Tobit, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Book of Tobit, known previously only in Greek and various secondary translations, has been discovered at Qumran in four fragmentary manuscripts of what was apparently the Aramaic original, and in one Hebrew adaptation. Because the book is part of the Apocrypha, it has been preserved in the Septuagint Greek Bibles. Tobit most probably dates to the third century B.C.E., because the author seems to have written before the Maccabean Revolt and the building of the Herodian Temple. Some claim that this book was composed in the Diaspora.
Tobit is a fanciful tale set in the Assyrian period, although it can be argued that its real message and date of composition should be placed in the Hellenistic period. Like other such Aramaic apocryphal literature found in the Qumran collection, it was part of the literature of Second Temple period Judaism eventually collected at Qumran.
The main character is Tobit, son of Tobiel of the tribe of Naphtali, who had been taken captive to Nineveh in Assyria, where he lived with his wife, Anna, and son, Tobias, according to the laws of the Torah. The names, all based on the Hebrew word tov, “good,” are designed to convey the goodness of the family. Tobit was a charitable man devoted to burying Jews who had been left unburied. While sleeping in the courtyard after performing one such burial, he was blinded by the droppings of a bird.
Off in distant Ecbatana in Media lived a Jewish woman named Sarah who had had seven husbands killed by the demon Asmodeus on their wedding night. Because Tobit had deposited some money in Ecbatana, he sent Tobias to recover the money. Guided by Raphael, the angel of healing, Tobias arrived at Ecbatana, where he wed the seven-times widowed Sarah. With instructions from Raphael and by means of some magical paraphernalia, he warded off the demon on his wedding night. Tobias and his wife returned to his parents’ home, where Tobias cured his father’s blindness, again with Raphael’s help. Both Tobit and Tobias lived to ripe old ages.
The message of this book is that adherence to the law will be rewarded, even if at times it appears otherwise. At the height of his tribulations, Tobit prays-
Righteous are You O Lord. All Your deeds and all Your ways are mercy and truth, and You render true and righteous judgment forever. Remember me and look favorably upon me. Do not punish me for my sins and for my unwitting offenses and for those which my fathers committed before You. (TOBIT 3-2–3)
The piety of Tobit and his family, even in the Diaspora, is rewarded- they triumph over adversity, are cured, and are able to cure others. Further, the book deals with the suffering of the righteous as well as with God’s orchestration of human affairs and those of the people of Israel, who are ultimately to be restored to a rebuilt Jerusalem.