The Book of Tobit

The Book of Tobit (or 3rd or early 2-nd century BCE) is an early 2-nd century BCE Jewish work that outlines God’s test for faithful, the way in which He responds to prayers , and how He safeguards the covenant community (i.e. Israeltes). It tells the story of two Jewish families, that of the blind Tobit in Nineveh and of the secluded Sarah in Ecbatana. ( Tobit’s son Tobias is sent to recover ten silver talents Tobit once left in Rages, a town located in Media; guided and aided by the angel Raphael he arrives in Ecbatana which is where he is reunited with Sarah. Asmodeus is a demon who has a wicked agenda, falls in love with Sarah and destroys plans to marry her. Raphael assists Tobias to remove the demon, and Sarah gets wed. Tobit is then cured of his blindness.

It’s found in Orthodox and Catholic canons however, it is not in it is found in the canons of the Jewish. The Protestant tradition puts it in the Apocrypha. Anabaptists Lutherans Anglicans and Methodists recognize it as part the Bible, useful to aid in edification, liturgyy, and non-canonical. The majority of scholars believe it to be to be a fictional piece, with certain historical reference.

Summary and structure

The book is divided into fourteen chapters. There are three main narrative sections, each with an introduction and an epilogue.

  • Prologue (1:1-2)
  • Situation in Nineveh and Ecbatana (1:3-3:17)
  • Tobias’s adventure (4:1-12:22)
  • Tobit’s song of praise and his demise (13:1-14:2)
  • Epilogue (14:3-15)
  • (Summarised by Benedikt Olzen “Tobit and Judith”).

The intro introduces the reader to the fact that this is the story about Tobit, the Naphtali tribe, who was deported by the Assyrians from Tishbe in Galilee and then brought to Nineveh. He was a faithful follower of the laws of Moses and made offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem prior to the Assyrian conquer. The union of his wife Anna is mentioned in the account, and they had one son, named Tobias.

Tobit A good man, buries dead Jews. But at night, as sleeping and unable to sleep, he is blinded by an unsavory bird that feces within his eyes. He becomes dependent on his wife, but accuses her of stealing and prays for death. In the meantime, Sarah, his relative lives in Ecbatana and is praying for her death. Asmodeus, a demon is responsible for killing her lovers on the night of their wedding.

God listens to their prayers, and the angel Raphael is sent to aid them. Raphael disguised as a human invites to join Tobias in his quest to get money from a family member. They are able to take a catch of a fish from the Tigris, and Raphael informs Tobias that the burnt liver and heart could rid the demons of the world and the gall is able to cure blindness. Raphael believes that the demon will be driven out once they arrive at Ecbatana. Sarah is also there.

Tobias and Sarah get married and Tobias develops wealth. They move back to Nineveh (Assyria) which is where Tobit, Anna, and their children live. Tobit is healed from blindness, and Raphael goes away after exhorting Tobit and Tobias to praise God and declare his good deeds before the community (the Jews), and to fast and pray as well as to give alms. Tobit praises God for taking his people’s exile, but promises to show mercy to them and rebuild the Temple If their hearts change to him.

In the epilogue Tobit in the epilogue, Tobit informs Tobias that Nineveh will be destroyed to show evil; similarly Israel will be degraded and the Temple will be destroyed, however, Israel and the Temple will be restored; therefore Tobias must leave Nineveh, and he and his children should live in the righteousness of God.


Tobit is considered a piece of fiction that has certain historical references. It combines prayers, ethical exhortation, humor, and adventure. It also includes elements drawn from folklore, wisdom tale, travel story as well as comedy and romance. It also offered advice to the diaspora, or Jews in exile, on how to protect their Jewish identity.

The Latin Rite uses readings from the book. The book is usually used at weddings, and at many ceremonies, because it lauds the purity of marriage. The book is frequently cited for its lessons on angelic intercessions as well as filial penitence and almsgiving and tithingas well as respect for the deceased. In the chapter five of 1 Meqabyan (a book considered canonical within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) Tobit is also mentioned.

Writing and composition

Leaf extracted from a vellum manuscript around 1240.

The Book of tobit’s story is set in the 8th century BC. But, the book was written between the years 225 BC between 175 and 225 BC BC. There isn’t any consensus on the place of composition (almost all areas of the ancient world are considered to be possible candidates”); a Mesopotamian origin seems logical since the tale is set in Assyria, Persia, and is a reference to the Persian demon “aeshma Daeva” and the name of which is “Asmodeus”. However the text is filled with significant geographical errors (such as the distance between Ecbatana and Rhages and their topography) as well as arguments in support or against Judean or Egyptian composition.

Tobit exists in two Greek versions There are two Greek versions of Tobit, one (Sinaiticus) more extensive than the other (Vaticanus and Alexandrinus). Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of Tobit (four Aramaic, one Hebrew – it is not clear which was the original language) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran tend to align more closely with the longer or Sinaiticus version, which has formed the basis of most English translations in recent times.

The Vulgate places Tobit, Judith and Esther after the historical writings (after Nehemiah). Certain manuscripts of the Greek version have them positioned after the wisdom writings.

Status Canonical

The deuterocanon is a term used to describe the is used to refer to the Jewish books that are found in the Septuagint however, they are not included in the Masoretic canon. Protestants adhere to the Masoretic canon. Tobit is therefore not included in their standard canon. However they do recognize it in the deuterocanonical book category called the apocrypha.

The Council of Rome (A.D. 382) includes the Book of Tobit as a canonical work. This includes the Council of Hippo (393), Council of Carthage (397) and Council of Carthage (419) as well as the Council of Florence (1422) and then, the Council of Trent (1546). It is both part of the canon of Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Catholics refer to it as deuterocanonical.

Augustine (c. A.D. 397) and Augustine (c. A.D. 397) and Pope Innocent I, A.D. 405, both affirmed Tobit within the Old Testament Canon. Athanasius (A.D. 367) said that Tobit was part of the Canon. However Tobit wasn’t part the Canon.

Rufinus The Roman Emperor Rufinus. A.D. 403, declared that Tobit and the other deuterocanonical texts are not Canonical books , but Ecclesiastical.

Protestant traditions place the book of Tobit in an intertestamental area called Apocrypha. In Anabaptism, the book of Tobit is used in liturgy during Amish weddings. It is “the book of Tobit as the basis for the wedding sermon.” Tobit is listed in the Luther Bible as part of the “Apocrypha”, which refers to books that are not equivalent to the sacred Scriptures but are still a good source to be read. Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England lists it as an article that is part of the “Apocrypha”. The Sunday Service of the Methodists was the first Methodist publication of the liturgy. It incorporates Tobit verses in the Eucharistic service. Readings of the Bible from the Apocrypha are found in the lectionaries of the Lutheran Churches and the Anglican Churches, as well as other denominations who use the Revised Common Lectionary, though alternate Old Testament readings are provided. The Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches offer Holy Matrimony with a Scripture reading of the Book of Tobit.

Tobit includes some fascinating evidence of the early development of the Jewish canon. It refers to three divisions, not two including the Law of Moses (i.e. the Torah) as well as the prophets. It is for unknown reasons not found in the Hebrew Bible; proposed explanations include its age (this is now considered unlikely) and a possible Samaritan origin or a violation of the ritual law in that it portrays the wedding contract between Tobias and his bride as it was written by her father than the groom. The text is however found in the Septuagint Greek Jewish writings. This Septuagint was used to adopt it into the Christian canon towards the end of the fourth century.


Tobit’s place in the Christian canon has allowed it to influence culture, art and theology throughout Europe. It was often discussed by the Church fathers of the early days and the theme of Tobias and the fish (the fish as a symbol of Christ) was extremely well-known in both art and theology. Rembrandt’s painting and drawings that depicted episodes from the novel are especially noteworthy.