The Authentic Annals Of The Early Hebrews -
Is It The "Real" Book of Jasher?
It is understandable that some may feel that it is impossible or unlikely that this volume could really be the original book of Jasher.
The issue is compounded by the existence of several works by the name Sefer Hayasher. I have in my possession a copy of Sefer Hayasher - The Book Of The Righteous, edited and translated by Seymour J. Cohen. It is clearly not a book of history, but an ethical text that was probably written in the 13th century. Its introduction cites several other "Books of Jasher", some of which are no longer known to be in existence, such as that by Zerahiah Ha-Yevani of the 13th century. There is also known to have been one written by Rabbi Jacob ben Mier of the 12th century, and one by Rabbi Jonah ben Abraham of Gerona of the 14th century. We are told of a work by that title from the Amoraim period (3rd to 6th centuries) that is characterized as containing "for the most part sayings of the sages of the first and second centuries". So, this title has been a popular one for rabbinical writings, but most are clearly not intended to have been passed off as the book mentioned in the Bible. There is one notable exception which I will mention later.
The first step in dealing with the question of authenticity is to simply read the book with an open mind. One cannot effectively investigate the matter unless he is familiar with it. After all, according to Solomon, "He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him". (Proverbs 18:13). The reader will find that it reads very much like the Bible, except that many passages are replete with details that are not recorded in the Bible.
There are digressions from the biblical narrative that show concurrent events in other parts of the world. There are chapters dealing wholly with events in Egypt or events in Europe. Much of this material can be recognized from other works of ancient history. To anyone familiar with ancient history, it will be obvious that Jasher places these events in a radically different time period than do conventional historians. To be sure, if Jasher be true, there needs to be a radical alteration in the conventional interpretation of ancient history, especially in the area of chronology.
There is little of consequence at variance with the Bible. There are some chronological features that differ, but these can usually be attributed to a textual error. Usually the error will be resolved by reading on. A later entry will fall into harmony with the Bible text. Remember that the ancient scrolls of this book were in poor condition when the book was printed in Hebrew in 1613. It is not unlikely that some numbers could get scrambled.
There are a couple mysterious accounts of incidents that smack of Greek or Roman mythology, such as the story of Zepho, the grandson of Esau who slew a half human monster in a large cave. This account is easily recognized as the same story as that of Theseus, who slew the minotaur. The characters and the setting are different. A critical reader may object to this material, but many valid explanations are possible concerning why this and other such events were recorded in this book. The original author may have simply reported those things because they were popular folklore of his day. Such stories are merely mentioned in passing and no significance is attached to them. Though one might doubt the veracity of these tales, there is nothing here that should dissuade an objective reader from the opinion that this book is genuine.
Even the most casual reader will find Jasher enlightening. Accounts in the Bible can be made more lucid and easier to understand with the background of Jasher in mind.
The next issue to investigate in regard to the authenticity of this book is the two passages which mention the book by name. The first is Joshua 10.12-13:
"... and he [Joshua] said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of man: for the Lord fought for Israel."
And now compare it with the following passage in Jasher 88.63-64:
"...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 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 man, for the Lord fought for Israel."
A comparison of the text preceding also shows a high degree of correlation, indicating that much more than a couple of verses was probably quoted by the Bible writer.
A second mention of the Book of Jasher occurs in II Samuel 1.17. In contrast, this incident is not a direct quotation of a historical event from Jasher, as is the case in Joshua. Jasher's narrative ends long before the time of David. However, as part of his lamentation over the death of Saul and Jonathan, David referred to a comment by Jacob that is quoted in the Book of Jasher. He said:
"Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: Behold it is written in the book of Jasher."
David is referring to the dying words of Jacob to Judah in Jasher 56:9,
"...only teach thy sons the use of the bow and all weapons of war, in order that they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his enemies."
This passage in the Bible has no reference to anything in the Bible itself, but it is made clear from the passage in Jasher.
While the above two references pass the test, it will be up to the reader to satisfy himself as to the general agreement of the entirety of the book with the Bible narrative. This is such an extensive comparison, and such an obvious one, that I will not attempt to make any verse by verse comparison. Certainly any reader who is familiar with the Bible will recognize its similarity to the text of Jasher.
There probably is no way that we can know that the Biblical writer(s) quoted from this book, rather than the other way around? Is it possible that this book was reverse engineered? Perhaps that Book of Jasher from the Amoraim period was compiled from rabbinic sources such that it is a kind of digest of rabbinic traditions. Indeed, there is a great deal of commonality with accounts from other midrashic sources. If this were found to be so it would in no way diminish its value.
Is it possible that someone created this book as a clever fraud, by appropriating the name of the Biblical Jasher to give the work credibility? There are, of course, many examples of such pious counterfeits from the early new testament period. Could someone have fabricated this book by incorporating a huge number of additional details into the framework of Bible stories, and do it with such accuracy as to be convincing? It is remotely conceivable that some writer of the rabbinical period could have gathered a vast array of those stories, as are common in rabbinical writings, and incorporated them into this work in a framework to, in some way, add credibility to the stories. But such a scenario seems very unlikely, since rabbinical writings have a great deal of credibility otherwise, and no major effort of promoting this book for that purpose has ever occurred. It is hard to imagine that this book would be counterfeited for that purpose or any other. There is simply no motive for such an act. In any case, if this were true, it is such a masterful job as to be a very valuable work in it's own right. The accuracy and credibility of this supposed Pseudo-Jasher is absolute genius. If this be a forgery it is a marvelous one.
Such a fraudulent writer would not have needed to add so much detail into the account to be convincing. The more details he drew from his imagination, the greater his chances of making some glaring error that would give away his deception. A faker would certainly have written a much shorter work and left out unnecessary details.
In actuality, we have a wonderful example of just such a fraud. I have in my possession three different works that go by the title Sepher Hayasher or The Book of Jasher. This first is, of course, this book. The second is the 13th century ethical treatise that I mentioned earlier. It makes no claim to being the Biblical Jasher and would never be taken for it. The third book is widely recognized for the fraud that it is. It has been republished by the Rosicrucian Order. It claims to have been discovered by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus, Abbot of Canterbury in the 8th century, while on a pilgrimage. It is the briefest outline of the first six books of the Bible, consisting of about 70 pages of large print. It contains no useful details, and only the barest account of the familiar Hebrew stories. It seems to have been prepared hastily and with little attention to detail. The most obvious feature is that it claims to be the work of a man named Jasher who was the son of Caleb and one of the Judges of Israel. This seems to be its entire reason for existence. It is clear that the author had no real knowledge of Hebrew and failed to recognize that Jasher is not a proper noun. It is not anybody's name. It rather carries the meaning of the upright book or the faithful record. Clearly this book is a fake. It has all the characteristics that you would expect to see in a forgery. It is very brief and contains no unique information except the one thing that is so absurd as to expose it as a hoax. So the contrast between that imitation and this book is very telling. It is easy to see which is genuine.
Finally, consider how Josephus described the Book of Jasher. He said "by this book are to be understood certain records kept in some safe place on purpose, giving an account of what happened among the Hebrews from year to year, and called Jasher or the upright, on account of the fidelity of the annals. * " There could be no better description of the book you see before you. The bottom line is that you, as the reader, will have to answer the question of legitimacy for yourself. Whichever side of that issue you take, I think that you will be enlightened by exploring the issue and by reading the book. If you feel as I do, that this book has the powerful credentials to commend it as the biblical Book of Jasher, you will now have in your hands an additional source to investigate when studying the Bible. You will also have much food for thought in regard to the issues of conventional chronology in ancient times.
* This statement from Josephus is copied from M.M. Noah's preface to his new translation of the Book of Jasher. He does not cite which work of Josephus or any other details that would be helpful in verifying it. Further, he does not tell which version of Josephus he was quoting. I have been unable to find this statement in Whiston's translation, but there are other versions in existence such as the Slavonic Josephus which contains differing readings. Therefore I am only taking at face value what Mr. Noah quoted.
(c)Copyright 1997 by Wayne Simpson Distributed by Biblical Research Foundation 629 Lexington Road Sapulpa, OK 74066 Reproduction and distribution are permissible provided this copyright notice remains intact on all copies.
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