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Citation for Introduction

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Sparks, H. F. D. . "Jubilees." In The Apocryphal Old Testament. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Jan 29, 2015. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780198261773/obso-9780198261773-chapterFrontMatter-1>.


Sparks, H. F. D. . "Jubilees." In The Apocryphal Old Testament. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780198261773/obso-9780198261773-chapterFrontMatter-1 (accessed Jan 29, 2015).

Jubilees - Introduction

Jubilees describes itself in the Prologue as ‘the account of the division of the days of the law and of the testimony, of the events of the years, according to their year-weeks and their jubilees, through all the years of the world, as the Lord gave it to Moses on mount Sinai, when he went up to receive the stone tablets of the law and of the commandment, in accordance with God's command, as he said to him, Go up to the top of the mount’.

The scene is accordingly set in the biblical context of Exod. xxiv. 12–18 . During the forty days and forty nights that Moses is on the mount ‘the angel of the presence’ recounts to him all the significant events from the Creation to the Exodus (including the circumstances of his own birth and early history, the passage of the Red Sea, and the celebration of the first Passover) and also initiates him into the mysteries of the secret traditions which had already been communicated to certain of the patriarchs. These traditions had been handed down from father to son, in some instances in writing; 1 e.g. vii. 38, xxxix. 6, xlv. 16. and Moses is now instructed to write what is revealed to him ‘in a book’ 2 i. 5: cp. ii. 1. – an instruction obviously inspired by the statement at Exod. xxiv. 4 (‘Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord’) and the definite instruction at Exod. xxxiv. 27 (‘Write these words down’). But the ‘book’ referred to in Jubilees is not ‘the book of the covenant’, from which Moses reads at Exod. xxiv. 7 . Nor is it one of the books of the Pentateuch, traditionally ascribed to Moses. It is the Book of Jubilees itself. Whereas the Pentateuch, ‘the first law’, 3 vi. 22. had been published by Moses openly, Jubilees is represented as a kind of ‘second law’ (although the actual phrase does not occur), which Moses is commissioned to write and preserve for the generations in the last times (‘… till I descend and dwell with them through all eternity’ 4 i. 26. ).

Jubilees is thus in content for the most part a parallel version of Gen. i. 1 – Exod. xv. 22 ; and it stands in much the same sort of relationship to its primary biblical sources as do the Books of Chronicles to the Books of Samuel and Kings. Just as the Chronicler has rewritten Samuel and Kings, concentrating on the religious aspects of Israel's history, especially on the Temple and its worship, and on the part that David played in the preparations for its building, so the author of Jubilees has rewritten the material in Gen. i. 1 – Exod. xv. 22 , partly in order to bring it up to date from the point of view of the beliefs and practices of his own day, but more particularly in order to bring it into line with his own special theological outlook and interests.

Many of his additions to the Genesis–Exodus narrative would seem to have been derived from traditional Jewish folklore, since parallels are found elsewhere. His account of how Abraham protested to his father Terah about his worship of idols, how one night Abraham set fire to ‘the idols' house’, and how his brother Nahor perished in trying to save the idols, 5 xii. 1–14. has parallels not only in The Apocalypse of Abraham, 6 Apoc. Abrah. i–viii (see below pp. 369–75 ). but also in Rabbinic sources; 7 e.g. Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, xxxviii. 13, xxxix. 1, 8; T.B. Erubin, 53a. and, similarly, ‘Tharmuth’, the name given to Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued Moses from the bullrushes, 8 xlvii. 5. is paralleled by the ‘Thermuthis’ of Josephus. 9 Ant. II. ix. 5 (§224). No doubt, too, many of the names of the patriarchal wives 10 e.g. iv. 9–33, xxxiv. 20–21. were also derived from tradition. But in any case, whether such details were traditional in origin, or whether the author himself invented them, there is abundant evidence of his concern throughout to trace all the social and religious institutions of which he most approved back to the earliest times, to uphold and assert the eternal validity of the Law, and to present the patriarchs as the exemplary saints of Israel's past, who had in fact observed the Law in all its particulars before it was formally promulgated.

The wearing of clothes, for example, is said to have originated in a specific obligation laid by God on Adam when he left the Garden of Eden, in accordance with the prescription ‘on the heavenly tablets that all those familiar with the provisions of the law should cover their shame and not uncover themselves as the Gentiles uncover themselves.’ 11 iii. 30–31. Again, the annual celebration of the Feast of Weeks was ‘ordained and written on the heavenly tablets’: Weeks had been celebrated in heaven from the Creation: Noah had observed it: so had Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's children; and it was the feast celebrated by Moses and the elders on Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the Law. 12 vi. 17–19. And, so that no one might think that anything any of the patriarchs did was discreditable, the deceptions practised by Abraham and Isaac on Pharaoh and Abimelech, described at length in Genesis, 13 Gen. xii. 10–20 , xx. 1–18, xxvi. 1–17. are in Jubilees passed over in silence; 14 At xiii. 11, xvi. 10, xxiv. 8–17. and the motivation of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac is ascribed, neither to God nor to Abraham himself, but to the evil prince Mastema, who prompts God to test Abraham (much as in the Bible Satan prompts God to test Job) and in the event is put to shame by Abraham's faithfulness in obeying the Divine command. 15 xvii. 15–xviii. 11.

By far the most notable feature about the book, however, is the author's very evident interest in chronology and calendars. A calendar of some kind was, of course, an essential requisite for the correct regulation of the various feasts; and the calendar followed in Jubilees seems to presuppose a year divided into 12 months of 30 days each, with an extra day added at the end of every third month (or, more accurately, at the beginning of every fourth – or first). Such an arrangement results in a year of 4 quarters, each of 91 days (or exactly 13 weeks), making 52 weeks and 364 days in all. 16 See especially vi. 23–35. This calendar was not the only calendar in use in the author's day, as he himself clearly recognized; 17 vi. 36–38. but it had the advantage of simplicity, in that the days of the week and of the month were the same in each successive year, and that the feasts always fell regularly on the first day of the week in which they occurred.

Fundamental to any calendar must be the week of seven days ordained by God at the Creation. In Lev. xxv the idea of the seven-day week had already been extended to cover not only an additional time-period of seven years (i.e. a week of years), but also a further one of ‘seven times seven’ (i.e. forty-nine) years, with a fiftieth ‘year of jubilee’ 18 Lit. ‘year of the ram's horn (or cornet)’ – i.e. the year whose beginning was announced by a ceremonial blast on the ram's horn (Lev. xxv. 9–10 ). at the end. It was this extension that caught our author's fancy (or, perhaps, the fancy of some other member of the religious community to which he belonged) and prompted him to extend it even further and adapt it to provide the basis for a complete chronological scheme. In the process the word ‘jubilee’ changed its meaning. No longer was it just a descriptive epithet applied to every fiftieth year, as it was in Leviticus. Now it was used as a standard technical term to mean the whole of a forty-nine-year period; and so it became the most significant of all the units for the measurement of time – presumably because it was the longest. Consequently, the entire course of history could be divided into jubilees and events dated by reference to a particular jubilee and its appropriate sub-divisions (i.e. weeks of years, years, months, weeks, and days).

Thus, the very first week of the first jubilee of all was occupied with creation and the giving of the ‘great sign’ – the sabbath. 19 ii. 1–17. The first five days of the second week were taken up with Adam's review of the animals and his naming of them; 20 iii. 1–3. and Eve was created during the night between the fifth day and the sixth. 21 iii. 4–6. The temptation by the serpent is assigned to the seventeenth day of the second month after the conclusion of the first seven-year period (in modern terms ‘17.2.8’) 22 iii. 17. and the expulsion from Eden to the first of the fourth month of the same year (i.e. ‘1.4.8’). 23 iii. 32. Cain was born in the third seven-year period (or ‘week’ according to the author's terminology) of the second jubilee (i.e. between 64 and 70), Abel in the fourth (between 71 and 77); 24 iv. 1. and Cain murdered Abel in the first ‘week’ of the third jubilee (between 99 and 105). 25 iv. 2. The birth of Abraham is dated in the seventh year of the second ‘week’ of the thirty-ninth jubilee (i.e. 1876), 26 xi. 14–15. the death of Isaac in the sixth year of the first ‘week’ of the forty-fifth jubilee (i.e. 2162), 27 xxxvi. 1–18. and the descent of Jacob and his sons into Egypt ten years later – ‘on the new moon of the fourth month, in the second year of the third week of the forty-fifth jubilee’ (i.e. ‘1.4.2172’). 28 xlv. 1. Finally, the Exodus, the passage of the Red Sea, and the revelation on Sinai, are dated to the year 2410 (and the completion of the forty-ninth jubilee nine years previously is remarked on in passing): there are yet forty years to run before Israel enters Canaan (on the completion of the fiftieth jubilee, i.e. in 2450); after which ‘the jubilees shall pass by till Israel is cleansed from all guilt … and the land shall be clean from that day forward for evermore.’ 29 l. 4–5.

There can be no doubt in the light of all this that the author was a Jew, who lived in one of the later centuries BC; and scholarly opinion has varied between the fifth century and the first, most preferring a date about 100 BC. The earliest evidence for the existence of Jubilees is to be found in the so-called ‘Zadokite Fragments’ or ‘Damascus Document’, associated with the sect at Qumran. There are several apparent allusions to Jubilees in the course of this work, and in one passage it is referred to explicitly – ‘And the exact statement of the epochs of Israel's blindness to all these [i.e. the ordinances of the Law], behold it can be learned in the Book of the Divisions of Times into their Jubilees and their Weeks.’ 30 Damascus Document, xvi. 2–4. Some would argue that both Jubilees and the Damascus Document were products of the Qumran sect. But whether this be so or not, we are no better informed about the date of the Damascus Document than we are about the date of Jubilees, and so the reference to Jubilees in the Document does no more than establish the priority of Jubilees. In the Rabbinic literature there is no certain reference to it anywhere.

Among Christians the book seems to have been known comparatively early. So far as our evidence goes, the first Christian to refer to it by name was the blind Alexandrian scholar Didymus (4th cent.); and he calls it ‘The Little Genesis’. 31 Didymus, Enarr. in I Ioann. iii. 12. This was the most popular name for it in the Church, being used, for example, by Jerome (†420). 32 Jerome, Ep. lxxviii. 20. The name ‘Jubilees’ is first found in Epiphanius (†403), who gives ‘Jubilees’ and ‘The Little Genesis’ as alternatives. 33 Epiph. Haer. XXXIX. vi. 1. Another alternative, according to the Gelasian Decree, was ‘The Book about the Daughters of Adam’. 34 Decr. Gel. v. 4: ‘Liber de filiabus Adae, [hoc est] Leptogeneseos, apocryphus’. Yet another appears to have been ‘The Apocalypse of Moses,’ 35 Syncellus, Chronographia (= Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae; ed. W. Dindorf, Bonn, 1829 ), i, p. 5. and another, perhaps, ‘The Life of Adam’ 36 Ibid. , p. 7. – though this last work may have been no more than an abstract, consisting only of parts of the opening chapters.

Since the book first became known in modern times it has been argued on purely internal and circumstantial grounds that it was originally written in Hebrew, though some (notably C. C. Torrey) have suggested Aramaic. The arguments in favour of Hebrew have recently been considerably strengthened, not merely by the evidence of the Damascus Document, but also by the fact that a number of fragments of Jubilees, from some ten different manuscripts, have been found in four of the Qumran caves, and all of them are in Hebrew. A further fragment, also in Hebrew, has been found at Masada.

At a date unknown a Greek version was made, of which only extracts now survive, mainly in Epiphanius and the Byzantine chroniclers Syncellus and Cedrenus. Later on, the Greek version was translated into both Latin and Ethiopic. Of the Latin there are substantial surviving fragments, preserved in the same 6th cent. MS that contains also The Assumption of Moses: these fragments were edited by Ceriani in 1861 , and cover more than a quarter of the complete text; and according to Rönsch (their next editor), the date of the Latin version itself was about a hundred years earlier than the MS – i.e. mid-5th cent. It is probable that there was also a Syriac version; and if the results of Tisserant's study of what are apparently extensive extracts preserved in an anonymous late 12th cent. chronicle are accepted, then the Syriac version was made direct from the Hebrew, without reference to the Greek, and about the same time as the Peshitta.

The Ethiopic version alone has preserved the complete text of the book. Dillmann, the first editor of it, worked from two MSS only, one in Tübingen (19th cent.) and one in Paris (17th cent.). Charles, for his edition of 1895 , added two more of the 16th and 15th cents. (in London and Paris). Since Charles's day at least half a dozen other MSS have come to light, of which two are probably of the 14th cent. – the oldest yet discovered.

The translation which follows is a thoroughgoing revision of Charles's translation of his own Ethiopic text. Any conflict of any importance between this text and the text of the Latin fragments (where they are extant) has attention drawn to it in the notes; and it will be found that overall, in these instances, we have preferred the Latin rather more frequently than did Charles. Unfortunately, none of the Hebrew fragments so far available is sufficiently substantial to enable us to establish anything like a continuous text in any part of the book. What does emerge, however, from a detailed study of these fragments is the impression that the Ethiopic version, despite the fact that it is a secondary version, is nevertheless to be accepted as a generally trustworthy and reliable guide to the Hebrew original.


1 e.g. vii. 38, xxxix. 6, xlv. 16.

2 i. 5: cp. ii. 1.

3 vi. 22.

4 i. 26.

5 xii. 1–14.

6 Apoc. Abrah. i–viii (see below pp. 369–75 ).

7 e.g. Midrash Bereshith Rabbah, xxxviii. 13, xxxix. 1, 8; T.B. Erubin, 53a.

8 xlvii. 5.

9 Ant. II. ix. 5 (§224).

10 e.g. iv. 9–33, xxxiv. 20–21.

11 iii. 30–31.

12 vi. 17–19.

13 Gen. xii. 10–20 , xx. 1–18, xxvi. 1–17.

14 At xiii. 11, xvi. 10, xxiv. 8–17.

15 xvii. 15–xviii. 11.

16 See especially vi. 23–35.

17 vi. 36–38.

18 Lit. ‘year of the ram's horn (or cornet)’ – i.e. the year whose beginning was announced by a ceremonial blast on the ram's horn (Lev. xxv. 9–10 ).

19 ii. 1–17.

20 iii. 1–3.

21 iii. 4–6.

22 iii. 17.

23 iii. 32.

24 iv. 1.

25 iv. 2.

26 xi. 14–15.

27 xxxvi. 1–18.

28 xlv. 1.

29 l. 4–5.

30 Damascus Document, xvi. 2–4.

31 Didymus, Enarr. in I Ioann. iii. 12.

32 Jerome, Ep. lxxviii. 20.

33 Epiph. Haer. XXXIX. vi. 1.

34 Decr. Gel. v. 4: ‘Liber de filiabus Adae, [hoc est] Leptogeneseos, apocryphus’.

35 Syncellus, Chronographia (= Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae; ed. W. Dindorf, Bonn, 1829 ), i, p. 5.

36 Ibid. , p. 7.

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