You Get the Cash, I’ll Stay and Party
Tobias and Sarah celebrate, Raphael retrieves Tobit’s money, and Tobit and Anna are back home worried sick! Today we cover Tobit 8.19–10.13 and discuss the role of women in the book.
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The role of women in Tobit
People in our day are far more inclined toward egalitarian, or even feminism, than the ancient readers of the Bible. As a result, some modern readers find themselves recoiling at the role of women in the Bible. Tobit is definitely a book of its time—of its culture—but it does have some very positive things to say in its depiction of women.
First, there’s the seeming equality possessed by Sarah and Tobit before the throne of God. In chapter three, they both offer their miserable states to God and he hears and answers. But the simultaneity—not only of their prayers, but of the answers—reveals a parity of God’s mercy. His kindness goes in equal measure to them both. This is not unique to Tobit but, rather, extends throughout the entire Scripture; witness God’s care of Hagar in Genesis.
The women in the story are also portrayed in positive terms. As we read in chapter one, Tobit learned the faith from his grandmother, Deborah. That instantly takes us to Paul’s comments to Timothy about learning the faith from his mother and grandmother:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. . . . [C]ontinue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1.5; 3.14–15)
Tobit and Timothy both were dependent on the faith of older women in their lives for the acquisition of the faith.
While some of the commentators have been less than charitable toward Tobit’s wife, Anna, she’s depicted positively as well. Not only does she step up to serve the family when needed, she bears ever-mounting levels of grief with grace. The author treats her with great tenderness as she waits for her son’s return and weeps in his absence. And unlike Tobit, she seems to pass Raphael’s test at the first go—she’s more concerned with the welfare of her son than the money he’s gone to retrieve. (For more on this, see our guide to Episode 5.)
In Frederick Buechner’s novelization of the story, On the Road with the Archangel, he imagines Edna as an unbearable scold. But there’s no indication of that in the book itself. She’s lively and engaged and passionately concerned about her daughter. When Tobias leaves with Sarah she specifically admonishes him to do nothing to grieve her. We can take it like the Silver Rule—a negative statement of a positive value (see Episode 4). Edna’s saying, “You better love her well, buddy.” For more on Edna, see the article linked below at the end of the guide.
And that brings us to Sarah herself. While she says little in the story itself, her prayer is heartfelt and the author presents her with great sympathy. (Something Buechner doesn’t really do; he actually imagines she brought her troubles on herself.)
While there’s nothing revolutionary here, Tobit seems to elevate the status of women somewhat. As biblical scholar David deSilva says,
The book of Tobit does at least acknowledge the feelings, contributions, and roles of women in the families of which they constitute so important a part and even promotes a positive view of marriage as a partnership that is not to make the spouse the vehicle for sexual gratification or to become grievous for the woman.1
The Book of Tobit in that way presents a trajectory toward a greater sense of equality and appreciation of women, and that trajectory was seized upon by later readers. In one medieval Jewish copy of Tobit, for instance, Sarah offers an extra prayer highlighting the deeds of several other biblical heroines.2
Of course, it’s for Sarah’s own prayers and holy life amid great difficulty that she’s become a biblical heroine herself. And that’s where we resume the story; she has now come through the worst of her ordeal.
Celebration and a bonus! (Tobit 8.19–21)
Now it’s time to party. Plans are made for a two-week celebration. Traditionally, the celebration period for a marriage was one week. But when it takes eight grooms for one to finally stick, a double header is in order.
We’re accustomed to asceticism in the Orthodox tradition, but we’re also commanded to feast; fasting is a no-no during Bright Week, for instance. We can find the same insistence on feasting in Old Testament. While talking about tithes, Deuteronomy directs some of the money be used to celebrate:
Spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (14.26 ESV)
Tobias is eager get to Rages and retrieve his father’s money, but Raguel insists he stay for the full two weeks. “You shall cheer up my daughter,” he says in one of the great understatements of the Bible, “who has been depressed.”3
But Raguel is also sensitive to Tobias’s mission and adds something that relieves a bit of the pressure. As his new son in law, Raguel says, Tobias is now his heir. What’s more, Raguel insists that he takes half of the inheritance now to take home with him to Tobit. He will take possession of the remainder when Raguel and Edna die. “I am your father and Edna is your mother and we belong to you as well as to your wife now and forever,” says Raguel. “Take courage, my child.”
Tobit’s use in weddings
We’ve talked several times on the show about the use of Tobit by various Christian traditions in wedding services. Even the Amish, who find it in Luther’s Bible, use it.4
Anglicans also use Tobit as a reading in wedding services and were once even more favorably inclined toward the book than today. Here’s an extract from the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, archaic spellings and all:
O GOD of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, blesse these thy servauntes, and sowe the seede of eternal life in their mindes, that whatsoever in thy holy woorde they shall profitablye learne: they may in dede fulfill the same. Looke, O Lord, mercifully upon them from heaven, and blesse them: And as thou diddest sende thy Aungell Raphaell to Thobie [Tobias], and Sara, the daughter of Raguel, to their great comfort; so vouchsafe to send thy blessyng upon these thy servauntes, that thei obeyng thy wil, and alwaye beyng in safetie under thy proteccion: may abyde in thy love unto theyr lyves ende: throughe Jesu Christe our Lorde. Amen.
Under Cranmer, it was revised in 1552 to the following:
And as thou didst send thy blessing upon Abraham and Sarah, to their great comfort. . . .
It’s a reasonable edit. Who doesn’t love Abraham? But the revision represents one of the many lamentable tradeoffs of the period, as books like Tobit came to be regarded by some as Apocrypha—listed among the “bad” books of the Bible. (See the guide to Episode 6 for a breakdown of the relevant terms and history.)
Get the money! (Tobit 9.1–6)
After agreeing to stay and celebrate, Tobias instructs Raphael to travel the rest of the way to Rages on his behalf and bring back his father’s money. He also asks that Raphael bring back Gabael, the man who currently has Tobit’s talents, to celebrate with him.
The geography and timeline are a little goofy here. The celebration will take two weeks. But by the map so will the journey—at least. If we’re sticklers for details, even the extended party will be over by the time they return. Thankfully, we’re not. And the insistence on bringing back Gabael reveals the larger, inclusive nature of the celebration; even distant connections are part of the community.
So Raphael does exactly as directed. And the journey to Rages indeed appears to happen in a couple days, there and back. Along with Gabael, Raphael brings the long-sought-after money: ten talents of silver. So in addition to the unexpected inheritance, Tobias now has his father’s money, too.
The narrator has so far presented the journey to Ecbatana and Rages happening quickly, but that leads to a little narrative confusion because Tobias frets about the all time they’ve been away. He tells Raphael that his father must be back home worried sick, counting the days; any additional delays would be upsetting to him.
And indeed Tobit is home and fretting away.
Seesaw of anxiety (Tobit 10.1–7)
While Tobias parties in Ecbatana, the scene shifts back to Nineveh where Tobit anxiously counts the days. He contemplates all the ways that the venture may have gone south. “Is it possible that he has been detained?” Tobit worries. “Or that Gabael has died, and there is no one to give him the money?”
Meanwhile, Anna fears the worst. “My child has perished and is no longer among the living. . . . Woe to me, my child, the light of my eyes, that I let you make the journey.”
These first verses of chapter ten are a bobbing seesaw of anxiety. But Tobit tries keeping his hopes up. “Probably something unexpected has happened there,” he says. He reassures Anna that Tobias is in good hands and will return soon. “Be quiet and stop worrying, my dear,” says Tobit.
But Anna really isn’t buying it, and the domestic squabbling is a little amusing. “Be quiet yourself!” she snaps. She is convinced Tobias is dead.
A touching moment shows up here as well. The narrator says Anna would run to the road and wait all day, waiting for his return. When he wouldn’t come back, she would come home and weep the entire night.
Homeward bound (Tobit 10.7–13)
The fourteen days of celebration finally come to a close, and since Tobias now has the money, there’s no reason to wait any longer. He’s eager to return because he knows his parents will be tied up in knots worrying about him.
Tobias talks to Raguel about going back. His father in law tries to convince him to stay, but Tobias pleads with Raguel to let him go. Raguel relents and sends him back to Nineveh with half of his property—including slaves, livestock, clothing, money, and household items. Somehow they pack it all up and start for home.
Raguel bids them all goodbye. “Farewell, my child,” he says; “have a safe journey. The Lord of heaven prosper you and your wife Sarah, and may I see children of yours before I die.”
There are several statements made in their parting goodbyes that are worth noting, but consider just two here, both from Sarah’s mother. Edna tells Tobias that she entrusts Sarah to him; “do nothing to grieve her all the days of your life.” As we think about the role of women in the book, it’s a clear statement—even in a patriarchal society—that a husband has a duty to elevate and honor his wife. Says deSilva at this point, “The author portrays marriage as a partnership, not as an opportunity for sexual exploitation or emotional domination.”5
But marriage is also more than a partnership between two people. Edna makes a followup statement about their two families being joined. This seems to transcend these two immediate families and in fact refer to the entire community: “May we all prosper together all the days of our lives.” A good marriage promises blessing to everyone involved: husband, wife, in-laws, extended family, and the wider community.
And so off they go, far richer than when Tobias had come. We’re reminded of Jacob returning from his sojourn with Laban in Genesis 31. But instead of Laban fighting his return, in this case the wanderer comes home not only with the treasure and an expanded family, but also the blessing.
The Jewish Women’s Archive features a brief but enlightening article by Beverly Bow on Sarah’s mother, Edna. An excerpt:
There are unexpected, if small, challenges to the patriarchal view that Edna’s subordination to her husband upholds. Edna, not Raguel, interviews their guests, even though Raguel is present (Tob 7:2–8). According to one manuscript tradition, she may also have actively participated in the signing of her daughter’s marriage contract; the Greek says, “they set their seals to it” (Tob 7:13; emphasis added). This would give Edna a larger part in the proceedings than does the other manuscript tradition, in which she merely fetches the scroll for her husband. Finally, she blesses Tobias at the newlyweds’ departure, performing a function rarely associated with biblical women (Tob 10:12).6
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Coming next week
Tobias and Raphael finally make it home, not only with the money, but also with a bride, an entourage, and a healing surprise for Tobit.
David A. DeSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (BakerAcademic, 2018), 79.
Jonathan Klawans and Lawrence M. Wills, eds., The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha (Oxford University Press, 2020), 167. The book that has this bonus prayer is the Northern French Miscellany.
The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha notes that the word rendered here as “depressed,” also encompasses “embittered, afflicted.”
Bruce M. Metzger quotes from an Amish minister’s manual explaining the rationale for using Tobit:
It presents a beautiful lesson which strengthens the pious and God-fearing in the faith, especially as regards marriage, and in all trials and troubles it leads one in the hope that God will bring things to a joyful end.
See Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (Oxford University Press, 1977), 41.
You can find references to ongoing Amish use today: Erin Negley, “Inside a modern Amish wedding,” LancasterOnline, April 15, 2016; “6 Questions on The Amish & The Bible,” Amish America, December 23, 2019.
DeSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha, 74.