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We shall first enumerate the various Biblical persons and then treat the book of this name.


Tobias (2 Chronicles 17:8)

Hebrew tobyyahu "Yahweh is good"; Septuagint Tobias — one of the Levites whom Josaphat sent to teach in the cities of Juda. The name is omitted in the Vatican and Alexandrian codices, but given in the other important Greek manuscripts and the Vulgate.

Tobias (Zechariah 6:10)

Hebrew tobyyahu, qeri tobyyah which is the reading also of verse 14; Septuagint chresimon (verse 10), tois chresimois autes (verse 14), which infers the reading tobeha; Vulgate Tobia — one of the party of Jews who came from Babylon to Jerusalem, in the time of Zorobabel, with silver and gold wherewith to make a crown for the head of Jesus, son of Josedec.

Tobia (Ezra 2:60)

Hebrew tobyyah, "Jah is my good"; Septuagint Tobeia (Vatican), Tobias (Alexandrian), the same name occurring in Nehemiah 7:62, as Tobia and in the apocryphal III Esdras 5:37 as baenan (Vatican) or ban (Alexandrian) — one of the families that, on their return from exile, could show no written proof of their genealogy.

Tobias (Nehemiah 2:10)

An Ammonite who together with Sanaballat the Horonite opposed the fortification of Jerusalem by Nehemias (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:3; 6:17; 13:4, 8). He is called "the servant"; we can only conjecture what that means. Cheyne (Encyclopedia Biblica, s.v.) thinks that haebed, servant, is a mistake for ha arbi, the Arab.

Tobias (2 Maccabees 3:11)

The father of Hircanus.

Tobias (Tobit 1:29, and passim)

The son of the following.

Tobias the Elder

The chief character in the book that bears his name.

Book of Tobias

A canonical book of the Old Testament.


In Codex Alexandrinus, biblos logon Tobit; in Vaticanus, Tobeit; in Sinaiticus, Tobeith; in Latin manuscripts Liber Tobiae, Liber Tobit et Tobiae, Liber utriusque Tobiae. In the Vulgate and Hebrew Fagii both father and son have the same name, Tobias, tobyyah. In other texts and versions, the name of the father varies: tobi, "my good" is Jahweh; in Hebrew Munster; Tobit or Tobeit in the Septuagint; Tobis, or Tobit, standing for tobith "goodness" of Jahweh, in the Old Latin.

Text and versions

The original text, supposed to have been Hebrew, is lost; the reasons assigned for an Aramaic original warrant only a probable opinion that an Aramaic translation influenced our present Greek versions.

(1) Vulgate Versions

St. Jerome had not yet learned Aramaic, when, with the aid of a rabbi who knew both Aramaic and Hebrew, he made the Vulgate version. The rabbi expressed in Hebrew the thought of the Aramaic manuscripts and St. Jerome straightway put the same into Latin. It was the work of only a day (cf. Praef. in Tobiam). The Old Latin certainly influenced this hurried version. The Vulgate recension of the Aramaic version tells the story in the third person throughout, as do the Aramaic of Neubauer and the two Hebrew texts of Gaster (HL and HG), whereas all the other texts make Tobias speak in the first person up to 3:15. The following passages occur in the Vulgate alone: the wagging of the dog's tail (11:9); the comparison of the coating on Tobias's eye to the membrane of an egg (11:14); the wit of half an hour while the gall of the fish effected its cure (11:14); Tobias closing of the eyes of Raguel and Edna in death; also 2:12, 2:18, 3:19, 3:24, 6:16-18, 6:20-21, 8:4-5, 9:12b. Some parts of the Vulgate, such as the continence of Tobias (6:18; 7:4), were looked upon at times as Christian interpolations of Jerome until they were found in one of Gaster's Hebrew texts (HL). Lastly, the Vulgate and HL omit all mention of Ahikhar; Achior of Vulgate 11:20, is probably an addition to the text.

(2) Aramaic Versions

Besides the Aramaic version used by Jerome and now lost, there is the extant Aramaic text recently found in an Aramaic commentary on Genesis, "Midrash Bereshit Rabba". The writing of this midrash is fifteenth-century work; it contains the Book of Tobias as a haggada on the promise Jacob makes to give tithes to God (Genesis 28:22). Neubauer edited the text, "The Book of Tobit, a Chaldee Text from a unique manuscript in the Bodleian Library" (Oxford, 1878). He thinks that it is a briefer form of Jerome's Aramaic text. This is not likely. The language is at times a transliteration of Greek and gives evidence of being a transliteration of one or other of the Greek texts. It agrees with the Vulgate in that from the outset the tale of Tobias is told in the third person; otherwise it is closer to Codex Vaticanus and closer still to Codex Sinaiticus.

(3) Greek versions

There are three Greek recensions of Tobias. We shall refer to them by the numbers given to the Vatican and Sinaitic codices in Vigouroux, "La sainte bible polyglote", III (Paris, 1902).

(a) AB, the text of the Alexandrian (fifth century) and Vatican (fourth century) codices. This recension is found in many other codices of the Greek text, has been used for centuries by the Greek Church, is incorporated into the Sixtine edition of the Septuagint, and has been translated into Armenian as the authentic text of that rite. AB is preferred to the Sinaitic recension by Nöldeke, Grumm, and others, and yet rated by Nestle, Ewald, and Haris as a compendium rather than as a version of the entire original text. It condenses Edna's Prayer (x, 13), omits the blessing of Gabael (9:6), and has three or four unique readings (3:16; 14:8-10; 11:8).

(b) Aleph, the text of the Sinaitic (fourth-century) Codex. Its style is very much more diffuse than that of AB, which seems to have omitted of set purpose many stichoi of Aleph — cf. 2:12, "on the seventh of Dustros she cut the web"; 5:3, the incident of the bond divided into two parts, one for Tobias and the other for Raguel; 5:5, the long conversation between Raphael and young Tobias; 6:8; 10:10; 12:8, etc. Aleph omits 4:7-19, and 13:6b-9, of AB.

(c) The text of Codices 44, 106, 107 for 6:9-13:8.—The first portion (1:1-6:8) and the last (13:9 to end) are identical with AB; the remainder seems to be an attempt at a better version of the original text. Independent work is shown by 6:9 to 7:17; 8:1 to 12:6, is very close to the Syriac and nearer to Aleph than to AB; 12:7-13:8 resembles each text in various small details. Distinctive readings of these cursives are Edna's Gnostic prayer, "Let all the Æons praise thee" (8:15); and the fact that Anna saw the dog running before Tobias (11:5).

(d) What seems to be a third recension of the second chapter is presented in Grenfell and Hunt, "Oxyrhyneus Papyri" (Oxford, 1911), part viii. The text differs from both AB and Aleph and consequently the Greek cursives.

(4) Old Latin Versions

Previous to the Latin Vulgate translation of the Aramaic recension (see above) there existed at least three Old Latin versions of a Greek text which was substantially Aleph; (a) the recension of Codex Regius Parisiensis 3654 and Codex 4 of the Library of St-Germain; (b) the recension of Cod. Vat. 7, containing 1-6:12; (c) the recension of the "Speculum" of St. Augustine.

(5) Syriac Version

Down to 7:9, it is a translation of AB; thereafter, it agrees with the Greek cursive text, save that 13:9-18, is omitted. This second part is clearly a second recension; its proper names are not spelled as in the first part. Ahikhar (14:10) is Achior (2:10); 'Edna (7:14) is 'Edna (7:2) 'Arag (9:2) is Raga (4:1, 4:20).

(6) Hebrew Versions

There are four Hebrew versions of this deuterocanonical story:

(a) HL, Hebrew Londinii, a thirteenth-century manuscript, found by Gaster in the British Museum, and translated by him in the "Proceedings of the Soc. of the Bibl. Archaeology" (xvii and xx). Besides a cento of Scriptural exhortations, this manuscript contains the narrative portion of Tobias, translated, Gaster thinks, from a text that stood in closest relation to the Aramaic used by St. Jerome. It is just possible, though not in the least probable, that the thirteenth-century Jewish author of HL made use of the Vulgate.

(c) HG, Hebrew Gasteri, a text copied by Gaster from a midrash on the Pentateuch and published in the "Proc. of the Soc. of Bib. Arch." (xix). This manuscript, now lost, agreed with the Aramaic of Neubauer and was in a compact style like that of the Vulgate recension.

(c) HF, Hebrew Fagii, a very free translation of AB, done in the twelfth century by a Jewish scholar: it is found in Walton's "Polyglot".

(d) HM, Hebrew Munsteri, published by Munster in Basle A.D. 1542, found in Walton's "Polyglot". This text agrees as a rule with Neubauer's Aramaic, even when the latter is at variance with AB. It is, according to Ginsburg, of fifth-century origin. The Hebrew versions together with the Aramaic omit reference to the dog, which plays a prominent part in the other versions.

The foregoing review of the various and diverse recensions of the Book of Tobias shows how hard it would be to reconstruct the original text and how easily textual errors may have crept into our Vulgate or the Aramaic on which it depends.


Unless otherwise stated, these references are to the Vulgate recension, whereof the Douay is a translation. The story naturally divides itself into two parts:

(1) The fidelity of Tobias the elder and of Sara to the Lord (1:1-3:25)

(2) The fidelity of the Lord to Tobias and to Sara through the ministrations of the angel Raphael (4:1-12:22).


To show that God is faithful to those that are faithful to Him is evidently the chief purpose of the book, Neubauer (op. cit., p. xvi) makes out the burial of the dead to be the chief lesson; but the lesson of almsgiving is more prominent. Ewald, "Gesch. des Volkes Israel", IV, 233, sets fidelity to the Mosaic code as the main drift of the author, who writes for Jews of the Dispersion; but the book is meant for all Jews, and clearly inculcates for them many secondary lessons and one that is fundamental to the rest — God is true to those who are true to Him.


(1) In Judaism

The Book of Tobias is deuterocanonical, i.e. contained not in the Canon of Palestine but in that of Alexandria. That the Jews of the Dispersion accepted the book as canonical Scripture is clear from its place in the Septuagint. That the Palestinian Jews reverenced Tobias as a sacred book may be argued from the existence of the Aramaic translation used by St. Jerome and that published by Neubauer, as also from the four extant Hebrew translators. Then, most of these Semitic version were found as Midrashim, or hagganda, of the Pentateuch.

(2) Among Christians

Despite the rejection of Tobias from the Protestant Canon, its place in the Christian Canon of Holy Writ is undoubted. The Catholic Church has ever esteemed it as inspired.

Against the canonicity of Tobias are urged several rather trivial objections which would at first sight seem to impugn the inspiration of the narrative.

(a) Raphael told an untruth when he said he was "Azarias the son of the great Ananias" (5:18). There is no untruth in this. The angel was in appearance just what he said he was. Besides, he may have meant by azaryah, "the healer of Jah"; and by ananyah, "the goodness of Jah". In this event he only told the young Tobias that he was God's helper and the offspring of the great goodness of God; in this there would be no falsehood.

(b) A second objection is that the angelology of Tobias is taken over from that of the Avesta either directly by Iranian influence or indirectly by the inroad of Syriac or Grecian folk-lore. For Raphael says: "I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord" (12:15). These seven are the Amesha Spentas of Zoroastrianism: cf. Fritzsche, "Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apocr.", II (Leipzig, 1853), 61. The answer is that the reading seven is doubtful; it is in Aleph, AB, Old Latin, and Vulgate; it is wanting in the Greek cursive text, Syriac, and HM. Still, admitting the reading of the Vulgate, the Amesha Spentas have infiltrated into Avestic religion from the seven Angels of Hebraistic Revelation and not vice versa. Moreover, there are not seven Amesha Spentas in the angelology of the Avesta, but only six. They are subordinated to Ahura Mazda, the first principle of good. True, he is, at times, grouped with the six lower spirits as seven Amesha Spentas; but in this grouping we have not by any means seven angels standing before the Deity.

Historical worth

(1) To Protestants

The destructive criticism which, among Protestants, has striven to do away with the canonical books of the Old Testament have quite naturally had no respect for those books the critics call apocryphal. The Book of Tobias is to them no more than are the Testament of Job, the Book of Jubilees, and the story of Ahikhar. From the standpoint of historical criticism it is to be grouped with these three apocryphal (J.T. Marshall, Principal of the Baptist College, Manchester, in Hasting's "Dict. of the Bible", s.v.). Simrock in "Der gute Gerhard und die dankbaren Todten" (Bonn, 1858) reduces the story to the folk-lore theme of the gratitude of the departed spirit; the yarn is spun out of this slim thread of fancy that the souls of the dead, whose remains Tobias buried, did not forget his benevolence. Erbt (Encycl. Biblica, s.v.) finds traces of Iranian legend in the name of the demon Asmodeus (Tobit 3:8) which is the Persian Aeshma daeva; as also in the dog — "with the Persians a certain power over evil spirits was assigned to the dog." And again: "the Jewish nation takes up a foreign legend, goes on repeating it until it has got it into fixed oral form, in order next to pass it on to some story-writer who is able to shape it into an edifying household tale, capable of ministering comfort to many succeeding generations." Moulton, "The Iranian background of Tobit" (Expository Time, 1900, p. 257), considers the book to be Median folk-lore, in which the Semitic and Iranian elements meet.

On the Ahikhar story, cf. "The Story of Ahikhar from the Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Greek, and Slavonic versions" by Conybeare, Harris, and Mrs. Smith, a work which will be brought back to 407 B.C. in a new edition soon to appear (Expositor, March 1912, p. 212).

(2) To Catholics

Until recently there never was question among Catholics in regard to the historicity of Tobias. It was among the historical books of the Old Testament, the Fathers had always referred to both elder and younger Tobias and to the other personages of the narratives as to facts and not to fancies. The stories of almsgiving, burial of the dead, angelophany, exorcism, marriage of Sara with Tobias the younger, cure of the elder Tobias — all these incidents were taken for granted as fact-narrative; nor was there ever any question of likening them to the tales of "The Arabian Nights" and the "Fables of Æsop". Jahn, "Introductio in libros sacros", 2nd ed. (Vienna, 1814), 452, gives the stock objections to the historicity of Tobias, and suggests that either the entire composition is a parable to teach that the prayers of the upright are heard or at most only the main outline is fact-narrative. His book was put on the Index (26 Aug., 1822). Anton Scholz, "Die heilige Schrift", II, iii, p. 12, and Movers in "Kirchenlexicon" (first ed., I, p. 481) hold that Tobias is a poetic fiction. Cosquin, in "Revue biblique" (1899, pp. 50-82), tries to show that the sacred writer of Tobias had before his eyes a form of the Ahikhar story and worked it over rather freely as a vehicle to carry the inspired thought of the moral he wished to convey to his readers. Barry, "The Tradition of Scripture" (New York, 1906), p. 128, says: "Its relation to other stories, such as The Grateful Dead and the tale of Ahichar, has been used in illustration of the romantic nature ascribed to it by modern readers; so, too, the symbolical names of its personages, and the borrowings, as they say, from Persian mythology of Asmodeus, etc." Gigot, "Special introduction to the study of the Old Testament", I (New York, 1901), 343-7, gives at length the arguments in favour of the non-historical character of the book and attempts no refutation of the same.

With these and a few other exceptions, Catholic exegetes are unanimous in clearly defending the historicity of Tobias. Cf. Welte in "Kirchenlexikon" (first ed., s.v. Tobias); Reusch, "Das Buch Tobias", p. vi; Vigouroux, "Manuel biblique", II (Paris, 1883), 134; Cornely, "Introd. in utriusque testamenti libros sacros", II (Paris, 1887), i, 378; Danko, "Hist. revelationis v.t.", 369; Haneburg, "Gesch. der bibl. Offenbarung" (3rd ed., Ratisbon, 1863), 489; Kaulen, "Einleitung in die heilige Schrift" (Freiburg, 1890), 215; Zschokke, "Hist. sacra A.T.", 245; Seisenberger, "Practical Handbook for the Study of the Bible" (New York, 1911), 343. This almost unanimity among Catholic exegetes is quite in keeping with the decision of the Biblical Commission (23 June, 1905). By this Decree Catholics are forbidden to hold that a book of the Holy Writ, which has generally been looked upon as historical, is either entirely or in part not history properly so called, unless it be proven by solid arguments that the sacred writer did not wish to write history; and the solidity of the arguments against the historicity of an historical book of the Bible we are not to admit either readily or rashly. Now the arguments against the historical worth of Tobias are not at all solid; they are mere conjectures, which it would be most rash to admit. We shall examine some of these conjectures.

(a) The Ahikhar story is not in the Vulgate at all. As it is in AB, Aleph, and the Old Latin, St. Jerome undoubtedly knew it. Why did he follow the Aramaic text to the exclusion of this episode? He may have looked upon it as an interpolation, which was not written by the inspired author. Even though it were not an interpolation, the Ahikhar episode of Tobias has not been proven to be a legend drawn from a non-canonical source.

(b) The angelic apparition and all incidents connected therewith are no more difficult to explain than the angelophanies of Genesis 18:19 and Acts 12:6.

(c) The demonology is not unlike to that of the New Testament. The name "Asmodeus" need not be of Iranian origin; but may just as readily be explained as Semitic. The Aramaic word ashmeday is cognate with the Hebrew hashmed, "destruction". And even though it be a mutilated form of some Iranian ancestor of the Persian Aeshma daeva, what more natural than a Median name for a demon whose obsession was accomplished upon Median soil? The slaying of the seven husbands was allowed by God in punishment of their lust (Vulgate, v. 16); it is the youth Tobias, not the sacred writer, that suggests (according to AB, Aleph, and Old Latin) the demon's lust as the motive of his killing all rivals. The binding of the devil in the desert of Upper Egypt, the farthest end of the then known world (8:3), has the same figurative meaning as the binding of Satan for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2).

(d) The unlikelihood of the many coincidences in the Book of Tobias is mere conjecture (cf. Gigot, op. cit., 345). Divine Providence may have brought about these siimilarities of incident, with a view to the use of them in an inspired book.

(e) Certain historical difficulties are due to the very imperfect condition in which the text has reached us.


It is likely that the elder Tobias wrote at least that part of the original work in which he uses the first person singular, cf. 1:1-3:6, in all texts except the Vulgate and Aramaic. As the entire narrative is historical, this part is probably autobiographical. After revealing his angelic nature, Raphael bade both father and son to tell all the wonders that God had done them (Vulgate, 12:20) and to write in a book all the incidents of his stay with them (cf. same verse in AB, Aleph, Old Latin, HF, and HM). If we accept the story as fact-narrative, we naturally conclude that it was written originally during the Babylonian Exile, in the early portion of the seventh century B.C.; and that all save the last chapter was the work of the elder and younger Tobias. Almost all Protestant scholars consider the book post-Exilic. Ewald assigns it to 350 B.C.; Hgen, the bulk to 280 B.C.; Gratz, to A.D. 130; Kohut, to A.D. 226.


The introductions of CORNELY, KAULEN, DANKO, GIGOT, SEISENBERGER. Although the Fathers use Tobias, only BEDE (P.L., XCI, 923-38) and WALAFRID STRABO (P.L., CXIII, 725) have left us commentaries thereon. During the Middle Ages, HUGH OF ST. VICTOR, Allegoriarum in Vetus Testamentum, IX (P.L., CLXXV, 725), and NICHOLAS OF LYRA, DENIS THE CARTHUSIAN, HUGH DE S. CARO, in their commentaries on all Scripture, interpreted the Book of Tobias. Later Commentators are SERRARI (Monza, 1599); SANCTIUS (Lyons, 1628); MAUSCHBERGER (Olmutz, 1758); JUSTINIANI (Rome, 1620); DE CELADA (Lyons, 1644); DREXEL (Antwerp, 1652); NEUVILLE (Paris, 1723); GUTBERLET (Munster, 1854); REUSCH (Freiburg, 1857); GILLET DE MOOR, Tobie et Akhiahar (Louvain, 1902); VETTER, Das Buch Tobias und die Achikar-Sage in Theol. Quartalschrift (Tübingen, 1904). The principal Protestant authorities have been cited in the body of the article.

About this page

APA citation. Drum, W. (1912). Tobias. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Drum, Walter. "Tobias." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Barrett. Dedicated to Sr. Anne Marie.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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