The Book of Jubilees claims to present "the history of the division of the days of the Law, of the events of the years, the year-weeks, and the jubilees of the world" as secretly revealed to Moses (in addition to the Torah or "Instruction") by Angels while Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. The chronology given in Jubilees is based on multiples of seven; the jubilees are periods of 49 years, seven 'year-weeks', into which all of time has been divided. According to the author of Jubilees, all proper customs that mankind should follow are determined by God's decree.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the only surviving manuscripts of Jubilees were four complete Ge'ez texts dating to the 15th and 16th centuries, and several fragmentary quotations in Greek, mainly found in a work by Epiphanius, but also in others by Justin Martyr, Origen, Diodorus of Tarsus, Isidore of Alexandria, Isidore of Seville, Eutychius of Alexandria, John Malalas, George Syncellus, and George Kedrenos. There is also a preserved fragment of a Latin translation of the Greek that contains about a quarter of the whole work. The Ethiopic texts, now numbering twenty-seven, are the primary basis for translations into English. Passages in the texts of Jubilees that are directly parallel to verses in Genesis do not directly reproduce either of the two surviving manuscript traditions; consequently, the lost Hebrew original is thought to have used an otherwise unrecorded text for Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus, one that was independent of either the Masoretic text or the Hebrew text that was the basis for the Septuagint. As the variation among parallel manuscript traditions that are exhibited by the Septuagint compared with the Masoretic text and which are embodied in the further variants among the Dead Sea Scrolls have demonstrated, even canonical Hebrew texts did not possess any single 'authorized' manuscript tradition, in the first centuries BC.
A further fragment in Syriac in the British Museum, titled Names of the wives of the patriarchs according to the Hebrew books called Jubilees suggests that there once existed a Syriac translation. How much is missing can be guessed from the Stichometry of Nicephorus, where 4300 stichoi or lines are attributed to The Book of Jubilees.
Between 1947 and 1956, approximately 15 Jubilees scrolls were found in five caves at Qumran, all written in Hebrew. The large quantity of manuscripts (more than for any biblical books except for Psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Exodus, and Genesis, in descending order) indicates that Jubilees was widely used at Qumran. A comparison of the Qumran texts with the Ethiopic version, performed by James VanderKam, found that the Ethiopic was in most respects an accurate and literalistic translation.
The oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts of Jubilees can be assigned on the basis of the handwriting to c.100 BC, meaning that the book may have originated prior to this date. For the upper limit, James Vanderkam agrees with Robert Henry Charles in seeing in Jubilees cryptic references to the events described in 1 Maccabees, meaning that Jubilees could not have been written before the events of 1 Maccabees, and probably after 164 BC, as the author seems to be aware of the "Book of Dreams", an apocalyptic work composed after that year. General reference works such as the Oxford Annotated Bible and the Mercer Bible Dictionary therefore agree that the work can most probably be dated to 160–150 BC.
Charles proposed that the author was a Pharisee and that Jubilees was the product of the midrash which had already been at work in the Old TestamentChronicles. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1947, Charles' Pharisaic hypothesis of the origin of the document has been almost completely abandoned.
Jubilees lacks Sadducaic and Essenic concern for cultic and ritual purity (concentrating on moral purity). Its hero Jacob is not a priest; it goes so far as to put Jacob into contact with his dead grandfather. The majority of scholars therefore locate Jubilees in the context of Jewish apocalypticism.
The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church accepts the account given in the book itself, of having been given to Moses atop Mt. Sinai.
Jubilees was immediately adopted by the Hasmoneans, and became a source for the Aramaic Levi Document.Jubilees remained a point of reference for priestly circles (although they disputed its calendric proposal), and the Temple Scroll and "Epistle of Enoch" (1 Enoch 91:1–10, 92:3–93:10, 91:11–92:2, 93:11–105:3) are based on Jubilees. It is the source for certain of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, for instance that of Reuben.
There is no official record of it in Pharisaic or Rabbinic sources, and it was among several books that were left out of the canon established by the Sanhedrin (possibly at Yavne, c 80 AD, though this theory has been largely discredited, see Development of the Jewish Bible canon for details). Sub rosa, many of the traditions which Jubilees includes for the first time are echoed in later Jewish sources, including some 12th-century midrashim which may have had access to a Hebrew copy. The sole exception within Judaism are the Beta Israel Jews formerly of Ethiopia, who regard the Ge'ez text as canonical.
The book of Jubilees was evidently held in high regard, and sometimes quoted, by the Early Church Fathers. In the 4th century, after Bishops had been appointed by the Roman Emperor Constantine, they rejected many of the books, including Jubilees, that later were also absent the Masoretic version. The Oriental Orthodox Churches have continued to consider Jubilees an important book of the Bible and older than Genesis. It is only because of its canonical status in the Oriental Orthodox Churches that the book in its entirety has managed to survive at all.
Jubilees covers much of the same ground as Genesis, but often with additional detail, and addressing Moses in the second person as the entire history of creation, and of Israel up to that point, is recounted in divisions of 49 years each, or "Jubilees". The elapsed time from the creation, up to Moses receiving the scriptures upon Sinai during the Exodus, is calculated as fifty Jubilees, less the 40 years still to be spent wandering in the desert before entering Canaan — or 2,410 years.
Four classes of angels are mentioned: angels of the presence, angels of sanctifications, guardian angels over individuals, and angels presiding over the phenomena of nature. Enoch was the first man initiated by the angels in the art of writing, and wrote down, accordingly, all the secrets of astronomy, of chronology, and of the world's epochs. As regards demonology, the writer's position is largely that of the deuterocanonical writings from both New and Old Testament times.
The Book of Jubilees narrates the genesis of angels on the first day of Creation and the story of how a group of fallen angels mated with mortal females, giving rise to a race of giants known as the Nephilim. The Ethiopian version states that the "angels" were in fact the disobedient offspring of Seth (Deqiqa Set), while the "mortal females" were daughters of Cain. This is also the view held by most of the earliest commentators. Their hybrid children, the Nephilim in existence during the time of Noah, were wiped out by the great flood.
Biblical references to "giants" found in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua have confused some who regard these "giants" to be the same as the antediluvian Nephilim; the Hebrew words for "giants" in most of these verses are "Anakim" or "Rephaim". (One such verse, Num. 13:33, does refer to the sons of Anak as 'Nephilim'.) These references do not necessarily contradict the account of the original Nephilim being completely destroyed in the Deluge. However, Jubilees does state that God granted ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim to try to lead mankind astray after the flood.
Jubilees also make an incestuous reference regarding Cain and his wife. In chapter iv (1-12) (Cain and Abel), it mentions that Cain took his sister Awan to be his wife and Enoch was their child. Also, it mentions that Seth (son of Adam and Eve) married his sister Azura.
According to this book, Hebrew is the language of Heaven, and was originally spoken by all creatures in the Garden, animals and man, however the animals lost their power of speech when Adam and Eve were expelled. Some time following the Deluge, the earth is apportioned into three divisions for the three sons of Noah, and his sixteen grandsons. After the destruction of the tower of Babel, their families were scattered to their respective allotments, and Hebrew was forgotten, until Abraham was taught it by the angels.
Jubilees also contains a few scattered allusions to the Messianic kingdom. RH Charles in 1913 wrote: "This kingdom was to be ruled over by a Messiah sprung, not from Levi — that is, from the Maccabean family — as some of his contemporaries expected — but from Judah. This kingdom would be gradually realized on earth, and the transformation of physical nature would go hand in hand with the ethical transformation of man until there was a new heaven and a new earth. Thus, finally, all sin and pain would disappear and men would live to the age of 1,000 years in happiness and peace, and after death enjoy a blessed immortality in the spirit world."
^ "A minute study of the text shows that it attests an independent form of the Hebrew text of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus. Thus it agrees with individual authorities such as the Samaritan or the LXX, or the Syriac, or the Vulgate, or the Targum of Onkelos against all the rest. Or again it agrees with two or more of these authorities in opposition to the rest, as for instance with the Massoretic and Samaritan against the LXX, Syriac and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic and Onkelos against the Samaritan, LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate, or with the Massoretic, Samaritan and Syriac against the LXX or Vulgate." R.H. Charles, "Textual affinities", in his introduction to his edition of Jubilees, 1913 .
^ Robin Lane Fox, a classicist and historian, discusses these multifarious sources of Old and New Testaments in layman's terms in Unauthorized Version (1992).