb.) while the names are mostly Assyrian as witnessed by the onomastica from Babylonian sources.

Many literary parallels to OT, Apocrypha, NT, Tobit, Ben Sirach, Demaocritus, Aesop, and the Koran (esp. Sura 31) are discussed in the sources.

The date still remains uncertain, but it is clearly pre-Christian in its origin.

Bibliography

ANET2, H. L. Ginsberg’s translation, 427-430; R. H. Charles, APOT, I 191, 192; II, 715-784; Ranston, The OT Wisdom Books and Their Teaching, (1930), 248-252; F. Nau, Histoire et Sagesse d’Ahikar l’Assyrien (1909); P. Grelot, “Les proverbes arameens d’Ahiqar,” RB, (1961) 178-194.