This will be a rambling post that talks about the pseudepigraphical Book of Jubilees and last Wednesday’s episode of The Middle.
I’ve been reading the Book of Jubilees for my daily quiet time. The Book of Jubilees dates to the second century B.C.E., and it may have been intended to be an interpretation of the Pentateuch of the Bible, or an alternative to it.
I have not finished the Book of Jubilees, so my thoughts about it are not complete; I do not plan to keep on editing and re-editing this post in light of new information that I encounter there, so please keep that in mind. In my reading so far, Jubilees is a mix. It is rather xenophobic, and, when it depicts Israel’s calling as a priesthood, it does not seem to say (at least not in what I have read thus far) that Israel’s priesthood is intended to bless the nations; rather, Israel’s priesthood is about Israel worshiping God. (UPDATE: Actually, there are parts of Jubilees about God’s people blessing the nations, or the nations blessing themselves through God’s people. But there is also xenophobia.) Think of it this way: the biblical prophets, particularly First Isaiah, talk about a remnant. God cleanses the land of sinners and builds Israel on the righteous few who are left; heck, the Noah story is a remnant story about the entire world. Well, my impression in reading Jubilees is that it believes that Israel is like a remnant: God has given up on the world, but God still has worshipers in Israel. Israel, in a sense, is a remnant of humanity. At the same time, I should mention that there are passages in Jubilees about Israel ruling the nations, a scenario in which the nations at least survive.
Its xenophobia notwithstanding, Jubilees does have profound passages about love. Jacob, for example, is one who tries to do good to all, and to think of good for all. He does not want to hate anyone. This is particularly evident after Jacob returns to the Promised Land after his horrible time with his Uncle Laban. Jacob’s mother Rebecca (who is still alive) encourages Jacob to patch things up with his brother Esau, because she does not want her sons to be fighting each other after she and Isaac die. Esau, even though Jubilees portrays him as depraved and a bit callous towards his parents (yet outwardly polite), does try to be a good sport: when Isaac is divvying up his inheritance of land and a tower to distribute to his sons, Esau reminds Isaac that, although Esau is the firstborn, Jacob is entitled to the lion’s share of the inheritance, for Esau years before gave up his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a mess of pottage. But Esau’s sons later threaten and persuade their father to challenge Jacob in battle. Jacob takes steps to defend himself, but he is merciful to Esau’s sons.
I enjoyed these parts of the book. I’ve long wondered what exactly it meant, practically-speaking, for Jacob to receive Esau’s birthright. Jubilees offered an explanation. Also, I was glad that Jacob got to see his mother before she died. You don’t see that in the Book of Genesis, at least not explicitly. I’ve heard sermons and lectures that say that Jacob, after fleeing the Promised Land to go to Aram, never got to see his mother again, his mother who loved him and favored him over Esau. That was sad to me. Jacob was a quiet man, one his mother loved, and he never got to see his mother again? Well, Jubilees says that he did! The Book of Genesis says that, at some point, Rebecca’s nurse Deborah was with Jacob’s community (Genesis 35:8), so who is to say that Jacob did not get to see his mother before she died, even for the one who wrote parts of Genesis?
Jacob also comes to love his wife Leah. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob loves Rachel better, and he cannot really move on after Rachel has died. He loves Rachel’s sons more than Leah’s sons. In Jubilees, Jacob still prefers Rachel, yet he is saddened after Leah dies. He appreciated Leah as a gentle, good woman. Jubilees 36:24 says that he “lamented greatly for her because he loved her with all his heart and all his soul” O.S. Wintermute’s translation).
Jubilees more than once mentions sins that God will not forgive. God will not forgive an Israelite who sleeps with his father’s wife or concubine (33:13), but that person is to be stoned. Jubilees 30:10 says that an Israelite who lets his daughter be defiled by a Gentile will not receive forgiveness or remission. I should also note that the pseudepigraphical Book of I Enoch presents beings who cannot receive forgiveness, even if they seek it—-the fallen angels. I wonder if anyone has tied any of this to Jesus’ statements in the synoptic Gospels that those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not receive forgiveness, in this age or the age to come (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). A lot of times, I have read people attempt to explain those passages from a pastoral perspective: they want to reassure troubled souls that they did not actually blaspheme the Holy Spirit and thus have nothing to worry about. Sometimes, they are addressing silly questions, like “I stubbed my toe and cursed—-did I blaspheme the Holy Spirit?” But, take that pastoral motivation out of the equation, study the Gospel passages in light of Second Temple Judaism, and what do you find? What can you conclude? We see in Jubilees and in I Enoch the idea of unforgivable sins. I can somewhat sympathize with atheist scholar Robert Price’s statement (which I heard in one of his Genesis lectures, I think) that an atheist can approach the Bible more objectively than many believers can—-he can see what the Bible says, rather than trying to soften it from a pastoral perspective, or seeking to explain away parts to make it look inerrant. I still consider myself a believer. When it comes to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, I keep in mind Hebrew Bible passages in which God threatens things, but does not carry out his threats (see my post here). I am not for tempting God, but I don’t view any of God’s threats as an absolute—-with no ifs, ands, or buts.
Back to Jubilees, though. I was reading Jubilees’ rendition of the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah has a daughter-in-law named Tamar, and God keeps killing her husbands because they are wicked. Judah is afraid to give Tamar his next son in line! Tamar, therefore, dresses up as a prostitute, and Judah sleeps with her, not knowing who she is. Judah gives her collateral. When he later finds out that Tamar played the harlot, he says that she must be burned! Tamar shows him his collateral, and Judah realizes that he slept with her. Judah then acknowledges that she is more righteous than him.
Jubilees’ telling of the story was similar to Genesis 38, overall. But Jubilees stresses that Judah received forgiveness from God because he repented. This was actually pretty noteworthy to me—-you have an Israelite sinning and receiving forgiveness, which differs from the overall tone of Jubilees. Jubilees does have some notion of atonement—-it even says that Yom Kippur is about God forgiving Israel for what her ancestors did to Joseph (Jubilees 34:18-19), in selling him and making their father believe he was dead. But, overall, Jubilees is rather punitive and perfectionist: it mentions sins that cannot be forgiven, and it calls the Hebrew protagonists perfect. For some reason, it presents Abraham passing tests that some may think he did not pass: Abraham passed the test when his wife was in Egypt and he lied to the Egyptians by saying she was his sister; usually, pastors say that Abraham was sinning at that point. Not Jubilees, though!
I was thinking that Jubilees 38 was a refreshing exception, an indication that Jubilees believed in forgiveness. Then Jubilees went all punitive. Jubilees 41 goes on to say that, even though Judah was forgiven by God, those who commit those kinds of defiling sins must be burned in the fire! Jubilees then goes on to praise Judah for ordering his daughter to be burned for prostitution. That actually pleased God, according to Jubilees!
The thing is, I look at that story, and Judah does not come out looking all that good, except when he repents and admits Tamar was more righteous than he was. Judah prior to that point was a hypocrite—-he slept with a prostitute, then ordered his daughter to be burned for prostitution. His motto should be “Do as I say, not as I do.” Even in Jubilees, he was married to a Canaanite woman, but he did not want his sons to marry Canaanite women.
That brings me to last Wednesday’s episode of The Middle. Frankie is going on a field trip with her socially-inept son, Brick. She wants for one of the boys on the bus to sit by Brick rather than his two friends so that Brick can make a friend. Frankie tries to persuade the boy’s mother to have him sit next to Brick, since the boy was crowding the seat, but the boy’s mother said that was not a problem. Later, Frankie yells at the boy’s mother. Brick’s therapist comes to Frankie while she is sitting alone and has a talk with her. Frankie recalls a time when she did the same thing that she was yelling at that boy’s mom for doing: after a high school ball game, she was about to drive her cooler son Axl and his friends, and another mother said one of the boys can ride with her and her son, for there was room. Frankie replied, “Oh, we’re fine!”, then walked on. Frankie is mortified when she remembers this—-she exclaims, “I was one of those “Oh, we’re fine” moms!” Brick’s therapist tells her, though, that everyone makes mistakes. Later in the episode, the boy’s mother tells her son to sit by Brick, and Frankie whispers to her, “Thank you.” As is often the case in The Middle, we think we are going to end on a warm and fuzzy note, then some humor undercuts that: Brick didn’t want to sit by the boy and left quickly so there would be no awkward silences, then patted himself on the back for his social intelligence!
In any case, Frankie was like Judah after he repented: she realized she had made mistakes, was sorry for them, and tried to be better.