Book Tobit

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Filippino Lippi - Tobias and the Archangel Raphael (around 1475)

The Book of Tobit (or Book of Tobias , abbreviated to Tob ) is one of the late writings of the Old Testament . It is a wisdom teacher tale with fairytale features about two related Jewish families. The exemplary old Tobit in Nineveh goes blind, and his young relative Sara in the distant Ekbatana suffers from the fact that the demon Ashmodai kills every bridegroom on their wedding night. Tobit and Sara wish to die, but then pray. The angel Raphaelis sent by God to help both. He offers himself to Tobias, Tobit's son, as a travel companion and teaches him how to use the innards of a magic fish as a remedy against demons and against blindness. Tobias marries Sara and heals his father Tobit.

Only the Greek translation is complete. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of the Book of Tobit.

The book was not included in the Jewish canon , but it is part of the Septuagint and is considered part of the Old Testament canon of scriptures by the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches . In the churches of the Reformation, the Tobit Book does not belong to the Old Testament, but is listed in the Luther Bible and the Zurich Bible under the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.

Book title

The book is named after its main character: ancient Greek Βίβλος λόγων Τωβίθ Bíblos lógōn Tōbíth "Book of Tobit's Words". In the Vulgate the work is called Liber Tobiae , from which Latin speakers concluded that the main character was Tobias . Since father and son have the same name with this assumption, the book of Tobit is also called Liber utriusque Tobiae in Latin , "Book of the two Tobiasse."

Date and place of origin

The book of Tobit was not written in the time in which its action takes place (8th century BC). This can be seen, for example, in the fact that Tobias' travel companion is to be rewarded with small silver coins. Such coinage came in the Persian Empire only in the 4th century BC. Chr. On. Tob 14.4  EU offers a clue for the dating of the Book of Tobit : The books of the prophets are already considered holy scriptures. The multiple occurrence of the phrase “according to the law of Moses” is used in the Book of Chronicles (example: 2 Chr 23.18  EU ). This brings you to the Hellenistic period (late 3rd / early 2nd century BC).

Because of the achikar material, it was assumed that the Tobit Book was created in Egypt ( Elephantine ) in the early 20th century ; more recent research tends to be drawn up in the eastern diaspora (perhaps Persia) or in Judea. The situation in exile forms the background of the plot, but the connection with Jerusalem, in contrast to the Book of Esther , is repeatedly emphasized. A prerequisite is a geographically widely dispersed Jewish diaspora whose return to Jerusalem is hoped for in the end times, but is not an option for the present. However, the apparent lack of local knowledge speaks against an emergence in the eastern diaspora. Józef T. Milik took the hypothesis that the story came from the upper class of Persian or early Hellenistic Samaria and served the fame of the Tobiad family . The work was later revised by a Jewish Jerusalem editorial team. With this, Milik can explain why the main characters in the book belong to the northern Reich tribe Naftali, while heroes of diaspora stories usually come from the southern Reich of Judah.

Text transmission

The Greek text of the Book of Tobit has been preserved in three reviews :

  • The short version (G I ) is represented by the Codex Vaticanus (4th century), Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) and Codex Venetus (8th century) as well as several minuscule manuscripts. The narration is short and in pretty good Greek.
  • The long version (G II ) mainly represents the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and the minuscules 319 and 910. Compared to G I , this narrative is much more detailed and shows the influence of a Semitic language.
  • There is also an incomplete mixed version (G III ), which is offered by manuscripts 106 and 107. It depends on the long version (G II ), but also has features of G I accepted.

How long and short versions relate to one another has been discussed in research since Konstantin von Tischendorf's discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus. According to Beate Ego, it is likely that the long version is more original and the short version is the work of editors who tightened the text and improved it linguistically.

As early as the 19th century it was assumed that there was a Semitic-language model for the Book of Tobit. The findings of Qumran confirmed this thesis. In 1952, fragments of four Aramaic manuscripts and a fragment of a scroll in Hebrew were found in cave 4Q . As a result, about 20% of the Aramaic, but only 6% of the Hebrew Tobit book are known. Here is an overview of the manuscript names with the approximate palaeographic dates:

  • 4QpapTob a ar (= 4Q196), around 50 BC Chr.
  • 4QTob b ar (= 4Q197), around 15 BC BC - AD 15
  • 4QTob c ar (= 4Q198), v to 50th Chr.
  • 4QTob d ar (= 4Q199), around 100 BC Chr.
  • 4QTob e (= 4Q200), around 30 BC BC - AD 20

Overall, the Qumran fragments are closer to the long text, which has contributed to the fact that recent research largely considers it to be original. The bilingualism in Judea / Palestine in the Hellenistic and early Roman times also means that there are aramaisms in the Hebrew and Hebraisms in the Aramaic text of the Tobit Book. If one opts for an Aramaic original version, this fits well with the assumption that the story originated in the eastern diaspora.

The old Latin version of the Tobit Book ( Vetus Latina ) translated a Greek model that was relatively similar to the Codex Sinaiticus (G II ). It circulated in different versions: as Vetus Afra in North Africa, Vetus Italica in Northern Italy, Vetus Hispana in Spain. The version of the Vulgate differs considerably from it. Jerome wrote that he completed it in a single day by having an interpreter orally translate the Aramaic text into Hebrew and then translate that Hebrew version into Latin. It is proven that the Vetus Latina also influenced the Vulgate version. In the Vulgate the whole story is held in the third person. "The Vulgate text deviates so massively from the Greek tradition, despite many 'key matches', that it remains unclear to what extent the originator or translator are to be held responsible for it." Although Jerome claimed to have had an Aramaic model, the Vulgate is particularly close not recognizable from the Aramaic Qumran fragments. The book of Tobit was read in Medieval Europe in Hieronymus' idiosyncratic arrangement; it is also the textual basis of the Luther translation.

There are also translations into Arabic , Armenian , Coptic , Ethiopian and Syriac , which depend on the Greek version. There are also medieval translations into Hebrew and Aramaic, which do not reveal any reference to the ancient texts from Qumran. Rather, they are back-translations from Greek or Latin with midrash-like extensions.

Among the translations into German, the Luther Bible offered a translation of the Vulgate up to the 2017 revision; In 2017 the book of Tobit, like other Apocrypha, was newly translated from the Greek (G II ; the verse counting therefore does not correspond to previous editions). The unrevised standard translation (1980) translated the Greek short text (G I ), while the 2016 revision translated the long text (G II ). However, the Codex Sinaiticus, as the main witness for the long text, has two gaps in the text in Tob 4,7–19  EU and in Tob 13,6–10  EU . Anyone who translates G II can refer to an Athos manuscript from the year 1021, Βατοπαιδίου 513 (= minuscule 319) , for the gap in the text in Chapter 4 . In contrast, no manuscript from this text family is available for the gap in the text in Chapter 13. There is therefore no other option than to supplement the version of the short text (G I ) at this point or to switch to the Vetus Latina.


August Malmström - Tobias heals his blind father's eyes (around 1890)

As a teacher narration, the Tobit book presents his religious ideal of behavior with the following three key concepts:

  • ancient Greek ὁδοὶ ἀληθείας hodoì alētheías "ways of fidelity and truth", ie reliable ways;
  • ancient Greek δικαιοσύναι dikaiosýnai " proof of justice";
  • Ancient Greek ἐλεημοσύνας ποιεῖν eleēmosýnas poieĩn “todoworks of mercy ”, ie active charity.

The book of Tobit contains the story of two Jewish families who are related to each other. Tobit is presented as a member of the Naftali tribe . He lives in the northern kingdom of Israel , but does not take part in the idolatry there, but makes a regular pilgrimage with his family to the Jerusalem temple . He, his wife Hanna and his son Tobias are deported to Nineveh with other Israelites . There he lives true to the commandments of the Torah . With his charity he helps other Israelites and arranges for a proper burial if necessary. As incidentally, it is also mentioned that on a trip to the media, he handed over money to a Gabael in Rages for safekeeping. He suffers from the religious persecution of the Assyrian king Sennacherib , but through the intercession of his nephew Achikar , a high official at the royal court, his confiscated property is returned to him. On the feast of Weeks he sends his son Tobias to invite poor Israelites to his richly set table. Tobias returns and reports that the body of a murdered Israelite is lying in the marketplace. Tobit immediately hurries to bury the dead and afterwards eats a mourning meal. He sleeps in the open air in his courtyard; Bird droppings fall on his eyes, causing him to go blind. He looks in vain for help from doctors. He has been blind for four years and Hanna earns the family's living as a weaver. A customer gives her a billy goat. But Tobit suspects she stole it. Then his wife complains: “Where are your acts of mercy? Where are your righteous works? See, that is obviously up to you. ”( Tob 2.14  EU , translation: Septuaginta German , G II ) Tobit reacts with a prayer in which he declares his solidarity with his people: All have sinned, all suffer under God's punishment. Tobit just wants to die.

At the same time, far away in Ekbatana in the media, Tobit's young relative Sara is insulted by a maid. A demon, Ashmodai , has killed all of Sara's husbands, and the maid wishes her to die soon too. Sara briefly considers hanging herself in the upper room. But that would be too much of a grief for her father Raguel. Instead she turns to God in prayer and asks him to let her die or to show her his mercy: “Command that I be redeemed from the earth [...] And if you do not like to let me die, Lord , so now listen to my shame. "( Tob 3,13a.15e  EU , translation: Septuaginta German , G II )

Tobit's prayer and Sara's prayer are "heard before the glory of God" at the same time, and the angel Raphael is sent to heal Tobit from his blindness and to free Sarah from the demon Ashmodai.

On this very day, Tobit remembers his money in the media and calls his son Tobias to inform him about it. As he awaits his death, he gives his son a life lesson as a legacy: to serve God in people and, above all, to help generously wherever he can: “How much belongs to you, give alms according to this amount; if you have little, do not be afraid to give alms according to the little […] A good gift is an alms for all who give it, before the Most High. ”( Tob 4 : 8.11  EU , translation: Septuaginta German , G I )

Under Raphael's guidance, who has offered himself as a companion in human form, Tobias travels to the media. They both spend the night on the banks of the Tigris . When Tobias gets into the water to wash himself, a big fish tries to devour his foot. Raphael instructs him to catch the fish and take its bile, heart and liver with him soaked in salt. For if he burns the heart and liver of the fish, every demon must give way, and if he drips the bile on the eyes of a blind man, he can see again. Raphael leads Tobias straight to the house of Raguel, who is happy to see his young relative. He is also happy to marry him to his daughter, because the two are meant for each other. The marriage contract is drawn up and the feast is celebrated. In the wedding chamber, Tobia burns fish heart and liver on incense, whereupon the demon Ashmodai escapes. Before entering into marriage, the bride and groom pray together. In the morning Raguel made arrangements to bury the next son-in-law, but of course he was happy to find Tobias alive. It is now being celebrated, but Tobias wishes to return to Nineveh with his father's money and with the fish bile as a cure for his blindness . Sara stays behind a little, and Tobias hurries to his parents' house, where Hanna and Tobit are waiting anxiously. He cures the father of his blindness. When you want to reward your traveling companion, he reveals himself to be an angel. Tobit sings praise to the merciful God.

Shortly before his death, Tobit calls his son and advises him to leave Nineveh and move back to Medien, as Nineveh will be destroyed. After his mother Hanna died too, Tobias went to the media and settled down with his father-in-law. He is 127 years old, and shortly before his death he learns that Nineveh, as his father predicted, was actually destroyed: “Before his death, he rejoiced over Nineveh (s downfall) and praised the Lord God, in all eternity. "( Tob 14,15b  EU , translation: Septuaginta German , G II )


"So that nobody overlooks the fictional aspect of this story, the author ... Tobit lets Tobit experience important events in folk history from more than three centuries in his 112-year life." ( Helmut Engel ) If Tobias came to Nineveh with the deportees as a child, this would be it about 732 BC According to Tob 14,14  EU he reached the age of 117 years. According to Tob 14.15, as an old man he could enjoy the destruction of Nineveh (612 BC).

There are also geographical inconsistencies: Ekbatana is located at the foot of the Zagros Mountains, about 2010 m above sea level. About 300 km away is Rages, 1132 m above sea level. For the Tobit Book ( Tob 5,6  EU ) both places are two days' journey away from each other, and Ekbatana is on the plain, but Rages is in the mountains. A journey from Nineveh to Rages does not lead to the banks of the Tigris either (cf. Tob 6.2  EU ).

Style and sources

The story is not told in a way that creates tension. Because already in Tob 3,16–17  EU the reader learns that the angel will help Raphael Tobit and Sara, and in Tob 6,6–8 EU Rafael Tobias explains how he uses  the innards of the fish to ward off demons and as a medicine should use. Everything else then develops logically. Irony is encountered several times in the Tobit book. An example: Tobit wishes his son farewell that an angel would accompany him and Raphael on their journey ( Tob 5,17  EU ); the reader already knows, in contrast to the actors in the story, that Raphael himself is an angel. The Tobit book should by no means be read as a comedy: “Sara's attempts to get married, or Tobit's blindness from the bird's excrement, should not be understood as comical but as tragic in the context of the story, as they lead to an extreme in both cases serious death wish. "

Many features of the story are reminiscent of the stories of the patriarchs in the Book of Genesis : for example, the search for the right bride for the son, or the duty to provide for the funeral. The main female character, Sara, bears the name of the Archmother, Abraham's wife. The crisis into which blind Tobit is plunged through an argument with his wife is reminiscent of the framework narrative in the book of Job . Extra-biblical narrative motifs are for example " The Grateful Dead ", "The Bride and the Monster". Carl Fries observed a similarity between the Tobit Book and the Telemachos cycle of the Odyssey : a young man, whose father is in dire straits, sets out on a journey on which he is accompanied and advised by a divine being in human form.

Other literary genres are integrated into the narrative: the autobiographical report (Tob 1,3-3,6), prayers, hymns, ethical exhortations and a testament ( Tob 14,3-11  EU ).

Impact history

In the western church the book of Tobit was read in the adaptation of Hieronymus (Vulgate). In literature and everyday piety, two main motifs were taken up: the belief in the guardian angel and the custom of the “three Tobias nights.” This refers to Raphael's recommendation to Tobias to wait three nights after the marriage until the marriage is consummated. This version of Tob 6: 19-22  EU is a peculiarity of the Vulgate and the translations that depend on it.

In the Italian early Renaissance ( Quattrocento ), Tobias and Raphael's wandering together was one of the popular motifs.

The subject of Tobias has also been taken up several times in dramas and oratorios.


Text output

  • Stuart Weeks et al. (Ed.): The book of Tobit: Texts from the Principal Ancient and Medieval Traditions, with Synopsis, Concordances, and Annotated Texts in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syriac (Fontes et subsidia ad Bibliam pertinentes 3). De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2004. ISBN 3-11-017676-9
  • Wolfgang Kraus , Martin Karrer (Eds.): Septuagint German. The Greek Old Testament in German translation. German Bible Society, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-438-05122-6 . (Scientific translation of the Tobit book by Beate Ego, G I and G II will be printed in parallel.)

Overview representations


Monographs, edited volumes, magazine articles

  • Michaela Hallermayer: Text and transmission of the book Tobit (= Deuterocanonical and cognate literature studies. Volume 3). De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-11-019496-8 .
  • Robert Hanhart : Text and text history of the book Tobit. (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Volume 139 = Communications from the Septuagint company of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. Volume 17). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1984, ISBN 3-525-82421-1 .
  • Naomi SS Jacobs: Delicious Prose: Reading the Tale of Tobit with Food and Drink. Brill, Leiden / Boston 2018, ISBN 978-90-04-38244-2 .
  • Joseph A. Fitzmyer : The Aramaic and Hebrew Fragments of Tobit from Qumran Cave 4. In: The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57/4 (1995), pp. 655-675.
  • Merten Rabenau: Studies on the book of Tobit (= supplements to the journal for Old Testament science. Volume 220). De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1994, ISBN 3-11-014125-6 .
  • George W. Nickelsburg: The Search for Tobit's Mixed Ancestry: A Historical and Hermeneutical Odyssey. In: Revue de Qumran 17 (1996/97), pp. 339-349.
  • A. Schmitt: The Hebrew text finds for the book of Tobit from Qumran 4QTob e (4Q200). In: Journal for Old Testament Science 113 (2001), pp. 566-582.
  • Ulrich Kellermann: Marriages in early Judaism: Studies on the reception of the Leviratstora, on the marriage rituals in the Tobit Book and on the marriages of the Samaritan woman in John 4 (= Deuterocanonical and cognate literature studies. Volume 21). De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2015.
  • Francis M. Macatangay: The wisdom instructions in the Book of Tobit (= Deuterocanonical and cognate literature studies. Volume 12). De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2011, ISBN 978-3-11-025534-8 .
  • Vincent TM Skemp: The Vulgate of Tobit Compared with Other Ancient Witnesses. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2000, ISBN 0-88414-032-6 .

Web links

Commons : Book of Tobit  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 3.
  2. Merten Rabenau: Studies on the book Tobit , Berlin et al. 1994, p. 175 and note 4.
  3. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 899f.
  4. Helmut Engel: Das Buch Tobit , Stuttgart 2016, p. 359.
  5. ^ Józef T. Milik: La patrie de Tobie . In: Revue Biblique 73/4 (1966), pp. 522-530. Approving Merten Rabenau: Studies on the book Tobit , Berlin et al. 1994, pp. 177–181.
  6. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 875.
  7. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 876. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 5.
  8. Géza G. Xeravits, Peter Porzig: Introduction to the Qumran literature. The Dead Sea manuscripts . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2015, p. 246.
  9. Géza G. Xeravits, Peter Porzig: Introduction to the Qumran literature. The Dead Sea manuscripts . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2015, p. 247.
  10. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 881.
  11. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 6f.
  12. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 20.
  13. Tobias Nicklas, Christian Wagner: Theses on the variety of texts in the Tobit book . In: Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period 34/2 (2003), pp. 141–159, here p. 143.
  14. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 21. Helmut Engel : Das Buch Tobit , Stuttgart 2016, p. 351.
  15. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 883f.
  16. ^ Robert J. Littman: Tobit: The Book of Tobit in Codex Sinaiticus . Brill, Leiden / Boston 2008, p. Xx.
  17. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 5.
  18. Helmut Engel: Das Buch Tobit , Stuttgart 2016, pp. 359f.
  19. ^ Text gap ( Lacuna ) in the long version.
  20. Helmut Engel: Das Buch Tobit , Stuttgart 2016, pp. 355f.
  21. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 32.
  22. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 33.
  23. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 34.
  24. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 35.
  25. ^ Tobias Nicklas:  Tobit / Tobit book. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (eds.): The scientific biblical lexicon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff. Cf. also: JRC Cousland: Tobit: A Comedy in Error? In: The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65/4 (2003), pp. 535–553, here p. 536.
  26. Beate Ego: Buch Tobit , Gütersloh 1999, p. 887.
  27. Joseph A. Fitzmyer: Tobit , Berlin et al. 2003, p. 35f.
  28. a b Reimund Leicht:  Tobit / Tobitbuch . In: Religion Past and Present (RGG). 4th edition. Volume 8, Mohr-Siebeck, Tübingen 2005, Sp. 425-426.
  29. George WE Nickelsburg: The Search for Tobit's Mixed Ancestry , 1996, p. 343. Cf. Carl Fries: Das Buch Tobit und die Telemachie . In: Journal for Scientific Theology 53 (1910/11), pp. 54–87.
  30. a b Beate EgoTobit . In: Theological Real Encyclopedia (TRE). Volume 33, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017132-5 , pp. 573-579., Here p. 577.