Tobit’s Story and Discourse
Tobit commentators often note that the instructions in Tobit 4 bog down the plot of the story; they make the narrative seem disjointed. This mixing of wisdom speeches and narrative is dismissed as a crude error attributable to the writer’s incompetence. This scholarly com-plaint may in fact be due to modern literary sensibilities conditioned by tightly constructed narratives.32 Scholars and readers alike skim through the wisdom discourses because they are not structurally re-warding episodes. Such an attitude views Scriptures as literature in the modern conventional sense, whereby materials and writings that seem-ingly have nothing to do with the story, such as lists and wisdom ex-hortations, are not considered as vital elements or effective tools of lite-rary expression but “unfortunate encumbrances”33 or as a “kind of pa-renthesis.”34 The list does retard the narrative thrust, but if Tobit wants to tell Tobias what he knows and what values define his life, he has to put it in list form; the list ensures that nothing is left out.
Such negative assessment fails further to view the discourses in Tobit as events. If these wisdom speeches are considered as such, they are then designated like any event in the story as significant parts, con-stitutive elements that build up the logic of the narrative.35 As parts of the chronology of the story, the discourses are integrally related to their immediate narrative setting.
More importantly, the charge that the list of instructions in Tobit intrudes and disrupts the flow of the narrative fails to recognize the distinction between what narrative critics call a story and a discourse. Story is the content of the narrative while discourse is the rhetoric of the narrative or how a story is told.36 To use the technical terms of narratology, the story is the signified, or what the narrative relates, while discourse is the narrative signifier, the manner in which the writer presents the incidents of the story, or “the totality of the mechanism by which a narrator composes a narrative.”37 In other words, the story that is told is different from how the story is told, which is the discourse or the choice of narrative strategy on the part of the storyteller. This implies that to tell the same story in different ways will produce different stories. The writer of Tobit includes the in-structions as part of his own narrative plan and distinct literary ex-pression. By considering the discourse of the narrative, one can discern how the author of Tobit directs the implied reader in understanding the story and its message.
The Shape of the Tobit Story
When fashioning a story, writers do not write ad hoc or “create their plots ex nihilo,” but usually employ typical patterns or conventional plots.38 In the ancient world especially, writers would avail themselves of all sorts of materials from their tradition and this ‘textual collage’ was accepted as “a matter of standard literary procedure.”39 Storytellers often cast traditional narrative materials into new forms. They use popular plots and serviceable patterns and tailor them to their con-cerns.40
A plot is of course the narrative sequencing of events or the orga-nizing principle that connects the actions and episodes of the story for it to convey meaning. In the case of the Tobit narrative, the original writer, in order to craft his story, had recourse to plots involving rever-sal of fortune for God’s faithful, and the heroic quest. Yet the author of Tobit, taking up these well-known plots, fabricated a narrative quilt by employing his own distinctive rhetoric. Behind this narrative text is therefore an author who put his own personal stamp and expression on these timeless plots, motifs and themes. A quick glance at works of fic-tion will indicate that reversal of fortune and the transformative quest are the stuff and mainstay of storytelling from The Odyssey to The Lord of the Rings, from The Ugly Duckling to The Count of Monte Cristo.
The “How” and the “What” of Tobit
The narrative strategy or discourse of Tobit is more interested in the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what’ of the story. As early as Tob 3:16-17, the author uses prolepsis to foreshadow the ending of the entire story. By telling the reader at such an early stage in the story that the prayers of Tobit and Sarah have been heard, and as a response, God has sent his angel Rafael to heal the afflictions of both of them, the author has indicated that his concern and challenge to the reader lies not in the resolution of the problem presented in the story, but in the manner in which the problem is resolved. Since the reader has been informed at the beginning that God’s intervention falls in the favor of the charac-ters, the attention is not on the suspense, which in the author’s view, has no decisive importance in itself.41 Everything has been determined at this moment, but how exactly this end will come about is yet to be discovered.
Certainly, this prolepsis reduces the narrative tension and risks im-pairing the interest of the reader, but when the end is foretold at the outset, the reader can focus “more on the ‘how’ of the concrete narra-tion than on the ‘what’ of the ‘story’.”42 In other words, another kind of suspense, revolving around the question “how is it going to happen?” substitutes for the type of suspense that derives from the question “what will happen next?”. The narrative relies on curiosity, rather than on suspense or surprise.43 The writer of Tobit then takes his time to unfold the ‘how’ of the resolution. Focusing on the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what’ of the story affords the author of Tobit a chance to incorporate nicely the tradition of discourses typically given by patriarchs who believe they are at death’s door.44 As such, he feels free to insert an extensive list of instructions as part of his narrative strategy.
From a theological perspective, this emphasis on the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what’ of the narrative may express the author’s hope and con-viction that with God everything shall end well, despite appearances to the contrary. Where God is the protagonist, as biblical narratives go, the ‘how’ of the story becomes the storyteller’s playing field, for the end result is bound to be positive – God inevitably restores a troubled and chaotic universe, for God controls history and knows “the news before it happens.”45 That the narrator offered and inserted a list of in-structions is a way to discount forgetfulness and chaos; the list implies his belief in precision, formality and order as well as his understanding that things are not out of control. What remains to be seen then is how this end might transpire, or how God’s saving actions orchestrate see-mingly random events and subsume human frailties and decisions to fashion something beautiful, good and liberating from them.
In his choice of narrative rhetoric, the author of Tobit offers a vision of how God continues to abide and steer the course of history which will in due course come to a good end for his chosen people. From the point of view of the writer, the response to the question “how is it going to happen?” entails the considerable role of Tobit’s sapiential discourses. The narrative discourse reflects this theological commit-ment.
The Five Narrative Movements
How does the author then narrate his story? If the classic quinary scheme or five successive moments of the story is followed,46 since the narrative progresses ‘in classic fashion,’47 then the initial situation or exposition of Tobit would consist of Tob 1:1–2:10, which narrates To-bit’s self-presentation as a righteous person who suffers the vicissitudes of exilic life, including loss of fortune as well as sight, with the added discomfiture of being supported by his wife. This feels like death for Tobit: everything worthwhile is taken from him (cf. Tob 5:10).
Another exposition, that of innocent Sarah, parallels Tobit’s sit-uation. She marries seven times but ends up only with dead husbands on the night of her marital consummation in Tob 3:7-8a. Without a husband in a patriarchal world she is as if dead. In fact, the intro-ductions to these two stories relate “the events in close literary sym-metry.”48 The exposition thus gives the necessary information and background to the deficit or problematic situation that the story will attempt to change or reverse. As in other Old Testament narratives, Tobit’s exposition involves initial calm that is gradually altered and forms the backdrop for the conflict that is highly detailed.49 Such presentations, which are usually descriptive and static, allow the reader to enter into the world of the story.
In the Tobit strand of the story, the complication, or that which triggers the rise in dramatic tension, is located in Tob 2:11–3:6, whereby after suffering a scathing reproach from his wife Anna,50 who seems to be intent on compounding the sufferings of her husband,51 Tobit is so downcast he can only weep and plead with God to deliver him from his miseries by granting him death. In tandem with Anna’s reproach of Tobit is Sarah’s reproach by her maids. The complication begins in Tob 3:8b-15, where after the mocking reproaches of her servant,52 she is so aggrieved that she has decided to hang herself. Changing her mind, however, she prays to God on the same day Tobit raises his voice to God in prayer.53 But unlike Tobit, she does not request that God set her free by death, but that God deal with her as God pleases. The deriding reproaches as well as the prayers of desperation tighten the narrative tension. At this point, Tobit and Sarah feel the helplessness of their re-spective fates and the tortuous pangs of grief, isolation and loneliness.54 They are “two souls who wrestle with the apparent disarray of salva-tion history, like two ‘loose ends’ seeking the meaning of life.”55 They cannot even turn to their loved ones or neighbors for comfort and deli-verance. They have reached the bottomless pit gnawing at them, and only God can extend a saving hand to rid them of their misfortunes. The things that go wrong in Tobit’s and Sarah’s world allow the possi-bility of plot and of character development.
These two simultaneous situations of misery will be addressed in the third movement of the narrative which involves the transforming action. The goal of such action is to eliminate the difficulties or remove the disturbances announced earlier in the story.56 In the Tobit narrative, the transforming action takes the form of a long quest on the part of the hero.57 Tobias travels from Nineveh to Media to retrieve the ten talents of silver that his father entrusted to a cousin. This episodic plot, which entails the guidance of an angel, extends from Tob 4:1 to Tob 12:22. The author moves into this long and unifying narrative moment by incor-porating a large group of instructional materials. Since Tobit’s instruc-tions introduce this episodic quest of Tobias, it is reasonable to say that the instructions form part of the transformative action that addresses the imbalance in the narrative and rescues the characters from their anxiety-ridden world. The guidance of Rafael disguised as Azariah and the therapeutic gestures of Tobias culminate in the reversal of the un-favorable situation: Tobit sees the light, and Sarah, with an able and virile husband, foresees a bright future.
The denouement of the Tobit narrative, which describes the effects of the transforming action on the characters, is in Tobit 12–13. The complicating reproaches of Anna and the maids, and the prayers for death and deliverance by Tobit and Sarah are symmetrically countered by a calm angelic speech. Rafael tells the protagonists that God has re-sponded to their prayers, informing them of God’s concealed action, re-establishing them in a blissful and blessed state.58 Instead of death, God has restored them to life, and reproaches give way to praises. As Rafael reveals the hidden order behind all the events that bestowed boon upon Tobit and his family, he enjoins upon the protagonists the obser-vance of certain maxims. In chapter 13, Tobit sings a joyful praise as a response to the angelophany and the disclosure of God’s initiative on their behalf. Tobit has been transformed from sorrow to joy, from despair to praise.59
Lastly, the final situation, which describes the new routine reality, is found in Tob 14:1-15. The initial deficit in the narrative is now termi-nated. A distinctive feature of endings, the story returns to a state that is static and serene.60 Tobit, presumably changed, lives his years of ease and Tobias enjoys the blessings of children and long life. The conclu-sion also tells of Tobit’s death and desire for an honorable burial ful-filled after a life of praising God and giving alms in the midst of pros-perity. In the final moments of his earthly blessedness and bliss, Tobit gathers the members of his household and exhorts them to heed the principles that have governed his life.61
The Ultimate State of Lack in the Narrative
The ending of Tobit, with the restoration of order in Tobit’s world, makes it appear that the story is closed. As such, the conclusion leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination.62 But in another sense, the ending does not really provide a satisfactory closure; it is incomplete. The narrative earlier hints at a more global problem that remains to be ad-dressed. Although the story has come to its calm, a certain tension and foreboding still looms as Tobit asks Tobias to take his family and flee into Media (cf. Tob 14:3-4).
In the initial exposition, the narrative makes references to the situ-ation of exile (cf. Tob 1:2-3; 10). The opening sentences of the story al-ready create “a tension between ‘homeland’ and ‘exile’ by contrasting the genealogical and local origins of Tobit with his exile by the As-syrians.”63 The narrative references to the reproaches (cf. Tob 2:14; 3:16; 8:10), which ultimately propel the narrative forward64 by precipitating the prayers of both Tobit and Sarah, are also indicative of the exilic condition (cf. Deut 28:25). All the problematic situations at the begin-ning of the story including Tobit’s reduced economic status and loss of sight, as well as the deadly threat of the demon Asmodeus to the ma-rital bliss of the lovely Sarah,65 have been addressed and reversed ex-cept for the circumstance of exile.66
In the final stage of the narrative, all that the author can do is to hint at the possibility of reversal of the exilic state by appealing to the hidden and mysterious ways of a providential God and alluding to the eschatological day of salvation. There is yet to be an agreeable resolu-tion to the disturbing condition of exile, but he has left this to the im-agination of the reader, placing upon them certain responsibilities. As Tobit has done, so Israel is called to do in order to experience the deli-verance Tobit and his family has experienced.67 With the author’s focus on the ‘how’ instead of the ‘what’ of the narrative, the narrator has shown his belief that a happy finale to the problem of exiled Israel will be attained. The rhetoric of his narrative points to the possibility, even the inevitability, that order will come from disorder. What the story cannot show, its discourse suggests.
Narrative Structure and the Wisdom Instructions
According to Engel, the episodic quest of Tobias, which is the principal and middle section of the Tobit narrative, observes a concentric or chiastic A-B-C-D-C’-B’-A’ pattern.68 The story finds its center in the mar-riage celebration of Tobias and Sarah in Ecbatana in Tob 7:9b–10:13 (D). All the elements of the story are thus directed to this middle. This is framed by Tobias’s trips, first from Nineveh to Ecbatana in Tob 6:2– 7:9a (C) and second, from Ecbatana to his return home to Nineveh where Tobit is released from his blindness in Tob 11:1-19 (C’). These two trips are further bracketed by Rafael-related episodes, with the search for a guide and companion for Tobias in Tob 5:1–6:1 (B) as the first bracket, and the final encounter with Rafael and the offer of wages in Tob 12:1-22 (B’) as the second bracket. In the last Rafael-related episode that hems in the long and transformative quest of Tobias, Rafael directs the protagonists to follow certain counsels. The journey of Tobias, therefore, begins and ends with words of instructions, from his father at the beginning of the journey and from an angel at the end of his voyage. Interestingly, Rafael’s dominant instruction is a call to praise, to which Tobit obliges with a long canticle of praise and thanks-giving in Tobit 13.
Engel is correct in observing that the circle which encloses all the events in the quest of Tobias are the words of Tobit: his instructions to his son in Tobit 4 (A) before Tobias leaves home to retrieve the money on deposit with a cousin, and his canticle of praise and thanksgiving in Tobit 13 (A’). Tobias’s journey is bracketed by an admonition to ob-edience and a summons to praise, a movement which mirrors the ca-nonical flow of the Psalms, since the book begins with a call to ob-edience in Psalm 1 and ends with a call to praise in Psalm 150, with various expressions of experiences of suffering and questions of God’s dsx in between.69 In this way, the narrative structure of Tobit articulates the shape of Israel’s faith. Certainly, the prologue, which presents the problematic state of the protagonists in the story, and the epilogue, which presents the restored state of the characters, frame the odyssey of Tobias.
No matter how one structures the narrative movement of Tobit, one cannot help but realize that the Didache is organically embedded into the flow of the narrative.70 As a stylistic emphasis, a collection of instructions symmetrically envelops the beginning and the end of the micro-narrative involving the uncertain journey of Tobias. A smaller group of similar instructions concludes the entire Tobit narrative. The instructions do provide a certain structure to the narrative; they mark key transitions in the story. Their strategic spot in the narrative empha-sizes their significant role. By framing the narrative, the discourses be-come central elements of the story.71 In fact, as the story progresses, the repeated instructions become briefer in detail and length, an indication of an inverse relationship between the wisdom speeches and the development of the narrative. When the story returns to its calm as it ends, Tobit’s instructions are reduced to their core. As part of the writer’s discourse, they are an element of the narrative that cannot be dismissed.
The Characterization of Tobit
Without going into the debate about whether biblical characters are fully developed or flat, one must note the portrayal of Tobit in the story. Unlike modern fiction in which many novels exist for the sake of the central character, Tobit exists for the sake of the story. Biblical narr-atives are ideologically peculiar in that they are “in fine and large the development of a religious ideology – a theology that is paradoxically anthropocentric, a literature of preachment.”72 In light of this, the way Tobit is depicted exists on two levels: he is a complex and convincing flesh and blood individual who experiences fear and faith, joy and gloom, doubt and hope, confronted and confounded by a reality that defies human explanations. At the same time, he is a model and fore-shadowing of persons and events in his people’s history. Tobit’s per-sona of a righteous sufferer in the midst of exilic life might well represent the collective experience and hopes of his people.73 Tobit’s misfortunes exemplify the travails of a nation in exile.74
Undoubtedly, the instructions as reported speech75 in Tobit 4 help characterize Tobit as a prototypical Torah-observing Israelite who con-siders the education of his son a serious and sacred responsibility. His discourses in Tobit 4 and 14 also show Tobit as a wise man and an au-thoritative teacher of the law who is profoundly knowledgeable about the wisdom and the ways of his forefathers. As a young orphan, he was trained and initiated into the religious, moral and sapiential consensus of his tradition by his own grandmother Deborah.76
The writer further evokes Moses in his early portrayal of Tobit.77 Specifically, the instructional discourse aligns the character of Tobit with Moses the law-giver.78 As Moses gives two testaments, so does Tobit. Like Moses who delivers the pedagogy of God to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land, Tobit engages in some exten-sive didactic efforts for the sake of Tobias as he prepares for his odys-sey.
With a testament as he breathes his last, the ethical admonitions Tobit gives in the epilogue of the narrative conform him with the great patriarchs of Israel’s history.79 The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is of course a traditional example of this type of portrayal. Specifically, Tobit’s testamentary discourse replicates the persona of Jacob in Gene-sis 49. Moreover, Tobit’s insistence on one burial site for him and his wife Anna (cf. Tob 4:4) also carries some patriarchal overtones80 (cf. Gen 25:9; 49:29-31). This patriarchal portrait of Tobit extends from the beginning all the way to the end of the narrative. The testamentary discourse at the end of the book is neatly balanced by Tobit’s genealogy at the beginning of the story. The patriarchs are normally provided with genealogies in the Pentateuch. The middle section further evokes the biblical type-scene in which Abraham sends Isaac and a companion to search for a wife.
A prophetic outlook also contextualizes the final instructions of Tobit in the closing chapter.81 Although he is dying, it is not so much death that motivates his exhortations as it did in the first two admoni-tions to Tobias. Nor are his instructions prompted by education and formation as the rest of his instructions are in chapter four. Rather, it is hope for a better future that textually precedes and colors the instructions. After having experienced the mysterious and hidden presence of God in his life, Tobit stands on solid ground when he predicts with authority that God will continue to do wonders not simply for him or his family but also for his beleaguered people. The destruction of Ni-neveh is but the first pointer of the most amazing wonder such as has never been seen since the days of old when God liberated the Israelites from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. It is this hope, made firmer by tangible experience, which provides the ground and authority for his final instructions. Tobit’s experience cannot but confirm God’s pleasure with the values embodied in his injunctions. Thus, at the end of his life, brimming with hope, Tobit can utter these exhortations with confi-dence and authority knowing that guarding the teachings of his right-eous predecessors in his heart has not been in vain.
More prominent therefore is the image of Tobit in the mold of a prophet who dares give a challenge. Tobit gives voice to the prophetic call that as long as those around him apply themselves to the practice of his instructions with all their might and passion, righteousness and truth shall remain, thereby ushering in the hope that God will remember his people, with the consequence that the greatest manifestation of God’s mercy and marvels will materialize eventually.82 God continues to abide with his people when they live the way of truth and righ-teousness and do not forget solidarity with their brothers and sisters.83 Doing so is not pointless, for God will eventually match, if not exceed, the merciful deeds of his people with his own tender mercies. Like the prophets of Israel’s history, Tobit calls the exiled Israelites back to the remembrance of the Lord and everything that this entailed for him. And like them, he offers his people and readers hope. In the end, mi-sery, personal or otherwise, cannot “prevent the believer who remains steadfast in the fear and love of God from experiencing the blessing of joy.”84 Guarding Tobit’s counsels in the heart will eventually lead to the eschatological day of redemption. The goal of righteous behavior and piety, which is a key component to the individual’s relationship with God and through which the believer obtains blessings, is ultimately corporate survival and salvation.85 This concern for the community’s continued existence through proper behavior is certainly prophetic.
The characterization of Tobit as a patriarchal, wise, prophetic and Mosaic figure has powerful repercussions for the lessons of this sa-piential novel. Since the instructions come out of the mouth of one patterned after such archetypal figures who, in the history of Israel, have been God’s instruments of revelation and promises, the narrator inspires in the reader an amount of respect, if not reverence for the main character. By portraying Tobit in such a fashion, the narrator at-tempts to claim patriarchal, prophetic, sage-like and Mosaic authority for the lessons and promises of his narrative. In this way, Tobit’s voice demands to be attended to seriously and his practical teachings command obedience.86
Repetition as a Literary Device
One discerns a pattern with regard to the sapiential discourses in the organization of the narrative. Following the folktale and biblical pattern of three, the instructions, or at least their essence, appear thrice in the Tobit narrative. The threefold repetition emphasizes not only the instructions themselves but also the significant role the instructions have for the narrative. With such triplication, one can even say that in-struction is a recurring motif in the story. For this reason, they strongly “influence the shape of the whole, and any attempt to tamper with the repetitions means that the very character of the piece is changed en-tirely.”87 That the author utilized the device of repetition systematically and deliberately as part of his narrative rhetoric is in no doubt. But what is the relevance of thrice repeating the instructions in the course of the story?
According to narrative critics, repetition is a powerful structural device.88 In biblical storytelling, this literary technique is usually employed for a purpose;89 repetition is not done for the sake of repetition. Otherwise, such device will only induce monotony thereby making the story needlessly boring, if not tedious. The device may have been dic-tated by the necessities of oral storytelling, since the teller of the tale or the listener cannot go back and turn the page.90 But just as likely, the repetitions may actually be a realistic recognition on the part of the author that learning and remembering has a curve and thus requires constant repetition. With regard to the knowledge of God and his ways, scriptural narratives often show that epiphanies and insights on the part of biblical characters, no matter how earnest, are usually short-lived, transitory illuminations followed subsequently by relapse into darkness.91 Human nature is such that constant reinforcement or reminders become indispensable especially where and when teaching is concerned.
Repeated words and phrases can function as guides for the reader in understanding the narrative. Neither redundancy nor a simple aes-thetic device, repetition is vital to literary insight by the way it draws attention to the similarity or dissimilarity of utterances in a story.92 For instance, the repetition of the terms h`me,ra ‘day’ and nu,x ‘night’ reveal significant splitting up of events in the story.93 Moreover, the technique “can first lull the reader into false expectations and then, through sud-den variance, can introduce an element of startling surprise.”94 As an example in Tobit, the repeated references to Sarah’s lost husbands (cf. Tob 3:8, 15; 6:14-15) acquire a more ominous aura when Raguel finally adds the fresh information that all the dead husbands were kinsmen.95 In this regard, the possibilities of variations and differences through repetition can foster and convey shades of meaning.96 In the case of the Tobit narrative, the repetition of the wisdom instructions is reiterative as well as varied.
The dissimilarities in the repetitions, also called varied repetitions, are evidently as telling as the similarities. In Tobit, some instructions are not mentioned in the succeeding repetitions. For instance, the reader wonders why Tobit’s instructions in Tob 4:14b for Tobias to control himself and be disciplined in all his conduct does not recur in Rafael’s exhortations in Tobit 12. One can surmise that at the end of Tobias’s odyssey, where Rafael’s instructions are located, Tobias has already proven himself disciplined and moderate in his behavior, thus exhibiting the fruits of his father’s educational endeavors in Tobit 4. With Tobias grown and mature, an exhortation to proper education is out of place. Such instruction is of paramount importance at the begin-ning of the quest but not necessarily at its finale; the exhortation on discipline and self-control has no narrative relevance in Rafael’s reve-lation.97 The same applies to the absence of instructions on endogamy in Rafael’s discourse. Certainly, this variation in the repetition empha-sizes a particular aspect in the development of the narrative events.
In another case, Tobit reminds Tobias once in his instructions in Tobit 4 to bless God at all times, but Rafael, in Tobit 12 repeatedly charges Tobit and Tobias to do so. The reader cannot help but inquire why Rafael has to insist on such a command. As is to be noted later, this emphasis has a narrative import. In Tobit 14, a new element, the reference to the story of Ahiqar, is introduced into Tobit’s set of in-structions. For now, it will suffice to say that this embedded narrative as found in the epilogue of the story serves a summarizing or resump-tive function.
Further, some metaphors and expressions in the first group of ex-hortations are not picked up in others. For example, the metaphor of walking and the related image of the way are appropriately employed in the instructions Tobit gives before he sends Tobias on his way. These significant images, which give the reader subtle hints on how the story of journey will progress, naturally do not find their way into Rafael’s or Tobit’s final exhortations. At this point, Tobias, as well as the narrative, has traversed his way.
Similar yet Different
Even when the repeated instructions appear to be perfectly similar, the correspondence or equivalence does not share complete identity.98 For if the recurring instruction does not add anything to the first, the question of what it is doing exactly in the text arises.99 For example, To-bit’s saying that almsgiving delivers the giver from death in Tob 4:10 also recurs in Tob 12:9. Though repeated verbatim, they are not the same since these words are now spoken by a different character, Tobit in the first case and Rafael in the latter. The same saying also belongs to a different context. On the lips of Tobit at the beginning of the story, the words are instructive and justificatory, but from the mouth of Ra-fael at the end of the narrative, they are confirmatory. The same in-struction in different contexts produces a different rhetorical effect.
Tobit includes another reason for exhorting the practice of almsgiving in Tob 4:11: it is a good and pleasing gift or sacrifice before God, a sentiment that Rafael echoes when he mentions in Tob 12:9 that almsgiving purifies all sin. Having conceived of exile from a deutero-nomic worldview as a punishment for the sins of the people,100 almsgiv-ing makes possible the purging of sins before God. Since Tobit, in his prayer in Tob 3:3-5, has identified with the sins of his people and ad-mits responsibility for collective guilt,101 the expiatory efficacy of almsgiving is shown by his latest narrative situation. In fact, Rafael ap-pends another rationale for almsgiving to those that Tobit has already provided in Tob 4:9-11, an amplifying reason that points to Tobit’s cur-rent enjoyment of an abundant life. According to Rafael in Tob 12:9b, those who engage in almsgiving will be filled with life. The addition of this particular reason for almsgiving alludes to a recent development in the narrative, for Tobit and his family are indeed benefitting from a wealthy and wondrous life at this stage in the story, which confirms the portrayal of Tobit’s character early in the tale as a tireless giver of alms, a pleasing offering to God.
In his testament in Tob 14:9, Tobit admonishes the members of his family to bless the name of God, an instruction that Rafael also gives in Tob 12:6. After having experienced a life flowing with heavenly graces, Tobit’s instruction is uttered from the conviction that good things do proceed from God. At the end of the narrative, it is an encouragement to the reader to develop a doxological attitude. Rafael’s counsel, on the other hand, enjoys a different narrative purpose, which is to direct the attention of both reader and characters towards the role of God in the story and away from Rafael. What these examples show is that, since the situation has changed, and since the narrative has already traversed a linear development, the sense and function of the equivalent sayings have been modified. With the change in temporal reference and view-point, the repeated instruction finds a different semantic resonance.
Mostly, however, the core or essence of the instructions remains the same when they recur. As such, their repetition is fundamentally rei-terative. In this case, the repetition of the instructions functions not only to show their concerns, such as almsgiving, as central to the story but also to underscore some developing facet of the narrative.102 Moreover, since the discourses are direct speeches, the narrator yields the floor to the dramatis personae, allowing them to communicate with less interference from the narrator. Consequently, the story becomes more dramatic the more the writer allows the characters to speak for themselves. By showing or creating a scene, the writer intends it to contribute to the development of a certain aspect of the plot.103 Thus the poetical or rhetorical function of the repetitions in Tobit is to be found in each case “according to the nature and problems of the particular narrative event rather than in a defined pattern that can then be ap-plied to the instances.104 It is to the analysis of the relationship of the repeated instructions to the narrative movement with regard to the plot that we now turn.
Originally posted 2020-03-10 09:26:43.