Date Written: 300-200 BC
Date of Narrative: c. 700 BC
Tobit is one of the deuterocanonical books which means it is included in the Catholic canon, but some Christians dispute its canonicity. Tobit is a story like one of Jesus' parables. The characters may be fictional, but the message or moral of the story is true.
Tobit was only known in one Greek edition until the 1844 discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus. Sinaiticus contained a longer and older Greek edition of Tobit, which is used in modern translations. Five fragments of Tobit were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: one in Hebrew, four in Aramaic. The fragments confirm the Sinaiticus edition and suggest an Aramaic original.
The story takes place a few years after the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel (722 BC). The Assyrians exiled the Israelite tribes and encouraged them to intermarry with surrounding people groups. Tobit is an Israelite living in Assyrian Ninevah. He is faithful to covenantal worship and charitable works. The Lord rewards his faithfulness with wealth and a good position in the king's government. Yet a series of unfortunate circumstances leave Tobit poor, depressed and blind. He prays for death (3:2ff). Simultaneously, an young Israelite woman named Sarah prays for death (3:11ff). She has been married seven times but a demon killed each of her husbands before the marriage could be consummated (3:8).
The Lord hears the prayers of Tobit and Sarah. When Tobit asks his son Tobiah to go and recover a large sum of money he had deposited many years prior with his relative, the Lord sends the angel Raphael to help. Raphael joins Tobiah on the journey disguised as an Israelite named Azariah.
As the pair make their way to Tobit's relative, they catch a fish whose innards have healing properties (6:5). Then they stop at the house of Raguel, Sarah's father. Raphael convinces Tobiah to marry Sarah, despite her track record of dead husbands. Tobiah asks for her hand and they marry immediately (7:9). Tobiah uses parts of the fish to ward off the murderous demon and he survives the wedding night (8:2). Raphael retrives the money and the two arrive safely back at Tobit's house in Ninevah with Tobiah's new bride. Finally, Tobiah uses the fish's gall to cure Tobit's blindness (11:11).
The book includes Tobit and Sarah's prayers for death (3:2-6; 3:11-15), Tobiah and Sarah's prayer for protection on their wedding night (8:5-7), a short prayer from Raguel (8:15-17) and a lengthy song of praise by Tobit (13:1-18). At the end of the book, Tobiah moves from Ninevah to Media because of the Lord's impending judgment prophesied by Nahum (14:4, 12).
The story draws on themes from a few Mesopotamian myths from the same time period, but it is replete with Old Testament themes: divine retribution, theology of God, familial ties, marriage, prayer and angels. There are several sections that are very similar to the Old Testament wisdom literature (e.g. 4:3-19; 12:6-10).
Like Ruth, Tobit is a family story. It illustrates how God cares for those who love him. It shows him rewarding human faithfulness with his faithful deliverance. Yet the characters must undergo trials in order to experience deliverance. Tobit, Sarah and Tobiah suffer, but God delivers them in the end. In fact, Raphael says he was sent to test and heal Tobit and Sarah (12:14). Yet Tobit is very different from most biblical books because of its fictional character. It is not a suspenseful story, since the reader knows the outcome early on (6:6-8), but we can see through it we see how God brings his deliverance, how he helps those in need. Tobit also shows the importance of prayer and strong family relationships.
By Mark Giszczak