How Did the Book of Jasher Know?

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (Jan. 7, 2002)
©2002 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

Contents
1. History
2. Authenticity
3. Modern Revelation
4. Chronology
5. How Did Jasher Know?
Notes
The Book of Jasher includes details about antediluvian patriarchs which are confirmed by modern revelation. The question arises of how the author of Jasher could have known specific facts from before the Great Flood, such as Cainan becoming very wise when he was forty years old. These correlations attest that it was composed from exceedingly ancient reliable sources.

The Book of Jasher has been popular among members of the L.D.S. Church as a supplement to their study of the Old Testament ever since its publication was announced in the Times and Seasons in June, 1840.[1] Because the Church is now commencing study of the Old Testament again this month, it seems appropriate to reconsider just how authentic that book really is.

The book is a history of the world from the creation until the period of the Judges in Israel. It contains much more information than is found in Genesis for that same period, which makes very interesting reading and clears up many confusing issues in the Bible. It is written mostly as a secular history, but it does contain many references to what God was doing. It is similar to the Books of Joshua through Chronicles in the Bible which describe many historical events such as battles and wars, but which also point out the hand of God in the affairs of men.

Perhaps the closest approach to an official acknowledgment of the Book of Jasher among the latter-day saints was when the Prophet Joseph Smith quoted from it as a source which had "not been disproved as a bad author."[2] The saints became more enamored with the book than did the rest of the Judeo-Christian world, and certain members of the Church secured the copyright and republished the work in 1887 in Salt Lake City. Various photocopy reprints of that edition are still available, and the book is also accessible in its entirety on the Internet.[3]

The L.D.S. Church has never taken an official stand on the authenticity of the Book of Jasher, but when apostles make lists of "lost books" from the Bible, Jasher is generally included.[4] One article in the "I Have a Question" column of The Ensign responded to the question of its authenticity.[5] After reviewing the standard scholarly analysis of how the book appears to have been composed of old Jewish legends, the article concluded with the wise injunction to treat it according to the Lord's advice on how to study the Aprocrypha:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha — There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefitted. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen. (D&C 91:1-6)

Anyone who has read the Book of Jasher will agree that it certainly contains much truth (many stories from the Bible), and it certainly appears to contain some later interpolations of men, so reading by the Spirit seems like an excellent way to discern which is which.

Speaking of the Apocrypha, have you read it? Do you even have a copy of it? Just what is the Aprocrypha anyway? It is important to distinguish between "apocryphal" books in general and "the Aprocrypha" with a capital "A." An aprocryphal book can refer to almost any allegedly sacred writing not included in sacred canon and of doubtful authorship or authenticity. The Aprocrypha, on the other hand, refers to a specific collection of books which was included in the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek in the third century BC (the Septuagint), but which was later rejected from the Hebrew canon in about AD 90.[6] The collection was included in the Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) and also in the 1611 authorized King James version. As early as 1629 the Puritans demanded that it be removed from the King James version, and in 1827, Protestant Bible societies took a definite stand against it.[7] That was just before the Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord in 1833 whether the Apocrypha needed to be retranslated, because it was in his Bible (see preface to D&C 91) and was known to be controversial. It is still in the Catholic Bible. To me it is worth reading only after one has read the entire Old Testament, and even then some of the books in it could be skipped entirely.

But what about the Book of Jasher? Is it worth reading? Just how authentic is it? Was it ever included in a collection of canonized books of scripture? Let us now review the history of the Book of Jasher, and then discuss how modern revelation supports its authenticity.

1. History

Referenced in Bible. The Bible quotes a Book of Jasher as a reliable source. The Book of Joshua includes the account of a highly unusual event. A miracle of truly grand scale, if understood literally, is the "Long Day of Joshua" where the author of the Book of Joshua states:

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. (Joshua 10:13)

Why does the author state that the account is written in the Book of Jasher? Is it not because the miracle seems so unusual that he needed to give a reference to the source of this information? The real Book of Jasher was so highly regarded as to be quoted as the source of an account of the sun standing still.

The other Biblical reference is to David's having archery taught to his army:

(Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.) ­ 2 Samuel 1:18.

Again, Jasher is mentioned as a reference, but this time it is not immediately obvious why it is included. If Samuel is merely noting David's educational curriculum, why give this reference when there are precious few sources given for all his other deeds? It was very unusual for ancient historians to provide references, so this one is somewhat mysterious.

Other Books of Jasher. There are at least three books published in modern times which have been called "The Book of Jasher", which are entirely different books. One is a Hebrew treatise on ethics, for which no one makes the claim of being a lost book of scripture.[8] Another is an easily detected fraud, published in 1751, which claims to have been translated into English by Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus.[9] It is still in print, so if you obtain a copy of the Book of Jasher, make sure it is not that one. It is sometimes called Pseudo-Jasher to distinguish it from the third Book of Jasher, which is a legitimate Hebrew document and the subject of this article.

The Hebrew Source. When Titus destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, an officer named Sidrus discovered a hidden library complete with a scholar hiding there. The officer had mercy on the man and took him and the books to his residence at what is now Seville, Spain, but was then called Hispalis, capital of the Roman province Hispalensis. The manuscript was donated to the Jewish college at Cordova, Spain, and after printing was invented, the Jewish scholars had the book printed in Hebrew in Venice in 1625.[10]

It was first translated into English by a Jewish scholar named Mr. Samuel of Liverpool, England. He was in the process of translation when the above mentioned fraudulent work was republished in England in 1829. Before he saw it, he published a letter stating that he was also translating the same book, unaware that it was a complete hoax. By 1833 booklets were published to expose the fraudulent claims of Pseudo-Jasher, making England a difficult locale for him to publish the legitimate version. Apparently news of this fraud reached L.D.S. Church leaders because in 1835 the First Presidency issued a letter stating that the Book of Jasher was not yet available, nor would it be "at present."[11] Because of the hostile British climate, Samuel sold his translation to Mordecai M. Noah, a New York publisher, and it was published there in 1840, away from the scandal. It was the first English translation of the Book of Jasher ever published.

But is this Book of Jasher the one mentioned in the Bible? The preface to the book includes testimonies of several Hebrew scholars affirming that the translation is excellent and very faithful to the original Hebrew. They are careful, however, to say nothing about the authenticity of the Hebrew source. The translator, on the other hand, maintains that it is indeed the book quoted in the Bible, and even makes that claim on the title page.

2. Authenticity

So what do scholars say about the authenticity of the Book of Jasher? That is, given that it is a good translation from the Hebrew, what are the chances that it really is the lost book? Or is it at least a good source of authentic Hebrew traditions? And if so, are those traditions just fabrications of an ancient fertile imagination? In other words, is there some reason we should actually read and maybe even believe this book?

There seems to be no doubt in anyone's mind that the book contains many authentic Hebrew traditions.[12] It is definitely not a forgery in the sense of being a modern fiction, as was the 1751 book of the same name. Ginzberg in his landmark collection Legends of the Jews quotes from it freely[13] and it is listed in Jewish encyclopedias as an authentic source.[14] But all of these sources agree that the Book of Jasher most likely was written in Spain about the twelfth century AD. It is thought to have been composed by an author compiling many old Jewish traditions (called Midrash) dating back to around the time of Christ and fabricating a few of his own. So how is it known that Jasher is quoting Midrash rather than Midrash quoting the real Book of Jasher also quoted in the Old Testament? It is deduced principally from the chapter describing where the descendants of Noah settled, because European names from many centuries after Christ are included (Jasher 10). In other words, the principles of higher criticism apparently require that if a few verses are found in the work which can definitely be dated to the eleventh century in Spain, then the entire work must have been authored at that time.

If the work claimed to have been produced by one author, as did the fraudulent Pseudo-Jasher, then that argument might be valid. This book, on the other hand, is implied to be a set of annals which have been handed down through a long series of authors. Nowhere is there any implication that is was all one big revelation given to a prophet in the manner that Genesis was given to Moses (Moses 1:40). Because the spirit of the book is that of a continual series of people adding to the work, much like the prophets of the Book of Mormon handing the plates down to the next author, I would not be surprised if interpolations were made in good faith to update the story somewhat of what had happened to the nations since the reign of the Judges. Thus, the method of modern scholars of discrediting the entire book because of a few interpolations and insisting on a late date for its origin is not compelling.

The translator of the 1840 edition agrees because he maintained that this book is indeed the book mentioned in the Old Testament. He concludes, "the book is, with the exception of some doubtful parts, a venerable monument of antiquity; and that, notwithstanding some few additions may have been made to it in comparatively modern times, it still retains sufficient to prove it a copy of the book referred to in Joshua 10 and 2 Samuel 1." In other words, a few later interpolations do not disqualify the entire book. Now let's look at the two places it is apparently quoted in the Old Testament.

Joshua 10:13. It is easy to find the place where the book of Joshua apparently quotes this Book of Jasher:

And when they were smiting, the day was declining toward evening, and Joshua said in the sight of all the people, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon, until the nation shall have revenged itself upon its enemies.
And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Joshua, and the sun stood still in the midst of the heavens, and it stood still six and thirty moments, and the moon also stood still and hastened not to go down a whole day. (Jasher 88:63-64)

The translator notes that the word he rendered "moments" just means "times", a usage with which he is not familiar. To me this quote, although exactly what the doctor ordered, is not compelling because if someone were going to fake a Book of Jasher, this is exactly the kind of verses that would be fabricated as proof. Let us now consider the other reference, which is much more convincing.

Samuel 1:18. As seen in the above quotation of this reference, the Bible states that David taught the children of Judah the use of archery, as stated in the Book of Jasher. Here, at first blush, it looks like the Book of Jasher is disqualified, because its history stops at the reign of the Judges, long before the reign of David. Thus, if this book were merely feigning to be the lost scripture, it would appear that the author was unaware of this second scripture reference, which apparently disqualifies it. Indeed, one reviewer rejected the book citing this weakness as the principal reason.[15]

But on closer inspection, the promised reference is not only present after all, the mystery of why the Biblical author included the source is also explained. The reason is that it is David himself who was quoting the Book of Jasher, rather than the Book of Jasher merely recording David's actions. Jasher contains the injunction that the children of Judah should learn the art of the bow and David considered the Book of Jasher of such high authority that if it commanded to teach the art of the bow, he was determined to do it. That puts an entirely different light on the subject. Here is the actual quote, from 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. (Jasher 56:9)

This passage goes a long way as evidence that this Book of Jasher is indeed the Book of Jasher. The quote, once found, solves the mystery of why a reference was needed (to give David's source), and yet it is was so obscure that some reviewers have overlooked it entirely, which strongly argues that it was not fabricated soley to fulfill the requirement of having been quoted.

Agreement with the Bible. Most reviewers grant that there are no significant disagreements between Book of Jasher and the Bible. In fact, one excellent new annotated reprint adds several appendices discussing clarifications made in Jasher.[16] The few disagreements between Jasher and the Bible[17] are insufficient to disqualify it from being the authentic lost book mentioned in the scriptures.

The Name "Jasher." What does Jasher mean? It is often assumed that Jasher is the name of the author. Indeed, the fraudulent Pseudo-Jasher purported to have been written by a judge in ancient Israel named Jasher. The Hebrew word Jasher derives from "straight" and is often translated "right" or "upright." There are at least three meanings that different translators have understood by this word. One Bible translation renders the book's name as "The Book of the Upright," suggesting that upright refers to the character of the authors.[18] The introduction to the Hebrew edition of 1625 states that the name means that all the events in the book are listed in "straight" chronological order, which is indeed a striking feature, often interrupting the flow of a story.[19] The translator of the 1840 edition interpreted the name to be "the upright or correct record," with "upright" referring to the accuracy of the account. That agrees with an alleged statement by the ancient historian Josephus who wrote in the first century AD:

That 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.[20]

For reasons discussed in the next section, all three of these interpretations seem to describe the book admirably, so no attempt will be made here to determine the correct interpretation.

Not Hebrew Scripture. Explicit evidence that the Book of Jasher was not considered scripture anciently is given in its Hebrew preface. The account is there quoted that when Ptolemy, king of Egypt, requested to have the Jewish holy books, the Israelites felt they could not give the gentiles their sacred writ, so they sent him the Book of Jasher. He was said to have prized it highly, but then discovered it was not their sacred law. When he confronted the Jews, they agreed to translate their Old Testament into Greek, which became known as the Septuagint.[21] If this account is correct, as it appears to be,[22] then even the Aprocrypha was probably considered more sacred than the Book of Jasher because it was included in the translation, whereas the Book of Jasher was not.

3. Modern Revelation

After that lengthy introduction, let us now turn to the real point of this article. Hugh Nibley has stated:

Of interest to Latter-day Saints is the Book of Jasher, one of the first English translations of which was published in Salt Lake City. "There can be little doubt that the book of Jasher was a national epic," according to Cyrus Gordon; but how much of this particular book goes back to the original? "The time is ripe," he says, "for a fresh investigation of such genuine sources of Scripture, particularly against the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls."[23]

The time indeed seems ripe to accept that challenge, but the L.D.S. people have something much better than the Dead Sea Scrolls for comparison. Let us instead compare the Book of Jasher to modern revealed scriptures. There are many specific details mentioned in the Book of Jasher which are not found in the Bible, but which are found in modern day revelation, especially in the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) and the Book of Moses (Inspired translation of Genesis, 1831), both of which were published before the Book of Jasher became available to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1840.[24] The analysis which will now be presented is extremely preliminary and limited in scope. It only covers a few verses of the first four of the 91 chapters of Jasher. But even that small beginning seems fruitful enough to imply that a more exhaustive study should be made.

Suppose you were going to fake an ancient document which included details about the patriarchs before the Great Flood. The Bible lists only their names and ages in the "begats" chapters: Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah (Gen. 5:3-29). The only details provided about any of them other than Adam and Noah are that Seth was in the express image of Adam, and that Enoch "walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" which has been interpreted to mean that he was translated, that he should not see death (Heb. 11:5).

Suppose you decided to supply your readers with some details about their lives, assuming that no one could ever check up on you because these men lived so long ago that no reliable record could be extant to expose your fraud. What would you say? Take a minute right now to invent something about Methuselah.

Ready? Okay, now let us look at the details which the Book of Jasher supplies, and then compare them to modern revelation, where we can indeed check up on those claims. You can also check your own success at correctly guessing something that would later be found in modern revelation. Here are some examples, none of which are found anywhere in the Bible:

EventBook of JasherModern Revelation
Cainan becomes wise at 40"And Cainan grew up and he was forty years old, and he became wise and ... wrote upon tablets of stone, what was to take place in time to come" (Jasher 2:11,13)"God called upon Cainan in the wilderness in the fortieth year of his age" (D&C 107:45)
Lamech's
wives rebel
"the wives of Lamech separated from him" after he slew Cain and Tubal Cain, but he insisted that both deaths were accidents (Jasher 2:26-36).Lamech told his wives about secret murder oaths and "they rebelled against him" and declared the secret abroad, so that Lamech was cast out, lest he should die. (Moses 5:53-54)
Enoch called"an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven" and commanded him to teach men the ways of God. (Jasher 3:3-4)"And he heard a voice from heaven saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people and say unto them—Repent" (Moses 6:27)
Fear of Enoch"and all the sons of men were greatly afraid of Enoch, and they feared to approach him on account of the Godlike awe that was seated upon his countenance; therefore no man could look at him, fearing that he might be punished and die" (Jasher 3:20)"And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.... And as Enoch spake forth the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence.... And I was clothed upon with glory" (Moses 6:39,47; 7:3)
Enoch's city translated"he went forth and all the sons of men went after him, about eight hundred thousand men;" and after he "ascended into heaven in a whirlwind" the men who had been remained with him were also missing. (Jasher 3:38)"And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is fled." (Moses 7:69)
Methuselah's Famine"And the Lord was exceeding wroth against them, and the Lord continued to destroy the seed in those days, so that there was neither sowing nor reaping in the earth. For when they sowed the ground in order that they might obtain food for their support, behold, thorns and thistles were produced which they did not sow." (Jasher 4:5-6)"And there came forth a great famine into the land, and the Lord cursed the earth with a sore curse" (Moses 8:4)

Cainan. Comparison of the above passages from Jasher to modern revealed truths shows several near perfect hits for Jasher. The first is especially striking. The Book of Jasher reports that when Cainan was forty years old he became wise and wrote prophecies. Five years before Jasher became available, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that God had called upon Cainan in his fortieth year. Here we have two witnesses that agree on the very year in which Cainan had a revelation (D&C) and hence could suddenly prophesy the future (Jasher). Remember, Cainan lived long before the Flood, and there is no way to know anything about him except through revelation or records preserved on the ark. Moreover, in all of modern revelation that is about the only new fact revealed about Cainan, and it just happens to explain where the new-found wisdom of Cainan mentioned in the Book of Jasher came from. Note also that Jasher is more of a matter-of fact newspaper account, that Cainan became wise and wrote tablets of prophecy. That could have been public knowledge. Modern revelation, on the other hand, tells the sacred part, that his wisdom came directly from a revelation from God, which might never have been made public.

Lamech. The other examples are strong witnesses also. The story about Lamech (not Noah's father, but Cain's descendant) makes almost no sense at all if read only in Genesis. To me it is convincing evidence that part of the story was removed from our sacred writ because no one would have written it so cryptically. It says only that Lamech told his two wives, "I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold" (Gen. 4:23-24). So what was that all about? Please take a minute and think about just what that might mean.

Okay, now consider what Jasher adds. It explains that the two victims were his ancestor Cain and his own son Tubalcain (Gen. 4:22), but adds that Lamech insisted that both deaths were accidental. His defense is presented in Jasher as true, but it is difficult to believe because his alibi was that he mistook Cain to be an animal, and then when he and his son discovered his mistake, he clapped his hands together so violently that he accidentally killed Tubalcain also (Jasher 2:26-31). Upon learning of the deaths, his wives sought to kill him. Indeed, a jury at the time might have seriously considered the possibility that he had murdered Cain and then killed his son to protect himself. Apparently he finally succeeded in getting his story accepted because his wives eventually returned to him (Jasher 2:32-36), and because it is related as the true account in Jasher.

The Book of Moses tells us the "rest of the story" which was not known to the author of Jasher. It clarifies that it was actually his great-grandfather Irad whom Lamech had killed (rather than Cain), and that it had been premeditated murder, done in order to keep his secret oaths hidden (Moses 5:49-50). While the accounts disagree on who was murdered, they agree on the detail that his wives rebelled against him because of it. To me, this is a great example of the Book of Jasher being an authentic account from secular history (that Lamech slew someone but it was an accident) and the Lord revealing the hidden part of the story that the murder was done to protect secret oaths.

Thus, Jasher seems to simply report what was believed to have occurred. To me it seems convincing that it is authentic, even though it includes some mistakes, in the same sense that our modern newspapers are authentic even though filled with reporting errors. In other words, we should not confuse "authentic" with "true." Note also that the modern-day revelation about Lamech does not attempt to fill in everything left out of the account, such as who was the "young man" slain. It is almost as if the Lord expects us to read the account in Jasher and deduce that Tubalcain was also murdered for secrecy.

Enoch. As for the prophet Enoch, the books of Jasher and Moses both add more than two full pages about this one prophet. Three points of agreement are listed in the table, which coincide in many details, such as people being in great fear of Enoch. The last one appears to be a secular account in Jasher that Enoch's entire city was translated with him. It only reports that facts that after Enoch ascended into heaven in a great whirlwind, that when his followers were sought, all that was found was a lot of snow and ice. The area was searched for bodies but none were found. That sounds like what the newspapers of the day might have reported, because it had only been announced publically that Enoch himself would be taken to heaven. On the other hand, modern scripture assures us that his entire city was translated to heaven. That appears to be a major score for Jasher to get that point right because the Bible only talks about Enoch himself being translated. It also adds a new dimension to the story because apparently his followers thought they may have been risking death to stay with him, not knowing ahead that they would be translated.

Methuselah. And finally, the two accounts not only agree that there was a famine in the days of Methuselah, Jasher actually adds the details of just what kind of "sore curse" the Lord put on the ground. To me that is another real bullseye. Again note that Jasher tends to report the observed events (weeds grew instead of the planted crops) while the inspired revelation focuses more on the heavenly side (the Lord cursed the ground). The two accounts together give a more complete view.

Jasher: The secular version. All of these examples have the feature that the Jasher account is a "public" secular version of what happened, without telling much about God's hand in history, which could discredit it in the eyes of non-believers. On the other hand, the sacred account is much more enlightening to believers and explains what is going on behind the scenes. So it appears that Jasher was designed all along to be a public record, which would explain why it was given to the King of Egypt, while the sacred account was withheld. It was not that Jasher was less credible or accurate, but rather that it is a more secular view of history, which serves a very important purpose.

This secular vs. sacred parallel recording of history is very reminiscent of the large plates and small plates of the Book of Mormon. Jasher is like the book of Alma which chronicles the wars, and includes some inspired sermons, but very few revelations. The five books of Moses (Genesis - Deuteronomy), on the other hand, include many pure revelations from the Lord, even as the small plates of Nephi. There is a similar arrangement of books in the Old Testament because the books are grouped together depending whether they are "historical" (Joshua - Esther) or "prophetic" (Isaiah - Malachi), rather than being listed in chronological order. Thus, we see there is a pattern all through history of parallel sacred and secular accounts, and the Book of Jasher appears to be the most secular Hebrew account.

4. Chronology

Another witness for Jasher comes from the field of chronology. The Book of Jasher contains a chronology of the world which is nearly identical to one interpretation of the Bible. The Bible has several ambiguities and the Book of Jasher resolves them. Some of these ambiguities have caused major differences in calculations of world chronologies.

For example, what was the age of Terah at the birth of his son Abram (later called Abraham)? The book of Genesis states, "And Terah lived seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor and Haran" (Gen. 11:26). Were they triplets? Was Abram the firstborn? Just how old was Terah when Abram was born? It turns out that this is a vital piece of information if one is trying to construct a Biblical chronology of the world. One problem with such chronologies is that they often assume that Bible events are always given in chronological order, which just isn't true.[25]

As someone who has studied the chronology of the Book of Jasher in detail, I attest that Jasher's chronology is astoundingly accurate and self-consistent. That is in stark contrast to most other non-scriptural sources, such as Josephus, which is riddled with computational errors, and the Book of Jubliees which has dates that appear to be totally inaccurate.

5. So How Did Jasher Know?

There are many very specific points made in the Book of Jasher, not mentioned in the Bible, which match in detail truths from modern revelation. Some of those details concern events long before the Great Flood, which leads us to wonder just how did the author of the Book of Jasher know those details? Anyone who claims the Book of Jasher is merely a collection of Jewish legends still needs to explain where the true parts of those legends came from. Were they preserved in writings by Noah during the Flood? Or is Jasher the product of revelation? There don't appear to be too many other choices, unless the author of Jasher was an excellent guesser, and the Lord decided to make those guesses look like authentic history by revealing that they were correct.

To me, Jasher does not appear to be revelation, and it makes no claim to be. On the other hand, it really does look like an actual secular history. So to me, it appears most likely that the Book of Jasher is not only authentic, but that it composed from sources which were preserved on Noah's ark. If so, then its creation story predates that of Genesis. Abraham had access to such writings, and the Book of Jasher could have been handed down from Noah to Abraham (Abr. 1:31). If that was the case then the revelation to Moses could have added a lot of clarification to the existing Book of Jasher, such as pointing out that Lamech was involved in secret combinations. The revelation of Genesis would not have replaced the Book of Jasher because it was still important to have a public secular record. Then those parts of Moses' book of Genesis about the secret combinations might have been removed, perhaps by others still involved in secret combinations, only to be restored in our day by the Prophet Joseph Smith (Moses 1:41). Thus, the only answer that has occurred to me which seems to explain all the facts, is that the Book of Jasher began with a secular account of history preserved by Noah on the ark and handed down to Israel through Abraham. It truly appears to have been the book quoted in the Old Testament.

It seems important to emphasize that just because the Book of Jasher is correct on some points, that does not mean it is correct in everything. It almost certainly contains interpolations by later writers, which could be in error, and some of the earlier accounts could have been miscopied.[26]

Before concluding, I must share a thought from William W. Phelps, who stated,

... some will turn to the words of eternal life, for life and salvation, whether they are found in the old bible, book of Mormon, lost book of Jasher, or the book of Enoch, mentioned by Jude. Though men are afraid of the books of God, or afraid that God will suffer any more to be in the world, I expect that when the dead, small and great, stand before him, that the books will be opened; even the books of Jehovah, and men will be judged according to what is written in the books.[27]

After all the research effort made to produce this article, my conclusion is exactly the same as the conclusion of Mordecai M. Noah's introduction to the first English translation in 1840:

Without giving it to the world as a work of Divine inspiration, or assuming the responsibility to say that it is not an inspired book, I have no hesitation in pronouncing it a work of great antiquity and interest, and a work that is entitled, even regarding it as a literary curiosity, to a great circulation among those who take pleasure in studying the Scriptures.[28]

Notes

  1. "We shall shortly have a literary, or rather a Biblical curiosity, to present to the American reader, which we feel confident in predicting, will excite great interest among those who take pleasure in reading and studying the Scriptures. It is the Book of Jasher referred to in the Bible, in Joshua, and in the second book of Samuel, and which has been in the progress of translation from the Hebrew for several years in England, and is now completed, and will be published in a few days in this city, in a very elegant stereotyped edition. There have been several simulated Books of Jasher, a notice of which we find in the Rev. Mr. Horn's Commentaries on the study of the Scriptures; but they bear no analogy to the present work, which is written in the purest Hebrew, and translated with an elegance and fidelity highly creditable to the eminent scholar who has been so long engaged in the work. The preface to the Hebrew edition speaks of it as having been brought from Jerusalem with other sacred rolls and manuscripts, at the destruction of that city, and carried into Spain, where the Jews had their most celebrated colleges up to the eleventh century. On the discovery of printing the manuscript was copied, and carried to Venice, where it was printed by order of the Jewish Consistory of Rabbins, in 1613, and is now for the first time translated into the English language and published. The Royal Asiatic Society had a copy in Calcutta, and gave orders to the Rev, Mr. Adams to translate it; but it was abandoned on hearing that a translation was already in progress. It is full of interest, and written with a warmth of piety and sacred devotion, worthy of taking an equal rank with any of the missing books, not strictly canonical. It does not differ with the Bible in a single instance, but amplifies the events recorded in Scripture, with the single difference in chronology of some 50 [60 -jpp] years, by making Noah and Abraham contemporary — commencing with the creation of Adam, and ending with the death of Joshua. Josephus refers to this Book, and the great Mendelson extracts copiously from it. Recently the Book of Enoch has been discovered, translated from the Ethiopic, and published in England. Professor Stewart has lately reviewed it. The discovery of missing books referred to in Scripture, and the many yet to be discovered, joined to the singular signs of the times in relation to the chosen people, give great interest to this and similar works. — This Book, which makes nearly three hundred pages, clears up some points somewhat obscure in the Bible, and is very full in detailing the events of the reign of Nimrod; the building of the Tower of Babel, and confusion of tongues; the causes preceding the destruction of the doomed cities; the sacrifice of Isaac, and the life of Joseph: and has some curious facts about the deluge. — NEW YORK STAR." Times and Seasons, Vol.1, No. 8 (June 1840), p.127.
  2. "But if we believe in present revelation, as published in the Times and Seasons last spring, Abraham, the prophet of the Lord, was laid upon the iron bedstead for slaughter; and the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldees." Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), p. 261, quoting Times and Seasons (1 Sep 1842), 3:902.
  3. See www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/jasher.html
  4. For example, Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, "Lost Scripture", p. 454, lists it among books "which are not now available." One notable exception which suggests a "wait and see" attitude is that Neal A. Maxwell in But for a Small Moment, p. 49, ingeniously excludes Jasher from the list of books known to be lost: "Among those writings lost are the writings of Samuel, the seer; Nathan; the Acts of Solomon; Shemaiah; Ahijah; Iddo; Jehu; and Enoch. Joshua mentions the book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13). "
  5. Edward J. Brandt, "I Have a Question: I recently acquired a copy of a text called The Book of Jasher, which is claimed to be the book of missing scripture referred to in the Bible. Can you tell me if it is authentic?", Ensign (June 1981) pp. 36-37.
  6. See "Canon" in L.D.S. Bible Dictionary.
  7. Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Apocrypha (New York: Vintage Books, 1959), pp. vii-viii.
  8. It was first published in Venice in 1544, and reprinted in Vienna in 1811. It is the only Sefer Ha-yashar (Book of Jasher) mentioned in the Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Macmillan, 1971), vol. 14, p. 1099.
  9. The book is nothing more than a poor synopsis of parts of the Old Testament, and contains many glaring flaws. Edgar Goodspeed, in his Modern Apocrypha, Famous "Biblical" Hoaxes (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956) provides ample evidence that it was "a shameless literary forgery." See summary by John Baskette at http://answers.org/Bible/jasher-book-of.html . Goodspeed mentions a fourth Book of Jasher by Rabbi Levita dating to 1391, which is beyond the scope of this article.
  10. This account was taken from the preface to the Hebrew edition of 1625 (sometimes listed as 1613 probably because of the printer mentioning that date), which Hebrew preface was translated and included in the 1840 English edition, but was omitted from the 1887 reprint. There was also reportedly a 1552 Hebrew edition printed in Naples, but all of today's versions come from the 1625 printing. The transfer of the manuscript to Cordova was mentioned in Mordecai Noah's preface.
  11. "We have not found the Book of Jasher, nor any other of the lost books mentioned in the Bible as yet; nor will we obtain them at present. Respecting the Apocrypha, the Lord said to us that there were many things in it which were true, and there were many things in it which were not true, and to those who desire it, should be given by the Spirit to know the true from the false." Letter dated 25 Jun 1835 signed by the First Presidency (D.H.C. I:363).
  12. For example, Hugh Nibley has stated after quoting material about Enoch (Jasher 3:5-10), "Passages such as this which closely follow both the Hebrew and the Slavonic Enoch show that the book of Jasher used very ancient sources and was far more than a medieval romance." Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 2, p. 301, fn. 380.
  13. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1912). For example, the entire account of Enoch an his ascension (Jasher 3:2-38) is included (vol. 1, pp. 127-30). The endnote (vol. 5, pp. 157-8) assumes that Jasher is a compilation from older sources, so if any account is found elsewhere, the supposedly earlier reference is given. Only in the case that the account cannot be found elsewhere is Jasher listed as the primary source, as in this case.
  14. The Jewish Encyclopedia (NY: Funk and Wagnall, 1905), XII:588-9; The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (NY:Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Co., 1942), 6:41.
  15. This is Brandt's conclusion (see endnote 5). He states, "Perhaps the most conspicuous weakness of this particular work is that although it does contain a parallel account of Joshua 10:13, the promised account mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18 is not included. . . . I believe there is ample evidence to show that the popular 1840/1877 Book of Jasher is not the lost scriptural book mentioned in the Old Testament."
  16. Simpson, Wayne, The Authentic Annals of the Early Hebrews (Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 1995). This title is his translation of the name "Book of Jasher", and he makes a good case for believing the book to be the one referenced in the Bible. In addition to reprinting the entire text of the 1840 edition, he has included three prefaces which were sadly omitted from the 1887 edition: that of the publisher of the 1840 translation, and of the printer and Hebrew scholars of the 1625 (1613) Hebrew edition. He has also added 8 appendices which are very instructive. This edition is the best I've seen. It is currently described at http://www.jasher.com .
  17. Deane Schaub, "The Book of Jasher", lists differences, but his points are either incorrect or desperate. For example he complains that in Gen. 17:16 God tells Abraham of the coming birth of Isaac, whereas Jasher says that an angel tells him (Jasher 18:9). Even if that were correct, it seems meaningless because a message from an angel could be equated to coming from God. But the Jasher quote exactly corresponds to Gen. 18:10, where an angel also tells Abraham again, so Jasher's author is more accurate in details than his critic. Moreover, Schaub complains about unusual concepts which L.D.S. people might consider to be supporting evidence, such as importance being attributed to the garments of Adam, or Enoch being called to rule over "heaven" (Jasher 3:23, compare Gen 14:32-36 inspired version where even Melchizedek is called the "King of Heaven" because his people "were translated and taken up to heaven" when they sought for Enoch).
  18. That is the translation of Joshua 10:13 in The Interlinear Bible (Peabody, Mass.: Henrickson, 1985).
  19. "this book is called the Book of Jasher, because all its transactions are in that order as they had taken place in the world as regards priority and succession, for thou wilt not find in this book any postponement of events that were anterior, or priority of those that were posterior, but everything is recorded in its place and time." Translation of the Hebrew Preface, from Simpson's Authentic Annals, p. xxiv.
  20. Quoted from Noah's preface reprinted in Authentic Annals, p. xiii. Neither Simpson nor I managed to find the source of this quote.
  21. Authentic Annals, p. xxiv.
  22. According to the introduction to The Septuagint (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. ii, "Ptolemy" refers to Ptolemy Philadelphus and the translation was begun about 285 BC. After considering all the traditions about its origin it concludes, "The most reasonable conclusion is, that the version was executed for the Egyptian king" and that it included not just the five books of Moses, but the entire Old Testament.
  23. Hugh Nibley, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 7, p. 40.
  24. No quotes will be used from the Book of Abraham which was published after Joseph Smith had read the Book of Jasher.
  25. Because of the ambiguity, Bishop Ussher, the Catholic scholar who calculated the world chronology which has been in Bibles since 1701, had to use some other criterion to answer the question. The next few verses provide just what he wanted. We are told that Abram's father Terah died in Haran at age 205 (Gen. 11:32) and then told that Abram left Haran at age 75 (Gen. 12:4). If one assumes that Abram left in the year of his father's death, then Terah would have been age 130 when Abram was born. That is the assumption that Bishop Ussher made, which makes a difference of 60 years in world chronology compared to the straightforward interpretation of Gen. 11:26 that Terah was 70 when Abram was born. The Book of Jasher solves this problem and explains that Terah was indeed 70 when Abram was born (Jasher 7:51), and that both Haran and Nahor were Abram's older brothers (Jasher 7:22). Upon reading Genesis more carefully one can see that Bishop Ussher's choice was just one interpretation because Chapter 11 of Genesis was a list of the births and ages of the patriarchs, and there is no guarantee that everything in Chapter 12 comes after the events of Chapter 11. Chapter 12 begins, "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country" (Gen. 12:1), where "had said" implies that it happened before the death of Terah. If one had only understood that Abram was born when Terah was seventy, then one could calculate the year the Lord had commanded Abram to leave. The interpretation of Bishop Ussher continued in the L.D.S. Bible under "Chronology" in the Bible Dictionary through the 1979 edition where Abram's death is listed in 1996 BC (p. 636). In the 1989 edition that has been removed, replaced only with the suggestion to "consult published chronologies" for such information (p. 635).
  26. For example, the usual Book of Jasher states that those who went with Enoch at his translation could not be found (Jasher 3:38), agreeing with modern revelation that his entire city was translated, whereas the version quoted in Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews states that their bodies were found and that only Enoch ascended! (Vol. 1:130).
  27. Messenger and Advocate (Jun 1835) William Phelps "Letter No. 8," p.130. This must have been the letter to which the First Presidency was responding, quoted in footnote 11.
  28. Noah, Mordecai M., preface to Book of Jasher (New York, 1840), reprinted in Authentic Annals, p. xv.