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The Book of Jubilees (Hebrew: ספר היובלים Sefer haYovelim), sometimes called the Lesser Genesis (Leptogenesis), is an ancient Jewish religious work, considered one of the Pseudepigrapha by most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians. It was well known to Early Christian writers in the East and the West, as well as by the Rabbis. Later it was so thoroughly suppressed that no complete Hebrew, Greek or Latin version has survived.It is considered canonical for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, where it is known as the Book of Division (Ge'ez: Mets'hafe Kufale). In the modern scholarly view, it reworks material found in the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus in the light of concerns of some 2nd century BC Jews.

The Book of Jubilees 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 Torah or "Instruction") by Angels while Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. The chronology given in Jubilees is based on multiples of seven; the jubilees are periods of 49 years, seven 'year-weeks', into which all of time has been divided. According to the author of Jubilees, all proper customs that mankind should follow are determined by God's decree

Manuscripts of Jubilees

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only surviving manuscripts of Jubilees were fragmentary quotations in Greek (in a work by Epiphanius, for example), a preserved fragment of a Latin translation of the Greek that contains about a quarter of the whole work, and four Ethiopic manuscripts that date to the 15th and 16th centuries, which are complete.[1] The Ethiopic texts, now numbering twenty-seven, are the primary basis for translations into English. Passages in the texts of Jubilees that are directly parallel to verses in Genesis do not directly reproduce either of the two surviving manuscript traditions;[2] consequently, the lost Hebrew original is thought to have used an otherwise unrecorded text for Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, one that was independent of either the Masoretic text or the earlier Hebrew text that was the basis for the Septuagint. As the variation among parallel manuscript traditions that are exhibited by the Septuagint compared with the Masoretic text and which are embodied in the further variants among the Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated, even canonical Hebrew texts did not possess any single hard and fast 'authorized' manuscript tradition, in the first centuries BC.

A further fragment in Syriac in the British Museum, titled Names of the wives of the patriarchs according to the Hebrew books called Jubilees suggests that there once existed a Syriac translation. How much is missing can be guessed from the Stichometry of Nicephorus, where 4300 stichoi or lines are attributed to The Book of Jubilees.

Between 1947 and 1956 approximately 15 Jubilees scrolls were found in five caves at Qumran, all written in Hebrew. The large quantity of manuscripts (more than for any biblical books except for Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Exodus, and Genesis, in descending order) indicates that Jubilees was widely used at Qumran. A comparison of the Qumran texts with the Ethiopic version, performed by James VanderKam, found that the Ethiopic was in most respects an accurate and literalistic translation.


Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the predominant scholarly view was that expressed by Robert Henry Charles. Based on internal evidence, he maintained that the Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew between the year that Hyrcanus became high priest (135 BC) and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in (105 BC), and that the author was a Pharisee. Jubilees would be the product of the midrash which had already been at work in the Old Testament Chronicles:

"As the Chronicler had rewritten the history of Israel and Judah from the basis of the Priests' Code, so our author re-edited in turn, from the Pharisaic standpoint of his time, the history of events from the Creation to the publication or, according to the author's view, the republication of the law on Sinai. In the course of re-editing, he incorporated a large body of traditional lore, which the midrashic process had put at his disposal, and also not a few fresh legal enactments that the exigencies of the past had called forth. His work constitutes an enlarged Targum on 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 spirit of Pharisaic Judaism."

After the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Pharisaic hypothesis of the origin of the document has been almost completely abandoned. Jubilees also lacks Sadducaic and Essenic concern for cultic and ritual purity (concentrating on moral purity). Its hero Jacob is not a priest; it goes so far as to put Jacob into contact with his dead grandfather.

The majority of scholars locate Jubilees in the context of Jewish apocalypticism.

Subsequent Use

Jubilees was immediately adopted by the Hasmoneans, and became a source for the Aramaic Levi Document.[3] Jubilees remained a point of reference for priestly circles (although they disputed its calendric proposal), and the Temple Scroll and "Epistle of Enoch" (1 Enoch 91:1-10, 92:3-93:10, 91:11-92:2, 93:11-105:3) are based on Jubilees.[4] It is the source for certain of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, for instance that of Reuben.[5]

There is no official record of it in Pharisaic or Rabbinic sources, and it was among several books that were left out of the canon established by the Sanhedrin (possibly at Yavne, ca. 80 AD). Sub rosa, many of the traditions which Jubilees includes for the first time are echoed in later Jewish sources, including some 12th-century midrashim which may have had access to a Hebrew copy.

The book of Jubilees was evidently held in high regard, and sometimes quoted, by the Early Church Fathers of the Christian Church. In the 4th century, after Bishops had been appointed by the Roman Emperor Constantine, they rejected many of the books that did not appear in the Masoretic version, including Jubilees. The Oriental Orthodox Churches continued to consider Jubilees an important book of the Bible and older than Genesis. The Ethiopians accept the account given in the book itself, of having been given to Moses atop Mt. Sinai. It is only through the canons of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, that were outside the jurisdiction of Rome that the book in its entirety has managed to survive at all


The author of Jubilees 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 of his contemporaries expected — 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 until 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."[1]

According to this author, 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: 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 deuterocanonical writings from both New and Old Testament times.

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 mated with mortal females, giving rise to a race of giants known as the Nephilim. The Ethiopian version states that the "angels" were in fact the disobedient offspring of Seth (Deqiqa Set), while the "mortal females" were daughters of Cain[6]. This is also the view held by most of the earliest commentators. Their hybrid children, the Nephilim in existence during the time of Noah, were wiped out by the great flood.

Biblical references to "giants" found in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua have confused some who regard these "giants" to be the same as the antediluvian Nephilim; the Hebrew words for "giants" in most of these verses are "Anakim" or "Rephaim". (One such verse, Num. 13:33, does refer to the sons of Anak as 'Nephilim'.) These references do not necessarily contradict the account of the original Nephilim being completely destroyed in the Deluge. However, Jubilees does state that God granted ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim to try to lead mankind astray after the flood.


Jubilees bases its take on Enoch on the "Book of Watchers", 1 Enoch 1-36.[7]

Its sequence of events leading to the Flood match those of the Maccabean-era "Dream Visions", 1 Enoch 83-90. However the direction of dependence is controversial.[8]

See also

  • Wives aboard the Ark


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Book of Jubilees (Int., tr.), from "The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament", by R. H. Charles. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913
  2. "A minute study of the text shows that it attests an independent form of the Hebrew text of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus. Thus it agrees with individual authorities such as the Samaritan or the LXX, or the Syriac, or the Vulgate, or the Targum of Onkelos against all the rest. Or again it agrees with two or more of these authorities in opposition to the rest, as for instance with the Massoretic and Samaritan against the LXX, Syriac and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic and Onkelos against the Samaritan, LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic, Samaritan and Syriac against the LXX or Vulgate." R.H. Charles, "Textual affinities", in his introduction to his edition of Jubilees, 1913 [1].
  3. Kugel, 167
  4. Boccacini 99-101, 104-113 respectively
  5. Kugel, 110
  6. Ethiopian Orthodox Church's canonical Amharic version of Jubilees, 5:21 - readable on p. 14 of this file.
  7. Gabriele Boccacini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis (Eerdmans: 1998)
  8. Kugel, 252, n.37


  • James C. VanderKam. The Book of Jubilees (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. ISBN 1850757674. ISBN 9781850757672.
  • Martin Jr. Abegg. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1999. ISBN 0-06-060063-2.
  • James C. VanderKam. The Book of Jubilees. Leuven: Peeters, 1989. ISBN 978-90-429-0552-8.
  • James C. VanderKam. The Book of Jubilees. A Critical Text. Leuven: Peeters, 1989. ISBN 978-90-429-0551-1.
  • John C. Endres. Biblical Interpretation in the Book of Jubilees (Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 18) Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1987. ISBN 0915170175.
  • Orval S. Wintermute, "Jubilees", in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985) 2:35-142
  • James C. VanderKam. Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees (Harvard Semitic monographs, no. 14) Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977.
  • Albert-Marie Denis. Concordance latine du Liber Jubilaeorum sive parva Genesis (Informatique et étude de textes 4; Louvain: CETEDOC, 1973)
  • Gene L. Davenport. The Eschatology of the Book of Jubilees (SPB 20) Leiden: Brill, 1971.
  • Michel Testuz. Les idées religieuses du livre des Jubilés Geneva: Droz, 1960.
  • Chanoch Albeck. Das Buch der Jubiläen und die Halacha Berlin: Scholem, 1930.
  • Robert Henry Charles. The Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis, Translated from the Editor's Ethiopic Text, and Edited with Introduction, Notes, and Indices (London: 1902).
  • Robert Henry Charles. The Ethiopic Version of the Hebrew Book of Jubilees. Oxford: Clarendon, 1895.
  • August Dillmann, and Hermann Rönsch. Das Buch der Jubiläen; oder, Die kleine Genesis. Leipzig: 1874.
  • August Dillmann. "Mashafa kufale sive Liber Jubilaeorum... aethiopice". Kiel, and London: Van Maack, Williams &Norgate, 1859.

External links