Tobit, Book of
TOBIT, BOOK OF
TOBIT, BOOK OF, one of the books of the *Apocrypha included in the Septuagint and Vulgate in the canon.
It is the story of Tobit, an honest, upright man of the tribe of Naphtali, who observed the precepts and was exiled to Assyria by Shalmaneser (iii?). When he came to the land of his exile and the king of Assyria (Sennacherib) put many of the Jewish exiles to death, Tobit endangered his own life by defying the royal decree and arranging for the burial of the victims. His action came to the knowledge of the government and he was compelled to go into hiding until Esarhadon ascended the throne and *Ahikar, Tobit's nephew, was restored to his post as the king's scribe. Tobit then resumed his beneficent activities. It happened that on one occasion, when he had returned from burying an abandoned corpse, and lay down to sleep in his courtyard, bird's droppings fell into his eyes and he became blind. In his distress he remembered that some time before he had lent his relative in Rages of Media ten talents of silver. He therefore requested his son – called Tobias – to claim the money. The young man went in the company of a guide. On the way, as they passed the River Tigris, the guide advised him to catch a fish and preserve its heart, liver, and gall. Later as they passed Ecbatana in Media, the guide told him that his kinsman Raguel (Reuel) dwelt there, and that he had an only daughter, Sarah. She had already been married seven times, but the bridegroom had died each time on the night of the wedding, and according to the law of the Torah, since she was the young Tobias' kinswoman she was bespoken to him and not to a stranger. In order to drive away *Ashmedai, the demon who slew the grooms, the guide advised him to burn the heart and liver of the fish. Tobias did as ordered and was successful. His father-in-law, who was glad to see him alive, doubled the duration of the festivities from seven to 14 days. Meanwhile the guide, who had gone to Rages to bring the debt, came back, and they returned together to the home of Tobit the elder. When they reached Nineveh the son smeared the gall on his father's eyes, and his eyesight was restored. Tobit wanted to pay the guide his hire, but then it became known to him that the guide was none other than the angel Raphael, one of the seven angels who carry up prayers to Heaven. The aged Tobit, being aware that the end of Nineveh was near, commanded his son to leave the city and to go to Media after his father's death, which he did.
Various conjectures have been put forward with regard to the source of the tale. In the past it was usual to give the historical explanation that the story reflects the prohibition in some period against burying the dead, whether in the Persian era, or the Greek (under Antiochus iv), or the Roman (cf. Graetz; cf. Katznelson). However, the Roman era is much too late (the book is now known from the Dead Sea scrolls); there is even no reflection of the religious persecution of Antiochus iv, nor has the story any visible connection with the Persian custom of not burying the dead (moreover, its author praises Media). In recent decades the conjecture has gained acceptance that there is a connection between the story and the widespread folkloristic motif of a young man who saved a dead body from creditors who wanted to prevent its burial, and was then rescued by the deceased's spirit from mortal peril. The story of Tobit, however, does not speak even of a single creditor but of people put to death because of their devotion to burying the corpses of those executed by royal decree (as in the story of Antigone), and the bride is not a legendary king's daughter, but a kinswoman bespoken to her relative; nor is there mention of the many fabulous deeds which characterize the folklore tale. Probably, what the author really had in mind were the two popular "precepts," known from both the apocryphal and early talmudic literature: the first that one is in duty bound (even if he be a Nazirite or a high priest, who must keep away from any uncleanness) to bury a corpse found at random (met mitzvah, "the burial of the dead that is a precept"); and the second that there is special merit in marrying a kinswoman (cf. Tosef., Kid. 1:4; tj, Naz. 7:1; and there are many stories of scholars who did so).
The book itself appears to be as early as the Persian era. It contains a prophecy on the building of Jerusalem, but there is no allusion to the Hasmonean wars. It appears to have been compiled in Media. To this the Iranian name "Ashmedai" (from Aeshma-Dawa) seems appropriate. There is also the very fact that the whole story turns around descendants of the ten tribes. From talmudic and other sources, it is clear that until a very late period the ten tribes were believed to thrive in Media and in the surrounding countries. Furthermore, in Babylonia (in a wide sense) more than in any other place, they were concerned about the genealogical purity of the Jews of the Exile. Moreover, and connecting of Tobit with Ahikar shows that in that place and time Ahikar was a well-known personality, which again lends support to the earlier date. The book is regarded as the most artistic story of the Apocrypha. Though dealing with various motifs, it retains a simple style and character. The original language was either Hebrew or Aramaic. Several fragments of the book were found among the Qumran scrolls both in Hebrew and in Aramaic. The Greek text is preserved in many versions, a long one (s) which is attested to in the Qumran library, a short one (a and b), and a third one, which is represented in many minuscules. Several Hebrew versions were preserved in the Middle Ages, but they all seem to be later adaptations. A very shortened version of the tale found its way into the well-known Midrash *Tanḥuma.
[Yehoshua M. Grintz]
In the Arts
The book's ethical message was congenial to the early Christian Reformers, notably Martin Luther (who recommended Tobit as a subject for comedy). A pioneer of the drama in Sweden was the Lutheran writer and preacher Olaus Petri (Olof Petterson), whose Tobiae Commedia appeared in 1550. Other works of the period were a Danish play by Hieronymus Justesen Ranch of Viborg, the German Meistersinger Hans Sachs' comedy, Die gantz histori Tobie, Joerg Wickram's German prose comedy, Tobias (1551), and a mystery staged at Lincoln in 1564. These were followed by several more works in the 17th century, but interest in the theme later waned, although the 19th century saw the appearance of Milovan Vidahoric's Serbian epic, Mladi Tovija (1825). In recent times, however, the subject has been revived in works such as James Bridie's
Tobias and the Angel (1931) and Gonzalo Torrente Ballester's modern Spanish miracle play, El viaje del joven Tobias (1938). Bridie succeeded in revitalizing the Apocryphal story by injecting humor and colloquial speech into his realistic interpretation of the old theme.
In art there have been several cycles of works illustrating the story of Tobias, such as the fourth-century sarcophagus of St. Sebastian in the Appenine Way, Italy; 13th-century carvings at Chartres Cathedral; eight scenes in the Berlin Museum by Pinturiccio or Giulio Bugiardini; and paintings by Francesco Guardi for the Church of the Angel Raphael in Venice. The story of Tobias particularly appealed to *Rembrandt: the blind Tobit with his wife Anna (Tobit 2:11–14) is the subject of a meticulous early Rembrandt in the Moscow Museum and of several later works, including one in Berlin. These are studies of humble Dutch interiors, with a soft light filtering through the windows. There is also a painting by Rembrandt (Hermitage, Leningrad) of the younger Tobias taking leave of his parents as he sets out on his journey (5:17–22). Tobias and the angel (ch. 6) was a favorite subject in early Renaissance Italy. Merchants sometimes had their sons painted as Tobias accompanied by a guardian angel if they went away on business. The youth would be shown dangling his fish, followed by a little dog. The subject inspired paintings by Pollaiuolo (Pinacoteca, Turin); Filippino Lippi (Bension Collection, London); a follower of Verrochio (National Gallery, London); Botticelli (Academy, Florence); and Perugino (National Gallery, London). In "The Virgin with the Fish" by Raphael (Prado, Madrid), the kneeling Tobias holding his fish is presented by the angel to the Madonna. A painting by Rembrandt in the collection of the duke of Arenberg, Brussels, of the restoration of Tobit's sight (ch. 11) has been admired for the exactitude with which it depicts an operation for cataracts in the 17th century; and one in the Louvre shows the archangel Raphael taking leave of Tobit and his family (12:16–22).
In music Tobit's song of praise, Magnus es Domine in aeternum, is included among the Cantica of the Roman Catholic rite, and sung to a simple psalmodic melody. In the 16th century, a motet, Domine deus patrum nostrorum, is found among the works of the composer Jacobus Gallus (Handl), and there is a Historia Tobiae in the manuscript of Hungarian historico-biblical songs known as the Hofgreff Collection. The subject was sometimes used for oratorios by minor 17th-century composers: a work often mentioned in the history of the oratorio, Matthias Weckmann's dialogue Tobias und Raquel, was for long attributed to his better-known contemporary, Johann Rosenmueller (c. 1620–1684). More prominent composers turned to the subject for oratorios in the 18th century: Antonio Caldara (Tobia, text by Apostolo Zeno, 1720), Antonio Lotti (Il ritorno di Tobia, Bologna, 1723), Georg Reutter the Younger (Il Ritorno di Tobia, Vienna, 1733), Joseph Mysliveczek (1737–1781), and Baldassare Galuppi (1782). The outstanding work of this period was Haydn's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia (text by Giovanni Gastone Boccherini, written in 1774–75). Haydn produced an augmented version in 1784 (a revised version was made by Sigismund Neukomm in 1806); and the work is still occasionally performed, as is its overture. A charming curiosity is Beethoven's jocular canon, O Tobias, heiliger Tobias! (1823), addressed to his publisher and friend Tobias Haslinger: according to the composer, he conceived the canon in a reverie on a coach ride during which he dreamt that he was transported to the Holy Land, felt very saintly, and through further flights of association came to think of "Saint" Tobit and his friend's good qualities. In the 19th century, the subject was taken up by several French composers in short succession, following upon Pierre-Louis Deffés' cantata (1847); Bizet (L'ange et Tobie, cantata, c. 1885–87, unfinished, text by Léon *Halévy); Gounod (Tobie, small oratorio, c. 1866, text by H. Lefèvre); and E. Ortolan (another setting of Halévy's libretto, 1867). Works of the 20th century include the opera Tobias and the Angel by Arthur Bliss (1959–60; text by Christopher Hassall); and Darius *Milhaud's Invocation à l'ange Raphaël, a cantata in four parts for women's voices and orchestra (text by Paul Claudel, published 1965).
X.L. Katzenelson, in: Ha-Tekufah, 25 (1929), 361–4; A. Kahana, Ha-Sefarim ha-Ḥiẓonim, 2 (1937), 291–311; Z. Hirsch, Ha-Psychologyah be-Sifrutenu ha-Attikah (1957), 70–73; H. Graetz, in: mgwj, 28 (1879), 145–63, 385–408, 433–55, 509–20; F. Rosenthal, Vier apokryphische Buecher aus der Zeit und Schule R. Akiba's (1885), 104–50; F.C. Conybeare, J.R. Harris, and A.S. Lewis (eds.), The Story of Ahikar (19132); E. Cosquin, in: rb, 8 (1899), 50–82; Charles, Apocrypha, 1 (1913), 174–201; M.M. Schumpp (tr. and ed.), Das Buch Tobias (1933); A. Miller (tr. and ed.), Das Buch Tobias (1940).