Books Faith

The Book of Tobit and the Tales of the Deuterocanon

The night I read The Book of Tobit I thought it was the funniest book in the bible

Then they both went to sleep for the night.
But Raguel arose and went and dug a grave, with the thought, “Perhaps he too will die.” Then Raguel went into his house and said to his wife Edna, “Send one of the maids to see whether he is alive; and if he is not, let us bury him without any one knowing about it.”
Tobit 8:9-12

The next day I thought over some of the verses, and realized there was more too it.  After being merry, the situation must be explained

So he communicated the proposal to Raguel. And Raguel said to Tobias, “Eat, drink, and be merry; for it is your right to take my child. But let me explain the true situation to you. I have given my daughter to seven husbands, and when each came to her he died in the night. But for the present be merry.” And Tobias said, “I will eat nothing here until you make a binding agreement with me.”
Tobit 7:9-11

Tobit is clearly a comedy. None of the “on-screen” characters are ultimately harmed, it ends in a wedding, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So now, my children, consider what almsgiving accomplishes and how righteousness delivers.” As he said this he died in his bed. He was a hundred and fifty-eight years old; and Tobias gave him a magnificent funeral
Tobit 14:11

But it also has the most realistic depiction fo depression in the entire bible. Not Job’s philosophical speeches, not demons making someone mad, but praying for death, so one’s loved ones don’t need to feel bad about a suicide

When she heard these things she was deeply grieved, even to the thought of hanging herself. But she said, “I am the only child of my father; if I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I shall bring his old age down in sorrow to the grave.” So she prayed by her window and said, “Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and blessed is thy holy and honored name for ever. May all thy works praise thee for ever. And now, O Lord, I have turned my eyes and my face toward thee. Command that I be released from the earth and that I hear reproach no more. Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am innocent of any sin with man, and that I did not stain my name or the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father’s only child, and he has no child to be his heir, no near kinsman or kinsman’s son for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine are dead. Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more.”
Tobit 3:10-16

Tobit also includes the pettiest of celestial cruelties, a man being blinded, after doing a good dead, by birds shitting in his eyes. And incompetent doctors. God acting through man in most pettty of all ways

When the sun had set I went and dug a grave and buried the body. And my neighbors laughed at me and said, “He is no longer afraid that he will be put to death for doing this; he once ran away, and here he is burying the dead again!” On the same night I returned from burying him, and because I was defiled I slept by the wall of the courtyard, and my face was uncovered. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall and their fresh droppings fell into my open eyes and white films formed on my eyes. I went to physicians, but they did not help me. Ahikar, however, took care of me until he went to Elymais.
Tobit 2:7-10

Job faced the additional humiliation of a nagging wife, but the poor speaker sees a worse fate: it is him who becomes the whiny, untrusting bitch while his wife brings home the (goat) bacon

And she said, “It was given to me as a gift in addition to my wages.” But I did not believe her, and told her to return it to the owners; and I blushed for her. Then she replied to me, “Where are your charities and your righteous deeds? You seem to know everything!”
Tobit 2:14

The power of prophecy is shown to be ridiculous, as the guardian angel “prophesied” by the blind Tobit for his son…

And Tobit said to her, “Do not worry, my sister; he will return safe and sound, and your eyes will see him. For a good angel will go with him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back safe and sound.” So she stopped weeping.
Tobit 5:20-21

…is the sort of Angel of Disinformation from the Book of Ezekiel.

But he answered, “Are you looking for a tribe and a family or for a man whom you will pay to go with your son?” And Tobit said to him, “I should like to know, my brother, your people and your name.” [The Angel Raphael] replied, “I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias, one of your relatives.”
Tobit 5:11-12

Yet while the angels in Genesis guarded Paradise, in Ezekiel they conspired to destroy kingdoms, and in the Gospels they protected the Son of Man, here Raphael becomes a rom-com sidekick! Raphael’s goal is to hook up Tobias, and get him to man up, curse or nor curse!

When they approached Ecbatana, the angel said to the young man, “Brother, today we shall stay with Raguel. He is your relative, and he has an only daughter named Sarah. I will suggest that she be given to you in marriage, because you are entitled to her and to her inheritance, for you are her only eligible kinsman. The girl is also beautiful and sensible. Now listen to my plan. I will speak to her father, and as soon as we return from Rages we will celebrate the marriage. For I know that Raguel, according to the law of Moses, cannot give her to another man without incurring the penalty of death, because you rather than any other man are entitled to the inheritance.”

Then the young man said to the angel, “Brother Azarias, I have heard that the girl has been given to seven husbands and that each died in the bridal chamber.
Tobit 6:9-13

The Book of Tobit resembles other tales from the Deuterocanon, such as the Book of Judith with its comically thick foreshadowing…

And if you follow out the words of your maidservant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes.
Judith 11:6

“Therefore, when I, your servant, learned all this, I fled from them; and God has sent me to accomplish with you things that will astonish the whole world, as many as shall hear about them.
Judith 11:16

… and sexy, feel-good ending

And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed his head from his body. Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.
Judith 13:8-10

I suspect dour reformers removed these books from the Christian cannon shares much of the reason why, in old times, were given to the Hebrews: They are delightful. They are cheesy. They feature damsels in distress…

When the maids had gone out, the two elders rose and ran to her, and said:  “Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.”
Susanna sighed deeply, and said, “I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands.
Daniel 13:20-22

…And thrilling courtroom action!..

Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under a mastic tree

Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under an evergreen oak.” And Daniel said to him, “Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw[e] you in two, that he may destroy you both.”
Daniel 13:54-59

These stories have everything. For children, other children, exposed with their lying parents

In the night the priests came with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and ate and drank everything.

Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him. And the king said, “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?” He answered, “They are unbroken, O king.” As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, “You are great, O Bel; and with you there is no deceit, none at all.”

Then Daniel laughed, and restrained the king from going in, and said, “Look at the floor, and notice whose footsteps these are.” The king said, “I see the footsteps of men and women and children.”
Daniel 14:15-20

For the children-at-heart, a dragon that explodes from eating too much

Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. And Daniel said, “See what you have been worshiping!”
Daniel 14:27

And for those older than children, well, some terms may be euphemisms. We’ll explain when you’re older

What is the matter, Esther? I am thy brother, fear not.
Thou shalt not die: for this law is not made for thee, but for all others.
Come near then, and touch the sceptre.
And as she held her peace, he took the golden sceptre, and laid it upon her neck, and kissed her, and said: Why dost thou not speak to me?
She answered: I saw thee, my lord, as an angel of God, and my heart was troubled for fear of thy majesty.
Esther 15:12-16

The themes of these grand tales of the Deuterocanon– the Books of Tobit and Judith, the additions to Daniel and Esther, are three-fold

Joy, even in the face of the despair
Romance, even in the face of death
Divine deliverance and un-natural-y long life

The Unchanging Father sits on top of the things of nightmares, and owns even the terrifying deep

Blessed art thou, who sittest upon cherubim and lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.
Daniel 3:32

But what awaits is glorious

Many nations will come from afar to the name of the Lord God,
bearing gifts in their hands, gifts for the King of heaven.
Generations of generations will give you joyful praise.
Tobit 13:11

Then Judith began this thanksgiving before all Israel, and all the people loudly sang this song of praise.

And Judith said,
Begin a song to my God with tambourines,
sing to my Lord with cymbals.
Raise to him a new psalm;
exalt him, and call upon his name.
For God is the Lord who crushes wars;
for he has delivered me out of the hands of my pursuers,
and brought me into his camp, in the midst of the people.

Judith 16:1-3

Thou hast made heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven.
Thou art Lord of all, and there is none that can resist thy majesty.
Esther 13:10-11

The Deutercanon is hyperreal.  It contains obvious historical discontinuities, it places Kings in the wrong Empires, it plays with real prophets like Daniel and turns him into a dragon slayer.  In these stories, in these tales, an image is painted that can be understood by both children an adults.  That image, that logic, that reason, is something as joyful, as romantic, and as lively as a wedding feast

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Revelation 19:6-10

Similar Posts

One thought on “The Book of Tobit and the Tales of the Deuterocanon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *