- Tobit is a devout Hebrew from the tribe of Naphtali in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His family have turned to worshiping the golden calf “Baal” set up by King Jeroboam in Dan, but he alone goes to Jerusalem to worship God on feast days.
- When the Assyrians attack Israel in 722 BC Tobit and his wife Anna are deported to Nineveh.
- Tobit becomes a purchaser for the Assyrian ruler King Shalmaneser and goes to Media to do business on behalf of the king until the king dies. His wife Anna works in a rich Assyrian household.
- Tobit secretly helps people of his own tribe of Naphtali. The new king Sennacherib finds out and confiscates all of Tobit’s goods and detains him. But Sennacherib is killed by his sons, and Esarhaddon becomes king. Sennacherib reigned from 705 – 681 BC.
- Tobit’s nephew Ahikar is appointed head cup bearer, keeper of seals, accountant and chief administrator to King Esarhaddon ruler of Assyria. He intervenes for Tobit to be released and return home to Anna in Nineveh.
- Tobit and Anna’s son Tobias seeks a wife with the help of the angel Raphael. He finds Sara who comes from Ecbatana in Media, Persia.
- Tobit proclaims a song of praise to God and prophecy for Jerusalem aged 112 and then dies.
- Tobias and Sara leave Nineveh and go to live in Ecbatana. Tobias lived to age 127 and before he died he saw the destruction of Nineveh with the Assyrians reduced to slavery.
- The book of Tobit starts off written in the first person by Tobit. But the final chapter must have been written by Tobias and one of his descendants.
- The book is about caring for other people’s needs as both Tobit and Tobias help their fellow Hebrews. (The archives of the citadel of Ecbatana will later play a key role in the return of the Jews from exile as the decrees of Persian kings are kept there).
- The Dead Sea Scrolls have some Aramaic and one Hebrew fragment of this book, but it was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Only the Greek copies of this book survived.
- Genre: Personal story of exiled Hebrew (Apocrypha)
The Shadowing of Kings
In exile it has happened time and again that Jews became administrators in the empires in which they were held captive. Jewish administrators used their gifts to help the rulers of empires enact just and wise decrees to the benefit of the diverse peoples of empires. They also used their influence to save their own people – the Jews in foreign lands.
Some of these administrators were the prophets of the Old Testament.
Tobit who was exiled in Nineveh became a purchaser for the Assyrian king who had taken him captive, King Shalmaneser. Tobit gets into trouble with the next king Sennacherib and is put in prison. Sennacherib is killed by his own sons, and one them Esarhaddon becomes king. Tobit’s nephew Ahikar gets the top job in the administration of King Esarhaddon and uses his influence to get Tobit released from prison.
Tobit’s son Tobias marries and goes to live in Ecbatana. It is in this city that the Persian Empire archives are kept including the decree of Cyrus. Could a Jewish descendant of Tobit and Tobias have become an archivist there? At any rate, it is there that the decree for the release of the Jews from Babylon and Persia is unexpectedly found.