Tobit’s Dog

Tobit’s Dog June 7, 2013

In a letter to the TLS , Ohio State’s Hannibal Hamlin celebrates Tobit’s dog: “the only domestic pet in the Bible is the dog in the Book of Tobit. His presence in the story is entirely gratuitous but also entirely positive, keeping his master, Tobit’s son Tobias, company as he journeys, aided by the Archangel Raphael, to find the liver of a giant fish that, when burned, will drive the demon Asmodeus away from his beloved Sarah, whose previous seven husbands the demon has strangled. That readers have always delighted in Tobias’s dog is clear from its nearly universal inclusion in paintings of Tobit from the Middle Ages to the present (see, for instance, Bernardo Strozzi, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Jan Massijs, Giovanni Guardi). I suspect the popularity of Tobias’s dog also explains why so many dogs have been named ‘Toby,’ including the famous dogs of the Punch and Judy show and the Sherlock Holmes stories. In Toronto, where I grew up, there is a restaurant chain called ‘Toby’s,’ named after an itinerant Boston bull terrier of the same name. Dogs named Toby feature in a number of children’s books and litter the pages of Facebook and Twitter. All because of that one biblical dog.”

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