What species of fish did the young Tobias catch in the Book of Tobit at the Tigris River?

Here is what the Book of Tobit has to say about Tobias and the fish:

1 And Tobias went forward, and the dog followed him, and he lodged the first night by the river of Tigris. 2 And he went out to wash his feet, and behold a monstrous fish came up to devour him. 3 And Tobias being afraid of him, cried out with a loud voice, saying: Sir, he cometh upon me. 4 And the angel said to him: Take him by the gill, and draw him to thee. And when he had done so, he drew him out upon the land, and he began to pant before his feet. 5 Then the angel said to him: Take out the entrails of the fish, and lay up his heart, and his gall, and his liver for thee: for these are necessary for useful medicines. 6 And when he had done so, he roasted the flesh thereof, and they took it with them in the way: the rest they salted as much as might serve them, till they came to Rages the city of the Medes. - Tobit 6: 1-6.

The Jewish Encyclopedia states that the Book of Tobit is was probably composed between 200 and 50 B.C.

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1 Answer 1


Well, that was a big fish, right? Big enough to eat Tobias' foot and also big enough to feed Tobias for a while. That fact that it was such a big fish concordes with a theme which is very common in folklore story telling, where the hero has to fight a big animal, a dragon, a monster comming out from the waters and then the monster, once concquered, becomes a source of life/power for the hero. Here as well, the fish is trying to eat Tobias' foot, yet Tobias following Raphael’s instruction, seizes the fish, and this becomes a source of healing. (In a more detail on this and especially with respect to the relationship between big fish and the hero plese see D. Bergant & R. J. Karris, The Collegeville Bible commentary, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1989, p. 837) Now as we read this as an allusion to Jonas' story, we can think that it was something like the Leviathan.

If you're having a look in the Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (it is 1859, but interesting), there you can find a sort of a list of attempts people made during history to estabslih what sort of a fish this was. See below a short version of this list:

Fish. The learned are of opinion that this was the fish which Pliny calls callyonymus, (l. xxii. ch. 7.) the gall of which is of sovereign virtue to remove white specks that grow over the eyes. Ch.—Other fishes have the like virtue; and as the aforesaid has no scales, and is not above a foot long, it could not be lawfully eaten by the Israelites, nor could it suffice for ten days’ provision, v. 6. Lev. 11:10. Others, therefore, prefer the sea-calf, (Brado) the hippopotamus, (Grot.) the crocodile, (Carthus.) whale, (Theophylact.) sturgeon, or silurus. Bochart, Anim. iv. 15.—But there are great difficulties with respect to all these; and Fran. George adopts the sentiment of the Rabbins in favour of the pike, which seems the least objectionable, as it has scales, gills, and cannot live long out of water, v. 4. It grows to a great size in the Tigris, and its gall is good for the eyes.

**G. L. Haydock, Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (Tob 6:2), Edward

Dunigan and Brother, New York, 1859**

Commentators from early ages were more direct:

Bede, On Tobit 6.1–2.15: Here again the mystery of the Lord’s passion is quite obviously signified. For the huge fish, which, since it wanted to devour him, was killed by Tobias on the angel’s instructions, represents the ancient devourer of the human race, that is, the devil.(Tob 6:3) When the latter desired the death of humanity in our Redeemer, he was caught by the power of the divinity. The river Tigris, which, because of its swift current, takes its name from the tiger, a very swift animal, intimates the downward course of our death and mortality.[The connection between “Tigris” and “tiger” has no etymological foundation, even if it is traditional.] In it lurked a huge fish, inasmuch as the invisible seducer of the human race held the power of death.(Heb 2:14)

S. J. Voicu, Apocrypha. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT 15, InterVarsity Press., Downers Grove, IL, 2010, p. 17

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