Tobias and the Angel: Grateful Dead…

William-Adolphe Bouguerea

*

… If a story is canonical in one tradition and uncanonical in another

it immediately raises two questions.

What makes it ‘canonical’ for one tradition?

What makes it ‘uncanonical’ for the other?

*

In this case it might have been supposed that it would have been more likely

to be canonical for the Hebrews, considering its age and subject matter?

Not so!

*

Many years ago when I and a fellow writer, and friend,

first became aware of Apocryphal Bible stories,

we got very excited about this tale when we heard about it,

especially in view of the fish connection.

We immediately procured a copy of said Apocrypha,

at no little expense, and looked at this story first,

fully expecting to be accosted with highly significant arcane knowledge.

But drew a blank!

*

And now?

Well now, I strongly suspect that there is highly significant arcane knowledge within it.

The trouble with arcane knowledge; it is very difficult,

if not impossible, to transmit in mundane terms.

An attempt, though, has to be at least made…

*

Perhaps the first clue to the importance of this story

is to realise that it is a Grateful Dead tale…

*

Before Tobit sends his son, Tobias, on the ‘errand’ there is a long introduction to the tale which establishes Tobit in, for wont of a better term, ‘righteousness’. He lives in Ninevah, a place which does not recognise his religion, and yet he continues to practice that religion despite persecution from the ‘local authorities’. As part of this practice he comes across a dead man who has been flung out into the street and his body left to rot. Tobit, an old man, single handedly buries the body and performs the funeral rites of his religion but then falls asleep by the side of the grave in exhaustion. As he sleeps, sparrows fly over him and their droppings land in his eyes so that when he wakes up, he is blind.

*

…At this stage it does not appear that the ‘dead’ were overly ‘grateful’.

But all good things come to those who wait.

It is at this point in the tale that Tobit, now having lost his sight,

and the means to a livelihood, decides to send out his son

on an errand to bring in what he is owed.

*

Now, although, ‘errand’ is an interesting enough term

for Tobias’ journey, in and of itself,

what if we were to deem it a ‘pilgrimage’, instead? …

*

Tobias and the Angel, Davide Ghirlandaio (David Bigordi) (Italian, Florence 1452–1525 Florence), Tempera and gold on wood

David Ghirlandaio  circ. 1479

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