Sacred Geography and Sacred Time in the Book of Jubilees

Just as the writer of the Book of Jubilees sought to insert the Law into primeval history, so to the boundaries of the Land (Halpern-Amaru, Rewriting the Bible, 25-26). The allocation of the land of Israel to the descendants of Shem is made in documents written by Noah himself (8:10-11). Noah rejoiced that his son Shem should receive this land, and blessed his son saying “may the Lord dwell in the dwelling place of Shem” (8:18). In this territory are the three most holy places on earth: Eden, Sinai and Zion (8:19-21). Of the territories assigned to the three sons of Noah, only Shem’s is described as “very good,” an echo of the text of the creation story itself (8:21, cf Gen 1:31, When Abraham enters the land for the first time in chapter 13 the land is again described as “very good,” having a wide assortment of trees and plants in every field). When Canaan sees this good land he seizes it from his brother, incurring a curse (10:30).

After the flood, Noah makes a sacrifice to atone for the defilement of the land (6:2). The description of this sacrifice in Jub 7:30-33 is greatly expanded from the text in Genesis 9 and is a careful interweaving of texts from the Law on the defilement of the land. In 7:34, Noah’s sons will be like plants in the land (medr) if they are righteous. This may echo the prophets (Jer 11:17, Amos 9:15) as well as 1 Enoch (10:16, 93:5, 10).

The Book of Jubilees begins with the recognition that the Land is a gift from God rooted in the covenant. Chapter 1:7-14 summarizes Israel’s history as being given the Land, and being removed from the Land. Verse 13 especially emphasizes the connection between covenant obedience and continued presence in the Land. In 1:15-18 the Lord tells Moses that after the people repent, he will replant them in the Land and the sanctuary will be rebuilt. When Abraham is taking possession of the land for the first time, the Lord promises to give the land to Abraham’s descendants forever (15:10).  In Abraham’s farewell to his children in chapter 20 he implores his children to not worship false gods so that they will remain in the land, blessed with the good things of the land (20:6-10). This section is an echo of the blessings found in Deut 27:15; it is perhaps significant that the writer does not include an equal place to the curses of the covenant.

Image result for sacred timeSince the Hebrew Bible is not explicit on how to create a yearly calendar there were several competing calendars in the Jewish world.  The choice of calendar had far-reaching implications for the practice of Judaism. For example, In the 360-day calendar occasionally a feast fell on a Sabbath. This was not an issue for the Essenes since they used the 364-day calendar which ensured feasts never fell on the Sabbath. As academic as all this sounds, it was of critical importance to the Essenes – if one was to keep the Sabbath and feast days, one needed to know what day those sacred times occurred.  If Passover was celebrated according to the wrong calendar, then that celebration was invalid (6:32, it is a “corrupt appointed time.”) Conversely, if Passover came on a day not considered holy to the 360-calendar, then it would be accidently profaned as well.

That the liturgical calendar shifted to a lunar calendar in the second century seems to be implied in 2 Mac 6:7 and 1 Mac 1:59 (James C. Vanderkam,“2 Maccabees 6,7a and Calendrical Change in Jerusalem.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 12 (1981): 52-74). VanderKam surveys the evidence and concludes it likely that the high priest Jonathan “may simply have decreed an end to priestly calendrical discussion by opting for the use of the Seleucid lunisolar arrangement in cultic matters and brooking no opposition.” Reactions to this shift of Sabbath and holy days would have been fierce, likely spawning the Essene movement as well as the discussion of sacred dates found in Jubilees and 1 Enoch. For the writer of Jubilees, to use the pro-Seleucid Hellenistic calendar to determine the proper times to worship at the Temple was blasphemous since God established the solar calendar at creation!

In the Book of Jubilees 6:32-38 there is a condemnation of those Jews who do not follow a 364 day calendar. As with the Law, the 364 day calendar is rooted in creation itself. It is not likely that the 364 day calendar is an innovation of the writer of the Book of Jubilees, however. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were published, Jaubert suggested the 364 day calendar was presupposed by the priestly writers of the Hebrew Bible. [For Jaubert’s theory I am following the summary found in James VanderKam, “The Origin, Character, and Early History of the 364-Day Calendar: A Reassessment of Jaubert’s Hypotheses,” CBQ 41 (1979): 390-411 and Ravid, Liora “The Book of Jubilees and Its Calendar a Reexamination.” Dead Sea Discoveries 10, (2003): 371-94.] Jaubert argued the 364 day calendar began on Wednesday, since the sun and moon were created on the fourth day. From this assumption she was able to determine the dates for feast days based the Hebrew Bible and the book of Jubilees.

While this theory has been criticized, Vanderkam concludes this element of her thesis is basically sound. Jaubert went on to argue the 364 day calendar highlighted liturgical days of Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, the days on which almost all of Israel’s feast days. Vanderkam finds this the least compelling element of her theory since these days are not highlighted in later priestly sources, such as the Book of Jubilees. The 364-day calendar was one of the many traditional elements of Jewish religion which was under fire in the second century B.C.E. As is possibly the case in Sirach 43:6-7 and 50:6. Here feast days are `like full moons, an indication of a lunar calendar. Vanderkam “The Origin, Character, and Early History of the 364-Day Calendar”, 408-409 argues persuasively that the Hebrew fragments of Sirach found at Masada indicate the original form of the book did not use the lunar cycle over and against the solar calendar used at Qumran.

If a lunar calendar were to be adopted, then the sacred days and festivals would no longer occur on set days every year. Most scholars dismissed this notion on the grounds that a 364-day calendar was a “priestly abstraction” which was not practical since it falls behind one and a quarter days every year. No text describing a method of intercalation had been discovered when Jaubert first published her studies, but the Essenes seem to have functioned with a 364-day calendar for more than 200, implying that some method of intercalation existed.



Bibliographical Note: The issue of calendar in early Judaism is complex and impossible to adequately summarize in a short paragraph. For an introduction, see James C. Vanderkam, “Calendar, Ancient Israelite and Early Jewish” in ABD 1:814-819. J. M. Baumgarten has written a number of articles on calendar issues: “The Beginning of the Day in the Calendar of Jubilees.” JBL 77 (1958): 355-60; “Some Problems of the Jubilees Calendar in Current Research.” Vetus testamentum 32 (1982): 485-89; “The Calendars of the Book of Jubilees and the Temple Scroll.” Vetus testamentum 37 (1987): 71-78. See also Roger T. Beckwith, “The Modern Attempt to Reconcile the Qumran Calendar with the True Solar Year” Revue de Qumran (1970); John T. Rook, “A Twenty-Eight-Day Month Tradition in the Book of Jubilees.” Vetus testamentum 31 (1981): 83-87.

3 thoughts on “Sacred Geography and Sacred Time in the Book of Jubilees

  1. What influence does this discussion have on the uncertainty that exists as to the day that Jesus was crucified and that the Passover occurred?

    • I am not sure that it does, that seems to be an in-house argument between the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John (who tries to highlight the Passover imagery in his presentation of Jesus).

      Where it might impact the discussion is the date (A.D. 30 or 33), assuming the lunar vs. solar calendars.

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