The Book of Jasher

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: II Samuel 1:17-27


I.         It is no mystery that people are not happy with God’s word. Through the ages people have sought ought various reasons to modify it.

            A.        No long ago, Dan Brown wrote a fictional book called The DaVinci Code. At the core of this book was the idea that other writings that should have been in the Bible were suppressed and without those writings the real message of the Bible could not be understood.

                        1.         What was odd was how many people took this work of fiction and treated it as if the underlying story was factual.

                        2.         Truly spoken - II Timothy 4:3-4

            B.        There are many books, ancient and modern, which are claimed to be Scripture.

                        1.         Some started out a pure fiction – attempts to fill in gaps in the stories told in the Bible.

                        2.         Some are fictional works, but done in the style of the Bible to make it sound more authentic.

                        3.         Others are purposeful replacements for the biblical text. False doctrine was trying to be supported and works were created to support the teachings.

            C.        Not knowing the difference can be dangerous

                        1.         I was asked not long ago about a contradiction between a work titled “The Book of Jasher” and the Bible.

                        2.         What was telling was the Book of Jasher and the Bible were treated as if they were equal documents.

                        3.         The question was “It’s odd that the Psalmist did not know about [Pharaoh not dying in the Red Sea with his army]. Does this say that the writings of these ancients were unreliable?

                        4.         When people don’t know the difference between truth and fiction, it undermines their faith because faith is trust - Hebrews 11:1

II.        What is the Book of Jasher?

            A.        There are two references to the Book of Jasher

                        1.         There are two mentions of the Book of Jasher, which means the Righteous or Upright.

                                    a.         The story of Joshua and the day the sun stood still is contained in it - Joshua 10:13

                                    b.         David’s Song of the Bow is contained in it - II Samuel 1:17-18

                        2.         Most likely, the Book of Jasher was a collection of special stories from the Bible; perhaps a book of children’s stories.

                        3.         The fact that writers of the Bible mention the book does not necessarily mean it was an inspired book. Just as a children’s Bible story book is not inspired though it tells stories found in the Bible.

            B.        There are three sources for the various Books of Jasher in existence

                        1.         A treatise on Jewish ritual, written by Rabbi Tham prior to his death in 1171. It was printed in Italy in 1544 and has been titled the Book of Jasher

                        2.         An unknown Spanish Jew wrote a book that was used as the introduction to the Hexateuch in the 13th Century. It was published in Venice in 1625.

                        3.         Rabbi Shabbatai Carmuz Levita, wrote a book that was called the Book of Jasher in 1391. It has been preserved in a Vatican manuscript.

                        4.         None of the three versions of the Book of Jasher are ancient writings. Each are relatively modern and became the focus of hoaxes.

            C.        We will focus on the second one. Scholars have examined this document.

                        1.         It is a printed document. If there was a manuscript that it came from, it has been lost.

                        2.         The earliest version only dates back to 1625.

                        3.          "Jacqueline-Lise Genot-Bismuth was director of a team from the Seminaire sur le Sefer Hayashar de le Centre de Recherches sur la Culture Rabbinique which produced an introductory tome to their reprint of the 1625 Venice Hebrew edition of Sefer Yashar which was published by des Publications Universite de la Sorbonne Nouvelle in 1986. Their work argues that the lack of any evidence of the text between antiquity and 1625 is a primary argument for their suggestion that the text was actually "une fiction d'humaniste juif"." [Jim Collins, The Book of Jasher, the Kairites and the Spanish background to the transmission of Sefer Hayashar (SY)]

                        4.         (It should be noted that Jim Collins thinks the book is real, and that this studied was flawed. He has an elaborate theory of how the manuscript could have reached Spain – all unproveable.)

                        5.         In other words, there is no proof that this document existed before 1625. The conclusion of the examiners was that the manuscript was “humanist Jewish fiction.”

            D.        It was translated into English by Moses Samuel, of Liverpool in the early 1800's. Mr. Samuel was a noted translator of Hebrew and thought that he was translating the real Book of Jasher

                        1.         "Samuel also translated into English the pseudo-biblical Book of Jasher, a supposedly ancient Hebrew text which Samuel convinced himself was authentic. After failing to persuade the Royal Asiatic Society to publish it, he sold his translation for £150 in 1839 to the American Jewish newspaper-owner and philanthropist Mordecai M. Noah. It appeared in New York the following year but with Noah's name and not Samuel's on the title page. "I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity", Samuel later explained. This was odd since Noah seems to have had a lower opinion of the work's authenticity than Samuel. The translation was accepted as accurate, but the publication provoked criticism by scholars who rejected the claims made on behalf of the text. It won acceptance, however, by the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith." [Bernard Wasserstein, "Moses Samuel, Liverpool Hebraist," Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England Vol. XXXV, page 2]

                        2.         Note that the translation was accurate. It was the source material that was under question.

            E.        So the Mormons became interested in this book.

                        1.         "Mordecai Noah was not unaware of the Mormon activities in building a temporary city of refuge at Kirtland in the 1830s. In a late 1835 issue of his Evening Star, Noah protested the Mormons' calling their nearly finished house of worship at Kirtland the "Temple of the Lord." The Jewish editor and would-be American Zionist seemingly had no patience with what he termed the Mormons' "unhallowed purposes" in gathering around a "heathen temple." The Mormons never quite lost sight of Mordecai Noah's work, though they have long since forgotten his name. In 1840 the Jewish scholar obtained an English translation and published the extracanonical Book of Jasher. The Mormons became fascinated with the book and have kept it in print and circulation wherever they congregate. The first of their reprintings of this strange volume was published by J. H. Parry & Co. of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1887 and modern printings are generally kept in stock at the LDS Church's Deseret Book Stores." ["Transcriber's Comments," 1831 Evangelical Inquirer, Solomon Spaulding Studies]

            F.        The Mormons have never officially stated the Book of Jasher is authentic, but they do publish it without mention who was the author or translator. It is this one that most people know as the Book of Jasher

III.       Examining the 1840 verison of the Book of Jasher

            A.        It has anachronism – things mentioned which at the time of the supposed writing did not exist.

                        1.         "There seems to be no doubt in anyone's mind that the book contains many authentic Hebrew traditions. It is definitely not a forgery in the sense of being a modern fiction, as was the 1751 book of the same name. Ginzberg in his landmark collection Legends of the Jews quotes from it freely and it is listed in Jewish encyclopedias as an authentic source. But all of these sources agree that the Book of Jasher most likely was written in Spain about the twelfth century AD. It is thought to have been composed by an author compiling many old Jewish traditions (called Midrash) dating back to around the time of Christ and fabricating a few of his own. So how is it known that Jasher is quoting Midrash rather than Midrash quoting the real Book of Jasher also quoted in the Old Testament? It is deduced principally from the chapter describing where the descendants of Noah settled, because European names from many centuries after Christ are included (Jasher 10)." [John P. Pratt, "How Did the Book of Jasher Know?", Meridan Magazine, Jan. 7, 2002]

                        2.         (John Pratt also thinks this Book of Jasher is real. He dismiss the conflict as being alterations by unknown copiers of the unknown manuscripts. He decides the book is real because Mormon “prophets” have made statements similar to what is in the Book of Jasher – imagine that!)

            B.        It contradicts the Bible

                        1.         Abram and Sarai’s relationship

                                    a.         Genesis 20:12

                                    b.         "And Sarai, the daughter of Haran, Abram's wife" (Book of Jasher 16:23)

                        2.         When did Abram leave Haran?

                                    a.         Genesis 12:4

                                    b.         "Arise now, take thy wife and all belonging to thee and go to the land of Canaan and remain there, and I will there be unto thee for a God, and I will bless thee. And Abram rose and took his wife and all belonging to him, and he went to the land of Canaan as the Lord had told him; and Abram was fifty years old when he went from Haran" (Book of Jasher 13:5)

                        3.         Where did Jacob flee?

                                    a.         Genesis 28:5

                                    b.         "And Jacob was very much afraid of his brother Esau, and he rose up and fled to the house of Eber the son of Shem, and he concealed himself there on account of his brother, and Jacob was sixty-three years old when he went forth from the land of Canaan from Hebron, and Jacob was concealed in Eber's house fourteen years on account of his brother Esau, and he there continued to learn the ways of the Lord and his commandments" (Book of Jasher 29:11)

                        4.         Could Simeon be bound?

                                    a.         Genesis 42:24

                                    b.         "And Joseph went out from them and came into the chamber, and wept a great weeping, for his pity was excited for them, and he washed his face, and returned to them again, and he took Simeon from them and ordered him to be bound, but Simeon was not willing to be done so, for he was a very powerful man and they could not bind him" (Book of Jasher 51:37).

                        5.         Where and when did Moses flee?

                                    a.         Moses was forty when he struck down the Egyptian - Acts 7:23

                                    b.         He was eighty when he saw the burning bush - Acts 7:30

                                    c.         "Chapter 71 of Jasher states that Moses was 18 years old when he left Egypt. (Could this be Rabbinical tradition?) He didn't go to Midian but to Cush and becomes king (72:34-36) and is king over Cush for forty years (73:2), then he goes to Midian where Reuel puts him in prison for 10 years because Reuel thinks Moses is wanted by the Cushites." [Deane Schaub, An Overview of the Book of Jasher, Logos Resource Pages].

                        6.         How many plagues?

                                    a.         The Bible lists 10 plagues - Exodus 7-12

                                    b.         The Book of Jasher lists 15 (Book of Jasher 80:2-51)

                        7.         How was the Red Sea divided?

                                    a.         In two parts - Exodus 14:22

                                    b.         "And the waters of the sea were divided into twelve parts, and the children of Israel passed through on foot, with shoes, as a man would pass through a prepared road." (Book of Jasher 81:38)

                        8.         Where did Pharaoh die?

                                    a.         Psalms 136:15

                                    b.         "And the Lord manifested to the children of Israel his wonders in Egypt and in the sea by the hand of Moses and Aaron. And when the children of Israel had entered the sea, the Egyptians came after them, and the waters of the sea resumed upon them, and they all sank in the water, and not one man was left excepting Pharaoh, who gave thanks to the Lord and believed in him, therefore the Lord did not cause him to perish at that time with the Egyptians. And the Lord ordered an angel to take him from amongst the Egyptians, who cast him upon the land of Ninevah and he reigned over it for a long time." (Book of Jasher 81:39-41).

                        9.       This is by no means an exhaustive list.

            C.        The best guess is that the Book of Jasher, 1840 edition is a collection of Jewish myths brought together into one book.

IV.      The Book of Jasher is false

            A.        God does not lie - Titus 1:2

            B.        God does not create confusion - I Corinthians 14:33

            C.        Both the Bible and the Book of Jasher cannot be true.

            D.        The evidence for the Bible is abundant

                        1.         The evidence for the Book of Jasher’s origins and imaginative claims do not exist.

                        2.         Sure, when a detail is lifted from the Bible, the Book of Jasher is correct, but it is the rest that is the problem.

                        3.         Like most works of men, they can’t leave truth alone and so errors are introduced.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email