the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Yashar', יָשָׁר , upright). A volume by this title (סֵפֶר הִיָּשָׁר, the book of the upright man; Auth. Vers. "book of Jasher") appears anciently to have existed among the Hebrews, containing the records of honored men, or other praiseworthy transactions. The work is no longer extant, but is cited in two passages of the O.T. in the following manner: "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 in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day," etc. (Joshua 10:13). The other passage is 2 Samuel 1:17-18 : "And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son (also he bade them teach the children of Judah [the use of] the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher)." After this follows the lamentation of David.
I. Views of the Incident in Joshua's Career. — The book of Jasher has attracted attention because it is appealed to in connection with the account of the sun and moon standing still. The compiler of the book of Joshua refers to it as containing a record of the miracle in question. It is therefore impossible to do justice to our subject without entering into an interpretation of the wonderful phenomenon on which so much ingenuity has been wasted. The misspent time which has been devoted to the passage in Joshua makes a critic sad indeed. Instead of looking at the words in their natural and obvious sense, men have been led away by their adherence to the letter into recondite, foolish, and absurd conjectures. One thing is a key to the right interpretation, viz. that the passage recording the miracle is a quotation from the poetical book of Jasher. The only difficulty is to discover where the quotation begins and where it ends. But, whatever difference of opinion there may be as to this point, it is clear that a strictly literal signification of the language ought not to be pressed upon a statement professedly extracted from a popular poetical work
1. The most obvious and ancient interpretation of this difficult passage is the literal one. At first it was contended that the sun itself, which was then believed to have revolved round the earth, stayed his course for a day. Those who take this view argue that the theory of the diurnal motion of the earth, which has been the generally received one since the time of Galileo and Copernicus; is inconsistent with the Scripture narrative. Notwithstanding the general reception of the. Copernican system of the universe, this view continued to be held by many divines, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, and was strenuously maintained by Buddeus (Hist. Eccles. V. T. Halle, 1715, 1744, p. 828 sq.) and others in the last century.
But in more recent times the miracle has been explained so as to make it accord with the now received opinion respecting the earth's motion, and the Scripture narrative supposed to contain rather an optical and popular than a literal account of what took place on this occasion; so that it was in reality the earth, and not the sun, which stood still at the command of Joshua (Clarke's Commentary, ad loc.).
2. Another opinion is that first suggested by Spinoza (Tract. Theolog. — Politic. c. 2, p. 22, and c. 6) and afterwards maintained by Le Clerc (Comment. ad loc.), that the miracle was produced by refraction only, causing the sun to appear above the horizon after its setting, or by some other atmospherical phenomena, which produced sufficient light to enable Joshua to pursue and discomfit his enemies. This seems to be the only view which grants the reality of the miracle, without encumbering it with unnecessary difficulties.
3. The last opinion we shall mention is that of the learned Jew Maimonides (More Nebochimn, 1, c. 53), viz. that Joshua only asked of the Almighty to grant that he might defeat his enemies before the going down of the sun, and that God heard his prayer, inasmuch as before the close of the day the five kings, with their armies, were cut in pieces. This opinion is favored by Vatablus, in the marginal note to this passage (see Robert Stephens's edition of the Bible, folio 1557), "Lord, permit that the light of the sun and moon fail us not before our enemies are defeated." Grotius, while he admitted that there was no difficulty in the Almighty's arresting the course of the sun, or making it reappear by refraction, approved of the explanation of Maimonides, which has been since that period adopted by many divines, including Jahn among the Roman Catholics (who explains the whole as a sublime poetical trope, Introd. p. 2, § 30), and, among orthodox Protestants, by a writer in the Berlin Evangelische Kirchenzeitung, Nov. 1832, supposed to be the editor, the late professor Hengstenberg (Robinson's Biblical Repository, 1833, 3:791 sq. See Seiler's Biblical Hermeneutics, English translator's note, p. 175, 176). (See JOSHUA).
II. Opinions as to the Character of the Book itself. As the word Jasher signifies just or upright, by which term it is rendered in the margin of our Bibles this book has generally been considered to have been so entitled as containing a history of just men. The former of the above passages in which the book is cited in Scripture is omitted by the Sept., while in the latter the expression is rendered βιβλίον τοῦ εὐθοῦς the Vulg. has liber justorum in both instances. The Peshito Syriac in Joshua has "the book of praises or hymns," reading הִשַׁיר for הִיָּשָׁר, and a similar transposition will account for the rendering of the same version in Samuel, "the book of Ashir." The Targum interprets it "the book of the law," and this is followed by Jarchi, who gives, as the passage alluded to in Joshua, the prophecy of Jacob with regard to the future greatness of Ephraim (Genesis 48:19), which was fulfilled when the sun stood still at Joshua's bidding. The same Rabbi, in- his commentary on Samuel, refers to Genesis, "the book of the upright, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," to explain the allusion to the book of Jasher; and Jerome, while discussing the "etymology of Israel," which he interprets as "rectus Dei," incidentally mentions the fact that Genesis was called ‘‘ the book of the just" (liber Genesis appellatur εὐθέων, id est, justorum), from its containing the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Comm. in Jes. 44:2). The Talmudists attribute this tradition to R. Johanan. R. Eliezer thought that by the book of Jasher was signified the book of Deuteronomy from the expressions in Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 23:7, the latter being quoted in proof of the skill of the He-brews in archery. In the opinion of Rabbi Samuel benNachnian, the book of Judges was alluded to as the book of Jasher (Aboda Zara, c. 2); and that it was the book of the twelve minor prophets was held by some Hebrew writers, quoted without name by Sixtus Senensis (Bibl. Sanct. lib. 2). R. Levi ben-Gershom recognizes, though he does not follow, the tradition given by Jarchi, while Kimchi and Abarbanel adopt the rendering of the Targum. This diversity of opinions proves, if it proves nothing more, that no book was known to have survived which could lay claim to the title of the book of Jasher.
Josephus, in relating the miracle narrated in Joshua 10, appeals for confirmation of his account to certain documents deposited in the Temple (Ant. 5, 1, 17), and his words are supposed to contain a covert allusion to the book of Jasher as the source of his authority. But in his treatise against Apion he says the Jews did not possess myriads of books, discordant and contradictory, but twenty-two only; from which Abicht concludes that the books of Scripture were the sacred books hinted at in the former passage, while Masius understood by the same the Annals which were written by the prophets or by the royal scribes. Theodoret (Quaest. xiv in Jesum Nave) explains the words in Joshua 10:13, which he quotes as τὸ βιβλίον τὸ εὑρεθέν (prob. an error for εὐθές , as he has in Quaest. 4 in 2 Reg.), as referring to the ancient record from which the compiler of the book of Joshua derived the materials of his history, and applies the passage in 2 Samuel 2, 18 to prove that other documents, written by the prophets, were made use of in the composition of the historical books. Jerome, or, rather, the author of the Quaestiones Hebraicae, understood by the book of Jasher the books of Samuel themselves, inasmuch as they contained the history of the just prophets. Samuel, Gad, and Nathan. Another opinion, quoted by Sixtus Senensis, but on no authority, that it was the book of eternal predestination, is scarcely worth more than the bare mention.
That the book of Jasher was one of the writings which perished in the Captivity was held by R. Levi ben-Gershom, though he gives the traditional explanation above mentioned. His opinion has been adopted by Junius, Hottinger (Thes. Philippians 2, 2, § 2), and many other modern writers (Wolfii Bibl. Heb. 2, 223).
What the nature of the book may have been can only be inferred from the two passages in which it is mentioned and their context, and, this being the case, there is clearly wide room for conjecture. The theory of Masius (quoted by Abicht) was, that in ancient times, whatever was worthy of being recorded for the instruction of posterity was written in the form of annals by learned men, and that among these annals or records was the book of Jasher, so called from the trustworthiness and methodical arrangement of the narrative, or because it contained the relation of the deeds of the people of Israel, who are elsewhere spoken of under the symbolical name Jeshurun. Of the latter hypothesis Furst approves (Handw. s.v.). Sanctius (Comment. ad 2 Reg. 1) conjectured that it was a collection of pious hymns, written by different authors, and sung on various occasions, and that from this collection the Psalter was compiled. That it was written in verse may reasonably be inferred from the only specimens extant, which exhibit unmistakable signs of metrical rhythm; but that it took its name from this circumstance is not supported by etymology. Lowth, indeed (Prael. p. 306-7), imagined that it was a collection of national songs, so called because it probably commenced with אָז יָשַׁיר, adz yashir, ‘ then sang," etc., like the song of Moses in Exodus 15:1; his view of the question was that of the Syriac and Arabic translators, and was adopted by Herder. But, granting that the form of the book was poetical, a difficulty still remains as to its subject. That the book of Jasher contained the deeds of national heroes of all ages embalmed in verse, among which David's lament over Saul and Jonathan had an appropriate place, was the opinion of Calovius. A fragment of a similar kind is thought to appear in Numbers 21:14.
Gesenius conjectured that it was an anthology of ancient songs, which acquired its name, "the book of the just or upright," from being written in praise of upright men. He quotes, but does not approve, the theory of Illgen, that, like the Hamasa of the Arabs, it celebrated the achievements of illustrious warriors, and from this derived the title of "the book of valor." But the idea of warlike valor is entirely foreign to the root yashar. Dupin contended, from 2 Samuel 1:18, that the contents of the book were of a military nature; but Montanus, regarding rather the etymology, considered it a collection of political and moral precepts. Abicht, taking the lament of David as a sample of the whole, maintained that the fragment quoted in the book of Joshua was part of a funeral ode composed upon the death of that hero, and narrating his achievements. At the same time, he does not conceive it necessary to suppose that one book only is alluded to in both instances. It must be admitted, however, that there is very slight ground for any conclusion beyond that which affects the form, and that nothing can be confidently asserted with regard to the contents.
From the passage above referred to (2 Samuel 1:8; "Also he bade them teach the children of Israel [the use of] the bow"), it has been supposed by some (see Dr. Adam Clarke's Comment. ad loc., and Horne's Introd. vol. 1) that the book of Jasher contained a treatise on archery; but it has been observed (see Parker's translation of De Wette's Introd. 1, 301) that, according to the ancient mode of citation, which consisted in referring to some particular word in the document, "the bow" which the children of Israel were to be taught indicated the poetical passage from the book of Jasher in which the "bow of Jonathan" is mentioned (2 Samuel 1:22). One writer (Rev. T. M. Hopkins, in the Biblical Repository, 1845, p. 97 sq.) rashly proposes to reject both references to the book in question as spurious, and even the whole account of the miracle in Joshua.
De Wette (Einleitung, § 169) endeavors to deduce an argument in favor of the late composition of the book of Joshua from the circumstance of its citing a work (viz. the book of Jasher) which "points to the time of David, inasmuch as his lamentation over Saul and Jonathan is contained in it." But it has been supposed by others (although the American translator of De Wette's Introd. looks upon this as quite improbable) that the book may, as a collection of poems, have received accessions at various periods, and, nevertheless, been still quoted by its original name. Dr. Palfrey, who adopts this view of the book of Jasher in his Lectures, still refers the composition of Joshua to the time of Saul.
III. Attempted Reproductions of the Work.
1. Although conjecture might almost be thought to have exhausted itself on a subject so barren of premises, a scholar of our own day has not despaired of being able not only to decide what the book of Jasher-was in itself, but of reconstructing it from the fragments which, according to his theory, he traces throughout the several books of the Old Test. ‘ In the preface to his Jashar, or Fragmenta Archetypa Carminun Hebraicorum in Masorethico Veteris Testamenti textu passini tessellata (London, 1854, 1860, 8vo), Dr. Donaldson advances a scheme for the restoration of this ancient record in accordance with his own idea of its scope and contents. Assuming that, during the tranquil and prosperous reign of Solomon, an unwonted impulse was given to Hebrew literature; and that the worshippers of Jehovah were desirous of possessing something on which their faith might rest, the book of "Jashar," or "uprightness," he asserts was written, or, rather, compiled- to meet this want. Its object was to show that in the beginning man was upright, but had, by carnal wisdom, forsaken the spiritual law; that the Israelites had been chosen to preserve and transmit this law of uprightness; that David had been made king for his religious integrity, leaving the kingdom to his son Solomon, in whose reign, after the dedication of the Temple, the prosperity of the chosen people reached its culminating point. The compiler of the book was probably Nathan the prophet, assisted, perhaps, by Gad the seer. It was thus "the first offspring of the prophetic schools, and ministered spiritual food to the greater prophets."
Rejecting, therefore, the authority of the Masoretic text, as founded entirely on tradition and adhering to his own theory of the origin and subject of the book of Jasher, Dr. Donaldson proceeds to show that it contains the religious marrow of holy Scripture. In such a case, of course, absolute proof is not to be looked for, and it would be impossible here to discuss what measure of probability should be assigned to a scheme elaborated with considerable ingenuity. Whatever ancient fragments in the sacred books of the Hebrews exhibit the nature of uprightness, celebrate the victories of the true Israelites, predict their prosperity, or promise future blessedness, have, according to this theory, a claim to be considered among the relics of the book of Jasher. Following such a principle of selection, the fragments fall into seven groups. The first part the object of which is to show that man was created upright: (יָשָׁאּ yashar), but fell into sin by carnal wisdom, contains two fragments' an Elohistic and a Jehovistic, both poetical, the latter being the more full. The first of these includes Genesis 11:27-28; Genesis 6:1-2; Genesis 6:4-5; Genesis 8:21; Genesis 6:6; Genesis 6:3; the other is made up of Genesis 2:7-9; Genesis 2:15-18; Genesis 2:25; Genesis 3:1-19; Genesis 3:21; Genesis 3:23-24. The second part, consisting of four fragments, shows how the descendants of Abraham, as being upright (יְשָׁרַים, yesharim), were adopted by God, while the neighboring nations were rejected. Fragment 1, Genesis 9:18-27; fragment 2, Genesis 4:2-8; Genesis 4:8-16; fragment 3, Genesis 16:1-4; Genesis 16:15-16; Genesis 17:9-16; Genesis 17:18-26; Genesis 21:1-14; Genesis 21:20-21; fragment 4, Genesis 25:20-34; Genesis 27:1-10; Genesis 27:14; Genesis 27:18-20; Genesis 27:25-40; Genesis 4:18-19; Genesis 26:34; Genesis 36:2; Genesis 4:23-24; Genesis 36:8; Genesis 28:9; Genesis 26:35; Genesis 27:46; Genesis 28:1-4; Genesis 28:11-19; Genesis 29:1, etc., Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:29; Genesis 35:22-26; Genesis 24:25-29; Genesis 35:9-15; Genesis 32:31. In the third part is related, euder the tigure of the Deluge, how the Israelites escaped from Egypt, wandered forty years in the wilderness, and finally, in the reign of Solomon, built a temple to Jehovah. The passages in which this is found are Genesis 6:5-14; Genesis 7:6; Genesis 7:11-12; Genesis 8:6-8; Genesis 8:12; Genesis 5:29; Genesis 8:4; 1 Kings 8:43; ‘Deuteronomy 6:18; Psalms 5:8. The three fragments of the fourth part contain the divine laws to be observed by the upright people, and are found in
(1) Deuteronomy 5:1-22;
(2) Deuteronomy 6:1-5; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 10:12-21; Deuteronomy 11:1-5; Deuteronomy 11:7-9; and
(3) Deuteronomy 8:1-3; Deuteronomy 6:6-18; Deuteronomy 6:20-25.
The blessings of the upright, and their admonitions, are the subject of the fifth part, which contains the songs of Jacob (Genesis 49), Balaam (Numbers 23, 24), and Moses (Deuteronomy 32, 33). The wonderful victories and deliverances of Israel are celebrated in the sixth part, in the triumphal songs of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-19), of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-13), and of Deborah (Judges 5:1-20). The seventh is a collection of various hymns composed' in the reigns of David and Solomon, and contains David's song of triumph over Goliath (!) (1 Samuel 2:1-10); his lament for Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27), and for Abner (2 Samuel 3:33-34); his psalm of thanksgiving (Psalms 18; 2 Samuel 22); his triumphal ode on the conquest of the Edomites (Psalms 60), and his prophecy of Messiah's kingdom (2 Samuel 23:1-7), together with Solomon's Epithalamium (Psalms 45), and the hymn sung at the dedication of the Temple (Psalms 68).
It cannot be denied that the critic has shown great ingenuity and constructive skill in elaborating his theory. His commentaries on the individual fragments composing the parts often exhibit striking and just remarks, with a right perception of the genius of some portions of the 0. T. Yet we must pronounce the attempt a failure. The leading positions are untenable. Donaldson's arguments are often weak and baseless. Most of the contents' which he assigns to the book of Jashar never belonged to it, such as the pieces of Genesis which he selects, etc. But it is needless to enter into a refutation of the hypothesis, ingeniously set forth in elegant Latin, and supported with considerable acuteness. Most of the book of Jashar cited in Joshua and 2nd Samuel is lost. It is very improbable that laws such as those in Deuteronomy 6, 10, 11 or historical pieces like Genesis 16:1-4, ever belonged to it. It is also a most unfortunate conjecture that שַׁילֹה, in Genesis 49:10, is abridged from שְׁלֹמה; or, even if it were, that furnishes a proof of the poem being written while Solomon was king (p. 27). We are persuaded that the critic gives great extension of meaning to the Hebrew word יָשָׁר, 2'makihmg it almost, if not altogether, an appellation of the Israelitish people. When he assumes that it is contained in יַשְׂרָאֵל the notion is erroneous (p. 23).
Among the many strange results of Donaldson's arrangement, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are no longer the sons of Noah; who is Israel under a figure, but of Adam; and the circumstances of Noah's life related in Genesis 9:18-27 are transferred to the latter. Cain and Abel are the sons of Shem, Abraham is the son of Abel, and Esau becomes Lamech, the son of Methuselah.
2 and 3. There are also extant, under the title of "the book of Jasher," two Rabbinical works, one a moral treatise, written in A.D. 1394 by I. Shabbatai Carmuz Levita, of which a copy in MS. exists in the Vatican library; the other was written by Jacob ben-Meir, or R. Tam; who died in 1171, and contains a treatise on Jewish ritual questions. It was published at Cracow in 1586, 4to, and again at Vienna in 1811, but incorrectly. No translation of either was ever made. 4. An anonymous work under the same name was published at Venice in 1625, at Cracow in 1628, and at Prague in 1668. It contains the histories of the Pentateuch, Joshua, and Judges, and intermixes many fabulous things. It gives (88, 64) the account of Joshua's miracle nearly in the words of Scripture, making the sun to stand still "thirty-six times" (עַתַּים ), i e. hours; but does not bring the history down later than the conquest of Canaan. The preface itself states that it was discovered at the destruction of Jerusalem by Sidrus one of the officers of Titus, who, while searching a house for the purpose of plunder, found in a secret chamber a vessel containing the books of the law, the prophets, and Hagiographa, with many others, which a venerable man was reading. Sidrus took the old man under his protection, and built for him a house at Seoville, where the books were safely deposited, and thence this one was conveyed to Naples, where it was printed. The book in question is probably the production of a Spanish Jew of the 13th century (Abicht, De libr. Recti, in Thes. Nov. Theol. Phil. 1, 525-34). A German version of it, with additions, was published by R. Jacob at Frankfort-on-the-Main (1674, 8vo), with the title תָּם וְיָשָׁר, perfect and right. A stereotyped translation of this work was published in New York in 1840, under the direction of M. M. Noah, with certificates of its fidelity to the original by eminent Hebrew scholars who had examined it.
5. The above works must not be confounded with the various editions of a fabrication which was first secretly printed at Bristol, and published in London in 1751 (4to), by an infidel type-founder of Bristol named Jacob Ilive, who was its real author. It was entitled "The Book of Jasher, with Testimonies and Notes explanatory of the Text: to which is prefixed Various Readings: translated into English from the Hebrew by Alcuin of Britain, who went a pilgrimage into the Holy Land." This book was noticed in the Monthly Review for December 1751, which describes it as "a palpable piece of contrivance, intended to impose upon the credulous and ignorant, to sap the credit of the books of Moses, and to blacken the character of Moses himself." The preface, purporting to be written by Alcuin, contains an account of the finding of the book in MS. at Gazna, in Persia, and the way in which it was translated. Having brought it to England, Alcuin says that he left it, among other papers, with a clergyman in Yorkshire. After two pages of various readings, the book itself follows, divided into thirty-seven chapters. Testimonies and notes are appended. The editor states, in a dedication at the beginning, that he bought the MS. at an auction in the north of England, and affirms that Wickliffe had written on the outside, "I have read the book of Jasher twice over, and I much approve of it as a piece of great antiquity and curiosity, but I cannot assent that it should be made a part of the canon of Scripture." This clumsy forgery was reprinted at Bristol in 1827, and published in London in 1829 (4to), as a new discovery of the book of Jasher. A prospectus of a second edition of this reprint was issued in 1833 by the editor, who therein styles himself the Rev. C. R. Bond. This literary fraud has obtained a notoriety far beyond its merits in consequence of the able critiques to which it gave rise, having been again exposed in the Dublin Christian Examiner for 1831, and elaborately refuted by Homer in his Introduction (ut sup.; new edition, 4:741-6).
See, besides the literature above referred to, Hilliger, ‘ De Libro Recti (Lips. 1714); Nolte, De Libro Justorum (Helmst. 1719); Wolf, De Libro Rectorum (Lips. 1742); ‘ Steger, De vocabulo יָשָׁר (Kiel, 1808); Anon. Jasher referred to in Joshua and San. (London, 1842); Hopkins, Plumbline Papers (Auburn, 1862, ch. 7); and the periodicals cited by Poole, Index, s.v. (See JOSHUA).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Jasher'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​j/jasher.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.