In the Hellenistic Context



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Jubilees’ acquaintance with Hellenistic Jewish literature emerges clearly from its portrayal of Abraham. Jubilees is aware of the Hellenistic Jewish tradition, found both in Artapanus and Pseudo-Eupolemus, of Abraham as the father of astrology. Because Jubilees' author considered astrology a forbidden subject, he deprived Abraham of his role as a culture hero in that realm. Jubilees 12 describes Abraham looking at the stars, but as refusing to learn the future from them (vv. 16–18).

The story in Jubilees (end of chap. 11) about Abraham’s battle with the crows reinstates Abraham as a culture hero. As Brock has shown, this departure from the biblical chain of events draws on an earlier tradition.76 A comparison between this early tradition, as preserved in Syriac writings,77 and Jubilees reveals the addition of an important detail. In Jubilees, Abraham is a culture hero, whose contribution to humanity is vested in his invention of a plow that buries seeds deep in the earth, making them inaccessible to crows.78 This addition stressing Abraham’s contribution in a neutral area—agriculture79—is meant to compensate Abraham for his loss of the title in the field of astrology.

The concept of culture hero is also implicit in Jubilees 10, which tells of demons that lead Noah’s children and grandchildren astray, of Noah’s prayer, and of God’s response. God imprisons nine-tenths of the evil demons, and then sends Noah angels to teach him how to mislead the remaining ones. As I showed elsewhere, this chapter is a reworked version of an ancient tale preserved in a later work—the introduction to Sefer Assaf ha-Rofé.80 In that version, the emphasis is on disease-causing demons, and Noah and his sons are taught different remedies. Noah appears there as a culture hero: the founding father of medicine. In Jubilees, however, the emphasis is on sin rather than disease, on prayers to mislead the demons and not on remedies extracted from “medicinal trees with all their grasses and herbs and seeds” (introduction to Sefer Assaf ha-Rofé). This shift from medicines to prayers obscures the purpose for which the introduction to Assaf ha-Rofé was written, i.e., the dispensation to prepare mixtures of plants and herbs, based on the notion of medicine as God’s gift to Noah.81

Conceivably, Jubilees employs the idea of the culture hero as a tool to prohibit the use of such practices and sciences as astrology and medicine, which had developed and become popular in the Hellenistic world. Thus, whereas Hellenistic Jewry utilized culture heroes as a means of bridging the cultural distance between Judaism and Hellenism, Jubilees deliberately uses them to amplify this distance.


2. Jubilees and Hellenistic Jewish Philosophy

In further examining Jubilees' familiarity with Hellenistic Jewish literature, I propose that the main theme that structures the book reflects a response to trends prevalent in the Hellenistic Jewish world. Hellenistic Jewish historians resolved the Hellenistic Jewish conflict by portraying Hellenism as being of Jewish origin, a solution that highlights Judaism’s national aspect. Yet, as I pointed out earlier, neither Artapanus nor Eupolemus attempts to explain the meaning of biblical law in a Hellenistic context. Another approach to the problem of biblical law was to indicate attributes shared by Judaism and the Hellenistic world. This was the approach of the Hellenistic Jewish philosophers, who tried to emphasize those features of Judaism acceptable to the educated non-Jewish public, namely, its philosophical aspects.82 In light of my thesis that Jubilees also aimed to repudiate their views, I would now like to focus on the writings of Jewish philosophers in which reference is made to biblical law.

It appears likely that some Jewish philosophical works were already in circulation when Jubilees was composed. One author who predates Jubilees was Aristobulus, of whose writings only fragments have survived. If the assertion that it was written around 100 BCE is correct, then the Wisdom of Solomon was roughly contemporary with Jubilees.83 And, although Philo’s prolific writings are later than Jubilees, it is generally held that he was preceded by earlier Jewish philosophers.84

Just as the Hellenistic Jewish historians attributed the creation of Hellenistic culture to Moses, the Jewish philosophers claimed that Greek philosophy owed its wisdom to Moses. The wisdom of the Greek philosophers derived from the Torah, which had been translated into Greek in the past.85 Nonetheless, because they also assumed that the Law could be learned independently, without an external legislator, this argument lacks centrality in the teachings of the Jewish philosophers.86 This statement requires further explanation.

The existence of a world of ideas, a pre-existing spiritual world imprinted in the universe upon Creation, was a central belief in Second Temple times. An even earlier work, the biblical book of Proverbs, already portrays Wisdom as an independent, pre-Creation entity. The role of Wisdom, however, reached its full development only later, in Hellenistic Jewish literature,87 a development furthered by acquaintance with Stoic philosophy and with the thought of the disciples of the Platonic school.88 Wisdom, or more precisely Logos, was created by God prior to Creation, and then embedded in the newly formed universe.89 Any observer of the universe and its operational laws can learn something of the essence of God,90 achieve a full understanding of the laws of the universe, and draw conclusions as to what is considered proper conduct in the created world.91 Wisdom or Logos92 are order in the universe, natural law, which any person can apprehend and must obey.93 But Wisdom—herein lies the Jewish aspect—is also the law that the Creator gave to the Children of Israel.94 Clearly, the laws that can be derived from the order of nature are the ethical laws, and these are indeed mentioned in the Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom of Solomon. The laws of purity and impurity, sacrifices and festivals are more difficult to incorporate.95

Another characteristic of philosophical inquiry should be noted: unlike the Bible, the philosopher concentrates on God’s dominion over Creation and the natural order, not on God’s action in history. Philo interprets historical events as philosophical journeys,96 and Wisdom of Solomon portrays history as a sequence of events that relate stories of righteous men and their reward, and of sinners and their punishment.97 Moreover, good men receive their reward, and sinners their punishment, not from God, but through the built-in law of the universe, as a natural action of its component parts.98 In sum, the portrayal of Judaism as a philosophy involves a double shift: the role of God moves from history to creation; and Jewish law shifts from ritual and ethics to ethics alone.99

As for Jubilees, it too speaks of an entity extant before Creation: the Torah and the tecudah (also another name for the book of Jubilees) written on the heavenly tablets. Dictated to Moses by the Angel of the Presence from heavenly tablets, the book of Jubilees was brought down to the Israelites when Moses descended from Sinai. Copied at the time of the theophany (the “jubilee of jubilees” since Creation), its contents were engraved on the heavenly tablets before Creation. I have tried elsewhere to determine the meaning of this Torah and briefly summarize my findings here.100

The book of Jubilees, purportedly a copy of the writing on the heavenly tablets, contains scattered comments on that writing. These comments, made by the angel who dictates “the Torah and the tecudah” to Moses, refer to a time continuum outside the scope of Jubilees, which is concerned only with the period from Creation to the Sinaitic theophany. These comments generally appear whenever a biblical law influences the course of history in the patriarchal period.101

In Jubilees history—tecudah—possesses a halakhic dimension—Torah. The angel’s comments teach us that the law to be given on Mount Sinai shapes historical events. Thus, Adam and Eve were created in accordance with the law declaring a parturient woman to be unclean; the Flood is associated with the law forbidding the consumption of blood; and Dinah died before her time because of the law making marriage between a Jewish woman and a non-Jew punishable by death. The laws, as well as the punishments meted out to their violators, shape historical events, which were predetermined by God before Creation. For Jubilees, the belief that history obeys the laws of the Torah is a corollary of the idea that an observer of history will be able to learn the laws of the Torah and their proper interpretation.

Was Jubilees written as an answer to Jewish philosophical literature? In contrast to the emphasis on Logos, on the order of Creation, and on the laws of nature and ethics in Jewish philosophy, Jubilees stresses the course of history and ritual law. Whoever observes the course of Jewish history and the history of other peoples will learn the laws and their interpretation. The emphasis in Jubilees is on God’s function in history and the biblical laws of purity, tithes, and festivals.

With due caution, I would like to argue that Jubilees is the first Jewish anti-philosophical work.102 That this is the case follows if one examines the Creation story in Jubilees in comparison to what is related in Hellenistic Jewish literature.103 Jubilees stresses that the world was created not by speech but by action.104 The expression “And God said…” does not appear in the Creation story in Jubilees 2. In Genesis 1, however, speech and action appear together (“Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so” [Gen 1:6–7; 1917 JPS]). But in Jubilees only action is mentioned (“On the second day he made a firmament between the waters, and the waters were divided on that day. Half of them went up above and half of them went down below the firmament (which was) in the middle above the surface of the whole earth” [2:4]).105 An obvious effort is made to reject the idea that it was God’s “Word,” and not his "Hands" that operated.

Furthermore, the number seven is central to the biblical Creation account and to the description of nature in Hellenistic Jewish philosophy. Aristobulus sings the praises of the number seven,106 which is active both in divine (the universe) and in human matters (human nature). The seventh day is the day of rest because the number seven is that light in which everything is correctly perceived and apprehended.107 In Philo’s thought as well the number seven is of paramount importance,108 and his De opificio mundi provides a detailed list of its virtues and recounts its revelation in the universe and in man (89–128).109

The number seven also appears in Jubilees: in the seven things created on the first day: “For on the first day he created the [1] heavens that are above, [2] the earth, [3] the waters, and [4] all of the spirits who serve before him…. [5] [There were also] the depths, [6] darkness and [7] and light, dawn and evening which he prepared through the knowledge of his mind” (2:2). Note that all these things appear in the biblical account of the first day; nevertheless, insofar as can be determined from these obscure verses, Jubilees departs from the plain meaning of the Bible. The pre-Creation situation as described in Gen 1:2 (“the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the spirit of God sweeping over the water”) is counted among the things created (darkness, abysses [= the deep], spirit, water). A visible effort is being made to reach the number seven, perhaps in reaction to Hellenistic Jewish interpretation (indeed, the same list is found in Philo’s De opificio mundi 27–29). But in Jubilees the emphasis is not on the number seven, but on twenty-two, which operates in history, not in nature. Twenty-two “kinds of works” were made from the first day to Sabbath eve, and twenty-two generations will pass from Adam to Jacob, the patriarch of the nation who will observe the Sabbath day. At this point, indeed, the text proclaims: “this is the first tecudah and Torah” (2:24). This is the first demonstration of how the Torah—the Sabbath— operates in the tecudah—the march of history.



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