Tobit a High Official in Realm of Assyria


Part One: “King Shalmaneser”


Damien F. Mackey


‘… Tobit of … the tribe of Naphtali, who in the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, was taken into captivity ….

The Most High gave me favor and good appearance in the sight of Shalmaneser, and I was his buyer of provisions’.

Tobit 1:1, 2, 13



According to the Douay version of Tobit 1, the king of Assyria bestowed upon his captive servant Tobit a virtually free roving commission (vv. 14-15): “Shalmaneser the king gave him leave to go whithersoever he would, with liberty to do whatever he had a mind. He therefore went to all that were in captivity, and gave them wholesome admonitions”.


In this series I shall be trying to ascertain two things:


Who was this Assyrian king, “Shalmaneser”?

What was Tobit’s official status in the Assyrian hierarchy?



“Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians”


There are five kings Shalmaneser (Assyrian: Shulmanu-asharedu) according to the conventional arrangement of Middle to Neo Assyrian history, namely:


Shalmaneser I (1274 BC – 1245 BC or 1265 BC – 1235 BC);

Shalmaneser II (1030–1019 BC);

Shalmaneser III (859–824 BC);

Shalmaneser IV (783–773 BC);

Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC).


Chronologically speaking, Shalmaneser V would be the Assyrian king thought to be referred to in the above verses of the Book of Tobit.

But I do not think that things are quite that straightforward. And indeed, as I wrote in my:

Book of Tobit and the Neo-Assyrian Kings


the sequence of Assyrian kings given in the Book of Tobit differs from that of the conventional arrangement:


The relevant parts of Tobit, all occurring in chapter 1, are verses 10, 12-13, 15, 21 (GNT):


Later, I was taken captive and deported to Assyria, and that is how I came to live in Nineveh.


…. Since I took seriously the commands of the Most High God, he made Emperor Shalmaneser respect me, and I was placed in charge of purchasing all the emperor’s supplies.


…. When Shalmaneser died, his son Sennacherib succeeded him as emperor.


…. two of Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him and then escaped to the mountains of Ararat. Another son, Esarhaddon, became emperor and put Ahikar, my brother Anael’s son, in charge of all the financial affairs of the empire. ….


The royal succession is here clearly given. “Shalmaneser”, who deported Tobit’s tribe of Naphtali (see Tobit 1:1), was succeeded at death by “his son Sennacherib”, who was, in turn, upon his assassination, succeeded by his “son, Esarhaddon”.


No room here for a Sargon II.


And Tobit’s “Shalmaneser” appears to have replaced Tiglath-pileser III as the Assyrian king who is said in 2 Kings 15:29 to have deported to Assyria the tribe of Naphtali: “… Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria”.

[End of quotes]


Now, in the case of Shalmaneser alone, my strong suspicion is that by the time that the revision has finished its work, there will be far fewer Assyrian kings Shalmaneser than I-V. And I have already diminished that number in my own revision by shifting Shalmaneser III, so-called, down the time scale by a full century and merging him with the composite: (Tiglath-pileser I =) Tiglath-pileser III = Shalmaneser V. See my:

Taking Shalmaneser III right out of “The Assuruballit Problem” [TAP] Part One: Loosening his ‘ties’ to the mid-C9th BC


The supposedly mid-C9th BC Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, lies at the heart of one of the revision’s most awkward conundrums, now known as “The Assuruballit Problem” [TAP].


Taking Shalmaneser III right out of “The Assuruballit Problem” [TAP]. Part Two: Considering his ‘ties’ to the mid-C8th BC


If this chronological shift is a move in the right direction, then it would mean that Tobit’s king, “Shalmaneser”, was, at the very least, the following composite:


Shalmaneser III =

Tiglath-pileser I = Tiglath-pileser III =

Shalmaneser V


Part Two: Tobit’s Status



‘I [Tobit] was [king Shalmaneser’s] buyer of provisions’.


Tobit 1:13



Tobit, an exile, must have been a person of exceptional competence to have so risen in the kingdom of Assyria to become purveyor, or quartermaster, of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser.

That particular rank in Assyria, termed rab[i] ekalli or rab ša muḫḫi ekalli (“… in Middle Assyrian times the ša muḫḫi ekalli is used synonymously to rab ekalli”:, may have been a very high one indeed. For, according to this following estimation of the rank


Directly under the king were three officers. The turtannu, or field marshal; the ummânu, vice-chancellor; and the rab ša muḫḫi ekalli, the major-domo. The latter was the most important and the only one with direct access to the king (though the king could of course require the audience of lower ranked men himself); even the field marshal and the vice-chancellor had to go through the major-domo to request a meeting.

[End of quote]

But Tobit was not the only person of high rank in this most talented family of his (’s+quartermaster):


The family of Tobit, as we meet them in the Book of Tobit, are exceptional people. Tobit himself becomes procurator general, quartermaster for King Shalmaneser, and is sent on important purchasing expeditions to Media (Persia). His nephew Ahiqar becomes royal cupbearer, in effect the administrator of the entire empire. Their kinsman Gabiel in Media also has an important post there.

[End of quote]


And we could add to this impressive list Tobit’s very own son, Tobias, as Job (see my:


Job’s Life and Times


who would, for his part, rise to highest judicial office. One has only to read e.g. Job 29:7-10:


‘When I went to the gate of the city

and took my seat in the public square,

the young men saw me and stepped aside

and the old men rose to their feet;

the chief men refrained from speaking

and covered their mouths with their hands;

the voices of the nobles were hushed,

and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths’.



A Geography of Tobit


Above we read that “Tobit … is sent on important purchasing expeditions to Media (Persia)...”, and also that his “kinsman Gabiel in Media also has an important post there”.

The term “Media”, however, is, as has been previously determined, a mistake for “Midian”. See my:


A Common Sense Geography of the Book of Tobit



Tobit tells where his kinsman Gabael (Gabiel) was actually situated (1:14): ‘… I [Tobit] went into Media, and left in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabrias, at Rages a city of Media ten talents of silver’. Once the geography is scrutinized, Gabael’s city of “Rages” is found to fit very well with the city of Damascus. Now we find that Damascus was indeed, at the time of Shalmaneser III, a place of metalcraft supplying the king with weapons and armoury which he stored in his arsenal of Fort Shalmaneser (southern edge of the city of Kalhu, Nimrud).

And we also find that king Shalmaneser’s purveyor, his rabi ekalli, was making a painstaking inventory of it all.

Was this rabi ekalli Tobit himself?

We read about it in Jørgen Læssøe’s People of Ancient Assyria: Their Inscriptions and Correspondence, p. 112:


Heaps of armour made of bronze or of ironplating, some of it designed to be worn by warhorses, were stored in the magazine indicated on the plan as room S.W.7; this tallies with the function of the fort as a military headquarters. Written receipts from the Assyrian quartermaster, rabi ekalli, were found acknowledging the supply, for instance, of 784 bows from the town of Arpad in Syria, or a delivery of shields from Damascus. The metalcraft of Damascus must have been even then as much renowned as the Damascus blades of more modern times.

[End of quote]


A possible revision for this: With Shalmaneser III now identified as the “Shalmaneser” of the Book of Tobit, and with Tobit himself – having dealings in silver with Damascus (= “Rages”) as that king’s quartermaster, or rabi ekalli (who wrote receipts for metal from Damascus) – then that very rabi ekalli of Shalmaneser III’s may be Tobit as an official of the Assyrian king.


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