What About the Book of Jasher?

The Book of Jasher is mentioned twice in the Bible. For this reason, a number of Bible teachers and others consider it to be as reliable and/or inspired as the Old Testament. But, for several reasons, this is not a wise move.

The first mention of the Book of Jasher is in the Old Testament 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 that we have today. 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."

Here is the "Song of the Bow" as recorded in 2 Samuel (New King James):

 and he told them to teach the children of Judah the Song of the Bow; indeed it is written in the Book of Jasher:

“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon—
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.

“O mountains of Gilboa,
Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,
Nor fields of offerings.
For the shield of the mighty is cast away there!
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain,
From the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
And the sword of Saul did not return empty.

“Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions.

“O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury;
Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

“How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan was slain in your high places.
 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women

“How the mighty have fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”

The reason we have to say that it is not in the Book of Jasher as we have it today is because, unlike the Old Testament books, we have no access to any manuscript of Jasher dating before 100 AD. Why that date? Because the book we have is written in modern, square Hebrew characters without the vowel points. The earliest manuscripts from this time are also missing the vowel points. This points directly to Rabbi Akiba and his group's efforts to promote rabbinical leadership over Scripture. His group, referred to as the Council of Jamnia, wanted to produce a foundation copy of the Scriptures as the original had been burned by the Romans when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70AD. They made a number of changes in the Scriptures (which have come down to us as the Masoretic Text), and which are discussed in our article on the Alexandrian Septuagint. The Book of Jasher may have also suffered the same indignities as it bears the two hallmarks of the Council of Jamnia: the modern square Hebrew characters and the lack of vowel points. The vowel points were not inserted until eight hundred years later, and then on the basis of oral tradition. A glance at the translators introduction to the standard 19th century version of the Book of Jasher, which is commonly used today, stated that the text was in square modern characters with vowel points missing.

The ancient leaders of the Jewish faith never considered the Book of Jasher to be inspired, and so it was never part of the sacred Scriptures which were copied so carefully and handed down from generation to generation. This presents us with two additional problems: first that we have no ancient copies either saved or hidden with the Dead Sea Scrolls to tell us what any early copies of this book contained; second that the Book of Jasher was not held to the same standard in copying as the sacred Scriptures were. Thus, any number of bits could be added or subtracted through the years, even before the Council of Jamnia. Tradition so often seems to trump straight facts. We have easy examples in our own American culture: George Washington -- did he really cut down that cherry tree and tell his father "I cannot tell a lie." Davy Crockett was certainly a real person, but the Disney song has him killing a bear at the age of three. These and so many other legends have grown up around figures that just lived in the past 250 years.

And this leads us to another problem with the Book of Jasher. In it we read that when Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, that Melchizedek, the king of Jerusalem (we think), was actually Shem, son of Abraham. Interestingly, this can also be found in the Talmud. The Talmud, in its various forms was put together as a series of rabbinical commentaries after 200 AD. So, if the Council of Jamnia had also worked on the Book of Jasher, then both that book and the rabbinical commentaries in the Talmud would be depending on the altered dating which is in the Masoretic Text. Again, please see the article on the Alexandrian Septuagint for the explanation regarding this. However a brief summary is in the following box.

Changes in the Masoretic Text -- a brief explanation

In what appears to have been a double pronged effort to deny the new Christians use of the Jewish Scriptures to support Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, as well as to boost rabbinical authority over Scriptural authority, the men involved in what has come to be known as the Council of Jamnia, in 100 AD, made a number of changes to the ancient Scriptures. We are aware of these changes, and what they were, through two sources: the earliest of the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as something called the Alexandrian Septuagint, which was translated from paleo-Hebrew to classical Greek in 280 BC.

First, in an effort to deny Christians use of what we now call the Old Testament, a number of passages which were being used by them to support the claim that Jesus was the Messiah were changed or, in one case, eliminated altogether. This is why so many of the quotes used by Paul and the other writers in the New Testament don't match with the Old Testament references in today's Bibles.

Second, for several somewhat obscure reasons, most of the ages at which the fathers had the listed sons in Genesis 5 and 11 were shortened by 100 years. Research (see table 3.4) has shown that the early church fathers -- those who wrote about creation -- held to the older dates. Josephus' early writings also hold to the early dates, but he changes to the shortened dates in his later writings. It is due to the changes made in the Masoretic text that many Christians currently believe the world to be 6000 years old. The ancient texts add about 1800 years to that, which brings biblical dates exactly in line with Egyptian and other Middle East archaeology.

Third, 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 meant the Jews had to depend on the rabbis to tell them what the words actually were (hill? hell? hall? etc.), thus reinforcing Rabbinical tradition rather than remain true to the original text. Dan Gruber, in Rabbi Akiba's Messiah, the Origins of Rabbinic Authority, explains it in the following:

"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].

What is important is that the Masoretic Text has about 1800 years cut off from the original book of Genesis in regard to the genealogies. When those 1800 years are re-inserted in the areas where they were taken out, it is quite apparent that Shem was long dead by the time Abraham was alive.

So what might have been in the original? We don't know. But keep in mind what we have been able to do with building legends into American history in 250 years. 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. So Jasher was writing at the time Joshua was alive, and evidently recording the events of that time as well. But Joshua was alive over 650 years after Abraham. Quite a few legends can be built in that amount of time. For us, it would be looking back to about 1360, about the time of the first tales of Robin Hood in England.

Because the shortened time scale was not in the Scriptures at the time of Joshua, however, there is a strong probability that the identification of Shem with Melchizedek was not part of those writings. They would have known Shem was dead many years before Abraham. That leaves the indication of the identification of Shem with Melchizedek with the Council of Jamnia or similar, millennia later -- an identification only possible with a shortened time line in Genesis.

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 the vowel points were added back in, and then it was on the basis of rabbinical tradition. 

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 it was originally. And again, even in its original form, it was not considered by the ancients to be inspired Scripture.