Friday, May 9, 2014

Frederick Buechner’s “On the Road with the Archangel”

It’s been a long time since I read any of the books of the Apocrypha, a rather general term for those ancient writings not accepted into the biblical canon. There is a further subset – those books not accepted into the Protestant biblical canon.

One member of that subset is the Book of Tobit, included in the Catholic and Orthodox bibles but not the Protestant bible. It tells the story of a Jewish family – Tobit, his wife Anna, and their son Tobias – living in Nineveh, part of the Jewish community carried off from the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. The book covers the period roughly from 722 B.C., when the Northern Kingdom fell, to 612 B.C., when Nineveh itself fell and was destroyed by the Medes and Babylonians. It’s believed to have been written in the second century B.C., or 500 years after the historical events occurred.

Author Frederick Buechner has retold the story of Tobit in On the Road with the Archangel. Following (but updating) the ancient style, he presents a delightful narrative about human relationships, the nature of evil, and how God intervenes in human affairs.

Tobit has become blind and unable to work. His wife Anna sews for noble ladies and is barely managing to keep the family taken care of. Tobit decides to send his son Tobias to a friend holding money for him. He tells Tobias that it would be a good idea to find a wife while he’s at it, and to find a traveling companion who can guide him to the distant city.

Frederick Buechner
Who Tobias finds turns out to be the Archangel Raphael, sent by God to make sure events in Tobit’s family turn out alright. The money is retrieved, Tobias meets a distant kinswoman named Sarah and helps her escape the clutches of a demon (thanks to Raphael’s special potion), and returns to Nineveh a very wealthy young man.

Buechner crafts the story so that it reads something like a fairy tale. He also infuses it with splashes of humor, a few imponderables, and some wry observations by Raphael. The story ends well for all concerned (except, perhaps, for Sarah’s demon) because God (“the Holy One”) has decreed that events will go well. In that sense, it is both a similar and very different story from the Book of Job.

It would be fun to go on a road trip with Buechner’s version of the Archangel Raphael.

Related: You can read The Book of Tobit in the King James Version here.

Photograph by Lilla Frerichs via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

No comments: