The Apocrypha and an Introduction to the Book of Tobit

The Apocrypha and an Introduction to the Book of Tobit

 If you are Torah Observant or a Hebrew you have probably concluded that the mainstream Christian Church has failed to discuss many things about the Bible – whether consciously or not. If you are at the point of keeping Shabbat, and the High Holidays you probably know that there are many things that you must find out on your own – by the help of the Holy Spirit. I believe the Apocrypha is one such thing. 

What is the Apocrypha?

The Apocrypha is a set of ancient writings considered hidden or secret. The text has been considered to be too sacred and secret to be available for everyone. The Apocrypha is a body of writings that are written by unknown authorship or are of doubtful origin. These books were later thought to be of questionable value to the Church by the early church fathers and the Catholic church. The name ‘Apocrypha’’ connotes something that is false, spurious, bad or are heretical writings (Wikipedia “Apocrypha“). 

Upon researching the topic of the Apocrypha, so many articles pop up telling us that we shouldn’t read it. That the books are of unknown authorship, so do not read it, they contradict the Bible, etc. But if some of these books were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls and our forefathers valued them so much to hide them with the rest of the Bible, why should we be forbidden to look at them? Why should we be ridiculed because we want to know more about them? 

I believe we should be able to read these books and I don’t think that “questionable” authorship should be enough for us to not at least look at them. I think the real question is who is saying they are questionable and should we believe those people over our forefathers who valued these books for thousands of years?

The books of the Apocrypha include

Tobit

Judith

Wisdom

Sirach

Baruch

Epistle of Jeremy

Prayer of Azarias

Susanna

Bel and the Dragon

I Maccabees

II Maccabees

III Maccabees

IV Maccabees

I Esdras

II Esdras

Prayer of Manasses

An Introduction to the Book of Tobit

The book of Tobit is the first book of the Apocrypha in the Septuagint translation of the Bible. This is the translation that Jesus, the disciples/ New Testament writers, as well as, the early church read from. The book of Tobit was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls and is considered scripture by the Catholic and Orthodox churches through several church councils – the Council of Rome (382), the Council of Hippo (393), the Council of Carthage (397 and 417), the Council of Florence (1442) and the Council of Trent (1546) as part of the Counter-Reformation against Martin Luther (Dead Sea Scrolls “Archives“).

Church councils were a time when Catholic church leaders would gather and reaffirm all of their core beliefs. As we see above, the Book of the Tobit was seen as an important book to the Catholic Church. However, many times church councils were held as a way to attack a certain theological movement that was gaining traction, like in the case of the Reformation. 

Early church fathers of the first century believed that the Book of Tobit was part of the Old Testament canon, while others believed that it was just a good book to read (Wikipedia “Tobit“). 

The Book of Tobit

The Book of Tobit tells the story of a righteous Hebrew named Tobit who was from the tribe of Naphtali. He was carried away captive to Ninevah by Enemessar or Shalmaneser king of the Assyrians. He was a young man when king Jeroboam changed the feast days and caused Israel to worship in Samaria instead of Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:26 – 33). Tobit, however, was raised to follow the commandments of the Lord by his grandmother Deborah. He would return to Jerusalem to worship and he followed the laws according to the book of Moses. 

When he and his wife Anna and son Tobias were carried captive to Ninevah, he made sure to keep himself pure in the Gentile land. He was known for caring and giving to the poor, for being righteous and loving, and for following after the ways of the Lord. He had favor with Enemessar King of the Assyrians and became the king’s purveyor – one who sells or deals in particular goods. 

King Enemessar dies and his son Sennacherib becomes king. Tobit falls out of favor with King Sennacherib when it was discovered that Tobit had been illegally burying people who were killed by the king. And as a result, Tobit lost everything. 

Later king Sennacherib is killed by his sons, and another of his sons becomes king. We see Tobit returning to Ninevah to celebrate Shavuot/ The Feast of Pentecost with his family. However, he cannot enjoy the feast day because a Hebrew was found strangled in the marketplace. Tobit is heavy-hearted and remembers the prophecy of the Prophet Amos that said the feast days would be turned into mourning and mirth into lamentation (Amos 8: 10). In his grief and weariness, Tobit is blinded by whiteness when sparrows’ dung enters his eyes. 

A Prayer of Tobit

Tobit prays to the Lord for mercy for his sins and the sins of his fathers which caused them to be carried away captive. 

Tobit 3: 2 – 5 

2 O Lord, thou art just, and all thy works and all thy ways are mercy and truth, and thou judgest truly and justly for ever. 3 Remember me, and look on me, punish me not for my sins and ignorances, and the sins of my fathers, who have sinned before thee: 4 For they obeyed not thy commandments: wherefore thou hast delivered us for a spoil, and unto captivity, and unto death, and for a proverb of reproach to all the nations among whom we are dispersed. 5 And now thy judgments are many and true: deal with me according to my sins and my fathers’: because we have not kept thy commandments, neither have we walked in truth before thee.”

While Tobit prays, a young woman named Sara is also praying to the Lord. Sara the daughter of Raguel is a near relative to Tobit. She had been married to seven husbands, but before they slept together the evil spirit in her- Asmodeus killed them. She is so distraught about this that she prays to the Lord. 

Tobit 3: 11 – 15

11 Then she prayed toward the window, and said, Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and thine holy and glorious name is blessed and honorable for ever: let all thy works praise thee for ever. 12 And now, O Lord, I set I mine eyes and my face toward thee, 13 And say, Take me out of the earth, that I may hear no more the reproach. 14 Thou knowest, Lord that I am pure from all sin with man, 15 And that I never polluted my name, nor the name of my father, in the land of my captivity: I am the only daughter of my father, neither hath he any child to be his heir, neither any near kinsman, nor any son of his alive, to whom I may keep myself for a wife: my seven husbands are already dead; and why should I live? But if it please not thee that I should die, command some regard to be had of me, and pity taken of me, that I hear no more reproach.”

The angel Raphael was sent by the Lord to heal the whiteness in Tobit’s eyes, to give Sara to Tobias for a wife, and to bind the evil spirit Asmodeus.

Tobias’ Journey to the City of Media

Tobit remembers that Gabael in the city of Media owed him money. He decides to send his Tobias to collect it for him. While Tobias prepares for his journey, Tobit gives him some final instructions. Tobit instructs Tobias to honor his mother, to follow after the commandments of the Lord all the days of life, to live righteously, and give to the poor. The Angel Raphael was hired by Tobit to accompany Tobias, but no one knew he was an angel but he was seen as a regular man. 

While on their journey, at the river Tigris, Raphael and Tobias preserve the heart, liver, and gall of a fish that had tried to eat Tobias. Raphael explained that these fish parts would be helpful for later on in their journey. 

They decided to stay the night at the house of Raguel the father of Sara, who was a near relative. The angel Raphael arranges with Sara’s father that Tobias and Sara would be married, according to the Law of Moses since they are near relatives. That same night they were married and Tobias followed the instructions of Raphael and used the heart and liver of the fish to create smoke which caused the evil spirit to leave Sara. Tobias and Sara pray together for mercy from the Lord so that he would not die and they would be able to have a long life together. 

Tobit 8: 5 – 9

5 Then began Tobias to say, Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed is thy holy and glorious name forever, let the heavens bless thee, and all thy creatures. 6 Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for an helper and stay: of them came mankind: thou has said, It is not good that man should be alone, let us make unto him aid like unto himself. 7 And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lush but uprightly: therefore mercifully ordain that we may become aged together. 8 And she said with him, Amen. 9 So they slept both that night…”

Everyone was so overjoyed that Tobias survived the marriage night that they held a wedding feast for fourteen days.

During the wedding feast, Raphael travels a little further to collect the money from Tobit’s friend. Raguel gives Tobias and Sara half of his goods, servants, cattle, and money and Tobias, Sara, and Raphael return to Tobit after the wedding feast. 

Tobit’s Eyes are healed and a Prayer of Praise

Tobias, upon greeting his father, rubbed the gall of the fish on Tobit’s eyes and he was healed of the whiteness in his eyes. Raphael then reveals that he was an angel and that he had been helping them even before this journey and that they should praise and give thanks to God. He also instructed them to write all the things that happened in a book. 

Tobit praised the Lord: Tobit 13:6 

6 If ye turn to him with your whole heart, and with your whole mind, and deal uprightly before him, then will he turn unto you, and will not hide his face from you. Therefore see what he will do with you, and confess him with your whole mouth, and praise the Lord of might, and extol the everlasting King. In the Land of my captivity do I praise him, and declare his might and majesty to a sinful nation. O ye sinners, turn and do justice before him: who can tell if he will accept you, and have mercy on you?”

Prophecy Fulfilled

When Tobit was very old he told his son and his grandsons to leave Ninevah because Tobit believed the prophet Jonah concerning the impending destruction of the city of Ninevah (Books of Jonah and Nahum). He instructed them to move to the city of Media instead. He again commanded Tobias to keep the law and the commandments of the Lord. Tobit told Tobias to remember how Haman was punished for his deeds and how King Manasseh was forgiven and escaped death for his deeds, as well as, reminding him to keep giving to the poor and living righteously. 

The book of Tobit ends with Tobias burying his parents and in-laws. We see him following the instructions of his father by moving his family to the city of Media. He lives honorably and he rejoiced when the prophecy of the prophet Jonah had come to past concerning the destruction of Ninevah. Tobias later dies at 127 years old. 

Vintage Books for The Book of Tobit - By Zipporah Blog
Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

The Book of Tobit tells the wonderful story of the life of a righteous man and how God helped him and honored him for living righteously. We see Tobit again and again turning to the Lord when he was in need as well as rejoicing and praising the Lord when the Lord heard his prayers. 

I believe the Book of Tobit is a wonderful book to read, as well as, the entire Apocrypha alongside your daily devotions. The books of the Apocrypha attest to the prophecies of the Old Testament writers and established historical events. They chronicle the faithfulness of God and the living out of his commandments by righteous people. For these reasons and more, I believe that we should be able to read these books if we decide to, and not be scared into believing they are terrible because we might not know the exact authorship of them. Whether scripture or not, they still tell the story of our forefathers, our history, and the faithfulness of God towards his people. Shalom!

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