Arioch and Achior (Ahikar)

Published September 2, 2016 by amaic


“Arioch, King of the Elymeans”

 (Judith 1:6)



Damien F. Mackey


Is the Book of Judith merely a pious fable, and thus quite un-historical, with a character like “Arioch”, the ruler of Elam, thrown in due to the author’s supposed “love of archaism”?



This is what I wrote about “Arioch” in my university thesis:


A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background



(Volume Two, pp. 46-47):


Verses 1:6: “Arioch, king of the Elymeans”


In [the Book of Judith] 1:6, which gives a description of the geographical locations from which Arphaxad’s allies came, we learn that some of these had hailed from the region of the “Hydaspes, and, on the plain, Arioch, king of the Elymeans”. I disagree with Charles

that: …. “The name Arioch is borrowed from Gen. xiv. i, in accordance with the author’s

love of archaism”. This piece of information, I am going to argue here, is actually a later

gloss to the original text. And I hope to give a specific identification to this king, since, according to Leahy: …. “The identity of Arioch (Vg Erioch) has not been established …”.


What I am going to propose is that Arioch was not actually one of those who had rallied

to the cause of Arphaxad in Year 12 of Nebuchadnezzar, as a superficial reading of [the Book of Judith] though might suggest, but that this was a later addition to the text for the purpose of making more precise for the reader the geographical region from whence came Arphaxad’s allies, specifically the Elamite troops. In other words, this was the very same region as that which Arioch had ruled ….


But commentators express puzzlement about him. Who was this Arioch? And if he were

such an unknown, then what was the value of this gloss for the early readers?


Arioch, I believe, was the very Achior who figures so prominently in the story of Judith.

He was also the legendary Ahikar, a most famous character as we read in Chapter 7. Therefore he was entirely familiar to the Jews, who would have known that he had eventually governed the Assyrian province of Elam. I shall tell about this in a moment.


Some later editor/translator presumably, apparently failing to realise that the person named in this gloss was the very same as the Achior who figures so prominently throughout the main story of [the Book of Judith], has confused matters by calling him by the different name of Arioch. He should have written: “Achior ruled the Elymeans”.


[The Book of Tobit] tells us more. …. he who had been Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh was appointed governor (or ‘king’) of Elymaïs (Elam) (cf. 1:18, 21: 2:10). This was Tobit’s very nephew, Ahikar/Achior.

…. From there it is an easy matter to make this comparison:


“Achior … Elymeans” [Book of Judith]; “Ahikar (var. Achior) … Elymaïs” [Book of Tobit].


[End of quote]



Though I had not appreciated it when writing my thesis, Achior’s governorship over the Elamites may help to solve a crucial problem affecting the canonicity of the Book of Judith, which presents Achior as an “Ammonite”.

Thesis, p. 22:


… Judith may have been excluded from the Hebrew canon because the Rabbis, who were responsible for fixing the canon in the last stages of the canonizing process, disapproved of the book’s universalism, i.e., its accepting attitude toward the towns of Samaria and its approval of an Ammonite’s admittance into the Jewish faith (so Steinmann ….).


On p. 58, I had provided a big part of the solution, for if Achior were indeed Ahikar, I argued, then he would actually have been an Israelite:


Now Achior provides Holofernes with a basic run-down of Israelite history from Abraham to their present day (vv. 6-19). Again I must ask: Would a pagan Ammonite have been likely to have known the history of Israel in such detail, going back to deep antiquity? Anyway Holofernes will soon afterwards contemptuously call Achior an “Ephraïmite hireling [or mercenary]” (6:2). And this is a correct designation for him, Ephraïm being a common appellation for northern Israel. Though some versions of [Book of Judith] maintain their consistency by continuing to read ‘Ammon’. ….

The whole exegetical problem of Achior’s supposedly being an Ammonite leader is solved, I think, when one recognises who Achior really was. He was, not a pagan Ammonite, but a Naphtalian Israelite; though at this stage an uncircumcised one.


Whilst this is perfectly true, I think that some further clarification now needs to be added to it.

Achior was ethnically an Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali, and so Holofernes was entirely correct in designating him an “Ephraïmite”.

But Achior was now also, under the authority of the Assyrians, a ruler (or governor) of a pagan people – but not the Ammonites. Problematical verses such as Judith 5:5, according to which: “Then Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites …”, most certainly need to be amended to read: “Then Achior, the leader of all the Elamites …”.

Such indeed Achior also was.




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