The Book of Jubilees | The Voice 9.26: June 30, 2019

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The Voice

The Book of Jubilees

The Genesis author is famous for his economy in writing: he only tells the stories and details he wishes to tell according to his purposes. The people of God have been left with a host of questions ever since. Where did Cain’s wife come from? What was the name of the wives of all the men of old? Who exactly are the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-4? Untold amounts of ink have been spilled in speculation regarding these matters. We can see how some Jewish people of the Second Temple Period expanded upon the Genesis narrative in the Book of Jubilees.

The Book of Jubilees is also known as “Lesser Genesis” (Greek Leptogenesis), considered lesser in age and quality, not in size. While the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Beta Israel (a group of Jewish people of Ethiopian descent), consider the Book of Jubilees to be inspired, everyone else recognizes the work as pseudepigraphal. The Book of Jubilees had been primarily preserved in Ge’ez Ethiopic manuscripts of the late medieval era along with quotations found in many early Christian works; many fragments of the Book of Jubilees in Hebrew were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a Latin translation of a Greek translation preserves part of the text. Most believe the Book of Jubilees was composed during the Maccabean period, ca. 150 BCE. The Book of Jubilees sets forth Genesis and a brief summary of Exodus according to the temporal framework of the jubilee, blending the Genesis narrative with midrashim (traditional stories about Biblical characters) and laws as given by God to Moses in an attempt to explain the origin stories and characters of Israel in greater detail.

The Book of Jubilees can be found here. Moses is said to have received the substance of the Book of Jubilees from God while on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and commanded to write it down, and an angel would set forth all of history from the creation until the restoration of the Temple at Zion according to the number of jubilees (Jubilees 1:1-28; cf. Exodus 24:15-18); the Book of Jubilees will go on to feature the first fifty jubilees, from creation to Israel in the Wilderness. The jubilee is a festival which was to recur every fifty years and was to proclaim liberty for Israelite slaves of Israelites and a restoration of ancestral property (Leviticus 25:8-55).

The narratives of Genesis 1:1-11:32 are set forth and expanded upon in the Book of Jubilees 2:1-12:15, covering the first forty jubilees. The author of the Book of Jubilees listed out in greater detail that which God created (e.g., types of spiritual beings on the first day, sea monsters on the fifth day; Jubilees 2:2, 11). Later laws regarding the Sabbath in the Law of Moses is brought to bear on the description of God’s rest on the seventh day (Jubilees 2:17-31). Adam and Eve are said to have lived in the Garden of Eden seven years before partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Jubilees 3:15); the author believed God closed the mouths of all the beasts as part of the curse, assuming all the animals had discourse with one another and man in the Garden (Jubilees 3:28). Eve is said to give birth to a daughter Awan a few years after Cain and Abel, and Awan is then said to be the wife of Cain (Jubilees 4:1, 9; cf. Genesis 4:1, 17). The Book of Jubilees often supplied names for the wives of the characters in Genesis 1-11. The author of the Book of Jubilees also attested to Enoch as having received revelations from God, as one who recounted early history, and thus seems to attest to the existence of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch; Jubilees 4:16-19). It is thus not surprising that the author of the Book of Jubilees explained the coming of the Watchers, angels sent to earth who would marry the daughters of men and corrupt themselves (Jubilees 4:15, 22, 7:21-25; cf. Genesis 6:1-4). The Book of Jubilees attempted to contextualize the death of the notable patriarchs like Adam and Noah in terms of those still living (e.g. Jubilees 4:28-33; cf. Genesis 5:1-6).

In a similar way the narratives regarding Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis 11:26-50:26 are set forth and expanded in the Book of Jubilees 11:11-46:4, covering the next six jubilees. Abram/Abraham is portrayed as always having been monotheistic and very explicitly disavows the pagan idolatry of his father (Jubilees 11:15-16, 12:1-18). Abraham is certainly the hero of this story; we do not learn of much that would ever make us question his wisdom, and he is portrayed as the archetypal firm believer in God. The Jubilees author would have us believe that Abraham and Jacob had a strong relationship, that Abraham affirmed Jacob as the recipient of promise, and that Abraham gave many instructions in death regarding offerings and sacrifices (e.g. Jubilees 21:1-23:32). The author attempts to portray Jacob as a more upright character from the beginning, and much of the story of his association with Laban is passed over; he is said to have brought Levi and Judah to be blessed by Isaac, retrojecting Levi’s call to the priesthood and Judah’s to authority (Jubilees 30:18, 31:8-32). The Book of Jubilees would have Esau break all promises to Isaac and Jacob and rise in war against his brother, and also would have Jacob kill Esau in that conflict (Jubilees 34:1-10). Joseph’s story is told in a relatively straightforward way, although not much is made of Jacob or Jacob’s final promises to his children.

The rest of the Book of Jubilees provides an overview of Israel in Egypt and their journey into the Wilderness to Mount Sinai, covering four jubilees (Jubilees 46:5-50:13). The Jubilees author spoke of a king of Canaan who proved victorious over the king of Egypt, leading to a closed border and the plot to enslave the Israelites (Jubilees 46:9-16). The rest of the work told the Exodus story and emphasized certain promises and laws.

The Book of Jubilees provides insight into the way the founding stories of Israel were understood in late Second Temple Judaism. The way the Book of Jubilees conveyed many of the narratives of Genesis may suggest it is using a manuscript of the text slightly different from either the Masoretic Text (MT) or the Hebrew text which was used to translate the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The Book of Jubilees affirms the importance of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) to many Israelites of the age. And yet the Book of Jubilees works best as a foil and a contrast to the book of Genesis as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, illustrating the complexity and power of Genesis. The Genesis author does well at giving detail when necessary and not over-explaining matters; the Book of Jubilees is weighed down with the concerns and emphases from a later period, telling the reader more about Israel in the Second Temple Period than it does about the patriarchs of old. As Christians today we do well to take this example under advisement: what the Book of Jubilees made explicit in its pages Christians often do in their commentary and exposition. May we uphold what God has made known in Scripture and find salvation in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

The Complete Apocrypha: 2018 Edition with Enoch, Jasher, and Jubilees. Covenant Press, 2019.

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