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Book of Jubilees

JUBILEES, BOOK OF. A Jewish apocalyptic book written in the intertestamental period. It gives a history of the world from the creation to the giving of the law, and defends Pharisaical views against liberal Hellenistic tendencies. See also Apocalyptic Literature.

JUBILEES, BOOK OF (τὰ ̓Ιωβηλαι̂α or οἱ̓ ̓Ιωβηλαι̂οι, הַיּוֹבְלִים); also known as “The Little Genesis” (ἡ λεπτὴ Γένεσις; בְּרֵאשִׁית זוּסָא); Apocalypse of Moses; The Testament of Moses, and other titles. A book generally included among the so-called Pseudep. of the OT. A halachicaggadic midrash to Genesis-Exodus 12.

The most common designation “Jubilees” refers to the fact that the book divides into jubilee periods of forty-nine years each the history of the world from the time of creation to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (cf. Lev 25). Israel entered Canaan according to the author at the close of the fiftieth jubilee, i.e. 2450 years after creation. The name “Little Genesis” was attached in some editions, because the book is a reproduction of the canonical Genesis, with more details, however, than the Biblical work, and extending to the narratives reported up to Exodus 12. Much that is characteristic of the book is due to the use of other Pseudep. and ancient traditions of a halachic and aggadic character. Jubilees appears to be the work of one author, who based his narrative on much older material. He interpreted earlier history in the light of the ideals of his own time, esp. the emphasis on legalism. The book can be compared with the rewriting of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings in the work of the Chronicler. The author tried to do with the traditions concerning the patriarchs and Moses what the author of Chronicles had done for the stories about Samuel and the kings of Israel and Judah. The patriarchs are presented in Jubilees as having been rigorous observers of the law, as it was understood during the time when the author lived. The work is closely related in spirit to writings like 1 Enoch and the older portions of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, but also to writings of the Qumran community. There is strong evidence to support the assumption that the author of Jubilees also belonged to this group. He may have been a priest, because he exalted Levi over Judah (cf. ch. 30 with Gen 49:5-12). The writer seems to have been a supporter of the Maccabean pontificate, since he applied to Levi’s successors the title first assumed by the Maccabean princes “priests of the Most High God” (32:1). The book was in all likelihood written shortly before or around 100 b.c. in Pal.; reasons given by some scholars for a much earlier date are not convincing and not generally accepted.

The book was written originally in Heb., but only fragments of several MSS in this language are preserved, having been discovered recently. An Ethiopic tr., dating back prob. to the 6th cent. a.d., was found and published in the middle of the 19th cent., and fragments of a Lat. tr., dating back prob. to the 5th cent., came to light in 1861, covering about one fourth of the whole. Both the Ethiopic and the Latin trs. go back to a Gr. tr. of the original Hebrew fragments of the book found at Qumran correspond closely to the Ethiopic and Latin trs. It therefore can be assumed that these provide relatively good versions of the original text.

The author claimed that an angel spoke to Moses upon God’s order and dictated the complete history of creation and that of early mankind until Moses’ own time. He was bidden to write down everything he heard. The angel is supposed to have used the heavenly chronological tablets for this dictation, namely “the tables of the divisions of years—from the time of creation—of the law, and of the testimony of the weeks of jubilees, according to the individual years, according to the number of the jubilees...” (1:29). Through these traditions the Israelites were supposed to get information about “the laws of the seasons, and the seasons according to the division of their days” (50:13). The laws were to be observed upon the threat of divine punishment.

The theology expressed in Jubilees differs in many respects from that of the OT. The author expected a Messiah sprung from Judah, without however attaching much significance to this figure. A messianic kingdom was to be brought about gradually, resulting in one thousand years of peace and happiness. A final judgment was expected at the end of this messianic age. There is no hope for the resurrection of the body expressed, but rather an immortality of the souls of the righteous after death was to take place. There are parallels in the belief in angels and demons between Jubilees and the NT, views which were shared also by the Pharisees, but not by the Sadducees (cf. Acts 23:7). In many other respects, however, there are marked differences from the NT. The laws concerning Sabbath observances, tithes, marriage, circumcision, Passover, firstfruits and others, were stricter than even those preserved in the Talmudic lit. The author expressed the view that there was no longer any prophet, because the law had made the free exercise of such an office an offense against itself and God.

A matter of much scholarly debate is the calendar for the festive seasons suggested in Jubilees. It seems quite likely that the Qumran community used the one claimed to be the law of God in this book, which was radically different from that calendar which was used by the Pharisees and Sadducees respectively. It is this evidence in particular, which makes it likely that the author was not a Pharisee, but a Qumran covenanter. It is certain, in any case, that Jubilees influenced that community more than any other group in Judaism.

Jubilees expressed the view that there was no hope whatsoever for the Gentiles. Complete separation from them was the best course of action. This certainly was in the most radical way practiced at Qumran; but it was the opposite of what the early Christians learned to do (cf. Acts 11:18; et al.).


R. H. Charles (ed.), “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament,” vol. II (1913), 1-82; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of the New Testament Times: with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 68ff.; A Dupont-Sommer, The Jewish sect of Qumran and the Essenes: New Studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls, tr. from the French by R. D. Barnett (1956), 108ff.; C. Rabin, “Qumran Studies,” Scripta Judaica II (1957), 77ff.; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, tr. by Peter R. Ackroyd (1966), 606ff.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Apocalyptic Literature; Apocrypha.

See also

  • Apocalyptic Literature
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