Tobit: Keep it or Axe it?

After having read the Book of Tobit, I’ve had some time to think about what I’ve looked at.  I know I said I was leaning towards it being a work of fiction, but now it’s got me wondering.  One of the things I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the story of the Bronze Serpent.  At Mt. Sinai, Moses tells the people “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”  (Exodus 20:4), yet God directs him to fashion a bronze serpent for everyone to look upon.  This eventually leads to the people worshipping it, and Hezakiah has to break it in half to get people to understand it’s taking the place of God.  We also see that God directs Israel to craft the Ark of the Covenant with images from heaven adorned on top.  Both go against the second commandment, and they are both done in Moses’ life after the commandment is given.  So I’m going to do one more test before I make a decision: Examine the NT references to Tobit.

After looking over the whole of the New Testament, only 4 references come up.  This includes Jude, James and Paul’s works which were excluded from the list I did on “Axed Canon”.

Matt.. 7:12 Tobit 4:15 
Rev. 8:3-4 Tobit 12:12,15
Rev. 21:19Tobit 13:17
Rev. 19:1Tobit 13:18

Matthew 7:12

 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Tobit 4:15  

Do that to no man which thou hatest: drink not wine to make thee drunken: neither let drunkenness go with thee in thy journey.

I almost placed this one in the “iffy” section because it’s loose.  After poking around a bit, though, it seems I can actually mark this off as not having anything to do with Tobit.  Both of these verses are informed by the Old Testament.  You can see Christ’s words reflected in Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Revelation 8:3-4 T

hen another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

Tobit 12:12,15  

Now therefore, when thou didst pray, and Sara thy daughter in law, I did bring the remembrance of your prayers before the Holy One: and when thou didst bury the dead, I was with thee likewise… I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.

1 Enoch also tells us that the Angels offer up prayers for men on earth.  It may not seem like an important point, since 1 Enoch is considered a false document (and just for the record, I do not believe it should be counted as canonical; an interesting read, but not inspired), but 1 Enoch is directly quoted in Jude 1:14-15.  Which shows that it had a fair amount of popularity and the imagery would be recognizable by people in the early church.

1 Enoch 39:5

Here mine eyes saw their dwellings with His righteous angels, And their resting-places with the holy. And they petitioned and interceded and prayed for the children of men, And righteousness flowed before them as water, And mercy like dew upon the earth: Thus it is amongst them for ever and ever.

But this isn’t the only point to make.  Another point is that there is a strong belief that what is reflected here on earth, is also replicated in heaven.  And to this end, we can see that the scenery inside of the Heavenly Temple looks an awful lot like the Earthly Temple. 

So in further consideration of this, it is possible that Tobit confirms the scenery Revelation, but it is equally plausible that a reference to 1 Enoch has a stronger connection to the Revelation verses.

Revelation 21:19

The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,

Tobit 13:17

And the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl and carbuncle and stones of Ophir. 

Chapter 13 is a Tobit are from a prayer, which accounts what God has done and will do.  In Isaiah 54:11-12 we read:

O you afflicted one, Tossed with tempest, and not comforted, Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, And lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, Your gates of crystal, And all your walls of precious stones.  All your children shall be taught by the Lord, And great shall be the peace of your children.

Because this is a prayer, and Tobit is not marked as a Prophet, it is more likely that he was recalling the words of Isaiah rather than being the catalyst to affirm Revelation.

Revelation 19:1

After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!

Tobit 13:18

And all her streets shall say, Alleluia; and they shall praise him, saying, Blessed be God, which hath extolled it for ever.

In examining this one, I realize I probably should have combed through my “positive” list with a more keen eye.  Though, in my defense I simply compared the verses without any knowledge of their context.  One could easily say that combing through these more intricately after I read the books would have been inevitable even if I hadn’t thought of it until writing this entry.  Though, if I had actually paid attention to these two verses, I’d have realized they are far too generic to be considered a reference, and would have written it into the “Iffy” box originally.  Though, now that I have  taken into account the context, I can say confidently that these are talking about two different groups anyway.  Revelation talks about Heaven’s voices singing Alleluia, whereas Tobit is referring to Jerusalem on Earth.

I started the study into Tobit with the assumption that the council which established the Old Testament Canon was actually paying attention to what they were and were not letting in.  But in knowing that Tobit was allowed to be part of the canon, even if it wasn’t considered as valuable as other books in the Bible, has really discouraged me.  Even if it wasn’t regulated to the same importance of better works (such as the first five books) but rather “ecclesiastic”, the allowance for anti-Judaism themes should have disqualified it from the get-go. This book is of historical interest, in that it tells us things about what the author and people of the author’s time believed. And there may even be some things that can still be gained from knowing the author’s beliefs in parallel to modern traditions. But the value ends there.

Sadly…I guess this really was just an ancient version of “Touched by an Angel”. Axe it.

I think I’ll take on Baruch next.

Published by alethealeland

Author of "A Wicked & Adulterous Generation"

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