According to the Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Tobit:

The text exists in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Judæo-Aramaic, besides two late Hebrew translations.

It concludes:

The excellent Greek style of the Sinaitic may suggest a Greek original. In view of the conflicting character of the data, it is best to reserve opinion as to the original language; the text appears to have suffered a number of revisions and misreadings.

But I note that this entry predates the Qumran discoveries. Wikipedia suggests:

The book was possibly originally written in one of the forms of the Aramaic language. Jerome described his version for the Vulgate as being made from an Aramaic text available to him. Four fragmentary texts in Aramaic and one in Hebrew were found at Qumran.

What is the current state of scholarship? Is a Greek original still a viable possibility?

  • 1
    To complete the info from standard internet sources, earlyjewishwritings.com thinks it's originally Aramaic (or possibly Hebrew) and cites a couple authors to that effect.
    – Noah
    Nov 13, 2012 at 22:41

1 Answer 1


The main arguments in the recent literature seem to be about whether the original was Aramaic or Hebrew. I was unable to find any post-Qumran scholarship arguing for a Greek original. There seems to be very good evidence that all the existing Greek texts descend from a Semitic version similar to what is found in Qumran (just as all the non-Qumran Hebrew texts descend from a Latin version). This doesn't necessarily preclude the existence of an even earlier Greek version (just as late Hebrew re-translations don't preclude a Hebrew original), but there doesn't seem to be anyone making that argument nor any indications in the Qumran texts that they're translations from a non-Semitic language.

The best source I could find is "A Note on 4Q196 (papTob ara) and Tobit I 22" by Michael O. Wise. This gets into details on a couple passages where the Qumran text informs which Greek version is best. Note that he seems to lean towards a Hebrew original, see footnote 4, because the Hebrew fragment contains an unusual idiomatic Hebrew tense which would be quite unusual in translation (and which seems to be outside the normal Hebrew of the Qumran community).

Any modern research on this subject would have to cite the first place that the Qumran text was discussed "La Patrie de Tobie," and google scholar only has a dozen such works. (Of course it's possible that it's missing some works that do cite that paper.) Wise's paper seems to be the only one that's really about the textual history of Tobit. So the fact of the matter is that this just isn't an issue that's attracting tons of scholarly attention.

  • Well done. I'd forgotten about Google Scholar, which we ought to use more often. Seems like Tobit had a complicated history of translation. Nov 14, 2012 at 17:00
  • You might add this work to your bibliography:degruyter.com/view/product/… Mar 31, 2016 at 13:57

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