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Jubilees, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
A more extensive rewriting of the Book of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus (through chapter 14) is the Book of Jubilees, usually dated to the second century B.C.E. Twelve Qumran manuscripts of this text have been identified. Jubilees is quoted in the Zadokite Fragments (dated to c. 100–75 B.C.E.); Qumran copies are at least as old as the first century B.C.E. Jubilees probably refers to the Hellenistic reform, so if it postdates those events, it was completed by c. 168 B.C.E.

Although parallels exist between Jubilees and some Qumran material, it is certain on both historical and philological grounds that the work was not composed at Qumran. Indeed, it seems to have predated the Qumran sect somewhat. Its Hebrew is not of the dialect familiar to us from the various texts composed by the members of the sect. Nonetheless, the work had an influence on the life of the Qumran sect and may even have had canonical status for its members.

Jubilees claims to have been dictated to Moses on Sinai by an angel-

And Moses went up to the mountain of the Lord. . . . And God revealed to him both what (was) in the beginning and what will occur (in the future). . . . And He (God) said, “Set your mind on every thing which I will tell you on the mountain, and write it in a book . . .” (JUBILEES 1-2–5)

This same revelation later appears in the form of heavenly tablets being copied for Moses by the angel of presence (Jubilees 1-27–29). As such, it presents itself as a sort of alternative to the canonical Torah, a supposedly more accurate picture of the true divine revelation. Obedience to this Torah will bring the End of Days. The author follows the Torah closely, sometimes repeating it word for word, sometimes omitting material and, for the most part, rewriting it extensively. He imposes on the biblical account (and from this it derives its name) a scheme of chronology based on Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles of seven and fifty years, respectively. This historical sequence culminates with the entry of the Israelites into the Land of Israel in the first year of the fiftieth Jubilee (2,451 years from creation).

A consistent theme informing the additions to the book is Jewish law. The author attempts throughout to claim that the patriarchs and other heroes of Genesis observed all the laws later to be given at Sinai, especially the ritual calendar of Festivals. The author inserts numerous points of Jewish law into the patriarchal narratives where they do not appear in the canonical Torah. For example, he says that Abraham observed the Festival of Shavuot-

In the fifth year of the fourth week (i.e., Sabbatical cycle) of that Jubilee in the third month, in the middle of the month, Abram made a feast of the firstfruits of the harvest of grain. And he offered up a new sacrifice upon the altar . . . (JUBILEES 15-1–2)

From the parallel text in the Torah (Leviticus 23-15–16) it is clear that this is the Festival of Shavuot. But it is worth noting that situating this Festival in the middle of the third month (Sivan, in rabbinic parlance) is in accord with the sectarian, not Pharisaic, calendar.

The Festivals, in the view of the author of Jubilees, are to be determined based on a three-hundred-and-sixty-four-day calendar made up of solar months and solar years. The Qumran sect accordingly called this book the “Book of the Divisions of the Times According to the Jubilees and Their Weeks” (Zadokite Fragments 16-2–4). A number of sectarian groups in the Second Temple period advocated using such a calendar.

The author places certain of his teachings in the mouths of the patriarchs, for example, the prohibition of intermarriage-

And if there is any man in Israel who wishes to give his daughter or his sister to any man who is from the seed of the gentiles, let him surely die. . . . And also the woman will be burned with fire because she has defiled the name of her father’s house . . . (JUBILEES 30-7)

The author’s strong stand against intermarriage should be seen in the context of the extreme Hellenization going on in those contemporary times. Nonetheless, the author is echoing the traditional Jewish prohibition of mixed marriage, to which he has added extremely harsh penalties, as is his tendency throughout.

The author makes additions also for didactic purposes, similar to what the Rabbis called Aggadah, explaining that the Flood resulted because the angels intermingled with the daughters of men, giving rise to the demonic world. The author also adds apocalyptic messianic additions. In addition, the author stresses the revelation at Sinai, repentance, and the belief that soon the wicked will be destroyed. The text also attributes various ethical teachings to the patriarchs. Abraham is seen as a paragon of virtue, wisdom, and insight. To a great extent the author homogenizes the features attributed to a patriarch at one point in the biblical narrative and applies them to his behavior elsewhere. This form of analogical exegesis is common throughout. Indeed, the source for many of the additions to the Bible is the biblical material itself.

The vast majority of modifications of the canonical book are for halakhic purposes. Many of the laws in this text parallel other sectarian laws of the Dead Sea sect or of the Temple Scroll, but there are also many divergences. It is not possible to identify the author’s legal tradition with that of the Sadducees, although there are certain points of contact. Some of the laws seem to be directed polemically against the practices of the author’s own age.

Jubilees was composed in Hebrew, and substantial portions of the original Hebrew have been preserved at Qumran. Before the discovery of the Qumran fragments, it was known in an Ethiopic translation brought to Europe in the eighteenth century, in Greek quotations, and in parts of a Latin translation. Fragments have also been recovered from Masada, confirming the popularity of this text.

From Hebrew, Jubilees was translated into Greek, but the Greek survives only in fragments of quotations and summaries. The Ethiopic text, however, itself translated from the Greek, survives in its entirety. A Latin translation, also from the Greek, is often helpful in interpreting difficult passages in the Ethiopic version. Study of the Qumran fragments has generally confirmed the accuracy of the Greek translation and, in turn, of the Ethiopic text derived from it.

It is likely that the author of Jubilees was a Palestinian Jew from a priestly family. That author’s pietistic views have led some to suggest that he was part of the Essene or Hasidic group. While this seems oversimplified, it is clear from the high status accorded this work by the Qumran sect that it can be traced to circles the sect regarded as its spiritual forerunners. Nonetheless, we must note that in certain respects, the theology of Jubilees, like its halakhah, differs from what we encounter in the Qumran sectarian writings.

Similar to the Book of Jubilees are three manuscripts from Qumran that are called Pseudo-Jubilees A–C. These texts closely follow the approach of Jubilees and are closely related to it. Pseudo-Jubilees A, for example, retells the story of the binding of Isaac. Here, as in Jubilees (17-16), the angel Mastema, prince of evil, who is similar to Belial known from many Qumran texts, challenges God to test Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son-

Then the prince Ma[s]tema came [to G]od and accused Abraham regarding Isaac, and so [G]od said [to Abra]ham, “Take your son, Isaac, your onl[y son]” (Genesis 22-2). (PSEUDO-JUBILEES A 2 I 9–11)

As in Jubilees, the angel Mastema is put to shame when Abraham stands up to the challenge to his faith.

Whatever the exact relationship of this and other texts like it to Jubilees, they all show that there was in antiquity a lively tradition of such retellings, replete with the kinds of details mentioned here. This material is definitely a forerunner of the later rabbinic Aggadah, which also expanded on the biblical text in order to draw out ethical, moral, and religious lessons.

Pages 185-188

Posted in: Biblical Literature

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