Ahikar Part One: As a Young Officer for Assyria.


Damien F. Mackey

Ahikar's Importance

Biblical scholars could well benefit from knowing more about AHIKAR (or Ahiqar/Akhikar), the Chief Cup-bearer (Akkadian: Rabshakeh) of Sennacherib, Great King of Assyria (ca. 700 BC), who was retained in power by Esarhaddon (Gk. Sacherdonos) (Tobit 1:22, see below). This Ahikar, it will be found, was a vitally important eye-witness to some of the most extraordinary events of Old Testament history. He was at the very least, as we shall find:

1. a key link between the Book of Judith and those other books, Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah [KCI], that describe Sennacherib’s rise to prominence and highly successful first major invasion of Israel (historically his 3rd campaign), and then

2. Sennacherib’s second major invasion of Israel and subsequent disastrous defeat there; and he was

3. an eyewitness in the east, as Tobit’s own nephew, to neo-Assyrian events as narrated in the Book of Tobit.

May I, then, newly (based on my research into historical revision) sketch Ahikar’s astounding life by knitting together the various threads about him that one may glean from KCI, Tobit, Judith, secular history and legends. I shall be using for him the better known name of Ahikar, even though I find him named in the Book of Judith (and also in the Vulgate of Tobit) as Achior, presumably, “son of light” (and as Achiacharus in the Septuagint).

Here is Ahikar:

1. His Israelite Beginnings

Tobit tells us that this Ahikar was the son of his brother Anael (Tobit 1:21, 22, CEB):

Within forty days Sennacherib was killed by two of his sons, who escaped to the mountains of Ararat. His son Esarhaddon became king in his place. He hired Ahikar, my brother Hanael’s son, to be in charge of all the financial accounts of his kingdom and all the king’s treasury records.

Ahikar petitioned the king on my behalf, and I returned to Nineveh. Ahikar had been the chief officer, the keeper of the ring with the royal seal, the auditor of accounts, and the keeper of financial records under Assyria’s King Sennacherib. And Esarhaddon promoted him to be second in charge after himself. Ahikar was my nephew and one of my family.

Ahikar, nephew of Tobit, was therefore the cousin of the latter’s son, Tobias (whom I have identified, in his mature age, as the holy Job):

Presumably then Ahikar had, just like Tobit and his son, belonged to the tribe of Naphthali (cf. Tobit 1:1); but he was probably, unlike the Tobiads, amongst the majority of his clan who had gone over to Baal worship. He may initially have been a scoffer (1:4) and a blasphemer.

Tobit tells us about his tribe’s apostasy (1:4-5):

When I was young, I lived in northern Israel. All the tribes in Israel were supposed to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem. It was the one city that God had chosen from among all the Israelite cities as the place where his Temple was to be built for his holy and eternal home. But my entire tribe of Naphtali rejected the city of Jerusalem and the kings descended from David. Like everyone else in this tribe, my own family used to go to the city of Dan in the mountains of northern Galilee to offer sacrifices to the gold bull-calf which King Jeroboam of Israel had set up there.

This was still the unfortunate situation during the early reign of the great king Hezekiah of Judah (2 Chronicles 30: 1, 10): “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 ...”.

Whilst Tobit and his family, and Ahikar’s presumably also, were taken into captivity during the reign of “King Shalmaneser” [V] (Tobit 1:2), the northern kingdom of Samaria went later. Due to her apostasy, Samaria was taken captive in 722 BC (conventional dating) by Sargon II of Assyria, whom I have actually equated with Sennacherib.

2. As Sennacherib's Cupbearer-in-Chief (Rabshakeh)

Ahikar’s rapid rise to high office in the kingdom of Assyria may have been due in part to the prestige that his uncle had enjoyed there; because Tobit tells us that he himself was, for the duration of the reign of “Shalmaneser ... the king’s purveyor”, even entrusted with large sums of money (1:14): “And I [Tobit] went into Media, and left in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabrias, at Rages a city of Media ten talents of silver”. {This is apparently something like $1.2 million dollars! http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1205.htm} Sennacherib’s description of his official, Bel-ibni, who he said had “grown up in my palace like a young puppy”[as quoted by G. Roux, Iraq, p. 321], may have been equally applicable to Ahikar. The highly talented Ahikar, rising quickly through the ranks, attained to Rabshakeh.

Whatever the exact circumstances of Ahikar’s worldly success, the young man seems to have enjoyed a rise to power quite as speedy as that later on experienced by the prophet Daniel in Babylon; the latter trusting wholeheartedly in his God, whereas Ahikar probably depended upon his own powers. {Though Tobit put in a good word for his nephew when he recalled that “Ahikar gave alms” (14:10), that being his salvation}.

A Possible Babylonian Connection

It may even be that the youthful Ahikar was appointed for a time as the governor of Babylon whilst Merodach-baladan II was ruling there contemporaneously with Sennacherib at Nineveh. For indeed a governor there at the time had a name that may, as it seems to me, incorporate the name Achior.Thus I wrote in a post-graduate thesis on this period:

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background

(Vol. I, p. 187):

Perhaps even the name Achior - whether or not the very same person - can be found in

Bel-akhi-erba (i.e. Bel-AKHI-ERba = AKHIOR), the governor of Babylon during the reign of Merodach-baladan II. A relief on the Merodach-baladan Stone depicts the latter

making a grant of land to this Bel-akhi-erba, governor of Babylon.

[End of quote]

Anyway, according to the historical reconstruction of this post-graduate thesis, the very same Merodach-baladan, the wily survivor during the first half of Sennacherib’s reign, was the latter’s foe, Arphaxad,of the Book of Judith, defeated by Sennacherib (there called Nebuchadnezzar) – this incident occurring next, as I have argued, after Sennacherib’s successful 3rdcampaign, the one involving king Hezekiah of Judah.

Judith 1:

1 While King Nebuchadnezzar was ruling over the Assyrians from his capital city of Nineveh, King Arphaxad ruled over the Medes [sic] ….

….5 In the twelfth year of his reign King Nebuchadnezzar went to war against King Arphaxad in the large plain around the city of Rages. 6 Many nations joined forces with King Arphaxad—all the people who lived in the mountains, those who lived along the Tigris, Euphrates, and Hydaspes rivers, as well as those who lived in the plain ruled by King Arioch of Elam. Many nations joined this Chelodite [Chaldean] alliance.

Whilst“King Arioch” mentioned here will be discussed later, it is necessary for me to attempt to account briefly for the use of the name ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ for Sennacherib in the Book of Judith. My thesis added a whole new dimension to all of this – whether valid or not. But I entirely owe the impetus for it to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky. The necessary (in a revised context) folding of Middle Assyro-Babylonian history as developed by Velikovsky (in his Ages in Chaos series) - with the previously C14th BC-dated el-Amarna era for Mesopotamia now to be located in the C9th BC (with which general re-location I fully agree) - led me, in turn, to propose, amongst other things, a folding of Sennacherib with king Nebuchednezzar I, and the above-mentioned Merodach-Baladan [conventionally known as II] with the presumed ‘Middle’ Era (C12th BC) Adad-apla-iddina.

Soon I shall tell of some possible benefits of this revised outlook.

Sennacherib’s Third campaign

Biblically, we get our first glimpse of Ahikar in action, I believe, as the very vocal Rabshakeh of KCI, the mouthpiece of Sennacherib himself when the Assyrian army mounted its first major assault upon the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 18:13): “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them”. It makes sense that the king of Assyria would have chosen from amongst his elite officials, to address the Jews, one of Israelite tongue:

17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

And these are the bold words that Rabshakehhad apparently been ordered to say to the Jews:

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me,“We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”

King Hezekiah’s officials, however, who did not want the people on the walls to hear these disheartening words, pleaded with Rabshakehas follows (v. 26): “Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall”.”

Could the fact that the Jewish officials knew that Sennacherib’s officer was conversant with the Aramaïc language indicate that Ahikar, of whom they must have known, was of northern - and perhaps Transjordanian (like Tobit and Tobias) - origin?

Now Ahikar, who as said above is named ‘Achior’ in the Vulgate version of Tobit, I have identified as the important Achior of the Book of Judith in Volume Two of my post-graduate thesis. So it was rather intriguing to discover, in regard to the Rabshakeh’s famous speech, that B. Childs (Isaiah and the Assyrian Crisis) had discerned some similarity between it and the speech of Achior in the Book of Judith. I wrote on this in my thesis (Vol. 2, p. 8):

… Childs- who has subjected the Rabshakeh’s speech to a searching form-critical analysis, also identifying its true Near Eastern genre - has considered it as well in relation to an aspect of the speech of … Achior [to be identified with] this Rabshakeh in Chapter 2, e.g. pp. 46-47) to Holofernes (Judith 5:20f.). ….

A legend had been born, Ahikar the Rabshakeh!The Israelite captive had proven himself to have been a most loyal servant of Sennacherib’s during the latter’s highly successful 3rd campaign, playing his assigned rôle to perfection.

Sennacherib, upon his return to the east, quickly turned his sights upon the troublesome Merodach-baladan. And it is at this point in history that the Book of Judith opens. After the defeat of Merodach-baladan, the aforementioned ‘young puppy’,Bel-ibni, was made sub-king of Babylon in his stead. Could Bel-ibni even be the same as Ahikar (Achior), as Bel-akhi-erba, who may previously have been a governor for Assyria of the city of Babylon? Some intriguing possibilities here, but that is all that they are: just possibilities. For one, the names Bel-ibni and Bel-akhi-erba are by no means identical. Nor can we say for sure that Bel-akhi-erba was Achior.

Still, there may be another element to consider that may serve at least to keep alive our Babylonian connection. Above I had introduced what I considered to be a necessary folding of Middle Assyro-Babylonian history, leading to my conclusion that Sennacherib was the same as Nebuchednezzar I. This is the subject matter of Chapter 7 of my thesis (Volume I). Nebuchednezzar, I had argued, was Sennacherib as a mighty ruler of Babylon. There I also merged Merodach-Baladan I and II additionally with Adad-apla-iddina. Now, I believed that this restructuring may also have provided further possible ramifications for Ahikar the sage:

The Vizier (Ummânu)

One indication that I may be on the right track in attempting to merge the C12th BC king of Babylon, Nebuchednezzar I, with the C8th BC king of Assyria, Sennacherib, is that one finds during the reign of ‘each’ a vizier of such fame that he was to be remembered for centuries to come. It is now reasonable to assume that this is one and the same vizier. I refer, in the case of Nebuchednezzar I, to the following celebrated vizier [the following taken from J. Brinkman’s A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia. 1158-722 B.C. Roma (Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1968, pp. 114-115]:

… during these years in Babylonia a notable literary revival took place …. It is likely that this burst of creative activity sprang from the desire to glorify fittingly the spectacular achievements of Nebuchednezzar I and to enshrine his memorable deeds in lasting words. These same deeds were also to provide inspiration for later poets who sang the glories of the era …. The scribes of Nebuchednezzar's day, reasonably competent in both Akkadian and Sumerian…, produced works of an astonishing vigor, even though these may have lacked the polish of a more sophisticated society. The name Esagil-kini-ubba, ummânu or "royal secretary" during the reign of Nebuchednezzar I, was preserved in Babylonian memory for almost one thousand years - as late as the year 147 of the Seleucid Era (= 165 B.C.)….

To which Brinkman adds the footnote [n. 641]: “Note … that Esagil-kini-ubba served as ummânu also under Adad-apla-iddina and, therefore, his career extended over at least thirty-five years”.

So perhaps we can consider that our wise sage was shared by both Assyria and Babylon.

Whilst we have proposed a variety of possible names for Ahikar, not all being entirely harmonious, the names Merodach-baladan and Adad-apla-iddina merge most satisfactorily; whilst Nebuchednezzar can be regarded as Sennacherib’s Babylonian name. But, most stunningly of all I find, as laid out in Table I of my thesis (Vol. I, p. 180),“the names of three of [the Elamite Shutrukid] kings [of the C12th BC contemporaneous with Merodach-baldan I] are identical to those of Sargon II’s/Sennacherib’s Elamite foes, supposedly about four centuries later”.

Those seeking the historical Ahikar tend to come up with one Aba-enlil-dari, this description taken from: http://www.aakkl.helsinki.fi/melammu/database/gen_html/a0000639.php:

The story of Ahiqar is set into the court of seventh century Assyrian kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. The hero has the Akkadian name Ahī-(w)aqar “My brother is dear”, but it is not clear if the story has any historical foundation. The latest entry in a Seleucid list of Seven Sages says: “In the days of Esarhaddon the sage was Aba-enlil-dari, whom the Aramaeans call Ahu-uqar” which at least indicates that the story of Ahiqar was well known in the Seleucid Babylonia.

[End of quote]

Seleucid Babylonia is, of course, much later removed in time from our sources for Ahikar. And, as famous as may have been the scribe Esagil-kini-ubba - whether or not he were also Ahikar - even better known is this Ahikar (at least by that name), a character of both legend and of (I believe) real history. Regarding Ahikar’s tremendous popularity even down through the centuries, we read [The Jerome Biblical Commentary, New Jersey (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 28:28]:

The story of Ahikar is one of the most phenomenal in the ancient world in that it has become part of many different literatures and has been preserved in several different languages: Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Slavonic, and Old Turkish. The most ancient recension is the Aramaic, found amongst the famous 5th-cent. BC papyri that were discovered at the beginning of the 20th cent. on Elephantine Island in the Nile. The story worked its way into the Arabian nights and the Koran; it influenced Aesop, the Church Fathers as well as Greek philosophers, and the Old Testament itself.

[End of quote]

Whilst Ahikar’s wisdom and fame has spread far and wide, the orginal Ahikar, whom I am trying to uncover in this article, has been elusive for some. Thus J. Greenfield has written (http://ebooks.cambridge.org/chapter.jsf?bid=CBO9780511520662&cid=CBO9780511520662A012):

The figure of Ahiqar has remained a source of interest to scholars in a variety of fields. The search for the real Ahiqar, the acclaimed wise scribe who served as chief counsellor to Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, was a scholarly preoccupation for many years. He had a sort of independent existence since he was known from a series of texts – the earliest being the Aramaic text from Elephantine, followed by the book of Tobit, known from the Apocrypha, and the later Syriac, Armenian and Arabic texts of Ahiqar. An actual royal counsellor and high court official who had been removed from his position and later returned to it remains unknown. E. Reiner found the theme of the ‘disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister’ combined with that of the ‘ungrateful nephew’ in the ‘Bilingual Proverbs’, and saw this as a sort of parallel to the Ahiqar story. She also emphasized that in Mesopotamia the ummânu was not only a learned man or craftsman but was also a high official. At the time that Reiner noted the existence of this theme in Babylonian wisdom literature, Ahiqar achieved a degree of reality with the discovery in Uruk, in the excavations of winter 1959/60, of a Late Babylonian tablet (W20030,7) dated to the 147th year of the Seleucid era (= 165 BCE). This tablet contains a list of antediluvian kings and their sages (apkallû) and postdiluvian kings and their scholars (ummânu). The postdiluvian kings run from Gilgamesh to Esarhaddon.

[End of quote]

3. As a Ruling‘King’

The Elamite Connection

Chapter 1 of the Book of Tobit appears to be a general summary of Tobit’s experiences during the reigns of a succession of Assyrian kings: Shalmaneser, Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. I, in my thesis and subsequent writings, may have misread some of the chronology of the life of Tobit, whose blindness, as recorded in Chapter 2, I had presumed to have occurred after the murder of Sennacherib. I now think that it occurred well before that. Ahikar will assist Tobit in his miserable state (“Ahikar gave alms”, 14:10), for two years, before his appointment as ruler of Elam. Here is Tobit’s account of it (2:10-11): “For four years I could see nothing. My relatives were deeply concerned about my condition, and Ahikar supported me for two years before he went to the land of Elam. 11 After Ahikar left, my wife Anna had to go to work, so she took up weaving, like many other women”.

Another thing that probably needs to be re-considered now, in light of my revised view of the chronology of Tobit, concerns the previously mentioned “King Arioch” as referred to in Judith 1:6: “Many nations joined forces with King Arphaxad … as well as those who lived in the plain ruled by King Arioch of Elam”. Arioch in Elam I had (rightly I think) identified in my thesis, again, as Achior (Ahikar) who went to Elam. But, due to my then mis-reading of Tobit, I had had to consider the mention of Arioch in Judith 1:6 as a post-Sennacherib gloss, added later as a geographical pointer, thinking that our hero had gone to Elam only after Sennacherib’s death. And so I wrote in my thesis (Vol. II, pp. 46-47):

I disagree with Charles [The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament] that: “The name Arioch is borrowed from Gen. xiv. i, in accordance with the author’s love of archaism”. This piece of information, I am going to argue here, is actually a later

gloss to the original text. And I hope to give a specific identification to this king, since,

according to Leahy [‘Judith’]: “The identity of Arioch (Vg Erioch) has not been established …”.

What I am going to propose is that Arioch was not actually one of those who had rallied

to the cause of Arphaxad in Year 12 of Nebuchadnezzar, as a superficial reading of [Book of Judith] … might suggest, but that this was a later addition to the text for the purpose of making more precise for the reader the geographical region from whence came Arphaxad’s allies, specifically the Elamite troops. In other words, this was the very same region as that which Arioch had ruled; though at a later time, as I am going to explain.

But commentators express puzzlement about him. Who was this Arioch? And if he were

such an unknown, then what was the value of this gloss for the early readers?

Arioch, I believe, was the very Achior who figures so prominently in the story of Judith.

He was also the legendary Ahikar, a most famous character as we read in Chapter 7.

Therefore he was entirely familiar to the Jews, who would have known that he had eventually governed the Assyrian province of Elam. I shall tell about this in a moment.

Some later editor/translator presumably, apparently failing to realise that the person named in this gloss was the very same as the Achior who figures so prominently throughout the main story of [Judith], has confused matters by calling him by the different name of Arioch. He should have written: “Achior ruled the Elymeans”.

[The Book of Tobit] tells us more. Some time after the destruction of Sennacherib’s armies, he who had been Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh was appointed governor (or‘king’) of Elymaïs (Elam) (cf. 1:18, 21: 2:10). This was Tobit’s very nephew, Ahikar/Achior.

But the latter ruled Elam, not in Nebuchadnezzar’s Year 12, or at about the time when he himself was a high officer in the Assyrian army, but (approximately a decade) later,

during the reign of Ashurbanipal - as previously determined - when the king of Assyria

sent him to Elam. From there it is an easy matter to make this comparison:

“Achior ... Elymeans” [Judith]; “Ahikar (var. Achior) ... Elymaïs” [Tobit].

Suffice it to say here that this ubiquitous personage, Ahikar/Achior, would have been the eyewitness extraordinaire to the detailed plans and preparations regarding the eastern war between the Assyrians and the Chaldean coalition as described in [Judith] 1.

[End of quote]

I still think the above simple “comparison” between Judith and Tobit to be most compelling. But now, according to my new scenario, Ahikar was actually in Elam during, and not after, the reign of Sennacherib.

As amazing as Ahikar’s life may have seemed already in Part One, it is as nothing compared to what will follow in Part Two.

Ahikar Part Two:

As a Convert to Yahwism.

Recalling from Part One


The young and highly talented Ahikar, or Achior, a product of the northern Israelite tribe of Naphtali that had largely apostatised from Yahwism (but also a nephew of holy Tobit who had not followed his tribe in this regard), had risen rapidly - perhaps from being a young favourite in king Sennacherib’s palace - to the high office of Rabshakeh. As such, Ahikar had become a key player in Sennacherib’s 3rd campaign, to the west, having been the very mouthpiece for the king of Assyria before the officials of king Hezekiah of Judah - a natural choice in that situation because of the young man’s ability to speak the Hebrew language.

I had also proposed tentatively in Part One that Ahikar, who became a famous sage of Assyria and perhaps also of Babylon, may even have served for a time as governor of Babylon during the reign of king Merodach-baladan (II, conventionally).

Now, still during the reign of Sennacherib, Ahikar (whom Tobit would later praise as an almsgiver) had assisted his uncle Tobit for two years whilst the latter was suffering from blindness, after which time Ahikar was assigned to the rulership of Elam (Elymaïs). This, I believe, has been taken up in Judith 1:6 (but presumably with the name later mis-copied) where we read of “King Arioch of Elam”.

All of this leads us to the following key connection between Judith and Tobit:


“Achior ... Elymeans” [Judith]; “Ahikar (var. Achior) ... Elymaïs” [Tobit].


thereby anchoring the highly problematical history of the Book of Judith to the reign of king Sennacherib of Assyria! And that very location for the Judith drama, historically, became the subject matter of Volume Two of my post-graduate thesis:


A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background




1.                   Under the Influence of Uncle Tobit


Undoubtedly the highly zealous and prayerful holy man, Tobit, would have - in his miserable state of blindness - utilised the two years of his nephew Ahikar’s attendance upon him to instruct the young, presumably Baal-worshipping (and whatever Assyrian gods as well), king’s official (to whatever extent he could) in the history of Israel and in pure Yahwism. Soon, Ahikar was also to be a witness to the phenomenon of Tobit’s being cured from his condition of blindness. For, apparently after Ahikar had gone to Elam, with Tobit still blind, Tobit’s son, Tobias – that is, Job. See:




had journeyed to Ecbatana (Bashan) and had, under the most unusual circumstances, gained himself a wife, Sarah, and some substantial wealth (Tobit 6-9). Subsequently, old Tobit was miraculously cured of his blindness (11:11-14), and afterwards he and his wife Anna held an impressive wedding feast for the young couple. It is at this point that we hear about Ahikar again, who, with his nephew, Nadan (Nadab), came along "to share in Tobit's happiness" (11:18). Scholars have in fact commented upon the apparent dependence of the Maxims of Ahikar upon those of Tobit. J. Marshall, for instance (‘Tobit, Book of’, A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. J. Hastings, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1902, pp. 789, 2): “There are many features of resemblance between Ahikar’s moral teaching to Nadan, and Tobit’s to Tobias”. (Cf. J. Miller and J. Hayes have listed “Parallels Between Esarhaddon’s Vassal Treaty and Deuteronomy”, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, pp. 395-397).

The influence of Tobit and his family, and the amazing events of their lives of which Ahikar was so well aware, must have conspired to prepare the way for Ahikar’s ultimate conversion to Yahwism, as Achior in the Book of Judith, upon learning of Judith’s triumph over Holofernes, and Achior’s own personal viewing of the decapitated head. Judith had called for Achior specifically for him to identify the head as belonging to Holofernes, whom he well knew, saying (Judith 14: 5-10):


5 … send Achior the Ammonite to me. I want to see if he recognizes Holofernes, the man who spoke of Israel with contempt and sent Achior to us, thinking he would be killed along with the rest of us.

6 So they called Achior from Uzziah’s house. But when he came and saw the head of Holofernes in the hands of one of the men, Achior fainted and fell to the floor. 7 When they had helped him up, Achior bowed at Judith’s feet in respect.


May every family in the land of Judah praise you, he said,
and may every nation tremble with terror when they hear your name.


8 Please tell me how you managed to do this.

While all the people were gathered around, Judith told him everything that she had done from the day she left the town until that moment. 9 When she had finished her story, the people cheered so loudly that the whole town echoed with sounds of joy. 10 When Achior heard all that the God of Israel had done, he became a firm believer. He was circumcised and made a member of the Israelite community, as his descendants are to the present day.


Whoops, did Judith just call Achior an “Ammonite”?

If that is what nationality he actually were, and indeed he is called that in various places in the Book of Judith as we now have it, then that would put paid to my claim that Achior was Ahikar, the nephew of Tobit, and it would also raise a nasty theological problem for the Book of Judith. I discussed the matter as follows in my thesis (Volume Two, pp. 57-58):


… there now arises that problem with my actual reconstruction of Achior as an Israelite

in the Assyrian army, and it is this verse: “Then Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites,

said to [Holofernes] ...” (5:5). Achior is said in this verse to have been an ‘Ammonite’; a

matter we discussed in some detail (beginning on p. 23), when considering why [the Book of Judith] was not accepted into the Hebrew canon. Whilst this does immediately loom as a major problem, there is one factor – apart from what has already been said about Achior – that makes his being an Ammonite highly unlikely, and this is that Achior will later, in [Judith] 14, be converted to Judaïsm and will be circumcised. The author of [Judith], who is an absolute stickler for the Mosaïc Law, and who writes in fact like a priest or Levite (see section: “The Author of BOJ” on the following page), would hardly have countenanced so flagrant a breach of the Law as having an Ammonite received by pious Jews into the assembly of faith, when this was clearly disallowed by Moses (Deuteronomy 23:3, 4).

Judith herself, who would so scrupulously observe all of the religious ordinances of the

Law even whilst in the camp of the Assyrians [Judith] (… 12), would hardly (if she were real) have been a party to this forbidden situation.

[End of quote]


The final word that we hear about Ahikar in some versions of the Book of Tobit is that this same Nadan had set a trap for his uncle, but had himself fallen into the trap and was subsequently slain (14:13). I will have much to say later about this Nadan, who has caused me no end of difficulties in my attempts to revise this era. To add to the confusion, the Greek version of the Book of Tobit calls him ‘Aman (Greek for Haman), the notorious conspirator of the Book of Esther. I would like to disassociate myself from any possibility, chronologically speaking, that Nadan could also be that Haman.


We have found that Ahikar was an important eye-witness, especially in the east, to so many significant events that occurred during this most fascinating of historical eras. He, as king Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh during the Assyrian king’s 3rd campaign, knew also all about the Great Eastern War of Judith chapter 1, against Arphaxad (Merodach-baldan, I believe). 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 Judah. Possibly, Ahikar may also have been a privileged one present at the victorious Assyrian king’s “secret council” in which “Nebuchadnezzar” (= Sennacherib) 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; SEPT]


Although, if he were then in Elam, he could have learned all about it from fellow officers. Either way, Ahikar is already the key witness for such eastern events recorded in the Book of Judith that could not have been known first-hand either by Judith or by her fellow Israelites, and the Jews, then living in the west.


2.                   Ahikar as the ‘Achior’ of the Book of Judith


Chapter 2 of the Book of Judith first introduces us to the historically problematical (like many characters in the book) “Holofernes”. He, who will serve as the commander-in-chief, may not have been at Sennacherib’s “secret council” because, as the story is narrated, the king calls him immediately after it (v. 4): When the council was over, Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians sent for Holofernes, general-in-chief of his armies and subordinate only to himself”. The Great King of Assyria now gives his subordinate this terrifying (from the perspective of those who will be the suffering recipients of it) commission:


He said to him,

5 'Thus speaks the Great King, lord of the whole world, "Go; take men of proven valour, about a hundred and twenty thousand foot soldiers and a strong company of horse with twelve thousand cavalrymen; 6 then advance against all the western lands, since these people have disregarded my call.

7 Bid them have earth and water ready, because in my rage I am about to march on them; the feet of my soldiers will cover the whole face of the earth, and I shall plunder it. 8 Their wounded will fill the valleys and the torrents, and rivers, blocked with their dead, will overflow. 9 I shall lead them captive to the ends of the earth.

10 Now go! Begin by conquering this whole region for me. If they surrender to you, hold them for me until the time comes to punish them.

11 But if they resist, look on no one with clemency, hand them over to slaughter and plunder throughout the territory entrusted to you. 12 For by my life and by the living power of my kingdom I have spoken. All this I shall do by my power.

13 And you, neglect none of your master's commands, act strictly according to my orders without further delay." '


Typical Assyrian speak, but it was no mere bravado as the Assyrian Wehrmacht had the werewithal to carry out all of the Great King’s dreadful threats. And Holofernes will be, for a time, totally effective.


Who was he? Who really was the “Holofernes” of the Book of Judith?


I, in my thesis, in which I radically revised neo-Assyrian history (Volume One, Chapter 6), even to identifying Sargon II – supposed father of Sennacherib – with Sennacherib himself (more recently in):




had multi-identified Holofernes from several sources. But my main proposed identification for him was as Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddon, who apparently did die whilst on campaign. This necessitated a further shrinking of the conventional neo-Assyrian sequence, so that, with Sargon II merged with Sennacherib, the reign of Esarhaddon had to be fitted entirely within that of Sargon II/Sennacherib.

Obviously, this was extremely controversial.

Whereas the neo-Assyrian sequence given in the Book of Tobit favoured my reconstruction of having Shalmaneser [V] directly succeeded by Sennacherib, contrary to convention which has Sargon II in between, it did not favour my having Esarhaddon reigning prior to the death of Sennacherib. At the time, I had grappled with it (pp. 167-169):


As for the name, Esarhaddon, [the Book of Tobit], which had been an ally for me in my theory that Sennacherib was the successor of ‘Shalmaneser’, now seems to desert me by distinctly naming Esarhaddon as the successor after Sennacherib’s death (1:21).

Still, that is only in translation.

The name currently translated as ‘Esarhaddon’ is given in the Greek as Sacherdonos; a

name that has some resemblance to the Saosduchin said in a note to the Douay version of [Judith] to have “succeeded Asarhaddon in the kingdom of the Assyrians”. …. In the Latin Vulgate, no successor of Sennacherib is even named where Sennacherib’s assassination is referred to (v. 24). A Sacherdonos, who “succeeded Asarhaddon in the kingdom of the Assyrians”, can only be Ashurbanipal, son of Esarhaddon.

Similar confusion has arisen as to whether the “great and noble Osnapper” (‘Asenaphar’

in the Douay) referred to in Ezra 4:10, should be identified with Esarhaddon or Ashurbanipal. Whilst North has taken this as a reference to Esarhaddon, translates the character in this verse as “Assurbanipal the Great”.

With Esarhaddon generally considered to have been a younger son of Sennacherib, the

eldest being Ashur-nadin-shumi whom Sennacherib made Viceroy of Babylon during his Twelfth Year (Fourth Campaign) (711 BC, revised), the chronology I am trying to

develop here would be extremely tight indeed. But Esarhaddon in fact calls himself “the

oldest son of [Sennacherib ...”. …. And, whilst this would appear to be contradicted by

another statement of his, that Marduk had called him from among my older brothers”, … it may indicate that he had become the oldest of Sennacherib’s sons in line for the throne; with his previously older brothers either dead or no longer in contention because of their revolt.


From there I went on to propose that Esarhaddon could be merged with Ashur-nadin-shumi:


This primary piece of evidence of Esarhaddon as “the oldest son” not only assists my reconstruction, but now makes highly attractive also an identification of Esarhaddon (i.e. Ashur-akhi-iddina) with Ashur-nadin-shumi, Sennacherib’s eldest. The latter’s supposed six years of reign over Babylon (c. 700-694 BC, conventional dating) would thus correspond with Esarhaddon’s reign over that city. And I suggest it was during this early period that Esarhaddon rebuilt, probably magnified, Babylon; but while his father

Sennacherib was still alive, and indeed as a servant of the latter. They would have been

co-regents of Babylon, given that Sargon’s Year 16 was also his 4th year as king of Babylon (the second time around). See next chapter for a discussion of Sargon II’s/ Sennacherib’s restoration work in Babylon. According to this new scenario, Esarhaddon would have served for six years as ruler of Babylon, from Sennacherib’s Year 12 to Year 18, and his reign would have terminated prior to the end of his father’s own reign.

My proposed identification of Esarhaddon with Ashur-nadin-shumi (and I am not of course claiming a precise name identification here) would not stand up though if the latter had really suffered the fate that Roux has attributed to this Ashur-nadin-shumi: “… disappeared, probably murdered” in Iran after the Babylonians had handed him over

to the Elamites. However, I have not yet read anywhere that Ashur-nadin-shumi’s death

at this stage was more than ‘probable’. There is no certainty attached to it.

And, if Ashur-nadin-shumi were Esarhaddon as seems very likely - and I hope to strengthen this case further on - then his death did not occur in Elam; though the circumstances of it may have been equally unfortunate as those given by Roux for Ashur-nadin-shumi (“disappeared, probably murdered”).

[End of quotes]


This did seem to present a very strong candidate for Holofernes, a great military leader, who had died on campaign, and it, allowing for an overlap of reigns, offered a possible solution to the apparent dearth of historical documents from the last decade of Sennacherib’s reign. This has puzzled historians (thesis, p. 142): “Bright muses without much confidence upon a possible later discovery “of Sennacherib’s official annals for approximately the last decade of his reign (if such ever existed)”.”

Esarhaddon-as-Holofernes I had further identified with the traitorous Nadab of Tobit 14:10, though being then at pains - for reasons pertaining to my chronological revision of Esarhaddon - to distinguish him from the Nadab (Nadan), Ahikar’s nephew, who had with his uncle attended the wedding of Tobit and Sarah in Nineveh. Thus I wrote a bit tortuously (Volume Two, pp. 79-80):


In this verse 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 and Achior at Bethulia, thus I think providing a further confirmation of my reconstruction. In the legends of Ahikar, the betrayer can be called Nadan … instead of Nadab, and this is important; for commentators can presume that Ahikar’s betrayer is the same as Ahikar’s very nephew,

Nadab. In [Tobit] we are told that “Ahikar and his nephew Nadab were also present …” at the celebration of the wedding of the young Tobias and Sarah in Nineveh (11:18). And, because Tobit will, three chapters later, when recalling Ahikar’s betrayal, name the

betrayer, ‘Nadab’ (14:10), then it is not unreasonably assumed that Ahikar was betrayed

by his very own nephew. If this were the case, then of course it would instantly rule out

my proposed comparison of this murderous intrigue with the Bethulia incident, because – apart from the fact that Esarhaddon (Holofernes) was not Ahikar’s nephew – Esarhaddon was no longer, according to my chronological reconstruction, in the land of the living.


According to my new scenario, though, with Esarhaddon no longer a candidate for Holofernes, whom Esarhaddon outlived, then Ahikar’s nephew can now be Nadan the betrayer.

Even when writing my thesis I had apparently realised that having Esarhaddon as the betrayer of the Ahikar legends did complicate the matter somewhat (ibid., p. 80):


An added complication is that Esarhaddon and Nadan (or Nadab) the betrayer, are two

different characters in the legends of Ahikar. Though it is actually Esarhaddon who is

said to have passed the death sentence on Ahikar, which fits my Bethulia reconstruction.

But the Ahikar legends, as we read in Chapter 7, have been famous over millennia, and

so it would not surprise if serious distortions had crept in ….


The next part of my thesis can be amended to read as follows:


Here, then, is my reconstructed version of verse 14:10, with my name substitutions added in square brackets: ‘See, my son [Tobias], what Nadab [Nadan] 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, 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’.

This verse is quite mystifying in the context of [Tobit] alone, which had, until this, told us nothing whatsoever about any misdeed on the part of Ahikar’s nephew, but only that he, with his uncle, had been “present [at the celebration] to share Tobit’s joy” (11:18).

Whilst the name Nadab itself, as the betrayer, does not appear to add any relevance to my reconstruction, the variant form of it, Nadan, surely does. Nadan can be connected with the Assyrian name, Ashur-nadin-shumi, the eldest son of Sennacherib. The name connection can be deduced from the following passage [Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ‘Ahikar, Book of’, p. 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.


Chronologically Ashur-nadin-shumi, ruling Babylon for six years, from the 12th to the 18th year of Sennacherib, and then mysteriously disappearing, fits perfectly for Holofernes - and much better than Esarhaddon - for it was in the Great King’s 18th year that he was said to have summoned his officials to commence the war of revenge (Judith 2):


1 In the eighteenth year, on the twenty-second day of the first month, a rumour ran through the palace that Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians was to have his revenge on all the countries, as he had threatened.

2 Summoning his general staff and senior officers, he held a secret conference with them, and with his own lips pronounced utter destruction on the entire area.


4 When the council was over, Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians sent for Holofernes, general-in-chief of his armies and subordinate only to himself. ….


If Nadan (my Ashur-nadin-shumi/Holofernes) were a son of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, then in what sense could he have been called a “nephew” of the Israelite Ahikar? I am not entirely sure at this stage. According to legend, Nadan was the son of Ahikar’s sister. Now, the mother of Ashur-nadin-shumi was apparently Tashmetum-Sharrat, the daughter of Merodach-baladan.

Was Ahikar a son of Merodach-baladan? (Anael in the Book of Tobit)

Or was Nadan his “nephew” in a different sense, as being under the tutelage of the wise Ahikar? I had followed this line in my thesis (ibid.):


We also learn from the legends that Ahikar had been Nadan’s actual tutor, taking many

pains with the latter’s instruction (hence having “reared him”, according to Tobit 14:10

above). It is quite possible that the wise Ahikar, whose moral maxims seem to have been lifted straight from the sayings of Tobit … - the latter being well-known to a succession of Assyrian kings (1:13-19, 21-22) - had been appointed as steward, or tutor, of Sennacherib’s son, just as the wise Senenmut had been ‘tutor’ or ‘steward’ of Egypt’s

Thutmose [III], as a child, and of Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferure. …. [See my “Solomon and Sheba”: http://www.academia.edu/3660164/Solomon_and_Sheba]. In that sense, could Tobit say that Ahikar “had reared him [Nadab]”.

[End of quotes]


Holoferenes Storms Into Israel


Judith 2 narrates the formidable march of Holofernes and his massive army through northern Syria, then (2:17-18): “… down into the plains of Damascus in the days of the harvest, [where] … he set all the corn on fire, and he caused all the trees and vineyards to be cut down. And the fear of them fell upon all the inhabitants of the land”. Finally, with just Samarian cities like Judith’s Bethulia (modern Mithilia/Mesilieh) facing Dothan, 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 Achior is called "leader of all the Ammonites" (Judith 5:5). But this, as suggested above, cannot be correct. It must be a copyist’s mistake for Ephraïmites (northern Israelites), or perhaps Elamites (over whom Ahikar had ruled) because in 6:2 Holofernes contemptuously refers to Achior as “you hireling of Ephraïm”.

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. Achior 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. Tobit’s teachings were now setting in. This speech absolutely stunned the soldiery who were by now all for tearing Achior "limb from limb" (5:22).

Holofernes, for his part, was absolutely furious with Achior. Having recently succeeded in conquering the entire west, he was hardly about to suffer hearing that some obscure mountain folk - "this brood of fugitives from Egypt" as he contemptuously called them in response to Achior’s speech (cf. 6:6)- might be able to offer him any meaningful resistance. Holofernes thereupon commanded his orderlies to take the insolent Achior 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 Achior at Bethulia, and had then retreated from the walls under sling-fire from the townsfolk, the Bethulians went out to fetch him. As I wrote in my thesis (ibid.):


Aspects of the legendary story of Ahikar’s condemnation and release can perhaps be seen as distortions of the original Bethulia incident. For instance, the tale of the executioner’s sparing Ahikar’s life, and imprisoning him in a cellar under his house, after which he was eventually released, might be a distortion of [Holofernes’] deferring the execution of Achior until the defeat of the Bethulians, and having him bound below (under) the hill of Bethulia, from which he was liberated. For in [Judith] 6:13 we read: “So [Holofernes’ slaves] having taken shelter below the hill …    

[End of quote]


Once safely inside the city of Bethulia, Achior told the citizens m his story, and no doubt Judith was there to hear it. Later she would use bits and pieces of information supplied by Achior 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 Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah - 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).


Achior’s Conversion


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 Achior, who, upon seeing the head of the world-famous Assyrian general, defeated by this woman, fainted on the spot. Upon recovering, Achior 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, Achior submitted to the circumcision that he had apparently neglected as a young Naphtalian, and converted fully to Yahwism (14:8-10):


While all the people were gathered around, Judith told him everything that she had done from the day she left the town until that moment. When she had finished her story, the people cheered so loudly that the whole town echoed with sounds of joy. 10 When Achior heard all that the God of Israel had done, he became a firm believer. He was circumcised and made a member of the Israelite community, as his descendants are to the present day.


Is this not one of the most thrilling stories of the Old Testament era!


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