The Book of Jubilees

(Ha-Sefer Yobel)




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From The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament
by R.H. Charles, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913
Scanned and Edited by Joshua Williams, Northwest Nazarene College



JUBILEES, BOOK OF (τὰ̀ ̓Ιωβηλαῖα or οἱ̓ ̓Ιωβηλαῖοιהַיּﯴבְלִים); also known as “The Little Genesis” (ἡ λεπτὴ̀ Γένεσιςבְּרֵאשִׁית זוּסָא); Apocalypse of Moses; The Testament of Moses, and other titles. A book generally included among the so-called Pseudep. of the OLD COVENANT/TESTAMENT. 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 Chronicles. 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 HEBREW 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 says) This book was written during the 40 days that Moses was on Mount Sinai after receiving the TEN COMMANDMENTS.A HOLY 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 HOLY 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 BOOK OF JUBILEES was one of the books of the OLD COVENANT/TESTAMENT. 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 HOLY ANGELS and demons between BOOK OF JUBILEES and the NEW COVENANT/TESTAMENT, 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 NEW CONVENANT/TESTAMENT. The LAWSconcerning SABBATH observances,TITHES, MARRIAGE,CIRCUMCISION, PASSOVER, FIRST FRUITS and others, were very STRICT.

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 (MESSIANIC JEWS) Christians learned to do (cf. Acts 11:18; et al.).

Bibliography 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 Timeswith 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.




The BOOK OF JUBILEES was ONE of the many BOOKS that were REVEALED to Moses during his 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai (2Esdras 14:1-6). Moses was commanded to declare some things to all; and some things were to be hidden. The “SECRETS OF TIMES” in 2 Esdras 14 is a direct REFERENCE to the book of Jubilees.

Jubilees 12:24. And I shall be a GOD to thee and thy SON, and to thy son’s SON, and to all thy SEED: fear not, from henceforth and unto all generations of the earth I AM thy GOD.”

25. And the Lord GOD said: “Open his MOUTH and his EARS, that he may hear and SPEAK with HIS MOUTH, with the LANGUAGE which hath been REVEALED”; for it had ceased from the mouths of all the CHILDREN of MEN from the day of the OVERTHROW (of BABEL).

26. And I OPENED HIS MOUTH, and his EARS and his LIPS, and I began to speak with him in Hebrew in the TONGUE OF CREATION.

27. And he took the BOOKS of his fathers, and these were WRITTEN in Hebrew and he TRANSCRIBED them, and he began from henceforth to STUDY them, and I MADE KNOWN to him that which he could not (understand), and he studied them during the six rainy months.

This LANGUAGE was given to the first man Adam and was eventually passed down through Adam’s chosen lineage starting with Seth.  It was eventually was passed down to Eber; through which the name Hebrew derives.  Eber passed it down to his son Peleg (division).

During the time of Peleg, the LANGUAGES were divided.  Yet,Peleg preserved the LANGUAGE and passed it down to his son Reu.

Genesis 11:2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

Gen 11:3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

Gen 11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a CITY and a TOWER, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Gen 11:5 And the LORD came down to see the CITY and the TOWER, which the children of men built.

When the Most High perceived what the multitude was attempting to accomplish, HE sent forth HIS ANGELS to CONFUSE the LANGUAGES of PEOPLE. Soon after the CONFUSION of the TONGUES, the NATIONS were SCATTERED throughout the earth. Each INDIVIDUAL migrated to their PARTICULAR REGION according to their TONGUE:

Gen 11:6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Gen 11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.  

Gen 11:8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Even though the TONGUES were SPLIT, the same BELIEFS, WORSHIPS, and MINDSET to one day fight against the Most High made its way to each REGION in which these nations migrated. We will go into more detail with this subject a little later. The TONGUES were originally split into 70 DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. This fact is document in both the Book of Jasher and the Testament of Naphtali, which can be read from the Pseudepigrapha: