Job’s Life and Times
Damien F. Mackey
This is a revised version (March 2012) of an article of this title published in Mentalities/Mentalités (Outrigger) Vol. 13, no. 1-2 October 1998.
The impression that one gets from reading various old and new commentaries on the Book of Job is that – after all this time – there has not yet been established what one might consider to be a firm identity, or era, for the main character, JOB. He still comes across as being profoundly mysterious, like Melchizedek; someone who just appears “out of nowhere”, without a known beginning.
In this article I shall be attempting to lift some of this thick veil of mystery enshrouding Job, by identify¬ing his ancestry and his place of abode, and by locating him in a specific historical era. That of course presup¬poses on my part a recognition that Job was a genuine historical person, and not a myth. It is a premise that I confidently accept.
Job, according to the view that will be developed in the following pages, is to be identified as none other than TOBIAS, the son of Tobit, an Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali, dated to the Assyrian captivity of the C8th BC.
Many commentators have expressed their opinion that the BOOK OF JOB is one of the finest literary works of the Old Testament. It is the story of a righteous man of great wealth, whom God allows to be sorely tempted by Satan through a series of increasingly painful or¬deals. In a series of trials, Job suffers the loss of his property and his possessions, including his many servants; then later of his seven sons and his three daughters (Job 1:13-19).
After this, he is afflicted in his own person, being struck with “a very grievous ulcer, from the sole of his foot to the top of his head” (2:7). Most painful of all is the excruciating agony of soul that Job, who had lived for so long in God’s friendship, must now endure upon finding himself being treated as if he were God’s en¬emy.
Instead of pity and comfort in the midst of such terrible affliction, Job receives nothing but mockery and contempt from his family and his fellow-citizens. For though once renowned and highly respected through¬out the land, he has now become – due to the pitiful state to which he has been reduced – the common “laughing-stock” (30:1). He to whom all had been wont to turn for help in their hour of need, must now pass his days as an outcast, seated on a dunghill, attended by no one. He is loathsome to his relatives and friends. Even his wife finds it hard to be civil to him.
Three of Job’s friends, ELIPHAZ, BILDAD and ZOPHAR, having come by agreement from their re¬spective dwelling-places (of Tema, Suhi and Naamath), ostensibly to comfort Job (2:11), merely succeed in ex¬acerbating his torment by their total misjudgment of the situation. Their initial compassion upon seeing Job soon turns to accusation. Only a guilty man, they rea¬son, could be thus afflicted by God.
Job also has to suffer the further indignity of being lectured to by the somewhat pompous and inexperienced, though well-¬meaning young man named ELIHU (from Buz) (32:6-37:24). To each discourse Job replies patiently by asserting his innocence. At the end of the poem God himself intervenes and replies to Job, before the brief epilogue telling how the hero of this suffering was re¬warded for his patience and loyalty (38-41 & 42).
Whilst there are available many useful commen¬taries to expound for us all the intricacies of the Book of Job, their usefulness does not carry over – as I have indicated above – to any satisfactory elucidation of the book’s historical locus. That this important aspect of the Book of Job still remains rather poorly under¬stood can be gauged from the following statement about the book’s authorship, by F. Knight (Nile and Jordan, James Clarke & Co., Ltd., London, 1921, p. 379):
The authorship, date, and place of composition of the Book of Job constitute some of the most keenly contested and most uncertain problems in Biblical Criticism. There is perhaps no book in the Canon of Scripture to which more diverse dates have been assigned. Every period of Jew¬ish history, from BC 1400 to BC 150, has had its advocates as that to which this mysterious and magnificent poem must be relegated, and this criticism ranges over 1200 years of uncertainty.
The problem of the historicity of the life of Job appears to be an age-old consideration; for we find that at least as far back as the thirteenth century AD the question was being hotly debated in the Schools.
St. Thomas Aquinas (In “Expositio super Job ad litteram”) was one who had insisted that Job, and those who engaged in debate with him, were genuine historical persons. In this he was opposing himself to the likes of Moses Maimonides (In “Guide of the Perplexed”, III. 22), who had expressed a contrary view. Aquinas had written in the Prologue to his Expositio: “Now there have been some men to whom it seemed that the Job in ques¬tion was not something in the nature of things but that he was a kind of parable made up to serve as a theme for a debate over providence, the way men often invent hypothetical cases to debate over them”.
Against such a view Aquinas however opposed the clear references to Job in the Old and New testaments, namely:
Ezekiel 14:14,20, in which God states that Jerusa¬lem had at that time (just prior to the Babylonian Cap¬tivity) become so corrupt that even if such holy men as Noah, Daniel and Job had been living in it – though these three would have escaped with their lives – they would not have been able to have saved any others in the city from imminent destruction.
James 5:11, in which the Apostle praises Job’s steadfastness.
Aquinas had, in the course of his commentary, pointed to certain details of an historical nature in the text of Job itself that he believed to confirm this view; for example that very first verse of the Book of Job: “There was a man in the land of Uz by the name of Job …” (1:1), in which Job is described with respect to his na¬tive land, and with respect to his name. These two items of information, he believed, had been provided to show that this story is not a parable but a real occurrence. (Expositio, Ch. 1).
We encounter the same situation again later on in the Book of Job, where the young Elihu is introduced into the story as “Elihu, the son of Barachiel the Buzite, of the line of Ram” (32:2). From this information we learn about the young man’s name, his origin, his native land, and his race. Elihu is in fact the only character in the Book of Job who is accorded a patronymic; for no¬where in this book are we supplied with the name of Job’s father, nor of the father(s) of his three friends.
Aquinas, though his purposes were purely inter¬pretative, had nevertheless listed the historical prob¬lems of the book as: “The time Job lived”, “his parentage” and “the authorship” of the book. As it happens, these are the very kinds of problems that concern us here.
But does it really matter, anyway, who Job was and when and where he lived?
Well, apart from any another good reason, I believe that a recognition of the historical era of Job can be of great assistance to the reader when trying to come to terms with so abstruse a text as the main dialogue section of the Book of Job. For surely, in this regard, it must be of no small benefit to have at one’s disposal some concrete facts about the main character: who he was; from whence he came; where he lived, … etc. Such knowledge about Job would certainly go a long way towards dispersing the air of mystery that surrounds him.
What I hope to demonstrate in this article is that the details about Tobias’ life are nothing other than those pertaining largely to the first part of Job’s extraordinary life; whilst those events described in the Book of Job generally (and especially his last great trial) constitute his later years.
Whereas the Book of Tobit provides us with im¬mense personal detail about the lives of its central char¬acters, the Book of Job by comparison is significantly lacking in any such detail. In the latter case, the author does not give us even the tiniest clue as to the identity of Job’s father, or his mother, nor who might have been their ancestors; neither are we told where Job was born, nor to which race he belonged.
Similarly, we learn noth¬ing about the family origins of Job’s wife.
It is most probably due to the fact that the Book of Job provides us with no specific Israelite ancestry for its main char¬acter – plus the fact that Job himself is described as living in the “east”, in the “land of Uz” (cf. 1:1 & 3) – that commentators invariably conclude that Job must have been non-Israelite, that is, a gentile. Thus St. Augustine of Hippo said of Job that: “He was neither a native of Israel nor a proselyte (that is, a newly admitted member of the people of Israel) … ,” but an Edomite foreigner. (City of God, Bk. XVIII, Ch. 47).
What I am suggesting, however, is that the Book of Tobit has already provided us with all such personal detail as is lacking from the Book of Job. According to my view, we would already know from the opening verses of Tobit all that we needed to know about Job’s paternal ancestry, his tribe, his country and his town of origin. In those verses we read about Tobias’ father, that he was:
… Tobit, the son of Tobiel, son of Ananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, of the descendants of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali … from Thisbe, which is to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asor (Tobit 1:1-2).
That is already comprehensive biographical information! Moreover, from the Book of Tobit, we would know that Tobias’ mother was “Anna”, the wife of Tobit (1:9). We would know such similar details too about a wife of Job’s (whether or not she were the same “wife” as referred to in Job 1:9-10); that she was named “Sarah” and was “… the daughter of Raguel” (3:7) and “Edna” (7:2), who lived “at Ecbatana in Media” (3:7), and that she married Tobias (7:13). Hence, there is no need for the Book of Job to repeat all of this biographical information. Since however, from the point of view of the reader of Job, the lack of this biographical data can leave the main character seeming mysterious and enigmatical, one would do well to read about Job with the Book of Tobit in mind.
I like to work according to the principle that when¬ever a patronymic or genealogy is lacking in the case of a significant biblical character, we ought to expect (given the importance that the Israelite/Jewish people attributed to genealogies) that this ‘lack’ is due to the fact that the details have already been supplied else¬where in the Scriptures.
Linking Tobias and Job
What initially got me thinking that Job might have been the same person as Tobias were:
(a) the respective descriptions – even itemizations – of their wealth and possessions; coupled with their fame and reputation for righteousness, and
(b) the fact that they both had seven sons.
Let its consider these points in turn.
The fortunes of the once-impoverished Tobias had taken a quantum leap upwards by the conclusion of his successful visit to Ecbatana. We read: “… Raguel … gave Tobias half his wealth, menservants and maid¬servants, oxen and sheep, donkeys and camels, clothes, and money and household things” (10:10. Jerusalem Bible version). Moreover, the angel Raphael had retrieved for Tobias, from nearby “Rages”, the ten talents of silver that his father had “left there in trust with Gabael”, one of his kinsmen (v.14), some 20 years before (cf. 4:20 & 9:5). Interest on this sum (equivalent to many thou¬sands of dollars) must have greatly accumulated during that period of time.
Materially speaking, Tobias would eventually benefit further from family inheritances; from his father’s estate in Nineveh, and afterwards, from that of his par¬ents-in-law, in Ecbatana: “[Tobias] inherited their prop¬erty and that of his father Tobit” (14:13). Thus the wealth that Tobias had accumulated by the time that he had settled down away from Assyria would compare most favourably with the following descrip¬tion that we encounter in the opening verses of the Book of Job: “There was a man … whose name was Job …. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants …” (1:1, 3). Note that the very same types of livestock are listed in both accounts: “oxen”, “sheep”, “donkeys” (she-asses) and “camels”, plus the abundance of human “servants”.
We might add another domestic animal here as well: the sheepdog. The dog in the Book of Tobit is sometimes singled out by commentators as being an irrelevancy. What is the point, they exclaim, of even mentioning it! I personally am glad for the dog’s inclusion. Apart from it adding a realistic, eyewitness flavour to a story that is already saturated with such detail (as is often noted by biblical commentators), it provides a further possible link with Job. For, whereas virtually every reference in the Old Testament to a “dog” or “dogs” is derogatory or unflattering – and never homely – it seems that the rare exceptions are to be found in the books of Tobit and Job. Thus:
Tobit: “And Tobias went forward; and the dog followed him …” (cf. 6:1 & 11:4).
…. “Then the dog, which had been with [Tobias and the angel] along the way, ran ahead of them; and coming as if he had brought the news showed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail” (Tobit 11:9).
Job: “But now they make sport of me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have distained to set with the dogs of my flock” (30:1). (RSV version). Another version has: “ … no sheep-dog of mine ever tended”.
In Job 29 we are given a further elaboration on the holy man’s prosperity. Job, now in the midst of his affliction, reflects back to those halçyon “days of old” when, as he says, “God watched over me, when His lamp shone over my head and by His light I walked in darkness” (29:2). In those days, he says, “I washed my feet with butter and the rock poured out streams of oil for me” (v.6). (The Jerusalem version has: “When my feet were plunged in cream and streams of oil poured from the rocks”).
Using figurative language here, Job attempts to convey an impression of the incredible overflow of dairy products yielded by his livestock and the superabundance ¬of oil that he had obtained from his olive trees (which have the best oil usually in rocky and sandy places).
According to the Heb. Londinii (or HL) version of Tobit, a large party went with the bridal pair (Tobias and Sarah) a day’s journey homewards; and “… everyone gave a ring of gold … and a piece of silver” (11:l). The only other place in Scripture of which I am aware, where the same thing happened, is in the Book of Job; and it is virtually word for word with Tobit: “… each of them gave [Job] a piece of money and a ring of gold” (42:11).
The Book of Tobit does not offer any details regarding Tobias’s own fame and status in society, except to say that he “grew old with honour” (14:13). (His reputation as a righteous man of God is not open to question). But we can perhaps infer a lot more about Tobias’s status from his father Tobit’s own claim to have been held in such “favour and good appearance in the sight of Shalmaneser” (the Assyrian king who had taken the northern Israelites into captivity), that the king had made him “his buyer of provisions” (1:13), which involved his travelling to Media (v.14). “But when Shalmaneser died, Sennacherib his son reigned in his place [*]; and under him the highways were unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media” (v. 15).
[*] This supports my controversial view that Sennacherib and Sargon II (conventionally thought to have succeeded Shalmaneser) were actually one and the same king. The Book of Tobit never mentions Sargon.
Restricted travel opportunities during Sennacherib’s reign were only a minor problem for Tobit, however, compared to the persecution that he had to endure. Sennacherib had returned in fury from the debacle in Judaea (1:18) – presumably when his main army had been annihilated in Israel (2 Kings 18:13¬-19:36). As the Jerusalem Bible version of Tobit puts it: “… when he retreated from Judaea in disorder, after the King of heaven had punished his blasphemies, in his anger Sennacherib killed a great number of Israel¬ites” (v. 18). The RSV specifies that Sennacherib “put to death any who came fleeing from Judaea”. I am not certain if there is any other corroboration of this last statement. Whatever about that, Tobit, in his great charity, secretly buried these compatriots; the consequence for him being that:
When the bodies were sought by the king, they were not to be found. Then one of the men of Nineveh went and informed the king about me, that I was burying them; so I hid myself. When I learned that I was being searched for, to be put to death, I left home in fear. Then all my property was confiscated and nothing was left to me, except my wife Anna and my son Tobias (vv. 18-20).
Fortunately for the family this frightening situa¬tion did not last for very long according to the Book of Tobit. “Less than forty days after this, the king was murdered by his two sons, who then fled to the mountains of Ararat” (v. 21, Jerusalem version). Whilst this verse continues on to tell that “[Sennacherib’s] son Esarhaddon reigned after him”, which is perfectly in conformity with the conventional version of Assyrian history, I have queried this succession elsewhere. The Greek version of Tobit 1:21 does not give “Esarhaddon”, but “Sacherdonos”; a name completely unknown in Assyrian history.
Anyway, this succession was a happy turn¬ing point in the life of Tobit, because his nephew, Ahikar was in great favour with the new king. Tobit continues:
[Esarhaddon] … appointed Ahikar … over all the accounts of his kingdom and over the entire ad¬ministration. Ahikar interceded for me, and I returned to Nineveh. Now Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of adminis¬tration of the accounts, for [Esarhaddon] had ap¬pointed him second to himself. He was my nephew (vv. 21-22).
This “Ahikar” (or “Achior” as he is called in the Vul¬gate version of Tobit), whom Tobit proudly calls his “nephew”, was also, so I have argued in previous ar¬ticles:
(a) the “Achior” of the Book of Judith, who converted to Yahweh – but only after the defeat of the Assyrian army through the agency of Judith; and;
(b) the Cupbearer (that is, “Rabshakeh”) of the ill-fated Assyrian army. In¬deed, Tobit states quite clearly that Ahikar had been “… chief Cup-bearer … under Sennacherib …” (v. 22, Jerusalem Bible).
(c) apparently the Aba-Enlil-Dari of the Assyrian records.
To what degree Tobias himself was actually honoured in the kingdom of Assyria, due to his having so famous and influential a cousin as Ahikar, needs yet to be determined. That he was certainly honoured afterwards, in “the land of Uz”, is apparent from the fact that he was known as “… the greatest of all the people of the East” (1:1, 3).
In Job 29 we are provided with more specific de¬tail, telling of just how mighty the holy man had formerly been:
… when I proceeded to the city gate and in the street they put a chair for me. The youths saw me and hid themselves, and the old men, rising in my presence, stood. The chief men stopped speaking and laid their hand on their mouth. The generals checked their voices and their tongues stuck to their throat (vv. 7-10).
Since in those days judgments were handed down at the city gates, Job apparently had the authority of judging. The fact that “a chair” was provided for him, shows that he was not a petty judge, but a man of sin¬gular dignity. Furthermore he had authority, not only over recalcitrant youths, but even over old men, who “stood” in his presence. Even the chiefs did not dare to interrupt Job when he was speaking. And the generals, who are usually bolder and more prompt to speak, “checked their voices”, by speaking humbly and plainly, and sometimes they were so dumbfounded that they dared not speak at all. At this time Job describes him¬self as “sitting like a king with the army standing round about …” (v.25). Moreover we are told in Job 19:9 that the great man had worn “a crown”. So a search needs to be made to identify him as a great official.
But Job, despite his awesome authority, “was neverthe¬less the consoler of the mourners” (v. 25); that is, a mag¬nanimous man who looked down on no one. Indeed, he was “an eye to the blind man and a foot to the lame man” (v.15), and “the father of the poor” (v.16). Be¬cause of his graciousness, the people loved, rather than feared, Job (v. 11), and they awaited him when he was absent, missing him “like rainfall” (v. 23). Listening to his words of wisdom, all “kept silent”, he says, for “they dared to add nothing to my words” (knowing him to be far wiser than they) (v. 22).
Well, therefore, does Job shape up as being a most fitting son of the Tobit who had himself “performed many acts of charity” to his brethren, giving of his bread to the hungry and his clothing to the naked, and bury¬ing the dead (1:16-17), and being greatly loved in re¬turn by his brethren for his charitable works towards them (7:7-8).
The other easily grasped comparison between Tobias and Job is that of having seven sons. Compare the following:
Tobit: “[Tobit] called to him his son Tobias and his children, seven young men, [Tobit’s] grand¬sons” (Tobit 14:5).
Job: “… a man whose name was Job …. There were born to him seven sons …” (Job 1:1, 2).
One can search the Scriptures practically in vain, I think, to find any other example of a famous man of whom we are told that he had precisely seven sons.
It appears that Tobias was already a grandfather by the time of his father’s death, because old Tobit – we are informed – lived to see “the children of his grand¬children” (14:1).
When finally Tobias fled Nineveh, he took with him “his wife, and children, and children’s children, and re¬turned to his father and mother-in-law” (14:14).
Perhaps a clue to how many of his generations Tobias had lived to see is to be found in the “prophetical” blessing of his cousin Gabael, who, having come from Rages to the wedding of Tobias and Sarah, had exclaimed: “… may you see your children, and your children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation” (9:11). (Might not this blessing have been tactfully omitted from the Book of Tobit had its hopes never been realised?). In the context of our reconstruction, Gabael’s blessing had the desired effect, for subsequently, at the end of the Book of Job, we read that the holy man did in fact live to see “his children, and his children’s children, unto the fourth generation” (42:16). This sentence really reads like a catch-line, taken directly from the Book of Tobit, and inserted into the Book of Job!
One version of Job has “unto the fifth generation”, which might be making allowance for the fact that Job had lost an entire generation of children. Perhaps, too, the loss of that generation may have been uppermost in the mind of the angel Raphael, in those bygone days, when he spoke the following, possibly ironical words to Tobias about his marriage to Sarah, “I suppose that you will have children by her” (6:17).
Finally, in both cases the much honoured holy man dies an old man, full of days (cf. Tobit 14:14 & Job 42:17). So already, it seems, we have some very obvious and striking comparisons in:
wealth and possessions;
having seven sons;
a reputation for righteousness ¬before God;
profound charity – leading to being greatly loved;
a very high standing in society; and
living to a goodly old age in great honour.
Regarding the latter point, old age, whereas Job is said to have lived for 140 years (42:15), Tobias’s age, at death, is given variously as 117 (Good News) or 127 (King James). He was thus likewise, with Job, a centenarian, but supposedly younger. I suggest that the significant variation given for the age of Tobias at death might indicate that the original figure was no longer known with certainty.
When Tobit had become blind, he called his son and imparted to him certain wise counsels (based on the Mosaïc Law), reinforcing what he had taught him from infancy (1:10), before sending him off to the land of “Media”. The description of these ethical maxims occupies chapter 4 of the Book of Tobit. The counsels cover a variety of devout practices, such as honouring one’s mother (4:3-4); keeping the commandments (v. 5); giving alms (vv. 7-11); avoiding immorality (v. 12); marrying a woman who is not foreign (v. 12); avoiding idleness (v. 13); being just in the payment of wages (v. 14); practising sobriety (v.15); seeking wise advice (v. 18); and blessing God on every occasion (v. 19).
Obviously Tobias was a most obedient son, because in “Media” he took a wife from his own tribe (chs. 7 & 8); purely, not out of lust (8:7); and he blessed God for giving him such a good wife (8:5-6). Moreover, he was eager to return home to Nineveh, out of concern for his mother (10:7). Later, he buried her with honour, as Tobit had asked (cf. 4:4 & 14:12).
Now, we should expect to find that Tobias as the mature Job in his greatest trial would have fully matured in observing his father’s maxims, which would have been bearing fruit. And this is exactly what we do find. The evidence for it is especially apparent in Job’s famous protestation of his innocence (also known as a ‘Negative Confession’) to Eliphaz, after the latter had accused him of all kinds of immoral practices (cf. Job 22 & 31). In the following comparison, the reader will be able to see clearly how the maxims of Tobit had become very much embedded in his goodly son’s own thinking and way of life:
Tobit: “Give of your … clothing to the naked” (Tobit 4:16).
Job: “I have not seen any perish for want of cloth¬ing: or the needy to have no covering” (Job 31:19).
Tobit: “Give of your bread to the hungry …” (4:16).
“Upon seeing the abundance of food [Tobit] said to his son, ‘Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find …’.” (2:2).
Job: “I have not eaten my morsel alone” (31:17).
Tobit: “Beware, my son, of all immorality” (4:12).
Job: “My heart has not been deceived by a woman. I have not laid wait at my neighbour’s door …. For that [adultery] would be a heinous crime” (31:9, 11).
Tobit: “ … O, Lord, I am not taking [Sarah] because of lust, but with sincerity” (8:7).
Job: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how could I look intently upon a virgin?” (31:1).
Tobit: “Do not hold over till the next day the wages of any man who works for you, but pay him at once …” (4:14).
“What you hate, do not do to anyone” (4:15).
Job: “I have not walked with falsehood, and my foot has not hastened to deceit” (31:5). Comment: Knight equates Job’s words here with the two Egyptian confessions: “I have not dealt treach¬erously with anyone”, and “I have not acted with deceit or done evil to men”.
Tobit: “And from his infancy [Tobit] taught his son to fear God, and to abstain from all sin” (1:10). “And take heed that you never consent to sin, nor transgress the commandments of the Lord our God” (4:6).
Job: “My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of His mouth” (23:11-12). “My step has not turned out of the way” (31:7).
Tobit: “Remember the Lord our God all your days, my son … live uprightly … and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing” (4:5).
Job: “There was a man … whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil” (1:1).
Tobit: “ … we are the children of the saints, and look for that life which God will give to those who never change their faith from Him” (2:18).
“For we are the sons of the prophets” (4:12).
Job: “My heart has not been secretly enticed if I beheld the sun when it shone, nor have I kissed my hand to the moon walking in brightness. (Which is a very great iniquity, and a denial against the most High God)” (31:26-28). (Com¬ment: This last is a reference to idolatrous pagan practices.)
Examples could be multiplied. After all, wasn’t Job’s God-fearing righteousness the very matter of which God boasts about him before Satan? (1:8 & 2:3). Tobit’s insistence on adhering to pure religion and keeping on the straight path was the fruit of his own bitter experi¬ence, based on the apostasy of his “whole tribe” to the calf of king Jeroboam (1:4, 5).
Tobit: “Bless the Lord God on every occasion …” (4:19). “Then [Tobit and his son] lying pros¬trate … upon their faces blessed God; and rising up, they told all his wonderful works” (12:22).
Job: “Then Job … fell upon the ground and wor¬shipped” (1:20).
Tobit: “And Tobias began to pray, ‘Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed be Thy holy Name for ever’.” (8:5).
Job: “And [Job] said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return, the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord’.” (1:21).
Again, just as in the case of Gabael’s blessing, that Tobias might live to see his fourth generation, it is al¬most as if the above protestations of innocence by Job were catch-lines, gathered up from the Book of Tobit, and inserted into the Book of Job. For, to each accusation made against him by Eliphaz, Job asserts his in¬nocence as if he had the very counsels of his father ringing in his ears.
Job, who could speak of himself as: “I, whom God has fostered father-like, from childhood, and guided since I left my mother’s womb” (31:18), had also spoken of some mysterious being who might act as his “witness” and defender in heaven (16:18-21); who, upon hearing of his fate, would intervene to vindicate him. Most are agreed that this reference obviously cannot be intended of some earthly friend or companion.
Who therefore might this “witness” be?
Once again, I believe, the Book of Tobit comes to our aid, to assist us in making the correct identifica¬tion. Had not a heavenly intercessor already figured largely in the story of Tobias? I refer of course to the angel Raphael who had, already many years ago now, fulfilled the very same role of intercession before God on behalf of Tobit and Sarah.
It must have given Job no little consolation, in the midst of his trials, to have recalled firstly how the angel had hearkened to his father’s prayers in the latter’s own time of his distress, and secondly how the angel had then person¬ally befriended him as well, having served as his sure guide to and from Ecbatana (Tobit 5:4-12:22). Tobias was in¬deed under God’s special care and guardianship. The angel could not but act as Tobias’s “witness” in heaven.
A final significant comparison, one that I had not developed in my original version of this article, is between the Hebrew versions of the names, Tobias and Job; though I had then used the compound TOB to stand for Tobias/Job, which a reader had found confusing. Basically the named Tobit and Tobias are, I now believe, variations of the Hebrew name, ‘Obadiah (precede by an ayin). Tobit equates to ‘Obadiah and Tobias to ‘Obadias. The initial ayin has been converted into a T (either in Greek translation, or it being a Transjordanian variant). The name Job is of a similar construction, but having an initial aleph. [*]
[*] ‘Obadiah can also be rendered as Abdiel (Abdias), Abdiel being the very same name as the Arabic Abdullah. Now it is most significant that the Prophet Mohammed’s parents were Abdullah and Amina, equating almost exactly to the names of Tobias’s parents Abdiel and Anna. Was Mohammed’s “Medina”, then, yet another case of confusion with “Media”/“Midian”?
Locating Tobit’s “Rages” and “Ecbatana”
As the heading suggests, my purpose in this sec¬tion will be to identify both the “city of Rages” to which Tobit sent his son to procure the ten talents of silver and the “Ecbatana”, in whose mountain this “city of Rages” is said to have been located. Now since Tobias died and was buried in “Ecbatana” (14:13, The Jerusalem Bible version), it should necessarily follow – if my overall re¬construction is correct – that “Ecbatana” was the same as the “land of Uz”, where Job ended his days. (Note: Nowhere does the Book of Tobit say that this particular “Ecbatana” was a city).
Of secondary concern – though nevertheless im¬portant – will be the task of identifying Tobit’s home of “Thisbe”; as well as the respective towns, or districts, of Job’s three friends (in Tema, Suhi and Naamath), and of the young Elihu (in Buz).
The various versions of Tobit, when combined, provide us with quite a clear description of at least the topography of “Rages” and of “Ecbatana”. In the Vulgate, for instance, the angel Raphael, after having been asked by Tobias if he knew “the way that leads to the country of the Medes”, replied to him: “‘I know it; and I have often walked through all the ways thereof; and I have abode with Gabelus [var. Gabael] our brother, who dwells at Rages a city of the Medes, which is situated in the mount of Ecbatana’.” (5:8). The Jerusalern Bible by no means contradicts this when it says that: “[Rages] lies in the mountains, and Ecbatana is in the middle of the plain” (5:6). And it adds the important note that: “It usually takes two full days to get from Ecbatana to Rages” (5:6).
Since these two locations, “Rages” and “Ecbatana”, are said to be “in Media”, or “in the land of the Medes”, commentators instinctively turn to the famous Median capital of Ecbatana to the east of Nineveh, and to the Rhaga (Rages) that is a bit less than 200 miles distance from that Ecbatana.
But they then very quickly become aware that something is quite wrong with this scenario; that, to quote The Jerusalem Bible, “the ge¬ography is inexact”. (See J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament, Brill 1959, pp. 503-504). Fr. D. Dumm, in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (article “Tobit”, footnote comment on 5a), goes so far as to say that: “[The angel] Raphael knows the journey of life far better than the route to Media!”
A couple of the well-known problems associated with any attempt to place the Median Rhaga and Ecbatana in the context of the Book of Tobit are that:
Whereas the Median Ecbatana is east of Nineveh [see map above], Tobias’s journey to “Ecbatana” from “Nineveh” would of necessity have involved his travelling westwards, because he and the angel arrived by “first evening” at the Tigris River (6:2); which river is definitely west of Nineveh.
Whereas the journey from “Ecbatana” to “Rages” normally took “two full days”, the almost 200-mile journey from the Median Ecbatana to Rhaga would have taken signifi¬cantly longer. In fact it took the army of Alexander the Great 11 days to march from the one to the other. (Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, Penguin, 1986, Bk. 3, #’s 20-21′S
Rightly then does Simons observe (according to a conventional Median context) that the journey referred to in the Book of Tobit “would be a forced ‘journey of two days’ even for an express messenger” (op. cit., p. 504).
For these good reasons, I must reject the classical Rhaga and Ecbatana east of Nineveh as being, respectively, the “Rages” and “Ecbatana” of the Book of Tobit. Instead, I shall identify sites for Tobit’s “Rages” and “Ecbatana” that positively fit the biblical description. According to the view that will be presented in the following pages:
The “city of Rages” is identified as the city of Damascus (700 metres above sea level), which is indeed in the slopes of a mountain; it being over¬shadowed by the majestic Mt. Hermon. The Psalmist says of that mountain: “O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!” (Psalm 68:15).
It would follow from this that Tobit’s “Ecbatana”, in whose mountain lay this “city of Rages” (5:8, Vulgate), must be the fertile region of Bashan.
In Greco-Roman times Bashan – which is a province, not a city, and which does indeed lie in a plain (of Hauran) – had become known as the Damascene province of Batanaea. So what I now confidently propose is that Batanaea is simply the name “Ecbatana”.
Confusion has apparently arisen with the original place-names having been translated into other languages. “The popularity of the story of Tobit”, wrote Marshall in his commentary on “The Book of Tobit” (A Dictionary of the Bible, Scribner, 1902, pp. 785, 788), “is attested by the number of variations in which it exists in several languages” (e.g., Greek, Latin, Chaldean/ Aramaic and Hebrew). Marshall implies that individual texts underwent multiple translations; that, for example, the Syro-Chaldean version that Saint Jerome says he translated into Latin, “in one day”, shows linguistic evidence of having been originally written in Greek. Not sur¬prisingly, there are considerable variations from one text of Tobit to another.
Now, the difference in certain key place-names is fascinating from the point of view of the present re¬construction. I refer to the fact that the usual “Media” is replaced by “Midian” in one instance (Heb. Fagii or HF version. See Marshall, pp. 786, 787); and that, in another case (Heb. Londinii), “Ecbatana” is replaced by “Bathania”. Now, this is exactly what we needed to break the geographical deadlock; for:
“Midian” is certainly a much more satisfactory description than is “Media” of the northern Transjordania. Scripture links both Job (1:3) and the Midianites of this region (Judges 6:33) as, or with, the “people of the east” (Heb. bene qedem).
Moreover it would be more understandable for Tobit to have found during Sennacherib’s reign that “the highways” leading westwards to Midian were “unsafe” (1:15), rather than the highways leading eastwards to Media, since Sennacherib had fairly minimal contact with the Medes during his reign.
And “Bathania”? Well that too is just the same name as Batanaea!
Obviously the original name “Bathania” was mis¬taken for “Ecbatana” (from the Greek ek Bathania?) by later translators and/or copy¬ists, who would then naturally have identified “Ecbatana” with the famous Median city of that name. But that there was also an “Ecbatana in Syria” was known to Herodotus, who distinguished it from the Median city of the same name (The Histories, Bk. 3).
Some facts that further greatly strengthen my above conclusions about the identifications of “Rages” and “Ecbatana” are that:
All of the Arabic and Syrian traditions iden¬tify the province of Batanaea as Job’s “land of Uz”.
The central part of this province of Batanaea, which tradition identifies as Job’s precise home, is perfectly situated in relation to Damascus, be¬ing about 50 miles distant. Indeed, Jâkût el-¬Hamawi says of Batanaea’s most central town of Nawâ [which some actually identify as Job’s town]: “Between Nawa and Damascus is two days’ journey …”.
Now, if one enquires with the locals particularly for that part of the country in which Job himself dwelt, he is directed to the district between Nawâ and Edrei, which is accounted the most fertile portion of the coun¬try. This region of Job’s traditional home in central Batanaea in the plain of Hauran (today’s en-Nukra) corresponds both geographically and topographically with the “Ecbatana” of Tobit, inasmuch as:
(i) it is approximately “two days’ journey” from a city (namely, Damascus); a city that is in turn considered to be
(ii) in the mountain (namely, Mt. Hermon) of that re¬gion. And, finally, it is
(iii) “in the middle of the plain” (namely, the plain of Hauran).
Eusebius is even more specific about the location of Job’s home. Writing at circa 310 AD, Eusebius said (in Onomastikon, Vol. IV): “Astaroth Karnaim is at present a very large village beyond the Jordan, in the province of Arabia, which is called Batanaea. Here, according to tradition, they fix the dwelling of Job”.
In relation to the name “Astaroth [Ashtaroth]”, though, we encounter a problem common to the geography of this part of the world: namely, that one often finds a repetition of names from one place to another (see also be¬low). Thus we encounter two places called “Ashtaroth” in the region of Batanaea.
F. Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, Vol. IV, pp. 426-427), when making his choice between these two options for Job’s home, preferred the Ashtaroth (Tell Ashtara) that lies close to the “Tomb of Job” (Makâm Êjûb). Delitzsch further indicated here that the full “region which tradition calls the home of Job”, embraced “the communities of Sahm, Tell Shihâb, Tesîl, Nawâ, and Sa’dîje …”; all wheat growing communities.
From all this I conclude that the angel Raphael had led Tobias to the “Ecbatana” referred to by Herodotus as “Ecbatana of Syria”, that we now identify as the Damascene province of Batanaea; a province that was west of Nineveh, as befits the pattern of Tobias’s journey. What adds fur¬ther confirmation to this new scenario is that the Vulgate actually places a “Charan … in the midway to Nineveh” (Tobit 11:1), in relation to Tobias’s journey This “Charan” would have to be the city of Haran, which is more or less halfway between Nineveh and Damascus if spoken of as a rough approxi¬mation, as one does when directing another person on a journey.
The Book of Tobit is actually pointing the reader straight to the land where tradition says that Job had dwelt. Thus, contrary to what Fr. MacKenzie of The Jerome Biblical Commentary had imagined, the angel Raphael knew his geography intimately. It was the later copyists who got lost along the way!
When old Tobit told Tobias: “Go to Media [read “Midian”], my son, for I fully believe what Jonah the prophet said about Nineveh, that it will be overthrown” (14:1), he was actually bidding his son to return to the land of his forefathers. This new realisation that Tobit’s “Ecbatana” is meant to refer to the province of Batanaea provides me with, I believe, the real “clincher” for which I had been searching, enabling for the binding together of the books of Tobit and Job.
Whilst the Syro-Arabic traditions are emphatic that Job had dwelt in Batanaea, it has been common down the ages for biblical scholars to conclude that Job was a non-Israelite from the land of Edom; Edom being an Arabian country situated to the southeast of Is¬rael (below the Dead Sea). Thus I earlier quoted St. Augustine of Hippo as having said of Job that: “He was neither a native of Israel nor a proselyte (that is, a newly admitted member of the people of Israel) …”, but an Edomite foreigner.
This conviction by scholars about Edom has undoubtedly been due to the fact that various names referred to in the Book of Job pertain to that part of the world (or to Esau’s line); names such as “Eliphaz” and his home of “Tema”, also “Buz”, and even “Uz” itself. A perplexing double occurrence of names appears to have attributed to this confusion. Thus we find in both Edom and in the Batanaea region such names for instance as Têmâ and Dûma. Indeed, the early biblical genealogies (Genesis 10:23; 22:21; 36:28) place “Uz” in relation to Edom on the one hand, and to Arabia on the other. In other words, there are more than one “land of Uz” to be considered; as well as more than one “Tema”, more than one “Buz” – all these being names that we encounter in the Book of Job.
Clearly the “Uz” referred to as the land of Job (1:1) could not pertain to Edom for the simple reason that, whereas Edom (as I have just said) lay to the south of Palestine, Job is referred to as “the greatest of all the people of the east” (1:3). We meet these “people of the east” in the Genesis account of Jacob’s journey to Syrian Mesopotamia (Genesis 29:1), where the description refers to Jacob’s Aramaean kinsfolk in Haran. The territory of the “Bene qedem” extended from the Arabian desert, lying to the east of Palestine, northwards to the countries of the Euphrates.
Delitzsch (op. cit., p. 442) put paid in one blow to any attempt realistically to connect Job’s “Uz” with the place of the same name associated with Edom, when he wrote:
But should one feel a difficulty in freeing him¬self from the idea that Ausitis [Job’s “Uz”] is to be sought only in the Ard el Hâlât [desert] east of Ma’ân [next to Edom], he must consider that the author of the book of Job could not, like that legend which places the miraculous city of Iram in the country of quicksands, transfer the cornfields of this hero to the desert; for there, with the exception of smaller patches of land capable of culture, which we may not bring into account, there is by no means to be found that husbandman’s [farmer’s] Eldorado, where a single husbandman might find tillage for five hundred [Job 1:3], yea, for a thousand [Job 42:12] yoke of oxen. Such numbers as these are not to be depreciated; for in connection with the primi¬tive agriculture in Syria and Palestine, – which renders a four years’ alternation of crops neces¬sary, so that the fields must be divided into so many portions … from which only one portion is used annually, and the rest left fallow … Job required several square miles of tillage for the employment of his oxen. It is all the same in this respect whether the book of Job is a history or a poem: in no case could the Ausitis be a country, the notorious sterility of which would make the statement of the poet ridiculous.
The poem’s description though fits perfectly the fertile region of Batanaea.
The Septuagint version of Job translates “of Uz” as “of Ausitis”, and adds at the close of the book that this land was “northeast from Idumaea [Edom] towards the Arabian desert”. This determination of the position of “Uz” is most to be relied upon. It is supported by Josephus (in “Antiquities”, i, 6, 4), who claimed that a person called “Ousos” [i.e., Uz] was the founder of Trachonitis and Damascus. Eusebius (in De Originibus, ix, 2, 4) says further that: “Uz, founder of Trachonitis, held power between Palestine and Cœle-Syria; where Job was”. Now this “Cœle-Syria” was the region of Syria in the vicinity of Damascus.
Again, this Damascene region is the very one in which the Syro-Arabic traditions place the home of Job. Following Delitzsch (op. cit., p. 46), let us now consider just two of these traditions about Job:
The Jâkût el-¬Hamawi and Moslem tradition generally mention the east Hauran fertile tract of country north-west of Têmâ and Bûzân, el-¬Bethenîje (i.e. Batanaea), as the district in which Job dwelt. According to Abufelda … “The whole of Bethenîje, a part of the province of Damascus, belonged to Job as his possession”.
The Syrian tradition also locates Job’s abode in Batanaea. There lies an ancient “Monastery of Job” (Dair Êjûb), built in honour of the holy man.
All the larger works on Palestine and Syria agree that “Uz” is not to be sought in Idumaea (Edom) proper. In these works we also find it recorded that Batanaea is there called Job’s fatherland. In Batanaea itself the trav¬eller hears this constantly. If any one speaks of the fruit¬fulness of the whole district; or of the fields, around a village, he is always answered: “Is it not the land of Job (bilâd Êjûb)?”; “Does it not belong to the villages of Job (diâ Êjûb)?” It seems that Batanaea (Hauran) and the land of Job are synonymous.
Regarding Job’s tomb, we read from Ibn er-Râbi (in Historia Anteislam) that: “To the prophets buried in the region of Dam¬ascus belongs also Job, and his tomb is near Nawa, in the district of Hauran”.
Of special interest for our purposes are those as¬pects of the region of Batanaea that properly fit with descriptions from the Book of Job. I continue to rely on information supplied by Delitzsch (op. cit., p. 415):
The fertility of the plain. Whilst there is plenty of good arable land in the whole region, nowhere is the farming in connection with a small amount of labour (since no manure is used), more pro¬ductive than in Hauran, or more profitable; for the transparent “Batanaean wheat” is always at least 25% higher in price than other kinds.
The pleasant climate. That even the Romans were acquainted with the glorious climate of Batanaea is proved by the name “Palestina salutaris” that they gave to the district.
The “heap of ashes” (Job 2:8) upon which Job sat in his misery is variously translated as “dung¬hill”. Only in a Batanaean context, according to Delitzsch, is there no contradiction, since the two were “synonymous notions”. There the dung, being useless for agricultural purposes, is burnt from time to time in an appointed place before the town; while in any other part of Syria it is as valuable as among any farmer.
This last distinctive fact, Delitzsch concludes, is yet another indication that Job’s “land of Uz” cannot refer to the land of Edom.
Caves. The fact that the region of Hauran is honeycombed with caves fits with what Job says about the habitations of some of those worthless types who had begun to mock and persecute him in his affliction; that “base breed”, whose fathers he said he “would have disdained to set with the dogs of [his] flock” (30:1). These unfortunates Job describes as dwelling “in holes of the earth and of the rocks” (v. 6).
Circumstances of a wealthy farmer/grazier. This section needs more elaboration, since it will throw light on various aspects of Job’s life and misfor¬tunes; for example, how his family, servants and property could all at once have been exposed to marauding bands like the Sabaeans and the Chaldeans (cf. 1:15 & 1:17).
Thus Batanaea, according to Delitzsch (ibid.), must have been, in the time of Job (as it was when Delitzsch was writing), without the protection of the government of the country, and therefore exposed to the marauding attacks of the tribes of the desert. In such country there is no private possession; but each person is at liberty to take up his abode in it, and to cultivate the land and rear cattle at his own risk, where and to what extent he may choose. “Whoever intends taking up his abode there must first of all have a family, or as the Arabs say, “men” (rigâl), i.e., grownup sons, cousins, nephews, sons-in-law; for one who stands alone, “the cut-off one” (maktû’), as he is called, can attain no position of eminence among the Semites, nor undertake any important enterprise”. Then this lord of the region has to make treaties with all the nom¬ad tribes from which he has reason to fear any attack, that is, to pledge himself to pay a yearly tribute, which is given in native produce (corn, garments). A community might have compacts with more than 100 tribes.
That Job lived according to such circumstances seems evident from the fact that the author of the Book of Job represents him as being surprised, not by neighbouring, but by far distant tribes (Chaldeans and Sabaeans), with whom he could have had no compact. [Comment: The reference to Chaldean activity is a further likely evidence that the life of Job belonged to the C8th-C7th’s BC, because it was only then that the Chaldeans began to succeed the Assyrians as world rulers.
Next the lord of the district proceeds to establish a “chirbe”, or village that has been forsaken (for a longer or shorter period), in connection with which all those who have been drawn there (excepting the lord’s own relations, slaves, and servants) set about the work. Perhaps Job 28 has reference to such a settlement.
We can see from all this why Job was considered such a great man in the region. As Job (according to 1:3; cf. 42:12) provided the yoke-oxen and means of transport (asses and cam¬els), so he also provided the farming implements and the seed for sowing. We must not think here of the paid day-labourers of the Syrian towns - or the ser¬vants of our landed proprietors; they are unknown on the borders of the desert. The hand that toils has there a direct share in the gain; the workers belong to the aulâd, “children of the house”, and are so called. “In the hour of danger they will risk their life for their lord”.
The rustic labour is always undertaken simul¬taneously by all the murâb’în for the sake of or¬der, since the lord has the general work of the following day announced from the roof of his house every evening.
Thus it is explained how the 500 ploughmen could be together in one and the same district, and be slain all together.
Now that we have determined exactly where Tobias dwelt, after his having fled Nineveh, we can the more easily (though tentatively) locate the homes of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, as well as that of the young Elihu.
Eliphaz the Temanite. We presumably no longer have to go to distant Edom to find Tema(n). We now know that there was also a Tema in east Hauran.
Bildad the Suhite. We no longer have to go look¬ing for a Suhi (Suhu) for example on the Eu¬phrates north of Babylon. We now know that there was also a place of that name just south of where Job lived.
William of Tyre, in his history (1, xxii, C. 21), wrote that the crusaders, on their return from a marauding expedition in the Hauran valley (the Nukra), had wished to re-conquer a strong position, the Cavea Roob [Rahûb], which they had lost a short time before. “This place”, said the historian, “lies in the province of Suite, a dis¬trict distinguished by its pleasantness, etc.; and that Baldad [Bildad], Job’s friend, who is on that account called the Suite, is said to have come from it”. Delitzsch (op. cit., ibid.), commenting on this passage, was able to pinpoint Bildad’s home thus: “This passage removes us at once into the neighbourhood of Muzêrîb and the Monastery of Job, for the province of Suete is nothing but the district of Suwêt …”.
Zophar the Naamathite. The Septuagint has “Sophar the Minæan”.
“Naamath” was also a common place name in Syria. Presumably, we do not have to go looking for the “Naamath” of the Book of Job below Edom; for, since Job’s other friends lived in Job’s own approximate neighbourhood, it is reasonable to expect that Zophar would have too. I tentatively suggest that “Naamath” stands for the now familiar place of “Nawa” (also called “Naveh”, “Neve”). It is the “Nebo” (Neba) of Numbers 32:38. (See further comments after Elihu).
Elihu the Buzite. We already noted that there was a Bûzân near Temâ in east Hauran.
Thus we discover that all of the geographical names associated with Job and his friends – “Uz”, “Tema”, “Suhi”, “Naamath” (likely) and “Buz”, lie in close proximity the one to the other. These regions must origi¬nally have been settled by Abraham’s relatives; for we find that Abraham’s brother, Nahor, had “Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother …” (Genesis 22:20, 21); that Abraham’s own wife, Keturah, bore to the Patriarch: “… Midian … Shuah …” (25:2); and that the firstborn son of Abraham’s son, Ishmael, was “Nebaioth” (25:13).
By Job’s time, apparently, the Midianite influence was the one that had become uppermost in the region. Almost certainly, Abraham’s son “Shuah” would have given his name to Bildad’s home of “Suhi” or “Shuhi”; whilst Ishmael’s son “Nebaioth” may well have had “Nebo” (“Nawâ”) called after himself.
Thus probably Job’s friends, plus Elihu, did not have to travel any terribly long distance to visit their afflicted friend.
There have been all sorts of guesses as to the identity and status of Job’s three friends: whether these were kings, or priests, or magi. We can no longer agree with the common verdict at least, as referred to by Fr. Dumm (op. cit., ibid.), that: “The three are professional wise men from differ¬ent localities, but all are connected with Edom, the pro¬verbial home of sages (cf. Ob. 8; Jer 49:7, etc.).”
The Septuagint even adds the information that Elihu’s home of “Buz” was in “Ausis” (that is, “Uz”). Elihu himself is said to have been “of the family (race) of Ram”, which is usually taken to mean that he was an Aramaean (Syrian). “Aram” was the nephew of both “Uz” and “Buz” referred to above (who were in turn the nephews of Abraham).
With the following identifications having been established: Tobias = Job, “Ecbatana” = Batanaea, and “Media” = Midian, the question now has to be asked: When old Tobit bade his son leave Nineveh and head for Batanaea, was he in fact telling him to return to the family’s original homeland in Naphtali; to the very place from which the Assyrians had taken the family into captivity?
In other words, can we locate Tobit’s home¬town of “Thisbe” also in the region of Batanaea?
On the face of it, locating “Thisbe” would appear to be not too big a problem, since Tobit actually “pin¬points” the town thus: “Thisbe, which is to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher”. However, the different versions of Tobit vary so considerably in relation to this location that Simons has commented (op. cit. ibid.): “The heavily glossed nature of the transmitted Greek texts is itself enough to warrant the suspicion that the location of Tobit’s city was something of a problem for ancient readers”.
Tobit himself of course knew exactly where “Thisbe” was. Like Moses, who had had to describe the geography of Palestine to the Israelites from an eastern (Transjordanian) perspective, so too was Tobit writing for the sake of his fellow captive Israelites who were situated with him to the east of Palestine. Tobit had written his own history, just as the angel had asked him to do (Tobit 12:20), whilst still in captivity in Nineveh. He would have felt it necessary to have added the detailed information concerning the whereabouts of “Thisbe” especially for the sake of the younger generations, who had grown up in captivity and who had either never been to, nor could remember, Palestine. That Tobit had felt the need to provide such detail would suggest that “Thisbe” was not one of the better known sites in Israel.
Since it is customary to locate the territory of the tribe of Naphtali in Upper Galilee to the west of the River Jordan, and since Tobit’s description of Thisbe’s location is interpreted by competent biblical geographists, like Simons (op. cit., p. 503) for instance, as being west of the Jordan in Upper Galilee, above Hazor (“Asher”, also given as “Asor”) and below “Kedesh” in Naphtali, “Thisbe” would appear to lie in a clearly circumscribed area. That area, whilst being at the same approximate latitude as Batanaea, would be on the opposite side of the river from the latter.
But, as we have seen throughout, the geography of the Book of Tobit, as it is presented in the translations that have come down to us, is never straightforward. Thus Simons, after having carefully tried to pin down the location of Tobit’s hometown, expresses “… surprise that [Thisbe’s] name, though sharing in the fame of Tobit, has left no trace whatever in the narrowly described area where it is said to have existed (teitabă, 5-6 kms NW of Safad is the only but very improbable candidate)”. No wonder that Tobit had to go into detail regarding the location of his own town!
The fact that there is no site between Kedesh and Hazor that has a name anything like “Thisbe” encour¬ages me to look for Tobit’s “Thisbe” also in Transjordanian Batanaea. Whilst Naphtalian territory was, as I have said, definitely located mainly to the west of the Lake of Galilee, some part of that territory appar¬ently lay also in Transjordania. For example, we are told that one of Naphtali’s cities was the famous stronghold of Edrei (Joshua 19:36), which had been in the time of Moses a fortified city of the giant king, Og, of Bashan (or Batanaea) (Numbers 21:34).
Now, as we learned earlier, Job’s homeland lay be¬tween this Edrei and the town of Nawâ. With this in mind, let us see if we can find in the Transjordanian region traditionally belonging to Job any place whose name resembles “Thisbe”; and, once found, whether that place fits the geographical indicators as provided by Tobit. We saw previously, following Delitzsch, that the total “region which tradition calls the home of Job embraced “the communities of Sahm, Tell Shihâb, Tesil, Nawâ, and Sa’dîje …”. Of these, only Tesil (or Thesil) sounds anything like “Thisbe”. Another name for Tesil is “Tharsila”.
Delitzsch wrote of his brief visit to Tesil:
I came with my cortége out of Gôlân [Heights], to see the remarkable pilgrim fair of Muzérib, just when the Mecca caravan was expected; and since the Monastery of Job … could not lie far out of the way, I determined to seek it out …. In the evening of the 8th of May [*] we came to Tesil. Here the Monastery was for the first time pointed out to us. It was lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, – a stately ruin, which lay in the dis¬tance a good hour towards the east. The follow¬ing morning we left Tesil ….
[*] I actually first read this on an 8th of May.
Muzerib lies right on the “caravan” route to which Delitzsch alludes. In mediaeval times Muzerib was a famous meeting place for caravans, where the meetings were celebrated with a great fair. Muzerib lay along that wellworn highway leading northwards to Damascus and beyond, and southwards to Mecca (the Hajj road). But the road also branched off across the Jordan below Galilee.
The road was known as “The King’s Highway” (Numbers 20:17).
Tobit indicates that “Thisbe” was “west of the road, toward the going down of the sun”, and Simons (op. cit., p. 401) has indeed identified Tobit’s “road” here as “the highway leading from Damascus through Galilee to the Medi¬terranean Sea and further down to Egypt”. (Cf. Deuteronomy 11:30). Now Tesil was not actually on this major road. But Nawâ was. The reader, with access to maps, might like to imagine a road running down from Damascus, through Nawâ, to Muzerib. Tesil ac¬tually lay a bit to the west of this main road. Thus Tobit’s description of “Thisbe” as being “west of the road” – another version has “behind the road” – would be an equally accurate description, so it seems to me, for Tesil.
In a Batanaean context this of course can no longer apply to the city of Hazor west of the Jordan. I suggest that “Asher” was the “Jazer” of Numbers 32:35, which the renowned Mediaeval Jewish topographer, Estôri ha-Parchi (in “Caftor wa-ferach”, 1322 AD), called Zora’, and which he located as the home of Job, one hour south of “Nebo” (that is, “Nawâ” in Batanaea). Now, since Eusebius claimed that “Ashtaroth Karnaim” was the home of Job, and since the latter is only a bit more than 5 kilometres south of Nawâ, it seems likely that “Jazer” (or Zora’) is the same place as “Ashtaroth Karnaim”, and that this site was indeed the home of Job.
The “left” usually refers to the north. Other ver¬sions have, instead of “Shephat”, “Phogor”, or “Rephaim”. There is a “Raphana” in the vicinity of Batanaea, and it is indeed north (actually northeast) of Tesil (Tharsila). “Raphana”, or “Rephaim” is probably just another name for “Shephat”, also known as “Shepham” (e.g., as given in my computerised Logos Bible Atlas). So, since Tesil fits well geographically as “Thisbe” in regard to its having a “Jazer” (or Zora’) in the south, a “Rephaim” approximately north, and to its being “be¬hind” (or to the west of) the main highway, I conclude that Tesil was most probably Tobit’s home town of “Thisbe”.
Job himself though, apparently, did not dwell in “Thisbe” as his father had done. Instead, he dwelt in nearby “Ashtaroth Karnaim”; but his pasturage included “Thisbe” (as Tesil). I further conclude that Tobit had indeed sent his son Tobias back to the very region from which the family had originated. But because the young man may have been only a baby at the time of the captivity, he could not remember anything about it, and so could say to his father whilst still in Nineveh: “… nor did I ever know the way which leads to [Midian]” (Tobit 5:2).
Before leaving the subject of “Thisbe”, there is just one final point that I should like to ponder. Was Tobit’s “Thisbe” also the same place as the home of the prophet Elijah: namely, “Tishbe in Gilead”? (I Kings 17:1).
Quite possibly it was; for northern Gilead is some¬times identified with the region of Batanaea.
There are several reasons why I think it more likely that Tobit intended Calah (modern Nimrud), rather than Nineveh itself (modern Kûjûnjik), when he used the word “Nineveh”. Firstly, there is no qualifying scriptural evidence that the Assyrians deported the tribes of Israel to the classical Nineveh. In II Kings we learn that the places wherein the Assyrians relocated the people of Israel were: “Halah and Habor by the river of Gozan, in the cities of the Medes” (17:6). This Halah, about whose location commentators are uncertain, sounds very much to me like Calah (Assyrian Kalhu). The fact that Halah is mentioned first in the above list would be appro¬priate if it really did represent one of Assyria’s great capital cities. Secondly, when the Bible qualifies “Nineveh” with the phrase, “the great city”, it is referring to, not one, but four cities closely linked (cf. Genesis 10:11). One of these four is Calah. A comparison of Tobit with the Book of Jonah suggests that Tobit may well have intended “the great city”, not just Nineveh on its own (cf. Tobit 14:8 & Jonah 1:2).
Having found appropriate geographical locations for all of the major place-names in the books of Tobit and Job, I shall now conclude what has been a difficult and challeng¬ing chapter by briefly tracing the travels of Tobias in the revised context:
The family was taken into captivity from “Thisbe” [Tesil], to “Nineveh” [Calah].
Later, young Tobias was accompanied by the angel Raphael from “Nineveh” [Calah], travelling west¬wards across the Tigris River, past “Charan” [Haran], into “the land of Media” [Midian], to “Ecbatana” [Batanaea, a region settled by “Uz”].
Whilst Tobias was in “Ecbatana” with his bride, the angel went on to “Rages” [Damascus] in “the mountain of Ecbatana” [Mount Hermon] – a journey of “two full davs” – to collect the money from Gabael.
After the death of his parents, Tobias fled “Nineveh” [Calah] and returned to “Ecbatana” [Batanaea or “the land of Uz"], and settled down in that province, probably at “Ashtaroth Karnaim”. He ended his days in Batanaea and was buried there.
What is said to be the holy man’s tomb stands there to this day, not far from “Ashtaroth Karnaim”.
Job’s wife, Sarah, most likely died not long after husband’s (and indeed her own) fiery ordeal, because she is not mentioned at the end of the story. Tobias, like Abraham who, even after he “was old” (Genesis 24:1), took another wife (Keturah) after the death of Sarah (25:1) – may, though old, have taken another wife after the death of his own Sarah. Whereas Abraham had six sons (including Midian and Shuah) by his new wife, Job is credited with having had seven sons and three daughters in his old age (42:13). Whilst God gave to the holy man twice as much in possessions as he had had before (42:12), He did not give him twice as many children because then the in¬crease in possessions would not have been noticed.
Obviously, it would be foolish to suggest that the “four generations” that Job had lived to see had arisen from this post-Sarah batch of ten children. Job’s life, long as it was, could not realistically have spanned that many generations. The solution I think, as suggested to me by a colleague, is that the children generated by Job’s and Sarah’s original ten – that is, the first batch of grandchildren – are not said to have been destroyed along with their parents. They may well have been living in houses of their own – or working elsewhere in Job’s extensive pasturage – at the time that the disasters occurred.
It makes sense to accept that Job had already seen two of these “four generations” even before personal tragedy had struck him. Afterwards, he saw another two generations. These “four generations” in total all belonged to him and to Sarah. The new batch of ten children may have been a separate issue altogether.
Without doubt, Job was not an Edomite sheikh, but a true Israelite from the tribe of Naphtali. He was Tobias, the only son of Tobit and Anna.
Easter 2012 (“He is Risen!”)