Friday, June 6, 2008

Job's (i.e. Tobias') Famous Cousin, Ahikar

Damien F. Mackey

Sennacherib's grandson, Ashurbanipal, a most important Assyrian king - likely the `great and noble Asnappar', of Ezra 4:10 - was apparently Israel-friendly, because he not only retained his grandfather's Rabshakeh, Ahikar, but actually promoted him to Vizier (according to my revision of history). Let us insert here an Excursus on the incredible life of Ahikar.

Ahikar and Nadan

In chapter 14 of the Book of Tobit we learn that a certain Nadab had set a trap for Ahikar, to kill him, but had fallen into that trap himself with fatal consequences. The description of this intriguing bouleversement fits exactly the story of Holofernes (Esarhaddon) and Achior in the Book of Judith, thus providing a further confirmation to my reconstruction. We also learn that Ahikar had actually been Nadab's tutor; this probably being the reason why Nadab is called his "nephew" in versions of the Ahikar legends.
Here is Tobit's account of the drama, with my name substitutions added in square brackets (14:10):
'See, my son [Tobias], what Nadab [Esarhaddon] did to Ahikar [Achior] who had reared him. Was he not, while still alive, brought down into the earth? For God repaid him to his face for his shameful treatment. Ahikar came out into the light [life and his conversion], but Nadab went into the eternal darkness, because he tried to kill Ahikar. Because he gave alms, Ahikar escaped the fatal trap [at Bethulia] that Nadab had set for him, but Nadab fell into it himself, and was destroyed'.
Though the name Nadab does not appear to have any relevance to my reconstruction, the variant form of it, Nadan, surely does, in that it could connect with the Assyrian name, Ashur-nadin-shumi, the oldest son of Sennacherib, whom I have identified with Esarhaddon. The connection can be deduced from this passage from The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Abingdon Press, N.Y.), 69:
"Some of the persons mentioned [in the Aramaic book of Ahikar] may even be historical. A high official named Nabu-sum-iskun is known to have served under Sennacherib. While the person of Ahikar has not been found as yet [sic], his name is Assyrian (Ahi-yaqar, "the brother is precious"). The name Nadan (better, Nadin) is a short form of some name like Adad-nadin-shum.
Or, similarly, Ashur-nadin-shumi.
Possible evidence of Ahikar's influence on the young Esarhaddon may be picked up from J. Maxwell Miller's and John H. Hayes' A History of Ancient Judah (SCM Press Ltd.), 395-396 [continues on to p. 397]: For the text click Here!
Ahikar's Importance
Biblical scholars could well benefit from knowing more about AHIKAR, the Cup-bearer of Sennacherib, Great King of Assyria (ca. 700 BC) and Vizier to Sennacherib's son, Esarhaddon. Ahikar is a vitally important eye-witness to some of the most extraordinary events of Old Testament history. He is:
the link between the Book of Judith and those other books (KCI, Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah) that describe the disaster that befell Sennacherib's army in Judea;
an important eyewitness in the Book of Tobit, being Tobit's own nephew;
crucial perhaps even to the Book of Jonah, being Vizier in the kingdom of Assyria at the likely time of Jonah's prophetic ministry to Niniveh.
Ahikar is also a most important witness to neo-Assyrian chronology from, say, 720-670 BC (textbook dating).
Let us briefly, then, sketch Ahikar's life by knitting together the various threads about him that we can pick up from KCI, Tobit, Judith, and secular history. I shall be using the better known name Ahikar, even though I find him in the Book of Judith as Achior. Here is Ahikar:

1. As an Apostate Israelite
Tobit tells us that Ahikar (also given in the Vulgate of Tobit as Achior, "son of light") was the son of his brother Anael.
"And there passed not five and fifty days, before two of his sons killed him, and they fled into the mountains of Ararath; and Sarchedonus his son reigned in his stead; who appointed over his father's accounts, and over all his affairs, Achiacharus my brother Anael's son. And Achiacharus entreating for me, I returned to Nineve. Now Achiacharus was cupbearer, and keeper of the signet, and steward, and overseer of the accounts: and Sarchedonus appointed him next unto him: and he was my brother's son." [Tobit 1:21,22; Septuagint (SEPT).
Ahikar was the cousin of Tobias (whom I have identified, in his mature age, as Job - "Job/Tobias"). Like Tobit and his son, Ahikar belonged to the tribe of Naphthali; but unlike the Tobiads, he was amongst the majority of his clan who had gone over to Baal worship. He was a scoffer (cf. Tobit 1:4 & 2.Chronicles 30:10) and a blasphemer (see 2. below).
"And when I was in mine own country, in the land of Israel being but young, all the tribe of Naphthali my father fell from the house of Jerusalem, which was chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, that all the tribes should sacrifice there, where the temple of the habitation of the most High was consecrated and built for all ages." [Tobias 1:4]
"And Hezekiah sent letters to all Israel and Judah ... to come to Jerusalem ... and keep the passover ... So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim ... but they laughed them to scorn ..." [2.Chronicles 30:1, 10]
In 722 BC, the "harlot" northern kingdom of Samaria, due to her apostasy, was taken into captivity by Sargon II. Tobit and his family, and Ahikar also, went into captivity.

2. As Sennacherib's Cupbearer-in-Chief
Ahikar's rapid rise to high office in the kingdom of Assyria may have been due in part to the prestige that his uncle enjoyed there; because Tobit tells us that he himself was, for the duration of the reign of "Shalmaneser [V] ... the king's purveyor", even entrusted with large sums of money.
"And I went into Media, and left in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabrias, at Rages a city of Media ten talents of silver." [Tobit 1:14;SEPT.]
Anyway, whatever the circumstances of Ahikar's worldly success, the young man seems to have enjoyed a rise to power as speedy as Daniel's later on in Babylon; the latter trusting in his God, whereas Ahikar probably depended largely upon his own powers. Ahikar may early have been given the governorship of the province of Elam (modern Persia). He certainly ruled that province for Assyria later on. (See 5. below)
Ahikar would have been an important eye-witness to the Great Eastern War of Judith chapter 1. Assyria eventually won this hard-fought war, and then determined to vent her revenge upon the subject nations that had failed to assist her against Merodach-baladan. The Eastern War in Judith 1 is but the prelude to the main incident of the Assyrian invasion of the West, most notably of Judaea. Ahikar would also have been present at the victorious Assyrian king's secret council in which he planned his revenge on the west.
"So he called unto him all his officers, and all his nobles, and communicated with them his secret counsel, and concluded the afflicting of the whole earth out of his own mouth." [Judith 2:2].

We next meet Ahikar in his guise as Sennacherib's blasphemous Rabshakeh (II Kings 18:17; Isaiah 36:2)[050]. No doubt Sennacherib had chosen Ahikar to be his mouthpiece to the Jews because Ahikar was an Israelite who could speak the Hebrew language. (There was no love lost between the northern Israelites and the Judaeans). After his crude and provocative speech to the citizens of Jerusalem, Ahikar returned to Lachish only to be informed that Sennacherib had completed his siege of that stronghold and was now investing Libnah.
"When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah." [Isaiah 37:8]
Finally, with just Samarian cities like Judith's Bethulia (See Map for location near Samaria), as well as Jerusalem, left for the Assyrians to conquer, we encounter Ahikar as the Achior of the Book of Judith, subordinate to Holofernes, the commander-in-chief of the Assyrian army that had cut off the water supplies of Bethulia. Here Ahikar is called "leader of all the Ammonites" (Judith 5:5). But this can't be correct. It must be a copyist's mistake for Ephraïmites (northern Israelites), because in another place Holofernes contemptuously refers to him as 'you hireling of Ephraïm'[2].
It is at this crucial stage, with the Bethulians languishing from lack of water, that Ahikar makes his incredible apologia on behalf of the Israelites. This came as a total shock to all present. So insignificant were these mountain people in the eyes of Holofernes that he had even had to ask the locals who they were. Ahikar had volunteered the information, giving the commander a run-down of Israel's history from Abraham, through the Exodus, to the present time. (Would an Ammonite have been likely to have known Israel's history in detail?). Moreover he added that, whenever their God favoured this people, they always proved to be unbeatable. This speech absolutely stunned the soldiery who were by now all for tearing Ahikar "limb from limb"[3].
Holofernes, for his part, was absolutely furious with Ahikar. Having recently succeeded in conquering the entire west, he was hardly about to countenance hearing that some obscure mountain folk - "this brood of fugitives from Egypt" as he contemptuously called them in response to Ahikar's speech (6:6)[4] - might be able to offer him any meaningful resistance. Holofernes thereupon commanded his orderlies to take the insolent Ahikar and bind him beneath the walls of Bethulia, so that he could suffer, with the people he had just verbally defended, their inevitable fate when the city fell to the Assyrians.
When the Assyrian brigade had managed to secure Ahikar at Bethulia, and had then retreated from the walls under sling-fire from the townsfolk, the Bethulians went out to fetch him. Once safely inside the city, he told them his story, and no doubt Judith was there to hear it. Later she would use bits and pieces of information supplied by Ahikar for her own confrontation with Holofernes, to deceive him.
The subsequent defeat and rout of the Assyrian army of 185,000 - so enigmatically treated in KCI - is narrated in detail in the Book of Judith. It was not simply an instant blast by God - or a sudden bubonic plague - that consumed the entire Assyrian army on the spot, as some like to suggest. It was rather a complete rout, set in motion by the ruse of Judith. As Isaiah had predicted, the Assyrian would fall "by the sword, not of a man" (31:8); for it was actually "by the hand of a woman" that the victory was achieved (Judith 16:7).

3. As a Convert to Yahwism
When Judith returned to her city after having deceived the Assyrians, her maid carrying in her bag the gory trophy of the head of Holofernes, the heroine told her fellow-citizens the whole story of what had taken place in the Assyrian camp.
Judith then asked the townspeople to fetch Ahikar, who, upon seeing the head of the world-famous Assyrian general, defeated by this woman, fainted on the spot. Upon recovering, Ahikar greatly praised Judith: 'May you be blessed in all the tents of Judah and in every nation; at the sound of your name men will be seized with dread' (14:31).
Afterwards, Ahikar submitted to the circumcision that he had apparently neglected as a young Naphtalian, and converted fully to Yahwism.
The chief reason why many do not hold the book of Judith to be worthy of inclusion in the Scriptural canon seems to be because Ahikar is presumed (not without reason) to have been an Ammonite, and one of the laws of Moses forbade Israel to receive Ammonites and Moabites into the fold unto the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3). (Other reasons for rejecting the Book of Judith pertain to the historical & geographical problems associated with it, which I think have now been largely cleared up). But Judith, who had so scrupulously observed all the religious ordinances of the Mosaïc Law, even whilst in the camp of the Assyrians (see ch.12), would hardly have tolerated so flagrant a breach of the Law as mentioned above.The whole problem is solved when one recognises that Ahikar was in fact, not an Ammonite at all, but an Israelite; though an uncircumcised one.

4. Ahikar Back at Nineveh
The conventional chronology has Sennacherib reigning on at Nineveh for another 20 years (c.700-680) after the débâcle in Judaea. But this is by no means the scenario that one encounters in the Book of Tobit, which seems to allow for only a relatively brief period of time between Sennacherib's defeat and his assassination by his two sons (cf. 1:21 & 1:24). Tobit & Judith turn out to be indispensable, enabling for a necessary tightening of neo-Assyrian chronology, especially for Sargon & Sennacherib.
According to this revised explanation, Ahikar would not have had to bid his time for some two decades before being reinstated in office by Ashurbanipal, Sennacherib's far more benign grandson. Tobit tells us that: "Ahikar had been chief cupbearer, keeper of the signet, administrator and treasurer under Sennacherib ... and [Ashurbanipal, as it should read] had kept him in office" (1:22).
Ahikar seems to have been promoted under Ashurbanipal, to Ummanu, second in power in the mighty kingdom of Assyria, "Chancellor of the Exchequer for the kingdom and given the main ordering of affairs" (v.21).
Tobit had, at the beginning of Ashurbanipal's reign, become blind (cf. Tobit 2:1 & 2:11). Otherwise his fortunes - which had reached rock bottom under Sennacherib - had begun to improve. Ahikar sought physicians for him, but these proved ineffective. So Ahikar provided for Tobit for two years until he himself was commissioned to the governorship of Elam (2:10).

5. At Elam [Elymaïs]
There is a gloss later added to the Vulgate version of the Book of Judith which tells that "Arioch [Erioch] ruled the Elymaeans" (1:6). "Arioch" is unknown. Obviously a copyist had failed to realise that this person, given as Arioch [or Erioch], was the same as the Achior who figures so prominently throughout the main story. The copyist, it seems, should have written: "Achior ruled the Elymaeans". From there it is smooth running to make the comparison:
"Achior ... Elymaeans" (Judith); "Ahikar ... Elymaïs" (Tobit).

6. At Tobias' Wedding
After the young Tobias (i.e. Job) had married Sarah and had returned to Nineveh, Tobit and his wife held an impressive feast for them. To this, Ahikar and his nephew, Nadab (not the same as Ahikar's accuser, of course), came along "to share in Tobit's happiness" (11:18).

7. As a Crucifixion Figure
Some commentators have pointed to what they regard to be allegorical likenesses between Achior, "son of light", and Jesus Christ, who likewise was ridiculed for his standing up for the truth, was seized by soldiers, and bound outside the 'camp' (City), etc.
But I think that Ahikar is a far more appropriate symbol of 'the Good Thief', who was one minute a terrible blasphemer against God (at the walls of Jerusalem), and the next - having seen the Jewish woman, Judith, completely victorious over the enemy - a total convert to the cause of righteousness in Israel.
The murder of Sennacherib had plunged Assyria into a violent, though fortunately short dynastic crisis. Imagine a bloody civil war following shortly after the disastrous rout of the main Assyrian army in Palestine.
This chaotic period - and the presence of the noble king Ashurbanipal - would seem to be the perfect approximate time for the intervention of the prophet Jonah. Perhaps Jonah's "forty days" (3:4) finds its echo in Tobit's "Not forty days passed before two of Sennacherib's sons killed him, and they fled to the mountains of Ararat, and Ashurbanipal reigned after him" (1:21). Jonah seems to have been known to Tobit, who calls the prophet "Nahum" (14:13). It is one and the same prophet. His predictions about the certain fall of Nineveh (Book of Nahum), though delayed (Book of Jonah), were eventually fulfilled to the letter, so that he was able to gloat over the fall of "the bloody city" (3:1).
Perhaps Jonah's petulance was due in part to the fact that he, at that time, was looking like a false prophet, after his having been so adamant about Nineveh's fall (in his guise as Nahum).
Ashurbanipal is the only king in Assyrian history who fits the model of the repentant, Israel-friendly Assyrian king of the Book of Jonah (3:6), despite efforts by some to identify this king with the cruel Tiglath-pileser III.

[1] The speech of Ahikar/Achior:
This is what the great king, the king of Assyria says: "On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength - but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebell against me?Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. And if you say to me, `We are depending on the Lord our God - isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, `You must worship before this altar?'Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses - if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master's officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it."[Isaiah 36:4-10][2] "And who art thou, Achior, and the hirelings of Ephraim, that thou hast prophesied against us as to day, and hast said, that we should not make war with the people of Israel, because their God will defend them? and who is God but Nabuchodonosor?" Judith 6:2.[3] Speech of Achior to the Assyrians on the history of Israel, "Then said Achior, the captain of all the sons of Ammon, `Let my lord now hear a word from the mouth of thy servant, and I will declare unto thee the truth concerning this people, which dwelleth near thee, and inhabiteth the hill countries: and there shall no lie come out of the mouth of thy servant. This people are descended of the Chaldeans: And they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were in the land of Chaldea. For they left the way of their ancestors, and worshipped the God of heaven, the God whom they knew: so they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia, and sojourned there many days.Then their God commanded them to depart from the place where they sojourned, and to go into the land of Chanaan: where they dwelt, and were increased with gold and silver, and with very much cattle. But when a famine covered all the land of Chanaan, they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, while they were nourished, and became there a great multitude, so that one could not number their nation. Therefore the king of Egypt rose up against them, and dealt subtilly with them, and brought them low with labouring in brick, and made them slaves. Then they cried unto their God, and he smote all the land of Egypt with incurable plagues: so the Egyptians cast them out of their sight. And God dried the Red sea before them, And brought them to mount Sina, and Cades-Barne, and cast forth all that dwelt in the wilderness. So they dwelt in the land of the Amorites, and they destroyed by their strength all them of Esebon, and passing over Jordan they possessed all the hill country. And they cast forth before them the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, the Jebusite, and the Sychemite, and all the Gergesites, and they dwelt in that country many days. And whilst they sinned not before their God, they prospered, because the God that hateth iniquity was with them. But when they departed from the way which he appointed them, they were destroyed in many battles very sore, and were led captives into a land that was not their's, and the temple of their God was cast to the ground, and their cities were taken by the enemies. But now are they returned to their God, and are come up from the places where they were scattered, and have possessed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and are seated in the hill country; for it was desolate.Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error against this people, and they sin against their God, let us consider that this shall be their ruin, and let us go up, and we shall overcome them. But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them, and their God be for them, and we become a reproach before all the world.'And when Achior had finished these sayings, all the people standing round about the tent murmured, and the chief men of Holofernes, and all that dwelt by the sea side, and in Moab, spake that he should kill him.For, say they, we will not be afraid of the face of the children of Israel: for, lo, it is a people that have no strength nor power for a strong battle.Now therefore, lord Holofernes, we will go up, and they shall be a prey to be devoured of all thine army." [Judith 5:5-24; SEPT][4] Speech of Holofernes against Achior, "And when the tumult of men that were about the council was ceased, Holofernes the chief captain of the army of Assur said unto Achior and all the Moabites before all the company of other nations, And who art thou, Achior, and the hirelings of Ephraim, that thou hast prophesied against us as to day, and hast said, that we should not make war with the people of Israel, because their God will defend them? and who is God but Nabuchodonosor?He will send his power, and will destroy them from the face of the earth, and their God shall not deliver them: but we his servants will destroy them as one man; for they are not able to sustain the power of our horses. For with them we will tread them under foot, and their mountains shall be drunken with their blood, and their fields shall be filled with their dead bodies, and their footsteps shall not be able to stand before us, for they shall utterly perish, saith king Nabuchodonosor, lord of all the earth: for he said, None of my words shall be in vain.And thou, Achior, an hireling of Ammon, which hast spoken these words in the day of thine iniquity, shalt see my face no more from this day, until I take vengeance of this nation that came out of Egypt. And then shall the sword of mine army, and the multitude of them that serve me, pass through thy sides, and thou shalt fall among their slain, when I return. Now therefore my servants shall bring thee back into the hill country, and shall set thee in one of the cities of the passages:And thou shalt not perish, till thou be destroyed with them. And if thou persuade thyself in thy mind that they shall be taken, let not thy countenance fall: I have spoken it, and none of my words shall be in vain.Then Holofernes commanded his servants, that waited in his tent, to take Achior, and bring him to Bethulia, and deliver him into the hands of the children of Israel." [Judith 6:1-10; SEPT][5] 1.Kings 14:25 indicates that the prophet Jonah, son of Amitai, was a contemporary of the last year/years of Jeroboam II. We cannot be certain which situation at Niniveh he addresses in his prophetic book. During the reign of Adad-nirari III (810-783) there was a swing toward monotheism, which may have been a result of Jonah's preaching, plagues of -765 and/or -759 may have been perceived as divine judgments, and could have prepared the people to receive Jonah's message.

TEXT XV. Parallels Between Esarhaddon's Vassal Treaty and Deuteronomy
Esarhaddon's Treaty [E.T.] [100]
Deuteronomy [D.] [200]
#24. If you do not love the crown prince designate Ashurbanipal, son of your lord Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, as you do your own lives. …
6:5 - You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
#25. If you do not say and do not give orders to your sons, grandsons, to your offspring, to your descendants, who will live in the future after this treaty ….
6:7 - You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
#37. May Ashur, the king of the gods, who determines the fates, decree for you an evil, unpropitious fate and not grant you fatherhood, old age.
28:20 - Yahweh will send upon you curses, confusion, and frustration, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your doings.
#39. May Sin, the luminary of heaven and earth, clothe you in leprosy, and thus not permit you to enter the presence of the God and king; roam the open country as a wild ass or gazelle!
28:27 - Yahweh will smite you with the boils of Egypt, and with the ulcers and the scurvy and the itch, of which you cannot be healed.
#40. May Shamash, the light of heaven and earth, not give you a fair and equitable judgment, may he take away your eyesight, walk about in darkness!
28:28-29 - Yahweh will smite you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind; and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness.
#41. May Ninurta, leader of the gods, fell you with his fierce arrow, and fill the plain with your corpses, give your flesh to eagles and vultures to feed upon.Comment: How ironical that many of these curse actually befell Esarhaddon!
28:26 - And your dead body shall be food for all the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth; and there shall be no one to frighten them away.
#42. May Venus, the brightest among the stars, let your wives lie in the embrace of your enemies before your very eyes, may your sons not have authority over your house, may a foreign enemy divide your possessions.
28:30-32 - You shall betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, and you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, and you shall not use the fruit of it [etc.].
etc. etc. ...
Notes & References
[050] For more an the possible alter-egos of Achior click Here and search the CIAS Encyclopedia of Ancient History under `Achior', `Helen', or `Priam', etc.[100] The unreadable, B&W image of the `Vasal Treaty' can be seen in William W. Hallo, From Qarqar to Carchemish - Assyria and Israel in the Light of New Discoveries in BA, Vol. XXIII, Feb 1960, p. 34-(58)-61. See also Iraq, 20 (1958), Plate 1.[200] On the subject of the account given by a Samaritan in 1713 AD on the Book of Deuteronomy and the ancient copy of the Samaritan Pentateuch of Nablus the text contains the part, "If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities.." (Deut. 13:12) According to the information this code is declared to be the identical copy which was written by Abishua, the great grandson of Aaron the High Priest, as is attested by the tashkil or intertextual chronogram. [PSBA, Dec 1879, p. 14]

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