Tobiah -- By: Henry O. Thompson

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 01:4 (Autumn 1988)
Article: Tobiah
Author: Henry O. Thompson


Henry O. Thompson*

*Dr. Henry O. Thompson, Ph.D. is a former director of the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan and has directed and participated in several excavations in the Mideast. He is the author of many articles and several books, the most recent being Biblical Archaeology: The World. The Mediterranean, The Bible.

The Biblical Record

The name Tobiah means “the LORD is good.” In the Bible, one of the Tobiads is called “Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite” (Nehemiah 2:10).

The word “servant” was an official title in the time of the Persian Empire (550–330 BC). A biblical example is Nehemiah who was the Persian king’s cupbearer, i.e., his servant and a very trusted one at that. Poisoning was a favorite way of murder in Persia and the cupbearer had ample opportunity to do in his master. Later, Nehemiah was governor of Jerusalem.

Tobiah was probably governor of the Ammonite area in Transjordan at the same time. The Tobiad family was also active in Jerusalem for several generations (Zechariah 6:14). They continued active in Jerusalem politics for several centuries in spite of the opposition of Nehemiah, although there is some debate over whether the early family is the same as the later.

The term “Ammonite” could refer to Tobiah’s ancestry. A number of Jews fled to Ammon after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (Jeremiah 41:15), so it is possible that Tobiah was a descendent of these. That he was a follower of Yahweh is reflected in his own name and that of his son Jehohanan, “the LORD is merciful” (Nehemiah 6:18). Tobiah had a Jewish wife, daughter of Shechaniah (Nehemiah 6:18); her brother, Shemaiah, helped Nehemiah repair the wall and was keeper of the East Gate (Nehemiah 3:29). Jehohanan also had a Jewish wife whose father, Meshullam, was involved in the repair of the wall of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 6:18; 3:4, 30).

While some have suggested Tobiah was not Jewish or was only half Jewish, Benjamin Mazar concludes that Tobiah was Jewish (“The Tobiads, Part 1, ” Israel Exploration Journal 7 (1957), 137–145; Part 2, 229–238. Mazar notes that a branch of the family remained in Mesopotamia.) Tobiah could, of course, have been both Jewish and Ammonite - Ammonite by ancestry and Jewish by religion, just as people today may be of v...

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