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The Book of Jasher

Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

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Alternative Sacred Writings – The Book of Jasher

In a number of places the Bible writers make reference to other books or letters, which never made it into the canon (accepted collection) of Scripture. In the New Testament, for example, in 1 Corinthians 5:9 the Apostle Paul refers to a letter he has previously written to the Corinthian Christians. We don’t fully know what this letter contained or what happened to it – all we know is that Paul wrote it and it is now lost.

Other books are also mentioned, especially in the Old Testament, e.g. the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14); David’s letter to Joab (2 Samuel 11:14); the Book of the annals of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41); the Book of the Kings of Israel (1 Chronicles 9:1, 2 Chronicles 20:34) – and many more. None of these books or documents has been discovered, but over the centuries some people have tried to “help things along” by claiming to have discovered such documents and books, and even fabricating their own versions.

One such “rediscovered” book is the Book of Jasher.

There are two references to this book:

JOSHUA 10:13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jasher.

2 SAMUEL 1:17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and ordered that the men of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jasher):

Today there are people who are promoting the Book of Jasher as a rediscovered book that is now available – both in hard cover and over the Internet.

The problem is that a number of different versions and editions have been promoted as the genuine Book of Jasher. Two of these different versions are currently most common.

The shorter of these two versions was supposedly discovered in the 800s AD, during travels to the Middle East by Flaccas Albinus Alcuinus of Britain, Abbot of Canterbury. It is claimed that an Ascetic told him he could find the manuscript in the library of the Persian city of Gazna. The story claims he had to pay substantial quantities of gold for permission from the city officials to read, and later to translate the Hebrew manuscript into English. It took Alcuin and his two assistants 18 months to translate to book plus additional notes. They were forbidden to allow others to make copies of their translation on their journey book to England. In England he never made it public but passed it on to a friend and fellow priest. It then became lost, until it was rediscovered in the North of England in 1721 by an un-named “gentleman”.

This “gentleman” did nothing with it for 30 years until it was rumoured that there would be a new translation of the Bible and he showed it to a noble (un-named) Earl. The Earl thought it was genuine and that it should be added to the Bible, just before the Book of Joshua. He also revealed that the outside of the manuscript of this English translation of the Book of Jasher had a notation by one of the earliest reformers. This supposedly stated:

”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 assert, that it should be made part of the Canon of Scripture. Signed WICKLIFFE.”

The un-named “gentleman” after showing the manuscript to the Earl, didn’t think of taking it to any church council for consideration for publishing, but kept it private and took great care of his manuscript, giving it to a friend before he died. The un-named friend then gave it to the “present Editor” (un-named) who published it in Bristol in 1829. It then seemed to disappear into obscurity again, until the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis – the “one universal Rosicrucian Order” published the volume again in 1934.

The comments about “Wickliffe” were meant to add to its supposed authenticity, but the great early reformer and Bible translator, John Wycliffe, never made reference to an Book of Jasher in any of his writings; his name, Wycliffe as also been variously spelled as “Wycliff” and “Wyclif” but not “Wickcliffe”; there is no indication how John Wycliffe supposedly came to read and sign the manuscript during the 1300s AD.

There are no known reputable scholars, of the Bible or secular scholars of antiquities, who have endorsed this 1829 Book of Jasher as genuine. Its main endorsement comes from the Rosicrucians. Outside such esoteric circles it is generally regarded, for good reason, as fraudulent and fictitious. The fact that many regard the 1829 English version promoted by the Rosicrucians (AMORC) as a fraudulent piece of fiction, lacking any historical support, has not discouraged New Age Gnostic writers and publishers producing their own editions of this version of the Book of Jasher, purportedly translated by ancient Alcuin.

Another, much longer version, of the Book of Jasher has been more popular, and always had a greater circulation since it first appeared on the scene in New York in 1840.

According to claims surrounding this English version, promoted in The New York Star at the time of publication, this Book of Jasher came from a very ancient Hebrew manuscript rescued from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

It is claimed that a Roman officer, Sidrus, supposedly discovered a secret and hidden library in Jerusalem, complete with a Jewish scholar in hiding. Rather than killing the scholar and destroying the library, the Roman officer took the Jewish scholar, and all the books, home to Hispalis, in what is today Seville, in Spain. (Quite a journey for transporting a library and a Jew – especially when the soldier would have been under orders to inflict severe punishment on the rebellious Jews – after all, he had been in Jerusalem to help destroy it!)

Sometime later, the manuscript was donated to the Rabbinical School in Cordova, Spain. There seems to be no record of what happened to the Jewish scholar who came with the library. Once mass printing was developed the Book of Jasher manuscript was sent from Cordova to be printed in Venice in 1613, although other accounts state 1625 (in either case it was rather “late” – Gutenberg developed his printing press in the 1450s and according to some scholars, “by 1501 there were 1000 printing shops in Europe, which had produced 35,000 titles and 20 million copies”). There is no record of how many Hebrew Book of Jasher copies were printed, or how widely they were circulated.

Apparently, no Bible scholars (or other scholar) were interested in this Hebrew book – and no one thought to translate it in to any other languages, (unlike the Bible at the time) until Moses Samuel of Liverpool, England, decided to translate it in the 1800s.

It has been claimed that, while working on the English translation, he discovered that another, fraudulent, version was being published in England. This had supposedly been published in 1751 and had been widely exposed by scholars as a fraud, but then re-appeared under someone else’s editorship in 1829 (the edition promoted by the Rosicrucians). Due to negative publicity and criticism (again) of this 1751/1829 version, Moses Samuel was discouraged from publishing his “genuine” and “scholarly” translation. Instead, he sold the translation to Mordecai M. Noah, a New York publisher, who published in 1840 (without acknowledging Mr Samuel!).

The reason for the popularity of this version is due to Mormonism. The LDS Church, very involved in claims of new scriptures and new revelations, reprinted the entire promotional write-up on the Book of Jasher from the New York Star, in its own early periodical, The Times and Seasons (June 1840). In the same publication two years later, the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, declared that the writer of the Book of Jasher ”has not been disproved as a bad author.”

As one Mormon promoter of the Book of Jasher, John P. Pratt, has stated on the Internet: “The Book of Jasher has been popular among members of the LDS Church…ever since its publication was announced in the Times and Seasons in June, 1840.”

Printing rights to the 1840 New York version of the Book of Jasher was obtained by a Mormon printing company, J.H. Parry & Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, which republished the document in 1887. There have been many reprints. Since 1964 it has been reissued as a photo reprint of the 1887 edition and has been stocked in leading Mormon bookshops, including the official LDS Church “Deseret” Bookshops.

On the title page it is declared to be ”The Book of Jasher Referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel – Faithfully Translated from the Original Hebrew into English.”

Neither this claim, nor the contents of the book, can be supported with any real evidence.

Mormon writer, John Pratt, has commented very favourably on the 1840/1887 J.H. Parry version, published in Salt Lake City, but refrained from claiming it to be Scripture. Admitting it is a mixture of truth and some error, he nevertheless has thought highly of it. He has quoted numerous (and sometimes uncertain) sources to support his view that this version of the Book of Jasher is an authentic document of true antiquity which should be widely circulated and studied. ,/p>

In support of his claims Pratt has published a comparison between the Book of Jasher and “modern” Mormon revelations such as Doctrine and Covenants and Joseph Smith’s re-write of the King James Bible, called the ”Inspired Version” – particularly the Book of Moses.

While the official LDS leadership has refrained from making a definitive statement on the Book of Jasher, an article in the official LDS magazine, Ensign (June 1981) has one of their educators, Edward Brandt, comment on its authenticity. He refers to the various books through the years claiming to be the Book of Jasher and states: ”These are all spurious, however, since the real Book of Jasher is not known to have been found.” He specifically dismisses the 1751/1829 version promoted by the Rosicrucians as an ”earlier fictitious book.”

In spite of the popularity of the 1840/1887 version with Mormons for over a century, he states very clearly: ”I believe there is ample evidence to show that the popular 1840/1877 [sic] Book of Jasher is not the lost scriptural book.”

There seems to be some evidence that the 1840/1887 version of the Book of Jasher is based on Jewish apocryphal material, what Jewish scholars would refer to as midrash. It appears that a number of published Hebrew versions still exist, but these are not, apparently, highly regarded by Jewish scholars.

There have been numerous problems with the various reprints of the main two versions discussed in this article. Alterations and omissions have changed meanings and details between first issues and later reprints.

In the 1751/1829 version there are notes on the background of Alcuin, the supposed original translator. Alcuin was a real person who was born in York, England in 735 and died in Tours, France in 804. His life is well documented and there is absolutely no evidence that he travelled anywhere other than between England and France. Apparently in the first edition of this Book of Jasher the notes declared that he had ”learned in the University of Oxford all those languages which the people of the East speak.” This would have been somewhat difficult for the 8th Century Alcuin, as the University of Oxford wasn’t established until the beginning of the 11th Century. Current editions of this volume state in the notes that Alcuin founded the University of Paris in 800. More reliable histories show that the University of Paris came out of the efforts of Peter Abelard and his followers. Abelard was born in 1079 and died in 1142 (or 1144).

The 1840/1887 version originally noted that the editor was M. Noah (which wasn’t accurate, as Moses Samuel had done the actual work, and M. Noah merely published it in the US). Subsequent reprints omitted the names of anyone involved with the translation or publication of the book.

Apart from a whole range of errors and numerous historical contradictions in these books, there are also significant contradictions between them and the Bible. Both omit any reference related to material in 2 Samuel.

In spite of emotional propaganda about books that ”were denounced, banned, cursed…lost (and conveniently forgotten)…” and that the Book of Jasher is ”one of the longest books removed from the government “authorized” Bibles…” there is absolutely no historical or documentary evidence that this book (or these various versions) faced any suppression from government, church authorities or scholars.

When the book, in its various versions, is carefully examined in simply cannot stand the test of scrutiny and examination in the light of known history and evidence.

The true Book of Jasher remains lost. Both the 1751/1829 and 1840/1887 versions remain fraudulent fiction and apocryphal speculation outside the Canon of Scripture.

WA van Leen
May 2004