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Archive for the ‘Tobit’ Category
That’s right, a goat. Read the book to find out why.
I didn’t know that 4th-2nd century bc(e) looked like medieval Europe and angels were all really just big cupids with more clothes. Like Wisdom, Tobit provided inspiration for great European artists along side that of other canonical stories. You can find more here:
If we take Bauckham’s position that Tobit is a parable to the Northern Tribes in exile, then we can understand the use of parabolic language which also finds its way into the New Testament thought-world. As I wrote previously, I find that there is a slight connection between the author of Tobit and his parables and the parables of Christ in the Gospels. This is another example of that thread of connection.
This is not to say that Tobit is any more inspired than the next novella but it does provide insight into the religious and social expectations of the Northern Tribes as they find themselves faced with exclusion of the Jerusalem Temple, in poverty, and contemplating extinction as a people. (Note that Tobit was blind, poor, and that Sarah was about to leave her bloodline without an heir). I was recently asked if I accepted or believed this book, which is a bit of a loaded question. I accept that people do believe this book and I do hold some value for this book, as I believe that some of the thoughts, the traces of inspiration if you will, made it into the New Testament. (More on that later)
In the first recension of the Greek text, a majority of Tobit’s speech to his son is missing (verses 7-18), but in the second recension, we find what amounts to an apocryphal set of beatitudes, which is set in a scene between a father who is sending his only son into the world to redeem a special and chosen bride. Tobit is a story of redemption, first of Tobit and then of Sarah, ending with an eschatological, but temporal, hope in a rebuilt (a new?) Jerusalem. (Sound familiar?)
In this portion of Tobit’s speech to his son Tobias, there is a string which weaves itself into the word of Christ in Matthew 20.1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard.
At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. ”
At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.
When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Mat 20:1-16 NLT)
In my previous career as a community organizer, I worked with a nuclear physicist who decided to trade in his comfortable life to fight for the rights of workers. I admired him for that and worked him well, until he stepped into my territory and tried to interpret this passage with the Owner of the Vineyard as an evil taskmaster. My summer interns, a Methodist and a Catholic, destroyed his interpretation and I helped to prod them along, of course.
Compare the thought in Matthew to the words of Tobit:
“Do not keep over until the next day the wages of those who work for you, but pay them at once. If you serve God you will receive payment. (Tob 4:14 NRSV)
Pay your workers each day and don’t make them wait until the next day to receive their wages. If you serve God you will be rewarded. (Tobit 4:14 NLT-CRE)
Granted, it is only a thread, but I think that we can find something in the parables of Christ which connects them not just to the tribes which weren’t exiled, but also the hopes and aspirations of the ‘Lost’ Northern Tribes (Is anything Lost to God?). Both stress justice, Tobit is temporal, Christ is eternal, but both use the workers and wages as a symbol of God’s reward to the faithful.
Then during the reign of Esar-haddon I returned home, and my wife Anna and my son Tobias were restored to me. At our festival of Pentecost, which is the sacred festival of weeks, a good dinner was prepared for me and I reclined to eat. When the table was set for me and an abundance of food placed before me, I said to my son Tobias, “Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles in Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back.” (Tobit 2:1-2 NRSV)
The feast, or banquet, was seen as a status symbol in ancient times, where the wealthy would compassionately invite the poor to feast. Once Tobit had been restored to some sense of financial stability, he returned the favor, part of his almsgiving, and sent his son to invite the poor – but only those who follow God. The casual Christian reader should see the resemblance in the parable being related here; it is the exact same one found in the parables of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 22.1-14; Luke 14.16-24) We also find that John uses the parable of the wedding feast (Revelation 19.6-9) to describe the carnage and destruction at the end of the world. It is no coincidence that the wedding guests in both texts should be seen as the Jews. Unlike Tobit, however, the wedding invitation in the Gospel can be construed to be extended to the Gentiles.
This is not surprising, especially if Richard Bauckham is correct, in that Tobit is a parable written to the Northern (Lost) Tribes. I’ll have more interact with Bauckham’s essay, later, but so far, we find parabolic material in Tobit, which we will later find used in the Gospels.
Tobit 2:3-7, RSV:
But he came back and said, “Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the market place.” So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset. And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow.
Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said,
“Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation.”
And I wept. When the sun had set I went and dug a grave and buried the body.
While reading Le Donne’s work, my opinions were shaped, somewhat, into examining prophecy as a method more of understanding not the future, but either the recent past or into guiding the present. If we truly examine Matthew’s vision of prophetic fulfillment, we find that he interpreted the actions of Christ by and through interaction with the Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures were held up not just as a validator, however, but as the path to validation. In other words, not only were the Scriptures used to explain an event in the life of Matthew’s Jesus, but served as a guide as to what must happen next.
We find the same goal of theologizing the by the author of Tobit, or if we read this uncritically, Tobit himself. Tobit applies Amos 8.10 to himself and just as the ‘words of the prophet’ says to do, he weeps, thus fulfilling the prophecy.