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Hebrew Tales

Tobias & the Angel

The Book of Tobit

Chapter Links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Dramatis Personae

Chapters:

  1. Tobit is exiled to a precarious life in Nineveh but keeps faith with God's law.
  2. Tobit, despite his great virtue, loses his eyesight.
  3. Tobit and Sarah both pray for death to end their suffering. God deputes an angel to deal with the situation.
  4. Tobit, morosely anticipating death, offers sagely advice to his son Tobias.
  5. The angel Raphael, diguised as Azariah, offers his services for Tobias' journey and they set forth (with Tobias' dog).
  6. Tobias catches an ugly but useful fish. Azariah urges him to be married.
  7. Tobias proposes to marry Sarah despite her unfortunate history.
  8. Asmodeus flees to Egypt and Raguel digs an unnecessary grave.
  9. Azariah collects the money. He and Gabael attend Tobias' wedding.
  10. Tobias and Sarah (and Azariah and the dog) take their leave of Raguel.
  11. Tobias and Sarah (and Azariah and the dog) return home to Anna and Tobit, who are astonished but joyous. Tobit's blindness is healed.
  12. Azariah reveals that he is actually the angel Raphael.
  13. Tobit eloquently praises God.
  14. Tobit offers deathbed advice. Tobias and Sarah live long and happy lives.

Procursus

The story of Tobit and his son Tobias seems to have been written sometime early in the IInd century BC (the years 199-100) and to have enjoyed great popularity almost immediately. The story is set in the years just after 721 BC, when Israelite leaders were forcibly moved to Nineveh, in Assyria (modern Mosul, Iraq). It centers on a pious Jew determined to retain his sense of Jewish identity and determined also to practice distinctively Jewish piety even in exile from his beloved homeland.

photo by DKJ
Life-Sized Altar Statues of Tobias & Raphael (and the Fish and the Dog)
Duomo di Sant'Andrea Apostolo, Amalfi, Italy

Although the text is full of historical references, few of them hang together, and it is hard to see it as having any basis in real history. Rather, it is usually taken as representing a slightly romanticized exile experience that was very real to its IInd century audience and still resonates with readers today. Although classed traditionally among the "historical" works of Hebrew literature, it is perhaps more valuable for its sage advice (reflecting values of the period of its composition) and its implied message about the immanence of God for those who are righteous.

The work was originally written, it appears, not in Hebrew, but in Aramaic, a closely related language spoken in Palestine in the last few centuries BC and in Roman times, and the story appears to have been very widely known. But a Greek translation, in three different versions, provided the traditional definitive text until in 1955 pieces of the text in both Aramaic and Hebrew turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls and confirmed the overall accuracy of the long used Greek versions. The story is not part of the Jewish or Protestant scriptures, but it is part of the "deuterocanonical" portion of the Old Testament for Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. (These books are also referred to as the Old Testament Apocrypha.)

The version provided here is from the copyright-free World English Bible. As is usual in scriptures, individual "verses" are numbered. I have retained the chapter and verse numbering, but have increased the number of paragraph breaks to facilitate on-line reading. I have also added the chapter subtitles. Two review quizzes are linked to the end of the last chapter.

This is the best available copyright-free version. For a different translation, with useful interpretative notes, check the New American Bible text of this work on the web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Link) For a full Hebrew version, from 1885, click here. For the full Greek version, click here.)

The various illustrations that decorate these pages are identified in their captions. To the best of my knowledge, all are available for free public use.

An audio presentation of an English translation of this work is available on-line. (Link)

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