Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Tobit, a book found in the Apocrypha. Tobit is a tale of the tribulations of life in the Diaspora (i.e., non-Palestinian areas inhabited by Jews), with the message that God will protect and heal those who are pious and compassionate. The story is set in eighth-century b.c. Nineveh among the exiles from the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, although the numerous anachronisms make it clear that the narrative is intended as fiction. It revolves around Tobit, an exile of the tribe of Naphtali, his wife Anna, their son Tobias, his bride and relative, Sarah, and the archangel Raphael, the angel of healing, who appears in disguise as Tobits relative Azarias (Heb., God helps).
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Tobit loses his eyesight in his concern for the burial of Jewish victims of Assyrian oppression (1:1-3:6)
II. The story of Sarah and the demon-lover (3:7-17)
III. Tobits moral instruction to his son, Tobias (chap. 4)
IV. Tobias and Raphael prepare to set out on a journey to recover Tobits funds (chap. 5)
V. The journey: Tobias catches a fish whose liver, heart, and gall will be used to help Sarah and heal Tobit (chap. 6)
VI. The wedding (chap. 7)
VII. The defeat of the demon (chap. 8)
VIII. Raphael recovers the funds (chap. 9)
IX. The anxiety of Tobit and Anna, and the departure of the young couple from Sarahs home (chap. 10)
X. The return and restoration of Tobits sight (chap. 11)
XI. Raphaels true identity revealed (chap. 12)
XII. Tobits prayer (chap. 13)
XIII. The testament of Tobit (chap. 14).
Tobit has been blinded and reduced to poverty as a consequence of his efforts to bury Jews killed by the oppressive Assyrian king. Sarah is plagued by a demon-lover who has killed her seven grooms on their wedding nights. Both pray to God for death, but God responds by sending Raphael, an angel in disguise, who accompanies Tobias on the way to Rages in Media to recover funds Tobit has left in trust. In Ecbatana, they lodge with Sarahs family, and Tobias marries her. The bridal couple defeat the demon with Raphaels aid and return to Tobit and Anna in Nineveh, where the angel helps Tobias restore his fathers sight. In addition to a good bit of sound moral instruction derived from the wisdom tradition, the tale advocates the marriage of relatives to preserve Jewish identity in the Diaspora, and it anticipates the end of the Diaspora and the restoration of the full Israelite community in Jerusalem.
The story is one of the two apocryphal books with sufficient popularity in the West to have convinced Jerome to include it in his Vulgate translation of the Bible. The motifs of the demon-lover and the angel in disguise are common in folklore. Tobit may predate the second century b.c. and is probably contemporary with the stories in Daniel 1-6, which are also concerned with the problems of maintaining Jewish identity and integrity in the Diaspora. The original language was probably Aramaic, although both Aramaic and Hebrew versions are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Protestants include it among the Apocrypha, while for Catholics it is one of the deuterocanonical books.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer