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Adult Ed: Apocrypha

10/10/2021 03:58:57 PM


For next time (10/17/21) we will be discussing the Book of Tobit.

Book of Tobit (ספר טוביה)

  • The Book of Tobit claims to be about people from Ninevah during the era of Jonah’s prophecy (8th century BCE), but scholars date it to around 200 BCE. The location of origin is likely roughly correct, though, as the story uses fiction to guide diaspora Jews to stick to their Jewish identity and cling to one another in their foreign lands. Fragments have been found in both Hebrew and Aramaic and scholars are unsure which language was the original. Longer manuscripts have been found in Greek. 

  • The earliest forms of the Book of Tobit are 5 manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dated between 100 BCE and 25 BCE. Four are in Aramaic and one is in Hebrew. There are other fragmentary pieces assumed to be of Tobit as well. There is definite use of Persian-era terms in the Aramaic but some details hint at later hands in the writing, leading scholars to believe it was definitely created by multiple layers of authors.

  • Written by and for early diaspora Jews/Israelites, with its happy ending purposefully crafted to give hope and comfort to those freshly exiled from their homes.

  • The Hebrew manuscript suggests there was intent to include it in the Tanakh but the rabbis excluded it from the Masoretic text because they were uncomfortable with the angel stuff, and maybe also because it held connections to Jubilees. Nonetheless, Tobit shines a significant light on the study of ancient Jewish practices

  • The use of personal prayer and the blend of prose and poetry in the book also helps locate the time and place of its composition. Israelite literature, unlike hellenistic literature, often employed this blend, which helps assure us the text was written in Israel or Persia in a Semitic language, not in Egypt or in the Egyptian Greek language like a lot of other apocrypha. The use of personal prayer emerged as a core practice after the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE, also assuring us that this book is at least later than that, rather than the 8 century BCE time period it purports to take place. 

  • Tobit is very proud of his piety. He talks about maintaining his observance to the Temple in Jerusalem despite living in the Northern Kingdom after the split, something that would have been highly unlikely. He talks about his tithing practices, including "converts" as receiving the tithes and lot of Israel. And he talks about his Kashrut practice in exile, which also features prominently in the books of Daniel, Maccabees, and Judith (the latter two take place in the Holy Land, not in exile, but under foreign rule so the Kashrut observance is still strained and notable). By contrast, there is no concern of dietary restrictions under foreign rule depicted in 2 Kings or Esther.

  • Tobit reveals an ancient celebration of Shavuot, before the rabbis declared it symbolic of the marriage between the Israelites and God at Mount Sinai.

  • Tobit utlizes many Biblical allusions and references, including name dropping specific kings and prophets of Israel, using the phrase "Hineini" and referencing "The Law of Moses" in regard to marriage practice (although the specifics of Tobias's marriage does not actually reflect any law in our known Torah).

  • Angelology and Demonology were particularly in favor at the time of Tobit's writing, as do distinct heavenly and hellish realms rather than the bland universal "Sheol" of the earlier Biblical era.

  • I learned more about Raphael through this book than I'd ever really known before.

  • The Dog in Tobit is a strange detail, but might be a metaphor for God?

Sat, May 28 2022 27 Iyyar 5782