The Lost Book of Jasher and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Title page of 1625 edition of the Hebrew Book of Jasher

There are frequent references in the Tanak to “lost books” that are cited in the Tanak bu which do not appear in our current canon. These “lost books” include the following:

  • Book of the Wars of YHWH (Num. 21:14)
  • Manner of the Kingdom by Samuel (1 Sam. 10:25)
  • Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
  • Book of Samuel the Seer (1 Chron. 29:29)
  • Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chron. 29:29)
  • Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chron. 29:29; 2 Chron. 9:29)
  • Prophecy of Abijah (2 Chron. 9:29)
  • Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chron. 9:29; 12:15)
  • The Midrash of Iddo (2 Chron. 13:22)
  • Book of Shemiah (2 Chron. 12:15)
  • Book of Jehu (2 Chron. 20:34)
  • Acts of Uzziah by Isaiah (2 Chron. 26:22)
  • Sayings of the Seers (2 Chron. 33:19)
  • The Book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18)

The name “Book of Jasher” (as we have it in the KJV) is a bit misleading. This was not a book written by someone named “Jasher”. In fact the word “Jasher” (Hebrew: Yashar) means “Upright” so that the Hebrew Sefer HaYashar is “The Upright Book”. The definite article “Ha” tips us off that this is not a person’s name but a modifier for the word “book”.

There are two references to Jasher in the Tanak:

“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still
(Joshua 10:13)

(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
(2 Samuel 1:18)

From these two references in the Tanak there are several things we can learn about this mysterious book.

From the usage in Joshua 10:13 we can determine:

1. That Jasher contained the account of the prolonged day mentioned in Joshua 10.

2. That Jasher was in circulation by the time the book of Joshua was written. Since Joshua was written prior to the death of Rahab, Jasher must have been written by that time as well.

3. The Book of Jasher had enough credibility that Joshua would cite it as support for his assertion of the prolonged day.

The usage in 2Sam. 1:18 tells us:

4. The Book of Jasher supported an admonition to teach the son’s of Judah “the bow”.

The identity of this lost book has been a matter of much speculation over the centuries. The ancient translations and paraphrases offer little help to us in identifying the Book of Jasher. The Greek LXX omits the entire phrase from Joshua 10:13 and translates the the phrase to mean “The Book of the Upright” in 2Sam. 1:18. The Latin Vulgate has in both places “Liber Justorum” “The Book of the Upright Ones”. In the Targums the phrase is Paraphrased as “The Book of the Law”.

The Aramaic Peshitta Tanak has “The Book of Praises” in Joshua 10:13 and “The Book of the Song” in 2Sam. 1:18. This may have resulted fromma misreading of ישר (Upright) as שיר (Song). And some have speculated that the book in question was actually a book of songs which included reference to Joshua 10:13 in the lyrics of a song. This theory also takes “the bow” in 2Sam. 1:18 to be the name of a song.

LAID UP IN THE TEMPLE

In his own recounting of the event of the prolonged day of Joshua 10 the first century Jewish Roman historian Josephus identifies the Book of Jasher mentioned by Joshua as one of “the books laid up in the Temple” (Ant. 5:1:17). Thus the Book of Jasher was known to Josephus and was known to be among the books laid up in the Temple in the first century.

There is a Hebrew “Book of Jasher” which is said to have been first printed in Naples in 1552. However no copies of the 1552 edition have survived, and we are dependent instead on the 1625 Venice printing as the oldest known copy.

The 1625 edition of Jasher has a Preface, which says in part (translated from the Hebrew):

…when the holy city Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus,
all the military heads went in to rob and plunder, and
among the officers of Titus was one whose name was Sidrus,
who went in to search, and found in Jerusalem a house
of great extent…

According to the preface this Sidrus found a false wall in this house with a hidden room. In this room he found an old man hiding with provisions and many books including the Book of Jasher The old man found favor with Sidrus who took the old man and his books with him.

The preface says “they went from city to city and from country to country until they reached Sevilia [a city in Spain].” At that time “Seville” was called “Hispalis” and was the capital of the Roman province of Hispalensis. The manuscript was donated to the Jewish college at Cordova, Spain.

This Book of Jasher is a narrative beginning with the creation of man and ends with the entry of Israel into Canaan.

The Book of Jasher passage related to Joshua 10:13 reads as follows:

“And when they were smiting, the day was declining toward evening, and Joshua said in the sight of all the people, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon, until the nation shall have revenged itself upon its enemies.

And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Joshua, and the sun stood still in the midst of the heavens, and it stood still six and thirty moments, and the moon also stood still and hastened not to go down a whole day.”
(Jasher 88:63-64)

And the Book of Jasher passage which relates to 2Sam. 1:18 involves Jacob’s last words to his son Judah:

“Only teach thy sons the bow and all weapons of war, in order that
they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his
enemies.”
(Jasher 56:9)

This reads very similar to the midrash which gives these last words as:

“Thou, my son, art stronger than all thy brethren,
and from thy loins will kings arise. Teach thy children
how they may protect themselves from enemies and evil-doers”

It would seem that the author of Jasher did not create this account to fit with 2Sam. 1:18 since the same account occurs in the midrash (which itself may have been drawn from Jasher).

Certainly many serious scholars have concluded that this Book of Jasher is authentic. The well known Hebraist and Rabbinic Scholar (and translator of the 1840 Book of Jasher) Moses Samuel wrote of Jasher:

“…the book is, with the exception of some doubtful parts,
a venerable monument of antiquity; and that, notwithstanding
some few additions have been made to it in comparatively
modern times, it still retains sufficient to prove it a copy
of the book referred to in Joshua, ch. x, and 2 Samuel, ch. 1.”
– Moses Samuel – Hebraist and Rabbinic Scholar

And my old friend and mentor, the late Dr. Cyrus Gordon (who was the world’s leading Semitist until his death) said:

“There can be little doubt that the book of Jasher was a
national epic… The time is ripe for a fresh investigation
of such genuine sources of Scripture, particularly against
the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
– Dr. Cyrus Gordon

One of the chief objections given by skeptics to the authenticity of the 1625 Hebrew printing of the Book of Jasher is that our oldest known surviving copy is this printed Hebrew edition of 1625.  Some have argued that the book itself was a forgery created by Rabbis in the Middle Ages.

Recently, while doing research for the Book of Jasher Study Project I discovered yet an important evidence for the ancient origin of this book, and incredible parallel with a document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls known as the Genesis Apocryphon.

The Genesis Apocryphon records a conversation between the biblical figure Lamech, son of Methuselah, and his son, Noah, as well as first and third person narratives associated with Abraham.

We read in the Book of Jasher (in parallel to Gen. 12:19-20):

29 And in the morning the king called for Abram and said to him, What is this thou hast done to me? Why didst thou say, She is my sister, owing to which I took her unto me for a wife, and this heavy plague has therefore come upon me and my household.
30 Now therefore here is thy wife, take her and go from our land lest we all die on her account. And Pharaoh took more cattle, men servants and maid servants, and silver and gold, to give to Abram, and he returned unto him Sarai his wife.
31 And the king took a maiden whom he begat by his concubines, and he gave her to Sarai for a handmaid.
32 And the king said to his daughter, It is better for thee my daughter to be a handmaid in this man’s house than to be mistress in my house, after we have beheld the evil that befell us on account of this woman.
33 And Abram arose, and he and all belonging to him went away from Egypt; and Pharaoh ordered some of his men to accompany him and all that went with him.
(Jasher 15:29-33)

The Genesis Apocryphon gives a first person account of these same events as given in the first person by Abraham himself with striking similarity:

So he called me to himself and asked me,”What have you done to me because of your wife [Sar]ai? You told 27me,’She is my sister,’ yet she was actually your wife! I took her as my own wife! Here she is; take her, go, depart from 28all the provinces of Egypt! But first, pray for me and my house that this evi]l spirit may be exorcised from us.” So I prayed for him, that blasphemer, 29and laid my hands upon his [he]ad. Thereupon the plague was removed from him, the evil [spirit] exorcised [from him, and he was hea]led. The king rose and [in]formed 30me . . . and the king swore to me with an oath that [he had not touched] her. Then [they brought] m[e] 31S[ar]ai. The king gave her much [silver and g]old, and great quantities of linen and purple-dyed garments [ . . . ] [he put them] 32before her, and before Hagar as well. He restored her to me and assigned men to escort [me out of Egypt . .
(Genesis Apocryphon Col. 21 lines 26-32)

In both accounts Pharaoh gives Abram and Sarai gold and silver and other riches when they are escorted out of Egypt!

Another important parallel with the Dead Sea Scrolls occurs in the account of the Akeda. The Book of Jasher contains a prelude to the Akeda which parallels the event at the opening of Job:

46 And the day arrived when the sons of God came and placed themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with the sons of God before the Lord.
47 And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? and Satan answered the Lord and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
48 And the Lord said to Satan, What is thy word to me concerning all the children of the earth? and Satan answered the Lord and said, I have seen all the children of the earth who serve thee and remember thee when they require anything from thee.
49 And when thou givest them the thing which they require from thee, they sit at their ease, and forsake thee and they remember thee no more.
50 Hast thou seen Abraham the son of Terah, who at first had no children, and he served thee and erected altars to thee wherever he came, and he brought up offerings upon them, and he proclaimed thy name continually to all the children of the earth.
51 And now that his son Isaac is born to him, he has forsaken thee, he has made a great feast for all the inhabitants of the land, and the Lord he has forgotten.
52 For amidst all that he has done he brought thee no offering; neither burnt offering nor peace offering, neither ox, lamb nor goat of all that he killed on the day that his son was weaned.
53 Even from the time of his son’s birth till now, being thirty-seven years, he built no altar before thee, nor brought any offering to thee, for he saw that thou didst give what he requested before thee, and he therefore forsook thee.
54 And the Lord said to Satan, Hast thou thus considered my servant Abraham? for there is none like him upon earth, a perfect and an upright man before me, one that feareth God and avoideth evil; as I live, were I to say unto him, Bring up Isaac thy son before me, he would not withhold him from me, much more if I told him to bring up a burnt offering before me from his flock or herds.
55 And Satan answered the Lord and said, Speak then now unto Abraham as thou hast said, and thou wilt see whether he will not this day transgress and cast aside thy words.
(Jasher 22:46-55)

This has an interesting parallel to this prelude in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

And a son of love was born to Abraham and he named him Isaac. Now  the Prince of Malevolence (Mastemah) came to God and brought his  animosity to bear against Abraham because of Isaac….
(4Q225)

These parallels with the Dead Sea Scrolls are important because these scrolls were lost from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, until their discovery in 1947.  These documents would not have been available to Jews in the middle ages! These parallels make it evident that the original Hebrew Book of Jasher is at the core of the text published in 1625 Venice edition.

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