Acts 10 – Jews and Gentiles

In Acts 10:27-29, Peter expresses his hesitancy to enter the home of a Gentile.  I think the key here is not simply talking with a Gentile, but receiving hospitality form a Gentile. Primarily this was because of food, but some Jews in the first century did in fact avoid contact with Gentiles in order to avoid impurity.  This was certainly true in Jerusalem where Temple worship could be a daily experience.  Josephus tells us that the Jews kept separate from the Gentiles: “[the Jews]…did not come into contact with other people because of their separateness.” (Antiq. 13:245-247; cf., Apion, 2.210) Witherington (Acts, 353) observes that the Greek word Luke chooses here probably has the sense of “taboo” or “strongly frowned upon.”


But this is not to say that Gentiles were totally excluded from Jewish worship.  There was a huge “court of the Gentiles” in the temple complex itself, giving Gentiles a place of worship in the temple.  On a number of occasions in the gospels Jesus speaks with Gentiles, although usually the faith of the Gentile is in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Jews.

One factor bearing on this issue is the long standing Jewish belief that purity laws did not apply to Gentiles even when they lived in Israelite territory.  The “sojourner laws” of Deut 5:14 ff define these Gentiles as resident aliens and require only a few general commands for them while they are living within the nation of Israel. (These are the same commands given by James at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:24-29.)

Rabbinic writers seem to have defined a category “gentile impurity,” but this does not appear in the eighteen benedictions (dating to the period just prior to the fall of Jerusalem.) Did Jews of the first century consider Gentiles impure and therefore exclude them from the inner courts of the temple?  Several Second Temple period texts indicate that Jews did not mix at all with Gentiles (Jubilees 22:16, Tobit 1:10-12, Judith 12:1-1).  Consider also Joseph and Asenath 7:1:  “Joseph never ate with the Egyptians, for this was an abomination to him”

Jubilees 22:16 And you also, my son, Jacob, remember my words, and keep the commandments of Abraham, your father. Separate yourself from the Gentiles, and do not eat with them, and do not perform deeds like theirs. And do not become associates of theirs. Because their deeds are defiled, and all their ways are contaminated, and despicable, and abominable.

Tobit 1:10-12 After I was carried away captive to Assyria and came as a captive to Nineveh, everyone of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles, but I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart . . .

Judith 12:1-4 Then he commanded them to bring her in where his silver dinnerware was kept, and ordered them to set a table for her with some of his own delicacies, and with some of his own wine to drink. But Judith said, “I cannot partake of them, or it will be an offense; but I will have enough with the things I brought with me.” Holofernes said to her, “If your supply runs out, where can we get you more of the same? For none of your people are here with us.”  Judith replied, “As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up the supplies I have with me before the Lord carries out by my hand what he has determined.”

What I think is fascinating is that Cornelius, as a God-Fearer, might very well have followed the food laws as well as Peter did.  Yet there was still a hesitancy on the part of the apostolic mission to cross over the next social barrier and bring the gospel to Gentiles, even a God-Fearing Gentile like Cornelius.  These issues will erupt into the first major church controversy by Acts 15 and may stand in the background of Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2.

Hebrews 1 – Jesus and the Angels

The first section of Hebrews develops an argument that Jesus was foreshadowed by various people and events in the Hebrew Bible. In chapter 3 he will contrast Jesus and Moses, perhaps the most faithful servant of God and certainly the person associated most with the Law. It is well known that Matthew uses a kind of Moses typology in his Gospel to show that Jesus is a teacher in the tradition of Moses yet superior to him.

It is therefore somewhat surprising that the book of Hebrews does not begin with the contrast with Moses.  After the introduction, the writer says that the Son who is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven is superior to the angels (1:3). Following this statement, the writer constructs a lengthy comparison of Jesus and the angels, drawing on a series of texts from the Hebrew Bible (1:4-14, 2:1-9). Why start with the angels?

Dore AngelsAngels were very popular in Jewish mythology from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D.  A whole hierarchy of angels was developed along with some theological teachings that were not present in the Old Testament.  In the re-telling of Biblical stories writers often had angels performing acts that were acts of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Although the imagery is found in Daniel 10, the appearance of angels as glowing white, fiery, glowing, etc. was developed during this time as well.

Angels were associated with giving of the Law to Israel in early Judaism.  This tradition develops from Deut 33:2, where the “holy ones” accompany the Lord as he arrives at Sinai. “Holy ones” was taken to mean angels. In Acts 7:53, Stephen refers to the Law as “delivered by angels.” The Second Temple book Jubilees predates Hebrews and begins with a reference to the “angel of the presence” who wrote a text for Moses:

And he said to the angel of the presence, “Write for Moses from the first creation until my sanctuary is built in their midst forever and ever. And the LORD will appear in the sight of all. And everyone will know that I am the God of Israel and the father of all the children of Jacob and king upon Mount Zion forever and ever. And Zion and Jerusalem will be holy.” (Wintermute, “Jubilees,” in OTP 2: 54)

The tradition that angels delivered the Law is found in later Judaism as well:  “The presence of angels at the event of the giving of the law was a favourite bit of embroidery in rabbinic tradition, and was meant to enhance the glory of Sinai” (H. Schoeps, Paul, 182).  The emphasis in this literature is on the angels as intermediaries, delivering the Law to Moses.  When God revealed himself to Moses, he used angels.

Since the writer of Hebrews began his book by saying that God is new revealing himself through his Jesus, it is possible a Jewish reader might think of Jesus as an angel, like a Michael or Gabriel.  He must therefore begin by showing that Jesus is something other than an angel; he is “Son of God.”

One last observation:  Is this a “difference” between Jewish Christian literature and the Pauline Letters? Perhaps not. While Paul cannot be accused of emphasizing angels, he does use the same sort of language as Stephen in Gal 3:19: The law was “put in place through angels” (ESV).

Are there other reasons that the writer begins with a sustained argument that Jesus is superior to the angels in every way?

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

Chapters 6-11 are a Christian addition to the Martyrdom of Isaiah, usually called the “Visions of Isaiah.” Isaiah has a vision when he was in Jerusalem to see King Hezekiah. While he is surrounded by forty prophets (including Joel and Micah), he slips into some sort of trance. Some thought he was about to ascend, others that he was dead. He recovers and relates his vision to Hezekiah. In his vision, Isaiah was taken by the hand and escorted up into heaven by an angel. He passes through the firmament and then through the seven heavens. In chapter 9 Isaiah enters the seventh heaven where he sees a wonderful light and innumerable angels.

Image result for ascension of IsaiahIsaiah sees Abel and Enoch, which is not unexpected since this whole heavenly journey is remarkably similar to 1 Enoch. The saints are not wearing crowns nor are they seated on thrones. They will not receive these things until after Christ descends in human form and is crucified. The resurrection is described as “plundering the angel (or prince) of death.” After the Lord ascends to heaven the Old Testament saints will receive their crowns and thrones. The balance of the chapter is a series of worship scenes: the Lord (vss.27-32); the “angel of the Holy Spirit” (vss. 33-36) of God (vss 37-42).

The lower heavens join in this worship (verses 1-6) and then Lord Christ (who is called Jesus) is called upon by the father to descend to Sheol (but not Perdition) and be made into the likeness of those in the lower heavens. This he does, becoming “incarnate” for each of the five levels of heaven he enters.

The final chapter of the Christian Visions section recounts the virgin birth (11:1-16) and the infancy of the Lord (verses 17-18). The virgin birth is without pain (Mary does not cry out) and occurred after only two months of pregnancy.

Ascension of Isaiah 11: 9-13 Mary then looked with her eyes and saw a small infant, and she was astounded. And after her astonishment had worn off, her womb was found as (it was) at first, before she had conceived. 10 And when her husband, Joseph, said to her, “What has made you astounded?” his eyes were opened, and he saw the infant and praised the Lord, because the Lord had come in his lot. 11 And a voice came to them, “Do not tell this vision to anyone.” 12 But the story about the infant was spread abroad in Bethlehem. 13 Some said, “The virgin Mary has given birth before she has been married two months.”

The vision skips quickly ahead to the crucifixion. The death of Jesus is blamed on the ruler of Sheol, who incited the children of Israel to crucify Jesus (11:19-21). There is a hint of “harrowing of hell” theology, Jesus “descended to the angel who (is) in Sheol.”

After the resurrection Jesus ascends back to the seventh heaven where he sits at the right hand of the Father and receives glory, with the angel of the Holy Spirit on the left hand. The book concludes with the angel returning Isaiah in the vision and his report to Hezekiah. The words of the vision were recorded and Hezekiah is sworn to secrecy.

The Martyrdom of Isaiah

The first five chapters of this work are a Jewish expansion of 2 Kings, detailing the martyrdom of Isaiah. Chapters 6-11 are a Christian work which detail Isaiah’s ascension through the seven heavens. This section is akin to the apocalyptic literature of Enoch in that Isaiah’s soul is ushered through various stages of heaven. Each section is a composite of various sources. This complicates the dating of the book. The Jewish section was likely written in Hebrew and translated into Greek. Hebrews 11 appears to refer to the martyrdom of Isaiah (“some were sawn asunder”) or the same tradition that Isaiah the prophet was martyred by being sawn in half. This would imply a date prior to the late first century.

Image result for The Martyrdom of IsaiahThe story of Isaiah’s death at the hand of Manasseh is similar to Second Maccabees (the martyrdom of the seven brothers and Eleazar), so a date as early as the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanies is possible. The Christian section is more difficult to date, although Jerome and Epiphanes seem to use the book, making a date earlier than the third century somewhat certain (OTP 2:149-150). It is even more difficult to decide when the two books were put together. Fragments of the work in Geek appear in the fifth-sixth century as does a palimpsest in Latin from the same period.

The activities of demons are very important in the Martyrdom of Isaiah. It is the demon Sammael Milkira who causes Manasseh to go astray and Beliar possesses him and prompts him to kill the prophet. Near the end of Hezekiah’s life he calls Manasseh, his only son, in order to give him a final charge (ch. 1). Isaiah the Prophet is also present as well as the prophet’s son, Josab (Shear-Jashub in Is. 7:3). He tells the boy the “words of righteousness” which he has seen, including eternal judgments, Gehenna, and the activities of demons (princes of this world.) There is an implication that Hezekiah has had visionary experiences himself which were recorded by his secretary. Isaiah tells the king this speech will have no effect on Manasseh and that he will rebel against the word of the Lord.

The demon Sammael Milkira will indwell Manasseh. Beliar will also indwell Manasseh and he will lead many to desert the faith. Isaiah even predicts his own martyrdom. This creature was originally an archangel, but he enticed the serpent to tempt Eve. He is a Satan in Debarim rabba 11 and the angel of death, Targum Jeremiah (OTP 2:157 note u). Sammael Milkira is mentioned in the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch 4:8 (he planted a vine in the garden to tempt Adam) and 9:7 (when he “took the serpent as a garment.”

All that Isaiah predicted happens (ch. 2). Manasseh does not obey his father and he served Satan instead. Witchcraft, magic, divination, auguries, fornication, adultery, and the persecution of the righteous all increase, so Isaiah and the rest of the prophets withdraw from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, then to a mountain in a desert place. There they eat noting but bitter herbs for two years. There is a short story inserted at this point which seems to have little to do with the rest of the book other than to introduce the a false prophet named Belkira. This man accused the prophet Micaiah who is eventually martyred himself. Compare OTP 2:158 note o and 159 note b; it is possible the name in chapter two is not the same as the name in chapter 3.

In chapter 3, Belkira the false prophet discovers Isaiah’s hiding place and accuse these prophets of prophesying against Israel and Judah (which is most likely true at this point!) The king is convinced and Isaiah is arrested. Verses 13-31 are a Christian interpolation describing the death and resurrection of Christ, the descent of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the gospel. Eventually the church will abandon the teaching of the twelve apostles and there will be many wicked elders and shepherds who do wrong for their sheep.

Image result for The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Chapter 4 seems as though it is from yet another source, likely Christian. The content seems to be based on either the Olivet Discourse or the book of Revelation. It is more likely this chapter reflects the sort of Christian reflection on Daniel and Antiochus IV Epiphanies represented by these two Christian texts. Isaiah is speaking in the first person to Hezekiah and Josab about the return of Christ and associated apocalyptic judgments. After the twelve apostles plant the gospel throughout the world, Beliar will come in the form of a king. This king is a “murderer of his mother,” a stock description of Nero in other apocalyptic literature. People will sacrifice to this king and worship him. He will do miracles in every district and set up his image everywhere (the “abomination which causes desolation,” possibly emperor worship).

The duration of his reign will be three years, seven months and twenty-seven days (or 1, 335 days total, cf. Dan. 12:12). After this time “The Beloved” will speak from heaven and “reprove in anger the world.” All which is written in the prophets will be fulfilled, a list of the prophets is included in 21-22. The Minor Prophets appear in the order of the LXX and the “word of the righteous Joseph” are included. This may be a reference to the Prayer of Joseph (OTP 2:699-714). This chapter is important because it shows an eschatological program outside of the biblical material used by at least some in the early church which included the elements of the Olivet Discourse and Revelation.

Because of the vision Beliar is enraged with Isaiah and prompts Manasseh to saw him in half (ch. 5). Belkira tries to get Isaiah to recant all which he has said about Manasseh, but of course the prophet refuses and his killed. He “spoke with the Holy Spirit until he was sawed in two” (14)

Expansions on the Stories of Isaac and Jacob in Jubilees 24-38

Jubilees 24-27 detail Jacob’s stealth as he buys Esau’s birthright and his journey to Gerar. Like the similar Abraham story, the lie concerning his wife is omitted. There is a long section (24:14-26) given the locations of various wells dug by Jacob. Isaac curses the Philistines (24:27-33). This curse is “written on heavenly tablets” and all which he said became true (24:33). Rebecca speaks to Jacob concerning his wife (25:1-3). He is to marry a member of the family, not a Canaanite woman as Esau did (25:4-10). Jacob agrees with his mother, and she blesses him (25:11-22). The words of this blessing are because the “spirit of truth” descends upon her, inspiriting her to speak the blessing, which is not unlike the Abrahamic covenant.

The plot to steal Esau’s blessing is expanded in chapter 26. The blessing is expanded as well (vss. 22-24 are very much like the Abrahamic covenant). Esau resolves to kill Jacob after his father tells him there is nothing which can be done and he is bound to serve his brother. In Jubilees Isaac and Rebecca tell Jacob to flee to Haran (ch. 27). Isaac tells Rebecca not to worry about the boy since the Lord will protect him. Jacob’s dream at Bethel is similar to the biblical version, including Jacob’s oath to serve the Lord.  The story of Jacob’s desire to marry Rachel is nearly the same as Genesis 29, but our writer adds detail on the tradition of marrying the eldest daughter first. The rest of this chapter summarizes Jacob’s two marriages and the birth of his children. Jacob leaves the household of Laban (as in the biblical narrative). As he returns to Canaan he separates from Esau and takes care of his father Isaac at Hebron.

Jubilees 30 retells the story of Levi and Simeon seeking revenge for the rape of their sister (30:1-6, 24-25). Inserted into this story is a teaching section on the law against marrying outside of Israel (7-17). Breach of this law was the basis of Levi’s anger – marriage to a foreign woman is a defilement. Because of his zeal for keeping this law, Levi is appointed to the priesthood (an appointment which is written in the heavenly tablets.) This is an example of the writer placing a present historical reality (levitical priesthood) in the history of the patriarch. If the children of Israel break this commandment, it will be written in the heavenly tablets.

Isaac prepares to die in Jubilees 31, so there are several “blessings.” Jacob delivers two of his sons, Levi and Judah, who receive special blessings from their grandfather. This is significant since these sons and tribes will be associated with the priesthood and kingship later in the history of Israel, and at least in some streams of Judaism, with a coming messiah.

After the birth of his last son Jacob goes to Bethel and pays a tithe, as his grandfather Abraham did (ch. 32). For the writer of Jubilees, the law of the tithe is written on “heavenly tablets” and rooted in these patriarchal narratives. After giving the tithe Jacob intends to build a sanctuary at Bethel, but the Lord tells him not do in a vision. There is a heavenly, eternal sanctuary and no need for an earthly one. The Lord tells him he will die peacefully in Egypt. The chapter concludes with several death notices.

Reuben’s sin with Bilah is described in 33:1-9, giving the author an opportunity for a discussion of the law against incest (10-14). This sin is described as despicable and it pollutes the land. Reuben, however, is not killed for his sin. The writer therefore answers a possible objection by explaining that Reuben received forgiveness because the law had not yet been revealed to man at that time. In the law, however, incest is “written on heavenly tablets” and is therefore punishable by death. Moses is to make this very clear to the people – sexual sin is an “abomination” and results in a blemish and pollution in the land.

Jubilees 34:1-9 concludes the section on Jacob with his raid on the Amorites (not paralleled in Genesis), but it is reminiscent of Abraham’s rescue of Lot. The story of Joseph begins in 34:10-14 with the plot to sell him into slavery. A day of mourning was declared for Joseph, the tenth day of the seventh month, the day set aside in the Law for the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16:29. This is another example of our author placing a well-known Jewish feast day in the patriarchal history.

Jubilees 35 is Rebecca’s final words to her sons. A “testament” from a woman is rare in this literature, (cf. Deborah in Pseudo-Philo 33.) The first speech is a prediction of her death while speaking to Jacob. He laughs at his mother’s words because she was still in perfect health (verse 7). Rebecca then intercedes with Isaac on behalf of Jacob. She believes that after she dies Esau will get his revenge on Jacob. Isaac reassures her this will not happen. In the final section Rebecca calls on Esau himself to not harm Jacob, and he swears he will not. On the last night of Rebecca’s life the two brothers eat and drink together as a demonstration of their reconciliation.

Isaac makes his own farewell speech (testament) in Jubilees 36. Jacob and Esau are called to his deathbed and gives them a moral exhortation to remember the Lord and the way their father Abraham walked. He makes them swear not to seek evil for each other, then divides the inheritance between them, giving Esau the larger share. Esau admits he sold his share to his brother, so Isaac blesses him. Jacob returns to Hebron to live, where we are told he worshiped the Lord with all of his heart according to the commands which were revealed. Leah dies soon after this (verses 21-24).

Chapter 37-38 answers a potential question in the patriarchal narrative – how could Esau have simply surrendered to Jacob? The peaceful resolution between Jacob and Esau does not last after the death of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau’s sons convince their father to attempt to take by force what Jacob stole, so he hires mercenaries and plans to make war against his brother. Esau’s army approaches Hebron, but Jacob attempts to convince his brother not to attack. After some fairly harsh words for his brother, Esau attacks, but is soundly defeated by Judah and his men. It is Jacob himself who shoots the arrow which kills his brother. The sons of Esau are forced to pay tribute to Jacob until the family moves into Egypt.

Expansions on the Story of Abraham in Jubilees 11-23

Jubilees 11 is a narrative-genealogy for Abram. The births of Serug, Nahor, Terah and Abram are narrated. The period leading up to the time of Abram’s birth is a terrible time, but Abram is a righteous man who separated from his father over the worship of idols (cf. the Apocalypse of Abraham).

Abram pleads with his family to stop worshiping idols and only worship the God of Heaven but they become angry with him (ch. 12). He eventually burns the sanctuary of his these idols and he therefore has to leave his family (cf. Jud. 6, Gideon.)  He spends the night wondering what he is seeking and wondering whether he ought to go back to Ur.  It is at this moment the Lord calls him to go to the land and makes the Abrahamic covenant with him.  While the covenant is the same, the circumstances are remarkably different.  Abram is already a monotheist and resisting idols aggressively by destroying them at the risk of his own life.  Like the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abram is a righteous man who really is seeking after the God of Heaven when the Lord initially calls him. In order to show the Jewish religion in the best light possible, the Lord gave Abram the ability to read Hebrew, a language which had not been spoken since the time of the fall.  Terah blesses Abram and bids him return when he has found the “beautiful land.”

Abram first stays at Bethel before moving on to Hebron (ch. 13). As in the Genesis account, he goes into Egypt during a famine and pharaoh takes his wife (no mention of the lie that made this possible.)  After returning to Bethel he and Lot separate and there is a notice of the wickedness of Sodom.  After Abram rescues Lot from the invading kings he tithes, but there is a missing section here – Melchizedek is not mentioned although he would have been of interest to the author as a “priest of the God Most High.”  One wonders if the Qumran community had a complete text since they had an interest in Melchizedek.

Jubilees 14-15 tracks closely to Genesis 15 and 16, with very little unique material.  It is at a festival of the first fruit that the Lord appears to Abram and reestablishes the covenant and changes his name to Abraham.   Because circumcision is given as a sign in the Genesis story, the author of Jubilees deals with the law of circumcision (15:25-32).  Circumcision is a commandment written in heaven on heavenly tablets.  It is to be done on the eighth day for all Israelites, but not for descendants of Esau or Ishmael. No one is to be exempted from this law, but the Lord also predicts the nation will become lax in following this law as well.  Those who do not circumcise their children are called “sons of Beliar” (15:33-34).  Since circumcision is such an important issue for the Jews that the early Church struggled with the ritual (Acts 15 and Galatians especially.)  If this sort of thinking represented by Jubilees was popular in the first century, we may have some light on the strong reaction against Paul’s teaching that Gentiles were not to be circumcised.

Titian: Abraham and IsaacThe story of Sarah’s laughter follows the biblical model closely, although the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is briefly described (ch. 16).  The reason for the judgment is fornication, which causes pollution on the earth.  When Isaac is born, the Lord appears to Abraham and repeats the covenant once again (the biblical account places the third repetition later in Abraham’s life.)  Abraham celebrates the Feast of Booths after Isaac is born and makes a sacrifice to the Lord, after which the Lord says he has “eternally blessed” the seed of Abraham.  This is another example of the writer placing later Jewish festivals early in the history of the world.

In Jubilees 17:1-14 – Isaac is married, Hagar is banished, and the story moves quickly to the Binding of Isaac (17:15-18:19, cf., Genesis 22).  While the actual story is quite similar to the Genesis, the introduction is radically different.  Instead of the Lord deciding to test Abraham it is Prince Mastema (Satan.)  The prologue in 17:15-18 is modeled on Job as the Lord boasts over Abraham to Prince Mastema, who responds as Satan did in the Job story.  It is this Prince Mastema who suggests Abraham sacrifice his only son.  The last line of chapter 17 is important – Abraham was “not slow to act because he was faithful and a lover of the Lord.”  When the Lord stops Abraham, it is Prince Mastema who is shamed (18:12).

Sarah’s death is recorded as in the biblical material and the story of the marriage of Isaac and the birth of Jacob and Esau is very brief (ch. 19).  What is unique is Abraham’s continued involvement in the family.  It is Abraham who loves Jacob more than Esau and convinces his mother to favor him.  Jacob receives a special blessing from his grandfather Abraham and we are told that he will be the son of the promise.

Abraham’s farewell “testament” appears in chapter 20, despite his life continuing until chapter 23.  This speech has the usual warnings against fornication, but includes a long condemnation of the Gentiles.  The relationship of Jews and Gentiles at the turn of the era is difficult to assess, but the stream of Judaism represented by Jubilees has a strong anti-Gentile prejudice.

In chapter 21 Isaac receives a special blessing from his father, although the content is not at all what we might expect.  Rather than a moral exhortation, Isaac receives instructions on the proper method for animal sacrifice including a list of approved woods for the burnt offering and ritual washing.  Abraham grounds this teaching in the words of books from Enoch and Noah, making the sacrifices discussed here ancient indeed.  They are in fact very much like what is found in Leviticus (there are several references to Leviticus in the margin of OTP for this chapter.)  The practice is not, however, copied straight out of the Old Testament, implying that we are reading the practice of the period of the writer, or at least his opinion of how it ought to be done.

Abraham celebrates the feast of first fruits and blesses Jacob in Jubilees 22. In this lengthy blessing Abraham tells his grandson he will rule over the seed of Shem and that he will be blessed as was Noah and Adam, but only if he keeps the “commandments of your father Abraham.”  The following section is yet another condemnation of Gentiles and their practice of idolatry.

Finally, in chapter 23 Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah in Machpelah. In 23:8-15 we have an authorial discussion of the problem of longevity. Abraham only saw three jubilees and four weeks of years, or 175 years total. Why did the “ancients” live as many as nineteen jubilees? The writer blames the reduction in age to suffering and evil ways. The pre-flood generations lived nearly a thousand good years, yet today people live seventy or eighty and they are filled with evil due to the pollution of sin. This discussion leads to a semi-prophecy of the evil future generations will commit (verses 16-21), followed by a judgment on the world for these sins (a great plague, verses 22-23). There will be turmoil for Israel (verses 24-25), but in those children will begin to search the law and the commandments and they will return to a way of righteousness (verse 26). When this happens long life will return and men will live for a thousand years in peace and rejoicing because Satan will be no more (verses 27-29). There may be a reference to resurrection in verses 30-31, when “the bones rest in the ground but the spirits increase in joy.”

From Creation to Flood – Jubilees 1-10

Chapter 1 begins with Moses going up to Mount Sinai to receive the Law the Lord commands him to create a book so that his descendants will know what has happened on the Mountain.  The Lord tells Moses the people will not keep the Law, they will worship idols, and they will be punished for these transgressions.  The prophets will be “witnesses” to encourage the people to seek the Law.  Although the Lord promises not to forsake the people even in their exile, Moses intercedes on their behalf (as he does in Numbers frequently).  He prays that they do not allow the spirit of Beliar to rule over them, but the Lord tells Moses that they will be unfaithful, but they will be restored. Jubilees therefore deals with the same theological problem as Romans 9-11, ‘”has God forsaken his people?” Moses therefore dictates the words of the book to an angel who writes in on tablets.  The history which follows is based on “jubilee years,” or sets of “seven” years.

The second chapter summarizes creation.  For the most part the text is generally in line with Genesis 1 until the description of the Sabbath beginning in verse 17.  This is more detailed and is connected with the people of Israel (“I will sanctify them for myself,” verse 19, cf. 31-33.)  Verses 26-33 expand this description greatly, calling the Sabbath holy and demanding death for anyone who pollutes the day.  There are twenty-two generations from Adam to Jacob, and twenty-two kinds of work created before the first Sabbath.  This number is probably based on the number of Hebrew letters.

The naming of the animals takes Adam the six days of the next week (ch. 3). Woman is created late on the second sixth day, the text reads about like Genesis 2.  Along with the material on marriage there is also a section on purification ritual after child birth (seven days for a male, thirty three days for a female.)  This grounds a major element of ritual purity in the creation story (along with Sabbath and marriage.)  Adam and Eve are in the garden for the first jubilee of seven years before the temptation and fall occur.  These stories follow Genesis 3 closely, although there is a variant which implies the serpent had four legs prior to the fall.

Image result for Cain and AbelAfter Cain murders Abel there is a long section dealing with marriage in the first few generations (Jubilees 4). Where did Cain get his wife?  Jubilees tells us it was his sister Awan.  The genealogy section climaxes with Enoch (16-26).  Enoch is the first to learn wisdom and writing.  Adam dies seventy years short of one thousand because “one day is like a thousand in the testimony of heaven” (verse 30).  Cain is killed after the death of Adam (his house collapses on him.)  This is considered a just punishment for the murder of his brother.

In chapter 5-6 increasing wickedness of humanity leads to the flood.  Verses 1-11 are close to the story in Genesis, but in 12-19 we are told that God will create a new, righteous people (Israel). This new righteous people will be the judge of the unrighteous who perished in the flood.  After the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah.  This is an important point in history since many later Jewish consider this passage to be God’s covenant with the Gentiles.  In Jubilees 6:1-10 the story runs parallel to Genesis 9, but in 11-16 there is a significant departure.  Noah makes a second covenant with the nation of Israel.   This covenant is to be renewed each year during the feast of Shebout.  Once the land dried out Noah ordained feasts for “eternal generations.” Since these feasts are important remembrances of God’s Covenant it is important to know when to celebrate them.  Verses 32-38 deal with the calendar, advocating a 364-day calendar so that the feast days fall at the right times each year.

Chapters 7 deals with Noah’s post-flood activities.  After he sacrifices, Canaan is cursed because of Ham’s sin and Shem is blessed.  The text of Genesis is expanded by adding a list of the cities built by each of the sons of Noah. The chapter concludes with a “testament” of Noah parallel in form to the testamental literature. The moral exhortation in this testament is based on the Noahic covenant (avoid blood and fornication.) While this was expected from the biblical text, Noah’s commands concerning the first-fruits are unique.  He gives commands on when to harvest from a new tree and how to reserve a portion for the altar of the Lord.  Noah cites Enoch as an authority for this commandment. The sons of Noah are described in chapters 8-9. Cainan discovers astrology from a stone inscribed by a pre-flood ancestor.  He transcribes it and thereby participates in the sin of the Watchers.   The earth is divided among the three sons of Noah, and the regions are described in 8:12-9:13.  If anyone violates these boundaries, they are cursed (9:14-15).

Finally, Noah’s children are harassed by demons and are “lead into folly” by them (ch. 10). Noah prays for his children and asks the demons (children of the Watchers) may not have power over humans.  The Lord binds most of the children of the watchers, but leaves a tenth to serve Satan at the request of Prince Matsema.  This Prince appears several times in Jubilees and seems to be roughly parallel to Satan (the name means “enmity,” R.  H. Charles, APOT, 2:28.)  Matsema is mentioned in “A Fragment of a Zadokite Work,” 20:2, “when Moses gives the Law the angel of Matsema will depart from him if he makes good his word.”

After a notice of the death of Noah (who was more excellent than anyone except Enoch, vss. 15-17), the story of Babel is re-told nearly parallel to the biblical account.  After this time, however, Cainan seizes Lebanon from his brother Shem and is therefore cursed.  This also is used to explain the name of the land as “Canaan” (verse 34). This version may serve to absolve Noah of any responsibility for planting the vineyard after the flood and getting drunk, leading to the sin of Ham.

Sacred Geography and Sacred Time in Jubilees

Just as the writer 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).

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 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 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 C. 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 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.

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. As Michael Segal, states, “one of the most distinctive features of Jubilees is the juxtaposition of laws generally known from the legal corpora of the Pentateuch with stories of the patriarchal period” (in Reworking the Bible: Apocryphal and Related Texts at Qumran, 204.

Image result for torahFor example, the purity laws concerning a pregnancy (3:8-14) are found in the creation narrative alongside marriage and Sabbath. Sabbath law is inserted into the narrative of creation as well, 2:25-33.  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.) Halpurn-Amaru points out that Jubilees 2:19-20 selects phrases from Exodus on Sabbath and inserts them into the creation story (Rewriting the Bible: Land and Covenant in Post-Biblical Jewish Literature [Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity], 26).

Noah establishes the feast of Shevout (5:17-31) and firstfruits (7:23-39, referring to Exodus 34:22, CD 3:6.  The feast was kept by Noah and his family for seven Jubilees, until Noah’s death). Noah tells his children they will be ‘planted in righteousness” in the whole earth, cf. 1 Enoch 10:16, if they continue to bring their firstfruits to the Lord. 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). The legendary piety of Abraham is the basis for the Apocalypse of Abraham. Abraham even keeps the Feast of Booths centuries before it is given (16). Passover and the Feast of Lights are not mentioned since they are rooted in well-known historical events. The events of Passover is mentioned in chapter 49.  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).  Seth, Enoch, and Noah are “proto-Jews” who were righteous before God well before Abraham.  The tithe is rooted in the patriarchal stories in chapter 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.

There is a repeating condemnation of fornication in the various 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.

There are many stories which are slightly altered so as to preserve the righteousness of a character.  Shem is blessed since his division of territory included the Garden of Eden (8:18-21).  Jacob is a righteous man who follows the Lord wholeheartedly rather than a conniving deal-maker (36).  As with the Enoch literature, there is an effort to absolve God of any apparent sin.  For example, a demonic creature is responsible for telling Abraham to sacrifice of Isaac, not the Lord.  This is the same demon who later helps the magicians in Egypt do miracles.  Demons are responsible for much of the sin found among the sons of Noah.  Noah prays and none-tenths of these demons are bound in judgment.  Shem is given the secret of dealing with the final tenth because he is Noah’s beloved son (10:7-14).   Abraham does not leave the Land nor does he lie about Sarah (15:17-20).

On the other hand, some biblical characters are vilified far more than in the Hebrew Bible. Caanan, for example, discovers astrology (8) and his descendants are responsible for the evil in the world at the time of Abraham. Canaan violates the borders established after the flood by seizing Shem’s land and forcing him into exile in Egypt (10:27-34; 10:14-15, Noah pronounces a curse on anyone who violates boundaries.).

Why Was Jubilees Written?

The primary purpose of Jubilees is therefore to define the true Jewish people as those who keep God’s law and to call the Jewish people back to obedience to that Law (suggested by Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 362). The Law is rooted in the very creation of the world.  To violate law is therefore to flaunt the created order itself.  Given the probability of a date just after the Maccabean revolt, the writer is reacting to those within the Jewish community who were too tolerant of the Greek world.  When Antiochus IV Epiphanies banned feasts and festivals, the Sabbath and circumcision, he violated the Law of God.

Image result for leprosy in the bibleThe Maccabean revolt did not go far enough, since the Hasmonean kings were little better than the Selucid kings they replaced.  To be a proper Jew, one must retain the traditional boundary markers of the Hebrew Bible.   Unlike Sirach, Jubilees envisions a complete separation from the Hellenistic world.  It is not “wisdom” which is rooted in the creation, but rather the Law of God as it appears in the Mosaic Law.  While Sirach said wisdom was to keep the Law of God, he was never very clear on what that Law might be.  The author of Jubilees is quite clear as he re-writes the stories of the Hebrew Bible to establish the antiquity of the boundary markers of the Jewish people.

Not every story in Jubilees is overly embellished. Chapter 39-46 is a fairly straightforward retelling of the Joseph story.  The text of Genesis is summarized and very little is added.  The major differences are found in 40:6-13, the description of Joseph’s power when he became the rule of Egypt.  The story of Judah’s sin with Tamar is retold with an added repentance at the end (41:23-24).  As with the sin of Reuben, the writer wants it made clear that Judah’s forgiveness is no excuse for present immorality.  Before going to Egypt, Jacob celebrates the firstfruits at the Well of Oaths 45-46).  As in Genesis 46, at Beer-sheba he experiences a vision of God telling him not to worry about the sojourn in Egypt.  The family is listed in chapter 45 (cf., Genesis 46, there are a number of differences between Genesis and Jubilees in the listing of the names.)  The family settles in Goshen while Joseph continues to serve in the government of Egypt.  Jacob dies after seventeen years on Egypt.  An important note is made in 45:15 – all of Jacob’s books are given to Levi.  These are the books which have been handed down from Enoch to Noah to Abraham, etc.  The ancient books of wisdom are therefore now in the possession of the priesthood “to this day.”

Joe Hellerman argued Jubilees (along with 1-2 Maccabees) is preoccupied with “symbols of Jewish socio-political identity,” primarily the practice of circumcision, the distinction between sacred and profane places, times, and foods.” (“Purity and Nationalism in the Second Temple Literature: 1-2 Maccabees and Jubilees,” JETS 46 (2003): 401).

Sacred times and places are clearly of importance to the writer of Jubilees, but all of these boundary markers are precisely the points of conflict during the Maccabean revolt and continued to be important symbols of Jewish nationalism in the first century. Circumcision and sacred times, and food laws are all points of conflict in the early church when Gentiles began to join an otherwise Jewish sect.  The issue of sacred space was less of an issue outside of Jerusalem, although Paul certainly encounters the idea of the Temple in Acts 20.  Jesus too encounters resistance from the Pharisees in three of these categories, the exception being circumcision.

Hellerman notes that circumcision is not simply a “sign of the covenant” in Jubilees, but it had “profoundly sociological (even geographical) significance” as well (Hellerman, 415). Jubilees 15:33-34 connects circumcision with Israel’s election and possession of the land. In 4:26 the author of Jubilees lists four sacred places, including Eden, Sinai and Zion (cf. 8:19, which lists only these three).   Clearly proper time is a major interest in the book (both Sabbath, 2:17-18, 50:1-13) but also calendar (6:36-37).  Least applicable of Hellerman’s categories is that of sacred food, which finds less support in Jubilees as 1-2 Maccabees.