Archive for October, 2009

“On the Road with the Archangel”

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

About 2200 years ago, a pious Jew wrote a long short-story or a short novella about a man named Tobit who lived in the 8th Century BC. Or about Tobit’s son Tobias. Or about a woman named Sarah and her parents Raguel and Edna. Or about Raphael the Archangel. No matter, it was a pretty good yarn with lots of dramatic elements: suspense, romance, impersonation, illness and cure, fantastic creatures, divine intervention and more.

Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox think it is a canonical book of the Old Testament. Anglicans think it is deutero-canonical. Protestants don’t think much about it at all. In those Bibles were it can be found, it is usually printed with such books as Judith, Ecclesiasticus, The Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and two books of Maccabees. Protestants don’t think much about those books, either.

About 2200 years later, Frederick Buechner, a prolific American writer and Presbyterian minister, expanded upon the biblical version of Tobit in a novella called “On the Road with the Archangel.” Written in the first person by the Archangel Raphael (cleverly disguised as Tobias’ traveling companion Azarias), all of the elements of the biblical story are included. Many are enhanced by Buechner’s faithful imagination.

This brief (149 page) novella is a delight: funny, poignant, involving, and challenging to one’s own theology. Buechner finds that many of the personal issues faced by ancients are faced by moderns. There is a sense, then, in which this 2200 year old story is a story about today.

Buechner was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the South in 1996, the year before “Archangel” was published.