By April 14, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Jubilees, Book of, James VanderKam, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
JUBILEES, BOOK OF. Jubilees presents itself as the account of a revelation which was disclosed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. After a prefatory chapter in which the Lord tells Moses in advance about Israel’s apostasies and eventual repentance, the book takes the form of a first-person narrative recited by an “angel of the presence” whom the deity had instructed to tell Moses about everything “from the beginning of creation till My sanctuary has been built among them for all eternity”(1-27 [quotations from Jubilees are from Charles 1902]). The revelation proves to be a heavily edited rehearsal of the material from Genesis 1 to Exodus 20, all of which is encased in a chronology which divides time into units of 49 years (= jubilees), each of which consists of seven “weeks of years.” The author does not include all of the biblical text, but he does follow the story line of Genesis–Exodus and often augments his base with additional details and at times with entirely new accounts (e.g., the war between Esau and Jacob [37-1–38-14]).

A. Texts and Titles

The commonly accepted theory about the textual evolution of Jubilees is that it was written in Hebrew, translated from Hebrew into Greek and possibly into Syriac, and rendered from Greek into Latin and Ethiopic. The Hebrew original and the Greek version were lost long ago; in fact, Western scholars had no text of the book until the 19th century, when Ethiopic and Latin copies first became available. Today, the entire text is preserved only in Ethiopic (the book enjoyed canonical status in the Abyssinian church); 27 copies of this granddaughter version have been identified to date. The Latin translation exists now in one manuscript (a palimpsest) which contains more than one-fourth of the text. The Greek version remains lost; only citations of it in some Greek and Latin writings from the patristic and Byzantine periods have survived. The Syriac version, if there ever was one, is visible presently only through 29 citations which have been found in an anonymous chronicle and which reproduce all, or more frequently parts, of about 137 verses. Fragments from 12 manuscripts of the original Hebrew version have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls; nevertheless, only a few of these have been published. Though a fragment of another copy was reportedly found at Masada, this now appears not to be part of a Hebrew text of Jubilees.

The book received different names throughout its long textual journey. Its Hebrew title (if that is the proper word) is apparently given in CD 16-2–3, where it is cited and called “the book of the Divisions of the Times for Their Jubilees and Weeks.” In Greek it circulated under several names- Jubilees (also attested in Syriac), the Little Genesis (seemingly the more common designation; the reason for the adjective is unknown), or, among other possibilities, the Apocalypse of Moses. The Ethiopic title is the same as the one in CD 16-2–3- the book of the Division(s) of the Times, or simply Division(s).

B. Date and Authorship

From the time that Jubilees became known in Europe until the end of the 19th century, scholars generally dated it to the 1st century C.E. The work of Bohn and Charles around the turn of the century led to a new agreement (apart from a few wildly divergent views, such as that of Zeitlin) that the book was composed at some point in the 2d century B.C.E. Bohn placed it in the middle of the century, Charles at the end. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of fragments of Jubilees among them, the question of date has been approached from new angles. The paleographically determined date of some of the Hebrew fragments (4Qm 16 Juba and 4Qm 17 Juba) is ca. 100 B.C.E.—a date which virtually requires that one adopt an earlier time of composition than the one Charles defended. It seems clear that the book, which neither commands nor reflects separation from the remainder of the Jewish population but which manifests striking similarities with important teachings of the Scrolls, was written before the Qumran community was formed. There is no consensus about when this group exiled itself from the rest of the nation, but most scholars would now agree that the exodus to Qumran transpired during the high priestly tenure of either Jonathan (152–142) or Simon (142–134). This would imply that Jubilees was written no later than ca. 150–140 B.C.E. Several students of the book have found in it allusions to Maccabean wars; if they are correct, the book could not antedate ca. 166. However, others have argued that these allusions are open to other interpretations and that the apocalyptic passage in Jubilees 23 makes no reference to either the decrees of Antiochus IV forbidding the practice of Judaism (167) nor to the Maccabean response to these edicts. Nickelsburg and Goldstein have inferred from these circumstances that the book was written before 167. It should be added, though, that Jubilees 23 shares the standard opaqueness of apocalyptic language and that some passages in it have been interpreted by Charles and Davenport as references to the Maccabean uprising (e.g., v 20). Moreover, 4-19 may allude to 1 Enoch 83–90, which was written, it seems, after ca. 164 B.C.E. In general one may say that the book was probably written at some point between 170 and 140.
There is strong reason to believe that Jubilees was written by a priest. This follows from the nature of the book with its heavy emphasis on priestly concerns, from the special attention devoted to the line of righteous men through whom the sacerdotal legislation was transmitted from earliest times, and from the extraordinary status of Levi among the sons of Jacob.

In addition to repeating and often expanding many passages which modern scholars assign to the priestly editor of the Pentateuch (e.g., creation according to Genesis 1, circumcision in Genesis 17), Jubilees adds numerous sections which betray the writer’s priestly bent. Sections about sabbath laws, which appear in chaps. 2 (vv 1, 17–33) and 50 (vv 6–13), form a kind of inclusio around the narratives of the book. The sacred calendar exercises the author frequently- it was revealed to Enoch (4-17–18); some features of it were clarified by the events of the Flood (6-23–38); and festivals were celebrated properly by the patriarchs on the exact dates for them (Weeks- 6-17–22; 15-1–2; 44-1–4; cf. 22-1–6; Tabernacles- 16-20–31; 32-4–7, 27–29; Unleavened Bread- 18-18–19; 49-22–23; Atonement- 34-18–19; for Passover, see 49-1–22a). The writer also deals regularly with sacrifices- Adam offered one upon leaving Eden (3-27); Enoch burns incense on the mount in Eden (4-25); Noah makes atonement for the earth (6-1–4; cf. 7-3–5; and Gen 8-20); Abraham provides extensive instructions about procedures and the woods which may be used in sacrifice (21-7–16); and the descriptions of festival celebrations include notices about the offerings presented (e.g., 15-1–2; 16-20–31). Among other priestly concerns, mention should be made of the prohibition of consuming blood (6-7–14 [cf. Gen 9-6]; 7-31–32; 21-6, 17–18); tithes (13-25–27; 32-2, 5, 8–15); circumcision (15-25–34; 20-3); separation of the holy race from the nations (22-16–18; 25-4–10; cf. 27-10; 30-6–16; see also 16-17–18; 22-12); and avoidance of impurity and uncleanness (e.g., 3-8–14; 6-37; 7-20–21; 11-17; 16-5–6; 20-3–7; 21-21–23; 22-16–23; 23-14, 17, 21; etc.). In view of all this, it comes as no surprise to learn that the descendants of Isaac are to become “a kingdom and priests and a holy nation”(16-18).

These and other priestly laws were transmitted in writing by a line of righteous heroes from earliest times. Enoch, who was the first to learn how to write (4-17), passed along teachings to Methuselah, who in turn transmitted them to Lamech, from whom Noah received them (7-38–39; the context deals with firstfruits and the year of release). Noah gave to his son Shem his book about medicines (a priestly domain) for combating the effects of the evil spirits (10-14). Later, Abraham learned to read the books of his fathers (12-27; cf. 21-10, where Enoch and Noah are mentioned), and he handed this lore to Jacob (12-27; cf. 21-10, where Enoch and Noah are mentioned), and he handed this lore to Jacob (39-6–7). Finally, the writer notes that Jacob gave all of his books and those of his ancestors to Levi “that he might preserve them and renew them for his children until this day”(45-16).

Levi, the third son of Jacob, lent his name to the tribe of Levites and thus was the titular ancestor of Israel’s priests according to the Bible. Yet nothing is said there about his actually functioning as a priest. In Jubilees, however, Levi himself becomes the divinely ordained priest who begins serving in this capacity at an early age. In Gen 49-5–7 Jacob criticized Levi and Simeon for their massacre of the Shechemites, but the author of Jubilees claims that the two brothers were regarded as righteous for their act and that Levi’s descendants were eternally chosen for the priesthood on the basis of what their ancestor had done in Shechem (30-17–20). When Jacob brought his sons Levi and Judah to see his aged parents, Isaac took Levi (the older of the two) by his right hand and blessed him first (31-12–17). He prophesied that he and his descendants would forever be priests, princes, judges, and chiefs of the nation, that they would teach, and bless, and eat at the divine table. Only later did Isaac bless Judah, whom he had taken by his left hand (vv 18–20). In chap. 32 Jacob is pictured as counting his sons backward and thus arriving at Levi as the tenth (he was the third oldest of the 12). To him there fell the “portion of the Lord, and his father clothed him in the garments of the priesthood and filled his hands”(i.e., he ordained him [32-3]). In this context, which speaks of tithing, one reads that Levi presided as priest at Bethel (v 9). Jacob, just before his death, delivered all of his books and those of his fathers to Levi (45-16).

This strong sacerdotal emphasis in the book probably reflects the office of the author, while the prominence of Levi mirrors the lofty status of the high priest in Second Temple Judaism. Students of the legal material in Jubilees have recognized that it does not correspond with the traditions of either the Pharisees or the Sadducees, but that it stands closer to what is known of Essene halakah. The Qumran literature has documented their thesis; the 364-day solar calendar is just one fundamental point on which Jubilees and the scrolls (including now the Temple Scroll) agree. It is likely, then, that the priestly author belonged to the movement that was later called Essene, whatever may have been its original name.

C. Theology

The first chapter of Jubilees places the narrative of chaps. 2–50 in a new context compared with Genesis–Exodus. The Lord, who reveals to Moses “the earlier and the later history of the division of all the days of the law and of the testimony”(1-4), informs him that he is to record the revelation “in a book in order that their generations may see how I have not forsaken them for all the evil which they have wrought in transgressing the covenant which I establish between Me and thee for their generations this day on Mt. Sinai. And thus it will come to pass when all these things come upon them, that they will recognise that I am more righteous than they in all their judgments and in all their actions, and they will recognise that I have been truly with them”(vv 5–6). The audience for whom the book is intended clearly lives long after Moses’ time, and it must be convinced of divine fidelity and the urgency of maintaining the covenant. After Israel’s apostasy in the land (vv 7–12) and subsequent captivity (vv 13–14) are predicted, the Lord informs Moses that the exiles will repent (v 15) and that he will shower his favors upon them—including the building of his eternal sanctuary among them (vv 16–18). Moses intercedes for the people unsuccessfully (vv 19–21), but God reiterates that only after confession of sin and repentance will a new time dawn—a time when they shall never again turn from the Lord (vv 22–25). Some future generation, presumably that of the author, must receive this message of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s infidelity, and the power of confession, repentance, and obedience to the covenantal stipulations to open a new day in the covenantal relationship between the Lord and his holy people.

One should view the author’s eschatological teachings in the context of the Law and Israel’s future. Israel, which had received the covenant, had failed to obey its stipulations (cf. 23-16, 19; 15-33–34; etc.). Both chaps. 1 and 23 survey the great difficulties which will beset the apostate nation because it has violated covenant and command; but both also point toward a change and the way in which it is to be accomplished and picture the contours of a new, ideal age (for chap. 1, see above). Here again the legal focus is transparent. After depicting the punishments which Israel will endure (23-22–25), the author writes (v 26)-

And in those days the children will begin to study the laws,

And to seek the commandments,

And to return to the path of righteousness.

Then the span of human life, which had been shortened because of evil, will be lengthened until it approaches 1000 years. (vv 27–28)

And all their days they will complete and live in peace and in joy,

And there will be no Satan nor any evil destroyer;

For all their days will be days of blessing and healing. (v 29)

The writer envisages neither a messiah (though Levi and Judah and their descendants are at the center of his interests [see especially 31-12–20]) nor a resurrection of the dead. A messiah is never mentioned, and the phrase “rise up” in 23-30 almost certainly has a different meaning in its context. Rather, of the departed righteous the author says-

And their bones will rest in the earth,

And their spirits will have much joy. (v 31ab)

But of those who will live in the new age he writes- “And their souls will cleave to Me and to all My commandments, and they will fulfil My commandments, and I shall be their Father and they will be My children”(1-24). At that time the Lord will live forever with Israel in his sanctuary on Mt. Zion (1-17, 27–29; cf. 4-26).

The author’s teachings about the centrality of the Law and its importance for the future also allow one to place in context his practice of founding essential legal practices in the time of the ancients of Genesis rather than in the age of Moses. For example, the different periods of impurity for a woman after bearing a male or female child are based on the time Adam and Eve spent outside the Garden before being led into it (3-8–14; see Lev 12-2–5). The lex talionis harks back to Cain, who killed Abel with a stone and was himself killed by one when his house collapsed on him (4-31–32; cf. Exod 21-24; Lev 24-19–20; Deut 19-21). Noah first celebrated the Festival of Weeks (see 6-17–22) and later Abraham, too, observed this holiday, which became the anniversary of the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants (6-17–22; 15-1–2). The Festivals of Tabernacles (16-20–23; 32-4–9, 27–29) and Unleavened Bread (18-18–19) and the Day of Atonement (34-17–19, which commemorates Jacob’s torment on learning of Joseph’s “death”) also were introduced in the age of the fathers. The author’s reason for antedating these practices can only be surmised, but it is clear that he wished to impress upon his audience that these essential acts of obedience to the covenant were not the innovations of a later age that were imposed upon the religion of the patriarchs. They had been in force since earliest times, were inscribed immutably and eternally on the heavenly tablets (of the numerous cases, see, for example, 3-10, 31; 6-17; 15-25; 16-28–29; etc.), and in some instances were practiced in heaven (Sabbath [2-30]; Festival of Weeks [6-18]; circumcision [15-27]). These provisions were to be observed scrupulously in the present if the ideal future was to be realized.


Albeck, C. 1930. Das Buch der Jubiläen und die Halacha. Sieben und vierzigster Bericht der Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. Berlin-Schöneberg.

Baars, W., and Zuurmond, R. 1964. The Project for a New Edition of the Ethiopic Book of Jubilees. JSS 9- 67–74.

Baumgarten, J. 1977. The Calendar of the Book of Jubilees. Pp. 101–14 in Studies in Qumran Law. SJLA 24. Leiden.

Berger, K. 1981. Das Buch der Jubiläen. JSHRZ 2/3. Gütersloh.

Bohn, F. 1900. Die Bedeutung des Buches der Jubiläen. TSK 73- 167–84.

Charles, R. H. 1895. Maṣḥafa kufālē or the Ethiopic Version of the Hebrew Book of Jubilees. Anecdota Oxoniensia. Oxford.

———. 1902. The Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis. London.

Davenport, G. L. 1971. The Eschatology of the Book of Jubilees. SPB 20. Leiden.

Goldstein, J. 1983. The Date of the Book of Jubilees. PAAJR 50- 63–86.

Littmann, E. 1900. Das Buch der Jubiläen. Pp. 31–119 in vol. 2 of Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments, ed. E. Kautzsch. Tübingen.

Nickelsburg, G. W. E. 1981. The Book of Jubilees. Pp. 73–80 in Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah. Philadelphia.

Rabin, C. 1984. Jubilees. Pp. 1–139 in The Apocryphal OT, ed. H. F. D. Sparks. Oxford.

Testuz, M. 1960. Les idées religieuses du Livre des Jubilés. Geneva and Paris.

VanderKam, J. 1977. Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees. HSM 14. Missoula, MT.

———. 1981. The Putative Author of the Book of Jubilees. JSS 26- 209–17.

———. 1989. A Critical Text and English Translation of the Ethiopic Book of Jubilees. CSCO. Leuven.

Wiesenberg, E. 1961–62. The Jubilee of Jubilees. RevQ 3- 3–40.

Zeitlin, S. 1939–40. The Book of Jubilees, Its Character and Its Significance. JQR 30- 1–31.

———. 1957. The Book of ‘Jubilees’and the Pentateuch. JQR 48- 218–35.

Vol.3 p.1030-1032

Post a Comment