In the Book of Tobit, Sarah is placed in an rural setting in Ecbatana, pleading to the Lord for death after her numerous suitors have been smitten down by a demon called Asmodeus. Her predicament seems known to Tobias who voices his misgivings to Azarias (Raphael).

There is quite an abundance of exegesis on this story, typically covering: its parallels with Job, its significance as an intertestamental text and influence on Christian thought in subsequent centuries. However, virtually no ink has been spilled on how and why Asmodeus began afflicting this girl in the first place.

I have read a monograph on this book by Robert J. Littman, who sees fit to offer the following explanation:

A major folk motif is the taboo of virginity. The hero must win the maiden through the defeat of a dragon, serpent or monster who guards the virginity of the maiden. Often the hero is helped by gods or magical figures who supply weapons or potions to help to defeat the monster. We see this in the stories of Perseus and Andromeda, and of Admetus and Alcestis, among many others.

On the one hand, I realize we have little in terms of clues within the Book of Tobit itself; and I realize how often Greek/Roman novels/fictions are compared to texts of this period. On the other hand, applying folk legends and platitudes as such seems a bit crude.

Perhaps we might do better by looking for possible inferences intertextually. The Old Testament seems to have associated the wilderness as a dwelling place for demons or where evil may have greater power (such an environment was also the setting for Matthew 4:1-11). This would be consonant with Ecbatana's geography; the name of the demon itself befits the milieu (as Mary Boyce points out in History of Zoroastrianism Vol III).

Yet my "wilderness" anecdote theory seems to advance matters very little, it still seems crude. It still remains to be satisfactorily explained how/why/when it happened:

  • We have no indication that Sarah's family were heterodox or otherwise backsliding.
  • There are also no mentions as to how the demon first appeared to her and under what circumstances. Was he summoned by Sarah, or did one of Sarah's enemies afflict Asmodeus on her, or it may be that despite how evil Asmodeus is, he is still acting in accordance with the Lord in that he is helping to usher in the union of Sarah and Tobias who are predestined to be together


Given the scarcity of explicit clues as to how or why Asmodeus afflicts Sarah, are there intertextual clues from elsewhere in the Canon that may help explain this, even if only marginally? (Note that in the case of Job, it is made clear that Satan is to test a man of good faith and principle, however in the case of Sarah, it is not explicit, it is merely implied. Though it is stated that Sarah comes from a clan that honors the Lord; though as we have seen elsewhere in the OT, parts of a family may be of pure faith while others succumb to idolatry).

1 Answer 1


Tobit: Circumstances concerning Sarah's affliction with Asmodeus?

Given the scarcity of explicit clues as to how or why Asmodeus afflicts Sarah, are there intertextual clues from elsewhere in the Canon that may help explain this, even if only marginally?

There is a large dearth of information here, and one can only make a conclusion of a hypothetical reason, even if taken with rational argument for a possible genuine conclusion.

Let us take a look at the story of Tobias and Sarah, for a few clues.

The Book of Tobit, also known as the Book of Tobias, is a 3rd or early 2nd century BC work describing how God tests the faithful, responds to prayers, and protects the covenant community (i.e., the Israelites). It tells the story of two Israelite families, that of the blind Tobit in Nineveh and of the abandoned Sarah in Ecbatana. Tobit's son Tobias is sent to retrieve ten silver talents that Tobit once left in Rages, a town in Media; guided and aided by the angel Raphael he arrives in Ecbatana, where he meets Sarah. A demon named Asmodeus has fallen in love with her and kills anyone she intends to marry, but with the aid of Raphael the demon is exorcised and Tobias and Sarah marry, after which they return to Nineveh, where Tobit is cured of his blindness.

The book is included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but not in the Jewish Masoretic text; while Protestant tradition places it in the Apocrypha, with Anabaptists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists recognising it as useful for purposes of edification and liturgy, albeit non-canonical in status. The vast majority of scholars recognize it as a work of fiction with some historical references. - Book of Tobit

Asmodeus is called traditionally the demon of lust, the Prince of Demons and Demon of Wrath, and Jew legend holds that he was in love with Sarah and refused to let her marry with any man, for Sarah belonged to Asmoedus alone.

In the Book of Tobit.

Asmodeus first appears in the Book of Tobit. According to Tobit iii. 8, vi. 14, the evil spirit Asmodeus—"king of the demons," in the Hebrew and Chaldaic versions, is a later addition— fell in love with Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, and for that reason prevented her from having a husband. After killing seven men successively on the nights of their marriage to her, he was rendered harmless when Tobias married her, following the instructions given him by the angel Raphael. Asmodeus "fled into the utmost parts of Egypt and the angel [Raphael] bound him" (ib. iii. 8, vi. 14 et seq. viii. 2-4).

In Testament of Solomon.

Akin to this representation in Tobit is the description of Asmodeus in the Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic work, the original portions of which date from the first century. Asmodeus answered King Solomon's question concerning his name and functions as follows:

Test. of Solomon, transl. in "Jewish Quarterly Review," xi. 20.

"I am called Asmodeus among mortals, and my business is to plot against the newly wedded, so that they may not know one another. And I sever them utterly by many calamities; and I waste away the beauty of virgins and estrange their hearts. . . . I transport men into fits of madness and desire when they have wives of their own, so that they leave them and go off by night and day to others that belong to other men; with the result that they commit sin and fall into murderous deeds."

Solomon obtained the further information that it was the archangel Raphael who could render Asmodeus innocuous, and that the latter could be put to flight by smoke from a certain fish's gall (compare Tobit viii. 2). The king availed himself of this knowledge, and by means of the smoke from the liver and gall he frustrated the "unbearable malice" of this demon. Asmodeus then was compelled to help in the building of the Temple; and, fettered in chains, he worked clay with his reet, and drewwater. Solomon would not give him his liberty "because that fierce demon Asmodeus knew even the future" (ib. p. 21). - Asmodeus)

Thus at face value, Asmodeus was jealous of Sarah’s right to get married. But knowing that Demons are pure spiritual being and being called the demon of lust, it seems not to be the best interpretation as to why Asmodeus (Demon of Lust) was fixated with the virgin Sarah. After all Sarah preserved her virginity throughout her ordeal.

The next hypothetical clue comes from the Book of Tobit:

16 In the days of Shalmaneser I had often given alms to the people of my race;

17 I gave my bread to the hungry and clothes to those who lacked them; and I buried, when I saw them, the bodies of my country-folk thrown over the walls of Nineveh.

18 I also buried those who were killed by Sennacherib. When Sennacherib was beating a disorderly retreat from Judaea after the King of heaven had punished his blasphemies, he killed a great number of Israelites in his rage. So I stole their bodies to bury them; Sennacherib looked for them and could not find them.

19 A Ninevite went and told the king it was I who had buried them secretly. When I knew that the king had been told about me and saw myself being hunted by men who would put me to death, I was afraid and fled.

20 All my goods were seized; they were all confiscated by the treasury; nothing was left me but my wife Anna and my son Tobias.

21 Less than forty days after this, the king was murdered by his two sons, who then fled to the mountains of Ararat. His son Esarhaddon succeeded. Ahikar the son of my brother Anael, was appointed chancellor of the exchequer for the kingdom and given the main ordering of affairs.

22 Ahikar then interceded for me and I was allowed to return to Nineveh, since Ahikar had been chief cupbearer, keeper of the signet, administrator and treasurer under Sennacherib king of Assyria, and Esarhaddon had kept him in office. He was a relation of mine; he was my nephew. - Tobit 1:16-22

It is not impossible, that the family of Tobit was was cursed by someone of the local pagan royalty of Ninevah because of his good deeds he worked for in favour of his fellow Jewish countrymen.

Recall that the demon Asmodeus is a malignant spirit associated with Zoroastrianism and Middle Persian demonology and Tobit fled Ninevah

Tobit makes explicit mention of the Prophet Jonah and Ninevah! Tobit’s explicit reference to Jonah is of considerable interest in the light of certain affinities between the two books. Both stories take place about the same time (the eighth century) and both in Mesopotamia. Both accounts involve a journey. The distressed Tobit, like Jonah, prays to die. More strikingly, his son Tobias encounters a fish that attempts with less success than Jonah’s fish, to swallow him! Finally, in each book the fish serves as a special instrument of Divine Providence, albeit somewhat differently.

Most certainly this demon was upset with these two and took out his rage on Sarah, knowing that at some time Tobias would seek her hand in marriage.

After all, did not the people of Ninevah convert from their evil ways! God spared this great city for the a time. The king who repented was Sennacherib himself because he had experienced first hand the power of the god of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem. Unlike any other Assyrian king, he would not have underevaluated the divine decree pronounced by one of His prophets. So he repented, and ordered his capital to repent with him. Moreover, it seems that there is historical evidence that Sennacherib even changed god, and adopted religious practice that was foreign to the Assyrian religion.

Tobit was a wealthy Israelite who was taken from Samaria to Ninevah by the Assyrians. We learn that he was a devout man, performing charitable acts and risking his life to bury the dead Israelites killed by Sennacherib. He once had to go into hiding when Sennacherib learned who was burying the dead.

Somewhere lost in translation here, is the true cause as to why Asmodeus afflicted Sarah!

Had she been cursed by someone in Sennacherib’s household? Possibly. But, we are left to dive deep into the mystery surrounding Asmodeus’ fixation on Sarah. We know for that Sennacherib persecuted the Jewish people and murdered many. He was definitely a pagan

Asmodeus certainly hated the the God of Israel, the Jewish people and virgins in particular. Sarah fits all three. How she truly because diabolically oppressed is lost to history. Being cursed by someone seems to be the most logical conclusion one could make as to why Sarah was oppressed by Asmoedus!

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