Tobit before Qumran
For a long time, the book of Tobit has been studied as a one-of-a-kind composition, with other so-called “novels,” such as Esther and the book of Judith. However, the presence of Aramaic copies of Tobit among the Qumran scrolls, together with other Aramaic texts, revealed its background and context and taught us much about the language and cultural setting of the composition. Most particularly, Tobit shows affinity to the Aramaic stories about the biblical patriarchs and to the Aramaic court-tales. Despite the fact that this corpus is the closest to Tobit in time and place, little has been done to utilize the Qumran Aramaic literature as a key to interpreting Tobit. This may be due partly to the well-anchored opinion, still maintained by numerous scholars, that Tobit was composed in the “Eastern Diaspora.” The Tobit copies found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and the numerous links Tobit displays to the Aramaic texts discovered there, suggest that the origin and setting of the book is in the land of Israel.
Here, only four topics from Tobit are examined and compared with their parallels in various Aramaic texts: endogamy (i.e., the practice of marrying only within a specific ethnic, class or social group), demonology, burial practices, and halakhic items reflected in sectarian literature.
Marriage within the family is, perhaps, the most discussed topic within Tobit. Indeed, it is undoubtedly one of the main ideological threads that tie together the majority of the episodes in this composition. The main plot of Tobit expresses the ideal of endogamy by relating how Tobit’s son, Tobiah, and Sarah, being the only children of their parents and close relatives but unknown as such, are brought together by a divine plan. Tobit himself married a woman from his own family (Tob 1:10) and he advises his son Tobiah to do the same (Tob 4:12–13). Later in the narrative the angel Raphael, disguised as a human guide, reiterates this advice to Tobiah (Tob 6:16). When instructing his son in this matter, Tobit cites the example of the biblical patriarchs who practiced endogamy, and justifies this practice by stating that their forefathers were indeed prophets. Tobit too claims this heritage affirming that he and his heir are “sons of the prophets” (Tob 4:12). Warning against marriage outside the family, Tobit notably labels exogamy “fornication” (Tob 4:12). The theme reappears in Tobiah’s prayer in his bridal chamber when he states that he is taking Sarah “not for fornication,” thus affirming that he is obeying his father’s directive and Raphael’s advice and indicating the propriety of his marriage to Sarah. The legitimacy of his endogamous marriage is confirmed by the fact that Tobit is the cousin of Sarah’s father, Raguel, making Tobiah and his prospective bride, Sarah, second cousins on the paternal side. Hence, the desirable marriage within the family is with one’s cousin, preferably a paternal one, aimed at preserving the family purity and propriety.
The same notion is espoused in four more Aramaic texts from Qumran that deal with the patriarchs: Genesis Apocryphon, Aramaic Levi Document, Visions of Amram, and Testament of Qahat. Genesis Apocryphon relates how, in contrast to the illicit union of the Watchers with mortal women, Noah and his sons practiced fitting marriage by taking their paternal cousins as spouses (1Q20 I 10). In the passage that relates these events, Noah states that this was done “in accordance with the law of the world.” This endogamous principle is likewise underscored in the description of the pre-Flood generations in Jubilees.
The association of endogamy with piety and purity is also spelled out in Aramaic Levi Document. Following Levi’s installment as priest, Isaac instructs his grandson to be aware of all fornication and impurity and to marry a woman from his family (ALD 16–17). Here, the exogamic marriage is equated with harlotry that defiles the entire family, as in the advice given by Tobit to his son. Although he is not a priest, Tobit applies to himself and to his descendants priestly regulations, as prescribed in Aramaic Levi Document for Levi and his priestly lineage. Aramaic Levi Document also advocates a match between cousins, preferably on the side of the father, since Levi marries his first cousin, Melka, the daughter of his uncle, Bethuel (ALD 62). Perhaps the same notion of the proper marriage is also reflected by the Qumran Aramaic Testament of Qahat when it voices the warning against “fornication” and “all intermixture” (4Q542 3 ii 12; 1 i 8–9).
In the Qumran Aramaic work Visions of Amram, endogamy is expressed in two ways. First, Amram’s daughter weds his youngest brother, Uziel (4Q543 1 5–8; 4Q545 1 i 5–8). Thus, Miriam’s husband is her paternal uncle. Second, Amram’s concern for the proper marital relationship is expressed by his abstaining from taking a second wife while being in Canaan and separating from his wife, Yochebed (4Q543 4 3–4; 4Q544 1 7–9; 4Q547 1–2 4–9). According to Exod 6:20, Yochebed was Amram’s aunt, the daughter of his grandfather, Levi (Num 26:59). This pedigree suggests that Amram took upon himself a long sexual abstinence in order to maintain his purity and that of his line.
In Tobit, endogamy and family purity are closely related to demonic interference. This is embodied in the activity of the “evil demon Asmodeus,” who kills seven bridegrooms of Sarah (Tob 3:8), thus preventing Sarah from contracting improper marriages. The malevolent Asmodeus is removed with the aid of the exorcistic ritual of burning the liver and the heart of a fish, a procedure taught to Tobiah by the angel Raphael on the way to Ecbatana (Tob 6:6–7, 16–17; 8:2–4). At the overt level of the story, Asmodeus is the evil party of the tale, pitted against the angel Raphael, sent to rescue Sarah. The conflict between the demon and the angel is not one between equals as in the type found in the Qumran sectarian literature. Still, a world open to demonic versus angelic activity evidently incorporates dualistic components.
Dualistic notions occur in other Aramaic texts with clear points of contact with Tobit. The Enochic Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36) depicts the healing and restorative activities of the angel Raphael (10:4–8), playing on the Hebrew translation of the angel’s name, Raphael, “El has healed,” as does Tobit. This Enochic writing also describes the creation and nature of the demons as the spirits of the dead giants, the offspring of the sinful Watchers with mortal women (1 En. 10:4–5; 16). Jubilees provides additional aspects to this group of motives by stating that one-tenth of the demons remained on earth under the authority of the archdemon, Mastema, thus enabling them to corrupt and harass mankind (Jub. 10:8–9). During this time, Noah receives from the Angels of Presence a book of remedies against demons, just like that transmitted by Raphael to Tobiah.
Enlisting a demonic spirit to safeguard familial purity is evoked also in Genesis Apocryphon. In response to Abraham’s prayer, an “evil spirit” is divinely sent to protect his wife Sarah from molestation in the house of Pharaoh, where she was taken forcibly to be the Egyptian king’s wife (1Q20 XX 12–18). Pharaoh returns Sarah to Abraham after Abraham cured him of the ailments caused by the evil spirits. The patriarch does so by praying while placing his hands on the king’s head (1Q20 XX 20–29). As in Tobit, here also an apotropaic procedure combined with prayer is used to exorcise demonic beings.
The struggle between good and evil is presented with a particular pungency by Visions of Amram. While relating the exploits of Amram undertaking the burial of his ancestors in Canaan, the work also reports Amram’s dream in which he sees two beings locked in dispute over him: one, of “fearsome and terrible” appearance, is dark and grinning, attired in colored clothes, and is in charge of the domain of darkness, whereas the other being rules the lot of light (4Q544 1 10–2 11–16; 4Q547 1–2 11–13). While this picture is not identical to the dualistic scene outlined in the Qumran sectarian texts, it is nevertheless a clear variant of a dualistic worldview.
The mention of Visions of Amram brings us to the third theme shared by Tobit and the Aramaic texts, namely, the religious obligation to bury the dead. The book of Tobit presents this obligation in two ways: firstly, the duty to bury the corpses of fellow Jews left in public, and secondly, the duty to bury one’s own parents. The former is modeled by Tobit himself, despite the strife it brings upon him (Tob 1:17–19; 2:3–8; 12:12). The latter practice is admonished by Tobit and eventually enacted by Tobiah at the passing of his parents and in-laws (Tob 4:3; 14:9–13). The concern with proper burial of one’s parents is also highlighted in the Aramaic Visions of Amram, which relates Amram’s journey to Canaan to bury his ancestors.
This duty is evidently influenced by the biblical patriarchal stories, as well as by the Jewish common practice. However, Tobit’s burial of corpses mirrors another Jewish obligation, that of met mitzvah, namely the duty of interment of corpses found in public that have not been taken care of. Consequently, behind the relevant details in Tobit’s story lay this Jewish duty rather than an adaptation of the folktale of the “grateful dead,” as is often claimed.
Reflections of Sectarian Halakhah
The fourth theme shared by Tobit and other Aramaic works is perhaps the most remarkable but the least remarked upon. It consists of various similarities between Tobit and other Aramaic texts to the particular legal directives prescribed by the Qumran group. In Tobit, this is evident in the list of cultic offerings and tithes Tobit brought to the Jerusalem temple while still living in his Galilean hometown in four respects (Tob 1:6–8).
(1) The obligation to bring offerings and tithes to the Jerusalem temple, as enjoined by the Temple Scroll and Jubilees but in contradistinction to the contemporary practice.
(2) Tobit brought a tithe of the cattle as a priestly donation, as laid by Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah (4QMMT), the Temple Scroll, and one copy of the Damascus Document, as well as Jubilees (13:24–25; 32:15), but not recognized by the rabbinic halakhah.
(3) The agricultural tithe is given by Tobit to the Levites is in similar form to what is also laid down by the Temple Scroll (11QTa LX, 6) and Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah (4QMMT B 63–64).
(4) Tobit’s custom is to give the second tithe in each the six years in the sabbatical cycle. This is a practice also enjoined by Jubilees (32:11) on the basis of Deut 14:22 and is noteworthy, as it differs from the rabbinic halakhah, according to which the second tithe is replaced by the tithe for the poor in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle.
While these affinities between Tobit and the sectarian prescriptions may be explained, and they were, as reflections of an older halakhah, the presence of copies of Tobit at Qumran, and its numerous links to other Qumran Aramaic texts may suggest actual affiliation with priestly circles close to the Qumran community.
The same may be said of other Aramaic texts from Qumran, since the presence of similar sectarian elements in them is clear. Thus, a reference to halakhic regulations espoused by Qumran sectarian texts may be observed in the Genesis Apocryphon XII 13–15. This passage relates to Noah’s use of the fruit from his vineyard only from the fourth year after its planting, thus complying with the Torah prohibition from eating the fruit in the first three years (Lev 19:23–25). Assuming that Noah officiated as a priest, the story reflects the Qumran law that the fruit from the fourth year should be given to the priests (cf. Lev 19:23–25). This is stated by 11QTa LX, 3–4, 4QMMT B 62–64, and Jubilees 7:35-37, contrary to rabbinic halakhah that assigns these fruits to their owners.
Some sectarian connection is also suggested by the use of the 364-day calendar espoused by the Qumran community (e.g., 4QMMT [4Q394 3–7]; see 11QPsa XXVII, 4–6) and Jubilees (Jub. 6:32). This is the case for the Enochic Astronomical Book (1 En. 74:12), and the Aramaic Levi Document, the latter relating the births of Levi’s sons according to this calendar.
Tobit: An Old Text in New Perspective
The foregoing survey shows that a network of themes and issues associates Tobit with the following Aramaic works: 1 Enoch, Aramaic Levi Document, Testament of Qahat, Visions of Amram, and Genesis Apocryphon. This fact renders Tobit a member of this group not only in terms of the Aramaic language, but also in terms of subject matter and orientation.
Further Reading on Topics and Texts Treated in this Article
J. A. Fitzmyer, “4Q196-200. 4QpapTobita ar, 4QTobitb-d ar, and 4QTobite,” in Qumran Cave 4: XIV: Parabiblical Texts, Part 2, edited by. M. Broshi et al, DJD 19 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 2–76.
J. A. Fitzmyer, Tobit, CEJL (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2003).
A. B. Perrin, “An Almanac of Tobit Studies: 2000–2014,” Currents in Biblical Research 13 (2014): 107–42.
A. B. Perrin, “Tobit’s Context and Contacts in the Qumran Aramaic Anthology,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 25 (2015): 23–51.
Devorah Dimant is Professor for Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa. She was the editor of several pseudo-prophetic texts for Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXX (Oxford, 2001). Her most recent work includes The Dynamics of Language and Exegesis at Qumran (co-edited with Reinhard Kratz, Mohr Siebeck, 2009) and History, Ideology and Bible Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Collected Studies (Mohr Siebeck, 2014).
The Ancient Jew Review and Trinity Western University Dead Sea Scrolls Institute forums and reviews commemorating the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls were edited by Dr. Andrew Perrin (Trinity Western University), Dr. Andrew Krause (University of Münster), Dr. Jessica Keady (University of Chester), and Spencer Jones (Trinity Western University).
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