Book of Jubilees
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0111
- LAST REVIEWED: 18 June 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0111
The Book of Jubilees is a Jewish book from the 2nd century BCE that presents the narrative of Genesis and Exodus 1–20 by retelling many of the stories in these books from a different perspective. Included in the collection of Jewish works known as the Pseudepigrapha, it has been known in the West only since the1840s, when European travelers acquired manuscripts from monasteries in Ethiopia and transported some of them to European locations. Preliminary studies of these manuscripts led scholars to believe that they were texts of a book previously known from citations from early Christian literature in Greek, fragments of which had been collected and published in the 1720s. Even before the discovery of Hebrew manuscripts at Qumran, it was argued that the book had been written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek; from the Greek, translations were made into Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic. The revelatory framework is connected with Mount Sinai, where the events of God’s revelation to Moses in Exodus 20–24 set the background of the story. In Jubilees, however, the author recounts a revelation to Moses that came about quite differently: here, the angel of presence reads aloud to Moses the contents of the book from the heavenly tablets. This book creates the impression that most of Israel’s important laws, even those revealed at Sinai according to the Torah, already existed during the era of the patriarchs and matriarchs; thus, the antiquity of Jewish laws can be sustained from Jubilees. Related to these laws is the covenant between God and Israel; unlike the Torah (which includes covenants addressed to Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses), there appears to be only one covenant in this book, and it remains operative for all time. As a covenant people, Israel’s role is to live a priestly existence, which necessitates separation from all other nations. Jubilees contains further novel aspects: the prominence of women in this era, the roles of the angels in the revelatory scheme, and the ideological and theological expressions in prayer and testamentary speeches.
Since the discovery, publication, and translation of the book, scholars have generally considered it to be Jewish, from the last centuries BCE or the first centuries CE. A standard position on authorship in Hebrew in 2nd century BCE is articulated in Charles 1913. Frey 1928 offered French readers a helpful introduction without arguing for composition in any particular group. After discovery of Jubilees manuscripts at Qumran, Testuz 1960 linked the book to Essene groups. A more general Second Temple context was stressed in Sanders 1977, where the focus was the Jewish milieu of the Pauline writings. VanderKam 1992 and VanderKam 2000 show that discovery of manuscripts of Jubilees at Qumran expands scholarly understanding of the book. The connections to Enoch traditions are stressed in Nickelsburg 2005 and also in VanderKam 2001. Crawford 2008 reminds readers that Jubilees predates the Qumran community and thus influenced the ways it read and interpreted scripture.
Charles, R. H. “The Book of Jubilees.” In Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. By R. H. Charles. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913.
Charles described the book as a Pharisaic composition, written in Hebrew between 135 and 105 BCE, to counter the influence of Hellenism. His presentation is important because of the great influence it exerted on the study of Jubilees.
Crawford, Sidnie White. Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
Jubilees is presented in this book as a text known before the Dead Sea discoveries that held scriptural status in the Qumran community. Crawford describes its genre as “rewritten scripture,” which reworked the collection of scriptures but did not intend to replace Genesis and Exodus. See especially the introduction, pp. 1–18, and the chapter on Jubilees, pp. 60–83.
Frey, J. B. “Apocryphes de l’Ancien Testament. 2. Le livre des Jubilés.” In Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplements. Vol. 1. Edited by Louis Pirot, 371–380. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1928.
This comprehensive study of introductory issues dates the book to the middle of the 2nd century BCE. Frey resists the temptation to assign authorship to a particular (sectarian) Jewish group.
Nickelsburg, George W. E. Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.
Argues that Jubilees offers another example of the interpretation of the Bible, and it is closely related to reformist groups responsible for parts of 1 Enoch. In this clear, concise presentation, the author stresses topics such as halakhah, instruction, encouragement, and warnings. See pp. 69–74.
Sanders, E. P. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.
As part of the milieu of Paul’s thought, Sanders discusses Jubilees on pp. 362–386 as a text of Second Temple Judaism where “covenantal nomism” is evident. Sanders treats topics such as election, the commandments, salvation, and the Gentiles in a work that significantly affected the study of Paul.
Testuz, Michel. Les idées religieuses du livre des Jubilés. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 1960.
This classic study of Jubilees, undertaken before the full impact of Qumran discoveries was known, describes its angelology, eschatology, determinism, and exclusivism. Testuz relates its ideas to an Essene group in the final years of John Hyrcanus, c. 110 BCE.
VanderKam, James. “Jubilees, Book of.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 1030–1032. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1992.
This article focuses on the priestly orientation of the book, its date (between 170 and 140 BCE), the importance of law and covenant in Israel’s religion, and the textual history of the book.
VanderKam, James C. “Jubilees, Book of.” In Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Vol. 1. Edited by Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam, 434–438. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
In addition to VanderKam’s stated views on Jubilees, this article focuses more on information relating to the finds at Qumran, particularly paleographic evidence of scroll fragments, and a concise listing of the scrolls.
VanderKam, James. The Book of Jubilees. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.
An excellent introduction, covering its discovery, textual tradition, historical details, the contents of the book, and an overview of significant topics of research (e.g., its theology, relationship with Genesis-Exodus, and influence on later literature). Most useful guide to study this book for students, professionals, and academicians.
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