Oh, What a Jubilee There Will Be

I had started reading the Book of Jubilees some years ago, but I don’t think I ever finished, so I returned to it recently. It’s a pseudepigraphic work, attributed to Moses based on dictation straight from God, but it’s generally dated to the second century BC. It appears to take a significant amount of influence from the Book of Enoch, or at least the same traditions that appeared there. It’s basically a retelling of Genesis with additional details and running interpretation. The title refers to a concept mentioned in Leviticus, that every forty-ninth year (or possibly every fiftieth; there was some disagreement on this point, and the latter is certainly neater with a decimal system), all debts would be forgiven. This book organizes the history of the world according to this, with the arrival of the Israelites in the Promised Land being fifty Jubilees after the Creation. The narrative gives names to characters who don’t have them in Genesis, including many of the women. It’s specifically said that Cain and Seth marry their sisters, which I guess goes without saying if you take it as a given that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve, but that Genesis kind of seems to purposely avoid stating. Where Cain’s wife came from and why he’d found a city when there were no other people is glossed over. Edna is not only the name of Enoch‘s wife, as per his book, but also his son Methuselah and Abraham’s father Terah. Cain is said to have died when his house collapsed on him. Noah’s Ark landed on a mountain called Lubar, and each of his sons built a city on the side of this mountain, named after their wives.

Adam’s lifespan of 930 years is tied to how Psalm 90 refers to 1000 years as being only a day to God, later stated in 2 Peter in the New Testament. Adam was supposed to have died on the day he ate the fruit of knowledge, and of course he didn’t, but this is a way to make that metaphorically true. That’s still a pretty popular technique among apologists. The book goes off on how people shouldn’t be naked, likely in response to the Greek tradition of exercising in the nude, which didn’t go over that well in Judea. There’s also a heavy promotion of a solar calendar, with 364 days, over a lunar one. The angel Mastema shows up pretty often as the one who tempts humanity and carries out punishments for God, like Satan in the Book of Job and elsewhere.

My wife pointed me to the Apocrypals podcast when she heard about it on a different podcast, and I’ve listened to a few episodes; it’s definitely up my alley. When discussing the book of Isaiah, they also addressed the Ascension of Isaiah, a weird early Christian text that’s part of the tradition of putting really specific predictions of Jesus into the mouths of earlier prophets, although they were strangely missing until after his lifetime, so the actual Gospels have to resort to passages about riding a donkey one time. The Ascension includes an old tradition of the prophet meeting his death when King Manasseh sawed him in half, and not as part of a magic trick.

I’m not sure there’s any consensus on which direction he did the sawing.
According to the history given in the Bible, Hezekiah was a King of Judah who supported the worship of Yahweh only, but his son Manasseh wasn’t at all, so he gets a bad rap in the scriptures. There’s an apocryphal book called the Prayer of Manasseh that’s supposedly from after he repented. Anyway, Isaiah has a vision of the seven different heavens by an angel, and is taught how Jesus will descend to Earth and then return. I’m not sure why there need to be so many heavens, but this was far from the first work to include that idea. I believe there were Gnostic works that said there were 365 of them. The multiple heavens make me think of the goal game in Kirby where you have to bounce to one of several cloud platforms.

We could be bouncing off the top of this clah-ee-owd.

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2 Responses to Oh, What a Jubilee There Will Be

  1. I guess that’s where the term “7th Heaven” comes from. 49 kind of makes sense as a jubilee year because it’s seven sevens. I’m sure you know that Matilda Joslyn Gage’s father was named Hezekiah Joslyn.

    I always thought it was fun to do a Feed Phelps-style bad paraphrase of Nahum 3:5 as “God loves public nudity.” Rev. Paul Tenaglia told a story several times of how h was advised to open the Bible and point to a random verse for guidance. He said what he got was “God will smite thee and lift thy skirt above thy head,” which didn’t work for him. Nahum 3:5 is the closest verse I could find to that. The last part of the verse is “I will show the nations thy nakedness, And the kingdoms thy shame.” In context, it’s a negative thing, and it’s clearly here considered shameful to be naked, but since it’s God doing the exposing, He must like it…

    • Nathan says:

      Seven years is sometimes Biblically referred to as a “week of years,” so the Jubilee would be seven weeks of years.

      It might be interesting to look into when and where the longer, more awkward names from the Bible were at the height of their popularity. I guess they probably still are among the Amish.

      I’m sure there’s a difference between wanting to see somebody shamed by being naked and being turned on by it. But the Ascension of Isaiah does have a bit where several prophets go out into the desert wearing nothing but hair shirts.

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