by Chris Maxwell
[Chris Maxwell is a third-year undergraduate at St. Mary's College in the University of St. Andrews.--JRD]
The earliest known text of the book of Ahiqar was found in Elephantine between 1906 and 1908. It is written in Aramaic and is believed to have been translated from an Akkadian original around the fifth century B.C. The next earliest known copy is an Armenian version from nearly a millenium later. Other existing copies are in Syriac and Arabic. There is thought to be a Greek version which has not turned up yet, but which was probably used for the introduction of Ahiqar into Aesop's Fables. Other links can be found with various phrases from the Old and New Testaments, and the book of Tobit in the Apocrypha.
The Elephantine text is divided into two sections. The first is written in the style of the `vindication of the righteous sufferer' wisdom, whereas the second is in the style of proverbial or instruction wisdom. One of the problems with this text is that there are very few links either between the proverb section and the narrative section in the Elephantine text, or between the proverb section in the Elephantine text and the proverb sections in later texts.
In the Elephantine text the proverb section is placed in a position to comment on the narrative, but only a few verses bear any relation to the narrative. When we come to the later texts which are supposed to have built on the Aramaic text we find that even fewer of the Aramaic proverbs find themselves in the later texts, and that those which do are concerned with subjects that are common-place in the ancient Near East.
It is my conclusion that more work needs to be done on the Ahiqar texts to determine whether the Elephantine proverbs were originally part of the Ahiqar tradition and were revised by later redactors, whether they were an expansion of a smaller number of proverbs at the end of the Ahiqar narrative, or whether the redactor of the Elephantine document used the Ahiqar narrative to provide a setting for his proverbs which have no link with the later texts.
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