The Book of Tobit

The Book of Tobit, a 3rd to early 2nd Century BCE Jewish work, describes how God tests faithful, responds prayers and protects covenant community (i.e. the Israelites). It is the story of two Jewish families: the one of the nineveh blind Tobit and the other of the Ecbatana abandoned Sarah. (www.tobitmovie.com). Tobit’s son Tobias is sent by Raphael to retrieve the ten silver talents Tobit left behind in Rages, a town located in Media. He arrives in Ecbatana where he meets Sarah. Asmodeus, a demon, has fallen in love and killed anyone she intended to marry. Raphael helps Tobias and Sarah to get married and then they return to Nineveh, where Tobit is healed of his blindness.

It is found in the Orthodox and Catholic canons, but not the Jewish. The Protestant tradition places it within the Apocrypha. Anabaptists Lutherans Anglicans and Methodists recognize it as part the Bible, useful for purposes of edification, liturgyy, and non-canonical. It is a fiction work with historical references, which the majority of scholars accept.

Summary and structure

There are 14 chapters in the book, which form three main narrative sections. They are framed by a prologue or epilogue.

  • Prologue (1:1-2)
  • Situation in Nineveh & Ecbatana (1.3-3.17)
  • Tobias’s Journey (4:1-12.22)
  • Tobit’s song to praise and his demise (13:1-14.2)
  • Epilogue (14:3-15)
  • (Summarized from Benedikt Ottzen, “Tobit and Judith”)

The prologue informs the reader that this is the story about Tobit, the tribe of Naphtali who was deported by the Assyrians from Tishbe, Galilee to Nineveh. He was a faithful follower of the laws of Moses and made offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem prior to the Assyrian conquest. His marriage to Anna is highlighted in the narrative, and they had a son named Tobias.

Tobit is a religious man who buries dead Jews. But one night while he’s sleeping, a bird blinds him and defecates in the eyes. https://www.change.org/p/jim-osborne-of-apa-mel-gibson-should-play-tobit-in-feature-film He becomes dependent on his wife, but accuses her of stealing and prays for death. His relative Sarah, who lives in distant Ecbatana, prays for his death as Asmodeus killed her suitors during their wedding night. She is also accused of having caused their deaths.

God answers their prayers, and Raphael, the archangel sent by God to assist them, is sent. Raphael disguised as a human, offers to go with Tobias to help him recover money from a relative. They catch a fish in Tigris. Raphael informs Tobias that the burnt liver and liver can drive away demons, while the gall can cure blindness. Raphael predicts that the demon will be driven out when they arrive at Ecbatana. Sarah is also there.

Tobias and Sarah get married and Tobias becomes wealthy. They return to Nineveh (Assyria), where Tobit, Anna, and their children. Tobit is healed of his blindness and Raphael leaves after exhorting Tobit and Tobias, to bless God, declare his deeds before the people (the Jews), and to fast and pray as well as to give alms. Tobit praises God for punishing his people with exile, but will show mercy on them and rebuild the Temple if their hearts turn to him.

Tobit informs Tobias in the epilogue that Nineveh will soon be destroyed as an example for wickedness. Israel and the Temple also will be destroyed. Tobias should therefore leave Nineveh and live in righteousness with his children.

Significance

Tobit is considered fiction, with some historical references. It combines prayers, moral exhortation and adventure with elements from folklore and wisdom tales, travel stories, romance, comedy, and even romance. It provided guidance to the diaspora, or Jews in exile, on how to preserve Jewish identity.

The Latin Rite uses readings from the book. The book is frequently read at weddings, in many rites, because of its praise for purity of marriage. Doctrinally, the book’s teachings on intercession of angels and filial piety and reverence for those who are dead are cited. Chapter 5 of 1 Meqabyan also mentions Tobit, which is considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Manuscripts and composition

Leaf taken from a vellum manuscript, circa 1240.

Although the Book of Tobit was written in the 8th Century BC, the actual book dates back to 225-125 BC. There is no consensus on the location of composition (almost all regions of the ancient world seem to be candidates”); a Mesopotamian origin seems logical since the story takes places in Assyria, Persia, and the mention of the Persian demon “aeshma Daeva”, which is rendered “Asmodeus”. However, the book contains significant geographical errors (such as the distance between Ecbatana and Rhages and their topography), as well as arguments in favor or Judean composition.

Tobit is available in two Greek versions: Sinaiticus (longer) and Alexandrinus (shorter). Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit (four Aramaic, one Hebrew – it is not clear which was the original language) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran tend to align more closely with the longer or Sinaiticus version, https://icatholic.ph/category/doctrine/book-of-tobit/ which has formed the basis of most English translations in recent times.

Tobit, Judith, and Esther are placed in the Vulgate after the historical books (after Nehemiah). Some manuscripts in the Greek version put them after the wisdom writings.

Status Canonical

The deuterocanon is a term that refers to the Jewish books that are found in the Septuagint, but not in the Masoretic canon. Protestants adhere to the Masoretic canon. Tobit is therefore not included in their standard canon. However, they do recognize it in the deuterocanonical book category called the apocrypha.

The Council of Rome (A.D. 382) lists the Book of Tobit as a canonical work. This includes the Council of Hippo (393), Council of Carthage (397), and Council of Carthage (419), as well the Council of Florence (1422) and the Council of Trent (1546). It is both part of the canon of the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Catholics refer to it as https://icatholic.ph/category/tobit-study-guide/ deuterocanonical.

Augustine (c. A.D. 397) and Pope Innocent I(A.D. 405) both confirmed Tobit’s inclusion in the Old Testament Canon. Athanasius (A.D.367) stated that Tobit was not part of the Canon but that other books, such as the book of Tobit were “appointed by the Fathers for being read”.

Rufinus of Aquileia (c. A.D.400) stated that the book of Tobit, along with other deuterocanonical works, were not Canonical books but Ecclesiastical.

The book of Tobit is traditionally placed in the intertestamental section known as Apocrypha according to Protestant traditions. Anabaptism uses the book of Tobit to liturgically at Amish weddings. The “book of Tobit” is used as the basis of the wedding sermon. Tobit is listed in the Luther Bible as part of the “Apocrypha”, which refers to books that are not equal to sacred Scriptures but are still useful to read. [5] Article VI of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Church of England names it as a book of “Apocrypha”. The Sunday Service of the Methodists, the first Methodist liturgical book uses verses from Tobit for its Eucharistic liturgy. The lectionaries of the Lutheran and Anglican Churches include scripture readings from the Apocrypha, as well as alternate Old Testament readings. In Holy Matrimony services, Anglican, Methodist, and Catholic churches use the Book of Tobit as a scripture reading.

Tobit provides some fascinating evidence of the early development of the Jewish canon. It refers to two rather than three divisions: the Law of Moses (i.e. The torah and the prophets. It is not found in the Hebrew Bible for unknown reasons. Possible explanations include its age (now considered unlikely), Samaritan origin or an infringement on ritual law in that it depicts the marriage contract between Tobias, his bride, as written by her father, rather than her husband. It can be found in the Septuagint, a Greek Jewish writings, which was adopted by the Christian canon at the end of 4th century.

Influence

Tobit’s position in the Christian canon gave it the ability to influence art, culture, and theology in Europe. The early Church fathers often addressed it, and the motif of Tobias with the fish (the fish being the symbol of Christ) was very popular in art and theology. [36] Rembrandt’s paintings and drawings that illustrated episodes of the book are particularly noteworthy.