Book Of Jubilees

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The Book of Jubilees (ספר היובלים), sometimes called the Lesser Genesis (Leptogenesis), is an ancient Jewish religious work. It reworks material found in the Biblical books of Genesis and Exodus in the light of traditionalist concerns of some 2nd century BC Jews. It was well known to Early Christian writers in the East and the West. Later it was so thoroughly suppressed that no complete Greek or Latin version has survived. It is part of the Jewish midrash, canonic for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and considered apocryphal by Protestant, Roman Catholic, and most Eastern Orthodox Christians.

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 7; the 'jubilees' are periods of forty-nine years, seven 'year-weeks', into which all of time has been divided. According to the author of Jubilees, all customs and all human destiny are determined by God's decree.

Manuscripts of Jubilees

The surviving manuscripts of Jubilees are 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 15th and 16th centuries, which are more complete. The Ethiopic texts are the basis for translations into English (see links). The lost Hebrew original apparently used an otherwise unrecorded text for Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, one that was independent both of the Masoretic text or of the parallel texts that were translated as the Septuagint. As the Dead Sea Scrolls have emphasized, even canonic Hebrew texts did not possess any single hard and fast 'authorized' manuscript tradition, in the first centuries BC.

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 may once have existed a Syriac translation.

Fragments of 12 such manuscripts have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. How much is missing can be judged from the Stichometry of Nicephorus, where 4300 stichoi are assigned to The Book of Jubilees.


European scholars believe based on internal evidence that the Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew between the year that Hyrcanus became high priest (135 BC) and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in (105 BC), and that the author was a Pharisee. Jubilees is the product of the midrash which 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 enlarges upon some elements of Genesis and Exodus, solves difficulties in the narrative, gives details that were passed over in the originals, removes all offensive elements that could suggest any blemish in the actions of the patriarchs, and infuses the history with the spirit of later Judaism.

Because the Oriental Orthodox Churches consider Jubilees 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 Mount Sinai.

The book was evidently held in high regard by the Early Church Fathers of the Christian Church. However, the Pharisee party of Judaism declared it and several other books to be no longer included in the Hebrew Bible at the Sanhedrin of Yavneh c. 85 AD. Later, after Bishops had been appointed by the Roman Emperor Constantine, they similarly rejected many of the same books that had been rejected by Judaism at Yavneh, including Jubilees. 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.


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 fathers, 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 after 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. As regards 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. 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 erroneously regard these "giants" as the Nephilim; however the Hebrew words for "giants" in these verses are "Anakim" or "Rephaim", and these references in no way contradict the account of the 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.

See Apocalyptic Literature.

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