What About the Book of Jasher?

We have been asked a number of times about the Book of Jasher, which is mentioned in the Bible. The following is from Barry after some research concerning this book:

The Book of Jasher is mentioned twice in our Bibles. The first mention is in the Scriptural book of Joshua in chapter 10, verse 13, where Joshua commanded the sun to stand still during the battle against the five king confederacy. This incident is also recorded in the Book of Jasher. Its wording closely parallels that of Scripture as Jasher reads in chapter 88, verses 63-65:

"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. And there was no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel."

The second mention is in 2 Samuel 1:18 where David commanded that the "Song of the Bow" be taught to the Children of Judah. The song is given in verses 19-27.  However, that is NOT what appears in the Book of Jasher. The only mention of anything like that is in 56:9 which reads:

"Only teach thy sons the bow and all the weapons of war, in order that they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his enemies."

Thus this particular song is not in the Book of Jasher, but a reference to teaching how to use the bow is. Thus, Jasher was not an on-going chronicle of events, rather it was something written at a specific time to summarize what had gone before. All the evidence suggests that this Book was written during the time of Joshua. However it was still held in high regard during the days of David. This would account for the two references.

According to the Biblical Book of Joshua, the Book of Jasher was in the process of being written when Joshua was conquering the Land of Canaan. The old original form of written Hebrew, used at least from the time of the Exodus, was called Paleo-Hebrew. Its appearance was rather like a semi-pictogram-script form when compared with the square 'modern' Hebrew characters. A comparison of the two can be found in the Wikipedia article on the two.

Paleo Hebrew was used right up until 135 AD by which time Modern Hebrew had taken over completely. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that Paleo-Hebrew was often used for Scriptural work up until 70 AD. However, around 100 AD, the Council of Jamnia, under Rabbi Akiba, produced a version of Scripture written in the square 'modern' characters, without the vowel pointings. This version was designed to reinforce Rabbinical tradition rather than remain true to the original text. Let me justify that statement; here are some quotes.

Scholars point out that "The Rabbis are the source of their own authority to annul the Torah. .. The Rabbis could establish conditions and practices that contradicted and even nullified the Torah. According to the Rabbis, God Himself would obey whatever they decided. ... The Rabbis claimed the sanction of the Torah for whatever they decreed, even if it was the uprooting of Torah. ... This was more than the assertion of a different 'religious' system. The Torah governs every aspect of the life of Israel. By governing the Torah, the Rabbis would govern Israel. ... The objective was to bring Israel under the rule of the Rabbis. If the Scriptures stood in the way, the Scriptures had to be uprooted. ... There was a radical and irreconcilable conflict between the Torah and the Rabbis as to the basis and structure of authority, as well as its source and administration. That is why the Rabbis gave themselves the right to alter, revise, trespass and uproot the original commandments. ... R. Akiba sought to fence the people off from the Torah and from all other influences that would have challenged rabbinic authority. In the system he erected, no one else had the right to interpret Torah. Not the am ha'aretz, nor the priests, nor the prophets, nor the Sadducees, the Qumran Covenanters, the Talmedei Yeshua, nor anyone else. Not even God." [Daniel Gruber, Rabbi Akiba's Messiah: The Origins of Rabbinic Authority, pp.82-85, Elijah Publishing, 1999 with references].

It was under these conditions that the Masoretic text came into being and every divergent text they could find was destroyed [Professor S.H. Horne, "The Old Testament Text in Antiquity."  The hallmark of Akiba's work was the modern square characters and the omission of the vowel points.

It is against this backdrop that we look again at the Book of Jasher. A glance at the translators introduction to the standard 19th century version which is commonly used today, stated that the text was in square modern characters with vowel points missing.

This is exactly the same as the Masoretic text of the Old Testamentr which originated around 100 AD at the Council of Jamnia. A primary purpose of Jamnia was to produce a version of Scripture in accord with rabbinical tradition and which would enforce rabbinical authority. Since Jasher contained an abundance of tradition, it, too, had to be edited by Akiba in order that all the rabbinic traditions were in accord with what had been decided. The Book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua chapter 10 and 2 Samuel chapter 1 and it was extant when Jamnia convened. Therefore it was important to bring it into conformity with rabbinic tradition and their decisions about the Torah. Indeed, many long-held extra-Biblical rabbinic traditions are rooted in the Book of Jasher.   If this version of Jasher had not originated around the time of Jamnia, but well before, the text would be in Paleo-Hebrew. If it originated between 70 AD and 100 AD it was possible for it to be in modern Hebrew, but the vowel points would have been included.

That means that the text the translators have worked from is from 100 A.D. or later and is not the original or even an ancient copy. The council of Jamnia was determined to maintain their own Rabbinical interpretation of the Scriptures. Therefore the text was not only changed to conform with the tradition, but the vowel points were also omitted so that the rabbis alone knew exactly what was intended on the basis of their oral tradition. It was only around 900 AD that it was considered safe to add them back in. 

The conclusion is that the Book of Jasher we have today is probably a version edited by the Jamnia Council, and as such is not a reliable witness as to what was originally in the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 since these lists were specifically changed by Rabbi Akiba. This has been discussed in our article on the Alexandrian Septuagint. Go to the sections labelled "Akiba and Jamnia" and "The Ancient Chronology".

There is a systematic omission of 100 years from the age of the Patriarchs at the birth of the son in the chosen line in Genesis 5 and 11 in the Masoretic Text from Jamnia when compared with the ancient Septuagint, LXX. It needs to be noted that this omission was NOT there in the early work of Josephus prior to Jamnia. This is documented, as well, in the article on the Alexandrian Septuagint in the section on the genealogies and the section on Josephus.

The changes we find dating from the time of the Council of Jamnia are deliberate. There are too many of them in specific places to be the result of accumulated errors by isolated copyists over the centuries or millennia. Finally, our quotations above should dispel any impression that Akiba's "scribes were careful not to lose a jot or tittle." That is simply not true. Akiba and his colleagues had a specific agenda to fulfill and they left no stone unturned to accomplish that, not even the Book of Jasher.

Barry Setterfield, February 3, 2011