Category Archives: Tobit

Bible and Country Music – Tobit and “The Long Black Veil”

This doesn’t really apply to the entire book, but the ability of the person to see and know what it happening above his grave serves as the connection.

Plus, I really like the song.

Deuterocanonical and Cognate Yearbook 2009 Interaction – Tobit’s Narration

Just working through the Deuterocanonical and Cognate Yearbook 2009 by interacting with a few of the articles.

Death and Burial in the Tobit Narration in the Context of the Old Testament Tradition – Beate Ego

I don’t fully agree with Ego’s understanding of Tobit 3.10, in which Sara is said to keep from committing suicide in order to keep from father from coming to sorrow in Hades (καὶ κατάξω τὸ γῆρας τοῦ πατρός μου μετὰ λύπης εἰς ᾅδου  (Tob 3:10 BGT)). Much like the use of Hades in 13.2, it is a poetic device representing the separation from God. Or, we might have a universalist bent in Tobit. I prefer the first option, and in doing so, find that Ego’s understand of Tobit’s use of Hades in Sara’s speech is mistaken. Hades, at least for Tobit, is a poetic device used to symbolize death, destruction, and separation from God. She doesn’t see Tobit’s statement in 4.10, that alms delivers from death, as a statement on the afterlife.

She does highlight the phrase ἔκχεον τοὺς ἄρτους σου ἐπὶ τὸν τάφον τῶν δικαίων (Tobit 4:17) connecting it to several other Deuterocanonical passages. If Ego is correct, it is interesting then what this might represent as regards to Palestinian beliefs during this time. Further, the use of a ritual which must be called magic is theologically entertaining.

This article presents an interesting development in my understanding of Tobit and his community in several ways. First, they are extremely family oriented, alms focused, and bound in tradition. Further, the author of Tobit either knows other authors of the time, such as Sirach and Baruch, or is in the middle of the same sect. Burying the dead takes on a socio-religious motivation and should refocus study on the purification rituals in the Torah and how they might be applied to the understanding of the after-life among the ancient Hebrews.

State of the (Living) Dead in Tobit 5.10

Tobit’s community is not doubt a mixed one, filled with no hope for the afterlife but entertaining the thoughts of angels; yet, Tobit shares a view of the dead’s state which is perplexing, or perhaps, merely poetic. For Tobit, a person dies and goes “to the eternal place” (3.6), to Sheol (3.10), ‘into the darkness’ (4.10; 14.10) or lie ‘in darkness’ (5.10).  It is the description that Tobit gives in 5.10 that is the most interesting.

Then Tobias went out and called him, and said, “Young man, my father is calling for you.” So he went in to him, and Tobit greeted him first. He replied, “Joyous greetings to you!” But Tobit retorted, “What joy is left for me any more? I am a man without eyesight; I cannot see the light of heaven, but I lie in darkness like the dead who no longer see the light. Although still alive, I am among the dead. I hear people but I cannot see them.” But the young man said, “Take courage; the time is near for God to heal you; take courage.” Then Tobit said to him, “My son Tobias wishes to go to Media. Can you accompany him and guide him? I will pay your wages, brother.” He answered, “I can go with him and I know all the roads, for I have often gone to Media and have crossed all its plains, and I am familiar with its mountains and all of its roads.” (Tob 5:10 NRS)

He compares his present condition, brought on by doing only good deeds, to that of the dead. We must remember that Tobit made a point of burying the dead which eventually caused him to lose his position in the empire (1.16-22). His focus was on the dead, so when we hear his depiction of the dead as being virtually alive, at least consciously, we should take note.

We also find, contrary to the Sadduccean dogma, Christ speaking of the dead in a state, knowing of the (metaphysically) life above them and able to feel pain.

“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’ (Luke 16:24 NLT)

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27-28 NLT)

Both descriptions portray the dead as knowing what is going around them. For Tobit, then, burying the dead was a righteous act, so that they wouldn’t be bothered as they lay decaying under the sun. For Christ, it becomes a parabolic tool to highlight the coming Resurrection[1].


[1] For a fuller treatment on the dead in Tobit, see Beate Ego, Death and Burial in the Tobit Narration in the Context of the Old Testament Tradition, Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature, Yearbook 2009.

Tobit’s Story Expressed in Art

I’ve been reading through Tobit for a while now, and came across some artwork relating to the story. Some of the best were by an artist named Rembrandt:

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:

Tobit, Anna and Tobias – Olga’s Gallery.

Tobit 4:14 and Matthew 20.1-16 – Get Paid for Working for God

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.

Tobit 2.1-2 – New Testament Banquets for the Righteous

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.