Introduction to Tobit, the apocryphal work

Tobit can be found in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Slavonic (Russian Orthodox) Bibles. Neither the Jews, Protestants, nor Anglicans recognize Tobit as canonical. The book gets its name from the main character, Tobit. The oldest versions of this book have survived in the Greek,  Old Latin, and Jerome’s Vulgate (see the introduction to the Apocrypha). Tobit probably dates to the third or early second century (250-100) B.C.E. The author of this book is unknown as is its place of origin, though it has been suggested that the origin might have been the eastern Diaspora from the midst of the Jews displaced during the Babylonian exile, Egypt, or Israel.

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While Tobit is included in some versions of the Bible because it was adopted from Jerome’s Vulgate and affirmed in response to the textual criticism of the Protestant Reformation, it is important for us to know why it is not included in the Jewish, Protestant, or Anglican canon. The Jewish canon was closed, here meaning finished, shortly after the Babylonian exile. Before this, authorship and origin could be traced with exception to the book of Job (which was likely written before Genesis). The Protestant and Anglican canons follow the formal history of the Jewish writings. Since Tobit’s author and origin are unknown and since the book was written so late and under exilic conditions, it cannot be authenticated textually or historically. Even Job can be authenticated due to the quotations from or references to the book of Job throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Tobit borrows motifs from popular folk-tales during this intertestamental period, even mentioning the characters from these fictional stories. These include The Dangerous Bride, The Monster in the Nuptial Chamber, The Supernatural Being in Disguise, The Miraculous Animal, and The Grateful Dead, and may include hints to Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigone

So, Tobit not only references the Old Testament text but also elements of folk and incoming Hellenistic legends and philosophical works. This likely makes Tobit, itself, a work of fiction rather than a historic account. As we work through Tobit, we will see elements of tragedy, comedy, vivid characters (like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), comic storytelling, with themes of ethics, prayer, purity, and home-living during the exile. Tobit is entertaining and profitable, providing indirect information about exilic life and the post-exilic period.

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4 comments

  • You wrote “The Jewish canon was closed shortly after the Babylonian exile commenced”. Can you state any reliable source of your statement? Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 4, page 824 says that it was closed in second century CE (Common Era = AD). If Jewish canon was already closed during Christ’ time on earth then we can expect in New Testament He and others would quote only from this closed canon, which in your understanding is 39 books of your Bible. But they did not – they quote from wider Scripture than what Catholics and Protestants and Jews now recognize as Old testament. Jewish Talmud, composed after 2nd century AD still quotes Sirach as Scripture (as one book belonging to Ketuvim, the third group in three division Jewish Scripture). The fact that Tobit has reference to other works (you wrote: “folk and incoming Hellenistic legends and philosophical works”) is not the reason of its rejection. In New Testament Paul also referred to Greek work in Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 15:33 and Titus 1:12.

    • I think you’ve got some facts mixed up. And I think you are making me out to claim some things that I did not. I hope this isn’t the way you read everything.

      Seek understanding. Not confirmation. It is the only way we learn and grow, brother.

  • I quoted from Jewish reliable source does NOT mean I know better than them – that is a very poor conclusion. I did not get facts mixed up and you did claim that Jewish canon was closed shortly after Babylonian exile – read again what you wrote, unless you simply copied and pasted from other, without reading them.
    I repeat my question: How did you know that Jewish canon was closed shortly after Babylonian exile?

    • Thank you for your comment. This will be my last response to you on this blog because I have no interest in winning an argument, and that seems to be your purpose. I looked to the encyclopedia you cited and there is no page 824 in volume 4. For a canon to be closed means that it is completed- which means it was closed after the final work in the collection was finished, shortly after the return from the Babylonian exile. Lists of canonical works are not usually developed until later because of a controversy in which added works are questioned. We will eventually get to the book of Sirach. Any more comments from you may not be approved if they are simply argumentative. Once again, we are here to seek understanding, not confirmation.

      I will repeat myself. I think you’ve got some facts mixed up. And I think you are making me out to claim some things that I did not. I really hope this is not the way you treat everything you read. I used to be that way. I discovered that I only hurt myself and crippled my own understanding because I was simply interested in defending what I already thought or believed. It is called confirmation bias. I don’t know your current viewpoint or worldview. I try not to be that presumptuous. Please feel free to take advantage of the study, here, or not. I sincerely hope that you grow in your own understanding.

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