The meaning of Apocalyptic Literature, 2 in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
II. Legendary Works.
The Book of Jubilees:
The Book of Jubilees is the only one which survives of this class of composition. The portion of Ascension of Isaiah which contains the account of his martyrdom has much of this character. It, however, has been conjoined to the Apocalyptic "Ascension." It would seem that in some copies the Assumption of Moses was added to this work as a supplement. It is frequently cited as lepto Genesis—sometimes lepto-genesis, and again micro-genesis, "the little Genesis." This title cannot be meant to refer to its actual size, for it is considerably longer than the canonical book. It may either mean that this book is to be less regarded than the canonical Genesis or that it is taken up with lepta—"minutiae." Another, and possibly more plausible explanation is to be found in the Hebrew or Aramaic. There is a rabbinic book known as Bere'shith Rabba', in which the whole of Genesis is expanded by Midrashic additions, amplifications and explanations, to many times the size of the work before us, which, in comparison, would be Bere'shith ZuTa'—"the small Genesis." The main difficulty is that the Jewish work, B. Rabbah, cannot well be dated earlier than 300 AD. We owe the work before us mainly—in its complete form—like so many others, to its inclusion in the canon of the Ethiopic church. Portions of it in Latin and Syriac have been found in the second main source of apocalyptic literature in recent times, the Ambrosian Library of Milan. There have been several editions of the Ethiopic text.
It is difficult to give anything like a summary of the Book of Jubilees in the ordinary sense of the word. Roughly speaking, the canonical Book of Genesis is the summary. The writer has omitted many features and incidents, but these have been more than compensated for by additions and expansions. Most of these omissions have an apologetic aim. The acts of deception of which Abraham was guilty in Egypt and toward Abimelech in regard to Sarah, the similar act of Isaac, would involve matters difficult to palliate. The way Simeon and Levi entrapped the Shechemites into being circumcised and then took advantage of their condition to murder them, is omitted also. Jacob's devices to increase his flocks at Laban's expense are also passed over in silence. The most marked omission is the blessing of Jacob in Gen. 49. This is to be explained by the way the writer has praised Simeon and Levi earlier which Jacob's denunciation of them flatly contradicts. Many of the additions have a similar apologetic intention, as the statement that Dinah was twelve years old at the time of the rape, the presents Jacob gave to his parents four times a year, etc. When Jacob deceives his father, he does not say he is Esau, but only "I am thy son." There are longer additions, chiefly ceremonial. Two incidents narrated at length are the warfare of the Amorites against Jacob (34:1-9), and the war of Esau (37 and 38).
The most marked characteristic of the book is that from which it has its most common name, "The Book of Jubilee," the dating of events by successive Jubilees. The whole history of the world is set in a framework of Jubilees and every event is dated by the Jubilee of the world's history in which it had occurred, and the year-week of that Jubilee and the year of that week. The writer has carried his septenary principle into the year and made the days in it, as did the writer of one of the Enoch books, a multiple of seven, 364 = 7 x 52 days. It does not seem to have been interpolated.
Like so many more of the pseudepigrapha, the Ethiopic, from which our modern translations have been made, has been translated from a Greek original, which in turn has had a Semitic source. It is somewhat difficult to form a decision as to which of the two Semitic languages in use in Palestine was that in which it was composed. Certainly some, as Frankel, have maintained that it was written in Greek first of all. This is contrary to ancient evidence, as Jerome refers to the use of rissah, "a stadium," as used in the Book of Jubilees. More can be said for an Aramaic original The use of Mastema for Satan, and the plurals in "in," point in that direction. Dr. Charles' arguments seem to us to settle the matter in favor of Hebrew. Compare the case of Jubilees 47:9, in which bath, "a daughter," is confused with bayith, "a house." One of his arguments is not so conclusive: 2:9 wahaba, "gave," appears where "appointed" is the meaning—a confusion of meanings only possible from the double meaning of nathan, as the Aramaic yahabh has the same double force: "See I have made thee (yehebhethakh) a God to Pharaoh" (compare Peshitta Exodus 7:1). These indications are few, but they seem sufficient.
The formidable authority of Dr. Charles and that of Littmann are in favor of an early date—before the quarrel of John Hyrcanus with the Pharisees. Our reading of the history is different from that of either of these scholars. The Hassidh party had been lukewarm to the Maccabeans from the latter portion of the pontificate of Judas Maccabeus; the insult offered to Hyrcanus at his own table was the enmity reaching its height. If with Dr. Charles we assume the author to be a Pharisee, then the date is impossible. The Pharisaid party were never enthusiastic supporters of the Maccabeans, except when Alexandra threw herself into their arms. Two characteristics of this book strike the reader—its apologetic tone, and its hatred of Edom. During the time of John Hyrcanus the nation did not assume an apologetic attitude. It had thrown off the Syrian-Greek domination and repelled the attempt to Helenize its religion. It would be only Greeks, or those under Greek influences, that would necessitate the apologetic attitude. We are driven to the Herodian period when Romans abounded in the court and Greeks and Graeculi were frequent, when those who, being Jews and knowing Hebrew, yet had imbibed Hellenic culture, and readily saw the points where assault might be made on their faith and its sacred literature. This date would explain the hatred of Edom. We therefore would place it about the death of Herod—from 5 BC to 6 AD.
Unlike the other books of this class, much of it has been found in the Talmud; hence, though we still think the author to have been an Essene, we think that he had much sympathy with the Pharisaic school in its latest development.
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