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Book of Tobit

File:Abraham de Pape 001.jpg
Tobit and Anna. Painting by Abraham De Pape (c. 1658), National Gallery of London

The Book of Tobit (/ˈtbɪt/; Book of Tobias in the Vulgate; from the Greek: Τωβίθ Tōbith or Τωβίτ Tōbit,[1] itself from Hebrew: טוביTobi "my good"; also called the Book of Tobias from the Greek Τωβίας Tōbias, itself from the Hebrew טוביה Tovya "God is good") is a book of scripture that is part of the Catholic and Orthodox biblical canon, pronounced canonical by the Council of Carthage of 397 and confirmed for Roman Catholics by the Council of Trent (1546).

Canonical status

The Book of Tobit is listed in the canon of the Councils of Hippo (393 AD), Carthage (397 AD), and Florence (1442), and is part of the canon of both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches, although Roman Catholics often refer to it as deuterocanonical.[2]

It is listed as a book of the "Apocrypha" in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.[3] Tobit is regarded by Protestants as apocryphal because it was not included within the Tanakh nor considered canonical by Judaism.

Prior to the 1952 discovery of Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave IV at Qumran, it was believed that Tobit was not included in the Jewish canon because of late authorship, which was estimated to 100 AD.[2][4] However, the Qumran fragments, which date from 100 BC to 25 AD are in agreement with the Greek text existing in three different recensions, evidence a much earlier origin than previously thought.[2] These fragments evidence authorship no later than the 2nd Century BC, and thus at least contemporary to the date modern scholars ascribe to the final compilation of the Book of Daniel, which did attain canonical status.[5]

Other scholars have postulated that Tobit was excluded from the Jewish Scriptures for a halakhic reason, because the marriage document discussed in 7:16 was written by Raguel, the bride's father, rather than by the groom, as required under Jewish rabbinical law.[2]

However, it could be hypothesized that Tobit might have been considered historical by some ancient Jewish rabbinic scholars. A truncated Aramaic version of Tobit is included in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah, an aggadic commentary on the Book of Genesis compiled circa 400–600 AD.[6] Tobit was also considered part of the Septuagint (the Greek translation/interpretation of the Hebrew bible).[2] In more contemporary times, a number of Jews in Israel sought to reclaim Tobit as part of the canon, as Tobit's focus on the response of a righteous Israelite to the massacre of his countrymen would resonate with the Jewish nation which has experienced pogroms, the Inquisition, slaughter as Dhimmi and the genocide of the Holocaust which systematically annihilated one-third of world Jewry .[7]


This book tells the story of a righteous Israelite of the Tribe of Naphtali named Tobit living in Nineveh after the deportation of the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria in 721 BC under Sargon II. (The first two and a half chapters are written in the first person.) Tobit was originally raised by his paternal grandmother Deborah and remained loyal to the worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem, instead of joining in the cult of the golden calves set at Dan by Jeroboam, king of Northern Israel. In exile he was particularly noted for his diligence in attempting to provide proper burials for fallen Israelites who had been slain by Sennacherib, for which the king seized all his property and exiled him. After Sennacherib's death, he was allowed to return to Nineveh, but buried a man who had been murdered on the street. That night, he slept in the open and was blinded by bird droppings that fell in his eyes. That put a strain on his marriage, and ultimately, he prayed for death.[8]

Meanwhile, in faraway Media, a young woman named Sarah had prayed for death in despair. She had lost seven husbands to the demon of lust, Asmodeus, 'the worst of demons', who abducted and killed every man she married, on their wedding night before the marriage could be consummated. God sent the angel Raphael, disguised as a human, to heal Tobit and to free Sarah from the demon.[8]

The main narrative is dedicated to Tobit's son, Tobiah or Tobiyah (Greek: Τωβίας Tobias), who was sent by his father to collect a sum of money that the latter had deposited some time previously in the far off land of Media. Raphael represented himself as Tobit's kinsman Azariah, and offered to aid and protect Tobias on his journey. Under the guidance of Raphael, Tobias made the journey to Media, accompanied by his dog, and over the objection of Tobit's wife Hannah, who was already discouraged by Tobit's nagging.[8]

Along the way, while washing his feet in the river Tigris, he was attacked by a fish which tried to swallow his foot. By order of the angel he captured it. The heart, liver and gall bladder were removed to make medicines, by order of Raphael.[9]

Upon arriving in Media, Raphael told Tobias of the beautiful Sarah, whom Tobias had the right to marry, because he was her cousin and closest relative. He instructed the young man to burn the fish's liver and heart to drive away the demon when he attacks on the wedding night.[10]

The two were married, and the fumes of the burning organs drove the demon away to Upper Egypt, while Raphael followed him and bound him. Meanwhile, Sarah's father had been digging a grave to secretly bury Tobias (who he assumed would be dead). Surprised to find his son-in-law alive and well, he ordered a double-length wedding feast and had the grave secretly filled. Since he could not leave because of the feast, Tobias sent Raphael to recover his father's money.[10]

After the feast, Tobias and Sarah returned to Nineveh. There, Raphael told the youth to use the fish's gall to cure his father's blindness. Raphael then revealed his true identity and returned to heaven and Tobit sang a hymn of praise.[10]

Tobit told his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy (cf. the Book of Nahum). After the prayer, Tobit died at an advanced age.[11] After burying his father and mother, Tobias returned to Media with his family.


The book is also closely related to Jewish wisdom literature; nowhere is this more clear than in Tobit's instructions to Tobias before his departure for Media in chapter 4. The value of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is particularly praised in this instruction; in the Latin Rite, readings from this section are often used in the liturgy. Because of the book's praise for the purity of marriage, it is often read during weddings in many rites. Doctrinally, the book is cited for its teaching on the intercession of angels, filial piety, and reverence for the dead.[12]



The story in the Book of Tobit is set in the 8th century BC, and it was traditionally thought that it was written at that time.[13] However, a number of historical errors rule out contemporaneous authorship,[14] and most scholars now prefer situating the composition of Tobit between 225 and 175 BC.[15] 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"[16]) indicates that the prophetic books had become not only fixed but authoritative, signalling a post-exilic date.[15] Moreover, 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 some believe was composed after the 4th Century BC.[17] Contextually, dating Tobit's authorship to after 175 BC is problematic, as the author expresses no awareness of Seleucid attempts to Hellenize Judea (from 175 BC) or of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids (165 BC), nor does it espouse apocalyptic or messianic expectations upon which later writings focused.[18] Nevertheless, a later date of composition of at least portions of Tobit is espoused by some scholars.[19]


There is no scholarly consensus on the place of composition, and "almost every region of the ancient world seems to be a candidate."[20] 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.[20] But significant errors in geographical detail (such as the distance from Ecbatana to Rages, and the topography of both) render this origin questionable.[21] There are also arguments against and in favor of Palestinian or Egyptian composition.[22]


The original language of composition isn't clear. The book was possibly originally written in one of the forms of the Aramaic language. Jerome described his version for the Vulgate as being made from an Aramaic text available to him. However, fragmentary texts in both Aramaic and Hebrew were found at Qumran in Cave IV. There are four Aramaic fragmentary texts of Tobit, and one Hebrew text (4QToba–dar; 4QTobe).[23]

The surviving Greek translations are found in two versions. The shorter form, called Greek I by Robert Hanhart in his edition of the Septuagint, is found in Codex Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, and most cursive manuscripts. The Greek II version, which is 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.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Τωβείθ and Τωβείτ spellings are also attested; see iotacism.
  2. ^ a b c d e Fitzmyer, at pp. 55–57
  3. ^ "Anglican Articles of Religion". 2007-04-15. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  4. ^ "Scrolls Content". The Dead Sea Scrolls. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  5. ^ R. Glenn Wooden, "Changing Perceptions of Daniel: Reading Chapters 4 and 5 of Daniel," in From Biblical Criticism to Biblical Faith, Brackney & Evans eds., p. 10 (Mercer Univ.Press 2007) ISBN 0-88146-052-4.
  6. ^ Jared L. Olar, Introduction to the Apocrypha, Part Six: The Book of Tobit.
  7. ^ Mark Bredin, Studies in the Book of Tobit: A Multidisciplinary Approach, p. 3 (T&T Clark 2006), ISBN 0-567-08229-6.
  8. ^ a b c "Tobit, book of", Jewish Encyclopedia
  9. ^ "Tobit 6 GNT - Tobias Catches a Fish - So Tobias and". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  10. ^ a b c Drum, Walter. "Tobias." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 15 April 2015
  11. ^ Tobit's age at death is variously given as 127 years old in Greek I, 117 years old in Greek II and the Vetus Latina, and 102 years old in most manuscripts of the Vulgate , 112 years in others,
    • (158) "an hundred and eight and fifty years old" in Tobit 14:11 KJV (Wikisource)
    • (102) "a hundred and two years" Tobit 14:2 Douay-Rheims (Biblegateway)
  12. ^ "Introduction", Tobit, NAB, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  13. ^ Miller, at p. 10.
  14. ^ Miller, at p. 11.
  15. ^ a b Fitzmyer, at p. 51.
  16. ^ cf. Tobit 2:5–7 & Amos 8:10
  17. ^ Fitzmyer, at p. 51; Miller, at p. 11.
  18. ^ Fitzmyer, at pp. 51–52; Miller at pp. 11–12.
  19. ^ Fitzmyer, at p. 52.
  20. ^ a b Miller, at pp. 12–13.
  21. ^ Miller, at p. 13.
  22. ^ Miller, at pp. 12–15.
  23. ^ a b A.A. Di Lella, New English Translation of the Septuagint, "Tobit" (PDF), 2007


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