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Please read the Introductory Notes to this commentary.

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Apocrypha Index
Tobit  •  Judith  •  Esther (LXX)  •  Wisdom of Solomon  •  Sirach
Baruch  •  2 Baruch  •  1 Maccabees  •  2 Maccabees  •  1 Esdras
Prayer of Manassas   •  Psalm 151  •  3 Maccabees  •  2 Esdras  •  4 Maccabees  •  Daniel (LXX)


 

Tobit
Introductory Notes and Comments

[Edited from Wikipedia]

The Book of Tobit (/ˈtoʊbɪt/) is a book of scripture that is part of the Catholic and Orthodox biblical canons. It was recognized as canonical by the Council of Hippo (in 393), the Councils of Carthage of 397 and 417, and the Council of Florence (in 1442), and confirmed in the Counter-Reformation by the Council of Trent (1546). It is not found in Protestant or Jewish biblical canons.

Canonical Status

In Judaism

Before the 1952 discovery of Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit among the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave at Qumran, scholars believed Tobit was not included in the Jewish canon because of late authorship, estimated to 100 CE. Qumran fragments of the text, which were copied between 100 BCE and 25 CE, evidence a much earlier origin than previously thought. These fragments evidence authorship no later than the 2nd century BCE and, likely, contemporary with the date ascribed, by modern scholars, to the final compilation of the Book of Daniel, which did attain canonical status.

Other scholars have postulated that Tobit was excluded from the Jewish Scriptures for a halakhic reason because Raguel, the bride’s father, wrote the marriage document discussed in Tobit 7:13, instead of the bridegroom, as required by Jewish rabbinical law.

However, some ancient Jewish rabbinic scholars possibly considered Tobit to be canonical. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah, an aggadic commentary on the Book of Genesis compiled circa 400–600 CE, includes a truncated Aramaic version of Tobit. Tobit was also part of the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Bible. In more contemporary times, a number of Jews in Israel have sought to reclaim Tobit as part of the canon.

In Christianity

The Book of Tobit is listed as a canonical book by the Council of Rome (382 CE), the Council of Hippo (393), the Council of Carthage (397) and (419), the Council of Florence (1442) and finally the Council of Trent (1546), and is part of the canon of both the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Catholics refer to it as deuterocanonical (from the Greek meaning “belonging to the second canon”).

Augustine (c. 397 CE) and Pope Innocent I (405) affirmed Tobit as part of the “Old Testament” Canon. Athanasius (367) mentioned that certain other books, including the book of Tobit, while not being part of the Canon, “were appointed by the Fathers to be read.”

According to Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 400) the book of Tobit and other deuterocanonical books were not called Canonical but Ecclesiastical books.

Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England lists it as a book of the “Apocrypha.” Protestants regard Tobit as apocryphal because it was not included in the Tanakh nor considered canonical by Judaism.

Summary

This book tells the story of Tobit, a righteous Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali, living in Nineveh after Sargon II had deported the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria in 721 BCE. In the two Greek versions, the first two and a half chapters are written in the first person; in the Vulgate version, they are written in the third person. Tobit, raised by his paternal grandmother, Deborah, remains loyal to the worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem, refusing the cult of the golden calves that Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, set up at Dan. He is particularly noted for his diligence in attempting to provide proper burials for fallen Israelites whom Sargon’s successor, Sennacherib, has slain. For this behavior the king seizes his property and exiles him. After Sennacherib’s death, Tobit is allowed to return to Nineveh, where he buries a man who has been murdered on the street. That night, he sleeps in the open and is blinded by bird droppings which fall into his eyes. His blindness subsequently leads him to falsely accuse his wife, Anna, of stealing a baby goat she had received as partial payment for work she had done. This strains his marriage and, ultimately, he prays for death.

Meanwhile, in faraway Media, a young woman named Sarah has prayed for death in despair. The demon of lust, Asmodeus (“the worst of demons”), abducts and kills every man Sarah marries on their wedding night before the marriage can be consummated. God sends the angel Raphael, disguised as a human, to heal Tobit and free Sarah from the demon.

The main narrative is dedicated to Tobit’s son, Tobiah or Tobiyah (Greek: Τωβίας Tobias), who is sent by his father to collect money that the elder has deposited in distant Media. Raphael presents himself as Tobit’s kinsman, Azariah, and offers to aid and protect Tobias. Under Raphael’s guidance, Tobias journeys to Media with his dog.

Along the way, while washing his feet in the river Tigris, a fish tries to swallow his foot. By the angel’s order, he captures it and removes its heart, liver and gall bladder.

Upon arriving in Media, Raphael tells Tobias of the beautiful Sarah, whom Tobias has the right to marry because he is her cousin and closest relative. The angel instructs the young man to burn the fish’s liver and heart to drive away the demon when he attacks on the wedding night. The two marry, and the fumes of the burning organs drive the demon to Upper Egypt, where Raphael follows and binds him. Sarah’s father had been digging a grave to secretly bury Tobias under the assumption that he would be killed. Surprised to find his son-in-law alive and well, he orders a double-length wedding feast and has the grave secretly filled. Since the feast prevents him from leaving, Tobias sends Raphael to recover his father’s money.

After the feast, Tobias and Sarah return to Nineveh. There, Raphael tells the youth to use the fish’s gall to cure his father’s blindness. Raphael then reveals his identity and returns to heaven, and Tobit sings a hymn of praise.

Tobit tells his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy (compare the Book of Nahum). After the prayer, Tobit dies at an advanced age. After burying his father and mother, Tobias returns to Media with his family.

Composition

Dating

The story in the Book of Tobit is set in the 8th century BCE, but a number of historical errors rule this out, and most scholars now date the book to between 225 and 175 BCE. The direct quote in Tobit 2:6 from the Book of Amos (“Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your mirth into lamentation”) indicates that the prophetic books had become not only fixed but authoritative, signalling a post-exilic date, and reference to the “Book of Moses” (6:13, 7:11–13) and the “Law of Moses” (7:13) echo identical phrasing in the Book of Chronicles, which was composed after the 4th century BCE. Dating Tobit’s authorship to after 175 BCE is problematic, as the author expresses no awareness of Seleucid attempts to Hellenize Judea (from 175 BCE) or of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucids (165 BCE), nor does it espouse apocalyptic or messianic expectations upon which later writings focused, but some scholars espouse a later date of composition of at least portions of Tobit.

Location and language

No scholarly consensus exists on the place of composition, and “almost every region of the ancient world seems to be a candidate.” A Mesopotamian origin seems logical given that the story takes place in Assyria and Persia, as does the invocation of the Persian demon “aeshma daeva”, rendered “Asmodeus” by Tobit. But significant errors in geographical detail (such as the distance from Ecbatana to Rhages and their topography) render this origin questionable. Arguments against and in favor of Judean or Egyptian composition also exist. The original language of composition remains unclear. Tobit may have been originally composed either in Aramaic or Hebrew, since fragments of Tobit in both languages have been discovered at Qumran.

Genre

The book is closely related to Jewish wisdom literature. This is especially clear in Tobit’s instructions to Tobias before his departure for Media in Chapter 4, which particularly praise the value of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Manuscripts

As stated, fragments of Tobit in both Aramaic and Hebrew have been discovered at Qumran. Jerome described his version for the Vulgate as being made from an Aramaic text available to him. Surviving Greek translations are found in two versions. The shorter, which Robert Hanhart called Greek I in his edition of the Septuagint, is found in Codex Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, and most cursive manuscripts. The Greek II version, 1700 words longer, is found in Codex Sinaiticus and closely aligns with the Hebrew and Aramaic fragments found at Qumran. Apparently the Old Latin (La) manuscripts are also translated from the longer Greek II version. Most English translations since 1966 have relied on the Greek II version.

Originally posted on Thrsday, 02 July 2020

Page last updated on Monday, 18 January 2021 12:14 PM
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