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Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 728, 256 pp. $125.00, Hb. Link to Eerdmans

This massive anthology collects examples of literature from the Second Temple Period. It goes beyond the standard collection in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. By James Charlesworth, 1983) or the more recent Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (ed. Alexander Panayotov, James R. Davila, and Richard Bauckham). By including Josephus, Philo and a wide range of Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Literature provides students with a broad overview of the massive literature of the late Second Temple Period.

The Contents

Each volume has four major units covering a specific genre. One of the editors introduces the unit with a brief overview. Volume 1 begins with Scriptural Texts and Traditions. The editors in include excerpts from Daniel, the additions to Daniel and other Danielic literature found at Qumran, the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) and Pseudo-Daniel (extremely fragmentary, 4Q243-245). Although it is common to read Daniel along with the Apocryphal additions, it is unusual to see the fragmentary material from Qumran in the same context. Peter Flint provides the translation for the Dead Sea Scrolls material. This section also has a few extracts from the Great Isaiah Scroll ad three Psalms from Qumran as well as LXX Psalm 151.

The Books of Maccabees and Josephus appear under the heading of “Interpretive History” in the second section of the anthology. The complete text of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are included, but only samples from the four main works of Josephus are included. Steve Mason, one of the foremost Josephus scholars in recent years, wrote introductions for each of Josephus’s works.

The third section covers Romanticized Narrative. This includes a book normally appearing in the Apocrypha, Tobit, as well as the Letter of Aristeas, extracts from Joseph and Aseneth, and the Life of Adam and Eve.

The fourth unit of the anthology collects a number of Dead Sea Scrolls under the heading of Biblical Interpretation and Rewritten Scripture. This includes the Habakkuk pesher (1QpHab), the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13), the Temple Scroll (11Q19-20) and several others. The section also includes samples from Jubilees and four samples from the writings of Philo.

Volume 2 opens with Wisdom Literature and Legal Texts. It is no surprise to see extracts from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, but the editors have selected a number of examples of wisdom literature from Qumran as well as 1 Enoch. Since the editors have put wisdom and legal texts in the same unit, a sample from the Rule of the Community (1QS) with an introduction by Jörg Frey, the Damascus Document (CD) with an introduction by Cecilia Wassen, and “Some Works of the Law” (4QMMT) with an introduction and translation by James Dunn. Since this particular legal document has been used by Dunn and N. T. Wright as background to the Pauline phrase “works of the Law,” Dunn’s introduction to this somewhat controversial document will attract a attention. I think the decision to put wisdom and legal material together was a mistake; the genre are different enough to separate into two sections, allowing for additional legal texts from Qumran.

Under Apocalyptic Literature the editors have lengthy selections from the various sections of 1 Enoch, including the Book of Giants from 4Q23 (and other fragments). Only three of the Sibylline Oracles appear (books 3-5, all complete), along with extracts from Fourth Ezra and the whole of 2 Baruch.  From Qumran, the editors have a portion of the War Scroll and three fragmentary apocalypses (4Q246, 4Q521, 4Q285/11Q14), all introduced and translated by Martin Abegg.

Along with Psalms of Solomon and Odes of Solomon, the unit entitled “Psalms, Hymns, and Prayers” includes several prayers from Qumran, Hodayot (1QHa), Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab), Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511), and an example of an incantation (4Q444) and exorcism (4Q560).

The final unit of the anthology covers Testamentary Literature. From the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, this anthology only includes the Testament of Levi; the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Moses are also included. The final text in this section is The Aramaic Levi Document, often identified as the Aramaic Testament of Levi. The translation provided is based on 4QLevia and the Athos Greek manuscript.

The Introductions

There are introductions for every piece of literature in the anthology. This includes a narrative description of the text summarizing the contents of the whole document even if the word is on printed in full. Following this, the introduction deals with questions of authorship, provenance, date, occasion and a short summary of the textual history, original language, sources and transmission history. These are often extremely tentative due to the nature of most of the literature in the anthology. The author of the introduction then provides a short theology of the book. Each introduction also includes a short reception history of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a bibliography divided into two sections: For Further Study and Advanced. These reading lists are not exhaustive and would have been more useful if the texts and translations were moved to their own category.

Following the introduction is a translation of the text. Often these are fresh translations by the author of the unit, although occasionally the editors use a recently published translation. By way of example, I compared Brad Embry’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon (based on the Greek text rather than the Syriac) with R. B. Wright’s translation in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. As can be seen from this sample, the translation is not radically different, perhaps slightly more contemporary.

Psalms of Solomon 1 I shouted to the Lord in my utter oppression, to God during the attack of the sinners. 2 Suddenly a clamor of war was heard in my presence. I said, “He will listen to me because I was full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, because of my prosperity and the existence of many offspring.4 Their wealth was spread in all the land and their glory unto the ends of the earth. 5 They were exalted unto the stars. They said, “We will never fall.” 6 They became prideful in their good things and they did not hold to their responsibilities. 7 Their sins were in secret and I did not see. 8 Their lawlessness was greater than those nations before them; they completely desecrated the holy things of the Lord. (Translation, Brad Embry, EJL 2:572)

Psalm of Solomon 1 I cried out to the Lord when I was severely troubled, to God when sinners set upon (me). 2 Suddenly, the clamor of war was heard before me; “He will hear me, for I am full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, for I had prospered and had many children. 4 Their wealth was extended to the whole earth, and their glory to the end of the earth. 5 They exalted themselves to the stars, they said they would never fall. 6 They were arrogant in their possessions, and they did not acknowledge (God). 7 Their sins were in secret, and even I did not know. 8 Their lawless actions surpassed the gentiles before them; they completely profaned the sanctuary of the Lord. (Translation by R. B. Wright, OTP 2: 651).

In other cases translations are drawn from recent major translations. For Jubilees, the translation is from James Vanderkam (Leuven, 1989). Portions of the section on Josephus are from the Brill Josephus Translation and Commentary series, translated by Steve Mason, Louis Feldman, and Christopher Begg. The books of 1-2 Maccabees are extracted from the New American Bible translation, although Tobit is a fresh translation by Stuart Weeks. Most of the samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls are new translations from the author of the chapter. Fourth Ezra is taken from Bruce Metzger’s translation in Charlesworth. Strangely, the Letter of Aristides and 2 Baruch are reprints of R. H. Charles published in 1931, albeit edited by Joshua Williams. The translation of 2 Baruch is supplemented with papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus in parallel columns.


I have several comments about this anthology of Early Jewish Literature. First, it is just that, an anthology. Certainly there are other examples in virtually every category which could have been chosen. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh is not included among the Psalms, Hymns and Prayers, but an example an incantation (4Q444) and an exorcisms (4Q560) are included. OTP also included several Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers and the Prayer of Jacob and the Prayer of Joseph. For Interpretive History, EJL has only the first two books of Maccabees and Josephus. While this alone is nearly 200 pages, there is no attempt to collect the various fragmentary historians such as Aristeas the Exegete or Eupolemus. In other ways the EJL covers more than expected. EJL includes a few of the more interesting sections of 1 Enoch in the Apocalyptic section, but has nothing from 2 Enoch or 3 Enoch (as in OTP). It is quite clear this is not an attempt to re-make James Charlesworth’s two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (1983).

Second, although the introductions to each book are brief, they provide the necessary information for students to read the sampled literature with some context. The bibliographies point to more detailed studies on textual or theological issues. For some works (4QMMT, Psalms of Solomon) there is an extended theology section, but compared to the introductions in OTP, even these are brief. This is simply the nature of an anthology; it is impossible to explore any given text with the kind of depth found in a monograph.

Third, by including samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls as a part of a genre is extremely valuable. It is easy enough to find collections of this material in translation, to have various apocalyptic fragments printed along with some of the usual examples of the literature is very valuable. The same can be said for separating out wisdom literature embedded in 1 Enoch and placing alongside other Second Temple wisdom.


Early Jewish Literature is a major contribution to the ongoing study of the literature of the Second Temple period. Students and scholars alike will benefit from this collection of a wide range of material. The literature collected in these two volumes are sufficiently different from the now venerable Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of Dead Sea Scroll material makes these useful volumes indeed.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

In the opening paragraph of the book we are introduced to Joseph and Pharaoh and the well-known situation of the famine. Pentaphres a priest in Hierapolis has a beautiful daughter named Asenath. She is described as tall like Sarah, handsome like Rebecca and beautiful like Rachel. The son of Pharaoh desires to marry her, but the king pushes him toward a royal marriage. We are told Asenath has scorned the attention of men and is “scornful and arrogant to everyone.

Image result for joseph and asenethIn chapter 3-6 Joseph visits the priest’s home to collect corn because of the famine. He stays until the afternoon and Asenath prepares herself to meet him. Before he arrives, her father proposes a marriage between Asenath and Joseph. She arrogantly refuses and becomes enraged at the suggestion. When Joseph arrives, however, she sees him dressed in this royal outfit she falls in love with him (she trembles and her knees are paralyzed). The description of Joseph is angelic, prompting David Aune to see a parallel to this passage in the description of Christ in Revelation 1 (See Aune, Revelation 1-5, 72), although the description in both Joseph and Asenath and Revelation is likely a development from Daniel 7 (as Aune himself notes). Expecting a shepherd from Canaan, she was not prepared for “such beauty.” She describes him as a “son of a god.”

Joseph, however, is not a hurry to meet Asenath (chapter 7-9). Only after he is convinced she will not “molest him” does he consent to meet her. Asenath expects him to kiss her, but he refuses since he worships God and she worships idols and eats the food offered to idols. This section is the main crux of interpretation for the study of the book since Joseph describes his worship as eating blessed bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality. This passage has been the subject of lengthy discussions concerning the possibility of finding the Lord’s Supper here as well as potential parallels to John 6 and 1 Cor. 10 (OTP 2:211 note i).

There are at least two possibilities. The most obvious (and easiest to handle) is that this is a Christian interpolation added at a much later date to make it appear as though the Communion was anticipated in the book of Genesis. The second possibility is that the reference to “true worship” as the eating of the bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality is a Jewish concept which may have had an influence on the book of John. This creates all sorts of issues when dealing with the book of John and the sources of imagery chosen in Chapter 6. This is a possibility because the text clearly contrasts the food of Joseph with the “bread of strangulation and the cup of insidiousness.” The reference in the book may be simply “true worship” versus “false worship.” How this influences John 6 (or is influenced by John 6) is a separate issue. Asenath is insulted and “distressed exceedingly” at Joseph’s rather final refusal of her. She resolves to repent, to pray to the God of Israel, and to ask him to “make her alive again” (8:11). Spurned, Asenath returns to her room and bitterly weeps in repentance. Joseph promises to return in a week’s time.

Chapters 10-13 describe Asenath as a model of repentance. She only eats bread and drinks water, she wears sackcloth put ashes on her head. She refuses to be comforted by her attendant virgins and she destroys her idols. Chapters 11-13 are “soliloquies” on repentance.

Asenath’s repentance is genuine and she is reward with a visit from an angelic figure (chapter 14-17). This sequence is the most mysterious in the book and may not be very well understood for as much has been written in it.  This angel calls to her (Asenath, Asenath) to which she responds “here I am,” just as Abraham did at critical points in Genesis (Gen 22, for example). She sees a man very much like Joseph except that he is shining like sunshine. He tells her to have courage and to dress. Her prayers have been heard and she has been accepted by God. He tells her she will be the bride of Joseph and that her name will be “city of refuge.” The heavenly man, who refuses to give his name, gives Asenath a honeycomb “which is the bread of life.” Asenath invites him to sit on her bed (which no one has been in other than herself), and she prepares a table for him.

Image result for joseph and aseneth honeycombHe asks for honeycomb, but Asenath tells him there is none in the store room. He tells her to go and check, and returns with a wonderful honeycomb. She knows the man “spoke, and it came into being,” a spiritual insight. The man blesses her (“happy are you” is the form a beatitude) and he tells her this honeycomb is the bread of life. He breaks off a piece and gives it to her, telling her that now she has eaten the bread of life and drank the cup of immortality. The man then touches the honeycomb, drawing his finger in the shape of a cross (or an X), and his finger became like blood. Innumerable bees began to rise from the comb and surround her mouth. They eat the honeycomb out of her mouth then ascend into heaven. He then blesses the seven virgins who attend Asenath – they will be the seven pillars in the “City of Refugee” (i.e., Asenath). The man disappears while she is putting the table away. She sees a chariot of fire with four horses traveling to the east, and then she realizes either a god or the God has been in her chamber.

Joseph arrives for his second visit in chapters 18-20. Asenath is instructed to prepare herself for his arrival, so she dresses beautifully. She is so striking her foster-father says “At last the Lord God of Heaven has chosen you as a bride for his firstborn son, Joseph.” When Joseph arrives he too is amazed at her beauty and asks her name. She explains to him her decision to no longer worship idols and of her vision of the man from heaven. They embrace for a long time and hold hands.

Pentephres proposes marriage and Joseph suggests the Pharaoh give the wedding banquet. We are told Joseph did not sleep with Asenath until after they were married, “It does not befit a man who worships God to sleep with his wife before the wedding” (20:1). This line is important for what it says about sexual morality in Judaism at the time of Christ, but also because Joseph refers to Asenath as wife before the wedding. This is helpful in sorting out the descriptions of Mary in Matthew and Luke. There Joseph can refer to his “wife Mary” and perhaps seek a divorce despite the fact they have not yet been married.

Pharaoh presides over the wedding of Joseph and Asenath (ch. 21) and holds a seven-day banquet for them. Asenath confesses her sin before the Lord in eleven stages (idol worship, trust in arrogance of beauty, etc.). Jacob and the rest of the family move from Canaan to Goshen (ch. 22. Asenath is astounded at his beauty even though he is an old man. She especially likes Levi because he has devoted himself to the service of the Lord.

Joseph and Aseneth book is a “romance,” telling the story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of Potiphera (called Pentepheres in this book.)  Like the book of Jubilees, the book attempts to answer a question which many people have about the story of Joseph.  If Joseph was such a godly Jew, how could he marry an Egyptian, especially one whose father is a pagan priest?  The book was written in Greek and seems to have been a Jewish book, although there are Christian interpolations (possibly the honeycomb sequence, for example, which mentions the “bread of life.”) The book may have been known in the fourth century A.D. since it is mentioned in the Pilgrimage of Etheria. This book is a list of “holy sites” written about A.D. 382.  The reference to Asenath’s house is found in a fragment of the work in Peter the Deacon of Monte Cassino’s On the Holy Places, which is dated to about A.D. 1137.

Image result for Joseph and AsenethIt is probable that the book uses the LXX, making for a date of no earlier than 100 B.C. If the work is from Alexandria (again, the scholarly consensus), then it is unlikely to have been written much after the Jewish revolt under Trajan, A.D. 115-117. A major argument in favor of Egypt is that Asenath is the heroine, the only convert to Judaism from Egypt.  If it was from Palestine, then Ruth or Rahab might have been better examples of pagan conversions, see OTP 2:187-188.  This argument weakens if the book is an apologetic explaining why Joseph married an Egyptian, or an explanation of how Joseph married a gentile without punishment, aimed at Diaspora Jews tempted to marry gentiles.  Like Reuben or Judah in Jubilees, the story may be intended to explain that just because Joseph “got away with it” does not mean you can!

The book falls into two parts.  The first is the “romance” between Joseph and Asenath (chapters 1-21).  This romance is more about repentance and gentile conversion than romantic love.  From the perspective of the book, it is entirely possible for a gentile to truly convert to Judaism.  Asenath is so thorough a convert she receives a heavenly visit which confirms her resolve.  In order to convert she must completely reject her former idolatrous ways, a point made several times in the book, including the eating of food associated with these idols.  This may play into the background of the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols which turns up at several points in the New Testament, especially in Pauline letters.

As Christianity spread into Gentile regions, the meal became a potential problem on two levels.  Some Jews appear to have been more than uncomfortable eating with Gentiles, especially those that were not of the “God-Fearers.” A second and related reason was the potential for non-kosher foods to be eaten, included meats that had been sacrificed to idols.  To the Gentile, this was not a problem, since they never cared about it before Christ, and it isn’t really a problem after becoming a Christian for them.  But to the Jew, this is a sin!  Such food is unclean so they could not eat it in good conscious.  The issue of table fellowship appears in Galatians 2:11-18.  Peter had shared the table with Gentiles, but after a visit from “certain people from James” he withdrew from eating with Gentiles.  Asenath indicates that, at least for some Jews, the food laws were of critical importance for true conversion. Circumcision may be the primary “boundary marker” but it is obviously not an issue for Asenath.

The second part of the book concerns a plot by the son of the Pharaoh to kill his father to revenge his losing Asenath to Joseph.  This plot goes wrong when Asenath is caught in the trap.  The son of the Pharaoh is injured in the attack and dies soon after.  This section has less to do with New Testament issues than the first, although there is a continuation of the theme that Asenath is more righteous than the (Jewish) sons of Bilah and Zilpah.

The Life of Adam and Eve is an expansion of the creation and fall narrative. It appears in two forms, a “Life” of Adam and an “apocalypse” of Adam. Both were likely written in Hebrew and translated into Greek and Latin. There are parallels to other pseudepigrapha (2 Enoch) and rabbinic traditions as well as Josephus (Antiquities 1.2.3). It is possible the book influenced the story told in Josephus or vice-versa, but it is almost impossible to who used whom. A range of dates from 100 B.C. to A.D. 200 is likely. The key evidence for the provenance of the book is the use of the mythical Lake of Acheron in 37:3. This is thought to be an indication the book came from Alexandria, where the Greek ideas might have been more current. OTP has printed the two works side-by-side so parallels may be studied.

Image result for The Life of Adam and EveThe first eight chapters of the Life of Adam and Eve begin just after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. They have nothing to eat except what the animals have. They go nine days without eating and realize their need to repent. Adam fasts for forty days in repentance, Eve stands on a rock in the Tigris River up to her neck in silence for thirty-seven days. Adam does the same in the Jordan for forty days. When Adam does this all the living creatures surround him and the Jordan stands still.

Eighteen days later Satan comes to Even while she is in the river as an angel of light (ch. 9-11). He commands Eve out of the water and promises to take her someplace to eat. When Adam sees his wife with the Devil (again) he calls out to her and asks her what has happened to her repentance. Adam asks the Lord to remove his opponent far from him, and the devil immediately disappears. Adam “persisted” with his penitence in the Jordan.

Chapters 18-24 deal with the children of Adam and Eve. As she is giving birth, she is in terrible pain and cries out to God. Adam thinks she is struggling with the devil again and he prays for her. Twelve angels and “two excellencies” appear and stand on her right and left while she gives birth to Cain, who is described as “lustrous” at birth. When Abel is born, Eve has a vision of Cain’s murder. The parents resolve to keep the children far apart, which is why one was a shepherd and the other a farmer.

Adam tells his son Seth the story of how he was returned to Paradise in a vision (ch. 25-29). He is carried to heaven in a fiery chariot where he worships the Lord. Michael takes him by the hand and brings him to Paradise where he touches the waters of Paradise with a rod and freezes them.

Adam’s “testament” appears in Chapters 30-36. He gathers his family around him to give them a final charge. As in other testament literature, Adam gives a recount of his life, especially of the fall. Two angels were appointed to watch over them in the garden, but they ascended to heaven at the appointed hour of worship. It is at this time that Eve ate the forbidden fruit and cause God to be angry with them. God promises to bring upon their bodies seventy plagues and they will be racked with severe pains from the top of their heads to the nails of their feet. When Adam is in pain Eve asks for the pain to be transferred to her since it was she who sinned. Adam requests Seth and Eve go to Paradise and mourn for him, hoping that the Lord will allow them to take a little oil of life to anoint him with and relieve his pains.

That Eve is responsible for sin is found in several places in the pseudepigrapha and is quite the opposite of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 where Adam and Adam alone is blamed for sin. In the two places where Paul mentions Eve, however, she is not placed in a favorable light. In 2 Cor. 11:3 Eve is deceived by the devil’s cunning. In the very difficult passage in 2 Tim 2:13-15 Eve was deceived and became a sinner. The connection with “saved through childbirth” in 2:15 could be a reflection of Eve requesting Adam’s pain in this pseudepigraphal account. It is through her pain in childbirth that Eve atones for her part in the fall.

Image result for meme Adam blamed Eve


Chapters 37-44 is an odd sequence which occurs on the way to collect the oil of life. When a serpent attacks and bites Seth, Eve rebukes it because it dared to attack the image of God. The serpent responds to Eve in a human voice – the malice was directed at Eve because she ate the fruit of the tree. Seth rebukes the serpent and commands it to “stand back from the image of God.” The serpent obeys and they continue to paradise. They weep and lament, begging for the oil of life, but Michael appears and refuses to give it to them. No one may have it until the last days, he says. There is nothing left for Adam but to die. They do gather some herbs on the way home, probably to ease his pain. Seth returns to Adam and reports the attack to him. He blames Eve: all their children are affected by the “bite” of the serpent.

Adam dies six days later and for seven days the sun moon and stars were darkened as Seth and Eve mourned him (ch. 45-51:3). Michael appears and tells Seth to rise as he is about to be shown what the Lord God is arranging concerning Adam. In the last days, Adam will sit on the throne of the one who overthrew him (cf. the exaltation of Adam in Apocalypse of Abraham 13). Michael and Uriel instruct Seth on the proper burial of the dead. Before Eve dies six days later, she gathers her children (Seth and thirty brothers and thirty sisters). She commands them to make stone tablets and record on them the life of Adam and all which he said to them. The tablets must be stone so that if the Lord should judge through the flood they will endure. Seth makes these tablets

The tablets do in fact endure (51:3-9). They are seen by many but read by no one after the flood until the time of Solomon. The angel of the Lord appears to him and tells him how to read these stones. On these stones are the words of Enoch, the seventh from Adam, “behold the Lord will come in his holiness to pronounce judgment on all” (cf. Jude 14-16).

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 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)

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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