The Book of Jubilees or, The Little Genesis

Translated from the Ethiopic Text by R.H. Charles

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Short Account of the Book

The Book of Jubilees, or, as it is sometimes called, “the little Genesis,” purports to be a revelation given by God to Moses through the medium of an angel (“ the Angel of the Presence,” i. 27), and containing a history, divided up into jubilee-periods of forty-nine years, from the creation to the coming of Moses. Though the actual narrative of events is only carried down to the birth and early career of Moses, its author envisages the events of a later time, and in particular certain events of special interest at the time when he wrote, which was probably in the latter years of the second century B.C., perhaps in the reign of the Maccabean prince John Hyrcanus. Though distinguished from the Pentateuch proper (“the first Law,” vi. 22), it presupposes and supplements the latter. The actual narrative embraces material contained in the whole of Genesis and part of Exodus. But the legal regulations given presuppose other parts of the Pentateuch, especially the so-called “Priest’s Code” (P), and certain details in the narrative are probably intended to apply to events that occurred in the author’s own time (the latter years of the second century B.C.). The author himself seems to have contemplated the speedy inauguration of the Messianic Age, and in this respect, his point of view is similar to that of the Apocalyptic writers. But his work, though it contains one or two passages of an apocalyptic character, is quite unlike the typical apocalypses. It is largely narrative based upon the historical narratives in Genesis and Exodus, interspersed with legends, and emphasizing certain legal practices (such as the strict observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, etc.), and laying much stress upon their eternal obligation. But his main object was to inculcate a reform in the calendar’s regulation and festivals, in place of the intercalated lunar calendar, which he condemns in the strongest language. He proposes to substitute for this a solar calendar consisting of 12 months and containing 364 days.

Solar Calendar

The result of such a system is to make all festivals, except the Day of Atonement, fall on a Sunday; the author also fixes the date of the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) on Sivan 15th (in place of the traditional Sivan 6th). He obviously believes that the prevailing system has produced grave consequences in religious practice. The proper observance of the feasts, which had been prescribed by divine authority, is, according to his view, rendered impossible so long as the right principles for regulating the calendar are ignored. These principles are justified from the written Law and are represented as having been ordained in heaven. To what party or tendency in Judaism did the author belong? Various answers have been given to this question, which will be fully discussed below. It’s difficult to believe, as Dr. Charles contends, that the author was a Pharisee, for the positions he advocates are in many respects fundamentally opposed to later Pharisaic practice. In particular, how can any member of the Pharisaic party, which from its beginning championed popular religious custom, have advocated a solar calendar? More can be said for the view that the author was a member of the Hasidim or “pious” (who must not be confounded with the Pharisees), while in a recent important discussion Leszynsky has made out a strong, if not quite convincing, case for Sadducean authorship. The Book has sometimes been styled a Midrash,

midrash is interpretation of any text

but such a descriptive term needs some qualification. It claims to be a revelation, and not a mere exposition of Genesis and Exodus. There is a certain Midrashic tendency observable in the way the author rewrites the older narratives, which reminds one of the work of the Chronicler as compared with the earlier canonical books which he remodelled. But Jubilees is not at all like the typical Midrash of the later Rabbinical period; it is more independent, and resembles rather such works as the “Chronicles of Jerahmeel,” or the earlier (narrative) part of the “Apocalypse of Abraham.”

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