The study of Tobit was considerably enhanced by findings at Qumran. Although the book was known in both a long and a short form in Greek, Latin, and other languages, in 1952 one Hebrew and four Aramaic fragments were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, covering one-fifth of the text. This discovery tallies with Jerome's remark that he produced his Latin version from an Aramaic text that a Jew translated into Hebrew for him. Medieval Hebrew and Aramaic versions of Tobit are renderings of the Greek and Latin forms.
Tobit is a God-fearing Israelite in Nineveh who keeps God's commandments at risk to his own life, yet becomes blind. His family is reduced to penury, so he sends his son Tobias on a long journey to collect some money entrusted to a friend in Rages. Tobias does not suspect that his hired guide is the angel Raphael, who leads him to the household of a relative in Ecbatana whose daughter Sarah is possessed by a demon which has killed all seven of her bridegrooms on their wedding night. Tobias marries Sarah and drives away the demon by burning the entrails of a fish that tried to swallow him in the course of his journey. Raphael fetches the money owed to Tobit, and he returns with Tobias and Sarah to Nineveh. The gall of the fish restores Tobit's sight, and Raphael reveals his true identity.
Thus, in terms of genre, the book is an edifying tale of Israelites in the Eastern Diaspora, whose piety delivers them from their troubles. The structure and use of irony are quite sophisticated, and the human interest and folklore elements have assured its appeal over the centuries: it has been popular in art and formed the basis for a successful modern novel, Miss Garnett's Angel, by Salley Vickers (2000). Tobit's advice to his son in chapter 4 and Raphael's to Tobias and Tobit in 12: 6–10 is akin to wisdom literature. Significant in this respect is the appearance of that paragon of Near Eastern wisdom, Ahiqar, as Tobit's Israelite relative (1: 21–2; 11: 18; 14: 10). Apart from the change of first person to third person by the end of chapter 3, necessitated by the narrative, the story shows some literary sophistication. It draws parallels between Tobit's family, affected by the consequences of his blindness, and Raguel's, through the demon that caused the death of his daughter's bridegrooms. In spite of their piety and integrity, Tobit and Sarah suffer reproach even within their own households. At a pivotal point in the story (3: 16–17) they each pray to God in their distress, pleading their innocence and asking to die. Their prayers are heard simultaneously, and God sends Raphael in disguise to heal them both and to marry Sarah to Tobias. As Sarah and Tobit leave their place of prayer simultaneously, unbeknown to them the answer is already at hand.
The book's message is that faithfulness to God in exile is rewarded, in this instance by the marriage alliance and the recovery of Tobit's sight and fortunes. There are echoes of the marriages of Isaac and Rebekah, and of Jacob and Rachel, and Anna's reproach to Tobit and his desire to die remind one of the book of Job. Amos and Nahum are cited explicitly, and there are several allusions to other books. The ethical teaching is in line with that of Sirach/Ecclesiasticus.
The date of Tobit's composition is generally thought to be between 225 and 175 BCE, because of its allusions to older books of the Bible, the lack of references to the problems of Hellenization, and lack of hostility to non-Jews (xenophobia would suggest the Maccabean period). Though it was apparently well known at Qumran, there is no evidence for a sectarian origin, and none of the apocalyptic or messianic thought associated with the sect. It does teach that matches are foreordained, the importance of burial of the dead and of almsgiving, which delivers from death. However, there are no traces of a belief in an afterlife. Tobit's provenance is much harder to determine. Most favour either the Eastern Diaspora because of the book's setting (though the geography is very peculiar!), or Palestine because of its interest in the homeland and the restoration of the Temple. Some research has stressed the links with ancient Near Eastern folklore, but though analysing Tobit as a folk-tale has proved fruitful, it is difficult to prove its dependence on other, non-Jewish stories because of the difficulties in dating such supposed sources.
Though many Christian writers accepted Tobit, both Origen and Jerome knew that Tobit was not part of the Jewish canon. Orlinsky (1974: 284) suggests that it was rejected because it did not conform to rabbinic rules for writing the marriage document. The rabbis may also have had reservations about the book's interest in demons, magic, and angelology, an interest shared by other apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works of that era such as Jubilees and 1 Enoch. They may have objected also to its Israelite rather than Jewish protagonists. Its dubious status for Jerome explains why his Latin translation is rather free and introduces some of his own notions, such as sexual abstinence for prayer. In his defence, some believe that he may have been using a text influenced by the Essenes, though the Qumran fragments we have do not cover this portion.