The books of Tobit, Judith, the Greek version of Esther, the expanded form of Daniel, and Joseph and Aseneth * are the only ancient Jewish novels * known to have survived. Tobit is an entertaining work that recounts the intertwined stories of Tobit and his future daughter-in-law, Sarah. Their respective problems—Tobit has become blind and each of Sarah's seven successive husbands has died on his wedding night before the marriage can be consummated—are solved by the intervention of the angel Raphael, who comes to them in the guise of one of their kinsmen. Tobit, although set at the time of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel (late eighth century BCE), was likely written much later, about third to second century BCE, in Hebrew or Aramaic. It contains many references to Persian lands, and though it may not have been written in the east, it has an eastern orientation. Many extended Jewish families, including the Tobiad family, engaged in commerce across the boundaries from west to east, and some may be reflected in this work's central characters.
The book can be divided into three parts: (1) Tobit's piety is demonstrated by his courage in burying the corpses of dead Jews in violation of a royal decree (ch. 1 ); (2) Tobit's and Sarah's problems are resolved through the intervention of the angel Raphael (chs. 2–12 ); and (3) Tobit pronounces his deathbed prayers and testament (chs. 13–14 ). The three parts may not have been written by the same hand, but they fit together as a satisfying three-part novel for the Jewish audience in the Greco-Roman period.
The book communicates a charming piety, in that family and religious values are paramount. Very little tension is created as to whether their problems will be solved ( 3.16 ), but the reader is thoroughly entertained by discovering precisely how the plot will proceed. In addition, the author utilizes humor and irony * to create a comic tone throughout, making the happy ending seem inevitable.