Kvanvig: Introducing Ahiqar
by Estéban Trujillo de Gutiérrez
“The figures in the next list of ten are generally designated ummanu, which is the common designation for a scholar of high reputation. There are one or perhaps two exceptions.
The first figure of the second list, Nungalpiriggal, is designated apkallu. This might be a reflection of a tradition, since this figure is also designated apkallu in Bīt Mēseri.
The second case is trickier. I.L. Finkel claims to see the Sumerian signs nun.me, equivalent to Akkadian apkallu, also connected to Sinliqunninni, the next figure, who operated during the reign of Gilgamesh.
It might be that this is also a reflection of tradition, since the next two figures in Bīt Mēseri are designated apkallu as well. The reason for this inconsistency could be that there existed a tradition where the number seven was fixed to the apkallus, while the different authors could not deny that there had been other apkallus beside these.
(Cf. W.G. Lambert, “A Catalogue of Texts and Authors,” JCS 16 (1962): 59-77, 67.)
The names of most postdiluvian scholars are well-known from incipits, colophons, and in the Catalogue of Texts and Authors. They are regarded as famous scholars responsible for “scientific” works.
The name of the first, however, Nungalpiriggal, seems to be pure fiction. Previously the sign pirig was understood as a word for “lion,” thus indicating the figure’s monstrous appearance. In a commentary to diagnostic omens, however, the sign is explained as Akkadian nūru, “light.” The name would thus mean “great prince, great light.”
The figure at the tenth place in the Uruk text is of special significance. Therefore the text devotes a special commentary to him: at the time of the king Aššurahiddina, Aba’enlidari was ummânū, [šá lū] ah-la-MI-mu—ú i-qab-bu-ú a-hu-‘u-qa-a-ri, “whom the Arameans call Ahiqar” (rev. line 20).
Aba’enlidari is known as the ancestor of the wisdom tradition in Nippur. In the Uruk tablet he is made the same person as one of Sennacherib’s counselors. The author of the Uruk tablet obviously knew that there existed Aramaic traditions about a great wise man at Sennacherib’s court and made the connection to Aba’enlidari.
A novel about Ahiqar, written in Aramaic, together with a series of his proverbs, was found in Upper Egypt, in Elephantine.
Prior to this discovery, extracts from this book were known. Ahiqar is also known in the Jewish book of Tobit (1:22; 14:10).
(For a thorough analysis of both the proverbs and the novel of Ahiqar, cf. I. Kottsieper, “The Aramaic Tradition: Ahiqar,” in Scribes, Sages, and Seers: The Sage in the Eastern Mediterranean World, ed. L.G. Perdue. Göttingen 2008, 109-24.)
In the Elephantine Ahiqar story he is described in the following way:
“Are you] the wise scribe and the lord of good counsel,
who [was a righteous] man [and b]y whose counsel all of Assyria was guided?
(Elephantine Ahiqar story iii, 42-3).
He is also described as “the great Ahiqar” (iii, 60).
(Text in A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford 1923, 204f., 213f.)
Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, 2011, pp. 111-3.