TOBIT: An Introduction

In this third Bible Study we will be studying a fun story. One that has angels and demons and miracles and heroes. Instead of chapter by chapter, I’m going to offer some information in this introduction and then ask you to read the entire story. After you read it, return for some closing thoughts in the next post.

The story of Tobit is a wonderful tale about a man who, like Daniel, loved God; yet was forced into exile because God was punishing His People for their apostasy. It takes place after Jonah preached in Nineveh, probably a few decades later. Our heroes are Tobit and his son Tobias. They lived in Nineveh, but they were from Naphtali, one of the ten northern tribes of the country of Israel.

The stories of both Daniel and Tobit tell us about how they remained faithful to God, even though they were transported away from their homeland. Both stories contain interesting and fantastic miracles. Both stories tell us about both angels and demons, to the point of telling us their names. In both stories the hero worked for the government and, because of his religious beliefs, the hero gets into trouble. And Tobit’s son, Tobias, has a pet dog, while Daniel had a few pets, but they were cats. (See the story is already fun and you have not even begun to read it!)

Tobit is a part of the Apocrypha. Even though my denomination does not consider the Apocrypha to be Holy Scripture, some denominations do. So, this book is not in most Bibles. However, there are links below to a couple of excellent translations. If you need an explanation click here. Also, because it’s not considered Holy Scripture by most Protestant denominations, it seems best to take the story as a whole, rather than section by section.

Dating this story is relatively easy. This story occurs after Assyria conquered Israel and transported most of the citizens to Assyria. King Sennacherib did move the Assyrian capital back to Nineveh, so that part of the story helps us with the date. Esar-Haddon is also mentioned. These details seem to put the story around 700 BC, give or take about 50 years. We’ll discuss this a little more after you read it.

For a time perspective: Assyria conquered Israel around 722 BC; Sennacherib tried, but failed, to conquer Judah & Jerusalem around 701 BC. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC. The book of Daniel probably begins around 605 BC. Click Here for a Link to a timeline that may be helpful.

In Tobit chapter 1 there is a reference to the golden calf of King Jeroboam. If you are not very familiar with the book of 1st Kings, here’s a bit of background that may help: King Solomon was succeeded by his son, Rehoboam, who implemented policies that ended with Jeroboam leading a revolt against Rehoboam. See 1st Kings chapter 11.

Jeroboam set up golden calves for political purposes. See 1st Kings 12. One was placed in Bethel which is in Ephraim and the other in that part of Dan which was in the north, near the border with Lebanon, just east of Naphtali. So, the people of Naphtali could travel a short distance to worship, rather than make the journey all the way to Jerusalem.

One more bit of geography. Ecbatana is nearly 200 miles southeast of Nineveh. Here’s a link to a map of the Medo-Persian Empire. It shows both Nineveh and Ecbatana and has a distance scale at the bottom of the map.

If you have a copy of Tobit, that’s wonderful. However, for those who do not, here’s some links that might prove useful:

Bible Gateway offers a few translations that include the “Apocrypha”. This is a link to the New Revised Standard Version. Bible Gateway also offers the Common English Bible and one or two others. For more about translations that include the Apocrypha, Click Here.

For those who want to do a bit of research, or to dig deeper, the following links may be useful:

Biblewise has a summary with some extra historical notes.

In searching for commentaries on Tobit, I found a website that offers comments from the Elders of the Church in the early years of Christianity. So, if you would like a verse by verse commentary, check out the Patristic Bible Commentary.

Included are comments from Elders such as Ambrose, Cyprian, Augustine and Bede. A sermon of St. Augustine on Tobit is also included, as well as some other introductory material. Rather than try to summarize what these Elders of the Church in ancient times had to say, I thought it best to let you see their comments for yourself.

Finally, may I suggest that you read Tobit, first as a story, then read it again to see how it fits into the Biblical narrative. You can do that just as you would read Narnia by C. S. Lewis. That story is also a fun story that fits the Biblical narrative.

After you have read it, you can click the link below or access the discussion page through the menu.

Have fun reading Tobit!

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