Damien F. Mackey
Part One: Origin and Influences
A companion of kings and princes, ruler of governors and generals, friend to the poor, having himself actually attained to kingship for many years. Most favoured amongst men by God, his lifelong Friend, he was also the travelling companion of an archangel.
In the first article that I ever wrote identifying holy Job with Tobias, son of Tobit, entitled:
Job: Arabian Sheikh or Israelite Sage?
published in Mentalities/Mentalités (Outrigger, Vol. 13, no. 1-2 October 1998), I thought that I was being helpful by referring to the prophet throughout the article by the composite name of TOB, to simplify Tobias = Job. A reader, however, complained that this was, for him at least, a complicating factor. So, this time round, I shall refer to him - where convenient - as “the Prophet”.
Main Biographical Details:
Family, Tribe, Geography and Era
Tribe, Family and Name
The Prophet arose from a Naphtalian family of Israel that apparently favoured his own type of name, for (according to Tobit 1:1), Tobias was of: “… Tobit son of Tobiel, son of Ananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, of the lineage of Asiel and tribe of Naphtali”.
It needs to be realised, however, that “Tobit” (Τωβίθ or Τωβίτ) is the Greek form of the bearer’s original Hebrew name, which I believe to have been ‘Obadiah (עֹבַדְיָה), meaning “servant of the Lord”. Thus I would disagree with the usual view that the name arose from the Hebrew, Tovyah (טוביה), meaning “the Lord is good”.
The Greek τ (Tau) apparently substituted for the Hebrew ע (ayin) at the beginning of the name.
The name “Tobit” is actually an abbreviated form (עֹבַד) - without the inclusion of the theophoric iah element - of ‘Obadiah. The other related family names, “Tobias” and “Tobiel”, are just variants of Tobit - “Tobias” probably using a Greco-Roman ending, the way the prophet ‘Obadiah is variously referred to as “Obdios” (Septuagint) and “Abdias” (Vulgate).
In the name “Tobiel”, the iah (“Lord”) element has been replaced by the el (“God”) element.
The name, “Job” (אִיּוֹב), is thought to derive - despite my hopeful connecting of it to “Tobias” by the use of the composite TOB - from the Hebrew, ‘Iyyov, meaning “persecuted”, or “hated”. According to Bible Hub (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/347.htm), however, the name is actually “of uncertain derivation”. My suggestion, therefore, is that - considering that the Prophet hailed from Transjordania, geographically removed somewhat from mainstream Israel (see Geography section below) - this name was perhaps a local variation of ‘Obadiah, a quirk of dialect. (Recall the “Shibboleth” example of Judges 12:6).
The wife of Tobit, ‘of his own kinsfolk’, was called Anna (Tobit 1:9).
Now, in Arabic, the name ‘Obadiah is (in its el variant) rendered as ‘Abdullah (عَبْدُ ٱللّٰه), from ‘abdu llāh, “servant of God”.
What is most remarkable is that the parents of the Prophet, Tobit and Anna, have virtually the same names as the parents of the Prophet Mohammed: ‘Abdullah and Amna (or Aminah).
The Prophet is in fact the basic template for the anachronistic – and indeed, non-historical - Prophet Mohammed, at least for the period of the latter’s supposed birth to marriage.
The father, Tobit, tells us that he was most faithful to the observance of the Law, even from a young age (1:3-7). But the Law of Moses was not the only strong pedagogical influence shaping young Tobit, who became an orphan. There were also “the exhortations” of a certain ancestral woman named Deborah. Thus Tobit tells (v. 8):
‘I gave the third to orphans and widows and to the strangers who live among the Israelites; I brought it them as a gift every three years. When we ate, we obeyed both the ordinances of the law of Moses and the exhortations of Deborah the mother of our ancestor Ananiel; for my father had died and left me an orphan’.
One may wonder whether this could be the famous Deborah of the Book of Judges, who was indeed a teacher, judge and leader of Israel (Judges 4:4-5): “ Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided”.
If so, then it would be little wonder that her descendant, Tobit, would have been influenced by her “exhortations”. Some scholars think that the Hebrew name “Deborah” (דְּבוֹרָה), which is generally taken to mean, “bee”, may more appropriately - given Deborah’s teaching office - derive from the root, davar (רבָדָּ), “word”.
As the following texts shows, Deborah had close associations with Naphtali:
[Deborah] sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands’.
Barak said to her, ‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go’.
‘Certainly I will go with you’, said Deborah. ‘But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman’. So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.
Judges 5:18 (“Song of Deborah”): “The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the terraced fields”.
The family hailed from the fertile Hauran valley region of Bashan (Batanaea, or “Ecbatana”). This is the very region where Arabic traditions, in particular, locate the home of holy Job, it being the biblical “land of Uz” which was “of the East” (Job 1:1, 3).
The Assyrian army came to this very region in the time of king Shalmaneser, known as III (but who, like Job, has alter egos). Tobit and his family then became captives of Assyria and were transported to “Nineveh”, living at “Elkosh” (Ali Kosh) about 20 miles N. of Nineveh.
The Prophet was born to Tobit and Anna at a dramatic time for the tribes of the Galilean region of the northern kingdom of Israel, right on the eve of the exile when the powerful Assyrians first began encroaching into the land (cf. Tobit 1:9 and 10). These invasions were led by “Shalmaneser king of Assyria” (v. 2). Conventionally speaking, the era is approximately 730 BC. This is a far cry from the pre-Abrahamic times where some would seek to locate the Prophet. And it also well post-dates the Judges era, meaning that, if the famous Deborah were an ancestor of the Prophet, Tobit’s genealogy must contain gaps.
Part Two: Growing up in Assyria
(i) Pre-Married Phase
Here I shall outline the life of the Prophet during its Assyrian phase, from childhood to adulthood, all of which belongs to a pre-Book of Job phase of this very long life.
The account of the Prophet as we read about it in the Book of Job will be found substantially to post-date the Assyrian phase of his life, by which I mean the years during which he lived in Assyria, rather than whatever years of his life may have extended beyond the destruction of Nineveh and the fall of the kingdom of Assyria.
The Book of Job may occasionally harken back to these earlier days, e.g. this protest of the Prophet’s to God (Job 13:26): ‘For you write down bitter things against me and make me reap the sins of my youth’. But, for the detailed account of the major events in his life that occurred during those Assyrian years, we must turn to the Book of Tobit. It covers, in some detail, the life of the family from the Prophet’s childhood to his marriage, and it concludes with some much later details again, such as the death of Tobit and his son’s living to witness, and to rejoice over, the Fall of Nineveh (conventionally dated to c. 612 BC).
From Childhood to Adulthood
A Highly-Honoured Family
Whatever may have been the status of this Naphtalian family during its history prior to the Assyrian captivity under king Shalmaneser - and whether it may have been accorded status in the kingdom of Israel owing to a possible family connection with the great woman, Deborah (refer back to Part One) - some of it members certainly attained to the highest of rank during the captivity phase. Previously I wrote of this:
‘I [Tobit] was [king Shalmaneser’s] buyer of provisions’.
Tobit, an exile, must have been a person of exceptional competence to have so risen in the kingdom of Assyria to become purveyor, or quartermaster, of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser.
That particular rank in Assyria, termed rab[i] ekalli or rab ša muḫḫi ekalli (“… , may have been a very high one indeed. For, according to this following estimation of the rank
Directly under the king were three officers. The turtannu, or field marshal; the ummânu, vice-chancellor; and the rab ša muḫḫi ekalli, the major-domo. The latter was the most important and the only one with direct access to the king (though the king could of course require the audience of lower ranked men himself); even the field marshal and the vice-chancellor had to go through the major-domo to request a meeting.
[End of quote]
But Tobit was not the only person of high rank in this most talented family of his (https://books.google.com.au/books?id=d5PXD5saod4C&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=tobit+was+king's+quartermaster):
The family of Tobit, as we meet them in the Book of Tobit, are exceptional people. Tobit himself becomes procurator general, quartermaster for King Shalmaneser, and is sent on important purchasing expeditions to Media (Persia). His nephew Ahiqar becomes royal cupbearer, in effect the administrator of the entire empire. Their kinsman Gabiel in Media also has an important post there.
[End of quote]
And we could add to this impressive list Tobit’s very own son, Tobias, as Job (see my:
Job's Life and Times
who would, for his part, rise to highest judicial office. One has only to read e.g. Job 29:7-10:
‘When I went to the gate of the city
and took my seat in the public square,
the young men saw me and stepped aside
and the old men rose to their feet;
the chief men refrained from speaking
and covered their mouths with their hands;
the voices of the nobles were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths’.
[End of quotes]
In this last case, the honourable career here described is yet something that is situated well into the future, after the Prophet will have married and have begotten children. His life has yet to experience some extraordinary vicissitudes, ranging from the darkest of family miseries to the stellar heights of Divine favouritism.
The Prophet will be - just as with his father - ‘tested like gold in the furnace of tribulation’.
Running parallel to the vicissitudes of the Naphtalian family will be some of the most dramatic moments in all of ancient history: the Assyrian wolf on the fold.
Shalmaneser succeeded by Sennacherib
Sennacherib Invades Judah
An historical detail given in Tobit 1:15, which flies in the face of the conventional Assyriology, is perfectly compatible with my own reconstruction of the neo-Assyrian succession, according to which king Shalmaneser was succeeded by his son, king Sennacherib (who was Sargon II). “When Shalmaneser died, his son Sennacherib succeeded him as emperor. It soon became so dangerous to travel on the roads in Media that I could no longer go there”.
This situation must have effectively curtailed the most promising career of Tobit, for whom things would become only progressively worse, for a time, in the course of Sennacherib’s reign.
None of this, of course, was dire enough to curtail the charitable works of mercy habitually performed by Tobit, who continued to do just as he had done during the reign of Shalmaneser (Tobit 1:16-17):
‘I took good care of my own people whenever they were in need. If they were hungry, I shared my food with them; if they needed clothes, I gave them some of my own. Whenever I saw that the dead body of one of my people had been thrown outside the city wall, I gave it a decent burial’.
Tobit would still be preaching the importance of almsgiving on his very death bed, using, to, illustrate it, the famous incident of Ahiqar and Nadab. Ahiqar - Tobit’s high-ranking nephew, as we read above - because he gave alms and practised works of mercy, was saved (14:10):
Remember what Nadab did to Ahikar his own uncle who had brought him up. He tried to kill Ahikar and forced him to go into hiding …. Ahikar came back into the light of day, but God sent Nadab down into everlasting darkness for what he had done. Ahikar escaped the deadly trap which Nadab had set for him, because Ahikar had given generously to the poor. But Nadab fell into that fatal trap and it destroyed him.
This ‘Ahiqar and Nadab’ incident, too, is still well into the future of where we presently are in relation to the early reign of Sennacherib.
What had caused “the roads to Media [read Midian]” to become unsafe for Tobit?
It was Sennacherib’s energetic campaigning to the west:
- In his 9th year, the king sent the commander of his army to quash a revolt in “Ashdod” [read Lachish]. The Bible refers to the Assyrian king here as “Sargon”. Isaiah 20:1: “In the year that Turtan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it”.
- In his 10th year, with the Assyrian king still at home, pre-occupied with his pet project, his new city of Dur Sharrukin (“Fortress of Sargon”), Yatna, the governor of Ashdod led a revolt against Assyria.
- In his 11th year, the king of Assyria marched on king Hezekiah’s Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem.
This western campaign was enormously successful for the king of Assyria, with king Hezekiah of Judah being brought into complete submission. Sennacherib does not exaggerate at all when he boasts, in one of his Bull inscriptions: “I devastated the wide province of Judah: the strong proud Hezekiah, its king, I brought in submission to my feet”.
That Hezekiah was a proud king is also attested in 2 Chronicles 32:25: “But Hezekiah’s heart was proud …”.
So, indeed, was Sennacherib proud, perhaps even to the point of self-deification. According to Tobit, the Assyrian king now went too far (1:18): “One day Sennacherib cursed God, the King of Heaven; God punished him, and Sennacherib had to retreat from Judah. On his way back to Media he was so furious that he killed many Israelites”.
This text, as it now reads, confuses the geography by having the Assyrian king returning to “Media” after his campaigning in Judah. It may also be telescoping two different invasions of Sennacherib, the highly successful first one, and a disastrous second one nearly a decade later.
Tobit’s nephew, Ahiqar, will figure prominently in both of these Assyrian campaigns, firstly as the insolent, Hebrew-speaking Rabshakeh, the mouthpiece of Sennacherib, and, secondly, as the impressive Achior of the Book of Judith.
Tobit Forced to Flee Sennacherib
With the return to the east of the triumphant Sennacherib, who will soon now, in his 12th year, proceed to attack the troublesome king of Babylon, Merodach-baladan, the fortunes of Tobit and his family will take a real dive. The Book of Judith opens with Sennacherib’s Year 12 war against Merodach-baladan, but names Sennacherib as “Nebuchadnezzar” and it names Merodach-baladan as “Arphaxad”, and has the latter ruling in (also geographically troubling in the Book of Tobit) Median Ecbatana (Judith 1:1): “It was the twelfth year of the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. In those days, Arphaxad ruled the Medes in Ecbatana”.
Whilst there will be a rise in the fortunes of the crown prince of Assyria, Ashur-nadin-shumi, now installed by his father, Sennacherib, as the new King of Babylon, Tobit, for his part, at approximately the same time, will have to flee for his life, the family reduced to utter poverty (Tobit 1:18-20):
…. [Sennacherib] was so furious that he killed many Israelites. But I secretly removed the bodies and buried them; and when Sennacherib later searched for the bodies, he could not find them. Then someone from Nineveh told the emperor that I was the one who had been burying his victims. As soon as I realized that the emperor knew all about me and that my life was in danger, I became frightened. So I ran away and hid. Everything I owned was seized and put in the royal treasury. My wife Anna and my son Tobias were all I had left.
That “someone from Nineveh told the emperor” may indicate that Tobit and his family were actually dwelling outside of Nineveh. In Part One, I had written, regarding their place of residence: “Tobit and his family then became captives of Assyria and were transported to “Nineveh”, living at “Elkosh” (Ali Kosh) about 20 miles N. of Nineveh”.
This distance from Nineveh may have facilitated Tobit’s being able to hide, as well as the fact that, according to at least one version of Tobit (from memory), he, being greatly loved, had many friends willing to assist him.
Ahiqar intervenes for Tobit
A surface reading of the Book of Tobit would suggest that Sennacherib’s death by assassination had actually occurred whilst Tobit was yet in hiding, and that Tobit’s re-instatement, thanks to the intervention of Ahiqar, had belonged to the succeeding reign, Esarhaddon’s.
And this might well turn out to be the case.
My own interpretation of it all, though, has been that the Book of Tobit is here, and once again, telescoping long-ranging events.
That we are still only about halfway through the reign of Sennacherib.
Ahiqar, as Sennacherib’s high-ranking Rabshakeh, had performed most competently on behalf of the Assyrian king in the vicinity of Jerusalem - and much to the chagrin of king Hezekiah’s chief officials (2 Kings 18:26): “Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, ‘Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall’.” No doubt Sennacherib had chosen Ahiqar to be his mouthpiece before the Jews because of the fact that Ahiqar was an Israelite, who could speak Hebrew (and apparently Aramaïc) most fluently. So, Ahiqar would have been, at this point in time, in high standing with Sennacherib.
It is not too far-fetched, then, to suggest that Ahiqar would have been able to persuade the angry Sennacherib to relent on behalf of Tobit.
Even though one might imagine - from the telescoping aspect of the Book of Tobit - that Tobit had almost immediately, then, plunged into his next (and even worse) trial, his blindness and his wishing for death, an awareness of the chronology of king Sennacherib allows for a period of time to elapse. And this, I think, needs to be taken into account, too, when one is reading the Book of Job, which is in many ways so reminiscent of the Book of Tobit (see e.g. comment on Tobit 2:12-16 in the next section). The Prophet’s four initial trials are narrated in rapid succession, as if, whilst he was being informed of one catastrophe, a messenger was hurrying in with dire news of another (1:16, 17, 18):
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
The Hebrew allows for, I think - at least from my reading of it - a somewhat more conciliatory translation of these verses, more along the lines of: ‘Whilst this last tragedy was still in the memory of people …’, thereby providing for some degree of respite.
And so I think it may also have been in the case of Tobit, with some years intervening between his flight from the wrath of Sennacherib and his being afflicted with blindness.
Tobit Struck Blind
Tobit, continuing to do what he inevitably did, his works of mercy, would now really begin to incur the ridicule of his relatives. This next incident, leading to his blindness, involves his son as well (Tobit 2:1-8: Douay):
But after this, when there was a festival of the Lord, and a good dinner was prepared in [Tobit’s] house, He said to his son: ‘Go, and bring some of our tribe that fear God, to feast with us’. And when he had gone, returning he told him, that one of the children of Israel lay slain in the street. And he forthwith leaped up from his place at the table, and left his dinner, and came fasting to the body: And taking it up carried it privately to his house, that after the sun was down, he might bury him cautiously. And when he had hid the body, he ate bread with mourning and fear, Remembering the word which the Lord spoke by Amos the prophet: Your festival days shall be turned into lamentation and mourning. So when the sun was down, he went and buried him. Now all his neighbours blamed him, saying: Once already commandment was given for thee to be slain because of this matter, and thou didst scarce escape the sentence of death, and dost thou again bury the dead?
This concern on behalf of “all his neighbours” - and likewise Tobit’s surreptitious behaviour - would make more sense if it were expressed (enacted) still during the reign of Sennacherib and his “commandment” of death in relation to Tobit, and not during the reign of Esarhaddon, about whom we have no evidence of any such animosity towards Israel.
The text goes on to tell of Tobit’s persistence in the face of criticism, and the extraordinary circumstances that caused his blindness (vv. 9-11):
But [Tobit] fearing God more than the king, carried off the bodies of them that were slain, and hid them in his house, and at midnight buried them. Now it happened one day, that being wearied with burying, he came to his house, and cast himself down by the wall and slept, And as he was sleeping, hot dung out of a swallow’s nest fell upon his eyes, and he was made blind.
In the GNT version we learn of the kindness of Ahiqar that Tobit will later praise (v. 10): “For four years I could see nothing. My relatives were deeply concerned about my condition, and Ahikar supported me for two years before he went to the land of Elam”. (Cf. Judith 1:6: “Many nations joined forces with King Arphaxad—all the people who lived in the mountains, those who lived along the Tigris, Euphrates, and Hydaspes rivers, as well as those who lived in the plain ruled by King Arioch [read Ahiqar/Achior] of Elam”).
It is here, too, that the Douay (2:12-16) likens Tobit’s situation to that of “holy Job”, who would generally be regarded by commentators as a non-Israelite figure who well pre-dated Tobit:
Now this trial the Lord therefore permitted to happen to him, that an example might be given to posterity of his patience, as also of holy Job. For whereas he had always feared God from his infancy, and kept his commandments, he repined not against God because the evil of blindness had befallen him, But continued immoveable in the fear of God, giving thanks to God all the days of his life. For as the kings insulted over holy Job: so his relations and kinsmen mocked at his life, saying:
 Kings: So Job's three friends are here called, because they were princes in their respective territories.
Where is thy hope, for which thou gavest alms, and buriedst the dead?
Tobit, just as feisty as his son would later prove himself to be in dialogue with his three friends (Book of Job), was not short of an answer. And - also as in the case of the Book of Job - Tobit and his wife will engage in some verbal sparring (vv. 17-23):
But Tobias rebuked them, saying: ‘Speak not so: For we are the children of the saints, and look for that life which God will give to those that never change their faith from him’.
Now Anna his wife went daily to weaving work, and she brought home what she could get for their living by the labour of her hands. Whereby it came to pass, that she received a young kid, and brought it home: And when her husband heard it bleating, he said: ‘Take heed, lest perhaps it be stolen: restore ye it to its owners, for it is not lawful for us either to eat or to touch anything that cometh by theft’. At these words his wife being angry answered: ‘It is evident thy hope is come to nothing, and thy alms now appear’. And with these, and other such like words she upbraided him.
Τhis pre-marital phase of the life of the Prophet - who, so far, has been a figure lurking in the background, secondary to Tobit - will terminate with the parallel tragic scenario of his father, Tobit, praying for death (like the prophets Elijah and Jonah before him), and his future wife, Sarah, in distant “Ecbatana” (Bashan, from whence they all hailed), even contemplating suicide. The text also introduces us, for the first time, to a purely spiritual being, in this case the demon, Asmodeus, “the worst of demons”, who is a primary cause of Sarah’s grief.
Firstly to Tobit’s lament (Tobit 3:1-6):
Then, sad at heart, I [Tobit] sighed and wept, and began this prayer of lamentation:
You are just, O Lord, and just are all your works. All your ways are grace and truth, and you are the Judge of the world. Therefore, Lord, remember me, look on me. Do not punish me for my sins or for my needless faults or those of my ancestors.
For we have sinned against you and broken your commandments; and you have given us over to be plundered, to captivity and death, to be the talk, the laughing-stock and scorn of all the nations among whom you have dispersed us. And now all your decrees are true when you deal with me as my faults deserve, and those of my ancestors. For we have neither kept your commandments nor walked in truth before you. So now, do with me as you will; be pleased to take my life from me; so that I may be delivered from earth and become earth again. Better death than life for me, for I have endured groundless insult and am in deepest sorrow. Lord, be pleased to deliver me from this affliction. Let me go away to my everlasting home; do not turn your face from me, O Lord. Better death for me than life prolonged in the face of unrelenting misery: I can no longer bear to listen to insults.
And now to the incredible situation confronting Sarah, in “Ecbatana” (vv. 7-15):
It chanced on the same day that Sarah the daughter of Raguel, who lived in Media at Ecbatana, also heard insults from one of her father’s maids. For she had been given in marriage seven times, and Asmodeus, the worst of demons, had killed her bridegrooms one after another before ever they had slept with her as man with wife. The servant-girl said, ‘Yes, you kill your bridegrooms yourself. That makes seven already to whom you have been given, and you have not once been in luck yet. Just because your bridegrooms have died, that is no reason for punishing us. Go and join them, and may we be spared the sight of any child of yours!’ That day, she grieved, she sobbed, and she went up to her father's room intending to hang herself. But then she thought, ‘Suppose they were to blame my father! They would say, “You had an only daughter whom you loved, and now she has hanged herself for grief”. I cannot cause my father a sorrow which would bring down his old age to the dwelling of the dead. I should do better not to hang myself, but to beg the Lord to let my die and not live to hear any more insults’. And at this, by the window, with outstretched arms she said this prayer: You are blessed, O God of mercy! May your name be blessed for ever, and may all things you have made bless you everlastingly. And now I turn my face and I raise my eyes to you. Let your word deliver me from earth; I can hear myself insulted no longer. O Lord, you know that I have remained pure; no man has touched me; I have not dishonoured your name or my father’s name in this land of exile. I am my father’s only daughter, he has no other child as heir; he has no brother at his side, nor has he any kinsman left for whom I ought to keep myself. I have lost seven husbands already; why should I live any longer? If it does not please you to take my life, then look on me with pity; I can no longer bear to hear myself defamed.
All’s well that ends well, however! Relief is now in sight for both Tobit and Sarah.
Enter the healing archangel Raphael (vv. 16-17):
This time the prayer of each of them found favour before the glory of God, and Raphael was sent to bring remedy to them both. He was to take the white spots from the eyes of Tobit, so that he might see God’s light with his own eyes; and he was to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel as bride to Tobias son of Tobit, and to rid her of Asmodeus, that worst of demons. For it was to Tobias before all other suitors that she belonged by right. Tobit was coming back from the courtyard into the house at the same moment as Sarah the daughter of Raguel was coming down from the upper room.
“Tobit was coming back from the courtyard into the house at the same moment as Sarah the daughter of Raguel was coming down from the upper room”.
Only the angel could have known that!
(ii) Tobit imparts his Maxims
Tobit, now blind and longing for death, passes on to his son the treasures of his wisdom.
‘Do good works all the days of your life’
With Tobit now blind, and convinced that he is about to die, his sensational career at a standstill, it is now that his youthful son, the Prophet, will emerge from the shadows to take centre stage. In Tobit 4:1-2 we read: “The same day Tobit remembered the silver that he had left with Gabael at Rhages in Media and thought, ‘I have come to the point of praying for death; I should do well to call my son Tobias and tell him about the money before I die’.”
This will turn out to be a golden (and silver) opportunity for the Prophet.
The city of “Rhages” I have taken to stand for, originally, Damascus.
Tobit will now also hand down to his son a moral ‘inheritance’ that will remain with the Prophet for the rest of his long life. I refer to:
Tobit’s Maxims (4:3-21)
These are rules of behaviour, compatible with the Mosaïc Law (and perhaps the “exhortations” of Deborah), pertaining to honouring one’s parents; works of mercy; social justice; almsgiving (a pet subject of Tobit’s); and purity of heart.
There is an important link here with the Book of Job. For when the Prophet’s three friends - presumably versed in similar rules of behaviour - openly accuse the Prophet of various forms of injustice and immorality, he will reply by swearing before them of his faithful observance of these (what are in effect his father’s) proper rules of behaviour.
In fact, this most righteous of men (Job 1:1, 8) will, in at least one case (see next section), go even beyond the instruction that his father had enjoined upon him.
Purity of heart
Tobit had advised his son (Tobit 4:12):
‘My child, avoid all loose conduct. Choose a wife of your father’s stock. Do not take a foreign wife outside your father’s tribe, because we are the children of the prophets. Remember Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our ancestors from the beginning. All of them took wives from their own kindred, and they were blessed in their children, and their race will inherit the earth’.
But the Prophet had declared - anticipating Jesus’s teaching of purity of heart (Matthew 5:28) - (Job 31:1): ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman’.
Whilst this may not be a popular doctrine in our day and age, it is actually a key to the Prophet’s greatness and accounts for his wise and towering intellect. The ancient Hebrew sages, such as king Solomon (who failed to persevere in the doctrine), had appreciated that God himself was the source of true wisdom, which could not be attained without Him.
Thus Proverbs (1:7): “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge”.
And Sirach 1:14: “To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and it was created with the faithful in the womb”.
Philosopher-scientist Dr Gavin Ardley has written along similar lines when contrasting the pseudo-philosophers (with their intellectual scruples) with the wise who have not abandoned common sense (Berkeley’s Renovation of Philosophy, Martinus Nijhoff, 1968, p. 83): “Behind the façade of superior reasoning and high ideals there lurks moral corruption. So, in the end, Berkeley’s reforms come down to the Delphic precept: “Know Thyself”, or, what amounts to the same thing, Plato’s precept: “Virtue is Knowledge” …”.
One might add to these, Tobit’s precept (Tobit 4:5-6):
‘My child, be faithful to the Lord all your days. Never entertain the will to sin or to transgress his laws. Do good works all the days of your life, never follow ways that are not upright; for if you act in truthfulness, you will be successful in all your actions, as everyone is who practises what is upright’.
Ardley adds an enlightening footnote [n. 1] to the above:
Aristotle, in his discussion of akrasia in Nic. Eth. Vii subjects this dictum to severe criticism. The criticism is just, in Aristotle’s context. Yet Aristotle misses the deeper significance of the dictum in Plato’s context. Under the influence of Aristotle’s abrupt dealing with Plato, odium has been heaped on the dictum ever since. St. Augustine is one of the few who had ever seen what Plato was driving at: that moral reformation must precede speculation; that only as we practice virtue will our intellect “tower up to eternity” (De Civ. Dei viii, 3) …”.
This explanation would account for why our universities and academies are full of so many ‘intelligentsia’ who ‘know stuff’, plenty of ‘stuff’, but whose knowledge can often be shallow, uninsightful, and entirely divorced from common sense.
The righteous Prophet, on the other hand, was a man of vast practical and speculative knowledge and wisdom, arising from a righteous and uncorrupted soul. That is why God the Creator could boast of him (Job 1:8): “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil’.”
There is a great interest in angels again today. But only the very pure of heart are generally privileged in this life with contact with the angelic world. There are also those ():
"SENSITIVE NEW AGE ANGELS"
Today it is hard to ignore angels when the New Age movement is promoting them, with recurring coverage in films and television. This is another reason why they must find some place in modern catechetics. But these "new age angels" inhabit their own realm of fluffy clouds and bad art. They pop up in science fiction and adorn sugary little books and calendars. This trend can confuse us because the "sensitive new age angel" is not what the Catholic Church really teaches about angels.
The "new age angel" sometimes turns out to be a dead human being who "turned into an angel", echoing the nonsense once told to bereaved children, "Daddy has gone to be an angel". But people do not turn into angels. There is an essential difference between human beings and angelic beings. When we die, we do not turn into some other being.
The holy mystic and stigmatic, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, was one who was fully alive to the presence of the angels:
It is the conviction of the Church that every human being is assigned an angel of God to be his guardian, an angel who has as his task to "lead (us) to the place that (God) has prepared," heaven. Not everyone listens attentively to their guardian angel, however, as he seeks to enlighten them through the voice of conscience to avoid sin, or gives them good inspirations to the love and service of God and neighbor. Certainly Padre Pio was one who did, from the earliest years of life, so that God granted him the vision not only of his own guardian angel but those of others. Many times it was through the guardian angel of a person that their need was brought to Padre Pio's attention, who then prayed for that person.
The archangel Raphael, will now step in to answer the prayers of Tobit and Sarah.
As part of the solution, Raphael will guide the Prophet to Sarah, so that he may marry her.
(iii) Road to “Ecbatana”
Despite the criticisms of biblical commentators, the angel Raphael
knows exactly which road to take.
Go West Young Man
Finding the road to “Ecbatana”
Totally sincere would have been the young Prophet when he replied to his father (Tobit 5:1): ‘Father, I shall do everything you have told me’. Much later he would, for instance, bury his parents as his father had just now requested (4:3-4):
‘When I die, give me an honourable burial. Honour your mother, and never abandon her all the days of your life. Do all that she wants, and give her no reason for sorrow. Remember, my child, all the risks she ran for your sake when you were in her womb. And when she dies, bury her at my side in the same grave’.
And would request again on his death-bed (14:10).
But the Prophet was yet inexperienced and reliant upon his father, and so, full of questions (5:2): ‘But how am I to recover the silver from him? He does not know me, nor I him. What token am I to give him for him to believe me and hand the silver over to me? And besides, I do not know what roads to take for this journey into Media [Midian]’. Upon his father’s advice to ‘find a trustworthy travelling companion’ (v. 3), the young man “went out to look for a man who knew the way to go with him to Media” (v. 4). Most conveniently: “Outside he found Raphael the angel standing facing him, though he did not guess he was an angel of God”. According to the Vulgate version (5:5): “Then Tobias going forth, found a beautiful young man, standing girded, and as it were ready to walk”. As I have written before, this wonderful moment was appropriated by the writer of The Odyssey: “In the Book of Tobit, this messenger is the angel Raphael (in the guise of ‘Azarias’). In The Odyssey, it is the goddess Athene (in the guise of ‘Mentes’). In both cases, the Hebrew and the Greek, the guide belongs to a family well-known to the father.
To the Prophet’s direct question to Raphael as ‘Azarias’ (5:5): ‘Do you know the road to Media?’, the angel replied with impressive detail (v. 6):
‘Certainly I do, I have been there many times; I have knowledge and experience of all the ways. I have often been to Media and stayed with Gabael one of our kinsmen who lives at Rhages in Media. It usually takes two full days to get from Ecbatana to Rhages; Rhages lies in the mountains, and Ecbatana is in the middle of the plain’.
Neither the fact that Raphael possesses an angelic intellect, however, nor his confident description of the way, will impress certain biblical commentators that he really knows what he is talking about in terms of geography.
Median Ecbatana, Nineveh and Har[r]an
Was the angel Raphael leading young Tobias
‘right up the garden path’?
On the surface of things, the angel Raphael got his geography badly wrong when attempting to lead the Prophet to the land of “Media”, and to “Rhages” and “Ecbatana” therein. And this despite the angel’s assurance to the ageing Tobit (5:10): ‘Yes, I can go with him, for I know all the routes. I have often travelled to Media and crossed all its plains and mountains; so I know every road well’.
However, departing from Nineveh, which is well west of Median Ecbatana (at far right in map), the travellers arrive in the evening at the Tigris River, which is even west of Nineveh. In other words, they are going in quite the wrong direction – exactly opposite to the way that they ought to be heading!
This absurd situation has prompted Fr. D. Dumm, in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (article “Tobit”, footnote comment on 5a), to remark that: “Raphael knows the journey of life far better than the route to Media!”
Whilst, according to The Jerusalem Bible, “the geography is inexact”.
The fact that the Douay-Rheims version of Tobit adds “Charan” (Harran/Haran, see map) as a ‘midway’ point in the journey (Tobit 11:1) serves only to reinforce the view that the travellers are going right away from their intended (as customarily estimated) destination in the east.
When Raphael and the Prophet are properly understood to have been travelling from Nineveh westwards, not the usually presumed eastwards, then their arrival at the Tigris River in the evening, and later at “Charan” in the midway, and finally at “Ecbatana”, makes perfect sense. “Media” then becomes, with a slight tweak (and that is all that is needed with this scenario), Midian. And indeed there are extant versions of the Book of Tobit that supply the appropriate place names here (“Midian” and “Bathania”). Median Ecbatana and Rhages (var. Rhaga, Rau) do not fit the Book of Tobit scenario either directionally or topographically, as the former is in the mountains, whereas Tobit’s Ecbatana was in the plain, whilst Rages, in the mountains in Tobit, is in the plain in Media.
It is simply all the wrong way around!
The Book of Tobit’s city of Rages must be the city of Damascus, which fits exactly insofar as it is in the mountain of Bashan, exactly two miles from where tradition places Job (our Tobias). Previously I have written on this:
… whereas the journey from Tobit’s Ecbatana to Rages normally took “two full days”, the almost 200-mile journey from the Median Ecbatana to Rhages would have taken significantly longer. In fact it took the army of Alexander the Great 11 days at full gallop to march from the one to the other …. Rightly then does Jan Simons observe (according to a Median context) that the journey referred to in the Book of Tobit “would be a forced 'journey of two days' even for an express messenger” ….
…. So we find that the real Raphael [not Fr. Dumm’s inept version of him] was escorting the young Tobias, not eastwards, but westwards from Nineveh, to the Tigris crossing, then to Haran, and on to Bashan (where the angel then leaves on an early flight for Damascus).
I … discussed all this in Volume 2 [of my thesis, A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah and its Background], Ch. 2, pp. 38-40, where I had specifically claimed that “Rages”, a city in the mountains, must be the city of Damascus that dominated the province of Batanaea” (p. 39).
Damascus, almost 700 m above sea level, is actually situated on a plateau.
Secondly, I gave there very specific geographical details in order to identify this “Rages” in relation to “Ecbatana” (Tobit 5:6), which I had in turn identified (following the Heb. Londinii, or HL, fragment version of Tobit) with “Bathania”, or Bashan (possibly Herodotus’ Syrian Ecbatana as opposed to the better known Median Ecbatana). According to Tobit, “Rages is situated in the mountains, two days’ walk from Ecbatana which is in the plain”. Now Damascus is precisely two days’ walk from Bashan in the Hauran plain, as according to Jâkût el-Hamawi who says of Batanaea’s most central town of Nawâ …: “Between Nawa and Damascus is two days’ journey” (as quoted on p. 39). …. Whilst Bible scholars today tend to dismiss the whole geography of the Book of Tobit as nonsensical, a simple adjustment based on a genuine version (Heb. Londinii), makes perfect - even very precise (“two days walk”) - sense of it.
The testimony of Jâkût el-Hamawi here was an absolute clincher for me, not only when trying to make sense of the geography of the Book of Tobit, but also for having Tobias, with the angel, heading to the very region in Naphtali from where Tobit himself had hailed (Naphtalian Bashan) … [and again] from the point of view of having the geography of Tobit converge with that of Job (my Tobias) … with the pair of travellers heading to the very geographical region, Bashan, where ancient legends of Job place his home of Uz and his final resting place.
Again, this Damascene region is the very one in which the Syro-Arabic traditions place the home of Job.
The Jâkût el-Hamawi and Moslem tradition generally mention the east Hauran fertile tract of country north-west of Têmâ and Bûzân, el-Bethenîje (i.e. Batanaea), as the district in which Job dwelt. According to Abufelda …: “The whole of Bethenije, a part of the province of Damascus, belonged to Job as his possession”.
The Syrian tradition also locates Job’s abode in Batanaea, where lies an ancient “Monastery of Job” (Dair Êjûb), built in honour of the holy man.
All the larger works on Palestine and Syria agree that “Uz” is not to be sought in Edom proper. In these works we also find it recorded that Batanaea is there called Job’s fatherland. In Batanaea itself the traveller hears this constantly. If any one speaks of the fruitfulness of the whole district; or of the fields around a village, he is always answered:
‘Is it not the land of Job (bilâd Êjûb)?’;
‘Does it not belong to the villages of Job (diâ Êjûb)?’.
It seems that Batanaea (Hauran) and the land of Job are synonymous.
Job’s Tomb and other Relics
Regarding Job’s tomb, we read from Ibn er-Râbi that …: “To the prophets buried in the region of Damascus belongs also Job, and his tomb is near Nawa, in the district of Hauran”.
Delitzsch … notes, in favour of Batanaea, that the “heap of ashes” (Job 2:8) upon which Job sat in his misery is variously translated as “dunghill”, and that only in a Batanaean context is there no contradiction, since the two were “synonymous notions”. There the dung, being useless for agricultural purposes, is burnt from time to time in an appointed place before the town; while in any other part of Syria it is as valuable as among any farmer. This distinctive fact, he concludes, is yet another indication that Job’s “land of Uz” cannot refer to the land of Edom.
[End of quotes]
The key easily fits the lock and does not need to be forced.
In something of a reversal of Jonah, the Prophet, spurred on by his angelic companion, catches a fish that is about to bite him (6:3-4). Parts of this fish will serve some marvellous purposes, as the angel explains (vv. 8-9):
‘You burn the fish’s heart and liver, and their smoke is used in the case of a man or woman plagued by a demon or evil spirit; any such affliction disappears for good, leaving no trace. As regards the gall, this is used as an eye ointment for anyone having white spots on his eyes; after using it, you have only to blow on the spots to cure them’.
In short, these parts will provide a cure for Sarah’s suffering from the demonic obsession of Asmodeus, and for Tobit’s blindness.
Part Three (i): Marriage.
Demise of Sennacherib
The whole breathtaking drama will now only intensify.
An Arranged Marriage
The Unselfish Couple
They entered Media and had nearly reached Ecbatana
when Raphael said to the boy, ‘Brother Tobias’. ‘Yes?’ he replied. The angel went on, ‘Tonight we are to stay with Raguel, who is a kinsman of yours. He has a daughter called Sarah, but apart from Sarah he has no other son or daughter. Now you are her next of kin; she belongs to you before anyone else and you may claim her father's inheritance. She is a thoughtful, courageous and very lovely girl, and her father loves her dearly. You have the right to marry her. Listen, brother; this very evening I shall speak about the girl to her father and arrange for her to be betrothed to you, and when we come back from Rhages we can celebrate the marriage. I assure you, Raguel has no right whatever to refuse you or to betroth her to anyone else. That would be asking for death, as prescribed in the Book of Moses, once he is aware that kinship gives you the pre-eminent right to marry his daughter. So listen, brother. This very evening we shall speak about the girl and ask for her hand in marriage. When we come back from Rhages we shall fetch her and take her home with us’.
So far so good.
But the Prophet was quite aware of Sarah’s previous history with the demon, Asmodeus, and the death of a succession of husbands. Apart from his natural fear, he was concerned that he - an only son - would die and hence would not be able to bury his parents.
Note that Tobit’s maxims and commands are still ringing in his ears, who had enjoined upon him (4:3-4): ‘When I die, give me an honourable burial. Honour your mother …. And when she dies, bury her at my side in the same grave’. Thus (vv. 14-15):
Tobias replied to Raphael, ‘Brother Azarias, I have been told that she has already been given in marriage seven times and that each time her bridegroom has died in the bridal room. He died the same night as he entered her room; and I have heard people say it was a demon that killed them, and this makes me afraid. To her the demon does no harm because he loves her, but as soon as a man tries to approach her, he kills him. I am my father’s only son, and I have no wish to die. I do not want my father and mother to grieve over me for the rest of their lives; they have no other son to bury them’.
Just as Raphael had known how to get to “Ecbatana”, so does he well know how to get around the young man, simply by reminding him of his “father’s advice” to him (vv. 16-18):
The angel said, ‘Have you forgotten your father's advice? After all, he urged you to choose a wife from your father’s family. Listen then, brother. Do not worry about the demon; take her. This very evening, I promise, she will be given you as your wife. Then once you are in the bridal room, take the heart and liver of the fish and lay a little of it on the burning incense. The reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again. Then, before you sleep together, first stand up, both of you, and pray. Ask the Lord of heaven to grant you his grace and protection. Do not be afraid; she was destined for you from the beginning, and you are the one to save her. She will follow you, and I pledge my word she will give you children who will be like brothers to you. Do not worry’.
(V. 19): “And when Tobias heard Raphael say this, when he understood that Sarah was his sister, a kinswoman of his father's family, he fell so deeply in love with her that he could no longer call his heart his own”.
We recall that it was this very same motivation, concern for her parents (specifically her father), that had enabled Sarah to overcome her sadness and refrain from killing herself.
It is apparent from the reception given to the Prophet (and the angel) that the young man was ‘a chip off the old block’ (Tobit 7:2-7. KJV):
Then said Raguel to Edna his wife, How like is this young man to Tobit my cousin!
And Raguel asked them, From whence are ye, brethren? To whom they said, We are of the sons of Nephtalim, which are captives in Nineve.
Then he said to them, Do ye know Tobit our kinsman? And they said, We know him. Then said he, Is he in good health?
And they said, He is both alive, and in good health: and Tobias said, He is my father.
Then Raguel leaped up, and kissed him, and wept, And blessed him, and said unto him, Thou art the son of an honest and good man. But when he had heard that Tobit was blind, he was sorrowful, and wept.
This Raguel, I have surmised, may have been the aged Eliphaz of the Book of Job, who, whilst he obviously thought highly of the Prophet, harboured, at the same time, some deep misgivings. We find that same attitude expressed towards father Tobit, who was both admired and ridiculed by his Israelite neighbours for his unceasing works of mercy.
The names Raguel and Eliphaz had already met in I Chronicles 1:35: “The sons of Esau, Eliphaz, and Raguel …”, the only other case of the name Eliphaz in the Bible.
Like Eliphaz, at least, Raguel is willing to call a spade a spade (Tobit 7:10-11): “For it is meet that thou shouldest marry my daughter: nevertheless I will declare unto thee the truth. I have given my daughter in marriage to seven men, who died that night they came in unto her …”. Raguel adds: “… nevertheless for the present be merry”.
Was he really thinking here: ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die’.
For, after signing the marriage agreement, and whilst the newlyweds were now alone together, “Raguel arose, and went and made a grave …” (8:9). Then (v. 12): “He said unto his wife Edna. ‘Send one of the maids, and let her see whether he be alive: if he be not, that we may bury him, and no man know it’.”
A Chaste Marriage
The marriage of the Prophet and Sarah is read at Christian marriage ceremonies as a model of right disposition (8:7): ‘And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lust but uprightly: therefore mercifully ordain that we may become aged together’.
Firstly, though, the Prophet must dispel the demon (vv. 2-3): “… he remembered the words of Raphael, and took the ashes of the perfumes, and put the heart and the liver of the fish thereupon, and made a smoke therewith. The which smell when the evil spirit had smelled, he fled into the utmost parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him”.
Even this episode might have its ‘echo’ at the beginning of The Odyssey, when the violent god, Poseidon (who seems to have a will of his own), is found amongst “the distant Ethiopians, the farthest outposts of mankind …” (I, 25).
The Prophet, once again mindful of his father’s maxims, this time the need to bless God at all times (4:19): ‘Bless the Lord thy God always, and desire of him that thy ways may be directed, and that all thy paths and counsels may prosper’, invited Sarah to pray with him (8:4-8):
And after that they were both shut in together, Tobias rose out of the bed, and said, Sister, arise, and let us pray that God would have pity on us.
Then began Tobias to say, Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed is thy holy and glorious name for ever; let the heavens bless thee, and all thy creatures.
Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for an helper and stay: of them came mankind: thou hast said, It is not good that man should be alone; let us make unto him an aid like unto himself.
And now, O Lord, I take not this my sister for lust but uprightly: therefore mercifully ordain that we may become aged together.
And she said with him, Amen.
Raguel, for his part, satisfied that this marriage was not about to go the way of the seven previous ones, “bade his servants to fill in the grave” (v. 18).
The joyful wedding feast lasted for “fourteen days” (v. 19).
All the time, the Prophet was mindful of the fact that his parents would be counting the days. So he (9:1-6):
… called Raphael, and said unto him,
Brother Azarias, take with thee a servant, and two camels, and go to Rages of Media to Gabael, and bring me the money, and bring him to the wedding.
For Raguel hath sworn that I shall not depart.
But my father counteth the days; and if I tarry long, he will be very sorry.
So Raphael went out, and lodged with Gabael, and gave him the handwriting: who brought forth bags which were sealed up, and gave them to him.
And early in the morning they went forth both together, and came to the wedding: and Tobias blessed his wife.
In a situation somewhat reminiscent of Jacob and Laban - though far less intense and nasty - Raguel tries to detain the Prophet there longer (10:8-11):
But his father in law said unto him, Tarry with me, and I will send to thy father, and they shall declare unto him how things go with thee.
But Tobias said, No; but let me go to my father.
Then Raguel arose, and gave him Sara his wife, and half his goods, servants, and cattle, and money: And he blessed them, and sent them away, saying, The God of heaven give you a prosperous journey, my children.
Tobit’s Blindness Cured
The Prophet, upon his return home, along with his dog (11:4) - another detail in common with The Odyssey - is ecstatically greeted by his long-suffering mother, Anna (v. 9): ‘Seeing I have seen thee, my son, from henceforth I am content to die. And they wept both’.
And then occurs the wondrous cure of Tobit’s blindness, described with eyewitness-like detail (vv. 10-13):
Tobit also went forth toward the door, and stumbled: but his son ran unto him,
And took hold of his father: and he strake of the gall on his fathers’ eyes, saying, Be of good hope, my father.
And when his eyes began to smart, he rubbed them;
And the whiteness pilled away from the corners of his eyes: and when he saw his son, he fell upon his neck.
The newlyweds’ wedding feast, which could now be celebrated in the house of Tobit and Anna, would see the arrival of two very distinguished guests: Ahiqar and Nadab. These were two right-hand men of the notorious king of Assyria, Sennacherib, whose days of despotism were, however (as we shall read in Part Three (ii)), fast running out.
(ii) Demise of Sennacherib
And events will now intensify further, most dramatically, especially for Assyria’s king, Sennacherib, and his world-conquering 185,000-strong Wehrmacht.
According to the reconstruction offered in this series, events in the life of the Prophet and his family that one might think had occurred during the reign of Esarhaddon (viz., Tobit’s blindness; the journey to “Ecbatana”; marriage) have been set, instead, in Sennacherib’s reign.
What has prompted me to conclude this is the appearance, at the wedding of the Prophet and Sarah in Nineveh, of Ahiqar and especially Nadab.
The last that we had heard of Ahiqar, after his brilliant service on behalf of the victorious Sennacherib at Jerusalem, was Ahiqar’s kind attendance upon his blind uncle Tobit before his departure to Elam. We have also fleetingly encountered Nadab. This Nadab is variously called “Nadin”, which is the name by which I prefer to call him, given that I would identify him with Sennacherib’s eldest son Ashur-nadin-shumi, and as the elusive, the ill-fated, commander-in-chief “Holofernes” of the Book of Judith.
If, instead, we are by now (the wedding in Nineveh) in the reign of Esarhaddon, then part of my Judith reconstructions have a major problem.
Nadin should have been well and truly headless and dead by now.
The beautiful Simeonite, Judith, had certainly been one over whom to lose one’s head.
185,000-strong Assyrian Army
The legendarily wise Ahiqar, who is described in the Book of Tobit as Nadin’s “uncle”, was more likely Nadin’s mentor. Now, when Tobit, on his deathbed, had urged his son (14:10):
‘Remember what Nadab did to Ahikar his own uncle who had brought him up. He tried to kill Ahikar and forced him to go into hiding …. Ahikar came back into the light of day, but God sent Nadab down into everlasting darkness for what he had done. Ahikar escaped the deadly trap which Nadab had set for him, because Ahikar had given generously to the poor. But Nadab fell into that fatal trap and it destroyed him’ [,]
he was, I believe, referring to the incident when “Holofernes” (= Nadin) had left for dead his benefactor, “Achior” (= Ahiqar), beneath the hilltop city of Bethulia, Judith’s town.
However, as Tobit tells, without giving details: ‘Ahikar escaped the deadly trap which Nadab had set for him, because Ahikar had given generously to the poor. But Nadab fell into that fatal trap and it destroyed him’.
The missing details are fully supplied in the Book of Judith.
The Jewish heroine will show the head of “Holofernes” to “Achior”, presumably for verification amongst the Bethulians, who had taken him in.
This is the famous incident of the defeat of the 185,000-strong Assyrian army generally accredited to an angel. (The Douay version of Judith will include mention of an angel). It was not some kind of cosmic blast (Velikovsky), nor a plague of mice (Herodotus), that caused the disaster for Assyria. It was a rout, precipitated by the heroic action of Judith, and resulting in a massive loss of Assyrian soldiery.
It was after this western campaign by the Assyrians, Sennacherib’s Year 19-20, and not the first victorious one in his Year 11 (the Book of Tobit seems to be telescoping two invasions), that Sennacherib was shortly assassinated. The prophet Nahum may be telling of this same incident when he proclaims, regarding a certain “Belial” (בְּלִיָּעַל) (Nahum 1:11-13):
From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and devises wicked plans. This is what the Lord says: ‘Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away’.
The prophet Nahum of Elkosh (1:1), or Ali Kosh, I take to be an alter ego of the Prophet featured in this series, whose home I have already located at Ali Kosh N. of Nineveh.
I shall develop this last identification later on.
(iii) Legends of the Fall of Sennacherib
So earth shattering was the episode of ancient Israel’s smashing of the 185,000-strong army of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that it became the stuff of legends far and wide.
Apart from the Book of Judith, which is the key that unlocks this most dramatic of historical incidents that has otherwise become somewhat misty in human memory, the catastrophic (for Assyria) defeat of Sennacherib’s army is referred to in greater or lesser detail also in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, in the Book of Isaiah, in Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and in the Maccabees.
I suspect that it even has its reverberations in many colourful legends or pseudo-histories (whether BC and AD) of nations far and wide.
The supposedly Greek historian, Herodotus, had faint recall of it, but, in characteristic Greek fashion, he mangled it https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/212-herodotus-and-the-bible
The Bible, Herodotus, and Assyria
When Hezekiah was ruler of Judah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, marched against Israel’s southern kingdom (see 2 Kings 18:13ff; Isaiah 36:1ff). According to his records, the monarch took forty-six Judean cities. In fact, he sent his army to Jerusalem where he boasted that he shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.” He did not, however, take the holy city. Why not? Because Jehovah intervened, in response to Hezekiah’s prayer, and destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Kings 19:35).
[Mackey’s comment: This is a common fusing, into one, of two well-separated Assyrian invasions of the west during the reign of Sennacherib].
Herodotus has a garbled account of this disaster that crippled the Assyrian forces. He records that Sennacherib marched against Egypt. During a certain night, though, field mice supposedly invaded the Assyrian camp and gnawed the quivers, bow strings, and leather shield handles, thus disarming the military force. As a consequence, many of the soldiers were killed and others fled (ii.141).
The same famous biblical incident, again completely mangled, constitutes a defining moment in the received history of Islam, the Birth of Mohammed: 570 AD, the “Year of the Elephant” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_of_the_Elephant
The Year of the Elephant (Arabic: عام الفيل, ʿĀmu l-Fīl) is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 570 CE. According to Islamic tradition, it was in this year that Muhammad was born. The name is derived from an event said to have occurred at Mecca: Abraha, the Christian ruler of Yemen, which was subject to the Kingdom of Aksum of Ethiopia, marched upon the Kaaba with a large army, which included one or more war elephants, intending to demolish it. However, the lead elephant, known as Mahmud, is said to have stopped at the boundary around Mecca, and refused to enter. It has been theorized that an epidemic such as by smallpox could have caused such a failed invasion of Mecca. The year came to be known as the Year of the Elephant, beginning a trend for reckoning the years in the Arabian Peninsula used until it was replaced with the Islamic calendar during the rule of Umar.
Here, an “epidemic” is the cause of bringing to a halt the invading army.
Whereas: “… historians today believe that this event occurred at least a decade prior to the birth of Muhammad.”, the real historical incident upon which it so loosely hangs occurred when the Prophet was by now a married man.
The Kingdom of Aksum [Axum] of Ethiopia seems to have taken the place of ancient Assyria in later legends. It recurs in the story of Gudit, or Judith (clearly based on the ancient Judith), supposedly of 960 AD, “who laid waste to Axum and its countryside, destroyed churches and monuments, and attempted to exterminate the members of the ruling Axumite dynasty. Her deeds are recorded in the oral tradition and mentioned incidentally in various historical accounts”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudit
In another garbled version of the life of the real Prophet of this series, we find that the anachronistic Mohammed is said to have been a contemporary of a young man from Nineveh, that city having been completely destroyed in c. 612 BC, however, about a millennium before Mohammed is supposed to have lived. Moreover, Mohammed was a “brother” of the prophet Yunus (Jonah). Note how the following story jumbles various elements from the Book of Tobit, such as the pity of Tobit for a fellow human being, his resting against a wall, his being attended upon by a young man (Ahiqar’s tending to Tobit) before the young man resumed his duties (Ahiqar leaving for Elam), and even the mention of the prophet Jonah (Yunus) (Tobit 14:4, 8).
When they had travelled a short distance, they rested against one of the walls of a vineyard. as Muhammad (pbuh) rested, a couple of Makkans who owned the vineyard recognised Muhammad (pbuh) and took pity on their state. They sent their servant Addas with some grapes for the two visitors. The prophet (pbuh) thanked Addas and ate the grapes beginning with the name of Allah. Addas was surprised with these words and began to talk to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Addas was a Christian slave and when the prophet (pbuh) asked him where he was from, he replied Nineveh. The prophet (pbuh) said the noble Yunus was from there. Addas was very surprised and asked the prophet (pbuh) “How do you know about Yunus?” The prophet (pbuh) replied, “He was my brother and I too am a prophet.”
Addas was very surprised and kissed Muhammad (pbuh) on the hands and forehead before returning to his duties. The two brothers had witnessed this and they asked Addas about his behaviour. Addas said that that man leaning against the wall is none other than a prophet. The two brothers shouted at Addas and told him that he should not leave his religion and follow Muhammad (pbuh). The Makkans were against the prophet and did not want anyone to follow him.
[End of quote]
Can you really blame them?
Married and Officiating
The Prophet was probably yet too young and inexperienced to have served in any position of official importance during the reign of Sennacherib. Though his being a cousin of the highly-influential Ahiqar, who had attended his wedding, would not have harmed his prospects.
But, come the reign of Esarhaddon, the Prophet, now married and maturing, began to embark upon a career that was to take him beyond that of his father and his cousin.
We left the Prophet as a young married man, and with the family and friends rejoicing over the ageing Tobit now cured of his blindness. All of this in the reign of Sennacherib.
With the assassination death of Sennacherib, and his perhaps more favourably-disposed son Esarhaddon’s rise to the throne of Assyria,
http://www.geocities.ws/robertp6165/saitetimeline.html Esarhaddon, in contrast to usual Assyrian practice, is moderate in the implementation of the occupation of Egypt compared to past policies in other provinces, respecting local traditions as far as possible.
the way now lies open for a new phase of career for Tobit - who had so faithfully served king Shalmaneser, father of Sennacherib, and with yet some 40 years of health to look forward to - and for his to be long-lived son.
The illustrious career of the Prophet, not covered in the Book of Tobit, is glimpsed through Job’s recollections in various places, most notably in, as we have read, Job 29.
For any further information, we need to go outside the books of Tobit and Job, to writings such as The Testament of Job and, perhaps (for Catholic readers), the visions of the holy mystic, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.
According to The Testament of Job, the prophet Job was a king in Egypt. David deSilva tells of this (http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195329001.001.1/):
Scholars generally agree that the work was composed in Egypt, especially since the author situates Job himself in Egypt as a king (T. Job 28:7) in contrast with the biblical setting in “Uz” (Job 1:1). Attempts to link the work more closely with the Therapeutae, a Jewish sect in Egypt with some resemblances to the Essenes, are interesting but inconclusive.20
But that is not all, for it seems that strong Egyptian influences can also be detected throughout the Book of Job, at least according to the Rev. G. Knight, in Nile and Jordan (1921).
This would make perfect sense if Job - and/or the author[s] of the book - had spent a substantial period of time in that country.
What I would be looking for at this stage in my historical search for an illustrious career for the Prophet - and perhaps also for his father, Tobit - would be an appointment during the reign of king Esarhaddon of Assyria (continuing on with Ashurbanipal in the case of Tobit’s son), and one that included serving in Egypt, presumably at a very high level.
And I think that, in Montuemhat [Mantimanhe] and his father Nesptah, at Thebes in Egypt, I may have found just the sort of pattern that I am looking for. We read about these two most significant characters at: http://www.newchronology.org/fullt/53.txt
Mayor Montuemhat is perhaps the most interesting Theban figure known to Egyptologists from the complex period of transition between the Kushite 25th and Saite 26th Dynasties. This was also, of course, the time of the invasions of Egypt by the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal which included the sacking of Thebes in 664 BC. His standing in the Theban community during this turbulent period of Egyptian history cannot
simply be measured by the great number of titles and offices which he held. Montuemhat was certainly more influential than a mere ‘mayor’ or ‘Fourth Prophet of Amun’. Indeed, Ashurbanipal records him as ‘king of Thebes’ on the ‘Rassam Cylinder where his name appears in the Akkadian writing as ‘Mantimanhe’.
Comment: This is the precise chronological era in neo-Assyrian history that I would expect to find the Prophet serving as an official, from the reign of Esarhaddon through to Ashurbanipal. “Esarhaddon appoints various native [sic?] noblemen as governors, functionaries and scribes in the provinces of Egypt” (http://www.geocities.ws/robertp6165/saitetimeline.html)
Note, too, that Montuemhat was a “Prophet”, and also that he was a servant of the god, Amun, like Senenmut (Solomon in Egypt). See my:
Solomon and Sheba
according to which (Amun) Amon-Ra was the King of All Gods.
Thomas C. Hamilton has written along similar lines in his “Amunism and Atenism” (http://kabane52.tumblr.com/post/132812715270/amunism-and-atenism):
I have pointed out in the past that the descriptions of Amun in Egyptian literature converge in fascinating ways with the biblical description of God. Amun-Re is a sun-god. The sun, of course, is one of the Lord’s chief symbols in Scripture, and the nations worshiped God as the “God of Heaven.” This is why the phenomenon of original monotheism is called the “sky-god” phenomenon. That a god was associated with the sun does not mean that he had always been identified with the sun. Indeed, I think the “fusion” of Amun and Re was the recovery of a pristine monotheistic religion. Just as Yahweh and El were two titles for one God, so also Amun and Re. Imhotep, whom I have identified with Joseph, served as High Priest of Re at Heliopolis.
[End of quote]
Above all, Montuemhat was - as tradition has recorded of the prophet Job - a “king”.
The great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, graces him with the title, “king of Thebes”.
Further on, we shall read that Montuemhat had ruled over a massive portion of Egypt. This would have become possible as the neo-Assyrian kings managed to push far southwards the Kushite rulers of 25th dynasty of Egypt.
Finally, Ashurbanipal even conquered the great city of Thebes (664 BC, conventional dating). This would likely mean that Montuemhat, who lived beyond this cataclysmic event, would have been an actual witness to it. No wonder then that he - if as Job, as Nahum:
Prophet Nahum as Tobias-Job Comforted
could write of Nineveh (Nahum 3:8): “… are you better than No Amon [Thebes] …?”
The article continues:
Montuemhat’s noble descent was certainly of help in his acquisition of the various offices of state, positions which had been handed down for generations from father to son. Already before him his great grandfather, Harsiese, and grand-father, Khaemhor, had been mayors of Thebes, viziers and prophets of Amun during the late 22nd Dynasty and also under the hegemony of the early Kushite pharaohs Shabaka and Shabataka.
From his father, Nesptah, he directly inherited the title of ‘Mayor of Thebes’ and, in addition, he was holder of the office of ‘Governor of Upper Egypt’. Besides these significant civil and administrative posts, Montuemhat also acted as a religious functionary for the cult of Amun. However, in spite of his dominant position as mayor of the great religious centre of Egypt, he only reached the rank of ‘Fourth Prophet of Amun’
within the great temple of Amun at Karnak itself. He did record the title of ‘Second Prophet’ on certain monuments, but unfortunately without mentioning the deity to whom the post obtained. The position of ‘Prophet of Montu’, which also had been within the inheritance of this powerful Theban family, was transferred to his brother, Harsiese, who then handed the title down to his own son. Nevertheless, a son of Montuemhat named Paherienmut later rose to the rank of a ‘Third Prophet of Montu’.
Comment: Who were these illustrious forbears of Montuemhat from whom he could apparently boast “noble descent”? Surely not, though (in my context), “native” Egyptians, as historians naturally think. In this series we have observed that Tobit and other of his relatives, especially Ahikar - and later the Prophet himself - were extremely significant public figures, some attaining to the very highest official positions in the kingdom of Assyria.
The legendary ‘Story of Ahikar’ tells of Ahikar’s involvement with Egypt and its Pharaoh on behalf of king Sennacherib.
As we deepen our knowledge of the presumed Theban mayors, Khaemhor and Harsiese, “during the late 22nd Dynasty”, we may be able to get a better handle on the tortuous phase known as the Third Intermediate Period [TIP] of Egyptian history (21st-25th dynasties). The article continues, turning now to more of a consideration of Montuemhat’s father, Nesptah (Nesiptah):
While we possess a significant amount of information concerning Montuemhat’s father, Nesptah, very little is known about his mother, Istemkheb, a very common name of the time. Montuemhat seems to have had three wives. His principal spouse was apparently the lady Neskhons, for her son, Nesptah, became Montuemhat’s heir and successor. In his father’s tomb in Asasif (Western Thebes) Nesptah is depicted performing the funeral rites and making offerings to his deceased father (for the discovery of the burial of Nesptah see JACF 2, p. 82). His other wives were the lady Shepenmut and a Nubian princess named Udjarenes. The latter appears in the tomb of Montuemhat in statue groups and reliefs accompanying her husband. It seems likely that the marriage of Montuemhat to this Nubian princess was undertaken as a gesture of loyalty towards the Kushite kings under whose rule he began his career.
Comment: All of the names here are Egyptian: Montuemhat, his father, Nesptah, his mother, Istemkheb, his wife, Neskhons. The Hebrew versions, I suggest, were, respectively, Tobias/Job, (his father) Tobit, (his mother) Anna, (his wife) Sarah.
The name Montuemhat itself may have great significance following on from my argument, albeit most controversial, that the Prophet was in fact the template for the non-historical Prophet Mohammed. I have written this about the name similarities, or even equivalents:
Birth of Mohammed
Given as c. 570 … the “Year of the Elephant”. But revised here to the reign of Sennacherib. Mohammed’s parents are traditionally given as ‘Abdullah and Aminah, or Amna. Now, this information is what really confirms me in my view that Tobias is a major influence in the biography of Mohammed, because the names of Tobias’s parents boil down to very much the same as those of Mohammed. Tobit is a Greek version of the name ‘Obad-iah, the Hebrew yod having been replaced by a ‘T’.
And ‘Obadiah, or ‘Abdiel, is, in Arabic ‘Abdullah, the name of Mohammed’s father.
And Amna is as close a name as one could get to Anna, the wife of Tobit ….
Tobias (my Job) is the biblico-historical foundation for the young Mohammed!
[End of quote]
May we now include, alongside Tobit = ‘Abdullah and Anna = Amna, our alter ego for Tobias/Job, Montuemhat = Mohammad?
Whilst I have thought to identify Job’s wife as Sarah of the Book of Tobit:
Did Job’s Wife really say to the Prophet: ‘Curse God and die’? Part Two. Job’s Wife as Sarah of Book of Tobit.
and now potentially, in an Egyptian context: “His principal spouse … lady Neskhons”, it is quite credible, given the progeny of Job, that he had other, lesser, wives as well.
“Montuemhat seems to have had three wives”, we read above.
Also of relevance is mention of Montuemhat’s “making offerings to his deceased father” in light of Tobit 14:11: “Then they laid Tobit on his bed. He died and was given an honorable burial”. According to the Montuemhat article, he was a man of “undoubted political skills”:
The first time we come across Montuemhat in the texts is during the reign of pharaoh Taharka (690-664BC). He continues in office, no doubt as a result of his undoubted political skills, throughout the trauma of the Assyrian sack of Thebes and is still attending to his duties when the Saite pharaoh, Psamtek I, sends his daughter, Nitocris, to Thebes to become the ‘God’s Wife of Amun at a special adoption ceremony in 655 BC. As was the tradition of the period, the incumbent God’s Wife, Shepenupet (daughter of the last Nubian king Tanutamun) formerly accepted the young Nitocris as her successor, thus handing over to the Saite princess much of the power and authority of the Amun cult and its estates. Since Montuemhat was the effective ruler of Thebes following the departure of the Assyrian forces in around 662, he was undoubtedly directly involved in the political manoeuvres which brought Nitocris to Upper Egypt and his long term experience of the machinations of Theban political life may have presented him with the opportunity to act as mediator in the negotiations between the Kushite faction still at Thebes and the new dynastic power of the western Delta which was based at the new capital of Sais.
Montuemhat’s territory of rule was extremely vast and he officiated there for a long period of time, “a full 30 years” according to the following:
With the Thebaid as his residence, Montuemhat ruled a region stretching as far south as Elepha[n]tine at the First Cataract and up to Hermopolis in the north. …. The political ups and downs of the time are also reflected in the contemporary art. By chance, numerous statues of Montuemhat have come down to us in remarkable condition - more than a dozen cut from dark hardstone. The early pieces, made during the 25th Dynasty, show the typical style of the Kushite rulers, in spite of the fact that Montuemhat was himself a native Egyptian [sic]. It is likely, therefore, that Kushite craftsmen were commissioned to undertake the work for the Theban mayor, or at least their influence was predominant at the local court. His later representations, on the
other hand, are characteristic of early Saite art, with the typical archaising canon which was such a feature of the 26th Dynasty ‘renaissance’. Even in his old age Montuemhat was responsible for an expedition to the quarries of the Wadi Gasus in the Eastern Desert. The rock-carved inscription left there by him is actually the last dated record of Montuemhat known to us. He died sometime around 648 BC. Thus his career continued on through the first 16 years of Psamtek 1’s reign and in total spanned a full 30 years.
His tomb (Asasif no. TT. 34) is the most significant monument in the eastern area of the
giant cliff bay of Deir el-Bahri. The impressive mudbrick pylon even today dominates the land-scape of this part of the necropolis, marking the location of the largest private tomb in Western Thebes. ….
His succession of trials
“Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them”.
Psalm 33:20 (Douay)
Finally, after having scoured the Book of Tobit for abundant information about the Prophet in his earlier years, and even having delved into 25th-26th dynastic Egyptian history, and the biblical Book of Nahum, we can focus upon the Prophet as we find him in the Book of Job. There we encounter him as a married man of the vastest imaginable worldly and spiritual experience, with many children, living in the fertile region of Hauran (“the land of Uz”).
And he was the greatest of the great (Job 1:1-3):
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
After a very long career (much of it spent in Egypt) in service to some great kings of Assyria, the Prophet would have returned to bury his parents as his father had requested of him.
His father Tobit, “after his sight had been restored”, we are told, “lived a very full life”. I have surmised that some of this “very full life” was as an official for Assyria in Egypt.
By the time that Tobit, now aged 112 (according to one version), was on his death-bed, the Prophet, we are told, had seven sons (Tobit 14:5): “And at the hour of his death he called unto him his son Tobias and his children, seven young men, his grandsons …”.
This crucial piece of biographical information, seven sons, was the first link in the chain, for me, connecting Tobias to Job, who, as we read above, “had seven sons and three daughters”. Tobit told his son about what the latter surely well realised anyway, as Nahum, the imminent Fall of Nineveh (14:4):
My son, take your children and go at once to Media [sic]. I believe that God’s judgment which his prophet [Jonah] announced against Nineveh is about to take place. Everything that God’s prophets told Israel about Nineveh and Assyria will happen. It will all come true, every word of it, when the right time comes. I am absolutely convinced that everything God has said is sure to come true. God does not break his promises. It will be safer for you in Media than in Assyria or Babylon.
The Prophet, as an only son, would inherit the family inheritance, and then later that of Raguel and Edna, his wife Sarah’s parents (vv. 11-13):
Then they laid Tobit on his bed. He died and was given an honorable burial. Later on, Tobit's wife died and was buried beside her husband. Then Tobias and his wife moved to Ecbatana in Media, where they lived with Raguel, Tobias’ father-in-law. Tobias took care of Edna and Raguel in their old age and showed them great respect. When at last they died, he buried them at Ecbatana. Tobias inherited Raguel’s estate, as he had inherited the estate of his father Tobit.
If Raguel were the Eliphaz of the Book of Job, as I think that he might have been, then these verses are again telescoping incidents (the death of Tobit and his wife and the death of Raguel and his wife) that had really happened some time apart.
In between, there occurred an incident of massive historical importance, as told right at the end of the Book of Tobit. The Prophet, we are informed (14:15):
… lived long enough to hear about the destruction of Nineveh and to see King Cyaxares of Media take the people away as captives. Tobias praised God for the way that he had punished the people of Nineveh and Assyria. As long as he lived he gave thanks for what God had done to Nineveh.
In his rejoicing over Nineveh, he was the prophet Nahum.
But his life continued significantly longer even than that.
In what follows, I am not interested in the interpretative side of the Book of Job, the dialogues - a most fascinating subject in its own right
"Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job." (Victor Hugo)
"...the greatest poem, whether of ancient or modern literature."
"The Book of Job taken as a mere work of literary genius, is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language."
My interest here will be more biographical.
When and where did the Prophet’s famous series of trials occur?
The Trials of Job
The Fall of Nineveh, estimated at c. 612 BC, had occurred towards the end of the reign of the good king Josiah of Judah, whose violent death at the hands of pharaoh Necho, fighting on behalf of the beleaguered Assyrians, is thought to have happened just a few years later than this, in c. 609 BC (2 Kings 23:29-30):
While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo. Josiah’s servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father.
Whilst it is difficult to say at this stage when and where occurred the Prophet’s first two trials (Job 1:13-16):
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’ [,]
the third one, with its reference to raiding Chaldeans (v. 17):
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’ [,]
may give us a real clue.
But to return to the first trial for a moment, “the Sabeans” (presumably Yemenites), we might not expect these peoples to have caused the Prophet any grief whilst he was dwelling in northern Assyria, nor even in Egypt. So, presumably this trial had struck the Prophet whilst he was living in “the land of Uz” as according to Job 1:1.
The third trial, at least, may enable us to set a date with some real precision.
The Assyrian empire has now dissolved and the Chaldean one has replaced it.
In Judah, the tragic death of king Josiah has been followed by the exile of his son, Jehoahaz, to Egypt, to be replaced by a new king, Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:31-35):
Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his predecessors had done. Pharaoh Necho put him in chains at Riblah in the land of Hamath so that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and he imposed on Judah a levy of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. Pharaoh Necho made Eliakim son of Josiah king in place of his father Josiah and changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz and carried him off to Egypt, and there he died. Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh Necho the silver and gold he demanded. In order to do so, he taxed the land and exacted the silver and gold from the people of the land according to their assessments.
Jehoiakim, a rebellious king, had the misfortune to have ruled contemporaneously with the early years of the great Nebuchednezzar II, the Chaldean, against whom the king of Judah foolishly rebelled. What happened next enables us, I think, to know why the Prophet had trouble with raiding bands of Chaldeans (2 Kings 24:1-2):
In [Jehoiakim’s] days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. The LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken through His servants the prophets.
But it was about to get even worse for the Prophet (Job 1:18-22):
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised’.
The Prophet, now aged, and in the depths of distress, is still mindful, nonetheless, of his father’s consistent advice, to bless God on every occasion. And so we read (v. 22): “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing”.
And so the Prophet will continue to do, even as he enters, some time later, into his most terrible trial of all, his prolonged Dark Night of the Soul, when even the God who had carried him throughout his many years appears to have turned right against him.
Despite his severe losses, the Prophet would die at an advanced age, full of honour. “He saw his children's children to the fifth generation” (14:15. Douay).
(Job 42: 16-17): “… Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years”.