The text of Ahiqar is one of the most ancient surviving texts of the middle eastern region. It is an extra biblical story normally placed in the category of Old Testament Pseudepigraphal works. Ahiqar was compiled sometime in the 7th through 6th centuries BCE. Ahiqar is actually not a story from Israel, but is a late Assyrian text made up of two sections. The first part is the narrative of Ahiqar and the second half is made up of proverb sayings. Ahiqar was such a popular Assyrian text that copies reached to Greece and have been found throughout Turkey, Syria and the Canaanite lands, the Eastern European churches, the Mesopotamian regions, even Egypt and Ethiopia.[1]

The narrative is about a man named Ahiqar who is an old and wise advisor to the Assyrian kings. Ahiqar has no sons so he adopts his nephew, Nadin, who he trains in all his wisdom. Ahiqar then presents Nadin as his replacement in the court. The king is pleased with Nadin and blesses Ahiqar with retirement. Sadly, Nadin poisons the king against Ahiqar by saying the old man is stirring the people into rebellion as he sits at the palace gates. The king sends a general to execute Ahiqar, but when found Ahiqar convinces the officer that he is loyal to the king and to instead hide him away until the day the king wishes for Ahiqar’s advice again. Later, when the king runs into a matter he needs advice about he laments his rash action of executing the wise Ahiqar. The officer then proclaims he has found Ahiqar alive bringing him out of hiding. Ahiqar then helps the king and exposes the wickedness of Nadin, who is then punished. Some texts include a long section where Ahiqar shames his nephew before the court by lecturing him on his evils.

Some scholars see parallels to the story of Esther in Ahiqar. They posit that the struggle between Mordechai and Haman might be modeled after the conflict of Ahiqar and Nadin. There is a general parallel of wisdom overcoming adversity in these two stories but this is not enough specific material to demand dependence of Esther on Ahiqar. Esther falls into the narrative category and format well worn by other stories, which included Ahiqar, in order for it to become a popularly told and circulated.

The second half of the Ahiqar text is made of proverbs. Their form and length are very similar to the books of Proverbs and Sirach. In fact, a number of proverbs are similar between Ahiqar and some phrases in the Old Testament and Apocryphal writings. Even these, though, do not seem to create a direct dependence of any biblical text on Ahiqar and is more an attestation to the general popularity of these particular proverbs in the ancient middle east. Just a few observations about the proverbs section:

  1. Similar to Proverbs and Sirach, Ahiqar encourages physical discipline of sons: “Spare not your son from the rod; otherwise, can you save him from wickedness? If I beat you, my son, you will not die; but if I leave you alone, you will not live.”[2]
  2. Like many wisdom texts, Ahiqar emphasizes control of the mouth. I found this text powerful in an age of social media where it is easy to slip any thought into public view. “My son, do not utter everything which comes into your mind, for there are eyes and ears everywhere. But keep watch over your mouth, lest it bring you to grief! Above all else, guard your mouth; and as for what you have heard, be discreet! For a word is a bird, and he who releases it is a fool. Choose the sayings you shall utter, then speak them to your brother to help him. For the treachery of the mouth is more dangerous than the treachery of battle.”[3]
  3. The centrality of family provision is encouraged. The provision should be achieved by any means available. Take advantage of and grasp every opportunity. “Hear, oh my son: Harvest any harvest, and do any job; then you may eat your fill and provide for your children.”[4]
  4. The posture of a good man is humility. There is also an interesting parallel on this topic to Jesus’ saying in Matthew 23:12. “Do not despise that which is your lot, nor covet some great thing which is withheld from you.”[5] And, “If you wish to be exalted, my son, humble yourself before [the god] Shamash, who humbles the exalted and exalts the humble.”[6]
  5. Freedom is more important than easy provision in slavery. But, could this also be a critique? As in, only a stubborn fool chooses freedom over the provision offered in servitude? “A man said on day to the wild ass, ‘Let me ride you, and I will provide for you!’ The wild ass replied, ‘Keep your care and fodder; I want nothing to do with your riding!’”

 


[1] James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1st ed (Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1983), 480.

[2] Ahiqar 81-82.

[3] Ahiqar 97-99.

[4] Ahiqar 127.

[5] Ahiqar 136.

[6] Ahiqar 149-150.

Posted by Justin Gill

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