Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review
Robert J. Littman provides a commentary on the Book of Tobit based specifically on the longer Greek version of the text, Codex Sinaiticus. Littman begins by offering a short introduction to Tobit, dealing with such issues as textual history, genre, authorship, and place of composition. The bulk of the book is comprised of two parts: the text of Sinaiticus with a translation and a commentary based primarily on this text.
The introduction to Tobit that Littman offers is judicious in its summary of the issues involved in the book's interpretation. His treatment of the textual history, original language, and place and date of composition accurately represents the current place of scholarship on such topics. Littman provides a helpful discussion of the role of kinship in Tobit, which he coordinates with background information from Israel's scriptures. Some points of the introduction are, however, idiosyncratic. With regard to the genre of Tobit he says that, in many ways, Tobit is a typical Greek Romance (p. xxxiv). Tobit shows affinity to many types of ancient literature (sapiential, apocalyptic, testamentary, folklore), suggesting that Littman overstates the case.
Littman uncritically accepts Jerome's account of his translation of Tobit (p. xxiv). The work of Vincent Skemp (The Vulgate of Tobit Compared with Other Ancient Witnesses [SBLDS, 180; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000]) has shown that, despite Jerome's claims to have translated Tobit from an Aramaic Vorlage, his work is more likely a revision of the Old Latin. Littman has Skemp's book in his bibliography, but shows no awareness of its argument. Littman later repeats the same uncritical appropriation of Jerome in the commentary section of the book (p. 76).
Littman's translation of Sinaiticus is clear and accurate. For instance, his rendering of Tobit's question in 13:6 as who knows? more accurately reflects the Greek τίς γινώσκει, than many modern translations, which translate the phrase as perhaps.
The commentary itself proceeds verse by verse, explaining philological matters and translation issues, often referring back to the Qumran fragments and other ancient recensions for comparison's sake. At many points, Littman's detailed analysis proves insightful, such as his discussion of the aorist verb in 3:3, which could be either first person singular or third person plural. The addition of a pronoun in Rahlfs' Septuagint, which is not strictly in the Sinaiticus manuscript, removes the ambiguity to make it third plural. Littman, however, shows that the context and the evidence in the OL could indicate otherwise. This is an example of exactly why a commentary such as this one is helpful. Without attention to specific manuscript traditions, uncritical acceptance of Rahlfs' text may miss important details.
At other points, however, analysis is less detailed. For instance, in his discussion of 11:15, Littman makes no mention of the curious detail that the Sinaiticus text has Tobit saying only he scourged me. Other ancient witness, particularly AB and the OL, say, he scourged me and had mercy on me. This is anomalous because Sinaiticus is generally the longer version of the text, but in this case it is shorter. Sinaiticus here has an unexpected and unique reading with interesting theological implications, a point where one would expect its idiosyncrasy to be highlighted in a commentary focusing on this one manuscript.
For the most part the analysis in Littman's commentary focuses on philological matters and points of contact with other ancient literature, encompassing texts from Israel's scriptures to a wide variety of Greek texts. The commentary does work from Sinaiticus as a base text, often explaining matters of grammar, translation, and background in the Septuagint. Then, in the detailed analysis, Littman often refers to other ancient versions. Such references, of course, are germane in trying to understand precisely what the Book of Tobit originally said. But, when such other texts are consulted, Littman's work ceases to be a commentary specifically on Sinaiticus. At certain points it ends up reading similarly to Fitzmyer's recent commentary (Tobit [CEJL; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003]). Littman notes recent commentaries, claiming that his work is intended not as competition, but to complement these two recent books (p. xlvii). This may be true, but how he intends to complement them is not always clear. This is not necessarily a significant criticism, but emblematic of the difficult task of writing a commentary based solely on one manuscript of an ancient text that existed in several languages in antiquity simultaneously.
Theological analysis of Tobit is limited, but when such observations are made in the commentary, they cohere to the scholarly trope that Tobit is Deuteronomistic. For example, when discussing Tobit's prayer in ch. 3, he claims that, ultimately, the book of Tobit is a vindication of the message of Deuteronomy (p. 71). It is disappointing how Tobitso erudite in ancient genres and motifs (that are well documented in Littman's own commentary)is so quickly domesticated theologically by positing that its theology has one, single origin. One would hope that Littman's analysis of a single textual tradition and his insightful, keen eye for potential parallels to Tobit from many types of ancient literature would have yielded some new insights about the book's theology.
While I have made some detailed criticisms above, in general this is a solid volume with an interesting aim. By focusing on Sinaiticus, Littman offers some interesting insights into the Book of Tobit that will be of use to scholars who study the book and perhaps those in religious traditions who read Tobit canonically in translations based on this manuscript.