1902 Encyclopedia > Book of Tobit

Book of Tobit

THE BOOK OF TOBIT, one of the Old Testament apocrypha, relates with many marvellous circumstances the virtues, trials, and final deliverance of Tobit, a pious Israelite who was carried to Nineveh in the captivity of the ten tribes, and, after rising into favour and wealth as a trader at the royal court, was reduced to poverty because he habitually buried those of his nation whom the tyrant slew and ordered to be cast forth unburied. Besides this he lost his eyesight through an accident. Beduced almost to despair, like Job, and taunted like Job by his wife ("where are thy alms and righteous deeds ?"), he yet puts his faith in God and prepares to die, but first resolves to send his son Tobias to Bhagas (Bai), in Media, to reclaim an old loan. Now his prayers are heard and his righteous-

ness rewarded, for Baphael, one of the seven angels that present the prayers of the saints before God, is sent in human form to conduct Tobias on his journey. Thus aided, Tobias not only recovers his father's money, but by killing a fish which attacks him as he washes his feet in the Tigris, becomes possessed of two invaluable drugs, its liver with the heart and its gall. By fumigation with the former he drives away the demon Asmodeus, who had slain the seven bridegrooms of a virtuous Jewish maiden, Sara of Ecbatana, his own kinswoman, and so wins a good wife, and with the gall he heals his father's eyes. In spite of the absurd machinery and other puerilities, the story is ingeniously constructed, and the picture of Tobit's piety is natural and touching, so that the whole is a very good exhibition of the weakness and the strength of Judaism as it was among the Israelites of the dispersion.
The date of the book cannot be precisely determined. It was written before the destruction of the temple (xiv. 5), and is cited by early Christian writers. On the other hand, it is in the highest degree probable that the Greek text is original, in which case the book can hardly be earlier than the 2d century B.C. A date about the middle of this century, or a little earlier, at the time of bitter conflict with the Greeks, seems to accord best with the tone of the book. The sympathy shown for the victims of tyranny, to whom burial was denied, acquires fresh mean-ing when compared with such a passage as 2 Mac. v. 10, and the prominence given to eschatological hopes in the closing verses fits a time when interest in the prophecies of Israel's future glory was revived by the struggle for national independence in Judaea.
That Tobit was written by a Jew of the Eastern dis-persion (so, e.g., Ewald, Gesch., iv. 269) will hardly be maintained by any one who accepts the Greek text as original. The book remained almost unknown to the Syriac church, a fact which tells strongly against the hypothesis of an Eastern origin ; and at the period to which the work can be best referred Egypt is the only probable place for a Jewish-Greek composition. The writer knows nothing about the geography of the East beyond a few names which every Jew must have heard,—_ the Tigris, which, by an error common among the Greeks but hardly possible to an Oriental Jew, he regards as flowing between Nineveh and Media; Bhagae, which was a royal residence of the Barthians; the famous city of Ecbatana; and Elymais (ii. 10), which was associated with the disaster of Antiochus Epiphanes. And in both forms of the Greek text (vi. 9 in the common text, and v. 6 in the longer) Ehagae is falsely represented as quite near Ecbatana. Noldeke surmises, as others have done before him, that the " fish " which attacked Tobias was the Egyptian crocodile, and this conjecture is raised almost to certainty when we read in Kazwini i. 132 that the smell of the smoke of crocodile's liver cures epilepsy and that its dung and gall cure leucoma, which was the cause of Tobit's blindness. Thus the cures of Sara and Tobit are natural (cf. the longer Greek text, vi. 4 sq.); the angel's help is necessary only to secure the medicaments and explain their use.
But though the story may have been written in Egypt it contains Persian elements. There is no inconsistency in this, for the authors of Jewish Haggada generally borrowed the themes which they embellished, and that from very various quarters. In fact, at the close of our book there is a brief allusion to another story, quite unknown to us, which the author evidently did not invent. The proof of a Bersian element in the tale lies, not in the localities, but in the angelology and demonology. Asmodeus is the Iranian evil spirit Aeshma Daeva, and Raphael, as the guardian of Tobias, has a strong resemblance to the Iranian Craosha. Such precise adaptations of Zoroastrian ideas were hardly the common property of Judaism at so early a date; they lead us to conjecture that the writer borrowed from an Iranian story. And only in this way can we explain the appearance of the dog who goes out and returns with Tobias and Raphael. This trait is so inconsistent with Jewish feelings towards the unclean animal that it is omitted in the Hebrew and Chaldee versions. But to the Iranians the dog was not only a sacred animal, the pro-tector of herds and homes, but was the companion of the protecting spirit Craosha {Bundahesh, chap, xix.), to whom Eaphael in our tale corresponds.
The Greek text of Tobit is found in a shorter recension (the
usual text) and in a longer form preserved in the Codex Sinaiticus
(published by F. H. Reusch, 4to, Bonn, 1870). There are frag-
ments of another form of the longer text in several cursives. All
the forms are given in Fritzsche's Libri Apocryphi, Leipsic, 1871.
The shorter text, in the judgment of Fritzsche and Noldeke, is the
earlier. The longer text is also represented by the Latin versions,
the second part of the rare Syriac version (the first part is from
the hexaplar Greek), and two closely allied Jewish versions, the
Aramaic (published by Neubauer, from a unique Midrash in the
Bodleian, Oxf, 1878) and the Hebrew, first printed in Constantin-
ople (1516), reprinted by Minister in 1542 (whence its common
name Hebreeus Munsteri) and included in Neubauer's edition. The
Aramaic seems to be a late form of the text known to Jerome,
and of which he made use for the Vulgate Latin; it is certainly
a translation from the Greek. There are recent commentaries on
Tobit by Fritzsche (Kurzgef. Handb. zu den Ayoer., ii., Leipsic,
1853), Reusch (Freiburg, 1857), Sengelmann (Hamburg, 1857),
and Gutberlet (Theissing, 1877). Noldeke's paper already quoted
is indispensable. For other literature, see Schurer, NTliche Zeit-
gesch., ii. 609. (W. R. S.)


See the arguments of Noldeke, Monatsb. Berl. Ah, 1879, p. 45 sq. This paper also contains the best discussion of the relation of the various texts of the book.
Noldeke shows that the same error in a less gross form appears in both texts in chap. ix. The further erroneous statement of the longer text that Ecbatana lies in a plain occurs also in Diod., ii. 13, 6, in a passage dependent on Ctesias, from whom the addition may have been taken.
Very similar statements as to the medical virtues of the crocodile
(aquatic or terrestrial) occur in Greek and Latin writers.
Compare what is said under THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (p. 312) I as to the probable influence of an Iranian legend on the book of Esther.

4 The story of Nadab and Achiacharus. The names are uncertain, and one text substitutes Aman (Haman) for Nadab. But the allusion is not to the book of Esther.

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