Book of Tobit

TOBIT, BOOK OF tō’ bĭt (Βίβλος λόγων Τωβίτ). One of the books contained in MSS of the LXX, but is lacking in the Heb. Bible and accordingly finds a place among the books of the Apoc. In the Vul. and the Roman Catholic Bible—Tobit, Judith, and Esther form a trio that follows the last of the historical books Nehemiah.


The book presents a charming tale in which beauty, suspense, and moral truth are interwoven in a most pleasing fashion, causing Tobit to become one of the most popular of the books of the Apoc. in the history of the Church. The story is set in the times of the Assyrian captivity and concerns the fortunes of a certain Tobit and his son Tobias. The following outline may be suggested:

Tobit was a devout Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali. He often went to Jerusalem to worship and regularly gave three tenths of his produce to the Temple and other good causes. This righteous man, however, like Job, appears to receive only misfortune in return for his piety. He and his family are deported to Nineveh as captives of the Assyrians, but unlike the other exiles they continue to adhere to the strict dietary regulations of the law. Temporarily, Tobit is the recipient of good fortune as one of Shalmaneser’s stewards. During this period, Tobit judiciously entrusted a large sum of his money to a friend in Media. Tobit continued to live a pious life, doing deeds of charity to his brethren, and particularly in giving proper burial to a number of the Jews who were slaughtered by the Assyrian kings. The latter activity of Tobit became known to Sennacherib, and Tobit was forced to flee for his life, leaving behind all his property and wealth. Tobit, however, continued in his acts of righteousness, and on one occasion buried the body of a Jewish brother only to receive a cruel reimbursement. Having become unclean through his contact with the dead body, he was forced to sleep outside where his face became accidentally dirtied by sparrow droppings, which got into his eyes and caused a blindness that physicians were powerless to cure. Like the wife of Job, Tobit’s wife ultimately cries out the complaint of her frustration, “Where are your charities and your righteous deeds?” (2:14). Thereupon Tobit prays in anguish of soul that his life might be taken, for he is convinced that it is better to die than to live under the present reproaches (3:6). At that same moment some distance away, the same prayer was being uttered by Sarah the daughter of a certain Raguel who happened to be a close kinsman of Tobit. Sarah had the misfortune of being loved by the demon Asmodeus who had slain no less than seven husbands of Sarah, each on the very night of their wedding before the marriage could be consummated. Sarah was subject to accusations and reproaches, and in her despair she even contemplated suicide (3:10). At this point the stage is set for the main action of the story. God sends his angel Raphael to answer the respective prayers of Tobit and Sarah—not by bringing death, but by bringing happiness to all concerned, thus underlining the goodness of His providence.

The denouement is initiated by Tobit’s decision to inform Tobias about the money he had deposited with his friend in Media some years earlier. Taking opportunity of the occasion to impart some very excellent instruction in righteousness (ch. 4), Tobit informs Tobias concerning the money and the decision is taken to send Tobias in quest of it. A suitable traveling companion is needed, however, and Tobias chances upon one Azarias who is well-qualified and who in reality is the disguised Raphael. Despite the protestations of Tobias’ mother, Anna, the pair set out on their adventuresome journey accompanied, as the narrator quaintly notes, by young Tobias’ dog. Camping on the banks of the Tigris that night, Tobias is nearly swallowed by a fish as he washes. Azarias directs Tobias to catch the fish, to cut out its heart, liver, and gall, and to store these safely among his gear. As they continue their journey, upon the questioning of Tobias, Azarias explains that the organs of the fish are particularly useful for two things: the smoke from the burning heart and liver will drive away evil spirits; and from the gall can be made a salve that will take away the white films from a blind man’s eyes (thus the reader is made aware of the direction the story will take). Azarias tells Tobias that he is to take Sarah as his wife. Tobias, however, has already heard of Sarah’s plight and is consequently not at all eager to follow the direction of Azarias. When Azarias reminds Tobias of the potency of the fish organs, Tobias’ mind is changed. The delightful meeting of Raguel and Tobias occurs next, and in due course the marriage is proposed and indeed, despite Raguel’s warning, takes place the same day. That night as the couple retire to their bed chamber, Sarah, Raguel, and his wife, Edna, are all seized with anxiety. Indeed, so pessimistic is the father that when all have retired he rises secretly and digs a grave for Tobias that he might be bu ried immediately. A maid is forthwith sent to see whether Tobias is alive or dead. Tobias, however, when he entered the bed chamber had, as directed, made a fire and placed the heart and liver of the fish on the fire, and the smoke that was produced drove out the demon as had been promised. Tobias and Sarah then had prayed together and had gone to sleep, voluntarily forgoing the consummation of their marriage. The maid found them asleep and reported to Raguel that Tobias was alive and well, upon which Raguel prays a prayer of thanksgiving.

The next day a great feast of celebration that lasted fourteen days began. Tobias sends Azarias to Media to fetch his money and to bring his father’s friend to the wedding feast. At this point the narrative returns to Nineveh and to the deep concern of Tobit and Anna at the delayed return of Tobias. Tobit believes that Tobias is well; Anna, however, insists that her boy is dead and is angry with Tobit for trying to deceive her. Meanwhile Tobias and his new wife, with half of Raguel’s wealth, accompanied by Azarias and, of course, Tobias’ dog, too, finally take their leave of Raguel and Edna. Tobias and Azarias (and the dog) run ahead of the entourage in their haste to return home. At this point the narrator says “Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son” (Tobit 11:5). Suddenly she catches sight of them in the distance and reports to her blind husband “Behold your son is coming.” Thereupon follows one of the most delightful reunions of lit.—there is much weeping and rejoicing, and, of course, the gall salve is applied to the father’s eyes and his blindness is removed. At the gate of Nineveh they meet Sarah and the slaves and cattle that made up part of Raguel’s gift. Another week of celebration takes place. Afterward Tobit and Tobias offer half of Raguel’s gift to the good Azarias. Azarias, however, only remarks that thanksgiving is due to God for His goodness. Then he volunteers, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One” (12:15). They fall on their faces in fear, but Raphael says not to be afraid. He adds that he was sent by God, but was really only an apparition, and when he has directed them to write what has happened in a book, he disappears. Then follows a magnificent prayer of rejoicing, which Tobit is said to have written. The final ch. of the book is rather an ticlimactic, which gives an account of Tobit’s last words that includes a warning for his descendants to leave Nineveh because Jonah’s prophecy was going to come true. The death of Tobit and then of Anna is recorded. Tobias and his family then returned to Ecbatana, where he eventually buried both Raguel and Edna. The book ends with a notice of the death of Tobias at the age of 127 years with the note that before his death he heard of the destruction of Nineveh.

Historical background.

The geographical difficulties are also striking. In particular, it is implied that the Tigris River is E of Nineveh, some distance toward Ecbatana (6:1), whereas Nineveh itself lay on the E bank of the Tigris. Further, in one of the major recensions of the book (that of Sinaiticus and the Old Lat., followed by the Vul.) it is stated that Ecbatana is in the middle of a plain, two days journey in distance from Rages (5:6). Actually Ecbatana lies high in the mountains and is some 200 m. away from Rages.

These various discrepancies have led almost all scholars to conclude that Tobit cannot derive from the historical period it purports to be from, but instead is prob. to be dated in a much later period when the historical details of the earlier period were not so well known. Indeed, it may be that the story, despite its historical setting, is entirely fictional, although a few scholars have argued for the possibility that there is a historical kernel underlying the present book.


The conclusion that Tobit is a fictional rather than a historical story is confirmed to some extent by its apparent dependence upon a few well-known folk tales of the ancient world. The author of Tobit seems to have known the story of Ahikar, which recounts how Ahikar, who held office under Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, became rich only to be falsely accused by his adopted son Nadin and sentenced to death. Ahikar, however, was secretly hidden by a servant who once had also been the victim of false accusations, but who had been saved by Ahikar. Ultimately Ahikar, able to be of assistance to Esarhaddon in satisfying an unreasonable demand of Egypt, is vindicated as righteous, and avenged (see Oesterley for a fuller summary of the story). At the beginning of Tobit, Ahikar is mentioned as a very important and powerful administrator of Esarhaddon’s kingdom who happens also to be Tobit’s nephew (1:21f.). Ahikar and Nadab (one of the several slight variations of the name that occur) are said to have attended the great celebration that took place upon the return of Tobias and his new wife to Nineveh (11:18). At the end of the book, explicit allusion is made to the story of Ahikar. In his last words Tobit reminds Tobias and his grandsons about what Nadab did to Ahikar. “But Ahikar was saved, and...Nadab...perished” (14:10f.). The moral of the story as uttered by Tobit, “So now, my children, consider what almsgiving accomplishes and how righteousness delivers” (14:11), is very similar to that which concludes the story of Ahikar. In addition to the similarity of the general theme of the two books, i.e. the suffering and vindication of the righteous, there are a number of striking parallels among the wisdom sayings (see Oesterley for examples).

A second story that may have been known to the author of Tobit is that which, although occurring in a variety of forms, is known generally as the “Fable of the Grateful Dead.” The basic theme of the story concerns the return of a dead man’s spirit in human form to reward in various ways (including the bestowal of a bride) the man who had at no small sacrifice gone out of his way to give proper burial to the dead man’s corpse. In some versions of the story, the righteous man is advised by the embodied spirit to marry a certain rich young woman (sometimes said to be a princess) whose several husbands have all died on their wedding night as the result of a serpent which dwelt within her. The righteous man is aided by his benefactor in subduing the serpent and winning the woman. Usually also included in these stories is the ultimate revelation of the true identity of the benefactor. Although the actual story of Tobit is somewhat different, a number of its motifs are similar to this fable, e.g. Tobit’s concern with proper burial of the dead; the appearance of a spirit (in this case, angel) in human form; the rewarding of Tobit’s righteousness; the bestowal of a bride upon Tobias; the subjugation of the demon; the revealing of Raphael. The author of Tobit appears to have used the various motifs while transmuting the basic narrative by virtue of his own Jewish viewpoint.

One further source has been suggested as possibly drawn upon by our author. The Egyp. Tractate of Khôns speaks of the exorcism of a young demon-possessed princess by Khôns, deity of Thebes, and to that extent parallels the victory won over Sarah’s demon in Tobit. However, the parallel is too general to be impressive, and although it has been argued that Tobit was written to counteract the Egyp. story, the contention is too closely tied to an (not at all certain) Egyp. provenance to be regarded as convincing.

Further parallels to Tobit can be drawn from the vast field of folk lit. (see Zimmermann for examples), but it is unlikely that any additional dependence can be established as probable.

Language, place of origin and date.

Prior to the discovery of the DSS, scholars tended to favor the conjecture that Tobit was written originally in Gr. Among the Dead Sea materials, however, fragments of Tobit in Heb. and Aram. have been found, arguing for the probability of a Sem. original.

No consensus exists, however, with regard to the provenance of Tobit. Three important locations have been suggested for the composition of the book: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Palestine. The book itself naturally assumes a Mesopotamian origin. The story takes place in Mesopotamia and reveals a number of Pers. influences, esp. in the areas of angelology and demonology (cf. the demon’s name, Asmodeus [3:8], which is of Pers. origin). Even in such a minor detail as the occasional reference to Tobias’ dog, Pers. influence has been detected, since in Zoroastrianism the dog is regarded as sacred whereas in Judaism the dog is generally despised. However, because of the author’s apparent ignorance of the geography of the area (see above), some have preferred Egypt as the place of origin of the book. In addition to the possible dependence of Tobit on the Tractate of Khôns, Tobit may reflect a knowledge of Egyp. magic that was able to effect cures employing certain organs of the fish. It has even been suggested that the “fish” that nearly swallowed Tobias (6:2) was in reality a crocodile. Moreover, when the demon is finally driven out of Sarah, he is said to have fled “to the remotest parts of Egypt” (8:3), which could possibly be an unconscious indication of the book’s place of origin. Despite apparent indications that the book originated in Diaspora Judaism, this is by no means a necessary conclusion. Indeed, the discovery of Aram. and Heb. fragments of Tobit at Qumran may perhaps add some plausibility to the conjectures of a few scholars that the book originated in Pal. The religious teaching of the book might favor this viewpoint to some extent (its tenor is similar to that of Ecclesiasticus), but at the same time the exilic sympathies of the book cannot be doubted. In sum, the evidence—internal and external—is so insubstantial that although plausible arguments for several places of origin may be put forward, their truth cannot finally be determined.

The date of Tobit is difficult to determine. Some Rom. Catholic scholars have dated the book as early as the 7th cent. b.c., but a number of difficulties militate against this conclusion. Serious historical blunders (see above) suggest that the author was removed from this period by a considerable space of time. Further, unless we are predisposed to allow that the story is literally true or that the author had the gift of prophecy, he betrays an awareness of events (e.g. the fall of Nineveh and Jerusalem, the return from the Captivity, and the rebuilding of the Temple; cf. 14:4f.) that took place long after this time. On the other hand, there is no trace of a knowledge of the Maccabean revolt on the part of the author. These facts indicate the likelihood that the book dates from the period between the approximate beginning of the 4th cent. and approximate end of the 3rd cent. b.c. The majority of scholars favor the end of this period, a date of approximately 200 b.c. or shortly thereafter. Whereas this date cannot be established beyond question, it most successfully accounts for the various data available from internal evidence.

It goes without saying that nothing is known of the actual author of the book, except that he was certainly a devout champion of pietistic Judaism.

Purpose and theological teaching.

If it is correct to assume that the story contained in Tobit is not historical, but rather the fictional composition of an author who made use of contemporary folk legend(s), what may be said of his purpose in publishing the book known to us as Tobit? The story indeed is only a vehicle used by the author in propagating a religious message concerning the importance of right conduct and the faithfulness of God in turn. Of central importance in the author’s world are the observance of the law and the performance of deeds of charity. Chapter 4 in its entirety is given over to ethical exhortation put in the mouth of Tobit in preparation for Tobias’ journey. This exhortation as well as the aphoristic material found throughout the book may be fairly taken as addressed by the author to his readers. This material, however, is only incidental to the actual plot of the book. Directly underlying the plot is a theme that it was also the author’s purpose to convey: Despite all appearances, in times of blackness God’s providence is at work, assuring that everything ultimately will work out to the good of the righteous involved. The righteousness of the main characters of the drama, their prayers and exhortations, were meant to serve as a pattern of conduct for the writer’s contemporaries. Second, and perhaps more important, the experience of these characters—particularly Tobit and Sarah, who are in despair at the opening of the story—is meant to serve as an impetus toward hope in the midst of trying circumstances (such as one might well expect to find in the period leading up to the revolt of the Maccabees) that faced the first readers of the story.

Text and canonicity.

The textual history of Tobit is very complex and reflects what must have been an early and widespread popularity. The Gr. text of the book has survived in no less than three distinct recensions, although the third finds only partial witness. These are (1) Codex Aleph (2) Codices B and A, and (3) a few minuscule MSS (44, 106, 107, according to the numbering of Holmes and Parsons) in 6:8-13:8, but which otherwise reflect the text of recension (2). A large number of VSS are extant, representing each of the three recensions, and in more than one instance VSS in the same language reflect different recensions. For recension (1) Old Lat., the Vul., Aram., and Heb. VSS are available. Recension (2) is represented by Syriac, Coptic (Sahidic), Hebrew, Ethiopic, and Armenian VSS. The third recension is not available in its entirety, either in its “major” Gr. witnesses or in the VSS. It is clear, however, that a full third recension existed from its presence in a Syriac VS from 7:9 to the end of the book, and also from a papyrus fragment in Gr. from Oxyrhynchus that contains a portion of 2:2-8. The third recension seems clearly to be the latest of the three, often combining the readings of the two earlier recensions by way of mediation. It is interesting, however, that a reading of this recension (12:8) appears to be quoted in that writing of the apostolic fathers known as 2 Clement (16:4), although this cannot be taken as evidence for an early date of the recension as a whole. More interesting is the relationship between the first two recensions. The numerous similarities may possibly be the result of interdependence, but a number of conspicuous differences seem to suggest that the similarities may instead be due to the common use of a prior (original?) ed. The first recension as found in Aleph is considerably longer than the second recension, yet omits two important sections (4:1b-18; 13:8-11a) as well as several lesser ones that are preserved in the latter. These omissions in Aleph, however, are prob. fortuitous since other early witnesses to the same recension, notably the Old Lat. and one of the Qumran fragments, contain the missing material. Since the first recension is so much longer than the second, it is arguable that it is a later expansion of the latter. Nevertheless, it is also possible that the second recension (i.e., that found in B and A) is a later reduction of the first recension. This conclusion finds support, for many of the differences of the second recension are accountable as improvements and alterations incorporating or reflecting a later viewpoint. Indeed, it is generally conceded that the first recension (Aleph) is the earliest of the two, since its style is clearly more Sem., and thus presumably closer to the original. This is confirmed to a considerable extent by the fact that the Aram. and Heb. fragments found at Qumran reflect the text of the first recension. The two main recensions of the Gr. text are generally both available in the standard printed edd. of the LXX.

Tobit is received as canonical in the Roman Catholic Church following the decision concerning apocryphal books taken at the Council of Trent in the 16th cent. Consequently Tobit and Judith take their place beside the OT book of Esther in the Rom. Catholic Bible. Despite its popularity in Jewish circles, the book was never included in the Heb. Bible. Finding a place in the LXX, however, the book was known and used by the Early Church. Eventually, it became clear that the book was inferior in status compared to those of the Heb. canon. Jerome’s view was that the book was valuable to read, but was not to be reckoned as a part of the canonical Scriptures. In the Protestant Bible, Tobit is relegated to the Apocrypha where it follows 1 and 2 Esdras. The Eng. VSS generally follow the recension represented by B and A rather than that of Aleph and the Vulgate.


D. C. Simpson in R. H. Charles, APOT, I (1913), 174-241; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Books of the Apocrypha (1915), 349-371; C. C. Torrey, “‘Nineveh’ in the Book of Tobit” JBL XLI (1922), 237-245; M. Bévenot, “The Primitive Book of Tobit” BS LXXXIII (1926) 55-84; E. J. Goodspeed, The Story of the Apocrypha (1939), 13-19; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 258-284; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 31-41; F. Zimmermann, The Book of Tobit (1958); J. T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (1959), 31; T. F. Glasson, “The Main Source of Tobit” ZAW LXXI (1959), 275-277; L. H. Brockington, A Critical Introduction to the Apocrypha (1961), 33-39; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), 583-585; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969), 1208-1213.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Name

2. Canonicity

3. Contents

4. Fact or Fiction?

5. Some Sources

6. Date

7. Place of Composition

8. Versions

9. Original Language


1. Name:

The book is called by the name of its principal hero which in Greek is Tobit, Tobeit and Codex N Tobeith. The original Hebrew word thus transliterated (Tobhiyah) means "Yahweh is good." The Greek name of the son is Tobias, a variant of the same Hebrew word. In the English, Welsh, etc., translations, the father and son are called Tobit and Tobias respectively, but in the Vulgate both are known by the same name--Tobias--the cause of much confusion. In Syriac the father is called Tobit, the son Tobiya, following apparently the Greek; the former is not a transliteration of the Hebrew form given above and assumes a different etymology, but what?

2. Canonicity:

Though this book is excluded from Protestant Bibles (with but few exceptions), Tobit 4:7-9 is read in the Anglican offertory, and at one time Tobias and Sarah occupied in the marriage service of the Anglican rubrics the position at present held by Abraham and Sarah. For the position of the book in the Septuagint, Vulgate and English Versions of the Bible, see Judith, 2.

3. Contents:

The nodetitle differs in essential matters in its various versions and even in different manuscripts of the same versions (compare the Septuagint). The analysis of the book which follows is based on the Septuagint’s Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus, which English Versions of the Bible follow. The Vulgate differs in many respects. The book tells of two Jewish families, living, one at Nineveh, the other at Ecbatana, both of which had fallen into great trouble, but at length recovered their fortunes and became united by the marriage of the son of one to the daughter of the other. Tobit had, with his brethren of the tribe of Naphtali, been taken captive by Enemessar (= Shalmaneser). remaining in exile under his two successors, Sennacherib and Sarchedonus (Esar-haddon). During his residence in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and after his removal to Nineveh (Assyria), he continued faithful to the Jewish religion and supported the observances of that religion at Jerusalem. Moreover, he fasted regularly, gave alms freely. and buried such of his fellow-countrymen as had been put to death with the approval or by the command of the Assyrian king. Notwithstanding this loyalty to the religion of his fathers and the fact that he buried Jewish corpses intended to be

by exposure, he like other Jews (Daniel, etc.) won favor at court by his upright demeanor and was made steward of the king’s estate. Under the next king (Sennacherib) all this was changed, for he not only lost his high office but was deprived of his wealth, and came perilously near to losing his life. Through an accident (bird dung falling into his eyes) he lost his sight, and, to make bad worse, his wife, in the manner of Job’s, taunted him with the futility of his religious faith. Job-like he prayed that God might take him out of his distress.

Now it happened that at this time another Jewish family, equally loyal to the ancestral faith, had fallen into similar distress--Raguel, his wife Edna and his daughter Sarah, who resided at Ecbatana (Vulgate "Rages"; compare Tobit 1:14) in Media. Now Sarah was an only daughter, comely of person and virtuous of character. She had been married to seven successive husbands, but each one of them had been slain on the bridal night by the demon Asmodeus, who seems to have been eaten up with jealousy and wished no other to have the charming maid whom he loved. The parents of Tobias at Nineveh, like those of Sarah at Ecbatana, wished to see their only child married that they might have descendants, but the marriage must be in each case to one belonging to the chosen race (Tobit 3:7-15; but see ''''7, below). The crux of the story is the bringing together of Tobias and Sarah and the frustration of the jealous murders of Asmodeus. In the deep poverty to which he had been reduced Tobit bethought himself of the money (ten talents, i.e. about 3,500 British pounds) which he had deposited with one Gabael of Rages. The Septuagint’s Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus have Rhagoi) in Media (see Tobit 1:14). This he desired his son to fetch; but the journey is long and dangerous, and he must have a trustworthy guide which he finds in Raphael, an angel sent by God, but who appears in the guise of an orthodox Jew. The old man is delighted with the guide, whom, however, he first of all carefully examines, and dismisses his son with strict injunctions to observe the Law, to give alms and not to take to wife a non-Jewish (EV "strange") maiden (Tobit 4:3 ff). Proceeding on the journey they make a halt on reaching the Tigris, and during a bath in the river Tobias sees a fish that made as if it would devour him. The angel tells him to seize the fish and to extract from it and carefully keep its heart, liver and gall. Reaching Ecbatana they are hospitably lodged in the home of Raguel, and at once Tobias falls madly in love with the beautiful daughter Sarah, and desires to have her for wife. This is approved by the girl’s parents and by Raphael, and the marriage takes place. Before going together for the night the angel instructs the bridegroom to burn the heart and liver of the fish he had caught in the Tigris. The smoke that resulted acted as a countercharm, for it drove away the evil spirit who nevermore returned (Tobit 8:1 ff). At the request of Tobias, Raphael leaves for Rages and brings from Gabael the ten talents left in his charge by Tobit. Tobias and his bride led by the angel now set out for Nineveh amid the prayers and blessings of Raguel and with half his wealth. They are warmly welcomed by the aged and anxious parents Tobit and Anna, and Tobias’ dog which he took with him (Tobit 5:16) was so pleased upon getting back to the old home that, according to the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) rendering, he "ran on before as if bringing the news .... , showing his joy by fawning and by wagging his tail" (Vulgate Tobit 11:9; compare English Versions of the Bible 11:4). Upon reaching his father, acting upon Raphael’s directions, Tobias heals Tobit’s demon-caused blindness by applying to the old man’s eyes the gall of the fish, whereupon sight returns and the family’s cup of happiness is full. The angel is offered a handsome fee for the services he has rendered, but, refusing all, he declares who he is and why he was sent by God, who deserves all the praise, he none. Tobit, having a presentiment of the coming doom of Nineveh, urges his son to leave the country and make his home in Media after the death of his parents. Tobias is commanded to write the events which had happened to him in a book (12:20). We then have Tobit’s hymn of praise and thanksgiving and a record of his death at the age of 158 years (Tobit 13; 14). Tobias and Sarah, in accordance with Tobit’s advice, leave for Ecabatana. His parents-in-law follow his parents into the other world, and at the age of 127 he himself dies, though not before hearing of the destruction of Nineveh by Nebuchadnezzar (14:13-15).

4. Fact or Fiction?:

Luther seems to have been the first to call in question the literal historicity of this book, regarding it rather in the light of a didactic romance. The large number of details pervading the book, personal, local and chronological, give it the appearance of being throughout a historical record; but this is but part of the author’s article. His aim is to interest, instruct and encourage his readers, who were apparently in exile and had fallen upon evil times. What the writer seeks to make clear is that if they are faithful to their religious duties, giving themselves to prayer and almsgiving, burying their dead instead of exposing them on the "Tower of Silence," as did the Persians, then God would be faithful to them as He had been to Tobit.

That the book was designed to be a book of religious instruction and not a history appears from the following considerations:

(1) There are historical and geographical inaccuracies in the book. It was not Shalmaneser (Enemessar) who made the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun exiles in Assyria, but Tiglath-pileser (734); see 2Ki 15:29. Sennacherib was not the son of Shalmaneser (Tobit 1:15), but of Sargon the Usurper. Moreover, the Tigris does not lie on the way from Nineveh to Ecbatana, as Tobit 6 f imply.

(2) The prominence given to certain Jewish principles and practices makes it clear that the book was written on their account. See Tobit 1:3 ff, Tobit’s integrity, his support of the Jerusalem sanctuary, his almsgiving, etc.: (a) he buries the dead bodies of Jews; (b) he and his wife pray; (c) he teaches Tobias to keep the Law, give alms, etc. Note in particular the teaching of Raphael the angel (Tobit 12:6 ff) and that contained in Tobit’s song of praise (Tobit 13).

(3) The writer has borrowed largely from other sources, Biblical and non-Biblical, and he shows no regard for correctness of facts so long as he succeeds in making the teaching clear and the tale interesting. The legend about the angel who pretended to be an orthodox Jew with a proper Jewish name and pedigree was taken from popular tradition and could hardly have been accepted by the writer as literally true.

For oral and written sources used by the author of Tobit see the next section. A writer whose aim was to give an exact account of things which happened would hardly have gone to so many sources belonging to such different times, nor would he bring into one life events which in the sources belong to many lives (Job, etc.).

5. Some Sources:

The Book of Tobit is dependent upon older sources, oral or written, more than is the case with most books in the Apocrypha. The following is a brief statement of some of these:

(1) The Book of Job.

Besides belonging to the same general class of literature as Job, such as deals with the problem of suffering, Tobit presents us with a man in whose career there are alternations of prosperity and adversity similar to those that meet us in Job. When Anna reproaches her husband for continuing to believe in a religion which fails him at the critical moment (Tobit 2:14), we have probably to see a reflection of the similar incident in Job ("renounce God and die" (Job 2:9)).

(2) The Book of Sirach.

There are so many parallels between Sirach and Tobit that some kind of dependence seems quite clear. Take the following as typical: Both lay stress on the efficacy of alms-giving (Tobit 4:11; 12:9; compare Sirach 3:30; 29:12; 40:24). Both teach the same doctrine of Sheol as the abode of feelingless shades to which the good as well as the bad go (Tobit 3:6,10; 13:2, compare Sirach 46:19; 14:16; 17:28). The importance of interring the dead is insisted upon in both books (Tobit 1:17; 2:3,7; 4:3 f; compare Sirach 7:33; 30:18; 38:16). The same moral duties are emphasized: continued attention to God and the life He enjoins (Tobit 4:5 f,19; compare Sirach 6:37; 8:8-14; 35:10; 37:2); chastity and the duty of marrying within one’s own people (Tobit 4:12 f; 8:6; compare Sirach 7:26; 36:24); proper treatment of servants (Tobit 4:14; compare Sirach 7:20 f); the sin of covetousness (Tobit 5:18 f; compare Sirach 5); see more fully Speaker’s Apocrypha, I, 161 f.

(3) The Achiqar Legend.

We now know that the story of Ahikar referred to in Tobit 14:10 existed in many forms and among many ancient nations. The substance of the legend is briefly that Achiqar was prime minister in Assyria under Sennacherib. Being childless he adopted a boy Nadan (called "Aman" in 14:10) and spared no expense or pains to establish him well in life. Upon growing up the young man turns out badly and squanders, not only his own money, but that of Achiqar. When rebuked and punished by the latter, he intrigues against his adoptive father and by false letters persuades the king that his minister is a traitor. Achiqar is condemned to death, but the executioner saves the fallen minister’s life and conceals him in a cellar below his (Achiqar’s) house. In a great crisis which unexpectedly arises the king expresses the wish that he had still with him his old and (as he thought) now executed minister. He is delighted to find after all that he is alive, and he loses no time in restoring him to his lost position, handing over to him Nadan for such punishment as he thinks fit.

There can be no doubt that the "Achiacharus" of Tobit (Achiacharos, 1:21 f; 2:10; 11:18; 14:10), a nephew of Tobit, is the Achiqar of the above story. George Hoffmann of Kiel (Auszuge aus syrischen Akten persiacher Martyrer) was the first to connect the Achiqar legend with the Achiacharus of Tobit, though he believed that the story arose in the Middle Ages under the influence of Tobit. Modern scholars, however, agree that the story is of heathen origin and of older date than Tobit. Rendel Harris published a Syriac version of this legend together with an Introduction and translation (Cambridge Press, 1898), but more important are the references to this tale in the papyri found at Elephantine and recently published by Eduard Sachau, Aramaic Papyrus und Ostraka, (1911, 147 ff). This last proves that the tale is as old as 400 BC at least. For lull bibliography on the subject (up to 1909) see Schurer, GJV4, III, 256 ff. See also The Story of Achiqar from the Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Slavonic versions by Conybeare, J. Rendel Harris and A. S. Lewis, 1898, and in particular Histoire et Sagesse d’Achiqar, paragraph Francois Nace, 1909.

(4) The Book of Esther:

The occurrence in Tobit 14:10 of "Aman" for "Nadan" may show dependence upon Esther, in which book Haman, prime minister and favorite of Ahasuerus (Xerxes, 485-464 BC) exhibits treachery comparable with that of Nadan. But Esther seems to the present writer to have been written after and not before Tobit (see Century Bible, "Esther," 299 ff). It is much more likely that a copyist substituted, perhaps unconsciously through mental association, the name Haman for that which stood originally in the text. Marshall (HDB, IV, 789) thinks that the author of Tobit was acquainted with the Book of Jubilees, but he really proves no more than that both have many resemblances. In its angelology and demonology the Book of Jubilees is much more developed and belongs to a later date (about 100 BC; see R.H. Charles, Book of Jubilees, lvi ff, lviii ff). But the two writings have naturally much in common because both were written to express the sentiments of strict Jews living in the 2nd century BC.

6. Date:

This book seems to reflect the Maccabean age, an age in which faithful Jews suffered for their religion. It is probable that Judith and Tobit owe their origin to the same set of circumstances, the persecutions of the Jews by the Syrian party. The book belongs therefore to about 160 BC. The evidence is external and internal.

(1) External.

(a) Tobit 14:4-9 implies the existence of the Book of Jonah and also the completion and recognition of the prophetic Canon (about 200 BC).

(b) Since Sirach is used as a source, that book must have been written, i.e. Tobit belongs to a later date than say 180 BC.

(c) The Christian Father Polycarp in 112 AD quotes from Tobit, but there is no earlier allusion to the book. The external evidence proves no more than that Tobit must have been written after 180 BC and before 112 AD.

(2) Internal.

(a) Tobit 14:5 f seems to show that Jonah was written while the temple of Zerubbabel was in existence, but before this structure had been replaced by the gorgeous temple erected under Herod the Great: i.e. Tobit was written before 25 BC.

(b) The stress laid upon the burial of the dead suits well the period of the Syrian persecution, when we know Antiochus Epiphanes allowed Jewish corpses to lie about unburied.

(c) We have in Tobit and Judith the same zeal for the Jewish Law and its observance which in a special degree marked the Maccabean age. Noldeke and Lohr (Kautzsch, Apok. des Altes Testament, 136) argue for a date about 175 BC, on the ground that in Tobit there is an absence of that fervent zeal for Judaism and that hatred of men and things non-Jewish which one finds in books written during the Maccabean wars. But we know for certain that when the Maccabean enthusiasm was at its height there existed all degrees of fervor among the Jews, and it would be a strange thing if all the literature of the time represented but one phase of the national life.

7. Place of Composition:

We have no means of ascertaining who wrote this book, for the ascription of the authorship to Tobit (1:1 ff) is but a literary device. There are, however, data which help in fixing the nationality of the writer and the country in which he lived. That the author was a Jew is admitted by all, for no other than a Jew could have shown such a deep interest in Jewish things and in the fortunes of the Jewish nation. Moreover, the fact that Tobit, though member of the Northern Kingdom, is represented as worshipping at the Jerusalem temple and observing the feasts there (1:4-7) makes it probable that the author was a member of the Southern Kingdom wishing to glorify the religion of his country.

That he did not live in Palestine is suggested by several considerations:

(1) The book describes the varying fortunes of Jews in exile so completely and with such keen sympathy as to suggest that the writer was himself one of them.

(2) The affectionate language in which he refers to Jerusalem and its religious associations (Tobit 1:4 ff) is such as a member of the Diaspora would use.

(3) The author nowhere reveals a close personal knowledge of Palestine. That Tobit, the ostensible author (1:1), should be set forth as a native of Galilee (1:1 f) is due to the art of the writer.

Assuming that the book was written in a foreign land, opinions differ as to which. The evidence seems to favor either Persia or Egypt. In favor of Persia is the Persian background of the book. Asmodeus (Tobit 3:8,17) is the Pets Aesma daeva. The duty of burying the dead is suggested to the Jewish writer by the Persian (Zoroastrian) habit of exposing dead bodies on the "Tower of Silence" to be eaten by birds. Consanguineous marriages are forbidden in the Pentateuch (see Le 18:6 ff); but they are favored by Tobit 1:9; 3:15; 4:12; 7:4. The latter seems to show that Tobias and Sarah whom he married were first cousins. Marriages between relatives were common among the Iranians and were defended by the magicians as a religious duty. One may say it was allowed in the particular case in question on account of the special circumstances, the fewness of Jews in the parts where the families of Tobit and Raguel lived; compare Nu 36:4 ff for another special case. The fact that a dog is made to accompany Tobias on his journey to Ecbatana (Tobit 5:17; 11:4) favors a Persian origin, but is so repugnant to Semitic ideas that it is omitted from the Hebrew versions of this story (see Dog). For an elaborate defense of a Persian origin of Tobit see J. H. Moulton, The Expository Times, XI, 157 ff; compare H. Maldwyn Hughes, The Ethics of Jewish Apocryphal Literature, 42 ff. The evidence is not decisive; for a knowledge of Iranian modes of thought and expression may be possessed by persons living far away from Iranian territory. And at some points Tobit teaches things contrary to Zoroastrianism. Noldeke and Lohr hold that the book was composed in Egypt, referring to the facts that the demon Asmodeus on being overcome flees to Egypt (8:3) and that there were Jews in Egypt who remained loyal to their ancestral faith and were nevertheless promoted to high places in the state. The knowledge of Mesopotamia shown by the author is so defective (see ''''4, above) that a Mesopotamian origin for the book cannot be conceived of.

8. Versions:

Tobit exists in an unusually large number of manuscripts and versions showing that the book was widely read and regarded as important. But what is peculiar in the case of this book is that its contents differ largely--and not seldom in quite essential matters--in the various manuscripts, texts and translations (see 3. above).

Tobit has come down to us in the following languages:

(1) Greek.

Manuscripts of the Greek text belong to three classes:

(a) that found in the uncials Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus, BA, (which are almost identical) and most Greek manuscripts; our English and other modern translations are made from this;

(b) that of Codex Sinaiticus which deviates from (a) often in important matters. The old Latin tallies with this very closely;

(c) that of Codices 44, 106 and 107 (adopting the numbers of Holmes and Parsons), which largely coincides with (b).

From 7:10 onward this text forms the basis of the Syriac (Peshitta) version Opinions differ as to which of these three Greek texts is the oldest. Fritzsche, Noldeke and Grimm defend the priority of BA. In favor of this are the following: This text exists in the largest number of manuscripts and translations; it is most frequently quoted by the Fathers and other early writers; it is less diffuse and more spontaneous, showing less editorial manipulation. Ewald, Reusch, Schurer, Nestle and J. Rendel Harris hold that [?] represents the oldest Greek text. Schurer (GJV4,III, 243) gives the principal arguments for this view (compare Fuller, Speaker’s Commentary, I, 168 f) is much fuller than BA. Condensation (compare BA) is much more likely, Fuller and Schurer say, than expansion (Codex Sinaiticus); but this is questioned. In some cases, Codex Sinaiticus preserves an admittedly better text, which is of course true often of the Septuagint and even the minor versions as against the Massoretic Text.

(2) Latin.

(i) The Old Latin based on Codex Sinaiticus found in (i) the editions published in 1751 by Sabbathier (Bib. Sac. Latin versions Antiq.); (ii) in the Book of Tobit (A. Neubauer, 1878). This text exists in at least three recensions. (b) The Vulgate, which simply reproduces Jerome’s careless translation made in a single night; see (3). In Judith and Tobit, the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) is in every respect identical with its translation made by Jerome.

(3) Aramaic (a Term Which Strictly Embraces Syriac).

(a) That from which Jerome’s Jewish help made the Hebrew that formed the basis of Jerome’s Latin version. We have no copy of this (see next section).

(b) That published by Neubauer (Book of Tobit, a Chaldee Text) which was found by him imbedded in a Jewish Midrash of the 15th century.

Neubauer was convinced and tried to prove that this is the version which Jerome’s teacher put into Hebrew and which therefore formed the basis of Jerome’s own version In favor of this is the fact that in Tobit 1-36, and therefore throughout the book, Tobit is spoken of in the third person alike in this Aramaic (Chaldee) version and in Jerome’s Latin translation; whereas in all the other versions (compare chapters 1-36) Tobit speaks in the first person ("I," etc.). But the divergences between this Aramaic and Jerome’s Latin versions are numerous and important, and Neubauer’s explanations are inadequate (op. cit., vi ff). Besides, Dalman (Grammatik des jud.-palest. Aramaic, 1894, 27-29) proves from the language that this version belongs to the 7th century AD or to a later time.

(4) Syriac.

The text of this version was first printed in the London Polyglot (Volume IV) and in a critically revised form in the Lib. Apocrypha. Vet. Test. Syriac of Lagarde. This text consists of parts of two different versions. The Hexaplar text based on the usual manuscripts (Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus etc.) is used from Tobit 1:1-7:9. From 7:10 onward the text corresponds closely with the Greek, [?], and [?] especially in parts, with the manuscripts 44, 106, 107. See fully Schurer, GJV4, 244 ff.

(5) Hebrew.

None of the Hebrew recensions are old. Two Hebrew texts of Tobit have been known since the 16th century, having been printed then and often afterward. Both are to be found in the London Polyglot.

(a) That known as Hebraeus Munsteri (HM), from the fact that it was published at Basel in 1542 by Sebastian Munster, though it had also been printed in 1516 at Constantinople.

(b) That known as Hebraeus Fagii (HF), on account of the fact that Paul Fagius published it in 1542.

It had, however, been previously published, i.e. in Constantinople in 1517. HF introduces Biblical phraseology wherever possible. Since these are comparatively late translations they have but little critical value, and the same statement applies to the two following Hebrew translations discovered, edited and translated by Dr. M. Caster (see PSBA, XVIII, 204 ff, 259 ff; XIX, 27 ff):

(a) A Hebrew manuscript found in the British Museum and designated by him HL. This manuscript agrees with the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and Aramaic at some points where the other authorities differ, and Dr. Gaster thinks it not unlikely that in HL we have a copy of the original text. He has not been followed by any scholar in this opinion.

(b) Dr. Gaster copied some years ago from a Hebrew Midrash, apparently no longer existing, a condensed Hebrew version (HG) of Tobit. Like HL it agrees often with the Vulgate and Aramaic against other versions and manuscripts.

(6) Ethiopic.

Dillmann has issued the ancient Ethiopic versions in his Biblia Veteris Testamenti Aethiopica, V, 1894.

9. Original Language:

The majority of modern scholars, who have a better knowledge of Sere than the older scholars, hold that the original text of Tobit was Semitic (Aramaic or Hebrew); so Ewald, Hilgenfeld, Graetz, Neubauer, Bickell, Fuller (Speaker’s Apocrypha), Marshall (HDB). In favor of this are the following considerations:

(1) The existence of an Aramaic text in Jerome’s day (see (3), above).

(2) The proper names in the book, male and female, have a Semitic character.

(3) The style of the writer is Semitic rather than Aryan, many of the expressions making bad Greek, but when turned into Semitic yielding good Aramaic or Hebrew.

See the arguments as set out by Fuller (Speaker’s Apocrypha, I, 164 ff). Marshall (HDB, III, 788) gives his reasons for concluding that the original language was Aramaic, not Hebrew, in this opinion following Neubauer (op. cit.). Graetz (Monatsschrift far Geschichte und Wissenschaft der Juden, 1879, 386 ff) gives his grounds for deciding for a Hebrew original. That the book was written in Greek is the view upheld by Fritzsche, Noldeke, W.R. Smith, Schurer and Lbhr. The text of Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus says Lohr, contains Greek of the most idiomatic kind, and gives no suggestion of being a translation.


Much of the best literature has been cited in the course of the preceding article. See also "Literature" in article APOCRYPHA, for text, comms., etc., and the Bible Dicts., Encyclopedia Biblica (W. Erbt) and HDB (J. T. Marshall). Note in addition the following: K. D. Ilgen, Die Geschichte Tobias, nach den drei verschiedenen Originalen, Griechisch, Lateinisch u. Syriac., etc., 1800; Ewald, Gesch.3, IV, 269-74; Graetz, Gesch.2, IV, 466 ff; Noldeke, "Die Texte des Buchs Tobit," Monatsschrift der Berlin Acad., 1879, 45 ff; Bickell, "A Source of the Book of Tobit," Athenaeum, 1890, 700 ff; 1891, 123 ff; I. Abrahams, "Tobit’s Dog," Jewish Quarterly Review, I, 3, 288 E. Cosquin, "Le livre de Tobie et l’histoire du sage Achiqar," Rev. Biblical Int., VIII, 1899, 50-82, 519-31, rejects R. Harris’ views; Margarete Plath, "Zum Buch Tobit," Stud. und Krit., 1901, 377-414; I. Levi, "La langue originale de Tobit," Rev. Juive, XLIV, 1902, 288-91, Oxford Apocrypha, "Tobit" (full bibliography).

T. Witton Davies

See also

  • Apocrypha