Book of Tobit

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The Book of Tobit is found in the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and found in the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate and included in the canon of inspired scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397). It is included in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. Since the Council of Trent it is dogmatically accepted as inspired and canonical by the Catholic Church in the Catholic Bible—books of the Bible accepted as divinely inspired by the majority of Christian believers in the United States and throughout the world.[1][2]

The Book of Tobit may be reckoned among the most delightful of short stories. Named after its principal character, it has the form of a religious novel characterized as a Hebrew romance and on the surface is a captivating story. The Book itself is one of the most engaging books of Hebrew Scripture. It combines Jewish piety and morality with literary elements resembling folklore in a fascinating story that has enjoyed wide popularity in both Jewish and Christian circles.

The father is called Tobit (Τωβίτ) in the Greek Septuagint and his son is named Tobias (Τωβίας), but in the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims translation both father and son are known as Tobias. The book begins with Tobit (or Tobias the Father), an Israelite of the Northern Kingdom who with his countrymen was deported to Nineveh, and afterward suffers blindness and reduction to poverty. Sara in Medes (Media) suffers torment from the oppressive jealousy of the demon Asmodeus [3] who strangles each of her husbands on their wedding night. Because of their good life and prayers, God sends the Archangel Raphael to help them. He gives his name as "Azarias" (Hebrew, עזריה "Help of God") and his identity is established as a relative, "a brother".[4] The virtuous young Tobias the Son joins the disguised Raphael on a journey to Medes on his father's behalf, bringing happiness both to his Father and Sara. The demon is banished and bound, and Tobias the Father regains his sight and his fortune. Prayers, psalms, and words of wisdom, as well as the skillfully constructed story itself, provide valuable insights into the faith and the religious milieu of its unknown author. The book was probably written early in the second century B.C.; it is not known where.

Tobit was first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. The Book of Tobit is regarded as an apocryphal book of the Old Testament by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2]

See Apocrypha.

Canonical status

The Book of Tobit takes its name from the central figure, called Τωβείτ (Τωβείτ, Τωβείθ) in Greek, and טוביה Ṭobi[] in a late Hebrew manuscript. The Book of Tobias, as it is called in the Latin Vulgate Bible, is known in the Greek Septuagint as the Book of Tobit, and is placed among the Historical Books in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate Bible. Both the Semitic origin of the book and the name Tobiah טוֹבִיָּה, which means "Yahweh is my good," have been recognized since antiquity, the name itself noted in 2 Chronicles 17:8, Ezra 2:60, and Zechariah 6:10. A late Jewish work probably composed sometime within the 5th to 2nd centuries B.C., the Book of Tobit was never received into the Jewish canon after the establishment of the Christian church in the first century, and although it was pronounced canonical by the Third Council of Carthage (397) it was included in the Apocrypha by Protestants. It is regarded as a canonical book of the Bible by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and by the Council of Trent (1546). Tobit is part of the Old Testament in the Bible used by the Greek Orthodox Church (Septuagint) and the Roman Catholic Church (Vulgate); and is part of the Apocrypha in Bibles used by most Protestant denominations. Jewish religious authorities and Protestant Christian churches do not regard Tobit as canonical.


Events in Tobit are set in the eighth century B.C., during and after the reign of Hoshea king of Israel, during the reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin (Jechoniah) and Zedekiah kings of Judah, during the reigns of Shalmaneser III, Sennacherib and Esarhaddon kings of Assyria, and Nebuchadnezzar II king of Babylon, and extends to the reign of Cyrus king of Persia to about 555 B.C. (Tobiah the son lived to the age of 99 years).[5] Tobit tells the story of an Israelite named Tobit, his son Tobias, a young woman named Sarah, and the archangel Raphael.

The Book of Tobit teaches respect for the dead; the power of God to act through His angels; the sanctity of marriage; and the importance of prayer. The ethical tone of the advisory discourses in chapter 4, especially 4:15, 16, and the religious ideas in chapter 12, especially 12:8-10, are comparable to Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Daniel, and Ecclesiastes.

Table of Contents and Outline of the Story

The divisions of the Book of Tobit are:
Tobit’s Ordeals (1:3–3:6)
Sarah’s Plight (3:7–17)
Preparation for the Journey (4:1–6:1)
Tobiah’s Journey to Media (6:2–18)
Marriage and Healing of Sarah (7:1–9:6)
Tobiah’s Return Journey to Nineveh and the Healing of Tobit (10:1–11:18)
Raphael Reveals His Identity (12:1–22)
Tobit’s Song of Praise (13:1–18)
Epilogue (14:1–15)

Chapter summaries

Tobit’s Ordeals (1:3–3:6)
Chap. 1
1 Tobit, his lineage, and devotion in his youth, 9 His marriage, 10 And captivity, 13 His favor before Shalmaneser, 16 Alms and charity in burying the dead, 19 For which he is accused and flees, 22 And after returns to Nineveh.

Chap. 2
1 Tobit leaves his meal to bury the dead, 10 and becomes blind. 11 His wife takes in work to get her living. 14 Her husband and she fall out about a goat-kid she received.

Sarah’s Plight (3:7–17)
Chap. 3
1 Tobit, grieved with his wife's taunts, prays for death. 11 Sara, reproached by her father's maids, also prays. 17 An Angel is sent to help them both.

Preparation for the Journey (4:1–6:1)
Chap. 4
3 Tobit gives instructions to his son Tobias, 20 and tells him of money left with Gabael in Media.

Chap. 5
4 Young Tobias seeks a guide into Media. 6 The Angel will go with him, 12 and says he is his kinsman. 16 Tobias and the Angel depart together. 17 But his mother is grieved for her son's departing.

Tobiah’s Journey to Media (6:2–18)
Chap. 6
4 The Angel bids Tobias to take the liver, heart and gall out of a fish, 10 And to marry Sara the daughter of Raguel; 16 And teaches how to drive the wicked spirit away.

Marriage and Healing of Sarah (7:1–9:6)
Chap. 7
11 Raguel tells Tobias what had happened to his daughter: 12 and gives her in marriage to him. 17 She is conveyed to her chamber, and weeps. 18 Her mother comforts her.

Chap. 8
3 Tobias driveth the wicked spirit away, as he was taught. 4 He and his wife rise up to pray. 10 Raguel thought he was dead: 15 But finding him alive, praises God, 12 and makes a wedding feast.

Chap. 9
1 Tobias sends the Angel to Gabael for the money. 6 The Angel brings it, and Gabael, to the wedding.

Tobiah’s Return Journey to Nineveh and the Healing of Tobit (10:1–11:18)
Chap. 10
1 Tobit and his wife long for their son. 7 She will not be comforted by her husband. 10 Raguel sends Tobias and his wife away, with half their goods, 12 and blesses them.

Chap. 11
6 Tobit's mother spies her son coming. 10 His father meets him at the door, and recovers his sight. 14 He praises God, 17 And welcomes his daughter-in-law.

Raphael Reveals His Identity (12:1–22)
Chap. 12
5 Tobit offers half to the Angel for his effort; 6 But he calls them both aside, and exhorts them, 15 and tells them that he was an Angel, 21 and was seen no more.

Tobit’s Song of Praise (13:1–18)
Chap. 13
The thanksgiving to God, which Tobit wrote.

Epilogue (14:1–15)
Chap. 14
3 Tobit gives instructions to his son, 8 Especially to leave Nineveh. 11 He and his wife die, and are buried. 12 Tobias removes to Ecbatana, 14 and there died, after he had heard of the destruction of Nineveh.

The story

The story of the book is as follows:

Tobit, a pious man of the tribe of Naphtali from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who remained faithful to Jerusalem when his tribe fell away to Jeroboam's cult of the bull, was carried away captive, and deported to Nineveh in 722/721 B.C. in the time of Enemessar (Shalmaneser), King of Assyria. There, together with his wife, Anna, and his son Tobias, and keeping himself pure from the food of the Gentiles, he gave alms to the needy, and buried the outcast bodies of the slain. A devout and wealthy Israelite living among the captives, he was in favor with the king, and so prosperous that he was able to deposit ten talents of silver in trust with a friend, Gabael, in Media. With the accession of Sennacherib (the successor of Enemessar) the situation changed, and he suffered severe reverses. Accused of burying the dead slain by the king (who desired their corpses to rot), he had to flee, and his property was confiscated; but when Sarchedonus (Esarhaddon) came to the throne Tobit was allowed to return to Nineveh at the intercession of his nephew Achiacharus (Aḥiḳar), the king's chancellor. Here he continued his works of mercy; but, accidentally losing his eyesight, and finally blinded, he fell into great poverty, so that in his dire distress because of his misfortunes he prayed that he might die, and begged the Lord to let him die. In Media, at this same time, on that same day a similar prayer was offered by a young woman, Sarah, the daughter of Raguel of Ecbatana (in Media). She also prayed for death, in despair because she had been married to seven husbands, and had lost seven husbands, who had each in turn been killed, slain on his wedding night by the jealous demon Asmodeus. God heard the prayers of Tobit and Sarah and sent the angel Raphael in human form to aid them both. The same day, Tobit, remembering his deposit of money in Media, determined to send his son for it. Recalling to Tobiah the large sum he had formerly deposited in far-off Media with Gabael, he sends his son there to bring back the money. In obedience to the counsel of his father, Tobiah departed to seek a companion and guide and immediately encountered a young man (who turned out to be the angel Raphael). Raphael gave his name as Azarias ("help of God") the son of the great Ananias ("the grace of God"). Being found acceptable for him, Tobit blessed them and prayed that an angel of God accompany them. Raphael made the trip to Media with Tobiah, and the two proceeded on their journey. At the Tigris River, when Tobiah was attacked by a large fish as he bathed in the river, Raphael ordered him to seize it and to remove its gall, heart, and liver because they make useful medicines. Tobiah caught the fish and was instructed by his companion to preserve its heart, liver, and gall. Conducted to Raguel's house, at Raphael’s urging he asked Sarah's hand in marriage. Later, the contract was made, Tobiah married Sarah according to the law of Moses, and he used the fish’s heart and liver as instructed by burning a part of the heart and liver of the fish on the coals in the bridal chamber to drive away the demon Asmodeus. The demon fled, and Raphael pursued and bound him in Upper Egypt, and returned. The next morning the couple was found alive. Sarah's parents deeded over to Tobit half of their own possessions and property and upon their death the other half to Sarah and Tobiah, and they celebrated with a feast for two weeks. Tobiah sent Raphael (Azarias) to Gabael for the money, and he returned. Returning to Nineveh with Raphael, and with Sarah his wife, and his father’s money, Tobiah restored Tobit's eyesight by smearing his eyes with the fish's gall: he rubbed the fish’s gall into his father's eyes and cured him. Finally, after declining their offer of half the wealth they had obtained as a reward for his help, Raphael revealed his true identity and returned to heaven. Tobit then uttered his beautiful hymn of praise. Before dying, Tobit told his son to leave Nineveh because God will destroy that wicked city. After Tobiah buried his father and mother, he and his family departed for Media, where he later learned that the destruction of Nineveh had taken place. Father, mother, and son reached a good old age (Tobias living to rejoice over the destruction of Nineveh), and died in peace.

This brief outline does not do justice to the artistic construction of the story, or to the fine touches in its descriptions of family life, social customs, and individual experiences.

Raphael reveals himself in a fascinating statement in Chapter 12, as "the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord" (12:15). Significantly, Raphael tells Tobit that he is a brother, and a relative (5:6-12). This is no lie because the angels and we are creatures created by God. Equally fascinating is Raphael's statement to Tobiah (6:17) about taking Sarah as wife: "Do not be afraid, for she was destined for you from eternity."

Tobit and marriage

Integral to the story of Tobit is the marriage of Tobiah and Sarah, accomplished through divine intervention. The author devotes a large portion of his story to how the two become married, which reveals much about the marital customs and values of third-century Diaspora Judaism that would otherwise remain unknown. Tobiah and Sarah marry in a wedding ceremony (7,11-12), Raguel draws up a marriage contract for them (7,13), and the importance of endogamy is repeatedly stressed throughout the book (1,8; 4,12-13; 6,11-12; 7,10-13). Most intriguing, however, is the doctrine of the possibility of a "match made in heaven", the idea that God has determined from time immemorial that two people would marry each other. This is the case with Sarah, and Tobiah is told twice that their marriage has been determined by God (6:18; 7:11). Nowhere else in biblical literature is God’s primary role in marriage so clearly and explicitly stated. Jesus himself said, "What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.

A reading from Tobit can be incorporated into wedding ceremonies. The Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer allows a reading of these verses from Tobit as part of the marriage service (8:5-8):

"Then began Tobias to say, Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed is thy holy and glorious name for ever; let the heavens bless thee, and all thy creatures."
"Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for an helper and stay: of them came mankind: thou hast said, It is not good that man should be alone; let us make unto him an aid like unto himself."
"And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lust but uprightly: therefore mercifully ordain that we may become aged together."
"And she said with him, Amen."

The Catholic Church includes among her recommended readings for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony two Bible readings from Tobit:

4. May the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May he grant you mercy and peace.
"A reading from the Book of Tobit 7:6-14"
5. Allow us to live together to a happy old age.
"A reading from the Book of Tobit 8:4b-8".[6]

The charge of "magic"

A claim that the Book of Tobit supports the use of magic is based on chapter 6:6-7:[7] (Bible texts here are from the RSVCE)[8]
"Then the young man said to the angel, 'Brother Azarias, of what use is the liver and heart and gall of the fish?' He replied, 'As for the heart and the liver, if a demon or evil spirit gives trouble to any one, you make a smoke from these before the man or woman and that person will never be troubled again.'"
However, if this is a "magical practice", then the canonical books of the Old Testament accepted by Protestant Christianity present several examples of "magical practice" recommended by angels and prophets of God.
"You shall take in your hand this rod, with which you shall do the signs." Exodus 4:17
"The LORD said to Moses, 'Why do you cry out to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go on dry ground through the sea.'" Exodus 14:15-16.
"and if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if the spirit of jealousy comes upon him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest, and bring the offering required of her, a tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall pour no oil upon it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a ceral offering of jealousy, a cereal offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance. And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD; and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and unbind the hair of the woman's head, and place in her hands the cereal offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, 'If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while you were under your husband's authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then' (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) 'the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell; may this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away.' And the woman shall say, 'Amen, Amen.' Then the priest shall write these curses in a book, and wash them off into the water of bitterness; and he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. And the priest shall take the cereal offering of jealousy out of the woman's hand, and shall wave the cereal offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the cereal offering, as its memorial portion, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has acted unfaithfully against her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her body shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children." Numbers 5:14-28.
"Make two silver trumpets; of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation, and for breaking camp...And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies." Numbers 10:2, 8-9.
"And the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.' So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." Numbers 21:8-9.
"You shall march around the city, all of the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him." Joshua 6:3-5
"And Elijah sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean'...So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." 2 Kings 5:10, 14.
"Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:19-20.
"And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them." Acts 19:11-12.
The counsel given to Tobias (Tobit 6:6-7) by Raphael, a messenger of God and a prophet (Tobit 12:6-20), has been taken out of context by critics of the Book of Tobit and represented as a practice of magic and thus as promoting superstition. Outside of this text there seems to be no evidence in antiquity that the burning of fish heart and liver to make a smoke before a spirit-oppressed individual has otherwise been performed as a ritual of magical exorcism by either Jews or Gentiles. Given the context of the Bible which unequivocally condemns the practice of magic,[9] and the fact that the Book of Tobit was accepted as part of the Septuagint Old Testament from the beginning of Christianity, and was thus accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and is found among the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate and is included in the canon of inspired scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397), and the fact that the eastern and western Church from the first through the sixteenth centuries has always doctrinally condemned the superstitious practices of sorcery and magic as grave sin,[10] given these historical facts, the Book of Tobit as part of the Bible was never traditionally understood as promoting magic. In the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (1899) a footnote on Tobit CHAP. 6. VER. 8. Its heart, etc. The liver (ver. 19). says,
"God was pleased to give to these things a virtue against those proud spirits, to make them, who affected to be like the Most High, subject to such mean corporeal creatures as instruments of his power."
Because the acronym for Jesus Christ, is І Χ Θ Υ Σ ("I.C.TH.U.S."), "icthus", Greek for "fish", "Iesus Christos Theos Uios Soter" (Іησους Χριστος Θεος Υίος Σωτηρ "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior") passages in the Book of Tobit (6:6-7; 8:2-3) are seen in ancient Christian commentaries on scripture as a veiled prophesy of the salvation of humanity from the oppression of the Devil effected by the sacrificial crucifixion of Christ.
"We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood." Hebrews 13:10-12.

Historical-critical textual analysis

Text and Original Language

The text of Tobit exists in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Judæo-Aramaic, and two late Hebrew translations. Of the Greek there are three versions: one in the Vaticanus and Alexandrinus manuscripts of the Septuagint; one in the Sinaitic; and one in Codices 44, 106, 107 of Holmes and Parsons.[11] Of the Latin translation of the text there are two recensions: the Old Latin, which agrees substantially with the Sinaitic Septuagint; and the Vulgate, translated by Jerome from an Aramaic text, which often agrees with it, although it also presents many divergencies from the Septuagint. The Syriac follows the Vatican manuscript in general, although it is by no means literal, while Codices 44, 106, 107 agree sometimes with this Vatican text, and sometimes with that of the Sinaitic. The Aramaic text (published by Neubauer) also represents the Sinaitic recension in a general way, but it is a late manuscript, and can scarcely be considered the descendant of Jerome's original Aramaic text. The Hebrew copies are also late and of no authority. The two chief Greek recensions are the earliest sources for the text of Tobit, though suggestions may be drawn from the Latin and the Syriac. Of the Greek forms, the Vatican text is the shortest (except in chapter 4); its style is rough and often incorrect (poor translation of the Greek), and it has many errors, frequently clerical in nature. The Sinaitic text is more wordy, but frequently gives the better readings. It is possible that both of them may have been based on an earlier form which has been corrupted by copiest errors in the Vatican and expanded for clarification in the Sinaitic, although the question is a difficult one to resolve. Determining the original language of the book is an equal problem. The forms of the proper names, and such an expression as χάριν καὶ μορφήν (1:13), which suggests Esther 2:17, also the form of piety portrayed, some hold as pointing to Hebrew. But it must also be noted that there is no mention in early times of a Hebrew text of this book, which Jerome would certainly have used if it had been available. The Sinaitic manuscript text forms of "Ather" for "Asur" (14:4) and "Athoureias" for "Asureias" (14:15), on the other hand, are Aramaic. The excellent Greek style of the Sinaitic may suggest a Greek original. But in view of the conflicting character of the data, and given the fact that the text appears to have suffered a number of revisions and misreadings, careful scholars think it best to reserve opinion as to the original language, Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.

The reference to Achiacharus (Aḥiḳar) in 14:10 introduces new perplexities into the question of the origin of the book. But here the reference is merely an illustration, drawn from an Aḥiḳar story; the allusion is scarcely organically connected with the story of Tobit. The book makes Tobit a relative of Ahiqar, a noted hero of ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature and folklore, enhancing his status for the reader.

The original form of the book may have told simply how a pious man, doing his duty, came safe out of trouble. Many literary critics see the author of the Book of Tobit as having borrowed elements of the popular folk story of the grateful dead, but not all agree. The Grateful Dead (or grateful ghost) is a folktale found in many cultures throughout the world. The most common form of the story involves a traveler who encounters a corpse of someone who never received a proper burial, often because of an unpaid debt.[12] The traveler then either pays off the dead person's debt or pays for burial. The traveler is later rewarded or is saved from death by a person or animal who is actually the soul of the dead person. The "grateful dead" story is Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 505.[13] The episode of Sarah and Asmodeus appears to many to be a separate story, here skilfully combined with the tale of the grateful dead. In contrast to the pagan folklore which literary critics suggest as a source utilized by the biblical author, the Book of Tobit is not presented as a "ghost" story, but introduces the archangel Raphael as the spirit sent by God as helper and prophet. According to literary criticism, the advisory discourses in chapter 4 (which is greatly abbreviated in the Sinaitic text) and in chapter 12 read as insertions of an editor, not as part of the original text, but this is not as readily apparent to all readers as some have chosen to believe. For the ethical tone see especially 4:15, 16, and for the religious ideas, 12:8. The wisdom expressed in the book is comparable to Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Daniel, and Ecclesiastes.

Most likely written in Aramaic,[14] the original of the book was lost for centuries. Fragments of four Aramaic texts and of one Hebrew text were discovered in Qumran Cave 4 in 1952 and have only recently been published. As with all ancient texts discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew was in consonantal form only. These Semitic forms of the book substantially agree with the long Greek recension of Tobit found in Codex Sinaiticus, recovered only in 1844 from St. Catherine’s Monastery (Mount Sinai), and in manuscripts 319 and 910. Two other Greek forms of Tobit have long been known: the short recension, found mainly in manuscripts Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Venetus, and numerous cursive manuscripts; and an intermediate Greek recension, in manuscripts 44, 106, 107. The Book of Tobit has been known also from two Latin versions: the long recension in the Vetus Latina, closely related to the long Greek recension and sometimes even closer to the Aramaic and Hebrew texts than the Greek; and the short recension in the Vulgate, related to the short Greek recension. The present English translation in modern Bibles has been based mainly on Sinaiticus, which is the most complete form of the long Greek recension, despite two lacunae (4:7–19b and 13:6i–10b) and some missing phrases, which make succeeding verses difficult to understand, making it necessary to supplement Sinaiticus from the Vetus Latina or from the short Greek recension. Occasionally, phrases or words have been drawn from the Aramaic or Hebrew texts, when they are significantly different. Forms of the Book of Tobit are also extant in ancient Arabic, Armenian, Coptic (Sahidic), Ethiopic, and Syriac, but these are almost all secondarily derived from the short Greek recension, and as such do not adequately represent the original text. The recent discovery of five scrolls of Tobit (4QTob) in both Hebrew and Aramaic among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave IV of Qumran has given the book renewed attention.

Time and Place

Even though the setting is in the eighth century B.C., many think the book was written after the time of Ezra, and for this reason was not included in the shorter Hebrew Canon. However, the book follows Ezra and Nehemiah in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament and has always been considered inspired by both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Although the Book of Tobit is usually listed with the historical books, it more correctly stands midway between them and the wisdom literature. It contains numerous maxims like those found in the wisdom books (see 4:3-19, 21; 12:6-10; 14:7, 9) as well as standard wisdom themes of fidelity to the law, the intercessory function of angels, piety toward parents, purity of marriage, reverence for the dead, and the value of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.

The Book of Tobit is generally believed to have been written during the second century B.C.. The inspired author of the book used the literary form of a religious novel (as in Esther and Judith) for the purpose of instruction and edification. Historical data, names of kings, cities, etc., are vivid details included not only to create interest and charm, but also to illustrate the theory of retribution: the wicked are indeed punished. The picture of religious life given in Tobit (especially the devotion to ritual details) indicates a date post-Ezra for the book. The special significance attached to almsgiving (4:10; 12:8, 9) is identical with the idea in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 3:30 (compare also Proverbs 10:2), and the injunction in 4:17, "Pour out thy bread on the burial of the just, but give nothing to the wicked", is given repeated import in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 12:4-5. The prediction in 14:5, "the house of God will be rebuilt there with a glorious building for all generations forever", implies a period after the building of the Second Temple, and, apparently, just before the commencement of Herod's Temple. The prominence given to the duty of burying the outcast slain (the survival of a very ancient conception) seems to point to a time when the Jews were slaughtered by foreign enemies, for example, by Antiochus or Hadrian. The necessity of marrying within the kin, endogamy, was recognized during a very long period in Jewish history and does not define the date precisely. Polycarp's saying "Almsgiving delivers from death," ("Ad Phil. 10", To the Philippians 10), does not prove that he was acquainted with Tobit, since this may have been his reading or understanding of Proverbs 10:2 . There is no Messianic hope expressed in the book. The more probable view is that it was composed between 200 and 50 B.C. If the original language was Hebrew, the place was Palestine; if it was Greek, it was Egypt; but this point, too, must be left undecided.

Most scholars agree that Tobit was written some time around the year 200 B.C. For example, J.A. Fitzmyer,[15] G. Toloni.[16] Fitzmyer uses the five Qumran fragments of Tobit (4QTob 196-200, also numbered 4QTob a-e) to determine the terminus ad quem (the final limiting point in time) for the book, which he sets at the first century B.C. The terminus a quo (the first point in time) for the book would be the fourth century B.C., due to the book’s reference to the prophets as canonical (Tobit 14:4), the use of the phrase "book of Moses" or "law of Moses" in Tobit 6:13; 7:11-13 (echoing the late post-exilic passages of 2 Chronicles 23:18; 25:4; 30:16), and the lack of a reference to the Antiochan persecution and Maccabean revolt.[17] On the other hand, C. Moore [18] claims that many of these reasons constitute nothing more than an argument from silence. But Moore also admits that the most likely dating for the book is somewhere between the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C.[19]

The message

The message of the book is that God is both just and free. Suffering is not a punishment but a test. God eventually does reward the just and punish the wicked. The believer is summoned to trust God and live his way. The book is rich in ethical, moral, spiritual principle, and presents the sanctity of Marriage, intercession through Angels, reward of good works, and parental respect, as well as the importance of daily prayer, fasting, and especially almsgiving in expiation of sin (12:9). This last point is taken up by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46, as an integral part of the realization, or active expression, of faith in God and faithfulness toward God, and by Paul in Romans 2:6-11, by James (in his Letter to the twelve tribes in the dispersion) 2:14-26, and by John (in his First Letter) 3:17-18 and 4:19-21.

Martin Luther's judgment of the Book of Tobit

"I take the book of Tobit to be a comedy concerning women, an example for house government."[20]


  1. The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian body comprised of several distinct "Rites". The Catholic Church (Latin Rite) is the largest religious body in the United States, with over 60 million adherents (4 times as large as the second largest church, the Orthodox).
    “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.
    The Largest Catholic Communities
    The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, and also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, most of whom live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
    The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America (1983). Retrieved on 7 May 2014.
    Christianity:Basics:Eastern Orthodox Church Denomination. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%).
  3. Asmodeus. The same as Apollyon and Abaddon. See Topical Bible: Abaddon "the destroyer"
  4. Compare the statement of the angel to John "I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." (Revelation 22:8-9).
  5. The text of the manuscript, translation or version of the Bible being consulted will affect the calculation and tabulation of the resulting numbers of the years in a literalist chronology.
    Tobit died 102 years old according to online Douay-Rheims Bible 1899 (American edition)—in 637 B.C., during the reign of Josiah.
    And his son Tobiah died 82 years later 99 years old in 555 B.C., during the reign of Cyrus the Great (576-529 B.C.).
    Tobit died 112 years old according to online New Revised Standard Version (OREMUS)—in 627 B.C., during the reign of Josiah.
    And his son Tobiah died 100 years later 117 years old in 527 B.C., during the reign of Cambyses II (529–522 B.C.).
    Tobit died 112 years old according to the 4 versions in The Complete Parallel Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version NRSV, Revised English Bible REB, New American Bible NAB, New Jerusalem Bible NJB, © 1993, Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford.
    Tobit died 158 years old according to standard printed editions of RSVCE and KJV with Apocrypha Bibles—in 581 B.C., during the Exile, 31 years after Nineveh was destroyed. And his son Tobiah died 110 years later 127 years old in 471 B.C., during the reign of Darius I (522–486 B.C.).
    See Literalist Bible chronology#The Divided Monarchy to the Destruction of the Temple 982—587 B.C.
  6. The other readings are:
    1. Male and female he created them. "A reading from the Book of Genesis 1:26-28, 31a";
    2. The two of them become one body. "A reading from the Book of Genesis 2:18-24";
    3. In his love for Rebekah, Isaac found solace after the death of his mother. "A reading from the Book of Genesis 24:48-51, 58-67";
    6. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. "A reading from the Book of Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31";
    7. Stern as death is love. "A reading from the Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a";
    8. Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home. "A reading from the Book of Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16";
    9. I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. "A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 31:31-32a, 33-34a".
  7. Official King James Bible Online: Apocrypha Books ( —"Many claim the apocrypha should never have been included in the first place, raising doubt about its validity and believing it was not God-inspired (for instance, a reference about magic seems inconsistent with the rest of the Bible: Tobit chapter 6, verses 5-8)." See External links below "King James Apocrypha Online"
  8. Texts from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. Prepared by the Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain © 1966 by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Thomas Nelson Publishers for Ignatius Press.
  9. See Topical Bible: "magic".
  10. The Orthodox Church and Commercial Fortune-Telling and Magic in Russia. Faith Wigzell. Published online: 23 Nov 2011.
    Saints and Sinners: Ritual Magic, Mystics, and the Condemnation of Divine Visions in the Middle Ages.
    The Fathers of the Church and the Evil Eye an extract from: Byzantine Magic © 1995 Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C. Printed in the United States of America, published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C. edited by Henry Maguire.
  11. Holmes and Parsons. See Manuscripts of the Septuagint. An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek. Additional Notes — Henry Barclay Swete (
  12. Encyclopædia Britannica: Grateful dead.
  13. D.L. Ashliman. The Grateful Dead: folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 505.
  14. Several portions of the Old Testament books apparently were originally written in Aramaic, not Hebrew: Genesis, Ezra, Jeremiah, Daniel, and others. See Aramaic Thoughts: Aramaic and the Old Testament
  15. J.A. Fitzmyer, Tobit. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature, Berlin-New York 2003, 51
  16. G. Toloni, L’originale del libro di Tobia. Studio filologico-linguistico, Madrid 2004, 153-157.
  17. "lack of reference to the Antiochan persecution and Maccabean revolt."
    —An 8th century setting in the Book of Tobit would normally preclude any anachronistic literary reference by the writer to events of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.. For example, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel by General Lew Wallace, published by Harper & Brothers on November 12, 1880, is set in A.D. 1st century Palestine, but was written towards the end of the 19th-century by a retired Civil War general, and he makes no reference to the oppression of the Jews in Palestine by the Turkish Ottoman Empire preceding the controversial land purchases there in the beginning of 1880 (see Land Ownership in Palestine, 1880-1948 by Moshe Aumann ). It is absurd and naive to expect the author and/or editor(s) of the Book of Tobit, a story set in the 8th century B.C., to mention the oppression by Antiochus and the Maccabean revolt, regardless of when it was written.
  18. C. Moore Tobit: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Yale Bible Commentary, Vol. 40A, Garden City 1996, 40-41.
  19. ARTICOLI RB 2-2009_129-244_I bozza.qxd 25-08-2009 10:09 Pagina 129.
  20. Martin Luther's Table Talk (1599). page 11

See also

External links