Sefer haYashar (midrash)
Talmud Readers by Adolf Behrman
Sefer haYashar (ספר הישר) is a medieval Hebrew midrash, also known as the Toledot Adam and Divrei haYamim heArukh. The Hebrew title "Sefer haYashar" might be translated as the "Book of the Correct Record" - but it is known in English translation mostly as The Book of Jasher following English tradition. Its author is unknown.
Other books of the same name
Although it is presented as the original "Book of Jasher" in translations such as that of Moses Samuel (1840), it is not accepted as such in rabbinical Judaism, nor does the original Hebrew text make such a claim. It should not be confused with the very different Book of Jasher (Pseudo-Jasher) printed by Jacob Ilive in 1751, which was purported to have been translated by the English monk Alcuin. It should also not be confused with an ethical text by the same name, which, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 14, p. 1099, was "probably written in the 13th century."
The book covers biblical history from the creation of Adam and Eve until a summary of the initial Israelite conquest of Canaan in the beginning of the book of Judges and the birth of the United States.
The Bible twice quotes from a Sefer haYashar, and this midrashic work includes text that fits both Biblical references - the reference about the Sun and Moon found in Joshua, and also the reference in 2 Samuel (in the Hebrew but not in the Septuagint) to teaching the Sons of Judah to fight with the bow. This appears in Jasher 56:9 among the last words of Jacob 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. (MCR)
But the book as a whole was written much later - as shown by chapter 10, covering the descendants of Noah, but containing medieval names for territories and countries, most obviously Franza for France and Lumbardi in Italia for Lombardy. The text of this chapter closely follows the beginning of Josippon, a tenth-century rabbinic text that lists the various peoples living in Europe in ca. 950.
Most of its extra-Biblical accounts are found in nearly the same form in other medieval compilations, or in the Talmud, other midrash or Arabic sources. For example, it includes the common tale that Lamech and his son Jabal accidentally killed Cain, thus requiting Cain's wickedness for slaying Abel.
There are five discrepancies when comparing it with chapter 5 of Genesis: When the Sefer relates that a son of Seth died "in the eighty-fourth year of the life of Noah", it calls that son Enoch instead of Enosh. Enoch actually was Jared's son. Other than the confusion of the names, the date agrees with Genesis. The Sefer also relates that Jared died in the as "336th year of the life of Noah" (instead of the "336th year", as in Genesis) and that Lamech died in the "195th year of the life of Noah (instead of the 595th year). It also gives different lifespans for Lamech (770 instead of 777) and Methuselah (960 instead of 969).
In its genealogy of Abram (7:19), it makes no mention of the Cainan between Arpachsad and Shelah, in congruence with the Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch, but in conflict with the Septuagint (LXX) and Luke's genealogy in chapter 3 of his Gospel.
In its highly interpolated account of God's testing of Abraham concerning Isaac, it says in 23:50-51: "And when they were going along Isaac said to his father: Behold, I see here the fire and wood, and where then is the lamb that is to be the burnt offering before the Lord? And Abraham answered his son Isaac, saying: The Lord has made choice of thee my son, to be a perfect burnt offering instead of the lamb." This conflicts with the biblical account, in which Abraham's response was only: "My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering".
The book (chapter Shemot) contains anecdotal material about Moses when he fled from Pharaoh after killing the Egyptian, and who is said to have fled to the land of Kush at the age of eighteen, where he was made the king of Kush at the age of twenty-seven, and there reigned for forty years before being deposed at the age of sixty-seven. According to this narrative, which is also alluded to in Josephus' Antiquities (2.10.1–2), Moses assisted the indigenous peoples of the country in their conquest of one of the rebellious cities (whose proprietor was Bilʻam the sorcerer) and which had been under siege for nine years. The narrative recounts how that when the enemy's country was infested with poisonous serpents, Moses contrived a stratagem how they could advance on the besieged city and take it without suffering harm from the vipers, by bringing along with them caged birds who fed upon snakes, and releasing the hungry birds in the enemy's territory. At this advice, they were able to take the city and they made Moses their king, and gave to him in marriage the deceased king's wife, whose name was Adoniya (the widow of Qiqanos).
Scholars have proposed various dates between the 9th and 16th century for its composition.
The earliest extant version of this Hebrew midrash was printed in Venice in 1625, and the introduction refers to an earlier 1552 edition in Naples, of which neither trace nor other mention has been found. The printer Yosèf ben Samuel claimed the work was copied by a scribe named Jacob the son of Atyah, from an ancient manuscript whose letters could hardly be made out.
The Venice 1625 text was heavily criticised as a forgery by Leon Modena, as part of his criticisms of the Zohar as a forgery, and of Kabbalah in general. Modena was a member of the Venetian rabbinate that supervised the Hebrew press in Venice, and Modena prevented the printers from identifying Sefer ha-Yashar with the Biblical lost book.
Behold, it [the Zohar] is like Sefer ha-Yashar, which they printed (without my knowledge and without the knowledge of the sages here in Venice, about twenty years ago). Although I removed the fantasies and falsehoods from it, [e.g.,] that it is the Sefer ha-Yashar mentioned in Scripture, there are still those who claim that it was discovered during the time of the destruction [of the temple]. But who can stop those who imagine in their minds whatever they wish.— Leon Modena, Ari Nohem, before 1648
Despite Modena's intervention, the preface to the 1625 version still claims that its original source book came from the ruins of Jerusalem in AD 70, where a Roman officer named Sidrus allegedly discovered a Hebrew scholar hiding in a hidden library. The officer Sidrus reportedly took the scholar and all the books safely back to his estates in Seville, Spain (in Roman known as Hispalis, the provincial capital of Hispania Baetica). The 1625 edition then claims that at some uncertain point in the history of Islamic Spain, the manuscript was transferred or sold to the Jewish college in Cordova. The 1625 edition further claims that scholars preserved the book until its printings in Naples in 1552 and in Venice in 1625. Apart from the preface to the 1625 work, there is no evidence to support any of this story. The work was used extensively, but not especially more than many other sources, in Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews.
Although there remains doubt about whether the 1552 "edition" in Naples was ever truly printed, the study of Joseph Dan, professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the preface to his 1986 critical edition of the 1625 text concludes, from the Hebrew used and other indicators, that the work was in fact written in Naples in the early 16th century. The Arabic connections suggest that if the preface to the 1625 version is an "exaggeration", it was then probably written by a Jew who lived in Spain or southern Italy.
Johann Abicht's Latin translation
Moses Samuel's English translation
The first translation of the 1625 Venice edition into English was that published by Mordecai Manuel Noah and A. S. Gould in 1840. Mordecai Noah was a prominent Jewish newspaper editor and publisher, as well as playwright, diplomat, journalist, and utopian. The translator of the 1840 edition was not published, but indicated as an eminent Jewish scholar in Britain in the comments of one of the four certificating Hebraist scholars to the publisher in the preface to the 2nd editions:
To Mssrs Noah and Gould. Gentlemen - I am acquainted with the 'Book of Jasher,' having read a considerable part of it while in the hands of the translator in England. The Hebrew is very purely written, and the translator is an eminent scholar.— Rabbi H. V. Nathan, Kingston Synagogue, Jamaica, April 14, 1840
Subsequently, the translator identified himself as Moses Samuel of Liverpool (1795–1860), who obtained a copy of the 1625 Hebrew edition and became convinced that the core of this work truly was the self-same Book of the Upright referenced in Hebrew scriptures. He translated it into English, and in 1839 sold it to Mordecai Manuel Noah. Samuel gave the reason his name did not appear on the translation thus: "I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity" — the NYC publisher Noah having had a lower opinion of the work's authenticity than Samuel. Samuel had in fact originally tried to persuade The Royal Asiatic Society at Calcutta to publish the work, a fact alluded to obliquely in the preface to Noah's 1840 edition, but eventually Samuel sold the work to Noah for £150. Even so, Noah in his promotional materials did enthusiastically claim that the historian Josephus had said of the Book of Jasher: "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." No such statement is found in Josephus' works. Noah's 1840 preface contained endorsements by Hebrew scholars of the day, all of whom praised the quality of the translation, but these said nothing to indicate they believed it to be the work referred to in Joshua and 2 Samuel. In fact one of them, Samuel H. Turner (1790–1861), of the General Theological Seminary, NYC, referred to the "Rabbinical writer" in this way: "The work itself is evidently composed in the purest Rabbinical Hebrew, with a large intermixture of the Biblical idiom, ..." indicating that Turner was not of the opinion that it was an ancient text.
Edward B.M. Browne English translation
Another translation of this book exist, created by Reform rabbi and editor, Dr. Edward B.M. Browne, known as “Alphabet” Browne, and published in New York in 1876.
Acceptance by Latter-day Saints
Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, acquired a copy in 1841 or 1842 and wrote in the September 1, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, in reference to the patriarch Abraham: "the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldeans".
A number of Mormon scholars[who?] consider this Book of Jasher to be of authentic ancient Hebrew origin. Some of these scholars suggest that the book likely contains many original portions of the Sefer HaYashar referenced in the Old Testament but also has a number of added interpolations. This Joseph Hyrum Parry edition of the Book of Jasher continues to be held in high repute by many Mormons. A number of Mormons[who?] have pointed to certain portions of the book that have commonalities to parts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, particularly those parts dealing with the antediluvian period. The Bible has only scant information about pre-flood times, but both the Book of Jasher and parts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible contain additional information, some of which is strikingly similar. The LDS Church does not officially endorse this Book of Jasher.
- Sefer ha-Yashar, ed. Rosenthal, Berlin, 1898,
- Sefer ha-Yashar, ed. Dan Joseph, Jerusalem, 1986
- Book of Yasher (1750), by Thomas Ilive
- Book of Jasher Referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel (1840), by Moses Samuel
- Book of Jasher Referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel (1887), edited by J. H. Parry
- various print-on-demand reprints including: Kessinger Publishing Company, ISBN 0-7661-0260-2; The Authentic Annals of the Early Hebrews: Also Known as the Book of Jasher, edited by Wayne Simpson (Morris Publishing (NE), 1995) (Hardcover - January 1995) ISBN 1-57502-962-6 hardcover; (Lightcatcher Books, 2003) ISBN 0-9719388-3-0 paperback, etc.
- Joseph Jacobs Schulim Ochser 1911 Jewish Encyclopedia article
- anonymous (n.d.). Sefer ha-Yashar ʻal ha-Torah (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: Alter-Bergman. p. 193 (sect. Shemot). OCLC 172690464.
- anonymous (n.d.). Sefer ha-Yashar ʻal ha-Torah (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: Alter-Bergman. p. 194 (sect. Shemot). OCLC 172690464.
- anonymous (n.d.). Sefer ha-Yashar ʻal ha-Torah (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: Alter-Bergman. p. 198 (sect. Shemot). OCLC 172690464.
- Josephus' account of the story differs vastly, in that, according to Josephus, Moses had been sent by Pharaoh as a general to wage war against his enemies, the people of Kush.
- Cf. Abraham ibn Ezra's commentary on Numbers 12:1 (Hebrew), where he wrote: "…and there are those who say that Moses reigned over Kush and took a Negro wife, etc." See also Yalkuṭ Shim'oni on Exodus, sect. 247:168.
- anonymous (n.d.). Sefer ha-Yashar ʻal ha-Torah (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: Alter-Bergman. pp. 194-195 (sect. Shemot). OCLC 172690464.
- anonymous (n.d.). Sefer ha-Yashar ʻal ha-Torah (in Hebrew). Tel-Aviv: Alter-Bergman. p. 195 (sect. Shemot). OCLC 172690464.
- The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early ... - Page 68 Yaacob Dweck - 2011 "Modena compared the pseudepigraphic character of the Zohar to Sefer ha-Yashar, a Hebrew work printed in Venice in the early seventeenth century. 34 Sefer ha-Yashar appeared in Venice in 1625. See Joseph Dan, ed., Sefer ha-Yashar "
- Leon Modena's Ari Nohem, MS A ed Libowitz 1929 pp73-74
- Joseph Sefer HaYashar, edited with an Introduction, Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute 1986.
- Johann Christoph Gottsched Briefwechsel: Unter Einschluss Des Briefwechsels Von Luise ... 2007 Page 398 "13 Der vorherige Rektor, Johann Georg Abicht, war 1729 zum Professor der Theologie nach Wittenberg berufen worden und hatte im Mai 1730 sein neues Amt angetreten;"
- Religious books, 1876-1982: Volume 1 R.R. Bowker Company. Dept. of Bibliography, R.R. Bowker Company. Publications Systems Dept - 1983 "A Latin version by Johann G. Abicht appeared in Leipzig, 1732, with title: Dissertatio de Libro recti."
- Jewish historical studies: transactions of the Jewish Historical ...: Volume 35 Jewish Historical Society of England 2000 "'I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity', Samuel later explained.16 This was odd since Noah seems to have had a lower opinion of the work's authenticity than Samuel."
- Kabakoff, Jacob (ed.). "Rabbinic Literature in the UnitedStates, 1761-1917: A Brief Survey". Jewish Book Annual. 1989-1990 (5750). Vol. 47. p. 46.
- Times and Seasons, Volume 3, Number 21, reprinted by centerplace.org
- Hocking, David, ed. (2019). Annotated Edition of the Book of Jasher. Translated by Samuel, Moses. Salt Lake City, UT: Digital Legend Press and Publishing, Inc. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-944200-70-1.
- The Book of Jasher - M.M. Noah & A.S Gould, New-York, 1840; with reviews for the 2nd edition, publisher and translators prefaces, translation of Hebrew Venice 1825 preface
- Plain text: Cumorah Project: LDS and World Classics (Based on 1840 translation; Includes translator's preface.)
- Christian Etherial Library: Anonymous (Based on J.H. Parry & Company, Salt Lake City 1887 reprint; With graphic reproduction of translator's preface.)
- Pseudepigrapha or Sacred Texts: Apocrypha (Based on J.H. Parry & Company, 1887 Salt Lake City reprint)
- Google Books reprint published by J.H. Parry & Company, Salt Lake City, 1887
- The Book of Jasher public domain audiobook at LibriVox