Introduction. Tobit is identified by genealogy,
and the story is dated to the period of the fall of the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 BCE, when many Israelites were deported to Assyria (2 Kings 17.1–6
). The meanings of most of the names in this book are significant for the story. Tobit is probably from the Hebrew Tobiah (“God is my good”), from which is also derived the name of Tobit's son Tobias.
Thisbe may be Thebez (Judg 9.50–57
); Asher is probably Hazor.
Tobit is deported to Assyria and rises in the court of Shalmaneser. Beginning at
the text is narrated in the first person, but at
it shifts to the third person without explanation.
Even after deportation, Tobit makes the required offerings in Jerusalem and keeps kosher
(that is, observes the traditional Jewish food laws). God rewards him by causing him to rise in the court of Shalmaneser.
Tobit marries his kinswoman, according to the preferred practice of endogamy, or marrying within the extended family (
Ten talents of silver, about 750 pounds, or a huge sum of money.
Here and elsewhere, the account of the Assyrian kings contains some inaccuracies; Shalmaneser had died earlier, succeeded
by Sargon and Sennacherib.
Tobit's charitable acts land him in trouble. The Jewish practice of burying the dead was different from many other ancient near eastern cultures, but this prohibition
by Sennacherib is meant to dishonor the bodies of enemies.
The character of Ahikar
is borrowed from the popular ancient “Story of Ahikar.” In this story Ahikar, prime minister to the king of Assyria, adopts
his orphaned nephew, Nadab, as his own son in order to instruct him. Betrayed by his ungrateful nephew, Ahikar is condemned
to death. The nephew, however, is found out and punished, and Ahikar is returned to his former position. The motifs
of Tobit's disgrace, fall, and vindication at court are mirrored in this ancient near eastern tale, and also in Gen 37–50
, Esther, Dan 3 and 6
, and Bel and the Dragon.
Anna in Hebrew means “grace.”
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