Story of Ahikar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Papyrus narrating the story of the wise chancellor Ahiqar. Aramaic script. 5th century BCE. From Elephantine, Egypt. Neues Museum, Berline
How Ahikar Outwitted the King of Egypt (Henry Justice Ford)

The Story of Ahiqar, also known as the Words of Ahikar, is a story first attested in Aramaic from the fifth century BCE that circulated widely in the Middle and Near East. It has been characterised as "one of the earliest 'international books' of world literature".[1]

The principal character is Ahiqar who was born in Kalhu/Nimrud the ancient capital of Assyria. (Aramaic: אחיקר‎, also transliterated as Aḥiqar, Arabic Hayqar, Greek Achiacharos and variants on this theme such as Armenian: Խիկար Xikar), a sage known in the ancient Near East for his outstanding wisdom.

Narrative[edit]

In the story, Ahikar was chancellor to the Assyrian kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. Having no child of his own, he adopted his nephew Nadab/Nadin, and raised him to be his successor. Nadab/Nadin ungratefully plotted to have his elderly uncle murdered, and persuades Esarhaddon that Ahikar has committed treason. Esarhaddon orders Ahikar be executed in response, and so Ahikar is arrested and imprisoned to await punishment. However, Ahikar reminds the executioner that the executioner had been saved by Ahikar from a similar fate under Sennacherib, and so the executioner kills a prisoner instead, and pretends to Esarhaddon that it is the body of Ahikar.

The remainder of the early texts do not survive beyond this point, but it is thought probable that the original ending had Nadab/Nadin being executed while Ahikar is rehabilitated. Later texts portray Ahikar coming out of hiding to counsel the Egyptian king on behalf of Esarhaddon, and then returning in triumph to Esarhaddon. In the later texts, after Ahikar's return, he meets Nadab/Nadin and is very angry with him, and Nadab/Nadin then dies.

Origins and development[edit]

At Uruk, a cuneiform text has been found including the name Ahuqar, suggesting that Ahikar was a historical figure around the seventh century BCE.[2] However, the story as it is now known is thought to have originated in Aramaic in Mesopotamia, probably around the late seventh or early sixth century BCE.[3] The first attestation is a papyrus fragment of the fifth century BCE from the ruins of Elephantine.[4] The narrative of the initial part of the story is expanded greatly by the presence of a large number of wise sayings and proverbs that Ahikar is portrayed as speaking to his nephew. It is suspected by most scholars that these sayings and proverbs were originally a separate document, as they do not mention Ahikar. Some of the sayings are similar to parts of the Biblical Book of Proverbs, others to the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Sirach, and others still to Babylonian and Persian proverbs. The collection of sayings is in essence a selection from those common in the Middle East at the time.

In the Greek Book of Tobit (second or third century BCE), Ahikar appears as Tobit's nephew, in royal service at Nineveh and, in the summary of W. C. Kaiser, Jr.,

'chief cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administrations of the accounts under King Sennacherib of Assyria', and later under Esarhaddon (Tob. 1:21–22 NRSV). When Tobit lost his sight, Ahikar [Αχιαχαρος] took care of him for two years. Ahikar and his nephew Nadab [Νασβας] were present at the wedding of Tobit's son, Tobias (2:10; 11:18). Shortly before his death, Tobit said to his son: 'See, my son, what Nadab did to Ahikar who had reared him. Was he not, while still alive, brought down into the earth? For God repaid him to his face for this shameful treatment. Ahikar came out into the light, but Nadab went into the eternal darkness, because he tried to kill Ahikar. Because he gave alms, Ahikar escaped the fatal trap that Nadab had set for him, but Nadab fell into it himself, and was destroyed' (14:10 NRSV).[5]

It was pointed out by scholar George Hoffmann in 1880 that this Ahikar and the Achiacharus of Tobit are identical. It has been contended that there are traces of the legend even in the New Testament, and there is a striking similarity between it and the Life of Aesop by Maximus Planudes (ch. xxiii–xxxii). An eastern sage Achaicarus is mentioned by Strabo.[6] It would seem, therefore, that the legend was undoubtedly oriental in origin, though the relationship of the various versions can scarcely be recovered.[7] Elements of the Ahikar story have also been found in Demotic Egyptian.[8] British classicist Stephanie West has argued that the story of Croesus in Herodotus as an adviser to Cyrus I is another manifestation of the Ahikar story.[9] A full Greek translation of the Story of Ahikar was made at some point, but it does not survive. It was, however, the basis for translations into Old Slavonic and Romanian.[8]

There are five surviving Classical Syriac recensions of the Story and evidence for an older Syriac version as well. The latter was translated into Armenian and Arabic. Some Ahikar elements were transferred to Luqman in the Arabic adaptations. The Georgian and Old Turkish translations are based on the Armenian, while the Ethiopic is derived from the Arabic, influence of which is also apparent in Modern Syriac versions.[8]

Editions and translations[edit]

  • The Story of Aḥiḳar from the Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Old Turkish, Greek and Slavonic Versions, ed. by F. C. Conybeare, J. Rendel Harris and Agnes Smith Lewis, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913), available at archive.org
  • Platt, Rutherford H., Jr., ed. (1926). The forgotten books of Eden. New York, NY: Alpha House. p. 198–219. (audiobook)
  • The Say of Haykar the Sage translated by Richard Francis Burton

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Ioannis M. Konstantakos, 'A Passage to Egypt: Aesop, the Priests of Heliopolis and the Riddle of the Year (Vita Aesopi 119–120)', Trends in Classics, 3 (2011), 83–112 (p. 84), DOI 10.515/tcs.2011.005.
  2. ^ W. C. Kaiser, Kr., 'Ahikar uh-hi’kahr', in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill C. Tenney, rev. edn by Moisés Silva, 5 vols (Zondervan, 2009), s.v.
  3. ^ Ioannis M. Konstantakos, 'A Passage to Egypt: Aesop, the Priests of Heliopolis and the Riddle of the Year (Vita Aesopi 119–120)', Trends in Classics, 3 (2011), 83–112 (p. 84), DOI 10.515/tcs.2011.005.
  4. ^ W. C. Kaiser, Kr., 'Ahikar uh-hi’kahr', in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill C. Tenney, rev. edn by Moisés Silva, 5 vols (Zondervan, 2009), s.v.
  5. ^ W. C. Kaiser, Kr., 'Ahikar uh-hi’kahr', in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill C. Tenney, rev. edn by Moisés Silva, 5 vols (Zondervan, 2009), s.v.
  6. ^ Strabo, Geographica 16.2.39: "...παρὰ δὲ τοῖς Βοσπορηνοῖς Ἀχαΐκαρος..."
  7. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Achiacharus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 143.
  8. ^ a b c Sebastian P. Brock, "Aḥiqar", in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018).
  9. ^ "Croesus' Second Reprieve and Other Tales of the Persian Court," Classical Quarterly (n.s.) 53 (2003): 416–437.

External links[edit]