Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Book of Jubilees

The Book of Jubilees expands upon Genesis to recast the traditions of Judaism in the light of traditionalist concerns of the 2nd century BCE. It 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 Law. 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 decreee.

The Book of Jubilees, sometimes called the Lesser Genesis (Leptogenesis), 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.


Internal evidence of the text reveals that the Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew between the year that Hyrcanus became high priest, in 135 BCE, and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 BCE, and that the author was a Pharisee. It is the product of the midrash which has already been at work in the Old Testament Chronicles. As the Chronicler had rewritten the history of Israel and Judah from the 7th century BCE point-of-view of the Priests' Code, 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 incorporated a large body of traditional midrashic lore. His work enlarges upon 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 genuine spirit of later Judaism, not unlike the way the Deuteronomist recast older materials to create Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

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 was 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 (which indeed was true), 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.

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 transcend 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.

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, as some contemporaries contended— 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 intil there was a new heaven and a new earth. Thus, finally, all sin and pain would disappear and men would live to the age of 1,000 years in happiness and peace, and after death enjoy a blessed immortality in the spirit world.

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, viz 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 New Testament and of the Old-Testament apocryphal writings.

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 known as the grigori mated with mortal females, giving rise to a race of giants known as the Nephilim. The Nephilim which were in existence during the time of Noah were wiped out by the great flood. However, biblical accounts found in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua indicate that the Nephilim, as well as other races of giants who were the progeny of the Nephilim, were reconstituted after the flood, presumably by angels who fell from grace after the flood.

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 more complete Ethiopic manuscripts that date to the 15th and 16th centuries. 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, both before and after the time of Christ, Hebrew texts did not possess any single hard and fast 'authorized' tradition.

A further fragment in Syriac in the British Musem. titled Names of the wives of the patriatchs 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.

External Links