Written in Hebrew or Aramaic in the second century b.c., the book of Tobit relates a heartwarming tale of Israelites seeking to live righteously and to be faithful to God while in the Mesopotamian diaspora, far from their homeland. The primary text for Tobit is Greek, but fragments of Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts point to its original language.
Tobit, the principal character in this story, is a virtuous and pious Israelite living in Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria. In Tobit's story we see how the Israelites of the northern ten tribes who were exiled by the Assyrians in 722 b.c., endeavored to live righteously even in this distant land. Throughout the story Tobit remains faithful to God and to God's instructions in the Torah, even though he is beset by blindness and poverty. Tobit is a model of piety, of what in Hebrew is called tsedaqa, “righteous living.” We see this abundantly in his devotion to God, his prayer and fasting, his charity, and his concern for honoring the dead with proper burial. He is in general a model for ordering one's life as a grateful response to God's grace. The virtues we see exemplified in Tobit—prayer, fasting, and alms for the poor—are the same ones another pious Jew, Jesus, would later advocate in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6.1-18).
Eventually, Tobit's eyesight is wondrously restored, as is his happiness. A second story in the book tells about Sara, a young Israelite woman living in Ecbatana, in the region of Media. She is tormented by a demon who has already killed seven of her bridegrooms on their wedding nights. Linking these two story lines is Tobias, Tobit's son. Tobit's fatherly advice to his son in 4.3-21 is an eloquent articulation of the life-style of tsedaqa, and a most helpful insight into the religious values of this age. With the help of the angel Raphael, Tobias travels to Ecbatana and is there able to recover money his father had left there, rescue Sara from her tormentor, and join her in marriage.
As the story alternates between Nineveh and Ecbatana, the unknown author's genius is evident in the way he allows the reader to see things that no single character in the story can. This omniscient, almost god-like, point of view heightens the reader's empathy for the various characters whom God safeguards and who, despite handicaps and seemingly insurmountable hardships, continue to live faithfully and rightly toward God and others.
Tobit's Blindness (1.1—2.14)
Tobit and Sara Pray (3.1-17)
Guidance for Tobit's Son, Tobias (4.1—5.22)
Tobias and Raphael Help Sara in Media (6.1—10.12)
Tobit Is Healed and Raphael Explains (11.1—12.22)
Tobit's Hymn of Praise and Last Words (13.1—14.15)
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