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Ahiqar in the Book of Tobit (1)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

08 Administrative systems

08 Administrative systems

08 Administrative systems

Book of Tobit
Hellenistic Empires
Neo-Assyrian Empire
Aramaic texts

Some Neo-Assyrian administrative terms occur in the Book of Tobit. This apocryphic book is fully preserved in two variants of the Greek translation, and there are four Aramaic and one Hebrew fragment of the book from Qumran (4Q196-200). The book can be dated to the late Persian period, because there appear realities of that period and some Zoroastrian elements. The Greek text of Tobit 1.22 is of special interest. There appears Ahiqar known from the Aramaic text of Elephantine of the 5th century BCE, but speaking of Assyria of the 7th century BCE. In the Greek version of the book, Tobit relates: “Then Ahiqar interceded on my behalf, and I was able to return to Nineveh. For under Sennacherib, king of Assyria, Ahiqar had been chief cupbearer, keeper of the seal, administrator, and treasurer; and Esarhaddon reappointed him. He was a close relative – in fact, my nephew.” Here, in the Book of Tobit 1.22, Ahiqar is designated with administrative terms ho oinochóos (var. archioinochóos) kai epi tou daktylion kai dioikētes kai eklogistes.

The Greek term oinochóos equals the Neo-Assyrian title rab-šāqê – “chief cupbearer”, in the Qumran version, it is written rb šqh (4Q196, 2:7). The next designation, epi tou daktylion, corresponds to rb ˁzqh in the Qumran text (4Q196, 28), and means “keeper of the signet-ring”, which term is also found in Ahiqar’s story (1:3) as ṣbyt ˁzqthˀ. The term dioikētes, “vizier, chancellor, chief minister” equals Neo-Assyrian sukkallu. The same Greek term was used as a title in Ptolemaic Egypt. The last Greek designation of Ahiqar is eklogistes, “treasurer”, which equals Neo-Assyrian masennu or sanāqu “supervisor, financial controller”.

Accordingly, we see in the Book of Tobit the use of Neo-Assyrian traditional terms concerning the highest officials. These terms could be translated into Greek through the Aramaic text, which, as the Qumran fragment shows, was the original language of the Book of Tobit. The use of Neo-Assyrian administrative terms in the book forces us to connect it with the history of ancient Western Asia.

Sources (list of abbreviations) (source links will open in a new browser window)
Qumran scrolls, 4Q196
Tobit 1.22

Michael Heltzer

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