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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Book of Jubilees

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An apocryphal work of the Old Testament. The Book of Jubilees is the most advanced pre-Christian representative of the Midrashic tendency, which had already been at work in the Old Testament Chronicles. As the chronicler had rewritten the history of Israel and Judah from the standpoint of the Priests' Code, so our author re-edited from the Pharisaic standpoint of his time the history of the world from the creation to the publication of the Law on Sinai. His work constitutes the oldest commentary in the world on Genesis and part of Exodus, an enlarged Targum on these books, in which difficulties in the biblical narration are solved, gaps supplied, dogmatically offensive elements removed and the genuine spirit of later Judaism infused into the primitive history of the world.

1 Titles of the Book

2 Object

3 The Greek a Translation from the Hebrew

4 Textual Affinities

5 Date

6 Author


Titles of the Book

The book is variously entitled. First, it is known as 'Ico(317Naia, of 'Ico(377Xa.oc, Heb. ?'S»'77. This name is admirably adapted to our book, as it divides into jubilee periods of forty-nine years each the history of the world from the creation to the legislation on Sinai. Secondly, it is frequently designated "The Little Genesis," X€ rrri or MCKpoyb)co-ir, Heb. rin17 n'mn

This title may have arisen from its dealing more fully with details and minutiae than the biblical work. For the other names by which it is referred to, such as The Apocalypse of Moses, The Testament of Moses, The Book of Adam's Daughters and the Life of Adam, the reader may consult Charles's The Book of Jubilees, pp. xvii.-xx.


The object of our author was the defence and exposition of Judaism from the Pharisaic standpoint of the 2nd century B.C. against the disintegrating effects of Hellenism. In his elaborate defence of Judaism our author glorifies circumcision and the sabbath, the bulwarks of Judaism, as heavenly ordinances, the sphere of which was so far extended as to embrace Israel on earth. The Law, as a whole, was to our author the realization in time of what was in a sense timeless and eternal. Though revealed in time it was superior to time. Before it had been made known in sundry portions to the fathers, it had been kept in heaven by the angels, and to its observance there was no limit in time or in eternity. Our author next defends Judaism by his glorification of Israel. Whereas the various nations of the Gentiles were subject to angels, Israel was subject to God alone.

Israel was God's son, and not only did the nation stand in this relation to God, but also its individual members. Israel received circumcision as a sign that they were the Lord's, and this privilege of circumcision they enjoyed in common with the two highest orders of angels. Hence Israel was to unite with God and these two orders in the observance of the sabbath. Finally the destinies of the world were bound up with Israel. The world was renewed in the creation of the true man Jacob, and its final renewal was to synchronize with the setting-up of God's sanctuary in Zion and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. In this kingdom the Gentiles had neither part nor lot.

Versions: Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic and Latin. - Numerous fragments of the Greek Version have come down to us in Justin Martyr, Origen, Diodorus of Antioch, Isidore of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Malala, Syncellus and others. This version was the parent of the Ethiopic and Latin. The Ethiopic Version is most accurate and trustworthy, and indeed, as a rule, slavishly literal. It has naturally suffered from the corruptions incident to transmission through MSS. Thus dittographies are frequent and lacunae of occasional occurrence, but the version is singularly free from the glosses and corrections of unscrupulous scribes. The Latin Version, of which about one-fourth has been preserved, is where it exists of almost equal value with the Ethiopic. It has, however, suffered more at the hands of correctors. Notwithstanding, it attests a long array of passages in which it preserves the true text over against corruptions or omissions in the Ethiopic Version. Finally, as regards the Syriac Version, the evidence for its existence is not conclusive. It is based on the fact that a British Museum MS. contains a Syriac fragment entitled "Names of the wives of the Patriarchs according to the Hebrew Book of Jubilees." The Ethiopic and Latin Versions: Translations from the Greek. - The Ethiopic Version is translated from the Greek, for Greek words such as Spus, OaXavos, aiifi, &c., are transliterated in the Greek. Secondly, many passages must be retranslated into Greek before we can discover the source of the various corruptions. And finally, proper names are transliterated as they appear in Greek and not in Hebrew. That the Latin is also a translation from the Greek is no less obvious. Thus in xxxix. 12 timoris=5aXias, corrupt for SovXeias; in xxxviii. 13 honorem = rc,ow, but ri uijv should here have been rendered by tributum, as the Ethiopic and the context require; in xxxii. 26, celavit = ii pw,tie, corrupt for - ypat/ie (so Ethiopic).

The Greek a Translation from the Hebrew

The early date of our book - the 2nd century B.C. - and its place of composition speak for a Semitic original, and the evidence bearing on this subject is conclusive. But the question at once arises, was the original Aramaic or Hebrew? Certain proper names in the Latin Version ending in -in seem to bespeak an Aramaic original, as Cettin, Filistin, &c. But since in all these cases the Ethiopic transliterations end in -m and not in -n, it is not improbable that the Aramaism in the Latin Version is due to the translator, who, it has been concluded on other grounds, was a Palestinian Jew.' The grounds, on the other hand, for a Hebrew original are weighty and numerous. (I) A work which claims to be from the hand of Moses would naturally be in Hebrew, for Hebrew according to our author was the sacred and national language. (2) The revival of the national spirit of a nation is universally, so far as we know, accompanied by a revival of the national language. (3) The text must be retranslated into Hebrew in order to explain unintelligible expressions and restore the true text. One instance will sufficiently illustrate this statement. In xliii. i I a certain Ethiopic expression = Ev Eµoi, which is a mistranslation of '; for '1 in this context, as we know from the parallel passage in Gen. xliv. 18, which our text reproduces almost verbally, = Shoµat. We might observe here that our text attests the presence of dittographies already existing in the Hebrew text. (4) Hebraisms survive in the Ethiopic and Latin Versions. In the former nuba in iv. 4, is a corrupt transliteration of n. In the Latin eligere in to in xxii. 10 is a reproduction of 1 irt2 and in qua ... in ipsa in xix. 8 ='f1 ... vim. This idiom could, of course, be explained on the hypothesis of an Aramaic original. (5) Many paronomasiae discover themselves on retranslation into Hebrew.

Textual Affinities

A minute study of the text shows that it attests an independent form of the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch. Thus it agrees at times with the Samaritan, or Septuagint, or Syriac, or Vulgate, or even with Onkelos against all the rest. To be more exact, our book represents some form of the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch midway between the forms presupposed by the Septuagint and the Syriac; for it agrees more frequently with the Septuagint, or with combinations into which the Septuagint enters, than with 1 In the Ethiopic Version in xxi. 12 it should be observed that in the list of the twelve trees suitable for burning on the altar several are transliterated Aramaic names of trees. But in a late Hebrew work (2nd century B.C.) the popular names of such objects would naturally be used. In certain cases the Hebrew may have been forgotten, or, where the tree was of late introduction, been non-existent.

any other single authority, or with any combination excluding the Septuagint. Next to the Septuagint it agrees most often with the Syriac or with combinations into which the Syriac enters. On the other hand, its independence of the Septuagint is shown in a large number of passages, where it has the support of the Samaritan and Massoretic, or of these with various combinations of the Syriac Vulgate and Onkelos. From these and other considerations we may conclude that the textual evidence points to the composition of our book at some period between 250 B.C. and A.D. 100, and at a time nearer the earlier date than the later.


The book was written between 135 B.C. and the year of Hyrcanus's breach with the Pharisees. This conclusion is drawn from the following facts: - (1) The book was written during the pontificate of the Maccabean family, and not earlier than 135 B.C. For in xxxii. 1 Levi is called a "priest of the Most High God." Now the only high priests who bore this title were the Maccabean, who appear to have assumed it as reviving the order of Melchizedek when they displaced the Zadokite order of Aaron. Jewish tradition ascribes the assumption of this title to John Hyrcanus. It was retained by his successors down to Hyrcanus II. (2) It was written before 96 B.C. or some years earlier in the reign of John Hyrcanus; for since our author is of the strictest sect a Pharisee and at the same time an upholder of the Maccabean pontificate, Jubilees cannot have been written after 96 when the Pharisees and Alexander Jannaeus came to open strife. Nay more, it cannot have been written after the open breach between Hyrcanus and the Pharisees, when the former joined the Sadducean party.

The above conclusions are confirmed by a large mass of other evidence postulating the same date. We may, however, observe that our book points to the period already past - of stress and persecution that preceded the recovery of national independence under the Maccabees, and presupposes as its historical background the most flourishing period of the Maccabean hegemony.


Our author was a Pharisee of the straitest sect. He maintained the everlasting validity of the law, he held the strictest views on circumcision, the sabbath, and the duty of shunning all intercourse with the Gentiles; he believed in angels and in a blessed immortality. In the next place he was an upholder of the Maccabean pontificate. He glorifies Levi's successors as high-priests and civil rulers, and applies to them the title assumed by the Maccabean princes, though he does not, like the author of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, expect the Messiah to come forth from among them. He may have been a priest.

The Views of the Author on the Messianic Kingdom and the Future Life. - According to our author the Messianic kingdom was to be brought about gradually by the progressive spiritual development of man and a corresponding transformation of nature. Its members were to reach the limit of woo years in happiness and peace. During its continuance the powers of evil were to be restrained, and the last judgment was apparently to take place at its close. As regards the doctrine of a future life, our author adopts a position novel for a Palestinian writer. He abandons the hope of a resurrection of the body. The souls of the righteous are to enjoy a blessed immortality after death. This is the earliest attested instance of this expectation in the last two centuries B.C.


Ethiopic Text and Translations: This text was first edited by Dillmann from two MSS. in 1859, and in 1895 by R. H. Charles from four ( The Ethiopic Version of the Hebrew Book of Jubilees ... with the Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and Latin fragments). In the latter edition, the Greek and Latin fragments are printed together with the Ethiopic. The book was translated into German by Dillmann from one MS. in Ewald's Jahrbiicher, vols. ii. and iii. (1850, 1851), and by Littmann (in Kautzsch's Apok. and Pseud. ii. 39-119) from Charles's Ethiopic text; into English by Schodde ( Bibl. Sacr. 1885) from Dillmann's text, and by Charles ( Jewish Quarterly Review, vols. v., vi., vii. (1893-1895) from the text afterwards published in 1895, and finally in his commentary, The Book of Jubilees (1902). Critical Inquiries: Dillmann, "Das Buch der Jubilen" (Ewald's Jahrbiicher d. bibl. Wissensch. (1851), iii. 72-96); "Pseudepig. des Alten Testaments," Herzog's Realencyk. 2 xii. 364-365; "Beitrage aus dem Buche der Jubilaen zur Kritik des Pentateuch Textes" ( Sitzungsberichte der Kgl. Preussischen Akad., 1883); Beer, Das Buch der Jubilden (1856); Ronsch, Das Buch der Jubilden (1874); Singer, Das Buch der Jubilden (1898); Bohn, "Die Bedeutung des Buches der Jubilaen" ( Theol. Stud. and Kritiken (1900), pp. 167-184). A full bibliography will be found in Schiirer or in R. H. Charles's commentary, The Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis (1902), which deals exhaustively with all the questions treated in this article. (R. H. C.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Book of Jubilees'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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