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.”

The 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?