A book included in the Apocrypha by Protestants and by Roman Catholics in the deuterocanonical literature of the OT. It is in the Greek LXX, although probably it was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. Fragments of the book in both these languages are among the Dead Sea scrolls. The author of the book is unknown, but lived in the Diaspora among Gentiles, rather than in Palestine. The suggested place is Antioch in Syria, where extensive commercial activities provided a link with the area (ancient Assyria) where the story of the book is placed. Another suggestion is that Babylon could have been the author’s home, in view of the fascination with angels—who had been introduced into Judaism under Persian influence.
Although in the story Tobit is an official in the Assyrian government of Sennacherib, there are too many historical errors to regard it as genuinely autobiographical, though it pretends to be (Tob. 1: 3–3: 6). The reference to the Temple (14: 4–5) has no hint about the desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BCE; but its ethical and theological ideas resemble those of Ecclus. [= Sir.] (180 BCE).
The Aramaic of Tobit in the Qumran scrolls is said to be more typical of the age of Ezra (4th cent. BCE) than of Daniel (2nd cent.), so possibly the date of composition was about 250 BCE.
The story’s hero, Tobit, is a devout Jew, who had been deported to Nineveh and who suffered blindness on account of his zeal in giving burial to executed Jews. But he has deposited a large sum of money with a relative in Rages in Media and, approaching death, he asks his son Tobias to fetch it. Tobias does so in company with a guide called Raphael, who turns out to be an angel with a gift for extracting magical spells from the organs of fish. This he does, but in addition Raphael organizes a marriage for Tobias with one Sarah, daughter of a kinsman of Tobit, who had been widowed seven times, and Tobias cures his father’s blindness with the fish’s gall.
The book teaches the importance of burying the dead and of avoiding marriage with non-Jews by Sarah’s marrying within her own family. The author expresses great reverence for Jerusalem (1: 6–8; 14: 5) and in general indicates the very best ethical traditions of Judaism—integrity, honesty, charity. He is influenced by Deuteronomic theology, that righteousness is rewarded with prosperity (Tob. 14: 2), and wickedness in the end with disaster (Tob. 13: 12).
The delightful tale of Tobit has inspired some superb paintings—by Botticelli (who provides three angels!), Rembrandt, and Titian.