Tobit can be found in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Slavonic (Russian Orthodox) Bibles. Neither the Jews, Protestants, nor Anglicans recognize Tobit as canonical. The book gets its name from the main character, Tobit. The oldest versions of this book have survived in the Greek, Old Latin, and Jerome’s Vulgate (see the introduction to the Apocrypha). Tobit probably dates to the third or early second century (250-100) B.C.E. The author of this book is unknown as is its place of origin, though it has been suggested that the origin might have been the eastern Diaspora from the midst of the Jews displaced during the Babylonian exile, Egypt, or Israel.
While Tobit is included in some versions of the Bible because it was adopted from Jerome’s Vulgate and affirmed in response to the textual criticism of the Protestant Reformation, it is important for us to know why it is not included in the Jewish, Protestant, or Anglican canon. The Jewish canon was closed, here meaning finished, shortly after the Babylonian exile. Before this, authorship and origin could be traced with exception to the book of Job (which was likely written before Genesis). The Protestant and Anglican canons follow the formal history of the Jewish writings. Since Tobit’s author and origin are unknown and since the book was written so late and under exilic conditions, it cannot be authenticated textually or historically. Even Job can be authenticated due to the quotations from or references to the book of Job throughout the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Tobit borrows motifs from popular folk-tales during this intertestamental period, even mentioning the characters from these fictional stories. These include The Dangerous Bride, The Monster in the Nuptial Chamber, The Supernatural Being in Disguise, The Miraculous Animal, and The Grateful Dead, and may include hints to Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigone.
So, Tobit not only references the Old Testament text but also elements of folk and incoming Hellenistic legends and philosophical works. This likely makes Tobit, itself, a work of fiction rather than a historic account. As we work through Tobit, we will see elements of tragedy, comedy, vivid characters (like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales), comic storytelling, with themes of ethics, prayer, purity, and home-living during the exile. Tobit is entertaining and profitable, providing indirect information about exilic life and the post-exilic period.