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Friday, 17 May 2019

Sex and Demons, corpses galore and magical fish




I was at a quiz, just outside of London and introduced to a severe looking couple, part of our team. When a question was asked ie how many books are there in the Old Testament, I did a quick count and came up with a number different to that of  Mrs Severe. I listed them, but when I came to Tobit, she hissed at me. ‘Tobit is not in the Old Testament!’
‘He is,’ I hissed back. I knew he was. Tobit and his son Tobias are the stuff of legend—sci fi and ‘The Arabian Nights’ rolled into one. I loved the story as a child, and read it still every now and again.

On reaching home, the mystery was solved—summed up in two words: Damned Protestants.

Tobit was included in the Old Testament by the Council of Rome (382 A D) The Council of Hippo (393 AD) The Council of Carthage (397 AD) The Council of Florence (1453 A D) and finally the Council of Trent (1546)

The Church of England was far more sniffy, relegating it to the Apocrypha, something dubious, something best left alone, and as for Judaism—good news. Moves are afoot to restore it to the canon. (Why it wasn’t in the first place is due to some weird rabbinical law involving who exactly signed Tobias and Sarah’s marriage certificate. (Don’t ask)

But the story!

Tobit is one of those wonderful characters, too good to be true. He shared all he had with his people, he buried those without graves, and when the Babylonian Sennacherib slaughtered a large number of Jews, Tobit buried them, too, at his own expense and to the fury of Sennacherib.
But Tobit wasn’t done with burying the dead. It seems to have occupied his every waking hour, scouring the country, burying people willy-nilly.  During one feast, he heard that a Jew had been found with his throat cut in a nearby street. Tobit, the one-man funeral parlour, the mortician of Nineveh leapt to his feet, located and then buried the corpse. More corpses were found the next day, and the indefatigable Tobit buried them too. One wonders how many sick people staggered to their feet rather than being mistakenly buried by Tobit. On this last occasion, however, the exhausted Tobit fell asleep before reaching home and God struck. Warm bird droppings fell on the good man’s eyes, blinding him on the spot. Tobit’s faith in God remained strong, his prayers stronger still.

Meanwhile, in the city of Rages, Sarah the daughter of Raguel was in deep trouble. Possessed by the demon Asmodeus, she had been given to seven husbands, each one of which was killed by the demon on their wedding nights. More than a little perturbed, Sarah locked herself away and fasted and prayed. Her prayers joined with Tobit's, and the angel Raphael was sent to sort things out.

The first step was taken when Tobit sent his son Tobias on a mission to Rages to collect an old debt, ten talents of silver. As the map shows, it's a long and wearisome journey from Nineveh to Rages.
A guide will be needed.

Tobias hires one, a mysterious stranger lurking outside his house—the angel—Raphael’s first paying job.
Tobias saying farewell to his blind father. (Tobit's wife is weeping in the background. All she ever
seems to do in the story)

On the banks of the Tigris, Tobias is attacked by a giant fish but drags it to shore by its gills. Raphael exhorts him to extract the gall, which will cure blindness, along with the liver and heart for a reason only Raphael knows.

During their fish supper, Raphael tells Tobias he is to marry Sarah the daughter of Raguel. Tobias is not best pleased, aware that the marriage will be little more than a one night stand.
But Raphael has a cunning plan. On that first night Tobias is not to touch Sarah but instead burn the fish’s liver and heart. The fumes will drive the demon away and Raphael will bind it in Upper Egypt. (I love the specificity)  On the second night it will be all systems go, and on the third night they will be blessed with child.
Tobias and Sarah and the Angel makes three.

Great happiness ensues; Tobias gains a beautiful wife and large dowry and returns home to a father no doubt relieved he doesn’t have to bury his son. You can have too much of a good thing. Tobit’s joy is increased even more when Tobias instructs him to rub the fish gall into his eyes and his sight is immediately restored. (For those into 'Specsavers' or ophthalmology in general )


This story has everything, sex and demons, corpses galore and magical fish. In Pilate’s words: ‘Truth? What is truth?’

6 comments:

mstaton51 said...

Yep, it should definitely be put back in the Old Testament, Catholic and Protestant versions. Talk about miracles....

Mike Keyton said...

We could have a Tobit Twitter campaign!

Maria Zannini said...

For the life of me I couldn't remember that story, but I do remember seeing that painting.

I love the Old Testament. It's as steamy as most modern dramas.

re: One wonders how many sick people staggered to their feet rather than being mistakenly buried by Tobit.

Bring out your dead!

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, I'd forgotten your love for and knowledge of Renaissance art. Of course you'd have seen the picture. Glad to have put some bones on it. Ref the Old Testament, I sometimes wonder whether the Garden of Eden story was more prophetic than fable : (

DRC said...

Ah more history!! I confess to not being a religious person so I'm not overly familiar with the Old Testament. I thought I didn't know this story but the part about rubbing the fish gall in the eyes to bring back sight rings bells so I must have heard it somewhere. I do, however, find it all interesting and I do like watching documentaries and reading up on the origins of some of these biblical stories.

And thanks to Maria, I now have the Monty Python 'bring out your dead' sketch running through my head. I used to have that as a ring tone once lol...

Mike Keyton said...

W have a lot to thank Maria for -and the Bible for that matter : )