There once was a demon Asmodeus,
Who found Sarah's chamber commodious.
But smoking fish gut
sent him choking triste strut,
And now I smell something quite odious.
Apocryphal limericks? Ya haram...
But what in Akriba is that smell?
Sorry BibleDudes, that smell would be me. I'm a fish gall bladder, and you might say that I'm the real hero of the Book of Tobit. You see, it all started one day when the fish for which I formerly stored bile was swimming in the Tigris River, and this angel dude Raphael, a.k.a. Azarias, with the young man Tobias...
My Darlings, I'm finding myself quite confused.
Might we please start at the beginning?
Good idea. To help us out I've invited my good friend Tobit, after whom the book is named. He used to live in the tribal territory of Naphtali near the Sea of Galilee, and there, as a young man, he married Anna and fathered a son named Tobias. But Tobit's good fortune changed in 722 BCE, when the Assyrian army destroyed Israel and took Tobit and his family captive to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital city.
That's right. While in Nineveh I kept the Jewish dietary laws, trying hard not to be assimilated. For my efforts, God rewarded me greatly. In the days of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser, I rose quickly through the ranks and was appointed to be in charge of buying the Assyrian palace provisions. I had to travel to Media, and one day I loaned 10 talents of silver to this guy named Gabael. But Shalmaneser died, and under the new king Sennacherib, the roads grew unsafe and I wasn't able to get back the money. So I stayed in Nineveh, and let's just say this new king Sennacherib might have benefited from anger management classes. He used to spaz out and kill people, ordering their dead bodies thrown against the city walls. Being that I'm so pious, I used to bury the corpses at night. This made Sennacherib furious, and he ordered my capture. I escaped with my family, but all my possessions were confiscated. Then Sennacherib was assassinated, and my nephew became the cupbearer for the new king Esarhaddon. I was allowed to return home for a fine meal for the holiday Pentecost. I sent Tobit to find a poor Judean to share in our feast, but Tobit returned to inform me that a Jewish man had been strangled to death in the market. I set out to bury the poor guy, but it was late, and I was tired, and boy oh boy did we learn a lesson about bird safety that day, didn't we Anna?
We sure did Tobit. My brilliant husband fell asleep next to the city wall with his eyes open, not knowing there were birds perched above. Then, after the horrifying combination of bird digestion and gravity, he awoke blinded with a white film on his eyes, as you can see in this picture. He returned home screaming, and the next day we searched for a physician to restore his sight, but to no avail. I did several jobs to make ends meet. Once I was paid with a goat, but Tobit thought I stole it. Those were hard times.
They sure were Anna. I often cried, and begged God to end my miserable life. I now know God heard my prayers, and sent you, Raphael the healing angel, to help me out.
Tobit and Anna, it was the weirdest thing. The same day Tobit prayed to die, this poor girl in Ecbatana Media named Sarah did the same thing. Only instead of suffering from blindness, she suffered at the hands of an evil demon named Asmodeus. Seven times she had married, and on each occasion the demon killed the would-be-husband. Now the maids taunted her, and blamed her for the grooms' deaths. So God sent me on a double mission, to help both Tobit and Sarah. Sort of a two-for-one special.
Actually Raphael, after my fowl encounter, I prefer the analogy kill two birds with one stone. But in any case, after praying for death, I remembered the money I loaned Gabael, and sent Tobias for the silver. I thought that I was going to die, and wanted Tobias to have the resources to care for Anna and himself. It was a dangerous mission for Tobias, and God sent Raphael to look after him.
But Raphael didn't say he was Raphael. Instead, he said his name was Azarias, one of Tobit's distant relatives.
Thus, he was an undercover angel.
I said "Whaaaat?"
She said "Ooo-ooo-ooo-wee!"
I said "All right!"
She said "Love me, love me, love me."
Undercover angel, midnight fantasy ...
Ahem! Not quite the Alan O'Day sort of undercover angel. I didn't want to freak people out in my angel Raphael form, so I pretended to be the human Azarias to make sure Tobias would be safe. And so me as Azarias, Tobias, and a dog, set out from Nineveh Assyria to Ecbatana Media. Then we got to the Tigris River, and ...
My turn! My turn! Tobias bathed in the Tigris, my former fish tried to eat him, and Azarias instructed Tobias to catch the fish, cut out the heart, liver, and me, the gall bladder, and save them for future use. They ate the fish, and marched for several days towards Ecbatana. By that time I and my fish organ friends were smelling pretty ripe, and Tobias asked Azarias what on earth the organs were for. It turned out that the smoke from burning fish hearts and livers repelled demons, and as for me, I was useful in removing white film from blinded eyes and restoring sight. When Tobias got home he smeared me in the eyes of Tobit, and Hallelujah, I cured Tobit's blindness.
Look, Mr. Bladderstink or whatever your name is, I'm far from certain that fish even have gall bladders.
Plus, one of my nephews is a veterinarian, and he told me that fish organs smeared on a blind person's eyes would never restore sight. In fact, the smell of fish would probably attract cats and their sharp teeth and claws would further damage a person's eyes.
My darling Methuselah, please please calm down.
I want to know what happened to the beautiful Sarah. Did she and Tobias get married and live happily ever after?
They sure did. They got hitched, and on the wedding night they burned the fish dude's organs, and the evil demon Asmodius fled to the remotest parts of Egypt where Raphael caught and bound him. But Sarah's father didn't have much hope that this wedding would be any different than the previous seven, and during the wedding night he awoke and dug the grave for Tobias. Dude! That's what Tobit did at the beginning of the book. That's why I love this totally awesome story. The author is a real master, linking the stages of Nineveh and Ecbatana, as well as actions such as digging graves. Well Tobit got his sight back, Sarah and Tobias got each other, and everyone except for the demon dude lived the kind of lives that would make a Disney ending tragic by comparison.
Please... promise me there aren't any fish organs in the next story.
There aren't. It's the dramatic story of Judith, a sword wielding heroine who bravely saves her people.