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Purpose of The Book of Tobit:
Like Ruth, Book of 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 Tobias 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.
Summary of The Book of Tobit:
The prologue tells the reader that this is the story of Tobit of the tribe of Naphtali, deported from Tishbe in Galilee to Nineveh by the Assyrians. He has always kept the laws of Moses, and brought offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem before the catastrophe of the Assyrian conquest. The narrative highlights his marriage to Anna, and they have a son named Tobias.
Tobit, a pious man, buries dead Israelites, but one evening while he sleeps he is blinded by a bird which defecates in his eyes. He becomes dependent on his wife, but accuses her of stealing and prays for death. Meanwhile, his relative Sarah, living in far-off Ecbatana, also prays for death, for the demon Asmodeus has killed her suitors on their wedding nights and she is accused of having caused their deaths.
God hears their prayers and the archangel Raphael is sent to help them. Tobias is sent to recover money from a relative, and Raphael, in human disguise, offers to accompany him. On the way they catch a fish in the Tigris, and Raphael tells Tobias that the burnt heart and liver can drive out demons and the gall can cure blindness. They arrive in Ecbatana and meet Sarah, and as Raphael has predicted the demon is driven out.
Tobias and Sarah are married, Tobias grows wealthy, and they return to Nineveh (Assyria) where Tobit and Anna await them. Tobit's blindness is cured, and Raphael departs after admonishing Tobit and Tobias to bless God and declare his deeds to the people (the Israelites), to pray and fast, and to give alms. Tobit praises God, who has punished his people with exile but will show them mercy and rebuild the Temple if they turn to him.
In the epilogue Tobit tells Tobias that Nineveh will be destroyed as an example of wickedness; likewise Israel will be rendered desolate and the Temple will be destroyed, but Israel and the Temple will be restored; therefore Tobias should leave Nineveh, and he and his children should live in righteousness.
Author and Dates of The Book of Tobit:
Written most likely in Aramaic, 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. These Semitic forms of the book are in substantial agreement with the long Greek recension of Tobit found in Codex Sinaiticus, which had been recovered from St. Catherine’s Monastery (Mount Sinai) only in 1844, and in mss. 319 and 910. Two other Greek forms of Tobit have long been known: the short recension, found mainly in the mss. Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Venetus, and numerous cursive mss.; and an intermediate Greek recension, found in mss. 44, 106, 107. The Book of Tobit has also been known from two Latin versions: the long recension in the Vetus Latina, which is closely related to the long Greek recension and sometimes is even closer to the Aramaic and Hebrew texts than the Greek is; and the short recension in the Vulgate, related to the short Greek recension. The present English translation 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 and make it necessary to supplement Sinaiticus from the Vetus Latina or from the short Greek recension. Occasionally, phrases or words have been introduced 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.
Outline of The Book of Tobit:
Themes of The Book of Tobit:
The book is primarily concerned with the problem of reconciling evil in the world with divine justice. Tobit and Sarah are pious Jews unaccountably afflicted by malevolent forces, but their faith is finally rewarded, and God is vindicated as both just and omnipotent. Other major themes are the need for Jews living outside Palestine to observe religious law strictly and the promise of the restoration of Israel as a nation.