Thinking Out Loud

July 15, 2010

Currently Reading: The Book of Tobit

The Old Testament deuterocanonical book of Tobit is fourteen short chapters and may be read in under 15 minutes.   I’d read a number of these books a couple of decades ago, but took advantage of not being the driver on a short car trip to read this one again.

Most of the story centers on Tobit’s son Tobiah and his soon-to-be wife Sarah, and an incognito angel named Raphael.    Tobiah is cooling his feet in a stream when a fish grabs hold of one foot and the angel advises him not to discard the fish because cooking some of the organs can expel demons and heal eye cataracts, which is key to the resolution of the plot.

This aspect of the story seemed to me to be the one which sets Tobit apart from other O. T. books which are part of the 66-book Protestant canon.   But then I thought about that other fish story, the book of Jonah with its regurgitated prophet, and wondered how we would react to that if it were not part of our heritage (or how the unchurched react to the creation narrative with its talking snake and seemingly magic tree.)

Tobit contains a couple of Psalm-like chapters of worship to God’s greatness and provision.   There is nothing in the story which directly conflicts with Protestant belief and it is historically and geographically rooted enough to suggest that the characters are real.    God’s dealings with Israel in the O.T. were both weird and wonderful by contemporary standards, and I haven’t studied enough on this book to dare to suggest it never happened.

As Tobit was part of the original 1611 King James Version, you can read that online here.    If you’re curious however, I’d prefer to recommend reading it as I did in the New American Bible.   It’s also in the Catholic NRSV and Catholic Good News Bible.

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