The Book of Tobit

The Book of Tobit, a 3rd to early 2nd Century BCE Jewish work explains the way God tests faithful, responds prayers, and guards covenant community (i.e. the Israelites). It is the tale of two Jewish families: one of the blind nineveh Tobit and another family from Ecbatana abandoned Sarah. ( Tobit’s son Tobias is sent by Raphael to recover the ten silver talents Tobit left behind in Rages in Rages, a town in Media. Tobias arrives in Ecbatana where he is introduced to Sarah. Asmodeus is a demon who has fallen in love with Sarah and killed her intended bridesmaids. marry. Raphael helps Tobias and Sarah to get married and then they return to Nineveh, where Tobit is healed of his blindness.

Book of Tobit

It is mentioned in the Orthodox and Catholic canons. It is not mentioned in the Jewish. According to Protestant custom, it appears located in the Apocrypha. Anabaptists Lutherans Anglicans, Methodists, Anabaptists, Lutherans and Anglicans acknowledge it as a an element of the Bible and are able to use it in liturgy or edification but it is not canonical. The work is fiction that contains historical references, which most scholars agree with.

Summary and structure

The book contains 14 chapters. They are divided into three main narrative sections, with a prologue and epilogue.

  • Prologue (1:1-2)
  • Situation in Nineveh and Ecbatana (1.3-3.17)
  • Tobias’s Journey (4:1-12.22)
  • Tobit’s praise song and to mourn his loss (13:1-14.2)
  • Epilogue (14:3-15)
  • (Summarised by Benedikt Olzen “Tobit and Judith”).

The prologue informs readers that this is the tale Of Tobit of Naphtali. He was expelled from Tishbe, Galilee to Nineveh. He was a faithful observer of the law of Moses and made offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem prior to the Assyrian victory. His wedding to Anna is mentioned in the narrative, and they had one son, named Tobias.

Tobit is a pious man who is known for his burial of dead Jews. However, one night when he’s asleep, he is blinded when the bird vomits in his eyes. He becomes dependent on his wife, but accuses her of stealing and prays for death. His sister Sarah is a resident of distant Ecbatana, prays for his demise, as Asmodeus killed her lovers on their wedding night. They also accuse her of having caused their deaths.

God will answer their prayers and the angel Raphael is sent to help them. Tobias is sent to retrieve money from a relative, and Raphael disguised as a human, offers to accompany Tobias. Raphael, disguised as a human, proposes to accompany Tobias on the journey. He informs him that a burnt heart or liver can eliminate demons and the gall can cure blindness. Raphael believed that Sarah would be the demon’s spawn.

Tobias and Sarah get married Sarah and Tobias get married. Tobias is rich. They go back to Nineveh (Assyria), where Tobit, Anna, and their children live. Tobit’s blindness gets treated, and Raphael is off after telling Tobit, Tobias and Tobit to bless God and proclaim his good deeds (the Jews), that they must fast, pray and offer alms. Tobit is awed by God for taking his people’s exile, but promises to show mercy to them and rebuild the Temple if their hearts turn to God.

Tobit informs Tobias in the conclusion that Nineveh will soon be destroyed as an example for wickedness. Israel will also be desolated, with the Temple destroyed. But Israel and the Temple can be restored. Tobias should therefore leave Nineveh and be a righteous man with his family.


Tobit can be considered an esoteric work that has historical references. It is filled with prayers, moral exhortation, adventure and humour, and elements from folklore. It provided guidance to diaspora Jews living in exile on how to preserve their Jewish identity.

Latin Rite readings are based on the book. The book is read at weddingsand in a variety of rites, because of its praise for purity of marriage. The book is noted for its teaching regarding the intercession of angels, filial piety, almsgiving and tithing as well as reverence for the deceased. In the chapter 5 of 1 Meqabyan (a book considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) Tobit is also mentioned.

Manuscripts and composition

Leaf from a vellum manuscript dating to c. 1240.

While the Book of Tobit was written in the 8th century BC, the actual book is dated to between 225 and 125 BC. The location of the book’s composition is not settled by experts (“almost all of the old regions appear to be suitable candidates”); a Mesopotamian origin seems plausible given the location of the story in Persia/Assyria. The book also mentions the Persian demon “aeshma dareva”, rendered “Asmodeus”, but there are significant errors in geographic detail (such the distance to Ecbatana as Rhages and their topography). There are arguments for as well as against Judean and Egyptian composition.

Tobit exists in two Greek versions, one (Sinaiticus) longer 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.

Tobit and Judith are referred to in the Vulgate as books of the historical, after Nehemiah. Certain manuscripts of the Greek version have them positioned after the wisdom writings.

Status Canonical

The deuterocanon refers to those Jewish books that appear in the Septuagint but not in the Masoretic standard canon of the Jewish Bible. Because Protestants follow the Masoretic canon, they therefore don’t include Tobit in their traditional canon but they do include it in the category of books that are deuterocanonical, referred to as the Apocrypha.

The Book of Tobit is listed as a canonical work by the Council of Rome (A.D. 382) and the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393) The Council of Carthage (397) and (A.D. 419) The Council of Florence (1442) and then the Council of Trent (1546), and is part of the canons of the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Catholics refer to it as deuterocanonical.

Augustine (c. A.D. 397) and Pope Innocent I(A.D. 405) both confirmed Tobit’s inclusion within the Old Testament Canon. Athanasius (A.D. 367) noted that some other books, like the book of Tobit even though they were not part of the Canon, “were appointed by the Fathers to be read”.

Rufinus of Aquileia (c. A.D.400) claimed that the book of Tobit as well as other deuterocanonical works, were not Canonical however, they were Ecclesiastical.

According to Protestant tradition According to the Protestant faith, the Tobit book Tobit is placed in an intertestamental area called Apocrypha. In Anabaptism, the Tobit is the book that Tobit is quoted liturgically during Amish weddings, and includes “the Tobit book” being used as Tobit as the basis for the wedding sermon.” Tobit is included in the Luther Bible as part of the “Apocrypha” which refers to books that do not conform to the sacred Scriptures however are still valuable to study. Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England declares it to be one that is part of the “Apocrypha”. The first Methodist liturgical book, The Sunday Service of the Methodists incorporates passages from Tobit within the Eucharistic service. The lectionaries of the Lutheran and Anglican churches include readings of scripture from the Apocrypha along with alternative Old Testament readings. Liturgically, the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican congregations have a reading from the Book of Tobit in services of Holy Matrimony.

Tobit offers fascinating evidence of the early development of the Jewish canon. It is a reference to three divisions rather than two The Law of Moses (i.e. the Torah) and the prophets. It is for unknown reasons not included in the Hebrew Bible; proposed explanations include its date of birth (this is now considered unlikely), a supposed Samaritan origin or an infraction of ritual law, given that it depicts the marriage contract between Tobias and his bride it was written by her father than the groom. It is nevertheless located in Septuagint Greek Jewish writings. This Septuagint was used to introduce it into the Christian canon at end of the 4th century.


Tobit’s position within the Christian canon made it possible for it to influence theology, art and culture across Europe. It was frequently discussed by the Church fathers of the early days, and the motif of Tobias and the fish (the fish representing the image of Christ) was extremely popular in both art and theology. The works of Rembrandt are particularly noteworthy due to the fact that despite being a member of the Dutch Reformed Church he was responsible for numerous drawings and paintings that depict scenes from the book.