Original Research - Special Collection: Septuagint

‘Between righteousness and alms’ in Tobit: What was the author’s real intention?

Annette H. Evans
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 4 | a6136 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i4.6136 | © 2020 Annette H. Evans | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 May 2020 | Published: 30 September 2020

About the author(s)

Annette H. Evans, International Studies Group, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


Before the Semitic fragments of 4QTobit were found at Qumran, the 4th-century Greek GI version of Tobit was thought to be original and was regarded as ‘a lesson on almsgiving and its redeeming powers’. In his presentation of the 4Q196–4Q199 (Aramaic) and 4Q200 (Hebrew) fragments of Tobit, Fitzmyer, in 1995, reconstructed and rendered the Semitic lexeme צדקה (literally, ‘righteousness’) as ‘almsgiving’, as in Mishnaic Hebrew. He referred mainly to the 4th-century Common Era Greek and Old Latin versions. The hypothesis of this article is that the Aramaic lexeme צדק may not yet have had the meaning of ‘almsgiving’ in the original composition; thus, the original authorial intention may be masked in Fitzmyer’s presentation. Therefore, the emphasis on almsgiving for ultimate personal gain found in the later copies of Tobit may be a secondary, reductionist application by subsequent scribes of the lexeme צדקה. To test this hypothesis, the relevant reconstructions and English translations as ‘almsgiving’ of the Semitic copies of Tobit found at Qumran are examined and reconsidered. In the beginning of the narrative, in 4Q196 (and in GI and GII) the rather self-righteous Tobit is ‘accidentally’ blinded while performing an act of charity to his own kin, which he believed was the way to gain righteousness and thus be rewarded by God. In the end, when he has recovered his sight, Tobit redefines the way to achieve true righteousness: to bless God and extol his majesty to all nations with truthfulness in heart and soul.

Contribution: The comparison of the Semitic fragments from Qumran with the Septuagint versions suggests that the first reconstructions and translations of 4QTobit may have been overly influenced by the long-standing Greek versions. Whereas the Greek versions tend to emphasise almsgiving as a means to gain righteousness, the older Aramaic versions tend to highlight righteousness and truthfulness as the primary value.


4QTobit; Semitic Tobit; Septuagint; Tobit GI; Tobit GII; Qumran; Fitzmyer 1995; Righteousness; Almsgiving


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