Bible Review 8:4, August 1992


Teaching Jews how to live in the Diaspora

By Amy-Jill Levine

A mix of folktale and prayer, biblical themes and classical motifs, Tobit depicts a fantastic tale of Diaspora life. Containing an angel in disguise, a murderous demon, a magical fish and a young man on a journey to maturity, the Book of Tobit is not told simply to entertain. Rather, it provides carefully crafted instructions for how Jews should live in exile.

Although we can’t be sure when or where Tobit was written, internal evidence suggests the third century B.C.E. somewhere in Syria or Mesopotamia. Judging from its elements of folklore, it may have much older oral antecedents.

Like the stories of Daniel and Judith, it is backdated. Written during the Hellenistic period, it is set in the eighth century B.C.E. Placed in the Assyrian Diaspora where Jewish families are scattered and where the law of the land is not the Law of Moses, the Book of Tobit demonstrates how, through faith, pious deeds and a concern for regulating both marriages and the behavior of women, community identity can be preserved. Like its more popular neighbors in the Old Testament Apocrypha, Tobit shares with Judith,a the Additions to Esther,b the Maccabean books and the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) a concern for the problems of the Diaspora and a solution to the threat of assimilation in a Hellenistic world.

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