The Book of Jasher

By John Baskette, © 1994, 2003
I am seeking information on any "book of Jashers" floating about. a friend says he has one, and though I have not seen it, I am assuming it probably a strecth of someones imagination. In the bible there are only two references to a "book of jasher" so it is actually a "lost book" it would be interesting to see if any one else has bumped into one.

The following book discusses the book of Jasher:

Modern Apocrypha, Famous "Biblical" Hoaxes by Edgar J. Goodspeed (The Beacon Press, Boston, 1956) the Library of Congress catalog card number is 56-10075

Goodspeed was a first rate Biblical scholar, professor emeritus of the University of Chicago. He made the first translation of the Apocrypha directly from Greek into English in The Apocrypha: An American Translation. He translated the New Testament in his The New Testament: An American Translation and has written a number of other books about the Bible or the history of Christian and Biblical literature.

Chapter Ten of the book discusses the book of Jasher.

According to Goodspeed there were Three medieval books name Jasher written by Jews in Hebrew as follows:

  1. A 1391 version by Rabbi Shabbatai Carmuz Levita, preserved in a Vatican manuscript.
  2. A book used as the introduction to the Hexateuch probably written by a Spanish Jew in the 13th century and published in Venice in 1625.
  3. A treatise on Jewish ritual written by Rabbi Tham who died in 1171; it was printed in Italy in 1544.

The second of these (the 13th century version) was translated into English by a Mr. Samuel of Liverpool and published in 1840 in New York by Nash and Gould.

The version of the book of Jasher that you have seen is likely one that was produced by a Jacob Ilive, a London printer, who published his own version of the book of Jasher in 1751. This version has been reprinted and circulated by the Rosicrucian order.

Goodspeed cites several reviews from the late 18th and early 19th century that declared this book to be "a shameless literary forgery".

The book is described as "a condensation of portions of the first seven books of the Old Testament". One glaring omission is that nothing is said about David's dirge over Saul, which should be there according to II Samuel 1:18.

The title page of the book says. "translated into English by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, of Britain, Abbot of Canterbury, who went on a pilgrimage into the Holy Land and Persia, where he discovered this volume in the city of Gazna."

Alcuinus did live in Britain around 650. One problem with this manuscript is that it is written in an Elizabethan style English unknown to Alcuinus. The first edition of this book claimed that Alcuinus had "learned in the University of Oxford all those languages which the people of the East speak." The problem with that is that Oxford wasn't founded until 886, more than 80 years after Alcuin's death. Subsequent editions omitted this remark.

Goodspeed gives a number of other reasons based on internal evidences in the book why it is clearly an 18th century forgery and not genuine.

John Baskette

Addendum (2003):

I get emails regarding the book of Jasher from time to time asking about one publication or another. I have done some further research and have found everything I related from Goodspeed's book has held up. The above writing was originally a posting to the soc.religion.christian USENET news group back in 1994. One development on the Internet since that time has been the popularization on the web of a version of the book of Jasher promoted by the Mormons. This is the 1840 version mentioned by Goodspeed which Goodspeed says "appears" to be a translation of the 13th century Hebrew document. According to Bernard Wasserstein (In the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England Vol. XXXV), this Samuel was Moses Samuel, a well respected 19th century Jewish Hebraist. He writes:

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. (p. 2)

The www.manfamily.org web site which documents (among others) the life of Moses Samuel contains this comment:

The following note pertains to the first item on this list 'The Book Of Jasher': Preface signed: M. M. Noah./ A translation of the rabbinical Book of Yashar compiled from the Babylonian Talmud and other Jewish sources, and intermixed with Arabic legends and passages of the Bible. Three fourths of the book is devoted to the pre-Mosaic period, one fifth to the Mosaic period and only three pages to later history. The original ed. appeared in Naples, 1552, with title: Dissertatio de Libro recti. In 1750 the London printer Thomas Ilive issued an English translation of the work, asserting that he had published the real "Book of Yashar" mentioned in the Bible. Noah, Mordecai Manual, ; 1785-1851,; ed. A Ph. D. dissertation has been written on the history of the Book of Yashar which details its various translations. The one made by Moses Samuel is still in print since it was adopted by the Mormon church as an authentic biblical work.

The note mentions the 1750/1829 version that Goodspeed has called a forgery. For the record, I have now been able to take a look at both translations. They both retell much of the narrative of the Genesis through Joshua, but the two texts are very different. In my judgment they cannot be translations of the same underlying text. At the end of this page is a table containing the first chapters of both works side by side.

The Spalding Studies web site contains the following comment regarding this version of the Book of Jasher and the Mormons:

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 lose sight of Mordecai Noah's work, though they have long since forgotten his name. In 1840 the Jewish scholar translated into English 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 & Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1887 and modern printings are always kept in stock at the LDS Church's Deseret Book Stores.

Note that the Mormon sources that I have read claim that the LDS church takes no official position on the authenticity of the Book of Jasher.

The best work I know regarding ancient non-canonical works related to the Old Testament is The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volumes 1 & 2 by James H. Charlesworth (Editor). This collection does not include the book of Jasher. The editor comments in the introduction regarding works that were omitted from these volumes. He lists some of these, including "the Book of Jasher" (ed. J. Ilive, The Book of Jasher. Bristol, 1829). He omits them because; "These writings were usually omitted because they were far removed from the Old Testament in date and character."

Curiously, Charlesworth references the 1750/1829 version. Goodspeed also wrote:

Eighteenth-century scholarship was not slow to find flaws in the (1750 version) of the Book of Jasher. It was shown to have been the work of a certain Jacod Ilive, a type founder and printer of London, where he was in business from 1730 to 1763. This strange individual seems to have become a public teacher of infidelity, hiring Carpenters' Hall for his addresses.

His Book of Jasher which appeared in November 1751, was promptly declared a fraud in the Monthly Review for December of the same year. But when the work as revived in Bristol in 1829, so many people purchased it that Thomas Hartwell Horne was moved to expose it again as an imposture in his Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. This work thoroughly examines the two editions of the Book of Jasher and concludes that it is "a shameless literary forgery." According to Dr. John Kitto in his famous Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, fraud was again exposed in the Dublin Christian Examiner, in 1831, and again in the Bristish Critic, January 1834.

Jim collins, a person who argues that the 1840 book of Jasher is genuine, reports the following:
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" (a work of fiction by a Jewish humanist).

This would imply that according to modern scholarship thers is no copy of the original Hebrew on which the 1840 translation in existence before 1625, and that this 1625 manuscript is regarded as a work of fiction.

Does Charlesworth's mention of the 1829 version seems to give it credence? That would not be a good interpretation, because he also identifies it as one of a set of works that are far removed from the Old Testament in date and character. Note that he does not mention the 1840 version. I think it is likely that Charlesworth mentions the 1829 version because that was more widely known before the Internet outside of Mormon circles. It is possible that he is not aware of its various exposures as a forgery, but this is my guess only.

It is significant, however, to note that there is no Book of Jasher in Charesworth's Volumes of Pseudepigrapha. The reason is that there are no ancient copies of the Book of Jasher. The earliest version may be represented in translation in the 1840 version promoted by some Mormons or it may also be a fogery from 1625. If it is authentic it contains at best, Jewish midrash from the medieval period, but as the documentation show above shows, not even the original translators and publishers were certain of its authenticity.

Chapter One of 1840 Version Chapter One of 1829 Version

1 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and God created man in his own image.

2 And God formed man from the ground, and he blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul endowed with speech.

3 And the Lord said, It is not good for man to be alone; I will make unto him a helpmeet.

4 And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept, and he took away one of his ribs, and he built flesh upon it, and formed it and brought it to Adam, and Adam awoke from his sleep, and behold a woman was standing before him.

5 And he said, This is a bone of my bones and it shall be called woman, for this has been taken from man; and Adam called her name Eve, for she was the mother of all living.

6 And God blessed them and called their names Adam and Eve in the day that he created them, and the Lord God said, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

7 And the Lord God took Adam and his wife, and he placed them in the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it; and he commanded them and said unto them, From every tree of the garden you may eat, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.

8 And when God had blessed and commanded them, he went from them, and Adam and his wife dwelt in the garden according to the command which the Lord had commanded them.

9 And the serpent, which God had created with them in the earth, came to them to incite them to transgress the command of God which he had commanded them.

10 And the serpent enticed and persuaded the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge, and the woman hearkened to the voice of the serpent, and she transgressed the word of God, and took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she ate, and she took from it and gave also to her husband and he ate.

11 And Adam and his wife transgressed the command of God which he commanded them, and God knew it, and his anger was kindled against them and he cursed them.

12 And the Lord God drove them that day from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which they were taken, and they went and dwelt at the east of the garden of Eden; and Adam knew his wife Eve and she bore two sons and three daughters.

13 And she called the name of the first born Cain, saying, I have obtained a man from the Lord, and the name of the other she called Abel, for she said, In vanity we came into the earth, and in vanity we shall be taken from it.

14 And the boys grew up and their father gave them a possession in the land; and Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep.

15 And it was at the expiration of a few years, that they brought an approximating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the firstlings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it.

16 And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him.

17 And in some time after, Cain and Abel his brother, went one day into the field to do their work; and they were both in the field, Cain tilling and ploughing his ground, and Abel feeding his flock; and the flock passed that part which Cain had ploughed in the ground, and it sorely grieved Cain on this account.

18 And Cain approached his brother Abel in anger, and he said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou comest to dwell and bring thy flock to feed in my land?

19 And Abel answered his brother Cain and said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou shalt eat the flesh of my flock and clothe thyself with their wool?

20 And now therefore, put off the wool of my sheep with which thou hast clothed thyself, and recompense me for their fruit and flesh which thou hast eaten, and when thou shalt have done this, I will then go from thy land as thou hast said?

21 And Cain said to his brother Abel, Surely if I slay thee this day, who will require thy blood from me?

22 And Abel answered Cain, saying, Surely God who has made us in the earth, he will avenge my cause, and he will require my blood from thee shouldst thou slay me, for the Lord is the judge and arbiter, and it is he who will requite man according to his evil, and the wicked man according to the wickedness that he may do upon earth.

23 And now, if thou shouldst slay me here, surely God knoweth thy secret views, and will judge thee for the evil which thou didst declare to do unto me this day.

24 And when Cain heard the words which Abel his brother had spoken, behold the anger of Cain was kindled against his brother Abel for declaring this thing.

25 And Cain hastened and rose up, and took the iron part of his ploughing instrument, with which he suddenly smote his brother and he slew him, and Cain spilt the blood of his brother Abel upon the earth, and the blood of Abel streamed upon the earth before the flock.

3

26 And after this Cain repented having slain his brother, and he was sadly grieved, and he wept over him and it vexed him exceedingly.

27 And Cain rose up and dug a hole in the field, wherein he put his brother's body, and he turned the dust over it.

28 And the Lord knew what Cain had done to his brother, and the Lord appeared to Cain and said unto him, Where is Abel thy brother that was with thee?

29 And Cain dissembled, and said, I do not know, am I my brother's keeper? And the Lord said unto him, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground where thou hast slain him.

30 For thou hast slain thy brother and hast dissembled before me, and didst imagine in thy heart that I saw thee not, nor knew all thy actions.

31 But thou didst this thing and didst slay thy brother for naught and because he spoke rightly to thee, and now, therefore, cursed be thou from the ground which opened its mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand, and wherein thou didst bury him.

32 And it shall be when thou shalt till it, it shall no more give thee its strength as in the beginning, for thorns and thistles shall the ground produce, and thou shalt be moving and wandering in the earth until the day of thy death.

33 And at that time Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, from the place where he was, and he went moving and wandering in the land toward the east of Eden, he and all belonging to him.

34 And Cain knew his wife in those days, and she conceived and bare a son, and he called his name Enoch, saying, In that time the Lord began to give him rest and quiet in the earth.

35 And at that time Cain also began to build a city: and he built the city and he called the name of the city Enoch, according to the name of his son; for in those days the Lord had given him rest upon the earth, and he did not move about and wander as in the beginning.

36 And Irad was born to Enoch, and Irad begat Mechuyael and Mechuyael begat Methusael.

 

1 Whilst it was the beginning, darkness overspread the face of nature.

2 And the ether moved upon the surface of the chaos.

3 And it came to pass, that a great light shone forth from the firmament, and enlightened the abyss.

4 And the abyss fled before the fact of the light, and divided between the light and the darkness.

5 So that the face of nature was formed a second time.

6 And behold there appeared in the firmament two great lights: the one to rule the light, and the other to rule the darkness.

7 And the ground brought forth grass: the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-tree after his kind.

8 And every beast after his kind: and every thing that creepeth, after their kind.

9 And the waters brought forth the moving creatures, after their kind.

10 And the ether brought forth every winged fowl, after his kind.

11 And when all these things were fulfilled, behold JEHOVAH appeared in Eden and created man, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.

12 And to him was given power and lordship over all living creatures, and over every herb, and over every tree of the field.

13 And it came to pass, in process of time, that the man begat Cain: and he also begat his brother Abel.

14 And Cain was the first man who tilled the ground:

15 And Abel was a feeder of sheep.

16 And Cain went out and dwelt on the east of Eden, in the land of Nod.

17 And Cain begat Enoch: then did men begin to build cities.

18 And unto Lamech was born Jabal: he was the first who taught men to build tents.

19 And unto Lamech also was born Tubal-Cain: he was the first who wrought in brass and iron, and who builded up the harp and the organ.

20 And Seth begat Enos: then began men by name to call on the Lord.

21 And all the days of the life of Adam, there was rest, and peace, and quiet, unto all men.

22 For they listened unto all things, concerning which he spake unto them.

23 And Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.



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