Tobit- Greek Influence on Second-Temple Judaism

Tobit 10:1-7a

The difference between a Greek tragedy and a Greek comedy is survival. Romeo and Juliet is tragedy, though a comic one. Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is comedy, though a tragic one. Tobit is a Greek comedy, and we see it here. Tobias is late arriving home from his journey. The reader knows how much has transpired, but Tobias’s parents do not. While Tobit worries about the many possibilities, Anna is sure that her son is dead. The humor is dark. A mother’s worry for her children is hyperbolized. One moment late and they must be dead. Her husband seems to be worried only about the money. An unnecessary family kerfuffle erupts because both Tobit and Anna assume the worst for their son and their own livelihood. The reality is not quite so dark. Tobias met a woman, got hitched, and the wedding celebration lasts fourteen days. Do you sense the comic irony?

Greek literature had a great impact even on Hebrew literature leading into the First Century. Greek culture permeated Jewish society and Jewish religion. It so permeated thought that many Jews didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead (i.e. Sadducees). The Hellenistic philosopher’s tragic outlook on life and the cosmos developed into the Jew’s tragic outlook on life and ministry. There was a lackluster for the things of the faith as well as a cynicism concerning all things related to the Messiah. Life became mundane. It was about keeping the Law, becoming righteous, being realists, and solemn assembly. Notice the same irony. When Jesus came in the flesh, the religious elite saw only tragedy and killed him. In reality, by Christ’s death, all nations are blessed and the people of God delivered from their own unrighteousness. What people meant for evil, God meant for good. The same sort of cynicism permeates our own society and virtually every worldview. God is doing good things, and we only see what we perceive as tragic. For the elect, then, life is a comedy. For the reprobate, life is a tragedy. We assume the worst, but God is working all things together for His glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Perhaps through sanctification, God’s people will learn to have complete joy and thank Him for all things.

We do not have to wonder why Christ spoke like He did into such a cynical society, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For, my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 paraphrase).


  • Hi, orthodox jew here, the Talmud explicitly forbids jews to be learning Greek philosophy

    • Yet, Greek literary influence in this Second-Temple, extra-biblical literature can be traced. The influence described here wasn’t so much from the philosophers but the playwrites. Though, no one can rightly discount the Greek philosophical influence on all logical thought.

      Even to say that the Talmud forbids the learning of Greek philosophy is to show it influenced by Greek philosophy because it addresses Greek philosophy in that part.

      Plus, Tobit was finished about 200-675 years before the Talmud was initially compiled, depending on which part of the Talmud you are referring to. The Jews writing Tobit would only have known whatever part of the Talmud existed as oral tradition in the Second Century BC. If learning Greek philosophy was forbidden at that point, it is unlikely the authors of Tobit knew about the religious restriction. If they did, they did not honor it. In many ways, Tobit is more Greek than Jewish even though it was most likely written by Jews in the intertestamental period.

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