Achior the Ephraïmite



Damien F. Mackey



“Ahikar in the book of Tobit resembles, to a certain degree, Achior in the book of Judith: both are noble non-Jews turned into Jews”.





Achior, a leading player in the Book of Judith, being, as I argued in the first part of my:


Bible Critics Can Overstate Idea of ‘Enlightened Pagan’


none other than the Ahikar (Vulgate “Achior”) of the Book of Tobit – the very nephew of Tobit, of the tribe of Naphtali – was thus a northern Israelite.

He was not, therefore, an actual citizen of the southern kingdom of Judah (a Jew).

Whilst some scholars (such as Kraeling) have accepted that the name Achior can be the same as Ahikar, these tend to be disinclined to identify Achior of Judith with the Ahikar of Tobit. An exception to this was Henri Cazelles (1951), as I have just learned from B. Otzen’s book, Tobit and Judith (p. 108), who had accepted both a name and person identification (which Otzen, for his part, rejects):


A surprising understanding of the figure of Achior is met with in an article from 1951 by Henri Cazelles. He observes that the Vulgate of Tob. 11.19 (11.20) has the name Achior for Ahikar, and he thinks that ‘Achior’ is only the Graecized form of Semitic Ahikar, so that we have Ahikar in both the book of Tobit and the book of Judith. Ahikar is the pagan sage known as an advisor to the Assyrian kings Sennacherib and Esar-haddon and as the author of a widespread wisdom book, thus being an outstanding representative of the international wisdom tradition. In the book of Tobit Ahikar plays a peculiar role as Jewish minister under the Assyrian king (Tob. 1.22). In Chapter 5, ‘The Ahikar Motif’, the problems of the figure of Ahikar are dealt with. Ahikar in the book of Tobit resembles, to a certain degree, Achior in the book of Judith: both are noble non-Jews turned into Jews. Should we assume that there is only one figure, Ahikar? And does that mean that ‘Achior’ in the book of Judith is, as a matter of fact, the wise Ahikar trying to help the Israelites with his clever speech representing the divine wisdom (Cazelles 1951)? The idea is accepted above all by German scholars (Haag 1963: 32-33; Loretz 1967: 300-301; Zenger 1974: 75-76; 1981: 436; Kaiser 1992: 168; Schüngel-Straumann 2000: 61; but cf. Steinmann 1953: 55-56 and Moore 1985: 162- 63). When, in spite of this strong support for Cazelles, I still have my doubts about the idea, several reasons can be adduced: the transmission of personal names in both books is vacillating (only one example: the name of Ahikar is in Tob. 14.15 mixed up with the name of a Median king). Thus I hardly think the name Achior, occurring once only in the book of Tobit, can carry the weight of Cazelle’s hypothesis. Decisive is, however, the different status of the two figures: in the book of Tobit Ahikar is a Jew by birth, of the tribe of Naphtali, whereas, in the book of Judith, Achior is a genuine pagan, who is, eventually, accepted in the Jewish congregation.

[End of quote]


The Account of Achior in Judith


Deborah Levine Gera provides the following relevant account of the crucial rôle of Achior in her article, “The Jewish Textual Traditions” (


Let us begin with a brief look at the Book of Judith, as it appears in the Septuagint, the oldest of the extant Judith texts. The book opens with the successful campaign waged by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, against Arphaxad, king of the Medes. Nebuchadnezzar then sends his chief of staff, Holofernes, on an ambitious and punitive military campaign directed against those who did not join him in his earlier, successful war. All nations give way before Holofernes until he approaches the Jews, who decide to resist. The Jews of Bethulia must block the Assyrians’ path to Jerusalem and its temple. Holofernes, who is unacquainted with the Jews, learns something of their history and religious beliefs from his ally, the Ammonite Achior. Despite Achior’s warning that God may well defend His people, Holofernes places a siege on Bethulia. When water supplies run low, the people of the town press their leaders to surrender to the Assyrians and Uzziah, the chief leader, promises to capitulate if there is no relief within five days. It is at this point that the pious, beautiful widow, Judith, steps on stage. Judith, who leads an ascetic and solitary life, summons Uzziah and his fellow leaders to her home and reprimands them for their lack of faith in God. She then takes matters into her own hands. Judith prays, bathes, and removes her widow’s weeds. ”Dressed to kill,” Judith leaves Bethulia for the enemy Assyrian camp, accompanied only by her faithful maid. The glamorous Judith charms and deceives Holofernes – as well as his trusty eunuch Bagoas – and promises to deliver the Jews to the Assyrians with God’s help. In her dealings with Holofernes, Judith is not only beautiful, but sharp-witted. Her exchanges with the enemy commander are ironic and two-edged and her subtle, duplicitous words are one of the chief charms of the apocryphal book.1 Holofernes invites Judith to a party in order to seduce her, but he drinks a great deal of wine and collapses on his couch. Judith then seizes Holofernes’s sword and cuts off the head of the sleeping general. She returns to Bethulia with Holofernes’s head in a bag (and his canopy as well). Achior the Ammonite converts to Judaism when he learns of Judith’s deed and sees the actual dead man’s head. The Jews of Bethulia, following Judith’s advice, subsequently take the offensive, attacking the Assyrian army and defeating them. Judith, praised by all, sings a victory song and then goes back to her quiet life at home. She lives until the ripe old age of 105 and is mourned by all of Israel when she dies.

[End of quote]


Thus Achior of the Book of Judith has been passed down to us as a gentile, an “Ammonite” prince, who ultimately converts to Judaïsm.

However, it was forbidden for any Ammonite to “enter the Assembly of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 23:3) – this being a key reason for the exclusion of the Book of Judith from the Jewish canon (or Tanakh).

Surprising though, I think, to find a pagan Ammonite having such an awareness of Israelite history going back to Abraham. For this is what he told the Assyrian commander-in-chief, “Holofernes” (Judith 5:5-21):


Then Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites, answered Holofernes, ‘Sir, if you will please be so kind as to listen to me, I will tell you the truth about these people who live in the mountains near your camp. I will not lie to you. These people are the descendants of some Babylonians who abandoned the ways of their ancestors in order to worship the God of heaven. Finally, they were driven out of their land because they refused to worship their ancestors’ gods. Then they fled to Mesopotamia, where they settled and lived for a long time. Afterward, their god told them to leave Mesopotamia and go to the land of Canaan, where they settled and became very rich in gold, silver, and livestock. Later, when a famine struck all the land of Canaan, these Israelites, as they were later called, went down to Egypt and stayed there as long as there was enough food. While they were there, they became a large nation with so many people that they could not be counted. So the king of Egypt turned against them. He took advantage of them and put them to work making bricks. He oppressed them and made them slaves. But they prayed to their god, and he sent disasters that left the Egyptians helpless. When the Egyptians drove them out of the country, their god dried up the Red Sea in front of them, and then led them along the way to Sinai and Kadesh Barnea. The Israelites drove out all the people who lived in the southern part of Canaan, occupied the land of the Amorites, wiped out the people of Heshbon, crossed the Jordan River, and took possession of the entire mountain region. They drove out the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Shechemites, and all the Girgashites. The Israelites have now lived in these mountains for a long time. Their god hates wickedness, and as long as they did not sin against him, they prospered. But when they disobeyed him, they suffered heavy losses in many wars and were finally taken away as captives to a foreign country. The temple of their god was leveled [better, profaned] and their cities were occupied by their enemies. But now that they have returned to their god, they have come back home from the countries where they had been scattered. They have again taken possession of the city of Jerusalem, where their temple is, and have resettled in the mountains that had remained uninhabited. Sir, if these people are now sinning against their god, even unknowingly, and if we can be sure that they are guilty of some offense, we can successfully attack them. But if they have not disobeyed the law of their god, then you should leave them alone, or he will defend them, and we will be disgraced before the whole world’.


Achior was, according to my historical reconstructions, Ahikar, a northern Israelite, steeped in the history of his nation – he being closely related to the righteous Tobit – and a sage of legendary wisdom and knowledge.

He rose to the vizierate (or high rank of ummanu) in the neo-Assyrian kingdom.

Thus (


Akhiqar was a wise and virtuous man, Chancellor or Secretary at the court of the Assyrian Kings Sennacherib (704-681 BC) and Esarhaddon (680-669 BC). The history and wisdom proverbs of Akhiqar, those that are found, were written in Aramaic, an alphabetical form of writing and a much simpler system than cuneiform. ….


The material used in writing Aramaic was on clay, an indestructible material; with ink on potsherds having some chance of survival; papyrus or parchment having practically no chance of survival over millennia.


A considerable number of translations, among them Assyrian (misnamed Syriac), Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, old Turkish, Greek and Slavonic, indicate that the story of Akhiqar was very popular in antiquity.


Akhiqar and his proverbs are not without historical evidence, in light of the discovery of an Assyrian tablet at Uruk from the Seleucid era, in which there is reference to Akhiqar. The tablet relates that “in the time of Esarhaddon, Aba-enlil-dari whom the Arameans call Ahuqar was ummanu, court scholar. [The text was first published by J.J. Van Dijk, as reported by J.C. Greenfield in the Journal of the American Oriental Society 82 (1962) 293].


The story of Akhiqar and his proverbial wisdom influenced the development of Jewish wisdom literature early in the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD). Similar ethical doctrines appear in the old Testament books of Psalms and Ecclesiastes and in the apocryphal books of Tobit and Ecclesiasticus. Traces of the story and the maxims are also found in other sources such as the Arabic Thousand and One Nights, the Greek edition of Aesop’s Fables, and the Koran.


The story of Akhiqar is divided into two parts: Akhiqar’s life, the adoption of his nephew Nadin and how he was betrayed; the other contains 142 maxims or sage observations on such matters as education, obedience, respect, gratitude, and retribution. …

[End of quote]


Nadin’s betrayal of Ahikar – and its crucial importance in the drama of the Book of Judith – is the subject of my article:


“Nadin went into everlasting darkness”



Achior’s meteoric career




Achior, as Ahikar, was the cousin of Tobias, son of Tobit.






Though Achior/Ahikar and Tobias were cousins, it would appear that the former was older, considering that he was already officiating for Assyria whilst Tobias was yet an unmarried youth. For my account of the life and spectacular career of Tobias – who was Job – see my:


Stellar Life and Career of the holy Prophet Job


Moreover, given the advanced age to which Tobias/Job lived, he would almost certainly have outlived his famous cousin.

According to this reconstruction of the holy man’s career, Tobias did not blossom as an official until the reign of Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib, his career really going stellar during the reign of Esarhaddon’s own son, Ashurbanipal.

Achior, for his part, was already making a name for himself during the reign of Sennacherib.

And Tobit, the father of Tobias and the uncle of Achior/Ahikar, had served Assyria even earlier, and at the highest level, under king Shalmaneser. See my:


Tobit a High Official in Realm of Assyria. Part One: “King Shalmaneser”


Tobit a High Official in Realm of Assyria. Part Two: Tobit’s Status


As explained in Part Two here, Tobit’s rank of purveyor, or quartermaster (rab[i] ekalli) under king Shalmaneser was of the very highest official order.  


Achior Under Sennacherib


Whilst the fortunes of Tobit would take a steep downturn during the tumultuous reign of Sennacherib, Tobit’s nephew Achior/Ahikar was, for his part, occupying high courtly office as the Assyrian king’s Rabshakeh. Yigael Yadin gets very close to this identification when he, following H. Tadmor, writes (in How Did Rabshakeh Know the Language of Judah?):


  1. 333 ….

Considering all that we now know about both the deportations and the fate of the deportees, Tadmor’s suggestion seems more reasonable than ever. Although we will apparently never have absolute proof, probably the “Rabshakeh” was a low-level Israelite officer or official who was exiled in 722 or 720 [BC], inducted by force or by choice into the Assyrian service, advanced in rank and position perhaps because of his language skills, and 20 years later was Sennacherib’s senior servant—his rab šaqu. As such, and perhaps precisely because of his knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, he accompanied Sennacherib on his third campaign in 701, was a member of the delegation

to Jerusalem, and found himself standing “by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fuller’s Field,” addressing the people of Judah. ….


And further (p. 334):


Many commentators have analyzed the speech and its content, and I shall not attempt to repeat their analyses. 42 In the following section, I show that the speech attributed to Rabshakeh could very well reflect the views of an Israelite, whose country had been destroyed and whose people had been exiled by the Assyrians a few decades previously, and who was now honestly trying to warn his brothers in Judah of a similar fate.


Not surprising that the Assyrian king would select an intelligent and competent officer of Israelite origin to address king Hezekiah’s chief officials in their own language, in Hebrew.

Nor is it surprising – if I am correct that Achior were Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh ­– that a similarity has been detected between Achior’s speech to “Holofernes”, that we have already encountered in this series, and the Rabshakeh’s speech to Hezekiah’s officials. And such is what I noted in my university thesis:


A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background




(Volume Two, p. 8):


Most interestingly, 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 [the Book of Judith’s] Achior (who I shall actually be identifying with this Rabshakeh in Chapter 2, e.g. pp. 46-47) to Holofernes (Judith 5:20f.). ….

[End of quote]


In Volume One, p. 186, I wrote:


According to the first chapter of [the Book of Tobit]: “Ahikar had been chief cupbearer, keeper of the signet, administrator and treasurer under Sennacherib” and he was kept in office after Sennacherib’s death. At some point in time Ahikar seems to have been promoted to Ummânu, or Vizier, second in power in the mighty kingdom of Assyria, “Chancellor of the Exchequer for the kingdom and given the main ordering of affairs” (1:21, 22). Ahikar was Chief Cupbearer, or Rabshakeh (רַבְשָׁקֵה) during Sennacherib’s Third Campaign when Jerusalem was besieged (2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 36:2). His title (Assyrian rab-šakê) means, literally, ‘the great man’. It was a military title, marking its bearer amongst the greatest of all the officers. Tobit tells us that Ahikar (also given in the Vulgate version of [the Book of Tobit] as Achior) was the son of his brother Anael (1:21). Ahikar was therefore Tobit’s nephew, of the tribe of Naphtali, taken into captivity by ‘Shalmaneser’.

[End of quote]



‘Who do you think you are, Achior, you and your Ephraïmite soldiers …?’


(Words of Holofernes)




We read in Part One (b, i) B. Otzen’s reasons for dismissing Henri Cazelles view, expressed in 1951, that the names “Achior” and “Ahikar” were connectable, and that the Achior of Judith and the Ahikar of Tobit were one and the same person.

Here again is the relevant portion of Otzen’s statement:


When, in spite of this strong support for Cazelles, I still have my doubts about the idea, several reasons can be adduced: the transmission of personal names in both books is vacillating (only one example: the name of Ahikar is in Tob. 14.15 mixed up with the name of a Median king). Thus I hardly think the name Achior, occurring once only in the book of Tobit, can carry the weight of Cazelle’s hypothesis. Decisive is, however, the different status of the two figures: in the book of Tobit Ahikar is a Jew by birth, of the tribe of Naphtali, whereas, in the book of Judith, Achior is a genuine pagan, who is, eventually, accepted in the Jewish congregation.


It is true that “names” (but not just “personal” ones) have been incorrectly transmitted, both in the Book of Tobit and in the Book of Judith. In Tobit, for instance, we seem to have the nonsensical geographical situation of the travelling party heading from Nineveh to Ecbatana in Media, that is, heading eastwards, yet arriving in the evening at the Tigris river, which is to the west of Nineveh. In my:


A Common Sense Geography of the Book of Tobit


I was able to show that, with some slight tweaking – but based on some preserved fragments of the Book of Tobit – “Media” and “Ecbatana” need to be understood as, respectively, Midian and Bathania (or Bashan). This westwards direction is strengthened by the inclusion in the Douay version of Tobit of “Charan” (Haran) en route between Nineveh and “Ecbatana”.

When the Book of Judith similarly undergoes its own necessary tweaking, then the drama’s opening in the 12th year of a king “ruling over the Assyrians from his capital city of Nineveh” can be historically slotted right into the 12th year of Sargon II. The historical problem of Judith, along with the previously mentioned one of the apparent acceptance of a pagan Ammonite, Achior, into “the Assembly of the Lord”, have been major stumbling blocks disallowing the inclusion of the Book of Judith in the Jewish canon. In this way, the reality of one of Israel’s greatest heroines has been seriously diminished.


Confusion over Achior’s Name


A gloss added early to the Book of Judith (1:6) tells of one “King Arioch of Elam” (variously “Ar′ioch ruled the Elymae′ans”).

Here, as I have argued in, for example:


Ahikar Part One: As a Young Officer for Assyria


Achior, as Tobit 2:10’s “Ahikar [who] took care of me [blind Tobit] for two years, until he left for Elam”, was also this “Arioch who ruled the Elymaeans”.

And this may now be the key to the Ammonite problem associated with Achior.

Given the confusion of names here and there, a tweaking may be needed, as with Tobit’s “Ecbatana” altered to read “Bathania”. “Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites” (Judith 5:5) may need to be altered to read – as in accordance the information provided by Tobit 2:10 and Judith 1:6: “Achior, the leader of all the Elamites”.

Achior/Ahikar had indeed been commissioned by the king of Assyria to rule Elam. But he was ethnically an Israelite, or Ephraïmite, as according to the testimony of “Holofernes”: ‘Who do you think you are, Achior, you and your Ephraïmite soldiers …?’ (as quoted on p. 611 of Inclusive Hebrew Scriptures: The Writings, by Priests for Equality (Organization)).

Otzen had also noted that: “… the name of Ahikar is in Tob. 14.15 mixed up with the name of a Median king …”. In some versions, the king is named Cyaxares, in accordance with the historical view that it was he who conquered Nineveh. The Codex Sinaïticus, instead, renders the name as Ahikar.

Though I think that it is unlikely, might Ahikar still have been ruling Elam (and Media?) at the time of the destruction of Nineveh, when his long-lived cousin Tobias was yet still alive? Tobit 14:14-15: “At the ripe old age of 117 Tobias died, having lived long enough to hear about the destruction of Nineveh and to see King Cyaxares [Ahikar] of Media take the people away as captives”.

As the verse continues, we learn that: “Tobias praised God for the way that he had punished the people of Nineveh and Assyria. As long as he lived he gave thanks for what God had done to Nineveh”. It was at this stage of his career that he had morphed into that notable rejoicer over the Fall of Nineveh:


Prophet Nahum as Tobias-Job Comforted




I do not believe that, as according to Otzen: “Achior is a genuine pagan, who is, eventually, accepted in the Jewish congregation”, and so he cannot be Ahikar.

Achior was the same northern Israelite nephew of Tobit as Ahikar, serving under Sennacherib, firstly as the king’s Hebrew-speaking Rabshakeh mouthpiece, and later as his governor (king: the neo-Assyrian kings could boast of ‘all their governors being kings’) of the important province of Elam.

He, being a close relative of the holy Yahwist Tobit (1:4-6):


Now when I [Tobit] was in my own country, in the land of Israel, while I was still a young man, the whole tribe of Naphtali my forefather deserted the house of Jerusalem. This was the place which had been chosen from among all the tribes of Israel, where all the tribes should sacrifice and where the temple of the dwelling of the Most High was consecrated and established for all generations for ever.

All the tribes that joined in apostasy used to sacrifice to the calf Baal, and so did the house of Naphtali my forefather.

But I alone went often to Jerusalem for the feasts, as it is ordained for all Israel by an everlasting decree. ….


was well versed in the history of Israel. But apparently he – unlike Tobit, but like the tribe of Naphtali – had not embraced the House of David, Jerusalem and its feasts. And so Achior’s conversion following on from Judith’s victory (Judith 14:6-10):


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. 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. 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. When she had finished her story, the people cheered so loudly that the whole town echoed with sounds of joy. 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.


was a conversion, not from pagan Ammonite-ness (or even Elamite-ness) to Davidic Yahwism, but from the then current Naphtalian form of religious observance to Judith’s pure form of Yahwism.



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