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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Genesis, Jubilees, and Creation

In the Book of Jubilees, the Angel of the Presence begins dictating the heavenly tablets at the creation story, stating that at the beginning, at creation, God has established the Sabbath for all time. On the first day of creation, God creates the heavens, the earth, waters, and all spirits, specifically the angels. Alongside these, he creates darkness, dawn, light, and evening. The angels praise God at the end of the first day for His creation. On the second day, God separates the waters above and the waters below with a firmament. The following day, He gathers the waters and exposes the dry land created on day one. He then creates plants and the Garden of Eden. On the fourth day, God creates the moon, stars, and specifically the sun, to mark off “Sabbaths, months, festivals, years, Sabbaths of years, jubilees, and all cycles of the years”. On the fifth day, God creates creatures of the sea and birds. On the sixth day, he creates all land creatures, including humans. After completing his work, he rests on the Sabbath and teaches the angels to do the same. He also states that He will create a people whom He will teach to keep Sabbath. The Angel of the Presence then commands Moses to teach Israel to keep the Sabbath, for they are the people God had claimed at creation.

Over the course of the week after creation, the angels, including the Angel of the Presence, bring Adam all God’s creatures in order to name them. Yet he notices while each animal has a partner, he is alone. God places Adam in a deep sleep and takes a rib from Adam to create Eve. Because Adam was created in the first week and Eve in the second week, God commands that women remain unclean after childbearing for seven days with a male child and fourteen days with a female child. After 40 days, the angels bring Adam into Eden. After 80 days, they bring in Eve. God then commands that after giving birth to a male child, a woman is to be purified after 40 days, while after giving birth to a female child, she is purified after 80 days.

The Jubilees creation account contains numerous similarities to its predecessor in Genesis, such as a seven day creation week, God’s resting on the seventh day, the initiation of the Sabbath, humanity created in His likeness, Eve created from Adam’s rib, and the setting in Eden. Yet there remain profound differences in the manner the author shapes the similarities and in the details themselves.

The most noticeable difference is the presence of the angels. While they are not mentioned in the Genesis account, in Jubilees, they are created on the first day and immediately praise God for His creative work. God speaks to the angels about His creative plans in 2:18-20, 3:4. They are the first to learn Sabbath. They also care for the first humans, first by bringing Adam all the animals to name during the week after creation and, then, by bringing both Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden. Finally, Moses only knows the story of Creation because the Angel of the Presence dictates it to him.

James VanderKam argues the angels function as an audience for God. They do not play an active role in creation or assist God in any way, but they praise Him for His creation and celebrate Sabbath with Him. The angels also provide a witness of God’s creative work who can recount it to Moses. In addition to VanderKam, Jubilees also initiates the mediatorial role they play between God and humanity throughout the work. They are created on day one, ready to serve humankind on God’s behalf.

The Jubilees creation account also provides an aspect of angelology not present in Scripture: an account of their creation. The author of Jubilees says God created them on the first day. VanderKam highlights two possible Scriptural sources for this assertion. The first is a trigger in Genesis 1:2, וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים. This early mention of the Spirit of God in the Genesis account prompted the author to identify the first day with God’s creation of all spirits, including the angels. The second possible source is Job 38:4-7, which mentions “all the sons of God” (כָּל־בְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהִֽים) singing as God “laid the foundation of the earth”. A combination of these two passages could provide the biblical basis for the author placing the creation of the angels on the first day.

A second key feature of Jubilees is its portrayal of Adam and Eve. While Genesis 1 recounts God’s creation of humanity, male and female, on the sixth day, Genesis 2 describes the creation of Adam and the later creation of Eve. Jubilees reconciles the two creation accounts by explaining that God created Adam and created the rib from which He would create Eve the following week on the sixth day. Eve is brought to Adam on the sixth day of the week after creation, exactly a week after his own creation. The author of Jubilees uses these details to explain the laws of Leviticus 12. A woman is unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a male child because Adam was created during the first week of creation. Likewise, a woman is unclean for 14 days after giving birth to a female child because Eve was created during the second week of creation. A woman is purified after a total of 40 days after giving birth to a male child because Adam was brought into the Garden of Eden 40 days after his creation. Likewise, a woman is purified after a total of 80 days after giving birth to a female child because Eve was brought into the Garden of Eden 80 days after her creation. Adam and Eve, just as their descendants, must wait for the time of purification before entering “the holiest [place] in the entire earth”.

A significant omission from the Jubilees account is the imago Dei (בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ). VanderKam summarizes two proposals for why this is the case and rejects them both before proposing one of his own. First, he mentions Berger who thought the author of Jubilees limited it to Israel, but Jubilees later applies the image to all humanity in 6:8. Second, Steck proposes that the author is focused on the deeds of creation and did not want to introduce other theological issues. However, VanderKam points out that the author, in fact, does provide more details other than God’s creative acts such as the sun shining for the blessing of fish and birds in 2:12. VanderKam believes the author omits the imago Dei because the phrasing of Genesis 1:26, “let us make humankind in our own image”, could imply He had help from the angels.

Another noticeable change from Genesis is in Jubilees’ telling of the fourth creation day. Genesis recounts the story: "And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night— and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day".

Jubilees, on the other hand, recounts: "On the fourth day the Lord made the sun, the moon, and the stars. He placed them in the heavenly firmament to shine on the whole earth, to rule over day and night, and to separate between light and darkness. The Lord appointed the sun as a great sign above the earth for days, Sabbaths, months, festivals, years, Sabbaths of years, jubilees, and all cycles of the years. It separates between light and darkness and (serves) for well-being so that everything that sprouts and grows on the earth may prosper".

The differences in the Jubilees account introduce the calendar the text is famous for advocating. Rather than following a lunar calendar, the author of Jubilees uses a solar calendar comprised of 364-days. A year is then made up of exactly 52 weeks of seven days. Seven years form a week of years. Seven weeks of years form a jubilee of 49 years. The book tells the story of a “jubilee of jubilees”, comprised of 50 jubilees, totaling 2,450 years. These measures are hinted at in the creation account on the fourth day. The number seven organizes the calendar of Jubilees and, thus, all time is organized according to the Sabbath pattern. Ravid, in fact, prefers to call it a “Sabbath calendar” rather than a solar calendar.

The Sabbath is the fourth and final key distinctive feature of the Jubilees creation account. While Genesis 2 does present God’s resting on the seventh day, Jubilees presents it as the theological centerpiece of its account. Jubilees 2 begins, “On the Lord’s orders the Angel of the Presence said to Moses, Write all the words about the creation-how on the sixth day the Lord God completed all his works, everything that he had created, and kept Sabbath on the seventh day. He sanctified it for all ages and set it as a sign for all his works”.

At the end of the creation week, God rests on the seventh day, just as He does in Genesis, but Jubilees interprets the event as a sign in accordance with Exodus 31:13, 17. Exodus presents a Sabbath as a sign that Israel would be “a holy people”. The angels also rest with God at His instruction. Not only is Sabbath normative for creation, but it is also part of the rhythm of heaven with the angels and God Himself taking part. Humanity is invited to share in the heavenly activity of Sabbath. God specifically declares that He will create a people, Israel, to keep Sabbath. God first claims them as His “treasured people”, as His “firstborn son”, and set them apart from all nations. As His beloved people, He teaches them how to keep Sabbath. On the Sabbath, Israel blesses their Creator just as He has blessed them by setting His love on them. “The writer presents a picture of a non-ending bond between God and Israel well before he reaches the first covenantal passage in Genesis”.

After recounting the seventh day, the Angel of the Presence gives commands to Moses for Sabbath keeping. Jonathan Stökl has demonstrated from Hebrew fragments of Jubilees found at Qumran that the author has moved the Sabbath commands from Exodus 31 and 35 to the creation story. He focuses on Jubilees 2:27, which has nearly identical wording to 31:14 and its companion verse, 35:2. The Hebrew in Exodus 31:14 is כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה בָהּ֙ מְלָאכָ֔ה וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה, which matches reconstructions of Jubilees 2:27. All three verses make clear that any Israelite who does not keep Sabbath will be executed. Jubilees includes added details against cooking and drawing water, common prohibitions in Second Temple literature drawing on the Exodus 16 command against gathering mana on the Sabbath. Jubilees 2 concludes with the declaration that Israel is unique because they keep Sabbath. The Sabbath day is the holiest of days and marks them off as God’s people from all the nations.

Studying the Book of Jubilees nuances the stereotypes of Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day as legalists. Jubilees is focused on the Law, but it is not presented as a way of earning favor with God, as legalism often does. Instead, the Law points Israel back to creation and roots humanity in God’s original design for His world. Israel follows the Law, not to earn favor with God, but to live as God created them to be and called them out from the nations to be. After resting on the Sabbath, God tells the angels he will claim Israel for Himself as His treasured people, sanctified to Him. As His treasured people, He will teach them to keep the Sabbath as a day to bless their Creator who has already blessed them. God’s Sabbath commands are rooted in who He is and in the loving relationship He has established with Israel.

Jubilees also presents Sabbath as a clear distinction of Israel. God specifically gives the Sabbath to Israel, not to the nations. The Sabbath is set apart as holy because God has set Israel apart as His own. While Israel lives in the midst of foreign nations, The Jews looked to Sabbath as one of the telltale signs they were members of God’s covenant people. Even in the midst of exile, they could keep Sabbath and recognize in it that God remained faithful to them, despite the persecution they faced.

Second Temple Jewish attitudes to the Law have implications for how Christians understand and teach the Old Testament and the various commands found in Scripture. Unfortunately, many Christians have taken cues from the heretic Marcion and his separation of Law and Gospel. Even a theological giant as Martin Luther made the distinction a centerpiece of his theology. Protestant Christians have struggled to integrate them ever since. Evangelical Christians also have a reputation for dissonant cries on behalf of traditional morality which modern society sees as regressive and oppressive. Taking cues from Jubilees, Christians can integrate Law and Gospel in a way which reflects the joy that comes from living in accord with God’s creative intent rather than the vitriol too often associated with conservative Christians in public discourse. Christians have the added benefit of integrating the two after Christ came both to fulfill the Law and to offer grace and mercy to sinners. In Him, the two are integrated.

Changing the tone begins in the pulpit with preaching that is not focused on confrontation or demands that society return to traditional values. Instead, preaching can proclaim the love of God expressed in Christ and present a vision of being human in light of His radical love and in accord with who He made us to be. In pastoral care, such preaching could translate to feeling heartbreak over sin instead of anger at individuals pastors are called to care for. The personal call to obedience could be presented as a compelling invitation into the love of God instead of a list of demands. Integrating Law and Gospel in ministry contexts defends pastors from the twin dangers of legalism and antinomianism. Ministers can still address sin and call congregants to faithfulness without giving the impression that God’s love is contingent on obedience. While Jubilees does not know the Gospel of Jesus, it points Christians to the reality that God’s Law is rooted in His love for His people.

[1] Jubilees 2:9, translation by VanderKam, James C. Jubilees: A Commentary on the Book of Jubilees. Hermeneia. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018.

[2] Jubilees 2:2-3

[3] Jubilees 2:17

[4] Jubilees 3:1,9

[5] Jubilees 2:1

[6] VanderKam, James C. “Genesis 1 in Jubilees 2.” Dead Sea Scroll Discoveries 1, no. 3 (1994): 300–321, p. 319.

[7] Jubilees 2:2

[8] Job 38:4-7 NET

[9] VanderKam 1994, p. 306.

[10] Jubilees 3:8

[11] Jubilees 3:8; Lev. 12:2, 5 NRSV

[12] Jubilees 3:9-12; Leviticus 12:4-5

[13] Jubilees 3:12

[14] Genesis 1:26

[15] VanderKam 1994, pp. 314-315.

[16] VanderKam 2018, p. 191.

[17] Genesis 1:14-19

[18] Jubilees 2:8-10

[19] VanderKam, James C. The Book of Jubilees. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, p. 13 and Segal, Michael. The Book of Jubilees: Rewritten Bible, Redaction, Ideology, and Theology. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007, pp. 7-8.

[20] Ravid, p. 391.

[21] Genesis 2:1-3

[22] Jubilees 2:1

[23] Jubilees 2:17

[24] Jubilees 2:18

[25] Jubilees 2:19-22

[26] VanderKam 2018, p. 55.

[27] “Whoever does any work on it shall be cut off.”

[28] Stökl, Jonathan. “The Book Formerly Known as Genesis: A Study of the Use of Biblical Language in the Hebrew Fragments of the 'Book of Jubilees'.” Revue De Qumrân 22, no. 3 (2003): 431–49.

[29] Jubilees 2:29

[30] VanderKam 2018, p. 202.

[31] Jubilees 2:31-33

[32] Jubilees 2:19-21

[33] Jubilees 2:29

[34] Jubilees 2:31

[35] The Law-Gospel distinction was codified in the Lutheran Book of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be kept in the Church with great diligence as a particularly brilliant light.” McCain, Paul Timothy., W. H. T. Dau, and F. Bente, eds. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2009, p. 484.

[36] Matthew 5:17

[37] Matthew 9:12

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