Biblical Studies Tobit
Micah D. Kiel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0184


The book of Tobit tells the story of Tobit and his family, who are living as exiles from Israel after the Assyrian conquest. Through a series of events, Tobit goes blind and sends his son on a journey accompanied by the angel Raphael disguised as a human. On his journey, the son Tobias meets Sarah, who is afflicted by a demon. Raphael intervenes and dispatches the demon, allowing Tobias and Sarah to marry. They return to Tobit and his wife, Anna, Tobit’s sight returns and he dies old and happy because of God’s intervention in their travails. The book is not historical, but rather a folk tale with manifold entertaining elements, such as defecating birds, meddling fish, menacing demons, and disguised angels. Beneath the surface, however, the book interacts with deep theological questions at the core of the human condition, questions that also find expression—with various answers—throughout the Jewish scriptures: Where does suffering come from? What are the benefits of righteousness? What is the value of religious tradition? In answering such questions through its entertaining narrative, the book of Tobit weaves together an erudite panoply of religious, scriptural, and cultural traditions. Within scholarship, there are a number of debated issues with which treatments of the book have dealt, including: original language, provenance, date of composition, and ideological disposition. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Tobit was primarily known from Greek and Latin manuscripts. Although some scholars had posited a Semitic Vorlage behind it, all major translations and interpretations of the book had to be made from Greek. Several Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts of Tobit were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, which provided a watershed in understanding the book. Analysis of the scrolls has provided widespread agreement that the book was originally written in Aramaic. These manuscripts, however, are fragmentary and translations are still made from the Greek version of Codex Sinaiticus. Association with the Qumran community has also led to some reassessment of the book’s theological outlook. The book of Tobit is one of the Deuterocanonical books, also known as the Apocrypha. As such, it is generally not included among Protestant Christians’ list of canonical texts, while it is for Roman Catholics and most Orthodox traditions. There is no evidence that the text was ever “canonical” in the Jewish tradition.

General Overviews

These overviews are introductory in nature, have less detail than a formal commentary, and will orient readers to the broad content and pertinent topics under consideration in interpretation of Tobit. Each of these will be more or less helpful depending on when it was written, specifically whether written with knowledge of the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts. Simpson 1913 is very instructive and posits a Semitic original that preceded the Greek version. Craghan 1982, Nickelsburg 1988, and Otzen 2002 provide overviews that will introduce those who are not familiar with Tobit to its features and debated issues.

  • Craghan, John. Esther, Judith, Tobit Jonah, Ruth. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1982.

    A basic introduction. Accessible for lay people. Its strength lies in its treatment of the book alongside other Jewish “novellas.”

  • Nickelsburg, George W. E. “Tobit.” In Harper’s Bible Commentary. Edited by James Mays, 791–803. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

    Broad introduction with good amount of attention paid to contextual matters. Basic introduction to scholarly issues as well.

  • Otzen, Benedikt. Tobit and Judith. London: Sheffield Academic, 2002.

    Accessible introduction and some detailed analysis through different sense units of the book of Tobit. Has an assessment of redactional possibilities and argues against significant redaction in Tobit’s textual history.

  • Simpson, David. “The Book of Tobit: Introduction.” In Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Vol. 1. Edited by R. H. Charles, 174–201. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913.

    A good introduction, especially in its treatment of Tobit’s eschatology. Argues for a Semitic background somewhat presciently, since he did so without any knowledge of the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts.

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