Exploring Tobit (Ch.6)

Chapter 6:1-5

And as they went on their journey, they came in the evening to the river Tigris, and they lodged there.  And when the young man went down to wash himself, a fish leaped out of the river, and would have devoured him.  Then the angel said unto him, Take the fish. And the young man laid hold of the fish, and drew it to land.  To whom the angel said, Open the fish, and take the heart and the liver and the gall, and put them up safely.  So the young man did as the angel commanded him; and when they had roasted the fish, they did eat it: then they both went on their way, till they drew near to Ecbatane.

The heart, liver and gall?  Whaaaaa?????  Serious talk, in the Book of Enoch, the Fallen Angels are condemned because they teach man arts they should not engage in.  Armaros and Baraqijal both taught things regarding enchantments.  This…this sounds like enchantments.  Though, perhaps, more specifically “pharmakeia”, which is translated as “sorceries” or “witchcraft” in the Septuagint.  Up to this point, Raphael hasn’t revealed himself as Raphael (doing a word search, he apparently reveals himself towards the end of the story…I’ll get there eventually).  Seeing this in the text has me concerned.

Chapter 6:6-8

Then the young man said to the angel, Brother Azarias, to what use is the heart and the liver and the gal of the fish?  And he said unto him, Touching the heart and the liver, if a devil or an evil spirit trouble any, we must make a smoke thereof before the man or the woman, and the party shall be no more vexed.  As for the gall, it is good to anoint a man that hath whiteness in his eyes, and he shall be healed.

And here it is.  Even if the Book of Enoch is considered a pseudepigrapha, the general beliefs of what evils the fallen angels introduced to the people seem to hold up.  In looking up information about this book after reading this, I find that the dating is in question due to several inconsistencies with the actual history.  It is entirely possible that this story was passed down by oral tradition and evolved with time.  If the scholarship date (as opposed to the Catholic date) holds true, that means this story was recorded in writing well within the timeframe of the second temple- which is the same time we find the Book of Enoch.

That it was written in the same timeframe of the Book of Enoch is important, because of how the Book of Enoch frames the things which the Fallen Angels taught.

Enoch 9:6 

Thou seest what Azâzêl hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were (preserved) in heaven, which men were striving to learn.

I cannot find the copy of Enoch I had from 2005, but I do remember this verse having a connotation that man was suppose to figure out these things in their own time, and that one of the the sins of the fallen Angels was simply giving it to them rather than letting them discover it.  This puts Raphael in a precarious situation, being that in the Book of Enoch, he’s fighting against this very sin.

Now one could look above and simply say “Yeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh, but God told Raphael to scale the whiteness from Tobit’s eyes, so isn’t that giving him permission?”.  No, because in the 66 collection of Biblical literature, witchcraft and sorcery are prohibited, and Israel is even told not to let a witch live.  Furthermore, if we look at every other example in the 66 book canon, we find that if an Angel is sent to bring about a sign or wonder, it’s not to actually perform it.  But rather, to let them know that God is going to make it happen. 

Things that might be deemed “magical items” in the Old Testament, or even the things which Christ uses (such as mud to heal eyesight), are more there to encourage faith.  Moses staff, for example, was more for him than it was for anyone else.  Even in Aaron using the staff, it was to encourage them that God was working through all of it because God had been the one to say He’d use that staff to bring about signs.  Aaron’s rod was for a visual sign to Israel of his status as God’s representative.  The Bronze Serpent…well I still have problems with this one (I’m sure I’ll do a series on the 10 Commandments at some point and explain this further), but in either case it seems to have been similar to the Passover demonstration of faith.  A “work” which forced them to acknowledge their sins which brought about the snake bites in the first place; and could later be considered a foreshadowing of the way we use the Cross today.  And finally, the mud Christ uses in John 9 to heal a man’s eyesight is reminiscent of how man was formed from clay.  None of these “magical items” are animal parts though.

That said, there was a prescription for specific parts of a lamb, ram or bullock in offerings.  The caul above the liver, kidneys, specific cuts of fat, the rump, right shoulder in some combination depending on the specific animal and reason for sacrifice.  We don’t see gall (the word used here in Tobit is χολὴ ).  In all instances of the word “gall”, or it’s alternate “bile”, used in the Bible, it is considered negative.  There is no positive connotation to it.

The use of bile for healing is more reminiscent of Chinese Medicines, of which Carp bile is said to have been used for the eyes.  The linked article shows that such medicine may be traced as far back as 11th Century BCE. Knowing this, we can look at the additional information and find that trading with China picked up around the 2nd Millenium BCE. Given that Catholics place Tobit in the 8th Century BCE, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to believe the idea of using bile for eye problems came from the Chinese in this story. Of course, we may not need the Chinese. A 1550 BC Papyrus, known as “Ebers Papyrus” is a collection of Egyptian folk medicine that outlines the use of different animal parts (heart of a mesa bird, liver of a swallow, and various animal dungs and biles). As the problems of possessions arose within the ancient world, it would make sense for some sort of pharmakeia be developed to counter it.

If we take into account everything else written in the rest of the Bible, an Angel of the Lord would have no use for this kind of stuff.  And even if the credit is given to God for providing the medicine, knowing that the medicine will work every time doesn’t really bring God the glory in the long run.  It would be simple enough for me or anyone else to look at this passage and believe I don’t need God, I just need the fish bile.

To the credit of Tobit, however, I cannot find any reference prior to this writing that links a fish heart and caul to driving away evil spirits. But it seems to me that an Angel of God need only speak with the authority of God to call a demon out of someone’s life.  What use is there in using smell to drive an evil spirit away?

Chapter 6:9-12 

And when they were come near to Rages,  The angel said to the young man, Brother, to day we shall lodge with Raguel, who is thy cousin; he also hath one only daughter, named Sara; I will speak for her, that she may be given thee for a wife.  For to thee doth the right of her appertain, seeing thou only art of her kindred.  And the maid is fair and wise: now therefore hear me, and I will speak to her father; and when we return from Rages we will celebrate the marriage: for I know that Raguel cannot marry her to another according to the law of Moses, but he shall be guilty of death, because the right of inheritance doth rather appertain to thee than to any other.

If I were Tobias, I’d probably be suspicious of the fact that the stranger I found to accompany me now wants me to marry someone.  Was he coming out to find me when I found him?  That just feels strange.

Chapter 6:13-14

Then the young man answered the angel, I have heard, brother Azarias that this maid hath been given to seven men, who all died in the marriage chamber. And now I am the only son of my father, and I am afraid, lest if I go in unto her, I die, as the other before: for a wicked spirit loveth her, which hurteth no body, but those which come unto her; wherefore I also fear lest I die, and bring my father’s and my mother’s life because of me to the grave with sorrow: for they have no other son to bury them.

I can’t blame Tobias for being leery of this situation.  This tale is turning into one where Tobias has to learn how to trust that God is in control of all things.

Chapter 6:15-17

Then the angel said unto him, Dost thou not remember the precepts which thy father gave thee, that thou shouldest marry a wife of thine own kindred? wherefore hear me, O my brother; for she shall be given thee to wife; and make thou no reckoning of the evil spirit; for this same night shall she be given thee in marriage. And when thou shalt come into the marriage chamber, thou shalt take the ashes of perfume, and shalt lay upon them some of the heart and liver of the fish, and shalt make a smoke with it: And the devil shall smell it, and flee away, and never come again any more: but when thou shalt come to her, rise up both of you, and pray to God which is merciful, who will have pity on you, and save you: fear not, for she is appointed unto thee from the beginning; and thou shalt preserve her, and she shall go with thee. Moreover I suppose that she shall bear thee children. Now when Tobias had heard these things, he loved her, and his heart was effectually joined to her.

If you were Tobias, wouldn’t you be questioning “how do you know about my father’s request that I marry only of my tribe?”

But more than that, I can’t help but look at the situation and think “this isn’t placing trust in God to resolve the problem, it’s putting trust in mystical practices”.  Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that even Christ said that some exorcisms of demons requires fasting- but there is a big difference between using fish organs and depriving yourself of food in obedience to God.  Fasting is Biblical, fish organs has no Biblical evidence.

I could stop here, as I’m 95% confident there is nothing in the rest of the story that would cause me to include this book in canon, but rather as a historical curiosity of what some persons in Judaism believed; however, I am now curious just how much is right or wrong in this book.

Published by alethealeland

Author of "A Wicked & Adulterous Generation"

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