The Book of Jasher

The term “Book of Jasher” is a bit misleading. This was not a book written by someone named “Jasher”. In fact the word “Jasher” (Hebrew: Yashar) means “Upright” so that the Hebrew Sefer HaYashar is “The Upright Book”. The definite article “Ha” tips us off that this is not a person’s name but a modifier for the word “book”.

There are two references to Jasher in the Tanak:

“And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still
(Joshua 10:13)

(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)
(2 Samuel 1:18)

From these two references in the Tanak there are several things we can learn about this mysterious book.

From the usage in Joshua 10:13 we can determine:

1. That Jasher contained the account of the prolonged day mentioned in Joshua 10.

2. That Jasher was in circulation by the time the book of Joshua was written. Since Joshua was written prior to the death of Rahab, Jasher must have been written by that time as well.

3. The Book of Jasher had enough credibility that Joshua would cite it as support for his assertion of the prolonged day.

The usage in 2Sam. 1:18 tells us:

4. The Book of Jasher supported an admonition to teach the son’s of Judah “the bow”.

The identity of this lost book has been a matter of much speculation over the centuries.

The ancient translations and paraphrases offer little help to us in identifying the Book of Jasher.

The Greek LXX omits the entire phrase from Joshua 10:13 and translates the the phrase to mean “The Book of the Upright” in 2Sam. 1:18. The Latin Vulgate has in both places “Liber Justorum” “The Book of the Upright Ones”. In the Targums the phrase is Paraphrased as “The Book of the Law”.

The Aramaic Peshitta Tanak has “The Book of Praises” in Joshua 10:13 and “The Book of the Song” in 2Sam. 1:18. This may have resulted fromma misreading of YUD-SHIN-RESH (Upright) as SHIN-YUD-RESH (Song). And some have speculated that the book in question was actually a book of songs which included reference to Joshua 10:13 in the lyrics of a song. This theory also takes “the bow” in 2Sam. 1:18 to be the name of a song.

LAID UP IN THE TEMPLE

In his own recounting of the event of the prolonged day of Joshua 10 the first century Jewish Roman historian Josephus identifies the Book of Jasher mentioned by Joshua as one of “the books laid up in the Temple” (Ant. 5:1:17). Thus the Book of Jasher was known to Josephus and was known to be among the books laid up in the Temple in the first century.

The 1625 edition of Jasher has a Preface, which says in part (translated from the Hebrew):

…when the holy city Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus,
all the military heads went in to rob and plunder, and
among the officers of Titus was one whose name was Sidrus,
who went in to search, and found in Jerusalem a house
of great extent…

According to the preface this Sidrus found a false wall in this house with a hidden room. In this room he found an old man hiding with provisions and many books including the Book of Jasher The old man found favor with Sidrus who took the old man and his books with him.

The preface says “they went from city to city and from country to country until they reached Sevilia [a city in Spain].” At that time “Seville” was called “Hispalis” and was the capital of the Roman province of Hispalensis. The manuscript was donated to the Jewish college at Cordova, Spain.

According to the 1625 edition of Jasher the first printed edition of the Book of Jasher was published in Naples Italy in 1552. However no copies of the 1552 edition are known to have survived. The earliest surviving Hebrew edition known is the 1625 edition.

The Book of Jasher is a narrative beginning with the creation of man and ends with the entry of Israel into Canaan.

The Book of Jasher passage related to Joshua 10:13 reads as follows:

“And when they were smiting, the day was declining toward evening, 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 Lord hearkened to the voice of Joshua, 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.”
(Jasher 88:63-64)

The Book of Jasher passage which relates to 2Sam. 1:18 involves Jacob’s last words to his son Judah:

“Only teach thy sons the bow and all weapons of war, in order that
they may fight the battles of their brother who will rule over his
enemies.”
(Jasher 56:9)

This reads very similar to the midrash which gives these last words as:

“Thou, my son, art stronger than all thy brethren,
and from thy loins will kings arise. Teach thy children
how they may protect themselves from enemies and evil-doers”

It would seem that the author of Jasher did not create this account to fit with 2Sam. 1:18 since the same account occurs in the midrash (which itself may have been drawn from Jasher).

Certainly many serious scholars have concluded that this Book of Jasher is authentic. The well known Hebraist and Rabbinic Scholar (and translator of the 1840 Book of Jasher) Moses Samuel wrote of Jasher:

“…the book is, with the exception of some doubtful parts,
a venerable monument of antiquity; and that, notwithstanding
some few additions have been made to it in comparatively
modern times, it still retains sufficient to prove it a copy
of the book referred to in Joshua, ch. x, and 2 Samuel, ch. 1.”
- Moses Samuel – Hebraist and Rabbinic Scholar

And my old friend and mentor, the late Dr. Cyrus Gordon (who was the world’s leading Semitist until his death) said:

“There can be little doubt that the book of Jasher was a
national epic… The time is ripe for a fresh investigation
of such genuine sources of Scripture, particularly against
the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
- Dr. Cyrus Gordon

The Nazarene edition of Sefer HaYashar (The Book of Jasher) is available from Take Hold Books.

 

 

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