Monday, March 17, 2014

Tobit, Chapters 1 & 2: There's a body in your duck pond, there, Anna

Chapter 1

Tobit was taken captive by the Assyrians, but remained pious and gave all he had to his family. At some point when he's a kid, everyone goes to see King Jeroboam's golden calves, but he runs off to Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the temple for the next 3 years.

When he grows up, he marries Anna and has a son, Tobit Jr., who he indoctrinates from infancy. Then they're taken captive and enslaved by the Ninivians, who don't follow Jewish dietary practices, but he insists on keeping kosher. This somehow endears him to King Salamansar, who gives him free reign, which of course he uses to harangue his fellow enslaved Israelites.

One day he's in the city of Rages and he happens to have 10 talents of silver burning a hole in his pocket. He sees one of his tribesmen is in need and gives him the money.

Some later year, which is exactly how vague the bible is about dates, Salamansar dies and his son Sennacherib takes over. Sennacherib is a raging anti-Semite, but he does not reign in Tobit, who continues to go around distributing clothes and food to the needy and burying the dead. In fact, Sennacherib is too busy conquering Judea, until god gets pissed off at him and he flees. When he arrives back in Ninive, where, to assuage his humiliation, he kills a bunch of Israelites. Tobit buries them, which further enrages Sennacherib, who orders him dead and takes away everything, including his clothing, so that Tobit, Anna, and Tobit Jr. end up running away naked and hiding in a ditch. 45 days later, Sennacherib's sons kill him, at which point Tobit comes back and is able to reclaim his house and his pants. Fascinating. I can see why the Apocrypha were left out.

Chapter 2

At some point, Tobit is having a dinner prepared in his house. The fact he's not doing it himself leads me to believe that the dude who has already been enslaved twice has not learned a thing from his experience. Anyway, he tells his son to go round up some guests for the feast, but his son comes back right quick to report that an Israelite has been killed in the street. Tobit leaped up from his place at the table, and left his dinner, and came fasting to the body (v. 3). Like, dude, you do NOT get to stop eating for an hour and call it a fast like you're some kind of champion saint, okay? Anyway, he collects the body and hides it, intending to bury it after dark and the fact that this is emphasised so much is making me wonder if it's a fetish, especially when the book describes him just sitting there with a dead body, eating bread. At sunset, he buries the body.

This irritates his neighbours, not for the reason you might expect, namely that the guy is turning his house into an amateur morgue and unlicensed graveyard, but because he's already been sentenced to death once. Honestly, if my neighbour was doing that and he was killed as a result... I wouldn't be too broken up about it, especially in summer.

But no, Tobit fears god more than the king and at this particular point god is super concerned with what happens to dead bodies, something only occasionally mentioned in the Old Testament, which lends further credence to my fetish theory, and he keeps hiding them in his house and burying them at night. One day he gets tired of burying people and sits down by the wall to take a nap. While he's sleeping, a bird shits on his face and somehow blinds him, even though his eyes were presumably closed. But no, this is a test from god in a similar vein to what happened to poor Job, except that Job had 10 kids and was rich and happy and ended up naked on a dungheap scratching himself with a pottery shard and Tobit has a bunch of dead bodies lying around his house and yard in a hot climate before embalming was invented. In other words, the loss ought not to be as meaningful.

Much like Job, Tobit refuses to curse god, though thankfully we don't have 42 chapters of him bitching, either. Nope, he just sits there patiently and ignores people who make fun of his necrophilia. His wife continues at her weaving job, no doubt grateful that she no longer comes home and finds corpses littering the floors she JUST washed. One day, someone gives her a young kid goat and she takes it home. Tobit hears it bleating, and tells her to take it back, because they can't eat or touch something that was stolen. Poor Anna can only roll her eyes at this apparent new fetish and argues that all his piety has left him blind and sitting in a fucking graveyard that she no doubt imagined with a nice gazebo and maybe a fish pond, not a bunch of cadavers. The scene ends with her continuing to upbraid him.

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