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What is the Book of Jubilees and should it be in the Bible?

Book of Jubilees audio

The Book of Jubilees, sometimes called the “Lesser Genesis,” “Little Genesis,” or “The Testament of Moses,” is a pseudepigraphal work of Jewish apocalyptic literature. It was probably written in the second century BC, sometime between 135 and 105. The Book of Jubilees records an account of biblical history from the creation of the world to the time of Moses, as delivered to Moses by an angel on Sinai. The book divides history into periods or “jubilees” of 49 years. Generally, the Book of Jubilees follows the account of creation as recorded in the Book of Genesis, but it inserts interesting details such as the names of Adam’s daughters and the creation of angels. Some scholars consider the Book of Jubilees to be an extended midrash on Genesis through the first part of Exodus.

The only complete text of the Book of Jubilees still extant is an Ethiopic manuscript from the sixth century AD. It contains 1,307 verses. Most scholars believe that the book was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. That theory is bolstered by the discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls of fragmented Hebrew texts containing portions of the Book of Jubilees. So far, at least fifteen separate manuscripts of the Book of Jubilees have been identified at Qumran. All have been reduced to fragments (“The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Book of Jubilees,” VanderKam, J., and Morgan, S., The Missouri Review, the College of Arts & Science of the University of Missouri, 12/1/1992), and those fragments provide only about 3 percent of the total content of the book. There are also some fragments of Jubilees existing today in Greek and Latin, but nowhere near a complete book in either of those languages or in Hebrew.

According to the Book of Jubilees, on Mt. Sinai “the angel of the presence spake to Moses according to the word of the Lord, saying: Write the complete history of the creation” (Jubilees 2:1, Charles, R. H., trans., 1902). This angel told Moses that God created various categories of angels on the first day of creation. Great stress is laid on the Sabbath in Jubilees 2:17–32. In chapter 3, Adam and Eve are in Eden for a period of seven years. Then, after “seven years exactly,” the serpent tempted Eve (Jubilees 3:17). It was only after the fall that Adam had sex with his wife (Jubilees 3:34).

Jubilees chapter 4 introduces Noah and his wife (who is named Emzara). Chapter 5 narrates the flood. The author of Jubilees writes that, after the flood, God says to Noah, “Command thou the children of Israel that they observe the years according to this reckoning—three hundred and sixty-four days, and (these) will constitute a complete year” (Jubilees 5:32). The 364-day solar year (rather than the 360-day lunar year) is one of the main thrusts of the Book of Jubilees.

Some scholars have pointed out that it appears that Jubilees was written precisely for the purpose of pushing the author’s commitment to a solar-based calendar. In Jubilees, God is concerned that His people might “disturb all their seasons and the years will be dislodged . . . and they will neglect their ordinances” (Jubilees 6:33). It’s true that the sun keeps a more regular schedule than the moon. So, in Jubilees, to prevent confusion and to keep holy days from getting “dislodged,” God instituted the 364-day solar calendar. Under that system, since 7 is a factor of 364, the same date falls on the same day of the week each year (e.g., every year July 4 would be on the same day of the week).

The command governing the calendar reflects another major emphasis in Jubilees: the laws concerning Sabbaths, Passover, firstfruits, and other holy days. The author of Jubilees claims that the feasts of the Lord were observed by the patriarchs long before the time of Moses. Circumcision is also stressed in the book, which promises “great wrath from the Lord” on uncircumcised Israelites (Jubilees 15:40).

The author of the Book of Jubilees was probably an Essene member of the Qumran community—the people who copied and preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls. Theological and cultural details within the book differ from the teachings of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The calendar system advocated in Jubilees is the one used in other Essene writings.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the only group today that accepts the Book of Jubilees as canonical. There are several problems with including the Book of Jubilees in the Bible as part of inspired Scripture. Probably the most significant is that the author of Jubilees, in retelling the story of Genesis, changes the biblical record in several respects. In general, the patriarchs are glorified as holy men who were scrupulous in keeping the law—even the ceremonial aspects—long before Moses climbed Sinai. As portayed in the Book of Jubilees, Jacob does not lie to his father; Isaac eventually declares Jacob to be his true heir, an elderly Jacob settles on Leah as the wife he loves, and Abram’s deceit of Pharaoh is never mentioned. Clearly, these heroes of the faith are handled with kid gloves by the author of Jubilees; in contrast, Scripture presents a candid record of their faults.

Further, the Book of Jubilees adds to the Law of Moses and goes far beyond Scripture in its stress on punishment. For example, if someone eats blood, “he and his seed shall be rooted out of the land” (Jubilees 6:18). A father who gives his daughter in marriage to a Gentile “shall surely die, and they shall stone him with stones . . . and they shall burn the woman with fire” (Jubilees 30:11–12). Adding to the Bible, the Book of Jubilees says that during the Feast of Tabernacles (which Abraham first celebrated) Israel is to “set wreaths upon their heads” and carry branches around the altar seven times each morning (Jubilees 16:39, 41). Also, Jubilees stipulates the type of wood to be used for the fire of the burnt offering (Jubilees 21:16–19).

In summary, the Book of Jubilees adds to the Mosaic Law, leans toward hagiography, introduces sectarian teachings regarding the calendar, and lacks sufficient manuscript evidence. For each of these reasons, Jubilees fails the standards of the canon of Scripture.

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What is the Book of Jubilees and should it be in the Bible?
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This page last updated: September 9, 2022