Monday, October 01, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (11)

Obsessive music fans know that every artist or band has a “canon” made up of albums recognized by fans, critics and record labels as official releases.

Once an artist becomes established, however, opportunists commonly flood the market with rough takes on familiar tunes, rejected songs from album sessions, cover versions played once for a lark, and bootleg live tracks of questionable sound quality. While these new offerings usually contain a few rare gems and often provide insight into an artist’s work process, they generally do not compare favorably to music released exactly as the performer intended.

The Book of Jubilees might well be called “Outtakes from Genesis”. At least, that’s what it reads like.

11. The Book of Jubilees

Also called “Lesser Genesis” (no kidding there) or the “Book of Division” (honestly, sometimes these things write themselves), the Book of Jubilees is accepted as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and almost nobody else. You can read it here.

Okay. So the story goes that while Moses was up Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to receive the Law, the Book of Jubilees was also dictated to him by an angel. In his spare time, one assumes. Why this might have been necessary is not immediately apparent, and the canon makes no reference to it.

“We” and “Us”

Because it purports to be written from the angelic perspective, there are multiple references to “we” and “us”:
“And against the angels whom He had sent upon the earth, He was exceedingly wroth, and He gave commandment to root them out of all their dominion, and He bade us to bind them in the depths of the earth, and behold they are bound in the midst of them, and are (kept) separate.” (5:6)
The name “Jubilees” comes from the writer’s very obvious preoccupation with dates. He divides the period from Creation to Mount Sinai into forty-nine “jubilees” of fifty years, or 2450 years total, and takes the reader through much of the same material as Genesis (sometimes in the very same words).

The difference in the two narratives is this: Jubilees expounds at length all the neat trivia that Genesis and early Exodus (with good reason) have managed to leave out.

Back to Narnia and Other Stories

So we find, for instance, that animals spoke a single language before the earth was cursed and lost their ability to communicate with man in the Fall. (It was Hebrew, oddly, and no, this is not an early draft of the Narnia series.) We get the names and particulars of the wives of each of the patriarchs, from Cain and Abel on down; more information about the Nephilim and the binding of demons; the division of the earth between Noah’s three sons and their children; the size and height of the Tower of Babel and the number of years it was under construction before God confused the speech of the builders; and even the origin tale of Ur of the Chaldees, out of which came Abram and ultimately Israel.

We also get the untold story of Abram’s early years, the “real” reason behind Abraham’s testing (an angelic prince named Mastêmâ, in a very Job-like scenario); a pre-Law law and several pre-Feast feasts; the last words of Abraham (which include an extensive blessing of his grandson Jacob absent from the canon); Esau’s efforts to corrupt Jacob (and through him, the line of Messianic descent) by attempting to persuade his brother to marry a Canaanite woman; Dinah’s age when defiled by Shechem (allegedly she was twelve) and the circumstances of her death; and Jacob’s great love for Leah that only manifested after Rachel died.

Towards the end of the book, we read about Jacob’s war with Esau that reduced the latter to servitude; as well as the reason Er had no children with Tamar (he wanted a Canaanite wife); Judah’s repentance after the Tamar episode; why Moses nearly died on the way back to Egypt (that nasty prince Mastêmâ again); and why the Egyptian sorcerers were able to duplicate the miracles God did through Moses (yes, that was Mastêmâ too).

All Outtakes, No Album

There are many, many more stories to be found here. If you’ve ever read a passage in Genesis or Exodus that left you a bit curious, the Book of Jubilees takes a crack at filling in the bits God left blank. For obvious reasons, the credibility of these accounts is difficult to judge. Some seem more plausible than others.

Further, all the new material does not make for a terribly coherent narrative. The sheer number of shiny new additions necessitates redacting familiar stories from Genesis and Exodus. The Flood account, for instance, is hugely compressed in Jubilees, while the post-diluvian history of Noah’s family is greatly expanded.

Even by secular scholars, Jubilees is said to be riddled with internal contradictions. In addition, the supplementary material clashes with the canonical record more than a few times. For instance, the Book of Jubilees claims Enoch died (7:39). The writer to the Hebrews quite explicitly disagrees.

Dinah, Won’t You Blow Your Horn

Another major difference is the setting apart of the tribe of Levi for priestly service, which in scripture comes as a result of taking up arms on the Lord’s side of the golden calf debacle. In Jubilees, Levi is chosen for the priesthood a full 400 years earlier as a reward for his part in the massacre of the Shechemites (30:4, 17-18). Jubilees says, “They slew them under tortures, and it was (reckoned) unto them for righteousness.” Levi’s father’s reaction to the murders in canonical Genesis is considerably more subdued, and he holds their violence against his sons to the end of his days and beyond (“Let my soul come not into their council”).

God makes no editorial comment, but I think we can safely regard Israel’s words in Genesis 49 as prophetic. Levi’s prowess with the sword may have factored into his choosing, but it is not the Shechem incident that made him commendable.

Thus, M. Segal calls Jubilees one of the prominent examples of “Rewritten Bible”. While it may have been cobbled together from similar source material, there is zero chance it is the original.

Superfluous Footage on the Cutting Room Floor

Best scholarly guesses date the Book of Jubilees to a couple of centuries before Christ. Though some of the material in it may indeed be quite ancient, explicit references to “Jerusalem” and “Zion” (1:27) suggest the final draft is at very least more recent than anything in the Pentateuch. There is no official record of the Book of Jubilees in Pharisaic or Rabbinic sources. It was not included in the late first century canon established by the Sanhedrin and rabbi Akiva ben Joseph.

Since the spiritual truths found in Jubilees are all recycled from Genesis and Exodus, the book’s main function is as a delivery vehicle for extra-canonical stories with a heavy emphasis on the supernatural, apparently designed to tweak the antennae of the morbidly curious. The mature Christian, of course, is not looking for new and more exciting takes on early Old Testament stories whose authenticity we have no way of confirming. None of the supplementary material in Jubilees is quoted by either Christ or the apostles, and it is hard to see what value it holds for the reader.

There is a reason movie directors used to leave thousands of feet of superfluous footage on the cutting room floor. They were telling a story with a specific point, not just creating pretty pictures to entertain the masses. God, whose storytelling ability exceeds that of the finest Hollywood craftsmen by orders of magnitude, does not require anyone’s “alternate vision” of his masterpiece.

The very fact that so much of the Book of Jubilees is redundant should be our first clue that it is not required reading. Where the word of God is concerned, what its Author left out may well be as significant as what he left in.

Readability: 7/10
Plausibility: 4/10

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