Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Book of Jubilees and Biblical Chronology

One in a series on Biblical Chronology.

The institution of the jubilee year and its economic regulations, detailed in Leviticus 25, has been a subject of debate as to when this special year should be celebrated. It may never been put into practice in the history of Israel. Luke presents Jesus enunciating a programmatic vision of the work he has begun to fulfill based on the jubilee imagery of Isaiah 61. Was the first year of his ministry a jubilee year?

Leviticus 25:10 clearly state: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you.”

But when the entire section is read, there is ambiguity:
Lev 25:3
Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its fruits;
Lev 25:4
but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.

Lev 25:8
"And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall be to you forty-nine years.
Lev 25:9
Then you shall send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land.
Lev 25:10
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family.

It is unclear whether the first year of the next jubilee cycle starts after the 50th year, or whether it overlaps the 50th year. The Book of Jubilees demonstrates that a jubilee period is 49 years, and not 50 years and thus the Book of Jubilee remove the ambiguity present in the Bible.
Jubilees 4:29 And at the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth. And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: 'On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.'
The sixth year of the seventh week of the nineteenth jubilee is the 930th year. Since 18(49)+6(7)+6=930, the jubilee period must be 49 years. The age given for Adam at his death agrees with the Bible.[i]

The calculation for the age of Sarah as set forth in Jubilees 19:7 agree with Genesis 23:1-2 [and as to Adam Jubilees 4:29 agrees with Genesis 5:5] only if the jubilee period is forty-nine years.

However, the Book of Jubilees introduces another variable into Biblical Chronology when it asserts that the year is exactly 364 days. Jubilees 6:23-38 states:
"And command thou the children of Israel that they observe the years according to this reckoning -- three hundred and sixty-four days, and (these) will constitute a complete year, and they will not disturb its time from its days and from its feasts; for everything will fall out in them according to their testimony, and they will not leave out any day nor disturb any feasts. But if they do neglect and do not observe them according to His commandments, then they will disturb all their seasons, and the years will be dislodged from this (order), and they will neglect their ordinances. And all the children of Israel will forget, and will not find the path of the years, and will forget the new moons, and seasons, and sabbaths, and they will go wrong as to all the order of the years. "

It appears that based upon some fragments of this book found at Qumran, the Book of Jubilees was being used by some of the Jewish sects at the time of Jesus. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, and Edward Cook, estimates about 40% of the non-Biblical text found at Qumran deal with the calendar.[ii]

A calendar based on 364 days is 52 weeks of 7 days and 13 months of 28 days. Thus the Book of Jubilees is based on a lunar calendar. Using the moon to determine Qumran calendar dates in the Dead Sea Scrolls may assist in determining the question when priestly temple courses served. However, a calendar year of 364 days is 1.24 days less than a true solar year of 365.24 days. Everyone recognizes that a system of adding extra days to align the Jubilee calendar with the solar year was necessary. Unfortunately, no method of doing so has been mentioned in any of the Dead Sea Scroll documents discovered to date.

The Book of Jubilees has made the mystery of Biblical Chronology a little bit more interesting.

[i] Genesis 5:5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.
[ii] The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation (New York: Harper-Collins), 13.

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