Faithful Diaspora Jews – Daniel, Joseph and Tobit

The book of Daniel tells a remarkable story of accommodation and resistance. Daniel does accommodate himself to some elements of Babylonian culture, but refuses the king’s food at the risk of his own life. In Daniel 3 three Jewish exiles refuse an oath of loyalty to Babylon and in Daniel refuses to pray to an emperor as if he were God.

There are other books in written in the Second Temple Period which portray faithful Jews liking in the Diaspora who also resist elements of Hellenism The book of Tobit presents Tobit as faithful to the Covenant even though he lives in the diaspora. In many ways the character consciously parallels Joseph and Daniel.

Joseph and Daniel are the two characters in the Hebrew Bible who lived in a foreign country yet remained true to the Mosaic Covenant. In both stories the hero is described as committed to the covenant and therefore as successful. Both Joseph and Daniel experience the blessings of the covenant and rise to powerful positions in the administration of a foreign government.

That Joseph is faithful to the Mosaic Covenant prior to Moses seems to be the belief of Second Temple period Judaism. This is clear in the story of Joseph and Aseneth. Aseneth is the Egyptian woman Joseph marries according to Genesis 41:45. In the story Joseph refuses to kiss Aseneth because her lips have touched unclean food. The book of Joseph and Asenath is in part the story of her conversion to Judaism.

Joseph and Daniel are commitment to aspect of the Law, creating a crisis when they are required to do something which is against Torah. In Genesis 39 Joseph resists adultery; in Daniel 1 the issue is unclean food; Daniel 3 and 6, prayer to an idol). The hero is then persecuted and stripped of position, yet still remains faithful.

Because of continued faith in persecution, they are restored once again to a state of blessing. In both the Joseph and Daniel stories, this cycle is repeated several times.The book should not therefore be read as “an enchanting but nonetheless esoteric romance that lies outside the mainstream of authentic Judaism,” but rather as a “well-constructed narrative in the service of Israel’s religion” (Di Lella, Tobit, 387).

The book begins with Tobit in captivity in Assyria. Tobit claims to be the only Jew in the Diaspora who attends festivals in Jerusalem (1:6a) and to do all which the “everlasting covenant” requires (1:6b, cf. 5:14, he lists others in the Diaspora who attended festival with him). Tobit makes all of the appropriate tithes and offerings required by the Torah (1:6b-8). Tobit claims to give all three tithes required in the law in Jerusalem even though he lives in Assyria. He married within this family rather than marrying either outside the clan or outside of Israel (1:9).

Tobit burys the Dead, Giovanni FrancescoLike Daniel, Tobit states he has kept himself from Gentile food, despite the fact that many Jews at this potentially unclean food (1:10-11). Because he was “mindful of God” with all his heart the Lord gives him favor and good standing in the government of Shalmaneser. The verb μιμνῄσκω is translated “to be mindful” in the NRSV and used by the LXX to translate זכר in several key texts in Deuteronomy.

For example, in Deuteronomy 8:18 Moses admonishes the people to “remember (using a future passive of μιμνῄσκω) the Lord your God” because he is able to give them the ability to produce wealth “and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (NRSV). Remembering the Lord God is linked to production of wealth and the blessings of the covenant. In 2:2 Tobit tells Tobias his son take some food from the feast and deliver it to the poor, whoever is “wholeheartedly mindful of God.” This description uses the verb μιμνῄσκω to describe one the faithful among the diaspora Jews.

Tobit does “acts of charity” (1:16-17). The word translated “acts of charity” is ἐλεημοσύνη, an important word in Tobit and other later books in the LXX. Of the 70 occurrences of the word in the LXX, 33 are in Tobit, and 13 are in Sirach. For example, in Sirach 3:30 almsgiving “atones for sin.” Significantly, the word appears twice in Daniel 4:27 (The word also occurs in Daniel 9:16, but it is the righteous acts of the Lord which are in mind). After Nebuchadnezzar is restored from his madness, Daniel admonishes him concerning his sins, telling him to “redeem them with almsgiving.”

One specific act of charity in Tobit is the proper burial of the dead. While a general respect for the dead is found in the biblical material, there seems to be no specific foundation in the Hebrew Bible for Tobit’s insistence on helping to bury the dead. Whatever his motivation, Tobit performs these acts of charity because they are at the heart of his religion.

Like both Joseph and Daniel, Tobit’s commitment to burying the dead leads to suffering. When Tobit cares for the bodies of those killed by Sennacherib, he is persecuted by the king (1:17-20). Tobit loses his property and is under the threat of death, but within forty days Sennacherib is assassinated by his own sons and Tobit’s property is restored through the intervention of Ahikar (1:21-22). When he buries the body he is mocked by his neighbors (presumably Jews) for again doing an act of charity which could result in his own suffering. Because Tobit is unclean as a result of touching the corpse he sleeps outside of the house (at the wall, 29; cf, Num 19:11-13), indicating his observance of purity laws.

When Tobit is about to die, he is described as a man who had “lived in prosperity, giving alms and continually blessing God” (14:2). Like both Joseph and Daniel, Tobit’s commitment to core elements of his Jewish faith result in real-world prosperity despite suffering as a result of his commitment.

Tobit is therefore a faithful Jewish person living in the exile. Like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, he remains committed to core elements of the Covenant and suffers because of these commitments. That Joseph, Daniel, and Tobit are all eventually rewarded and prosperous would have been an encouragement to Jewish readers living in the Diaspora.

Acts 10 – Jews and Gentiles

In Acts 10:27-29, Peter expresses his hesitancy to enter the home of a Gentile.  I think the key here is not simply talking with a Gentile, but receiving hospitality form a Gentile. Primarily this was because of food, but some Jews in the first century did in fact avoid contact with Gentiles in order to avoid impurity.  This was certainly true in Jerusalem where Temple worship could be a daily experience.  Josephus tells us that the Jews kept separate from the Gentiles: “[the Jews]…did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness.” (Antiq. 13:245-247; cf., Apion, 2.210) Witherington (Acts, 353) observes that the Greek word Luke chooses here probably has the sense of “taboo” or “strongly frowned upon.”

Kosher

But this is not to say that Gentiles were totally excluded from Jewish worship.  There was a huge “court of the Gentiles” in the temple complex itself, giving Gentiles a place of worship in the temple.  On a number of occasions in the gospels Jesus speaks with Gentiles, although usually the faith of the Gentile is in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Jews.

One factor bearing on this issue is the long standing Jewish belief that purity laws did not apply to Gentiles even when they lived in Israelite territory.  The “sojourner laws” of Deut 5:14 ff define these Gentiles as resident aliens and require only a few general commands for them while they are living within the nation of Israel. (These are the same commands given by James at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:24-29.)

Rabbinic writers seem to have defined a category “gentile impurity,” but this does not appear in the eighteen benedictions (dating to the period just prior to the fall of Jerusalem.) Did Jews of the first century consider Gentiles impure and therefore exclude them from the inner courts of the temple?  Several Second Temple period texts indicate that Jews did not mix at all with Gentiles (Jubilees 22:16, Tobit 1:10-12, Judith 12:1-1).  Consider also Joseph and Asenath 7:1:  “Joseph never ate with the Egyptians, for this was an abomination to him”

Jubilees 22:16 And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.

Tobit 1:10-12 After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, everyone of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart . . .

Judith 12:1-4 Then he commanded them to bring her in where his silver dinnerware was kept, and ordered them to set a table for her with some of his own delicacies, and with some of his own wine to drink. But Judith said, “I cannot partake of them, or it will be an offense; but I will have enough with the things I brought with me.” Holofernes said to her, “If your supply runs out, where can we get you more of the same? For none of your people are here with us.”  Judith replied, “As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up the supplies I have with me before the Lord carries out by my hand what he has determined.”

What I think is fascinating is that Cornelius, as a God-Fearer, might very well have followed the food laws as well as Peter did.  Yet there was still a hesitancy on the part of the apostolic mission to cross over the next social barrier and bring the gospel to Gentiles, even a God-Fearing Gentile like Cornelius.  These issues will erupt into the first major church controversy by Acts 15 and may stand in the background of Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2.

Tobit: Remembering the Covenant

The author the book of Tobit presents Tobit as keeping the Covenant in the diaspora by consciously paralleling him to Joseph and Daniel, the two characters in the Hebrew Bible who lived in a foreign country yet remained true to the Mosaic Covenant. In both stories the hero is described as committed to the covenant and therefore as successful. Both Joseph and Daniel experience the blessings of the covenant and rise to powerful positions in the administration of a foreign government.  Their commitment to the Law creates a crisis when required to do something which is against Torah (Genesis 39, adultery; Daniel 1, unclean food; Daniel 3 and 6, prayer to an idol).  The hero is then persecuted and stripped of position, yet still remains faithful.  Because of continued faith in persecution, they are restored once again to a state of blessing.  In both the Joseph and Daniel stories, this cycle is repeated several times.

Image result for TobitIn Genesis, Joseph is selected as the heir, but his thrown into the pit by his brothers and sold into slavery.  He is appointed head over Potiphar’s house, but is then thrown into prison (also a pit).  He then rises to prominence in the prison, but is forgotten after he interprets the baker and butler’s dreams.  In Daniel, Daniel is rises higher in the government in chapters 1, 2, 5, and 6, although only 1 and 6 are in direct connection to some form of pressure on Jewish traditions. The book of Tobit should not therefore be read as “an enchanting but nonetheless esoteric romance that lies outside the mainstream of authentic Judaism,” but rather as a “well-constructed narrative in the service of Israel’s religion” (Di Lella, Tobit, 387).

The book begins with Tobit in captivity in Assyria.  Tobit claims to be the only Jew in the Diaspora who attends festivals in Jerusalem (1:6a) and to do all which the “everlasting covenant” requires (1:6b, cf. 5:14, he lists others in the Diaspora who attended festival with him). Tobit makes all of the appropriate tithes and offerings required by the Torah (1:6b-8). In Deuteronomy 14:26 the people were encouraged to come to Jerusalem and spend a “second tithe” on whatever they want, as long as the money was spent in Jerusalem (Tobit 1:7). A family might have participated in a shared sacrifice, providing them with meat for a banquet with friends and family.  While the Law required participation in all festivals (Ex 33:17; Deut. 16:16) it was unlikely anyone living outside of Jerusalem made more than one a year, Diaspora Jews even less, perhaps once in a lifetime. Yet Tobit here claims to give all three tithes required in the law in Jerusalem!  He married within this family rather than marrying either outside the clan or outside of Israel (1:9).

Like Daniel, Tobit states he has kept himself from Gentile food, despite the fact that many Jews at this potentially unclean food (1:10-11). Because he was “mindful of God” with all his heart the Lord gives him favor and good standing in the government of Shalmaneser.  The verb translated “to be mindful” in the NRSV is μιμνῄσκομαι, a verb used in the LXX to translate זכר n several key texts in Deuteronomy.  For example, Deut 8:18 Moses admonishes the people to “remember (using a future passive of μιμνῄσκομαι) the Lord your God” because he is able to give them the ability to produce wealth “and so confirms his covenant which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (NRSV).

Remembering the Lord God is linked to production of wealth and the blessings of the covenant.  In 2:2 Tobit tells Tobias his son take some food from the feast and deliver it to the poor, to anyone who is “wholeheartedly mindful of God.” This description uses the verb “remember” to describe one the faithful among the diaspora Jews.

The book of Tobit would be an encouragement to Jewish readers living in the Diaspora to remain faithful to the covenant God gave to Israel. God still remembers his people even when they are living in exile and he will bless them when they remain “wholeheartedly mindful of God.” This may have resonated with early Christianity who sometimes described itself as “exiles” in this world (1 Peter 1:1).

Are the other examples of in Tobit of remembering the God of Israel?

Tobit: A Faithful Israelite

The book of Tobit is, on the face of it, a fairy-tale about a young man, Tobias, who goes out into the wide world, encounters many dangers, but is under the protection of the Heavenly Powers and returns with great riches and with Sarah, his wife, with whom he lives happily ever after. Benedikt Otzen

Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1860)

Tobit was written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, there dozens of fragments from five manuscripts found at Qumran. Little can be said of the author other than the fact he was likely a diaspora Jew. The book is difficult to date, but since there is no reference to the Maccabean revolt, but if the provenance of the book is outside of Judah then it is possible the author was not particularly concerned with the problems of living according to the Law in Jerusalem. Carey therefore gives a range of dates from 300 to 100 B. C. (ABD 6:1358).

Often studies on Tobit focus on two well-known literary features. First, the “Grateful Dead” motif refers to a character who does some kindness for the dead. The dead then reciprocate in some way. Tobit risks his own life and health to give the dead a proper burial, but this is not done in order to illicit a favor at all, he is simply performing a duty required by the Torah. In addition, it is not the dead who bless Tobit, but rather God (through the agency of an angelic being). If a Greco-Roman “Grateful Dead” motif is present it is adapted along Jewish lines since it is God who reward Tobit’s piety rather than the ghost of the dead person.

The second motif is the “The Poisonous Bride,” another common theme in the ancient literature.  In the story Sarah is married seven times, but her husband is killed by a demon before consummating the marriage. As with the “Grateful Dead,” this motif is fairly minor in the book of Tobit and cannot be considered the driving motif of the book.

A far more fertile ground for literary parallels is the Hebrew Bible, especially the patriarchal narrative. Tobias goes on a journey and obtains a wife, recalling Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 24) and Jacob (Gen 29). In both of these stories a member of Abraham’s family leaves the Land and journeys to a distant country, yet finds both extended family and the blessing of God through marriage. That Tobit is a righteous sufferer clearly recalls the book of Job. Even the complaints of Tobit’s wife are not unlike those of Job’s wife (Job 2:9-10). While Job is not a part of the Pentateuch, the story of Job was thought to be patriarchal.

Tobit seems to be drawing on the most ancient stories of the Jewish people in order to demonstrate to Diaspora Jews that God still works in the same way he always has even if his people have gone well beyond the Land of the Promise (Weitzman, 60). Like Daniel, Nehemiah, Modecai or Esther, Tobit is a righteous Diaspora Jew.

Is this a fair reading of Tobit? Is there anything else in the book which might support this view?

 

 

Bibliography: Benedikt Otzen, Tobit and Judith (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 2002), 2; Steven Weitzman, “Allusion, Artifice, and Exile in the Hymn of Tobit,” JBL115 (1996): 49-61; 60.