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An apocryphal writing, so called from the fact that the narratives and stories contained in it are arranged throughout in a fanciful chronological system of jubilee-periods of forty-nine years each; each event is recorded as having taken place in such a week of such a month of such a Jubilee year. The author assumes an impossible solar year of 364 days (i.e. twelve months of thirty days each, and four intercalary days) to which the Jewish ecclesiastical year of thirteen months of twenty-eight days each exactly corresponds. The whole chronology, for which the author claims heavenly authority, is based upon the number seven. Thus the week had 7 days; the month 4x7=28; the year 52x7=364; the year week 7 years; and the Jubilee 7x7=49. It is also called "Little Genesis" (he Lepte Genesis), or "Lepto-Genesis," not on account of its size, for it is considerably larger than the Canonical Genesis, but owing to its minor or inferior authority as compared with the latter. It is also called "Apocalypse of Moses," "The Life of Adam," and in Ethiopic it is called "Kufale." In the "Decretum Gelasianum" concerning the canonical and apocryphal books of Scripture, we find among the apocrypha a work entitled "Liber de filiabus Adae Leptogenesis" (Book of the daughters of Adam Little Genesis), which is probably a combination of two titles belonging to two separate works. The book is also mentioned by Jerome, in his Epistle "ad Fabiolam," in connection with the name of a place called Rissa (Num., xxxiii, 21), and by Epiphanius and by Didymus of Alexandria, which shows that it was well known both in the East and in the West.
The Book of Jubilees was originally written in Hebrew and, according to Charles ("Book of Jubilees," London, 1902), partly in verse; but it has come down to us in its complete form only in Ethiopic, and also in various fragments, Greek and Latin. The Ethiopic text was first edited by Dillmann in 1859 ("Kufale sive Liber Jubilaeorum, aethiopice ad duorum librorum manuscriptorum fidem, primum edidit Dillmann," Kiel, 1859), who in 1850-51 had already published a German version of it in Ewald's "Jahrbücher der Biblischen Wissenschaft," vol. II, 1850, pp. 230-256; vol. III, 1851, pp.1-96. The incomplete Latin version was first discovered and edited in 1861, by the late Monsignor Ceriani, prefect of the Ambrosiana, in his "Monumenta Sacra et Profana," vol. I, fasc. I, pp. 15-54. The Greek fragments are scattered in the writings of various Byzantine chroniclers such as Syncellus, Cedrenus, Zonoras, and Glycas. The incomplete Latin version, which like the Ethiopic was made from the Greek, was re-edited in 1874 by Rönsch, accompanied with a Latin rendering by Dillmann of the corresponding portion in the Ethiopic version, with a very valuable commentary and several excursus ("Das Buch der Jubiläen oder die kleine Genesis etc.," Leipzig, 1874). In 1900 Dr. Littmann published a newer German version of the Ethiopic text in Kautzsch's "Apocryphen und Pseudoepigraphen," 3rd ed., vol. III, pp. 274 sqq., and, in 1888, Dr. Schodde published the first English version of the book ("Book of Jubilees," Oberlin, Ohio, 1888). In 1895 the Ethiopic text was re-edited in a revised form by Charles, and by him translated into English in 1893-5 in the "Jewish Quarterly Review" (Oct., 1893, July, 1894, January, 1895), and subsequently in a separate volume with many additional notes and discussions ("The Book of Jubilees," London, 1902). A French translation is promised by the Abbé F. Martin, professor of Semitic languages at the Catholic Institute of Paris, in his valuable collection entitled "Documents pour l'Etude de la Bible."
The contents of the Book of Jubilees deal with the facts and events related in the canonical Book of Genesis, enriched by a wealth of legends and stories which had arisen in the course of centuries in the popular imagination of the Jewish people, and written from the rigid Pharisaic point of view of the author and of his age; and as the author seeks to reproduce the history of primitive times in the spirit of his own day, he deals with the Biblical text in a very free fashion. According to him, 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. Henoch 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.
All these legendary details, it claims, were revealed by God to Moses through the angel of the presence (probably Michael) together with the Law, all of which was originally known to but few of the Old Testament patriarchs, such as Henoch, Methusala, Noe, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Levi. It is somewhat difficult to determine the particular Judaistic school its author belonged to; he openly denies the resurrection of the body; he does not believe in the written tradition; he does not reprobate animal sacrifices, etc. . . . and the fact that he wrote in Hebrew excludes the hypothesis of his Hellenistic tendencies. Equally untenable is the hypothesis advanced by Beer, that he was a Samaritan, for he excludes Mount Garizim, the sacred mount of the Samaritans from the list of the four places of God upon earth, viz. the Garden of Eden, the Mount of the East, Mount Sinai, and Mount Sion. If the author belonged to any particular school he must have been in all probability a Pharisee (Hasidaean) of the most rigid type of the time of John Hyrcanus, in whose reign scholars generally agree the book was written (135-105 B.C.). Dr. Headlam suggests that the author was a fervent opponent of the Christian Faith (see Hastings, "Dictionary of the Bible"). But if the author, as it is suggested in this rather improbable hypothesis, lived in early Christian times, he must have written his book before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, since the latter is assumed throughout to be still in existence as the great center of Jewish worship.
This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.