After the reign of Solomon, the twelve tribes divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah the south. Then Assyria came and conquered the northern kingdom and scattered its ten tribes to the winds.

Among those carried off into exile were Tobit, his wife Hannah, and their only son Tobias. They came to the city of Nineveh and settled there among their exiled countrymen. Although he was now living among strangers with foreign ways, Tobit did not forsake the God of Israel or the Torah, but continued to live righteously. He gave generously to the poor, acted justly, and did not bow down to foreign gods. And whenever he saw the abandoned corpse of a Jew lying in the street, he himself would bury it.

Once Tobit traveled to the city of Ragae in Persia, now called Teheran, where he meet a poor merchant. He lent the men a considerable sum of money, and the man promised to repay him some day.

Then the king of Assyria died, and his son Sennaherib came to the throne. Sennaherib hated the Jews, for they had shamefully defeated him in Jerusalem, and he ordered many Jews executed. Against the king's orders, Tobit buried the bodies. Then Sennaherib ordered Tobit killed and his property confiscated. Tobit fled from the king's wrath and hid himself among his kinsmen.

But a new misfortune soon struck Tobit. One day as he gazed into the sky, a bird's droppings fell into his eyes, and he became blind. Always a faithful man, he did not curse God but instead prayed for his own death.

At the same time, in the distant city of Ecbatana in Persia, a young kinswoman of Tobit's named Sara was also praying for death. For she had married seven husbands, one after the other, and all seven had died on their wedding night at the hands of Asmodeus, King of the Demons. So she too longed to die to escape her shame.

Now that he could no loner support himself because he was blind, Tobit decided to send his son Tobias to Ragae to reclaim the loan he had made long ago. He instructed Tobias to find a trustworthy guide to accompany him. Tobias went to the marketplace and hired a man named Azariah, who was really the angel Raphael in disguise.

When the two reached the Tigris River, Tobias stopped to wash. As he knelt on the bank, a great fish suddenly leapt out of the water and frightened him. Raphael told Tobias to seize the fish by the fins, kills it, and take out its heart, liver and gallbladder. He revealed to Tobias that burning the heart and liver would drive away evil spirits and that the gallbladder could cure blindness. So Tobias salted the organs and wrapped them safely for the journey.
Next they journeyed to Ecbatana, where Tobias' kinsmen lived. Along the way, Raphael urged Tobias to marry Sarah, since he was her only eligible kinsman. Tobias, however, feared that he would meet the same fate as all her other husbands. But his companion assured him that the fish's heart and liver would protect him. So reluctantly, he agreed to do what his companion suggested.

That night after the wedding ceremony, Sarah's father dug a new grave beside the seven other graves behind their house, certain that he would be laying the body of his daughter's latest bridegroom there the next morning. Then he and his wife went to bed with heavy hearts.

When the newly married couple went into their bedroom that night, Tobias unwrapped the fish's heart and liver and laid the upon the hot coals in the fireplace. Then Asmodeus appeared, his great wings stirring up a whirlwind in the room and his hairy body reeking of the grave. But when Tobias fanned the bitter smoke toward him, he fled shrieking from the room.

The next morning the couple emerged whole and smiling from their room. When Sarah's parents saw them, they rejoiced and feasted with them for the next fourteen days. During this time, Raphael traveled to Ragae and returned with the sum of money owed to Tobit. Then Sarah's father gave the newlyweds half of his property and promised them the other half upon his death. Then they started home for Nineveh.

As they approached Tobit's house, Tobias saw his blind old father stumbling toward them in the road. Tobias ran forward and anointed his father's eyes with the fish's gall, and Tobit regained his sight. He embraced his son and his new bride and welcomed them joyously into his home.

When Tobias told his father how Azariah had helped him on his journey and had cured Tobit's blindness, Tobit sent for the guide to reward him. But when he stood before him, Raphael revealed to them who he really was and then suddenly vanished from sight.

Tobit lived to a very old age, performing many deeds of charity and goodness. Before he died, he warned Tobias and Sarah that Nineveh would one day be destroyed, as Jonah had prophesied. And when Tobit died, they moved to Ecbatana with their children and inherited Sarah's parents' estate.

In their old age, Sarah and Tobias received word that mighty Nineveh had fallen. And they were very pleased indeed.

About the Book of Tobit

The Book of Tobit is an apocryphal book (not included in the Hebrew Bible) of unknown authorship, from approximately the third century BCE. It was probably written in Aramaic but is extant in its entirety only in Greek translation (the Septuagint) and in later translations based upon the Greek. (English translation may be found in standard versions of the Apocrypha.)

The narrative is set in the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, after the defeat of the kingdom of Israel
by Assyria in 722 BCE, but before the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BCE. Most modern scholars agree that Tobit reflects little genuine history. The story may reflect, however, two popular "precepts" known from both the apocryphal and early talmudic literature:
1. one is in duty bound (even if he be a Nazarite or high priest) to bury a corpse found at random (met mizvah — "the burial of the dead that is a precept");
2. the special merit in marrying a kinswoman (there are many stories in the Talmud of scholars who did so).

At the end of the Book of Tobit, Tobit foretells to his son Tobias the restoration of Jerusalem, the ingathering of the exiles, and the coming of the gentiles.


From the Book of Tobit (Apocrypha). English language sources: Micha Bin Gorion, Mimekor Yisrael: Classical Jewish Folktales, Indian Univ. Press (pp. 179-187); Judah Nadich, Jewish Legends of the Second Commonwealth, JPS (pp. 87-90). Retold in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, Ed. Ellen Frankel, Jason Aronson Inc., 1989.

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