Book of Tobit

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Tobit and Anna. Painting by Abraham De Pape (c. 1658), National Gallery of London
Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1860)

The Book of Tobit (/ˈtbɪt/; from the Greek: Τωβίθ Tōbith or Τωβίτ Tōbit,[1] itself from Hebrew: טוביTobi "my good"; Book of Tobias in the Vulgate 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[edit]

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]

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

Before the 1952 discovery of Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave IV at Qumran, scholars believed Tobit was not included in the Jewish canon because of late authorship, estimated to be 100 AD.[2][4] Yet the Qumran fragments, which date from 100 BC to 25 AD, agree with the Greek text existing in three different recensions and evidence a much earlier origin than previously thought.[2] These fragments evidence authorship no later than 2nd Century BC and 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 instead of the groom as required under Jewish rabbinical law, Raguel, the bride's father, wrote the marriage document discussed in 7:16.[2]

However, it could be hypothesized that some ancient Jewish rabbinic scholars may have considered Tobit to be historical. Midrash Bereishit Rabbah, an aggadic commentary on the Book of Genesis compiled circa 400–600 AD, includes a truncated Aramaic version of Tobit.[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.[7]


This book tells the story of Tobit, a righteous Israelite of the Tribe of Naphtali living in Nineveh after under Sargon II deported the northern tribes of Israel to Assyria in 721 BC. (The first two and a half chapters are written in first person.) Tobit's paternal grandmother Deborah raises him. He remains loyal to the worship of God at the temple in Jerusalem, refusing the cult of the golden calves Jeroboam, king of Northern Israel, set at Dan. He is particularly noted for his diligence in attempting to provide proper burials for fallen Israelites whom Sennacherib has slain, for which the king seizes his property and exiles him. After Sennacherib's death, Tobit is allowed to return to Nineveh and buries a man who has been murdered on the street. That night, he sleeps in the open and is blinded by bird droppings that falls in his eyes. That strains his marriage, and ultimately, he prays for death.[8]

Meanwhile, in faraway Media, a young woman named Sarah has prayed for death in despair. The demon of lust, Asmodeus, "the worst of demons", abducts and kills every man she marries on their wedding night before the marriage can be consummated. God sends 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), whom his father sends to collect money that the elder has deposited in the distant Media. Raphael presents himself as Tobit's kinsman Azariah and offers to aid and protect Tobias. Under Raphael's guidance, Tobias journeys to Media with his dog and over the objection of Tobit's wife Hannah, whom Tobit's nagging has discouraged.[8]

Along the way, while he washes his feet in the river Tigris, a fish tries to swallow his foot. By the angel's order, he captures it and removed its heart, liver and gall bladder.[9]

Tobias heals the blindness of his father Tobit, by Domingos Sequeira

Upon arriving in Media, Raphael tells Tobias of the beautiful Sarah, whom Tobias has the right to marry because he is her cousin and closest relative. The angel instructs 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 marry, and the fumes of the burning organs drive the demon to Upper Egypt, where Raphael follows and binds him. Sarah's father has been digging a grave to secretly bury Tobias (whom he assumed would die). Surprised to find his son-in-law alive and well, he orders a double-length wedding feast and has the grave secretly filled. Since the feast prevents him from leaving, Tobias sends Raphael to recover his father's money.[10]

After the feast, Tobias and Sarah return to Nineveh. There, Raphael tells the youth to use the fish's gall to cure his father's blindness. Raphael then reveals his identity and returns to heaven, and Tobit sings a hymn of praise.[10]

Tobit tells his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy (cf. the Book of Nahum). After the prayer, Tobit dies at an advanced age.[11] After burying his father and mother, Tobias returns 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. This instruction particularly praises the value of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; 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 scholars 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, some scholars espouse a later date of composition of at least portions of Tobit.[19]


No scholarly consensus exists 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 their topography) render this origin questionable.[21] Arguments against and in favor of Palestinian or Egyptian composition also exist.[22]


The original language of composition remains unclear. The book may have been originally written in a form of the Aramaic language. Jerome described his version for the Vulgate as being made from an Aramaic text available to him. However, four Aramaic fragmentary texts of Tobit and one Hebrew text (4QToba–dar; 4QTobe) were found at Qumran in Cave IV.[23]

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


  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 in Greek I, 117 years in Greek II and the Vetus Latina, and 102 years 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


External links[edit]

Preceded by
R. Catholic
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Preceded by
(2 Esdras)
Eastern Orthodox
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