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The Book of Jubilees (Hebrew: ספר היובלים, Sēfer HaYūḇālīm) (ca. 135-105 BC) is an apocryphal book of early Midrash literature that dates to the times of the Maccabees. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church alone among Christian churches considers this work canonical. Most scholars today consider this a work of revisionist history, and specifically a redaction of and supplement to the Book of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus. R. H. Charles (1913) called it a "most triumphant manifesto of legalism" that declared an "absolute supremacy of law." Nevertheless, Jubilees also makes apocalyptic or eschatological pronouncements that would eventually negate law and make prophecy and revelation respectable once again.

Other Title

The Book of Jubilees is also known as:

  1. The Little Genesis (Old Common Hellenic He Lepte Genesis)
  2. The Apocalypse of Moses
  3. The Testament of Moses
  4. The Book of Adam's Daughters
  5. The Life of Adam


Until 1947, the only manuscripts known to have survived were Ethiopic texts that themselves were second-hand translations. The original work, written in Hebrew, was translated first into Greek, from which came a Latin version and four Ethiopic versions. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Ethiopic versions were regarded as complete and correct, if one used all four rather than only one.

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain fifteen scrolls of Jubilees content, all in Hebrew. Recent comparison to the Ethiopic versions have verified the Ethiopic texts as accurate.

Authorship and Date

Internal evidence dates this work at about 135-105 BC, during the tenure-in-office of John Hyrcanus as the chief Maccabaean ruler. The author was most likely a Pharisee.

Intent and Object

The author was, as noted above, a Pharisee. His object was to counteract his era's version of a secularizing trend, which was Hellenism. The result is a thorough revision of the texts of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, to remove anything critical of national Israel and its forebears and to give glory to Israel as a set-apart place. Thus Jubilees sets forth a thoroughgoing doctrine of separation, which Saint Paul would also set forth in, for example, his Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Jubilees also prescribes a meticulous observance of the Law that rivals that of the Qu'ran, the chief sacred text of Islam. The Evangelists, Saint Mark among them, would later observe that the Jews had a ritual for every conceivable daily activity, extending even to mandatory handwashing following contact with non-Jews (called Gentiles, or literally, "nations" or "nationals," from the Latin gens a clan or tribe).


The message of Jubilees is simple: Jews must separate themselves from Gentiles, contact with whom makes a Jew ceremonially unclean.

The author maintains that the Hebrew that, presumably, he spoke and wrote in was the original language of Antediluvian civilization and of pre-Babel times, and remains today the language of heaven. He further maintains that Abraham re-learned Hebrew from an angel prior to his departure into the land of Canaan. Though in Jubilees this claim remains more asserted than proved, it does have independent support, in that scholars of Near Eastern languages tend to regard Hebrew as an ultimate source even of Greek and Latin, with Sanskrit forming the bridge between the former and the latter.

Surprisingly, though the author is regarded as a Pharisee, he seems to deny the resurrection of the body, a doctrine the Pharisees held dear. Yet the author definitely believes in angels, and cites them repeatedly. Enoch is supposed to have received the first instruction in writing--from angels--and also in astronomy and chronology.


The chronology of Jubilees is based entirely on sevens: seven days in a week, a year having exactly fifty-two sevens of days (364 days, which is more than one day short), and the Jubilee year occurring after every seven sevens of years. This system eventually informed the establishment of the Hillel Calendar with its nineteen-year cycle dictating when to "throw in" a thirteenth lunar month ("embolistic month," from the Greek en in and ballo I am throwing) to keep the calendar aligned with the seasons.

Angelology and Demonology

Jubilees recognizes no less than four distinct classes of angels:

  1. Angels of the Presence
  2. Angels of Sanctification (literally, Setting-apart)
  3. Guardian angels
  4. Angels in charge of phenomena of nature. Some authorities suggest that John the Revelator attests to this last category of angels in his book, especially when speaking of the "angel of the winds" and the "angel of the waters."

Jubilees also discusses demons, of which it recognizes two classes:

  1. Angels who, sent to watch over men, instead lusted after human women (Genesis 6:1-3 ) and are now considered fallen. Their present abode is the abyss, or "bottomless pit."
  2. The spirits of the offspring of these unholy angel-human unions continue as the demons of New Testament life and, presumably, today. They are formless spirits who attack men continually and also demand worship of themselves as gods.

Extrabiblical facts

Of note is that the author of Jubilee gives names to the wives of the Patriarchs from Adam through Noah and so on down to Terah, father of Abraham. In addition, virtually every aspect of angelology and demonology must be regarded as extrabiblical unless the Bible itself attests to it.

Non-correlation with Genesis

The Book of Jubilees is out of correlation with Genesis on at least two points:

  1. It calculates the Global Flood as occurring in 1307 AM, when in fact the genealogical records in Genesis 5 tell us that the Flood happened at 1656 AM. Thus we see three hundred forty-nine missing years. Interestingly, the Hillel Calendar is about two hundred forty two years shorter than Ussher's chronology, but for reasons that would not become relevant until long after the Book of Jubilees was written.
  2. It records the births of Shem, Ham, and Japheth out of their likely order. Genesis 5 and Genesis 11, when compared, clearly show that Shem was not Noah's first-born. Furthermore, Jubilees' date for the birth of Arpachshad is not in accord with Shem being one hundred years old at the time, and giving birth to Arpachshad two years after the Flood.

Relevance of Jubilees to Bible study

The tone of Jubilees is, as R. H. Charles described it, extremely legalistic. Given the tremendous number (fifteen!) of Hebrew manuscripts of this work that were found at Qumran, one can readily understand the attitudes of the Pharisees, and to a lesser extent all the rest of the Jewish people, in Jesus' day and immediately afterward. Jubilees sets a tone that goes beyond the specific pronouncements against, say, the Amalekites, in that it considers all Gentiles irredeemably unclean and discusses their habits in frankly propagandistic terms. This, then, is the likely motivation for the Jews dragging Paul from the Temple of Jerusalem, beating him severely until a Roman tribune could show up, and then tearing their clothes and throwing dust into the air the moment Paul mentioned his mission to the Gentiles. (Acts 21-22 )

A knowledge of Jubilees also explains the motive for the assembly of the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament. The Jews of that day would want nothing to do with anything Christian, but also would want nothing to do with anything Greek. The Septuagint was a Greek product that, furthermore, the new Christians repeatedly cited. (This is highly ironic, however, in light of the non-correlation of genealogical records between Jubilees and Genesis.)

Related References

  • Abegg, Martin Jr. The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1999. (ISBN 0-06-060063-2)

External links