The book of Jubilees, or, The little Genesis
|The book of Jubilees|
The Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew by a Pharisee between the year of the accession of Hyrcanus to the high- priesthood in 135 and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 B.C. It is the most advanced pre-Christian representative of the midrashic tendency, 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 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, in which difficulties in the biblical narrative are solved, gaps supplied, dogmatically offensive elements removed, and the genuine spirit of later Judaism infused into the primitive history of the world.
His object was to defend Judaism against the attacks of the Hellenistic spirit that had been in the ascendant one generation earlier and was still powerful and to prove that the law was of everlasting validity From our author's contentions and his embittered attacks on the paganises and apostates, we may infer that Hellenism had urged that the Levitical ordinances of the law were only of transitory significance, that they had not been observed by the founders of the nation, and that the time had now come for them to be swept away, and for Israel to take its place in the brotherhood of the nations. Our author regarded all such views as fatal to the very existence of Jewish religion and nationality. But it is not as such that he assailed them, but on the ground of their falsehood.
The law, he teaches, is of everlasting validity. Though revealed in time it was superior to time. Before it had been made known in sundry portions to the fathers it had been kept in heaven by the angels, and to its observance henceforward there was no limit in time or in eternity.
I had hoped to issue this Commentary on the Book of Jubilees quite six years ago, as a sequel to my edition of the Ethiopic and other fragmentary versions of this work; but after writing a large portion of it, I was obliged to abandon the task, as I felt that somehow I had failed to give a satisfactory interpretation of the text, though at the time I could not understand wherein my disability lay. A year or two later when making a special study of the Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs, I came to discover that the source of my failure lay in my acceptance of the traditional view that Jubilees was written in the first century of the Christian era. So long as I wrote from this standpoint, my notes became more and more laboured apologetic for the composition of this work in the first century.\
The earliest approximation to the right date appeared in my article on the " Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs " in the Encyclopaedia Biblica, i. 241, 1899, where, after giving grounds for the view that the main bulk of that work was written before 100 B.c, I concluded that we should "regard both works (i.e. the Testaments and Jubilees) as almost contemporary, and as emanating from the same school of thought."
This view was advocated in the following year by Bohn and by Bousset on various grounds, and it is from this standpoint that the present Commentary is written. The difficulties that beset almost every page of Jubilees vanish for the most part when once we understand that it was written by a Pharisaic upholder of the Maccabean dynasty, who was also probably a priest.
It is difficult to exaggerate the value of Jubilees. The fact that it is the oldest commentary in the world on Genesis, is in itself a distinction. But it is not on this ground that we value it, but rather for the insight it gives us into the religious beliefs of Judaism in the second century B.C. Its interests are many-sided. It appeals to the textual critic, as it attests to the form of the Hebrew text, which was current in that century.
It appeals to the Old Testament scholar, as exhibiting further developments of ideas and tendencies which are only in their incipient stages in the Old Testament. It appeals to the New Testament scholar, as furnishing the first literary embodiment of beliefs which subsequently obtained an entrance into the New Testament, and as having in all probability formed part of the library of some of the apostolic writers.
It appeals to the student of theological doctrine, as providing certain indispensable links in the process of development. Finally, to the Jewish scholar, a Pharisaic work of the second century B.C. cannot fail to be of transcendent interest, as it gives the earlier forms of certain legislative enactments that appear in the Mishna, and of legends which in later Judaism have undergone many transformations.
Although half a century has elapsed since the discovery of Jubilees in its complete form in the Ethiopic Version, no scholar has hitherto attempted a commentary on the entire work. Some thirty years ago Ronsch edited a very learned and laborious work on the Latin Fragments, which constitute slightly more than one-fourth of the original writing, but since his time scholars have contented themselves with short studies on various views of our author. I cannot conclude without thanking Mr Cowley for his help in verifying references in the Talmud.
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