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The epoch when the book of Tobit was composed is very difficult to fix. In our time, the distinguished critics M. M. Hitzig, Volkmar Grætz, have ascribed that writing to the time of Trajan or of Hadrian. M. Grætz connects it with the circumstances which followed the war of Bar-Coziba, and in particular to the interdiction which according to him was made by the Romans as to the interment of the corpses of the massacred Jews. But besides the fact of a similar interdiction is not founded except upon that of passages of the Talmud stripped of serious historical value, the characteristic importance attributed in our book to the good work of interring the dead, explained itself in a manner much more profound, as we are just now going to show.
Three great reasons, in our opinion, preclude us from accepting the Book of Tobit as being at a date so early,—forbid us to descend, at least for the composition of the book, beyond the year 70.
Firstly, The prophecy of Tobit (xiii. 9 et seq., xiv. 4 et seq.), which ought naturally to be taken as a “prophetia post eventum,” clearly mentions the destruction of Jerusalem by Nabuchodnosor (xiv. 4); the return of Zerubabel; the construction of the second temple, a temple very little to be compared to the first, very unworthy of the divine majesty (xiv. 5). But the dispersion of Israel would have its end, and again the temple would be rebuilt, with all the magnificence described by the prophets, to serve as a centre for the religion of the whole world.
For the old prophet there was no destruction of the second temple; that temple would be the advent of the glory of Israel, would not disappear, except to give place to the eternal temple. M. Volkmar, M. Hitzig observe, it is true, that in the Fourth Book of Esdras, in Judith, and in much of the apocryphal book, the destruction of the temple by Nabuchodnosor is identified with the destruction of the temple by Titus, and that the reflections which are placed in the mouth of the fictitious prophet are those which happen after the year 70.
But this opinion, besides being of such secondary application, is not here admissible. Evidently the verse 5 xiv. refers to the second temple. The remark that the new temple was very different from the first—for it was anything but majestic—is an allusion to Esd. iii. 12, told in the style of Josephus, Ant. xi. iv. 2. Still more this important passage would lead one to think that at the time when the Book of Tobit was written, Herod had not as yet put forth his hand on the second temple in order that he might rebuild it, an event which took place the 19th year before J.C.
The critics whom I now am fighting apply here the system, getting greatly into fashion, which seeks to base upon a passage of the pseudo Epistle of Barnabas, and according to whom there had been under the reign of Hadrian, a commencement of the rebuilding of the temple undertaken by consent with the Jews. It is to this reconstruction that may apply the passage of Tobit xiv. 5. But I have shown elsewhere that the interpretation of the false passage of Barnabas is wrong.298
Were it true, it would be singular that an abortive attempt, which would not be without interruption, should become thus the base of the whole apocalyptic system.
Secondly, the verse xiv. 10 furnishes another proof of the composition, relatively old, of the Book of Tobit. “My Son, see what Aman did to Ahkiakar, who had nourished him, how he cast him from the light into darkness, and how he repaid him; but Ahkiakar was saved and Aman received the chastisement that he deserved; Manasse likewise gave him alms, and was saved from the deadly snare which Aman had spread for him; Aman fell into the snare and perished.” This Ahkiakar was a nephew of Tobit’s father, who figures in the book as the steward and maitre d’hotel of Esarhaddow. The part he plays is incidental and peculiar.
The fashion in which he is spoken of, seems to show that he was known by some other means.
The verse we are quoting does not explain this, unless one admits, parallelly to the Book of Tobit, another book where an infidel, called Aman, who had for foster-father a good Jew named Ahkiakar, that he repaid him with ingratitude and thrust him into prison, but Ahkiakar was saved and Aman was punished.
This Aman was evidently, in the Jewish romances, the man who played the part of offering to others snares into which he himself fell, seeing that in the tales to which Tobit made allusion, the same Aman suffered the fate which he intended a certain Manasses to undergo. Impossible, in my opinion, not to see here a parallel of the Haman of the Book of Esther hung from the gallows where he hoped to hang Mordecai, foster-father of Esther.
In a book composed in the year 100 or 135 of our time, all this is inconceivable. One must refer it to a time and to a Jewish society where the Book of Esther would exist under an entirely different form than that of our Bibles, and where the part of Mordecai was played by a certain Ahkiakar, also a servant of the king.
Now the Book of Esther certainly existed, just as we have it, in the first century of our era, since Josephus knows of its being interpolated.
Thirdly, an objection none the less grave against the method of M. Grætz is that, if the Book of Tobit was posterior to the defeat of Bar-Coziba, the Christians would not have adopted it. In the interval between Titus and Hadrian, the religious brotherhood of the Jews and the Christians is sufficient to account for the fact that books newly brought to light in the Jewish community, such as that of Judith, the apocalypse of Esdras, and that of Baruch, would pass without difficulty from the synagogue to the Church. After the intestine broils which accompanied the war of Bar-Coziba, there would be no room for this. The Jewish and Christian faiths are henceforth two enemies; nothing passed from one side to the other of the gulf which divide them. Besides, the synagogue really no longer created such books, calm, idyllic, without bigotry, without hate.
After 135, Judaism produces the Talmud, a piece of dry and violent casuistry. The religious views are all profane, and of Persian origin, as that of the healing of demoniacs and of the blind by the viscera of fishes. This moderation of the marvellous, in consequence of 299which the two are cured, without miracle, by the prescriptions whereof those privileged of God have the secret, all this does not belong to the second century after J. C.
The condition of the people at the time when our author wrote, was comparatively happy and tranquil, at least in the country where he composed it. The Jews appeared wealthy, they were in domestic service under the nobles, acting as go-betweens in all purchases, and occupying places of confidence, being employed as stewards, major-domos, butlers, as we see in the Books of Esther and of Nehemiah. In place of being troubled by the rain, dreams, and passions which engrossed every Jew at the end of the first century of our era, the conscience of the author is serene in a high degree. He is not exactly a Messianist. He believes in a wonderful future for Jerusalem, but without any miracle from heaven, or Messiah as king. The book then is, in our opinion, anterior to the second century of our era. By the pious sentiment which there reigns, it is far behind the Book of Esther, a book from which all religion sentiment is totally absent. It might be imagined that Egypt was the spot where such a romance could possibly have been composed, if the certainty that the original text was written in Hebrew had not created a difficulty. The Jews of Egypt did not write in that language. I do not think, however, that the book was composed at Jerusalem or in Judea. What the author intends is to cheer up the provincial Jew, who has a horror of schism, and abides in communion with Jerusalem.
The Persian ideas which fill the book, the intimate acquaintance which the author possesses of the great cities of the East, although he makes strange mistakes as to the distances, bring one to imagine that he is in Mesopotamia, particularly at Adiabene, where the Jews were in a very flourishing condition in the middle of the fast century of our era.
In supposing that the book was thus composed about the year 50 in Upper Syria, one can, it seems to me, satisfy the exigencies of the problem. The state of the usages and of the ideas of the Jews; above all, that which concerns the bread of the Gentiles, recalls the time which preceded the revolt under Nero. The description of the eternal Jerusalem seems based upon the Apocalypse (ch. xxi.), not that one of the authors had copied from the other, but that they drew from a source of mutual imaginations. The demonology, especially the circumstance of the devil bound in the deserts of Upper Egypt, recall the Evangelist Mark. Lastly, The form of the personal memoirs, which the Greek text presents, at least in the opening pages, makes one think of the Book of Nehemiah: that form was no longer in use in the apocryphas posterior to the year 70. The inductions which lead one to assign the date of the composition to an anterior date, inductions which we have not dissembled, are demolished by the considerations which prevent us, on the other side, attributing to the book a great antiquity. One important fact, indeed, is that one does not find, neither amongst the Jews nor the Christians, any mention of the Book of Tobit before the end of the second century. Now it is necessary to confess that if the Christians of the first and second century possessed the book, they would have found it in perfect harmony with their sentiments. Let it be Clement Romain, for example; certainly if he had had such a writing 300at hand, he would have quoted it, just as he quotes the Book of Judith. If the book had been anterior to Jesus Christ, one cannot comprehend that it would have remained in such obscurity.
On the contrary, if one admits that it was composed in Oschoene in Adialene a few years before the grand catastrophes of Judea, one may suppose that the Jews engaged in the struggle would have had knowledge of it. The book was not yet translated into Greek: the greater part of the Christians could not read it. Lymmachus or Theodosius would have been found in possession of the original, and they would have translated it. In that case, the fortunes of the book amongst the Christians would be commenced.
One leading element of the question, which has not been used here by the interpreters, are the analogies which a sagacious criticism has discovered between the Jewish narrative and that collection of tales which have gone round the world, without distinction of language or race. Studied from this point of view, the Book of Tobit seems to us like the Hebrew and godly version of a tale which is related in Armenia, in Russia, amongst the Tartars, and the Higanes, and which is probably of Babylonian origin. A traveller finds in the roadway the corpse of a man which had been refused sepulture because he had not paid his debts. He stopped to bury him. Soon afterwards, a companion, clothed in white, offers to journey with him. This companion gets the traveller out of a bad scrape, procures riches for him, and a charming wife, who wrests him away from the evil spirits. At the moment of parting, the traveller offers him the half of all that which he had gained, thanks to him, save and except his wife, and naturally so. The companion demands his half share of the woman: great perplexity arises! At the moment when he is about to proceed to make that strange division, the companion reveals himself—he is the ghost of the dead man whom the traveller had buried.
No doubt that the Book of Tobit is an adaptation according to Jewish ideas of that old narrative, popular throughout the whole of the East. It is this that explains the fantastical importance assigned to the burial of the dead, which constitutes a remarkable feature of our book. Nowhere else in the Jewish literature is the burial of the dead placed on the same footing as that of the observance of the Law. The resemblance to the tales of the East confirms thus our hypothesis concerning the Mesopotamian origin of the book. The Jews of Palestine did not listen to these pagan tales. Those of Oschoene would be more open to the talk of those outside them. We most add that the Book of Esther could not have existed in that country in the form which it was known in Judea: this will explain the strange passage concerning Aman and Ahkiahkar.
Our hypothesis then is that Book of Tobit was composed in Hebrew in the north of Syria, towards the year 40 or 50 after J.C.; that it was at first little known by the Jews in Palestine; that it was translated into Greek towards the year 160 by the Judeo-Christian translators, and that it was immediately adapted by the Christians.
London: Printed by the Temple Publishing Company.
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