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Book of Jashar

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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In Hebrew Sepher ha-yashar, a Hebrew composition mentioned as though well-known in Josh. x. 13 and 2 Sam. i. 18. From these two passages it seems to have been a book of songs relating to important events, but no early collection of the kind is now extant, nor is anything known of it. Various speculations have been put forward as to the name: (I) that it means the book of the upright, i.e. Israel or distinguished Israelites, the root being the same as in Jeshurun; (2) that Jashar (" lc ) is a transposition of shir C , song); (3) that it should be pointed Yashir (W, sing; cf. Exod. xv. I) and was so called after its first word. None of these is very convincing, though support may be found for them all in the versions. The Septuagint favours (I) by its rendering Eiri (cdXlov Tou €i Oous in Samuel (it omits the words in Joshua); the Vulgate has in libro justorum in both places; the Syriac in Samuel has Ashir, which suggests a Hebrew reading ha-shir (the song), and in Joshua it translates " book of praises." The Targum on both passages has " book of the law," an explanation which is followed by the chief Jewish commentators, making the incidents the fulfilment of passages in the Pentateuch. Since it contained the lament of David (2 Sam. i. 18) it cannot have been completed till after his time. If Wellhausen's restoration of I Kings viii. 12 be accepted (from Septuagint I Kings viii. 53, i p Ocl3Alcp Tns cg3Sats) where the reference is to the building of the Temple, the book must have been growing in the time of Solomon. The attempt of Donaldson' to reconstruct it is largely subjective and uncritical.

In later times when it became customary to compose midrashic works under well-known names, a book of Jashar naturally made its appearance. It need hardly be remarked that this has nothing whatever to do with the older book. It is an anonymous elaboration in Hebrew of the early part of the biblical narrative, probably composed in the 12th century. The fact that its legendary material is drawn from Arabic sources, as well as from Talmud, Midrash and later Jewish works, would seem to show that the writer lived in Spain, or, according to others, in south Italy. The first edition appeared at Venice in 1625, and it has been frequently printed since. It was translated into English by (or for) M. M. Noah (New York, 1840). A work called The Book of ... Jasher, translated ... by Alcuin (1751; 2nd ed., Bristol, 1829), has nothing to do with this or with any Hebrew original, but is a mere fabrication by the printer, Jacob Ilive, who put it forward as the book " mentioned in Holy Scripture." Bibliography.-M. Heilprin, Historical Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews (New York, 1879), i. 128-131; Mercati, " Una congettura sopra it libro del Giusto," in Studi e Testi (5, Roma, 1901). On the medieval work see Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vortrdge der Juden (Frankfurt a. M., 1892), 2nd ed., p. 162.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Book of Jashar'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/book-of-jashar.html. 1910.