The Law in Jubilees

In Jubilees, the law is established in creation, therefore “obedience to the Law is the central message of Jubilees” (Wintermute, “Jubilees,” OTP 2:40).  The writer desires to place as many Jewish customs and religious features as early in the history as possible. The earlier a practice can be rooted in history, the better. For example, the purity laws concerning a pregnancy (3:8-14) are found in the creation narrative alongside marriage and Sabbath. Adam is created unclean and must wait forty days before entering the garden, Eve must wait eighty (3:8-14, the number of days after which a woman is to present herself at the temple for ritual cleansing after the birth of a male and female).

Jubilees 2:19-20 selects phrases from Exodus on Sabbath and inserts them into the creation story.

And he gave us a great sign, the sabbath day, so that we might work six days and observe a sabbath from all work on the seventh day. 18 And he told us—all of the angels of the presence and all of the angels of sanctification, these two great kinds—that we might keep the sabbath with him in heaven and on earth. And he said to us, “Behold I shall separate for myself a people from among all the nations. And they will also keep the sabbath. And I will sanctify them for myself, and I will bless them. Just as I have sanctified and shall sanctify the sabbath day for myself thus shall I bless them. And they will be my people and I will be their God. And I have chosen the seed of Jacob from among all that I have seen. And I have recorded him as my firstborn son, and have sanctified him for myself forever and ever. And I will make known to them the sabbath day so that they might observe therein a sabbath from all work.” OTP 2:57.

There are other later Jewish institutions and beliefs retrojected into the story of Genesis. Noah establishes the feast of Shevout and Firstfruits (6:17-31). These feasts are “Thus it is engraved and ordained on the heavenly tablets, and there is no transgressing in a single year, from year to year.”

Image result for sabbath commandment manuscriptThe prohibition on eating blood in Gen 9 is greatly expanded, conforming it to later command sin the mosaic law (7:20-33). Abraham implores his father to not worship idols (12:1-8) and burns down the house of idols (12:12-14).

Abraham even keeps the Feast of Booths centuries before it is given (Jub. 16:20-31). Passover and the Feast of Lights are not celebrated by Abraham since they are rooted in well-known historical events. Purim is also omitted, although if the book comes from a theological current akin to the Qumran community, Esther may not have been an important book and Purim a secular celebration. Even the Day of Atonement is foreshadowed in the story of Genesis; it is a day of mourning for Joseph (34).

In Jubilees, Seth, Enoch, and Noah are “proto-Jews” who were righteous before God well before Abraham. The tithe is rooted in the patriarchal stories in Jubilees 32.  The writer is therefore weaving law material into the narrative of the earliest histories in the Hebrew Bible in order to provide a more sure foundation for distinctive Jewish practices.

Jubilees repeatedly condemns fornication in the early generations, rooted in the Noahic covenant.  Similarly, many of these commands are “written on heavenly tablets,” an indication of the solemnity of the commands as well as their inviolability.  Even when a patriarch is guilty of fornication and is not judged (Reuben, 33; Judah 41), the author makes it clear this is no excuse for the reader to commit such acts.

What motivated the writer of Jubliees to ground distinctive Jewish practices in the earliest stories in Genesis? Is his motivation to prove to the Gentile world that the Judaism of the Second Temple period is ancient and worthy of respect? Or is he “preaching to the choir,” trying to encourage Second Temple Jews to continue in their practice of Sabbath and festivals?

10 thoughts on “The Law in Jubilees

  1. Possibly, the motive of the writer was both to encourage the continuation of the law, but also to prove the antiquity of the law (antiquitus ideologies were valuable in that culture). In moving the law to pre-law times, the author demonstrated his lack of assurance that Israel would be content to let the words of God be the words of God. Before, they simply did the law “because God said so” Hellenistic philosophy challenged them to seek a reason for why they did the law. They could create “accounts” proving that their customs had historical merit by rooting them in more historical events.

    • I can agree to what you are saying here but I would add on to it. The writer I think wanted to reinforce the idea that by keeping the law God would bless His people. During this time the Jews were living under the thumb of another nation and many wanted to end that. He probably thought that if the Jews all followed the law as they were supposed to then God would deliver them from the rule of foreign nations and reestablish the nation of Israel.

  2. I think that the writer of Jubilees wrote these books and also put emphasis on the distinctive Jewish practices for the purpose of encouraging the continuation of said practices. Like stated in the beginning of this article, obedience of the law is the primary message in this book. I do agree with the statement at the end of this article that it seems as though this author is preaching to the choir. A lot of what was mentioned in Jubilees has already been stated in the Old Testament; however, because it is so important to the Second Temple Jews, I think the author was simply trying to make it all the more clear of how important it was to obey and follow their practices such as Sabbath and festivals.

  3. The writer of Jubilees motivation to ground distinctive Jewish practices in the earliest stories in Genesis was to emphasize that “obedience to the Law” is essential, and that’s where the Jewish customs and religious features stem from. Maybe the purpose was to accentuate that the Jews were a distinctive people, and were to remain a distinctive people despite living in a predominantly Gentile world. Also, it could be that the author was looking to encourage the people to continue in their practices and beliefs in alignment with the Law. The book of Ezra and Nehemiah encouraged the Jewish community to remain faithful and a distinctive people of God while the book of Malachi instigates the need to reach out to the Gentiles. This can be achieved through their renewed commitment to the covenant. Ultimately, Ezra’s goal was to “bring all the Jewish practices in line with the teachings of the law of Moses” (Tomasino, 61). In othe words, I believe that the writer of Jubilees is just encouraging and reminding the Jews of what was important to them, and what made them God’s chosen people in the first place.

  4. In my opinion the author of Jubilees is trying to encourage Second Temple Period Jews to continue practicing festivals and the Sabbath. I believe this because as the Persians and the Greeks came to power, the many Jewish ways of life and traditions were altered to favor and mimic those of higher autonomy, such as the Greeks and the Persians within the Second Temple Period (Tomasino 69, 109). Due to the fact that the culture or way of life of Jews was being influenced by these autonomous dynasties, I believe Jubilees uses the examples he placed in Genesis as a reminder that the Jews need to obey God, as it pertains to following the rules God has placed for them. Perhaps Jubilees inserted these Jewish practices and traditions in Genesis, as a reminder to Jews that they need to uphold the law, as they did while they were in Genesis. The thought process by Jubilees was that “the earlier a practice can be rooted in history the better” which explains why Jubilees may have added the portions he did to the early portions of Genesis, as perhaps to make a more profound impact on the lives of Jews.

  5. I would think that what the writer of Jubilees is attempting to do is reaffirm the validity of the law and the importance in keeping it. Such a message would not mean much to Gentiles who do not keep Jewish practices. I think the message is directed at the Jewish people. Placing the founding of the law as far back as possible would reinforce the idea that in order to be considered righteous by God and to be blessed by Him you must follow Jewish law. This would encourage the Jews to keep following the law as best they can and then God would presumably bless the nation and free them from their oppressors.

  6. Early Old Testament patriarchs before the law were things of heroes, someone you could look up to and admire much like modern day people dream of being a superhero. Like modern day people who wish to be a superhero the Jewish readers wished that those people of faith were just like them, when i read these stories about how people like Abraham kept the law, and how Joseph had a good Jewish girl to marry even though he was in Egypt all i hear is someone wished that those people knew what they knew and were like them. These accounts or stories are a authors way of trying to encourage good Jewish boys to be like their heroes and keep the laws, keep the right holidays, and most importantly not be a gentile. At the heart of these stories it is paved with good intention but even if these accounts were true, where they not important enough to share them with Moses? These are all things you would have considered when they Pentateuch was being written to have written down and not lost to time.

  7. The establishment of distinctive Jewish practices in first and second Maccabees was likely a statement to reinforce those practices in the Jewish people. While it may have also been a statement to the surrounding peoples, the importance of reviving the old traditions of Judaism must have been a priority for the Maccabees. During the Maccabean revolt, and throughout the time of the Hasmonean Kingdom, the Jews were still suffering from a loss of knowledge concerning their ancient traditions. This was due to the time spent in Babylonian captivity, along with the post-exilic influence of the Persians and the Greeks. The aggressors realized that they needed to establish understanding of the Jewish practices and beliefs if they were to build a kingdom on them. Thus, there is a strong influence of ancient Jewish culture in Maccabees.

  8. I would tend to agree with the second part of your last paragraph. I do not think that this book was written to prove that the traditions of the second temple Jews were ancient and Holy, but rather to encourage and reaffirm that the Jews should continue the practices. I suppose having the feast of booths happen centuries before it actual took place might make it seem a little more divine than it actually was. But I think the primary function of Jubilees was to encourage the Jews to continue their festivals and feasts and other traditions.

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