Jubilees, Book of

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Books of the

Hebrew Bible

The Book of Jubilees (ספר היובלים), sometimes called the Lesser Genesis (Leptogenesis), is an ancient Jewish religious work that was part of Jewish Midrashic lore. It was also well known to Early Christian writers in the East and the West. However, it was later so thoroughly suppressed that no complete Greek or Latin version has survived. It is viewed as pseudepigraphal by most Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians though it is still considered canonical for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, where it is known as the Book of Division (Ge'ez: Mets'hafe Kufale). In the modern scholarly view, it reworks material found in the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus in the light of traditionalist concerns of some second century B.C.E. Jews.

The Book of Jubilees claims to present "the history of the division of the days of the Law, of the events of the years, the year-weeks, and the jubilees of the world" as secretly revealed to Moses (in addition to the Torah or "Law") while Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. The chronology given in Jubilees is based on multiples of seven; the "jubilees" are periods of 49 years, seven 'year-weeks', into which all of time has been divided. According to the author of Jubilees, all proper customs that humankind should follow are determined by God's decree.

Manuscripts of Jubilees

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only surviving manuscripts of Jubilees were fragmentary quotations in Greek (in a work by Epiphanius), fragmentary Latin translations of the Greek that contain about a quarter of the whole work, and four Ethiopic manuscripts that date to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which are complete. The Ethiopic texts are the primary basis for translations into English.[1] Passages in the texts of Jubilees that are directly parallel to verses in Genesis do not directly reproduce either of the two surviving manuscript traditions;[2] consequently, the lost Hebrew original is thought to have used an otherwise unrecorded text for Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, one that was independent of either the Masoretic text or the earlier Hebrew text that was the basis for the Septuagint. As the textual variations among the Septuagint, Masoretic text, and Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated, even canonic Hebrew texts did not possess any single 'authorized' manuscript tradition, in the first century B.C.E.[3]

A further fragment in Syriac in the British Museum, titled Names of the wives of the patriarchs according to the Hebrew books called Jubilees suggests that there once existed a Syriac translation. Fragments of 12 such Aramaic manuscripts have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. How much is missing can be guessed from the Stichometry of Nicephorus, where 4300 stichoi or lines are attributed to The Book of Jubilees.

Between 1947 and 1956, approximately 15 Jubilees' scrolls were found in five caves at Qumran, all written in Hebrew. The large quantity of Jubilees' scrolls (more than any other biblical books found except for Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Exodus, and Genesis, in descending order) indicates that Jubilees was widely used at Qumran. A comparison of the Qumran texts with the Ethiopic version, performed by Martin Abegg, Jr., found that the Ethiopic was in most respects an accurate and literalistic translation.


Based on internal textual evidence, some scholars believe that the Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew between the year that Hyrcanus became high priest (135 B.C.E.) and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 B.C.E., and that the author was a Pharisee.[4] Jubilees is the product of the midrash that had already been at work in the Old Testament Chronicles. As the chronicler had rewritten the history of Israel and Judah from the point of view of the post-exilic Levites, so the author of Jubilees re-edited in turn, from the Pharisaic standpoint of his own time, the history of events from the Creation to the publication of the Law on Sinai.

In the course of re-editing, the author allegedly incorporated a large body of traditional midrashic lore. His work enlarged upon some elements of Genesis and Exodus, solved difficulties in the narrative, gave details that were passed over in the originals, removed all offensive elements that could suggest any blemish in the actions of the patriarchs, and infused the history with the spirit of later Judaism.

Since the Oriental Orthodox Churches consider Jubilees to be such an important book of the Bible, and older than Genesis, they strongly dispute this opinion of the scholars, and instead accept the account given in the book itself, of having been given to Moses atop Mt. Sinai.

The book was evidently held in high regard by the Early Church Fathers although it was subsequently left out of the canon. It is only through the canons of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that were outside the jurisdiction of Rome, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the book has managed to survive at all. Additionally, many of the traditions that Jubilees included are echoed in later Jewish sources, including some twelfth century midrashim, which may have had access to a Hebrew copy.


Jubilees emphasizes the need for observant Jews to separate themselves from the Gentiles, whose customs render them unclean. The subtext of the Book of Jubilees is considered by scholars to be a defense of traditional Judaism against the pressures of Hellenistic culture. The more Hellenized among the Jews had begun to urge that the levitical ordinances of the Mosaic law were only of transitory significance, that they had not been consistently observed by the founders of the nation anyway, and that the time had now come for them to be swept away, and for Israel to take its place in the brotherhood of nations, under the Hellenistic world-monarchies. The major center for these Hellenized and assimilated Jews was Alexandria.

In the scholarly view, the author of Jubilees regarded all such views as fatal to Jewish religion and cultural identity. The Law, the book teaches, is of everlasting validity. Though revealed in time, it transcends time. Before it had been made known in sundry portions to the patriarchs, Jubilees avers, it had been kept in heaven by the angels, and there was no limit in time or in eternity to its supremacy. It explains how many of the individual rules of the Torah were first given to the patriarchs long before Moses’ day.

At the high point of the Maccabean dominion, in the high-priesthood of John Hyrcanus, the Pharisees looked for the immediate advent of the Messianic kingdom. This kingdom was to be ruled over by a Messiah sprung, not from Levi—that is, from the Maccabean family—but from Judah. This kingdom would be gradually realized on earth, and the transformation of physical nature would go hand in hand with the ethical transformation of man until there was a new heaven and a new earth. Thus, finally, all sin and pain would disappear and men would live past the age of 1,000 years in happiness and peace, and in death enjoy a blessed immortality in the Messianic kingdom.

According to the author of Jubilees, Hebrew was the language originally spoken by all creatures, animals and man, and is the language of Heaven. After the destruction of the tower of Babel, it was forgotten, until Abraham was taught it by the angels. Enoch was the first man initiated by the angels in the art of writing, and wrote down, accordingly, all the secrets of astronomy, of chronology, and of the world's epochs. Four classes of angels are mentioned: angels of the presence, angels of sanctifications, guardian angels over individuals, and angels presiding over the phenomena of nature. In regards to demonology, the writer's position is largely that of the deuterocanonical writings from both New and Old Testament times.

The Book of Jubilees narrates the genesis of angels on the first day of Creation and the story of how a group of fallen angels mated with mortal females, giving rise to a race of giants known as the Nephilim. The Ethiopian version, considered canonical in Ethiopia, clearly states that the "angels" were in fact the disobedient offspring of Seth (Deqiqa Set), while the "mortal females" were daughters of Cain. This is also the view held by most of the earliest commentators. Their hybrid children, the Nephilim in existence during the time of Noah, were wiped out by the great flood.

Biblical references to "giants" found in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua have confused some who regard these "giants" to be the same as the antediluvian Nephilim; the Hebrew words for "giants" in most of these verses are "Anakim" or "Rephaim." (One such verse, Num. 13:33, does refer to the sons of Anak as 'Nephilim'.) These references do not necessarily contradict the account of the original Nephilim being completely destroyed in the Deluge. However, Jubilees does state that God granted ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim to try to lead mankind astray after the flood.


  1. R. H. Charles, in his introduction to his edition of Jubilees, 1913 Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  2. "A minute study of the text shows that it attests an independent form of the Hebrew text of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus. Thus it agrees with individual authorities such as the Samaritan or the LXX, or the Syriac, or the Vulgate, or the Targum of Onkelos against all the rest. Or again it agrees with two or more of these authorities in opposition to the rest, as for instance with the Massoretic and Samaritan against the LXX, Syriac and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic and Onkelos against the Samaritan, LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic, Samaritan and Syriac against the LXX or Vulgate." R.H. Charles, "Textual affinities," in his introduction to his edition of Jubilees, 1913 Retrieved February 28, 2008.
  3. Robin Lane Fox, a classicist and historian, discusses these multifarious sources of Old and New Testaments in layman's terms in Unauthorized Version (1992).
  4. James M. Scott, Geography in Early Judaism and Christianity: The Book of Jubilees (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 134. cf. For a Maccabean date of the book of Jubilees, see J.C. Vanderkam, Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees, HSM 14 (Missoula, Scholars Press, 1977), 214-85.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Abegg, Martin Jr. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0-06-060063-2
  • Davenport, Gene L. The Eschatology of the Book of Jubilees (Studia Post Biblica - Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism , No 20). Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-9004026001
  • Endres, John C. Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Jubilees. Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Monograph Series, 18. Catholic Biblical Assn of Amer, 1987. ISBN 978-0915170173
  • Lumpkin, Joseph, B. The Book of Jubilees; The Little Genesis, The Apocalypse of Moses. Fifth Estate, 2006. ISBN 978-1933580098
  • Schodde, George H. The Book of Jubilees. Greyden Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1570744488
  • Scott, James M. Geography in Early Judaism and Christianity: The Book of Jubilees. Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0521808125
  • Segal, Michael. "The Book of Jubilees: Rewritten Bible, Redaction, Ideology and Theology." Journal for the Study of Judaism. Brill Academic Publishers, 2007. ISBN 9004150579
  • Vanderkam, J.C. Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees, HSM 14, Missoula, Scholars Press, 1977. ISBN 978-0891301189

External links

All links retrieved October 4, 2022.


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