The Book of Jubilees vs. the Torah


While unfortunately most people do not realize it, there were many religious books composed between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The Roman Catholic Church made some of these books part of their Bible, but Jews and Protestants did not. Ancient books not included in the Bible are called Apocrypha or Pseudopigrapha. The first is based on a Greek word meaning “obscure” or “hide away.” The second is the name given to books composed by an unknown author but falsely attributed to a famous person, such as “Life of Adam and Eve” which says it was composed by Adam. These books are significant to people who are interested in the intertestamental period[1] because while they appear to be written by religious people, usually religiously-minded Jews, what they describe is generally contrary to the understanding of most people about this period and the laws, practices, and ideology mentioned in these books is different than the thinking, practices, and laws of today.


The Book of Jubilees

Scholars believe that Jubilees was composed in Hebrew sometime between 135 and 105 BCE. Just as the author of the biblical book Chronicles rewrote his book with many variations from what is contained in other biblical books, this author also wrote a book reflecting his own view of biblical history, one that met his own agenda.[2] His approach to the biblical text is also very similar to Midrashic lore. He enlarges on various text, removes what he considered offensive elements, and writing as he did during a time when the Hellenistic spirit was rampant in Israel, he sought to defend Judaism from Hellenistic attacks and show that Jewish law has everlasting validity.

He contended that before the law was revealed to humans it was kept in heaven by angels.[3] While Israel was ruled during his lifetime by the Maccabean family, descendants of Levi, he contended that the Messianic kingdom would be ruled by a man from the tribe of Judah. He divides events into Jubilee periods of 49 years and states, for example, that the Israelites entered Canaan at the close of the fiftieth Jubilee.

The following are some things in the Book of Jubilees, which states that it was composed by an angel who dictated it to Moses. While the book purports to describe the history of the world, which is also reported in the biblical books Genesis and Exodus, the story in Jubilees is radically different. No one knows why these differences exist. The following are some of these differences:



Jubilees dates events by the Anno Mundi, “the year that the world was created.” We do not know when some Jews first thought to calculate years from creation. We do know that the talmudic rabbis knew nothing of this calendar, and that they used the Greek calendar. Scholars, such as the sixteenth century sage Azariah de’ Rossi, in his The Light of the Eyes, speculate that the anno mundi may have originated around the sixth century, after the talmudic period.[4] While this seems to be the date of its origin, it was not until fairly recently that Jews began to use it.

Jewry had good reasons for originally rejecting this calendar. There are theological, practical, and logical reasons why it is clear that the anno mundi is incorrect. The anno mundi inventor calculated the years since creation by taking biblical numbers literally. He rejected the idea that creation occurred over thousands of years. He relied on imaginative non-factual midrashic speculations of dates when the Bible is unclear. He accepted traditions about time periods which were developed to teach homiletical lessons and not historical facts. For example, scripture states that Noah bore three sons when he was 500 years old, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. A midrash states that they were not all born in the same year,[5] Shem was not the oldest son as the text seems to state, and he was born when his father was 502 years old. The anno mundi is based on this midrashic birth day of Shem, which is contrary to the plain reading of the biblical text.

Another problem with using the anno mundi is that some of the time periods listed by the Bible are questionable. For example, it is possible to date the judges in the book of Judges one after the other, as the book implies, and insist, as does the anno mundi, that the period of the judges lasted over 500 years.[6] However, it is more reasonable to suppose that some judges must have overlapped since they served in different tribes, we are unable to determine by how much, and scholars state the period was only about 200 years.

Similarly, when the Bible says that a king ruled for a certain number of years, it is unclear, even as the Talmud recognizes, whether the first and last years are full years of twelve months or parts of a calendar year (in the latter case, two kings would have ruled in the same year).

Additionally, most post-biblical events are based on questionable traditions. Tradition states that the second temple stood for 420 years, while scholars count the second temple period as over 580 years, from 516 BCE to 70 CE. The anno mundi also assigns dates for people that are not even hinted in Scripture; for instance, we do not know how long King Saul reigned.

There is an additional problem with the anno mundi in Jubilees: it is different than the Anno Mundi accepted today, and we have no idea how the author of Jubilees counted it. For example, according to the currently-used system, the patriarch Isaac was born in 2048 AM and died in 2228; Jubilees has 1982 and 2162. Similarly, according to the current system, the Israelites entered Canaan in 2488, but Jubilees has 2450. All other dates in Jubilees are similarly different.



Some tales of wars are told in Jubilees that are not in the Torah. In 2148, the armies of seven kings attacked eight sons of Jacob. When he heard this, Jacob assembled 6,000 men and saved his sons.

When Jacob’s wife Leah died in 2167, Esau’s sons threatened their father and forced him to gather an army of 4,000 and kill Jacob. After trying to appease Esau, Jacob took up a bow and shot and killed his brother and one of his generals. Then Jacob’s sons and their men attacked Esau’s soldiers and their sons, were victorious, and forced the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, to pay tribute to them even until the day that the Book of Jubilees was written.

Joseph died in 2242. His family was unable to take his body to bury it in Canaan, as Joseph had requested, because the king of Canaan was at war at that time with the king of Egypt. In 2263, the Egyptian king beat the Canaanite king and many Israelites traveled to Canaan and buried Joseph’s brothers in the field of the double cave, the cave where their ancestors were buried, but for unexplained reasons did not take Joseph’s body with them. Most of the Israelites returned to Egypt after the burials, but not Moses’ future father Amram and a few others who settled in the mountains of Hebron. But soon thereafter the Canaanite king was victorious, and the Egyptian king was afraid that the Israelites would join forces with the Canaanite forces because of their past relationship with Canaan, “for their hearts and faces are towards the land of Canaan,” so he protected his people by enslaving the Israelites. Moses’ father left Canaan in 2303 and reentered Egypt. Moses was born in 2330.[7] Pharaoh’s decree to kill all newborn Hebrew males remained in effect for seven months until Moses was born. Moses was left in the banks of the river for seven days. His mother came every night to suckle him.[8] His sister Miriam guarded him from the birds during the day.


The origin of holidays

The author of Jubilees as some later rabbis liked to think that the patriarchs observed the Jewish holidays even before they were mandated in the Torah.

Sukkot: The book states that angels came to Abraham and told him that the descendants of his son Isaac would “become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Abraham celebrated this announcement with a “festival of joy in this month seven days” by building “booths for himself and his servants and was the first to celebrate the feast of tabernacles on the earth…. Abraham took branches of palm trees, and the fruit of goodly trees, and every day going round the altar [that he built] with branches seven times a day.”[9]

Yom Kippur: In 2149, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph to Ishmaelite merchants. They killed a goat and used its blood to fool their father into thinking Joseph was dead. When she heard that Joseph was dead, Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine, died in grief; and Dinah died also. This happened on the tenth day of the seventh month; so it was “ordained on high” that in future times Jews should afflict themselves on this day [a day that would become known as Yom Kippur] and to send out a goat on this day [the scapegoat] as a remembrance of the goat the brother’s used in their ruse. Shortly thereafter all of Jacob’s son’s married, some [despite repeated warnings by Abraham and Isaac not to do so] to Canaanite women.

Feast of Weeks (Shavuot): After the flood, God gave Noah and his sons a sign that there would not be another flood on the earth. This sign was the rainbow. It was “ordained and written on the heavenly tablets that they [Noah and his descendants] should celebrate the feast of weeks in this month once a year every year.”[10] Prior to this time it was observed in heaven since the day of creation. Noah and his sons observed the holiday until Noah’s death, when his sons stopped observing it.

Passover: Jubilees emphasizes the Passover of the fourteenth of the first month upon which the Pascal sacrifice was to be slaughtered and eaten. (This holiday’s single observance was the sacrifice, and when the temple was destroyed after this book was written, in 70 CE and sacrifices were no longer offered, Passover ceased to exist and the seven day holiday The Feast of Unleavened Bread which began on the fifteenth began to be called Passover, the name of the no longer existing holiday.) The angel who dictated jubilees to Moses states that Satan was unleashed to slay the first-born of Egypt. The angel mentions very little about The Feast of the Unleavened Bread.

Sabbath: Jubilees agrees with the Torah that the Sabbath was instituted “as a sign of all [God’s] works” for after creating the world in six days, God ceased creating on the seventh. The Sabbath is more holy than any other day of the year. Angels observed the Sabbath in heaven before the law was given to the Israelites. Even the land must observe the Sabbath, meaning the seventh sabbatical year. On the Sabbath, the Israelites are “to eat and drink, and to bless [God] who created all things.” No work may be done on the Sabbath. Food should not be prepared on the Sabbath, but one should eat what was prepared during the six days prior to the Sabbath. However, work may be done in the sanctuary, including sacrifices. Jubilees also prohibits fasting and making war on the Sabbath.

Charles who translated Jubilees wrote in his introduction that he believed the work was composed by a Pharisee. He may not be correct. This book commands that people may not have sex on the Sabbath. It also states that “it is not lawful to do any work thereon which is unseemly, to do thereon their own pleasure,” the latter words seemingly prohibiting performing acts on the Sabbath that are joyful. The prohibition against sex and joyful acts appear to reflect the Sadducean outlook of the Sabbath.[11]


Belief in the evil demons and God and people being helped by angels

Satan persuaded God to test Abraham to see whether he would listen to God when God told him to sacrifice his son. God had no problem doing as Satan requested because God had tested Abraham previously on many occasions and found him faithful. After Abraham showed willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, the angel who dictated this book to Moses told him not to do so. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, died fourteen years after this event. Her death was Abraham’s tenth test.

Angels were sent to earth to instruct humans, but they sinned with the daughters of men. Lawlessness increased “and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds…they began to devour each other.” God ordered that these angels be punished by being placed in the “depths of the earth” where they are still now.

The flood inundated the world for three reasons: (1) the fornication of the angels which humans and animals copied; (2) failing to bless God; and (3) failing to honor parents and other people.

My next essay will continue the description of this rather strange book.


[1] The Intertestamental Period is the time between the end of the Hebrew Bible to the beginning of the New Testament; from the time of the book of Malachi until the time of the first New Testament book, usually thought to be Mark.

[2] Most scholars, as I will discuss, think he was a Pharisee.

[3] Some later rabbis, especially mystics such as Nachmanides, were also convinced the Torah was kept by angels prior to the time it was revealed to Moses. Recognizing that the Torah is applicable only to humans and relates the early Israelite history, Nachmanides wrote that the Torah has a mystical layer that most people are unable to see, and it is this under-layer that the angels kept.

[4] The same time the Christian calendar was invented.

[5] This midrash is not based on anything in the Bible text and is contrary to what is stated.

[6] I Kings 6:1 seems to say the period lasted 360 years from the entry of the Israelites into Canaan until the onset of King Saul’s reign.

[7] By my calculations, Moses was 80 when the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, was revealed in 2448, so he was born in 2368.

[8] The use of the numbers three and seven are frequent in the Bible.

[9] The current practice is to circle the synagogue once each day, but on the seventh day, Hoshana Rabba, to circle seven times. It should also be noted that the material that Abraham took in hand do not seem to resemble the four species that are currently used during the festival. It is likely that the holiday of Hoshana Rabba did not exist when the Book of Jubilees was written. See my essay Sympathetic Magic and Sukkot in my book “Maimonides: The Exceptional Mind.” No explanation is given in Jubilees why Abraham celebrated in this way. The quotes are from the translation of Robert H. Charles (1855-1931). The Book of Jubilees, Clarendon Press, 1913.

[10] Translation by Charles. All future quotes are also from Charles.

[11] However, the law to eat and drink on the Sabbath seems to reflect the Pharisaic idea that the Sabbath is a day of joy, of light and warmth, as indicated in their innovation to light Sabbath candles before the Sabbath onset to brighten and warm the home. Furthermore, the statement about pleasure may not be prohibiting all enjoyable activities. But the statement prohibiting sex seems to be Sadducean. The rabbis in the Talmud took the opposite approach and advised sex on the Sabbath to increase its joy. The later mystics saw the joining of male and female on the Sabbath as a sympathetic magical way of causing the joining of the sephirot.