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The Story of Ahikar

Ahikar is an exciting story, mixed with wisdom sayings, comedy, and Scripture-like phrases, that dates from the Assyrian Empire. Ahikar seems to have been a real figure, as he is referenced in passing in even older documents. A partial papyrus of The Story of Ahikar exists from the fifth century BC, in Assyrian ruins, written in Aramaic (the language of Jesus). Ahikar is about an advisor to the king, punished for his idolatry, and betrayed by an idiot nephew. The story is often funny and ends in a farce. This comic ending is similar to the ending of Canaanite mythology but does not approach the Classical apex of High Comedy of the Book of Revelations.

The Story

Ahikar (also transliterated as “Haiqar”) is the good advisor to the King betrayed by his idiot nephew.

Now when Nadan perceived that the power of bidding, and of forbidding was in his own hand, he despised the position of Ahikar and scoffed at him, and set about blaming him whenever he appeared, saying “My uncle Ahikar is in his dotage, and he knows nothing now.”

And he began to beat the slaves and the handmaidens, and to see the horses and the camels, and to be spendthrift with all that his uncle Ahikar had owned.
Ahikar 3:4-5

The hero bureaucrat, Ahikar, is introduced immediately in the story:

The story of Ahikar the Wise, Vizier of Sennacherib the King, and of Nadan, sister’s son to Ahikar the Wise.

There was a Vizier in the days of King Sennacherib, son of Sarhadum, King of Assyria and Nineveh, a wise man named Ahikar, and he was the Vizier of the king Sennacherib.
Ahikar 1:1-2

He’s a virtuous leader, but a polytheist. Because of this, The Most High God punishes him to childlessness

And he returned, and imported the Most High God, and believed, beseeching Him with a burning in his heart, saying

“O Most High God,
O Creator of the Heavens and of the earth, O creator of all created things!

I beseech Thee to give me a boy, that I maybe consoled by him that he may be present at my health,that he may close my eyes, and that he may bury me.”

Then there came to him a voice saying,

“Inasmuch as thou hast relied first of all on graven images,
and has offered sacrifices to them,
for this reason thou shalt remain childless thy life long.”
Ahikar 1:9-11

Ahikar, therefore, adopts his nephew Nadan, and the beginning of the story is a collection of wisdom sayings similar to Proverbs, given to Nadan from Ahikar. Many are typical

O my son! Make thy eloquence easy to the listener, and not be hasty to return an answer.
Ahikar 2:4

and others, both pragmatic and thought-provoking:

O my son! Teach not the ignorant the language of wise men, for it will be burdensome to them.
Ahikar 2:42

The plot of the story centers around Ahikar’s idiot nephew, Nadan, trying to size Ahikar’s position. Foolish nephews and wise uncles are a familiar trope:

Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.

And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.

So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.”

And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.
Genesis 12:5,13:7-10

But the mischief here is graver. Idiot-nephew Nadan forges letters inviting foreign countries to assist in a military coup, and also one from the King to Ahikar ordering Ahikar to simulate a military coup! Ahikar is arrested for treason!. Nadan is plotting to make it appear that Ahikar is plotting to assist foreign empires in an invasion of Assyria!

And the writing of Nadan was like to the writing of his uncle Ahikar.

Then he folded the two letters, and sealed them with the seal of his uncle Ahikar; they were nevertheless in the king’s palace.

Then he went and wrote a letter likewise from the king to his uncle Ahikar: “Peace and health to my Vizier, my Secretary, my Chancellor, Ahikar.

O Ahikar, when this letter reaches thee, assemble all the soldiers who are with thee, and let them be perfect in clothing and in numbers, and bring them to me on the fifth day in the plain of Nisrin.

And when thou shalt see me there coming towards thee, haste and make the army move against me as an enemy who would fight with me, for I have with me the ambassadors of Pharaoh king of Egypt, that they may see the strength of our army and may fear us, for they are our enemies and they hate us.

Then he sealed the letter and sent it to Ahikar by one of the king’s servants. And he took the other letter which he had written and spread it before the king and read it to him and showed him the seal.
Ahikar 3:17-22

Nadan is promoted, proven to be an idiot, and the King regrets the whole affair.

And when he king heard the speech of Nadan he sorrowed with a great and sore sorrow, and stepped down from his throne and sat in the ashes, and began to weep and wail over Ahikar, saying:

“O my grief! O Ahikar, who didst know the secrets and the riddles! Who is me for thee, O Ahikar! O teacher of my country and ruler of my kingdom, where shall I turn for thee? Who is me for thee! How did I destroy thee! And I listened to the talk of a stupid, ignorant boy without knowledge, without religion, without manliness.”
Ahikar 4:10

Ahikar is restored. During his time away from power Pharaoh tried to embarrass the King of Assyria by giving a request only a wise advisor could solve. Luckily, Ahikar was able to swoop in and solve the problem. Then Ahikar chews Nadan out, and the idiot nephew gets the punishment he deserves.

And Nadan said, “For what cause art thou wroth with me?”

And Ahikar said to him, “Because I brought thee up, and taught thee, and gave thee honor and respect and made thee great, and reared thee with the best of breeding, and seated thee in my place that thou might be my heir in the world, and thou didst treat me with killing and didst repay me with my ruin.

But the Lord knew that I was wronged, and He saved me from the ware which thou hadst set for me, for the Lord heals the broken hearts and hinders the envious and the haughty.

O my boy! Thou hast been to who saw his comrade naked in he chilly time of winter; and he took cold water and poured it on him.

O my boy! Thou hast been to me like a man who took a stone, and threw it up to heaven to stone his Lord with it. And the stone did not hit, and did not reach high enough, but it became the cause of guilt and sin.
Ahikar 7:4-6,9-10

It’s a fun story.

But what really struck me was how the importance of the Most High God. Certain lines seemed to hang in the air. Parts of the Bible seem to be written in the expectation the reader was familiar with Ahikar, and with the expected conclusion or saying.

Monotheism in Assyria

In the Hebrew Bible, there is a history of God’s communication with non-Jewish people.

Sometimes this is God directly speaking to a prophet of a foreign nation, such as the prophecy of Balaam:

Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him.

Then he took up his oracle and said:

“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor,
The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened,

The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

“The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, And the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened;

The utterance of him who hears the words of God,
And has the knowledge of the Most High,
Who sees the vision of the Almighty,
Who falls down, with eyes wide open:

“I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult.
Numbers 24:,1-416-17

At other times God sends a Hebrew prophet to a foreign people. For instance, the LORD sent that the Prophet Jonah to the Assyrian capital:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah 3:1-2

This prophetic work is successful, though not in a way Jonah expected. He strived to teach the people of the “LORD,” the Jewish name of God. But the conversion, if seemingly heartfelt, was to a more ecumenical understanding. The people would worship “God,” a legitimate but non-Jewish term for the Almighty. The people are converted to a true, but incomplete, monotheism.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Jonah 3:5-10

I had assumed this was part of the comedic tone of Jonah, and that it was ridiculous that widespread monotheism existed in the Assyrian Empire.

But this assumption sat uneasily with another reference to Assyria: the country’s seemingly very serious (and very threatening) statements that Israel had abandoned God, and in consequence, God had abandoned Israel for Assyria. The Assyrians seemed outraged that the “high places” — where God was worshiped outside of the Temple — were destroyed.

The Rabshakeh said to them,

“Say to Hezekiah:

‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this confidence of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? See, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him.’

But if you say to me,

‘We rely on 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’?

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. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 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.'”
2 Kings 18:19-25

The Rabshakeh (a title shared with Ahikar — possibly indicating it is Ahikar speaking) is an emissary of King Sennacherib. The Assyrian king a fearsome ruler to both Israel and Ahikar:

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.

King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying,

“I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.”

The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the doorposts that King Hezekiah of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 18:13-15

Another Biblical figure is a contemporary of both King Hezekiah and King Sennacherib: Ahikar’s uncle and co-worker, Tobit!

But not forty days passed before two of his sons killed him, and they fled to the mountains of Ararat, and his son Esar-haddon reigned after him. He appointed Ahikar, the son of my brother Hanael over all the accounts of his kingdom, and he had authority over the entire administration. Ahikar interceded for me, and I returned to Nineveh. Now Ahikar was chief cup-bearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administration of the accounts under King Sennacherib of Assyria; so Esar-haddon reappointed him. He was my nephew and so a close relative.
Tobit 1:21

Both Ahikar and Tobit are followers of the “God”, the “Most High,” and overlapped for a time in the Assyrian Imperial service:

Because I was mindful of God with all my heart, the Most High gave me favor and good standing with Shalmaneser, and I used to buy everything he needed. Until his death I used to go into Media, and buy for him there. While in the country of Media I left bags of silver worth ten talents in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabri. But when Shalmaneser died, and his son Sennacherib reigned in his place, the highways into Media became unsafe and I could no longer go there.
Tobit 1:12-15

This monotheism in Assyria, the kind shared by Prime Minister Ahikar, King Sennacherib, and the King in the Book of Jonah, seems to be the same state of called in the Qur’an “hanif”:

Indeed, Abraham was a nation, obedient to God, a hanif, and he was not a polytheist. Grateful for his blessings, he chose him and guided him to a straight path. We gave him good in this world, and in the Hereafter he will indeed be among the righteous. Therefore, We reveled to you,

“Follow the creed of Abraham, a hanif, who was not a polytheist.”
The Bees (Qur’an 16):120-123

Further, King Sennacherib’s explanation of deliverance to the monotheist Ahikar:

But, O my Lord! Since I have appeared fore thee, let not care oppress thee! And the king said to him: “Blessed be God, who showed thee mercy, and knew that thou wast wronged, and saved thee and delivered thee from being slain.”

“But go to the warm bath, and shave thy head, and cut thy nails, and change thy clothes, and amuse thyself for the space of forty days, that thou mayst do good to thyself and improve thy condition and the color of thy face may come back to thee.

Then the king stripped off his costly robe, and put it on Ahikar, and Ahikar thanked God, and did obeisance to the king, and departed to his dwelling glad and happy, praising the God Most High.

And the people of his household rejoiced with him, and his friends and everyone who heard that he was alive rejoiced also.
Ahikar 4:30-32

matches the words of the King Melchizedek of Salem to the “hanif” Abraham:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram,

“Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the king of Sodom,

“I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say,

‘I have made Abram rich’

except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”
Genesis 14:18-24

This Monotheism, this state of being a “hanif,” is distinguished from the older belief in One Creator God…

Indeed, our creator is eternal Indeed ageless is He who formed us
The Ba’al Cycle CTA 10.III.6-7

… because it emphasizes not only is one God earlier in precedence, the oldest God is also the more active God. For instance, in contrasting the (foreign) Pharaoh to (his own) Assyrian King, Ahikar compares the Pharaoh to Ba’al:

And Ahikar said to him, “O my lord the king! Thou art like the idol Ba’al, and the nobles of thy kingdom are like his servants.”
Ahikar 5:34

But his own King to God the Most High:

And Ahikar said to him, “My lord is the God of heaven, and his nobles are the lightnings and the thunder, and when he wills the winds blow and the rain falls.”
Ahikar 5:30

And it is likewise to the Most High God, and not to Ba’al, that Ahikar gives praise:

But Ahikar has been cut into his hiding-place, and he heard the weeping of his slaves and his neighbors, and he praised the Most High God, the Merciful One, and gave thanks, and he always prayed and besought the Most High God.
Ahikar 3:61

Ahikar was a monolatrist, believing only one God was worthy of worship, regardless of whether or not other gods exist. This puts him in some good company:

And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people—that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

And Jethro said,

“Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.
Exodus 18:1,10-12

Ahikar’s Sayings in the Context of the Bible

Many of the lines, or “verses,” are striking because of how they seem to be echoed in the New Testament.

Ahikar’s solution to his problem depends on the death of a slave worthy of death.

Hide me in it with knowledge of my wife. And I have a slave in prison who deserves to be killed.

Bring him out and dress him in my clothes, and command the servants when they are drunk to slay him. They will not know who it is they are saying.
Ahikar 3:49-50

It is to save those worthy of death which is so striking about Christ’s salvation.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Romans 5:6-8

The castle the King desires is “between heaven and earth,”

And When the King of Egypt had made sure that Ahikar was slain, he arose straightaway and wrote a letter to king Sennacherib, reminding him in it of the peace and health and the might and the honor which we wish specifically for thee, my brother, king Sennacherib.

I have been desiring to build a castle between the heaven and the earth, and I want thee to send me a wise, clever man from thyself to build it for me, and to answer me all my questions, and that I may have the taxes and custom duties of Assyria for three years.”
Ahikar 4:1-2

where Absalom hung on a tree and was slain, another heir of David struck down by his father’s servants.

Then Absalom met the servants of David. Absalom rode on a mule. The mule went under the thick boughs of a great terebinth tree, and his head caught in the terebinth; so he was left hanging between heaven and earth. And the mule which was under him went on. Now a certain man saw it and told Joab, and said,

“I just saw Absalom hanging in a terebinth tree!”

So Joab said to the man who told him,

“You just saw him! And why did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have given you ten shekels of silver and a belt.”

But the man said to Joab,

“Though I were to receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son. For in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying,

‘Beware lest anyone touch the young man Absalom!’

“Otherwise I would have dealt falsely against my own life. For there is nothing hidden from the king, and you yourself would have set yourself against me.”

Then Joab said,

“I cannot linger with you.”

And he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through Absalom’s heart, while he was still alive in the midst of the terebinth tree.
2 Samuel 18:9-14

Later, after his position is restored, Ahikar saves Assyrian subjects who are stranded in Egypt due to a debt:

Then Ahikar arose, and kissed King Pharaoh’s hands and kissed the ground in front of him, and wished him strength and continuance, and abundance in his treasury, and said to him,

“O my lord! I desire from thee that not one of our countrymen may remain in Egypt.”

And Pharaoh arose and sent heralds to proclaim in the streets of Egypt that not one of the people of Assyria or Nineveh should remain in the land of Egypt, but that they should go with Ahikar.
Ahikar 6:39-40

A similar scene is prophesied by Isaiah:

Then the LORD said,

“Just as My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”
Isaiah 20:3-4

Ahikar, in the presence of Pharaoh, receives honor and new clothes.

Then the king began to ask him how he had got on with Pharaoh from his first arrival until he had come away from his presence, and how he had answered all his questions, and how he had received the taxes from him, and the changes of raiment and the presents.
Ahikar 6:48

But Christ, in the presence of Herod, receives mockery:

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him. Then he questioned Him with many words, but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.
Luke 23:8-11

and by Pilate’s men, even his clothes are stripped away:

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying,

“He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying,

“If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
Luke 23:33-37

Some of the wisdom literature…

O my son! Pour out thy wine on the tombs of the just, and drink not with ignorant, contemptible people.

O my son! Cleave to thy side men who fear God and be like then and go not near the ignorant, lest thou become like him, and learn his ways.
Ahikar 2:13-14

… seems inverted by Christ …

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples,

“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard that, He said to them,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means:

‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’

“For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Matthew 9:10-13

… but maintained by Paul:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
1 Corinthians 5:9-12

In other areas, Ahikar’s sayings seem echoed…

O my son! Be like a fruitful tree on the roadside, whose fruit is eaten by all who pass by, and the beasts of the desert rest under its shade and eat of its leaves.
Ahikar 2:29

both in the Old Testament, where it is a sub-creation of a storyteller in the narrative:

“The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them.
And they said to the olive tree,

‘Reign over us!’

But the olive tree said to them,

‘Should I cease giving my oil,
With which they honor God and men,
And go to sway over trees?’

“Then all the trees said to the bramble,

‘You come and reign over us!’

And the bramble said to the trees:

‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you,
Then come and take shelter in my shade;
But if not, let fire come out of the bramble
And devour the cedars of Lebanon!'”
Judges 9:8,14-15

and in the New, where the action occurs within the main narrative itself:

Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it,

“Let no fruit grow on you ever again.”

Immediately the fig tree withered away.
Matthew 21:18-19

Both Ahikar and the Scriptures assert the virtue of righteousness over wealth:

O my son! A poor man who does right is better than a rich man who is dead in sins.
Ahikar 2:52

Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
Than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
Proverbs 28:6

Through all these old writings are songs of praise, of God working in the weak to show the strong, in Ahikar

And Ahikar said to him,

“O my lord the king! I would to God Most High that I may fulfill what is on my mind, for God is with the weak that He may confound the strong.”
Ahikar 5:29

in the Psalms:

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;

To declare Your loving kindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night,
Psalms 92:1-2

in the Epistles:

And He said to me,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

and in the Qur’an

Solomon’s hosts, comprising jinn, humans and birds, were marched out for him, and they were held in check.

When they came to the Valley of Ants, an ant said:

“O ants! Enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts should trample on you while they are unaware.”

Whereat he smiled, amused at its words, and he said,

“My Lord! Inspire me to give thanks for Your blessing with which You have blessed me and my parents, and that I may do righteous deeds which please You, and admit me, by Your mercy, among Your righteous servants.”
The Ants (Qur’an 27):17-19

A Comedy of Wisdom

There’s comedy throughout the story.

One example is the “wise” method that Ahikar uses to answer Pharaoh’s goal of building a palace between heaven and earth. Of course, this is impossible! But the wise solution is to maneuver so that it is Pharaoh, and not Ahikar, blocking the next logical step. In this case, Ahikar managers to hang a line from the sky (suspended by two eagles), and states that construction can now begin once Pharaoh resolves the minor inconvenience of supplying building supplies to the air.

Then he took two little lads, and spent every day sacrificing lambs and feeding the eagles and the boys, and making the boys ride on the backs of the eagles, and he bound them with a firm knot, and tied the cable to the feet of the eagles, and let them soar upwards little by little every day, to a distance of ten cubits, till they grew accustomed and were educated to it; and they rose all the length of the rope till they reached the sky; the boys being on their backs. Then he drew them to himself.
Ahikar 5:11

This parallels an example of the passing-the-buck school of Wisdom described in the New Testament — an episode that occurs immediately after Christ’s cursing of the fig tree:

Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said,

“By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

But Jesus answered and said to them,

“I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying,

“If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus and said,

“We do not know.”

And He said to them,

“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Matthew 21:23-27

Some of the proverbs are humorous and could be the basis of a comic scene even today.

O my son! If the rich man eat a snake, they say,

“It is by his wisdom,”

and if a poor man eat it, the people say,

“From his hunger.”
Ahikar 2:17

The braying ass of a client, customer, or boss is also a funny human universal!

O my son! Bend thy head low down, and soften thy voice, and be courteous, and walk in a straight path, and be not foolish. And raise not thy voice when thou laughs for if it were by a loud voice that a house was built, the ass would build many houses every day; and if it were by dint of strength that the plow were driven, the plow would never be removed from under the shoulders of camels.
Ahikar 2:11

The ending of Ahikar is funny and includes the most ridiculous deus-ex-machina I’ve ever read in ancient literature. Nadan the Idiot-Nephew’s plot has totally failed, Ahikar is completely restored as a valued and important advisor, and Ahikar one more time teaches him wise lessons. Then, Adam Sandler-like bathroom humor:

And when Nadan heard that speech from his uncle Ahikar, he swelled up immediately and became like a blown-out bladder.

And his limbs swelled and his legs and his feet and his side, and he was torn and his belly burst asunder and his entrails were scattered, and he perished, and died.
Ahikar 7:56-57

The story rapidly concludes, with an explicit reminder of the religious importance of the tale.

And his latter end was destruction, and he went to hell. For he who digs a pit for his brother shall fall into it; and he who sets up traps shall be caught in them.

That is what happened and (what) we found about the tale of Ahikar, and praise be to God for ever. Amen, and peace.

This chronicle is finished with the help of God, may He be exalted! Amen, amen, amen.
Ahikar 7:58-60

The closest I read to this type of humor is perhaps the ancient Canaanite story of “God’s Drinking Party“, where God collapses from hard drink and the Moon-God is so drunk he is trapped in his dog form and has to beg under the table. But in that story, the greater meaning seems to wait until the time of Christ to be made clear.

But Jesus answered and said,

“You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

They said to Him,

“We are able.”
Matthew 20:22

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
Revelation 12:1

Or, perhaps, the comic ending of Revelation, and of the Scriptures, is the better example. There the comic is more classic. The genre of everything that is written is a true comedy, not because it ends with a fool in hell, but because it ends with the hero being married.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying,

“Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me,

“Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'”

And he said to me,

“These are the true sayings of God.”

And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me,

“See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Revelations 19:6-10


In our own day, the Assyrians are a Christian minority in the middle east. They speak the language of Ahikar, the language of Mary, and possibly the language of Muhammad. The moral lessons of Ahikar are probably intelligible to these followers even now

O my son! Thou hast been to me like a trap which was set up on the dunghill, and there came a sparrow and found the trap set up. And the sparrow said to the trap, “What does thou here?” Said the trap, “I am praying here to God.”

And the lark answered and said to the trap, “If that is thy bread for the hungry God accepts not thine alms and thy kind deeds.

And if that is thy fasting and thy prayers, God accepts from thee neither thy fast nor thy prayer, and God will not perfect what is good concerning thee. ”
Ahikar 7:14,19-20

Yet these followers are now at risk. The 20th century saw the Assyrian genocide, and more recently by the Islamic State. It is a miracle the text of Ahikar has survived till now. It is also a miracle the Assyrians have survived, too.

I read “The Story of Ahikar” in The Forgotten Books of Eden, edited by Rutherford H. Platt. The full text is also available online.

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