Marriage in the Book of Tobit by Geoffrey David Miller(Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies: de Gruyter) This study examines marital elements in the Book of Tobit in light of the mores and beliefs of Ancient Israel and neighboring civilizations. After surveying key Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern texts, this monograph outlines what the Book of Tobit reveals about ancient marital practices as well as the values it seeks to inculcate in its Diaspora audience with regard to marriage. Four aspects are analyzed: 1) the qualities a man should seek in a bride, 2) the marital customs observed by ancient Jews, 3) the role of God in marriage, and 4) the nature of the marital relationship.
Scholarly interest in the Book of Tobit has not enjoyed a long and fruitful history, thanks in part to Martin Luther's removal of the book from the Protestant canon. Fortunately, that trend has begun to change. The discovery of five Tobit manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls has no doubt played a part in the book's renaissance, but equally powerful is the book's literary appeal. The story wrestles with a number of age-old themes, such as theodicy, the importance of family, and the triumph of good over evil. Readers can also appreciate Tobit's carefully interwoven subplots and its skilful combination of comedy and irony.1 No one can deny that "the author of Tobit has a mastery of the highest art of narrating"2 and that his work "is one of the best extant examples of an ancient Semitic short story. [.. .] In the silver age of Hebrew-Aramaic literature Tobit may be regarded as a classic."
Beyond its ability to delight, the Book of Tobit also seeks to enlighten readers about several important subjects, one of which is marriage. With the possible exception of Genesis, Tobit contains more details about marriage than any other biblical book. The marriage between two of the characters, Tobiah and Sarah, is one of the central features of the plot. The decision by Tobiah to marry Sarah offers valuable insights regarding what a man looks for in a wife, especially in terms of kinship. Moreover, Sarah's father produces a marriage contract for the couple (7:13), and this is the only such contract mentioned in the bible. The Mosaic Law also plays a crucial role in their marriage, and arguably the most unique marital element in the book is the involvement of God in the union of Tobiah and Sarah (3:17). Before the world existed, God had determined that these two would be together (6:18).
In this study, I will examine the various aspects of marriage in the Book of Tobit. But before doing so, I must address several preliminary matters regarding the book. In this chapter, I will begin with a brief summary of the Book of Tobit as well as a survey of the passages that pertain to marriage. Next, I will discuss the textual issues surrounding the book, highlighting the most important manuscripts for determining the text of Tobit. Then, after considering the approximate date and place of composition, I will outline previous studies on the Book of Tobit, beginning with those works that deal with the entire book and ending with those that focus on the topic of marriage. Finally, I will state my purpose in undertaking this analysis, and I will end by explaining my methodology.
The Book of Tobit tells the story of two families living in the Diaspora during the time of the Assyrian Exile. After a brief introduction, the narrative begins with Tobit, the head of one of the families, speaking in the first person. Tobit describes his upright behavior and adherence to the Mosaic Law, noting how he married a woman from his own tribe, Anna, and fathered a son with her, Tobiah (1:3-11). Although a foreigner, Tobit receives a position in the court of the Assyrian King Sennacherib and earns enough money to deposit ten silver talents with his relative Gabael in Rages. However, Tobit's virtuous acts get him into trouble as the Assyrian king discovers that Tobit has been burying the Israelites that Sennacherib had executed. Tobit loses his position and property and immediately goes into hiding (1:12-20).
After a new king ascends the throne, Tobit is able to return home and live with his wife and son again. Before long, his gracious deeds on behalf of his countrymen bring him misfortune once again. While celebrating a Pentecost meal with his family, Tobit learns that the body of a fellow Israelite is lying unburied in the street, and Tobit quickly leaves his house to find the corpse and bury it after sunset (2:1-5). Because he has touched a corpse, Tobit decides to spend the night outside, and while he lies against a wall in his courtyard, bird droppings fall into his eyes and eventually blind him (2:9-10). Tobit's loss of vision has significant consequences for his family. First, Tobit's inability to work forces his wife Anna to become the breadwinner for the family. Second, Tobit's melancholy disposition, resulting from his blindness, taunts from his neighbors, and his wife's upbraiding, drive him to beseech the Lord to take his life (2:11-3:6). Finally, Tobit's expectation that his death is imminent leads him to send his son on a distant journey to retrieve the money he left with their relative Gabael. After finding a suitable travel guide in Raphael, an angel disguising himself as their kinsman Azariah, Tobiah embarks for Rages to bring home the money (4:1-3; 5:1-8; 6:2).
Shortly after the traveling party leaves Nineveh, the angel directs the young man to the house of Raguel in Ecbatana instead. Raguel and his wife Edna have an only daughter, Sarah, whom the angel exhorts Tobiah to marry. The angel offers numerous reasons to persuade Tobiah to do so, and despite the fact that Sarah's seven previous husbands have all died the day they married her, Tobiah falls in love with her and resolves to take her as his bride (6:11-18). When the travelers reach the house of Raguel, they are received with a cordial feast and reveal that they are Raguel's relatives by his kinsmen Tobit. Soon, Tobiah insists that Raguel give his daughter to him as a wife, and after some initial hesitation, Raguel complies. He writes a marriage contract for the new couple, and the newlyweds go to bed that night (7:1-13). Taking the advice of the angel Raphael, Tobiah uses two fish organs to ward off the demon Asmodeus, who had killed Sarah's previous husbands, and for the first time in her life, Sarah has a husband who survives the wedding night (8:2-3).
Raguel and Edna celebrate the new marriage with a fourteen-day wedding feast, at the end of which Tobiah and Sarah depart for Nineveh (8:19-21; 10:7-11:1). Meanwhile, Tobit and Anna have been worried about their son since he has taken so long to return home, and they are overjoyed when he finally appears. Taking the angel's advice again, Tobiah uses another fish organ to cure his father's blindness, and the family celebrates the safe return and recent marriage of their son with another wedding feast (11:1-18). Tobit and Tobiah then prepare to present Raphael with a large sum in reward for his services, but the angel surprises both of them by revealing his true identity and then ascends heavenward (12:1-22). The book ends with a hymn of praise by Tobit (13:1-18) and admonition for his son and grandsons. Tobit makes sure to instruct his son to take his family into Media since Nineveh will soon fall, and Tobiah obeys. Tobiah buries his parents after they have died and does the same for the parents of Sarah. He lives to the venerable age of 117, witnessing the destruction of the Assyrian capital before he expires (14:1-15).
Although the story's primary message is to remain faithful to Yahweh, the Book of Tobit devotes much attention to the institution of marriage. Endogamy is a prominent theme in the book, and the author emphasizes the fact that Tobit, Anna, Tobiah, and Sarah all marry relatives (1:8; 6:11-12; 7:10-13).5 For Tobiah, finding a wife from among his kinsmen is paramount (4:12-13), but other qualities are also important for a bride to have. As the angel's advice in chapter 6 shows, men also want a wife who is beautiful and fertile (6:11-18). After realizing that Sarah is the woman he is looking for, Tobiah marries her in chapter 7, adhering to certain marital customs in the process. Tobiah seeks permission from the father of the bride, and the latter gives his consent and draws up a marriage contract for the couple (7:9-13). The family of the bride then celebrates with a feast, and the newlyweds eventually move to the groom's home, where they will reside permanently (8:19-21; 10:7-14).
Even though Tobiah takes the initiative in marrying Sarah, it is ultimately God who is responsible for their union. To be sure, divine intervention in a marriage is not unique to the Book of Tobit, but no other biblical book is as explicit about God's involvement in a human marriage. The angel Raphael and Raguel both tell Tobiah that Sarah was set apart for him before the world was made (6:18; 7:11), and the narrator confirms their claims by stating that God has sent the angel Raphael for this very purpose (3:17; see also 12:14). The book might hint that Sarah's seven previous marriages failed because they contravened God's plan for Sarah to marry Tobiah, but the narrator is not clear on this matter.
Finally, the Book of Tobit provides a glimpse into what married life was like at the time Tobit was written. The three married couples of the book all display various facets of the marital relationship. They show which gender roles are commonly assumed by each spouse and, in at least one case, what happens when such roles are reversed. The couples also reveal how spouses interact with one another, especially with regard to communication and conflict. Edna and Raguel communicate and cooperate well together, but Tobiah and Sarah say almost nothing to each other. Tobit and Anna, on the other hand, converse with each other several times in the book, yet their conversations are always marred by conflict. Nonetheless, the tension experienced by spouses or their failure to communicate does not prevent them from maintaining their love for one another. All three couples exhibit love in their relationships, giving hope to all married couples going through difficult times.
3) What role does God play in marriage? 4) What do actual marriages look like? Answers to these questions will proceed in a two-step manner, beginning with background information culled from the Old Testament and, in some cases, relevant documents from other Ancient Near Eastern civilizations. This information will allow for a clearer understanding of what will be done in the second step: the examination of the numerous items pertaining to marriage in the Book of Tobit. In some instances, the similarities and/or differences with previous works will illustrate the author's unique contribution to the subject of marriage, most notably with regard to the book's inclusion of a marriage contract, its insistence on marriage within the clan, and the active involvement of God in the marriage of Tobiah and Sarah.
The Book of Tobit was composed for an ancient audience whose culture was quite different from our own. Many elements of the book pertaining to marriage would have been readily understood by the book's intended audience, but their meaning might not be immediately grasped by modern readers. Therefore, in order to properly construe what the author of Tobit seeks to communicate to his readers, one must situate the book in its proper historical context.
The most important resource for this undertaking is the Old Testament. The author of the Book of Tobit was well acquainted with many Old Testament texts, for "biblical ideas and themes and stories permeate his tale." Several passages from the Pentateuch have parallels in the story of Tobit, most notably the patriarchal narratives. The marriage of Tobiah and Sarah shares many common elements with the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24, and scholars have also noted similarities with the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. The connections between Tobit and Deuteronomy are even more salient, and Fitzmyer has rightly observed, "The Tobit story is The purpose of this monograph is to analyze how the Book of Tobit depicts the institution of marriage. This study will answer four questions: 1) Whom should one marry? 2) How does one get married?
dominated by the teaching of Deuteronomy." The Deuteronomic doctrine of retribution "provides the basic theology for the book of Tobit,"" and, like Deuteronomy, the Book of Tobit places a strong emphasis on the centralization of the cult and fidelity to the Torah as necessary conditions for prosperity and secure inhabitance of the land of Israel. According to Weitzman, "Tobit's progressive echoing of Genesis and then Deuteronomy evokes the entirety of pentateuchal history almost as if to enclose the experiences of Tobit within pentateuchal bookends."
The author of Tobit has also utilized other Old Testament passages in crafting his tale. The story of Manoah and his wife in Judges 13 has so many parallels with the Book of Tobit that Alexander A. Di Leila concludes, "This author modeled parts of his own charming story, especially Tob 12:11-22, on Judges 13."" The author of Tobit also refers explicitly to several prophetic passages, such as Amos (Tob 2:6) and Nahum (Tob 14:4), and probably alludes to others, such as Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament seems to have echoes in the Book of Tobit as well, especially the Book of Job. In both stories, "a devout and innocent man is afflicted undeservedly through loss of property and illness, is greatly irritated by his wife, [...J and at the end obtains through God the restoration of wealth and health." The Book of Tobit also has "a marked relationship to Sirach."" Both books stress the importance of doing good works, giving alms, and burying the dead. However, since the author of the Book of Tobit probably composed his tale before Sirach was written," he would not have drawn elements from Sirach when writing his story.
The parallels between the Book of Tobit and these Old Testament books make it clear that the author of Tobit used such books to produce his story," especially Genesis and Deuteronomy. Furthermore, the Book of Tobit emphasizes fidelity to the Torah and, to lesser extent, heeding the words of the prophets. For these reasons, an examination of Old Testament texts pertaining to the topic of marriage will be of great benefit in explicating Tobit's treatment of the subject. However, since the Old Testament provides little or no information regarding certain aspects of marriage, the exegete must rely on texts from the Ancient Near East to further elucidate Tobit's message. As Carey Moore has correctly observed, "Any discussion of many aspects of marriage among Israelites or Jews should be within the larger context of marriage in the ancient Near East, even though the latter is vast in time-span and diverse in culture and ethnicity. For whether one is talking about the marriage customs of Hebrews/Israelites, or Jews, they were always influenced, at least to some extent, by the theories and practices of their neighbors of other origins." Scholars have long recognized the influence of Ancient Near Eastern cultures on the writers of the Old Testament. Even very ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians seem to have had an impact on the Israelites, despite being separated by great expanses of time and space.82 According to Hartmut Schmökel, "The great works of literature from Sumer and Akkad in Mesopotamia were read throughout the ancient Near Eastern world. [.. .] The influence on Canaanite culture in Syria and Palestine was also predominantly Mesopotamian, especially in the second millennium and at the beginning of the first millennium BC. [...] Israel [.. I seems to have appropriated the heritage presented to it quite quickly."
Despite the need to contextualize biblical texts within their proper historical and cultural milieu, the exegete must be careful not to let his or her scope become too broad. First of all, it is extremely difficult — if not impossible — to construct a complete portrait of any civilization's beliefs, values, and practices over long periods of time. The amount of evidence is insufficient for such an enterprise. One must also take into account the fact that Ancient Near Eastern texts cover a wide range both geographically and chronologically. It is not feasible to make anything more than the most basic generalizations about the cultures of the Ancient Near East since no two civilizations are exactly alike. For example, although all of these cultures were patriarchal, some of them allotted more rights and privileges to women than others. The status of women in Babylonia during the Old Babylonian period is a case in point; a woman could own a store and even lend money to clientele.
Given these limitations, I will not seek to establish what marriage was like for any or all Ancient Near Eastern civilizations, but I will make use of those texts which have some relevance to the Book of Tobit. The use of these materials is critical for those elements of the book which receive little or no attention elsewhere in the Old Testament. In some cases, the Book of Tobit offers a novel perspective on certain aspects of marriage, not only with regard to the Old Testament but other ancient cultures as well. For instance, Tobit presents a unique understanding of the marriage contract, the dowry, the verba solemnia, and the role of God in marriage.
Most useful in this regard are marriage contracts, for the Old Testament contains none outside of the Book of Tobit. Most of these Ancient Near Eastern contracts are quite brief, listing only the parties involved, the witnesses to the marriage, stipulations in the event of divorce, and financial matters such as the bride-price and the dowry. Some of the contracts are fragmentary, but despite their brevity, these documents are invaluable for elucidating ancient marital customs and practices. Many marriage contracts have survived from antiquity, including dozens from Mesopotamia, but I will restrict my focus to those closest in date to the Book of Tobit. I will make occasional reference to contracts from the Neo-Babylonian period. Totaling forty-five in all, these marriage contracts have been found in many cities throughout central and lower Mesopotamia and are dated anywhere from 635 BC to 203 BC. Most of the parties involved "bear standard Babylonian names, but there are also persons with Aramaic or West Semitic (e.g., Nos. 11, 17, 23), Egyptian (Nos. 23, 34, 35), and Persian (No. 23) personal names." Moreover, the brides and grooms "represent several social and economic strata as well. [...] At one end of the spectrum we have the marriage agreement (unfortunately incomplete) of a king's daughter and a high temple official (No. 7). At the other end of the social scale we find manumitted slaves as grooms (No. 5 and No. 14)."
More useful for my study, however, are the marriage contracts of Elephantine since they are the only ancient Jewish contracts extant. After the fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC, many Jews migrated to Egypt, and some settled in Elephantine, an island on the Nile River in Upper Egypt. After the Persians assumed control of Egypt, they set up "a colony of Jewish soldiers [to] protect the interests of the Persian Empire on the island of Elephantine at the southern border of Egypt." Although most of the colony was Jewish, it also contained Arameans, Babylonians, Caspians, Khorazmians, Medes, Persians, and Egyptians. For the most part, the Jews of Elephantine retained their religious and cultural practices after leaving Judah. They built a temple to Yahweh and observed Passover, but they also made donations to pagan deities such as Anathbethel and Eshembethel and intermarried with Gentiles, though the number of Jew-Gentile marriages was probably minimal.
The colony of Elephantine left behind "three Aramaic archives of some dozen documents each. Two are family archives, and one is a communal archive." Some of the papyri are written in Egyptian or Greek, but most are in Aramaic and date to the fifth century BC. The majority of the documents are letters and contracts. Three complete marriage contracts have survived as well as fragments of four others. Since the Old Testament mentions no marriage contracts outside of the Book of Tobit, the Elephantine contracts are of tremendous value for discerning the nature and function of Tobiah and Sarah's marriage contract.
Literary Genre of Tobit
Contextualizing the Book of Tobit in light of these texts is essential for meaningful exegesis, but equally important is the recognition of the book's genre. Although most commentaries acknowledge the importance of genre, scholars have not come to an agreement on how best to categorize the book.93 Even the early scribes struggled to do so. Judging by the book's placement in canonical order, it appears that Sinaiticus treats Tobit as a historical book, whereas Vaticanus views it as a wisdom book.
Many scholars have defined Tobit as a fairytale or folktale, and there is much to warrant this classification. Several of the book's sources are folktales, such as the Tale of Ahiqar, "The Grateful Dead," and "The Bride of the Monster," and the book follows "a fairy-tale plot line" where the natural and supernatural become interlaced. The protagonist, guided by an angel, overcomes demonic powers to rescue a beleaguered maiden and to restore his father's eyesight, fulfilling God's plan for the human characters. For these reasons, Jason and Kempinski characterize Tobit as a "heroic fairy tale," and Blenkinsopp, drawing on Proppian analysis, identifies twenty-one of the thirty-one functions of a fairytale.
Yet even if Tobit "is rightly considered 'talelike,'" one must be careful not to subsume it within this genre too hastily. Wills lists several differences between Tobit and the folktale form. Tobit "is worlds apart from these tales in many ways. The moaning of Tobit and Sarah, their intertwined fates and the morality play orchestrated by Raphael, the long prayers and proverbs collections, the unromanticized presence of the money — all these serve to attach Tobit more to a novelistic genre, that is a 'novelized' folktale. Also, the folk motifs present in Tobit are not recounted in a linear narrative time line typical of folktales." Furthermore, there are numerous other forms present in the book that are not typical of the folktale or fairytale per se, such as "testament (chapters 4 and 14), wisdom teaching (12:7-11; 14:10-11), and prayers and hymns of thanksgiving (3:2-6, 11-15; 8:5-6, 15-17; 13:118)."
A more suitable designation for Tobit would be a romance or novel. Littman characterizes Tobit as a Greek romance, much like other contemporaneous writings such as Daniel, Judith, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Testament of Abraham. The story contains all the elements that typify this genre. It includes adventures, perils, love, a happy ending, a journey, the presence of divine figures who help and oppose the hero, parallel subplots, and a hero who gets the girl and returns home. However, Tobit is not a perfect fit in this genre since "the sexual love typical of Greek Romances is really absent in the book." It would be more accurate to identify Tobit as a Jewish romance or novel, evident by traditional Jewish themes such as kinship and fidelity to God's law as well as the book's reliance on numerous Old Testament texts.
However, the Book of Tobit is no ordinary ancient novel, even if one recognizes its Jewish character. As Wil observes, Tobit is best described as a "didactic novel." Unlike most ancient romances, the Book of Tobit is not intended solely for amusement. Its chief aim is not to "entertain by creating an imaginary world, a comedy of divinely guided resolutions of unreal problems." Rather, the book serves a pedagogical function. Through the medium of a creative story, the author teaches his audience important truths about God and life. Some of these are propositional in nature, such as the fact that God is a providential deity who cares for His people in exile (3:16-17; 13:1-6) or that those who remain faithful to God's commands will ultimately be rewarded (8:1-3; 10:12-18). Other lessons are exhortatory, such as the importance of marrying endogamously (4:12-13) or selecting a wife for a sincere reason rather than lust (8:7). The events and characters might be fictive, but this does not diminish the validity of the points the author wishes to convey.
Furthermore, didactic novels "have a moral earnestness about them," hoping to impress upon their readership that the lessons given are of critical importance and that they should "go and do likewise." The author does not offer these messages simply for the audience to ruminate upon or to debate among themselves. He pronounces imperatives that must be adhered to. Much is at stake here, and the situation is dire. Just as the characters face adverse conditions in their lives, so also do the story's readers, whether they realize it or not. Perhaps demons are not terrorizing young maidens, but external forces are threatening the existence of Judaism in the Diaspora. Moreover, just as the characters make the correct choices and are ultimately rewarded, so too will God reward those who behave similarly.
To be sure, the didactic elements in the story might not always be overt and might not happen with great frequency. They might also seem dispensable. For instance, the wisdom sayings of chapters 4 and 14 (and perhaps also 12:7-10) comprise only a small portion of the book and at first glance might seem inconsequential to the story. However, they are not ancillary to the story but serve "a narrative purpose," contributing to the story's plot and developing the characters in the tale. These wisdom teachings "help characterize the protagonist, and they emphasize the ironic contrasts of the story." The story could not be told without these pieces.
Outside of these sapiential sections, the messages communicated by the author are more subtle. When the angel speaks to Tobiah in chapter 6 about what type of woman he should marry, it is really the author who speaks to the reader. Diaspora Jews must also be careful in selecting a wife, making sure to marry a kinswoman. When the author depicts the interaction of Tobit and Anna, he shows the reader what marriage is like. Despite the periodic acrimony that characterizes their relationship, Tobit and Anna never stop loving each other. The author thereby exhorts readers that marriage entails turmoil and conflict at times, but just as Tobit and Anna continue to love one another despite such tension, so also should they.
Recognizing this genre of didactic novel is critical for proper exegesis. As a novel, the author of Tobit takes several liberties, deviating from conventional norms at times, and the reader must recognize the didactic purpose of these deviations. This novel does not inform the audience about the lives of historical figures of Israel's past but instead illustrates to the audience essential truths, especially about what they should do and should value. For example, ancient marriage contracts always record the contents of the dowry, yet Tobiah and Sarah's contract makes no mention of the dowry that Raguel later gives to his son-in-law (10:10). One should not infer from this detail that the custom fell out of use by the third century BC. The author's omission is deliberate, and he replaces this standard component of the contract with a unique addition — the phrase "according to the Law of Moses" —to underscore what readers should value in their marriages, namely that their union is in accordance with Mosaic Law (7:13).114 Over the course of the story, then, readers might encounter a number of customary practices of Jews and Israelites, but more often, they will learn about essential messages the author seeks to convey to his audience as well as the type of values and behavior that he hopes to instill in third-century Diaspora Jews. The scholar's search for historical truth must give way to the quest for didactic truth.
The Book of Tobit offers a glimpse into many facets of marriage: what a young man should look for in a bride, how two people become married, the role God plays in marriage, and the nature of the marital relationship. In this monograph, I have sought to situate these elements in their proper historical context and to illustrate their function in the Book of Tobit.
In chapter 1, I highlighted the passages in the Book of Tobit that pertain to marriage. Tobit as narrator reveals that he married a woman from his own lineage, and later Tobit as character exhorts his son to do the same. In chapter 6, the angel's counsel to Tobiah on their trip to Rages shows the qualities a man looks for in a bride, the most important of which is that she be a close relative. Tobiah's marriage to Sarah in the next chapter reveals several marital customs such as the writing of a marriage contract and the verba solemnia uttered at the wedding ceremony. Scattered throughout the book are numerous references to endogamy as well as to the fact that God is intimately involved in the union of Tobiah and Sarah. Finally, the author's depiction of the three married couples, especially their interaction and dialogue, illustrates the nature of the marital relationship.
After summarizing these items of the story, I next turned to the textual problems of the book. Although Tobit was likely written in a Semitic language, probably Aramaic, the original is no longer extant. Instead, we must rely on several text traditions in order to establish the text. The most important witnesses are the Greek manuscripts, which can be classified into three main recensions: GI, GII, and GIIl. The last of these is an intermediate recension with affinities to the other two. GI, once regarded as the most reliable of the three recensions, presents a version of the story that is shorter and written in a more elegant Greek style. GI contains numerous Semitisms, redundancies, and geographical errors. Although shorter readings are often preferable in textual criticism, it seems that GI is an abridgment of GII, designed to improve the verbose and sometimes clumsy style of the latter. For these reasons, GII appears to represent the more original text.
The versions also constitute valuable witnesses for determining the text of Tobit. The most important of these are the Old Latin (La), Syriac (Syr), and Vulgate (Vg). The La closely resembles GII, and the same is true for most Syriac manuscripts from Tob 7:11 Kai. IA, to 14:15. The Vg occasionally supports the readings of Cu but often contains material not found in any other text tradition. Also significant are the five fragmentary manuscripts found in Cave 4 of Qumran, which also support GII, but they preserve only one-fifth of the book.
After surveying the various text traditions, I next turned to the matter of the place and date of composition of Tobit. The book's use of the phrase "the Law of Moses," several allusions to the authoritative status of the prophetic writings, and the absence of any mention of the Antiochan persecution of the Jews all suggest that Tobit was written some time between 225 and 175 BC. The place of composition is more difficult to determine. Three locales are possible, namely Palestine, Egypt, or Mesopotamia, but each of these options is problematic. Unfortunately, scholarly consensus on the provenance of Tobit is lacking, and a solution to the problem seems unlikely.
At the conclusion of chapter 1, I provided a brief summary of previous literature on the Book of Tobit generally and on the topic of marriage in the book specifically. A few scholars have recently published articles on marriage in Tobit, but none have undertaken a thorough study of the subject. I then outlined my purpose and methodology for my work. My purpose has been to analyze how the Book of Tobit depicts the institution of marriage. My primary methods of analysis have been the historical and literary methods of interpretation, giving preference to a synchronic approach to the relevant material. I also noted the importance of reading Tobit according to its genre: didactic novel. Through this fictive story, the author instructs and exhorts. He teaches his readers, among other things, about God's providence and about what married life is like, and he admonishes them to be faithful to Yahweh by marrying for the right reasons (especially endogamy) and to be faithful to their spouses by showing love even during difficult times.
A diachronic approach to this topic might also be beneficial. Given the range in time covered by the Old Testament books, one could attempt to trace the development of the institution of marriage over time. For example, I will argue in chapter 3 of this monograph that Tobiah does not pay a mohar to marry Sarah but performs a heroic deed in lieu of one. Taking a diachronic approach, a person might argue that the practice of paying a bride-price fell out of use by the time of Tobit. Similarly, the definition of endogamy is not exactly the same in all Old Testament books. Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7 prohibit intermarriage with the seven nations residing in Canaan, whereas Ezra and Nehemiah outlaw marriage with any Gentile. In the Book of Tobit, the definition of endogamy is even narrower; Tobit encourages his son to marry only a close relative and not merely another Israelite. These differences could indicate that the practice of endogamy developed over time as Israelites found it necessary to exclude more and more groups from the pool of potential spouses.
However, the Old Testament books do not exhibit many differences on the topic of marriage. Rather, these texts are more harmonious than diverse. Furthermore, some Old Testament books are very difficult to date, such as the Book of Job, and other books reveal various levels of redaction, all of which date to different periods. Such is the case with the books of the Pentateuch. In order to outline a chronological development of certain marital customs and attitudes, one would first have to establish the dates of these books and redactional layers and then try to show how changes may have occurred in the institution of marriage over time. Given the fact that the Old Testament books reveal few differences on the subject of marriage and given the inherent difficulties of the diachronic approach, I have chosen to read the Old Testament texts synchronically.
Using the historical-critical and literary methbds and employing a synchronic approach to the relevant sources, I will analyze how the Book of Tobit depicts the institution of marriage. Each of the next four chapters of this study will focus on a different aspect of marriage. In chapter 2, I answer the question, "Whom should one marry?"
In chapter 2, I consider the qualities a man looks for in a bride. Since marriages were often arranged in the Ancient Near East, men did not always have a choice as to whom they would marry. But when a man could pick his own wife, he sought one who would be fertile, beautiful, and a virgin. In the Book of Tobit, those same qualities are also essential for a bride to have, although the author of the story downplays the importance of virginity and instead stresses endogamy. This can be seen in the angel Rapahel's counsel to Tobiah in chapter 6 and the latter's decision to marry Sarah, the daughter of his kinsman Raguel. The angel presumes that Tobiah will have sons with Sarah (6:18), giving hope to a young man who is solely responsible for continuing his father's name. Raphael mentions Sarah's beauty twice in his speech, and the second time, he says that she is "very beautiful" (6:11-12). In her prayer in chapter 3, Sarah avers that she has not defiled herself through illicit intercourse, and several verses earlier, the narrator reveals that Sarah never consummated her seven previous marriages (3:8, 14-15). However, neither the angel nor Sarah's father tell Tobiah that she is still a virgin, and no one inspects the bed sheets from the wedding night to confirm Sarah's virginity.
Other qualities are also mentioned in the book, such as a woman's bravery and good sense, both of which Sarah has. The most important factor in choosing a bride, however, is endogamy. Tobit instructs his son to marry not only a fellow Jew but a woman who is a close relative. In so doing, Tobiah will emulate his father (1:9) as well as the founders of Israel, namely Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (4:12). The Book of Tobit is unique in its definition of endogamy, limiting the scope of potential marriage partners to one's tribe and encouraging marriage to a close relative within the tribe. In the case of Sarah, Raguel must give her as a wife to his kinsman Tobiah in accordance with the Law of Moses, lest he incur the penalty of death. Although no such law exists in the Pentateuch, the prescription seems to be based on the law concerning the daughters of Zelophedad (Numbers 27 and 36). Raguel is therefore obliged to marry Sarah to Tobiah, and the latter is more than willing to take her as his wife. Because Sarah possesses many attractive qualities and especially since she is his kinswoman, Tobiah falls in love with her (6:18) and demands to marry Sarah as soon as he meets her (7:9-11).
Ancient texts on marriage almost always speak from the groom's perspective, so this chapter will consider the qualities a man looks for in a bride. I will then turn to the Book of Tobit and explore how two of the three husbands in the book (Tobit and Tobiah) look for the same qualities, although kinship and adherence to the Mosaic Law greatly outweigh the other factors.
In chapter 3, I answer the question, "How does one get married?" Again, the perspective will be the groom's. This chapter will examine the process of betrothal, the payment of the mohar ("bride-price"), the marriage contract, the wedding ceremony, the wedding feast, and the moving of the bride into her husband's house.
In chapter 3, I outline the customs a man would follow in marrying a woman. The process began with the formal betrothal of the man to the woman. The man would then pay a bride-price (mohar) to his fiancee's father and sign a marriage contract which outlined several aspects of their agreement, the most important of which was the dowry. Once the woman was of age, the man would travel to the bride's house to merry her. The couple would consummate their marriage and celebrate their union with a wedding feast, and the bride would then return with her husband to his father's house to live there with him.
In the Book of Tobit, the marriage of Tobiah and Sarah involves many of the same customs, but with a few exceptions. Tobiah and Raguel agree to the marriage, but they do not observe a betrothal period. Raguel, who thinks that Tobiah will die that night, does not want his neighbors to know about Sarah's eighth marriage and so marries his daughter immediately before anyone else can learn of their union. After Raguel consents to their marriage, he utters the verba solemnia of the wedding ceremony, officially sealing the marriage of his daughter to Tobiah (7:12). Raguel then takes Sarah by the hand and gives her to Tobiah, thus symbolizing the transfer of authority over her from father to husband. Raguel next writes up a marriage contract but does so before giving his son-in-law a dowry. Unlike other marriage contracts in the Ancient Near East and Elephantine, the contract of Tobiah and Sarah does not focus on monetary matters but instead emphasizes the fact that their marriage is in accordance with Mosaic Law and that God has brought them together (7:13). Finally, the newlyweds take part in a fourteen-day wedding feast (8:20-21; 10:7), twice the normal length of such celebrations, and then travel home to live with Tobiah's family, where they celebrate yet another feast (11:118).
In chapter 4, I answer the question, "What role does God play in marriage?" Material from the Ancient Near East is scarce in this regard, and Genesis 24 is one of the few passages in the Old Testament to touch upon this matter. This chapter will examine the few Old Testament texts that discuss God's role in marriage, paying close attention to God's role in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. This chapter will draw comparisons between their marriage and that of Tobiah and Sarah, and it will also expound on the idea found in Tobit that God predestined Tobiah and Sarah to be together.
In chapter 4, I discuss God's role in marriage. Few texts from either the Ancient Near East or the Old Testament touch on this subject. Genesis 2:24 reveals that the institution of marriage is part of God's creative plan for the world, and several proverbs suggest that a man finds a wife with God's help. With regard to actual marriages in the Old Testament, however, God rarely becomes involved. In Genesis 24, the characters infer that God has played a role in the union of Isaac and Rebekah, but the narrator never states this. The text of Judges 14 is more explicit. The narrator states that Samson's marriage to a Philistine woman "had been brought about by the Lord," and that this marriage would provide "an opportunity against the Philistines" (Judg 14:4). However, the narrator never elaborates nor explains how the Lord brought their marriage about.
By contrast, the Book of Tobit contains the most explicit and detailed Old Testament description of God's involvement in a particular marriage. Sarah, whose seven earlier marriages ended prematurely, asks God to take her life so that she may no longer have to endure the ignominy of being spouseless and childless (3:11-15). God answers her prayer by sending the angel Raphael, who then leads Tobiah to Sarah's house and persuades him to marry her. Raphael lists many reasons why Tobiah should marry her, including the fact that Sarah has been set apart for him before the world was made (6:18). The angel also assures Tobiah that, unlike Sarah's previous suitors, he will survive the wedding night. To this end, Raphael instructs Tobiah to burn two fish organs and thereby ward off the demon that had been afflicting Sarah. After they arrive at Sarah's house, Tobiah follows the angel's advice and marries the woman God has selected for him (7:118:3).
The story of Sarah and Tobiah's union also contains numerous parallels with the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. Tobit and Abraham both insist that their sons marry a close relative (Tobit 4:12-13; Gen 24:3-4). Both fathers send someone on a long journey to the east, and each father claims that an angel will accompany the travelers (Tob 5:17; Gen 24:7). The travelers eventually come to the house of the bride-to-be, who is both beautiful and a relative of the groom. In each story, one of the travelers insists that the marriage be arranged before they even taste a morsel of the food prepared for them (Tob 7:12; Gen 24:33). At least one of the bride's relatives gives his consent and declares that the marriage is in accordance with God's will (Tob 7:11; Gen 24:50). Shortly after the marriage, the travelers insist that they return home, and the bride leaves her family to live in the house of her husband's family (Tob 10:7-9; 11:1-18; Gen 24:54-56, 61-67).
The parallels between these two stories reveal that the author of the Book of Tobit has patterned parts of his story on Genesis 24. His reason for doing so is twofold. First, he wants to show to his audience that, just as God provided for the patriarchs beyond the borders of Canaan, so now also is God reaching out to Diaspora Jews and providing for them in a land far away from Palestine. Second, the nation of Israel arose from a single family living in a Gentile world. If Israel was to become a great nation as God had promised, this family would have to be both fertile and faithful. At the time the Book of Tobit was written, the survival of Judaism was likewise in jeopardy, and the existence of Israel was contingent upon the fertility and faithfulness of a small number of devout Jews. In the story, two of the few families who have remained faithful to God's law are both in danger of having their lines die out. By bringing Tobiah and Sarah together, God shows that he wants Israel to continue, and by enabling the couple to have seven sons, God is creating a "new Israel" that will return to Palestine and live there in perpetuity.
In chapter 5, I make use of the literary method to answer the question, "What do actual marriages look like?" This chapter will study how the Book of Tobit presents married life through its depiction of three married couples, especially with regard to gender roles and spousal interaction. I will then conclude with a sixth chapter, which will provide a brief summary of the entire work and end with some closing remarks.
In chapter 5, I look at how the marital relationship is portrayed in the book. More specifically, I discussed the gender roles assumed by wives and husbands as well as the nature of spousal interaction. In the Old Testament, the husband was the head of his household and the provider for his wife and children. He was also the religious leader of his family and the one in charge of entertaining guests. Some passages might indicate that fathers were the primary teachers of their male children. The three husbands in the Book of Tobit assume the same roles. They are the authority figures in their families and often make decisions without consulting anyone else. Tobit and Raguel assume the role of host several times in the book, and all three husbands act as the religious leader of their families. This is especially clear in the case of Tobiah, who utters the prayer on his wedding night while Sarah silently joins him. Moreover, Tobit acts in the role of teacher when he exhorts his son about many things in chapter 4, and he does the same with both his son and grandsons in chapter 14.
Wives, meanwhile, are expected to produce children, attend to the domestic duties of the house, and to remain subordinate to their husbands. For the most part, the wives in the Book of Tobit conform to these societal norms. All three wives in the book bear children, and Anna's constant worrying about her son illustrates the motherly concern expected of a Jewish wife. The book is not clear on whether or not the wives of the book cook for their families; and, although Anna is a seamstress (2:11), the author never says that Anna made clothes for her husband or son. In general, the wives of the book are subordinate to their husbands and do not infringe upon their traditional roles. In the religious sphere, wives take no initiative and are often excluded. Although Sarah prays to God in chapter 3, she is unmarried at the time. When she has an opportunity to pray again in chapter 8, she says nothing but lets her husband do all the speaking. Also, despite the fact that two supernatural beings have a profound influence on Sarah's welfare, she seems to be unaware of their activity. She gives no indication that she realizes the demon Asmodeus is afflicting her, and the angel Raphael never explains to Sarah that he is an angel sent by God to help her.
Although the wives in the Book of Tobit generally conform to societal standards, there are two notable exceptions. First, Tobit's grandmother Deborah instructs him in the Mosaic Law (1:8). Normally, a boy's father would fulfill this duty, but since Tobit's father died and left him fatherless, his grandmother assumed this role. Moreover, she clearly performed this job well, for when her grandson becomes an adult, he staunchly adheres to the Mosaic Law despite insult and misfortune (1:3-11, 16-20; 2:8). The second exception is Anna, who enters the workforce after her husband Tobit becomes blind. She, too, performs her job well, and her employers reward her with a bonus (2:11-12).
In addition to gender roles, the Book of Tobit also shows how spouses interact with one another. Through his portrayal of the three married couples in the book, the author of Tobit illustrates the multifaceted nature of this interaction. Husbands and wives communicate and cooperate with each other to varying degrees. Some work well together, as illustrated by the cooperation of Raguel and Edna. Some couples rarely communicate, as demonstrated by Tobiah and Sarah. And some couples argue quite a bit, as shown by the frequent quarrels of Tobit and Anna. However, the presence of conflict or the lack of communication in a marriage does not lead to divorce, and not even Tobit, whose wife berates him three times in the book, shows signs of wanting to dismiss her. Rather, love and joy are also hallmarks of marriage, and all three couples exhibit both in their relationships.
Over the course of the narrative, then, the author presents several important messages to Diaspora Jews. Like the characters of the story, they live in a Gentile environment where maintaining fidelity to God is difficult and sometimes onerous. Nevertheless, they must imitate Tobit and Tobiah by taking wives who are close relatives and faithful to their ancestral heritage. Money, lust, and the lure of amalgamation are temptations to be avoided, not conduits to prosperity and happiness. When they do marry, they will follow the customary practices of other Israelite men and women. However, as the marriage contract of Tobiah and Sarah highlights, they must value observance of the Mosaic Law and divine approval of their union more than monetary matters such as the dowry. Once they are married, they will assume traditional gender roles, but they must be willing to contravene societal expectations in exceptional circumstances. Anna and Deborah both did so; in fact, both excelled, and their actions brought about a greater good for their families: financial support and religious instruction. Furthermore, Diaspora Jews must always remember that an integral aspect of marriage is love. At times, their marriages will seem like that of one of the three couples of the book, yet when tensions arise, they must continue to show love to one another, just as Tobit and Anna do.
Diaspora Jews should also be encouraged by the way in which Tobiah and Sarah meet and wed. In their own lives, they probably will not have an angel to guide them, but they should know that God cares about them and will not let his people languish in exile. In his providence, God will help Diaspora Judaism survive and flourish, and he will enable Jews to return home to rebuild his holy city. Tobiah and Sarah represent the hopes of a revived Israel, and their seven sons are only the beginning of a restored nation that will shower God with praise and thanksgiving for his bountiful goodness. Readers of the Book of Tobit should be inspired by this marvelous tale, joining Tobit in his exuberant praise and shouting "Alleluia" to their beneficent Lord (13:18).
insert content here