The original Greek title of the book, according to Cod. אBA was: Βιβλος λογων Τωβειθ - Biblos Logon Tobeith (B - ιτ, A - ειτ), which suggests the Hebrew title: םפר דברי טובי; that the book was originally written in Hebrew is extremely probable. Some scholars are inclined to regard Aramaic as the original language; but as the Greek title seems to represent Hebrew, it is more likely that this was the original language, apart from other indications.
Tobit, a devout Jew, was carried away captive from his native home in Naphtali, in Galilee, to Nineveh, in the reign of Shalmaneser (cp. II Kgs.xviii.9-11), i.e. in 721BC. Unlike so many of his race, Tobit had from early youth always been loyal to the Law. His father Tobiel died while Tobit was still young. On reaching manhood he married Anna, and begat a son whom he named Tobias. In the land of his captivity he continued his good deeds among those of his own race; and was especially zealous in honouring the dead by burying those of his kindred who had been the victims of the cruelty of Sennacherib, who was now king. This was brought to the ears of the king, and Tobit had to flee from Nineveh.
But after the death of Sennacherib, his successor, Esarhaddon, appointed Ahikar, Tobit's nephew, his chief minister. Through his uncle's influence Tobit was permitted to return to Nineveh (i.1-22).
Tobit's first care on returning was to continue his good works as heretofore. He sent out his son to bring in the poor to be fed. While carrying out his father's behest Tobias came across the dead body of one of his race, which lay unburied. Immediately on being informed of this Tobit went out and buried it.
That night, owing to the heat, Tobit slept out of doors in the courtyard; but as he slept the droppings of a sparrow fell and settled on his eyes and blinded him; for four years he was "impotent in his eyes" (ii.1-iii.6).
(So Cod. א.)
Now there dwelt at this time, in Ecbatana, a widowed virgin, Sarah by name, the daughter of Raguel. She had had seven husbands, but every one had died on entering the bridal chamber, having been slain by the evil demon Asmodmus (iii.7-15). A parenthetical passage is then added, saying that both Sarah's prayer for a husband (iii.15) and Tobit's prayer for sight - which is not recorded - were "heard before the glory of God," and the angel Raphael was sent to help both of them (iii.16, 17)
In the meantime, Tobit, who believes that the hour of death is at hand, sends his son Tobias to Gabael, who lived in Rages, in Media, to receive from him a sum of money that had been left in his care. Before Tobias starts on his journey, his father admonishes him to do what is right in all things (iv.1-21).
Tobias obeys his father, and sets out under the guidance of Raphael, whom he does not, however, know to be "an angel of God" (v.1-22). (So Cod. א.)
While on the journey Tobias bathes in the Tigris, and suddenly a great fish leaps out of the water. He is bidden by Raphael to cut open the fish and to take out its gall, heart, and liver, and to preserve them.
On arriving in Ecbatana, Tobias and his guide take up their abode with Raguel, who recognizes Tobias as his kinsman, and at his request gives him his daughter Sarah to wife, though warning him of the untoward fate of her former husbands. On entering the bridal chamber, Tobias, following Raphael's directions, places the heart and liver of the fish on the ashes of incense; the smoke of this drives away the demon Asmodaeus who had purposed to kill Tobias as he had killed the other seven husbands of Sarah.
The wedding festivities are then celebrated, and they are continued for fourteen days. While this is going on Raphael, at the request of Tobias, goes to Rages, and receives from Gabael the money which Tobit had left in his care (vi-ix)
In the meantime, Tobit and his wife are anxiously awaiting the return of their son. On the arrival of Tobias with his wife, Sarah, his parents with great joy receive them. Thereupon Tobias, at Raphael's directions, places the fish's gall on his father's eyes. Tobias forthwith receives his sight again (x. xi).
In token of his gratitude Tobit offers Raphael half the money, which had been brought from Gabael. But Raphael tells him who he really is, and bids him thank God for His mercies ().
Tobit thereupon offers a prayer of rejoicing and praise (i).
The book closes with Tobit's last words to his son, after which he dies at the age it is said, of 158 years; finally, Tobias too, after a long life, dies at the age Of 127 (xiv).
There are certain subjects in our book, which receive special emphasis. These must be briefly examined.
First and foremost there is the strict observance of the Law, which is often mentioned, and this includes the constant practice of charitable deeds. At the opening of the book there is pointed reference to Tobit's many alms-deeds, to his punctual keeping of the feasts prescribed in the Law, to his giving of first-fruits and tithes, and to his rendering of the priestly dues. He is forward in the support of widows, orphans, and proselytes (i.3-8, 16, 17; ii.2). Similarly, when giving what he believes to be his final words of advice to his son, Tobit urges him to do acts of righteousness, to give alms, to keep himself pure, and to love his brethren (iv.5-19; see also .8).
Other points of legal observance mentioned are:
Not less marked is the stress laid on piety:
These all illustrate the strongly Jewish colouring of the book. To them must be added the solidarity of the family and the strength of kinship which are noticeable all through the book (i.e. i.9, 21, 22; ii.10; v.13, etc.), as well as the need of racial purity (vi.15 and elsewhere).
But interspersed with these pronounced Jewish elements, which are the main characteristics of the book, there are some others; and these, as we shall see in the next section, have quite evidently been borrowed from extraneous sources. They consist of three themes:
To these must be added the mention of Ahikar (Achiacharus, i.21, 22; ii.10; xi.17; xiv.10).
While this cannot exactly be called one of the themes borrowed from extraneous sources, the writer of our book was certainly acquainted with the popular narrative of the Story and Wisdom of Ahikar, and made some use of it (on this see the next section). Various theories have been put forward as to the place of origin of our book, but none of these is really convincing with the exception of that which assigns Egypt as its home.
(Schurer feels uncertain as to whether the eastern Diaspora or Palestine should be regarded as its home. Eissfeldt follows him. But neither gives adequate grounds for the contention.)
Among those who hold this view Robertson Smith, Lohr, Andre, Simpson, and others, none has put forth the
arguments in its favour so cogently as Simpson; in showing the weakness of other theories and the strength of his own, he has
finally decided the question. (In Charles, op. cit., i. 185 ff.)
It is generally recognized that our book contains material borrowed from non-Jewish sources. Authorities may differ as to the extent of this borrowing; but that parallels to the three themes mentioned occur in other popular literature does not admit of doubt. The various steps in the transmission of this popular literature that has been handed down from ancient times are now lost, though traces of the subject matter under consideration are distinctly discernible in, at any rate, one ancient Egyptian document. (The Tractate of Khons, see Wiedemann in Hastings' D.B., extra vol., p. 185; Simpson in Charles, op. cit. i., 187 f.)
The three themes mentioned are found combined in a folk-tale which must at one time have enjoyed world-wide popularity since it exists in many countries in varied forms; the best known is that which appears in the German folktale called: Der gute Gerhard und die dankbaren Toten. (Simrock (1856), who has collected a number of variant forms of the story.)
But the form that approximates most closely to the three themes in Tobit is the Armenian. This runs briefly as follows: Once upon a time a wealthy merchant purchased the mutilated corpse of one who during his lifetime had been a debtor; the price was paid to one of his creditors, and having obtained possession of the dead body the merchant accorded it a decent burial. Now in course of time it happened that this wealthy merchant lost all his possessions and was reduced to poverty and dire need. One day a stranger came to him and advised him to marry the only daughter of a rich man who lived in the same city. She, had already, it is true, had five husbands, each of whom died on the wedding-night. But this does not deter the merchant from following the stranger's counsel. So he married her. On the night of the wedding, as he entered the bridal chamber a serpent issued from the mouth of the bride, intending to kill him; but suddenly the stranger appeared again and destroyed the serpent. Then he made himself known as the dead man whose corpse the merchant had with such good intent buried. Thus was he rewarded for his pious deed.
In spite of marked differences between this and the Tobit story, there is no mistaking the essential identity between the main themes; whether during a journey or at any other time, there is the good companion. Between an angel and the appearance of a dead man there would not have been any real difference to the ancient Jewish mind (cp. Acts .15). The reward for burying the derelict corpse is much the same in each story; so, too, the death of the many husbands on the wedding-night. And the difference between Asmodaeus the evil demon and the serpent is only apparent, for all serpents were looked upon as demons in those days.
The mention of the name of the evil demon Asmodaeus, however, does suggest indebtedness to another source; and here, too, the prominence given to the angel Raphael brings us to the question of Persian influence.
(See the relevant sections in:
Stave, Ueber den Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judentum (1898);
Boklen, Die Verwandischaft der fildisch-diristlichen mit der Parsischen Eschatologie (1902);
Scheftelowitz, Die allpersische Religion und das Judentum (1920);
Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums im spdthellenistischen Zeitalter, pp. 478 ff. (1926).]
That Persian angelology and demonology, especially the latter, exercised a powerful influence on the popular
beliefs of the Jews does not admit of doubt. It is usually held that Asmodaeus is the counterpart of the Persian Aeshma
daeva, one of the six arch-fiends in the service of Angra Mainyu, the "Prince of Evil". He is, after Angra
Mainyu, the most dangerous of all the demons, and has under him seven especially powerful demons.
(Scheftelowitz maintains, however, that Asmodaeus is not equivalent to Aeshma daeva, but that the name is derived from the root shamad, "to destroy," in later Hebrew "to force to apostasy" (op. cit., p. 61), cp. Bousset, op. cit., p. 488, who leaves the question open.)
In all probability the method of driving away the evil demon, as described in Tob.viii., is due to Persian influence. (Scheftelowitz, op. cit., p. 66.)
Moulton mentions other signs of this influence. He points out that it was to late Persian religion, i.e. Magianism, not Zoroastrianism, that the writer of Tobit was indebted. (Hibbert Lectures, "The Magian Material of Tobit." Appendix to Lecture vii. (1912).)
The role of the angel Raphael as the protector of Tobias during his journey has also its parallel in Persian angelology, according to which an angel accompanies every good man in his walk through life. (Scheftelowitz, op. cit., p. 153)
The last extraneous source is the Story and Wisdom of Ahikar. A certain number of passages in Tobit show the writer's acquaintance with this story; thus i.21, 22, where the official position of Achiacharus in Nineveh is spoken of, is apparently based on Ahikar iii.9-11. In Tob.ii.10, xiv.10 there are evident references to episodes in the story of Ahikar (see iv.12, viii.2, 37, 41, of this latter). Parallels between wise sayings such as in Tob.iv.10, 15, 18, cp. Ahikar ii.19, 43, 12 and 72, do not necessarily point to indebtedness; they are merely items belonging to the Wisdom literature in general. But one instance there is which the writer of Tobit imitated from Ahikar, viz. the precept: "Pour out thy bread and thy wine on the tomb of the just, and give not to sinners" (iv.17 Cod. [N]); in Ahikar ii.10 it is said: "My son, pour out thy wine on the graves of the righteous, rather than drink it with evil men." (See especially Harris, Lewis, and Conybeare, in Charles, op. cit., ii. Pp. 715 ff.; Nau, Histoire et Sagesse d'ahikar l'Assyrien. (1909).)
There are also some "literary and structural models," and "a not inconsiderable amount of Ahikar's parenetic sections," to which Simpson points as having been adopted by the writer of Tobit. There can, therefore, be no doubt about the use of this source. (In Charles, op. cit., i.191.)
Various attempts - more or less ingenious, but sometimes far-fetched, and based in part on the different forms of text appearing in the MSS. and Versions - have been made to prove that the book contains interpolations, inconsistencies, and redactional manipulations. Its integrity has thus been called in question, and it is contended that the book is not a unity.
Erbt, e.g., in his searching inquiry, points to the fact that the first person is used in i.1-iii.6, the third person in the remainder of the book, to a number of contradictions, to the Ahikar references, to the wisdom passages, especially in chaps.iv and , and to one or two other matters, as proof that the book has gone through successive stages of growth, that "copyists and translators have treated their text with a good deal of arbitrariness," and that its original form was very different from that which we now have. (In Encycl. Bibl. iv.5110 ff.)
Very thorough and discerning as Erbt's investigations are, it may be doubted whether modern standards of what constitutes a logical, orderly, and consistent narrative are really applicable to an ancient oriental writing such as this. It cannot be denied that inconsistencies occur, and that the narrative does not always run smoothly and in a straightforward manner. But when a writer is confessedly making use of extraneous material for the purpose of enhancing the interest of his book, and, like many another ancient oriental writer, is less concerned with the niceties of composition than with telling his story graphically, one must not look for rigid literary propriety.
Simpson's view strikes us as being decidedly more in accordance with facts, and therefore the more acceptable. He holds that the book is "characterized throughout by a unity of purpose well conceived in its plan, and natural and simple in its development, the work, in short, of a single author of more than average taste and ability." (See Charles, op. cit., i.194)
The book purports to have been written early in the seventh century BC, but this is merely a literary device
There is ample evidence to show that it belongs to a much later period.
To begin with, the writer, as we have seen, was familiar with the Story and Wisdom of Ahikar, a work which belongs to a period, at the very latest, about the middle of the fifth century BC.
(Sachau, Aramaische Papyrus und Ostraka aus Elephantini, p.x (1911), places it between 550 and 450BC.
Cowley favours a date circa 550BC. (Aramaic Papyri of the fifth century BC, p.208 [1923))
Further, the writer's knowledge of the latest portions of the Pentateuch shows that he must have lived during
the Greek period.
(For details, see Simpson in Charles, op. cit., i.192, note 6.)
This will bring the date of the book down to a time later than 300BC.
But the most convincing indication as to the date is afforded by the writer's religious standpoint.
That there is no mention of the resurrection, especially in such passages as iii.6, 10, 13, where this would reasonably be looked for, shows that belief in the resurrection of the body had not yet become a dogma of Judaism, whatever individuals may have believed.
This would point to a time, approximately, towards the end of the third century BC.
A similar date is suggested by some of his utterances in regard to the Law, especially the stress laid on prayer, fasting, and alms (.8), and the efficacy of almsgiving (.9). On the other hand, the book must have been written before the building of Herod's Temple, begun in 20BC, for it is evident from xiv.5 that it is the second temple with which he was familiar ("and they shall build the house, but not like the former". He purports to be writing during the Exile), not that of Herod.
There is nothing in the book that suggests that it was written during the Maccabaean era (i.e. approximately 175-125BC).
It must therefore have been written either before or after this epoch-making struggle.
But it can hardly have been written after this period, because the writer does not represent the specifically Pharisaic religious standpoint, which would be looked for in one who had such an ardent respect for the Law.
It will, therefore, have been written before this era.
Thus, we are forced to assume a date before 175 and it may, therefore, be assigned, approximately, to 200BC.
The Greek MSS. of Tobit fall into three classes representing three recensions of the text:
Which of these three recensions represents the earliest Greek form of the book offers an intricate problem, and is still a subject of controversy. But the arguments in favour of the priority of that represented by Cod. א put forth by Scharer and Simpson are very convincing.
The Versions include the Old Latin, of which there are three types of text, the Vulgate, two Syriac Versions, and the Aramaic (which follows, in the main, the Cod. א recension), two late Hebrew Versions, and the Ethiopic. For the relative importance of these, see Simpson, who remarks that they "are indispensable for a critical investigation of the text: (op. cit., pp.176 ff.)
(a) as showing the form in which the book was read in various quarters of the world in several different languages;
(b) as being by no means insignificant aids to the recovery of the true text of the various chief recensions to which they belong;
(c) as conceivably containing among their unique readings a few potentially original ones."
Fritzsche, op. cit., ii.3 ff. (1853).
Scholz, Commentar zum Buche Tobias (1889).
Ball, Variorum Apocrypha (1892).
Lohr, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.135 ff. (1900).
Plath, " Zum Buche Tobit," in Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1901), pp.377 ff.
Marshall, in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, iv.788 ff. (1902).
Andre, op. cit., pp.170 ff. (1903).
Erbt, in Encycl. Bibl., iv.5110 ff. (1903).
Muller, J., Beitrage zur Erkldrung und Kritik der Buches Tobit (1908).
Schurer, op. cit., iii.237 ff. (1909).
Moulton, The Iranian Background of Tobit " in The Expository Times, xi.257 ff. (1899-1900).
Moulton, Hibbert Lectures, " The Magian Material of Tobit," Appendix to Lecture vii, and see the whole of the Lecture itself (1912).
Simpson, in Charles, op cit., i.174 ff. (1913).
For the older literature see Schurer, op. Cit., iii.246 f.