Please read Part One for my Introduction to this series on The Book of Jasher.
In Part Two of this series, I will be discussing the life and times of Abraham according to Jasher. We already know quite a lot about Abraham’s life from the Bible. But I promise you lots of new information and many surprises along the way. Curious? Then read on …
Jasher makes it quite clear that the birth of Abram/Abraham was a significant event in the history of the world. “And they saw and behold one very large star came from the east and ran in the heavens and swallowed up the four stars from the four sides of heaven.” Then they prophesied over the child. “And, they said to each other, this only betokens to the child that has been born to Terah this night. Who will grow up and be fruitful and multiply and possess all the earth, he, and his children, forever. And he and his seed will slay great kings and inherit their lands.” (Charles, 1887)
The men observing the stars on the night Abraham was born, knew instinctively the future promises to him. The Promises being: he would be ‘fruitful and multiply’, ‘possess all the earth’, ‘forever’ and that ‘his seed will inherit the land of great kings’. In Jasher, the same words are repeated several times over as an indication of God’s Covenant ─ like any good Suzerain Vassal Treaty. The prophesy to Abraham in Genesis Chapter 12 is identical, except that in Genesis it originated from God and not from those present at his birth. The blessing in Genesis also consisted of seed, land (all the earth in Jasher and river to river in Genesis) forever.
The significance of being born under A Star:
I have studied the importance of being born under a Star for some time. What I discovered was, it was not just superstition in Abraham’s day. The relevance of being born under a star is emphasized in Matthew’s Gospel even in the Christian era. The story of the Three Wise Men who followed the star 2000 years ago is no doubt a Christmas favourite. Throughout the Ancient Near East, ‘Watchers’, watched the night sky for signs, one such sign was a bright Star. Any child born during the phenomenon of the bright Star was destined to change the world in an extraordinary way. Matthew alluded to it in his Gospel. He stated the Three Wise Men (Jewish sages) sought out the baby Jesus, when they saw the Star in the East (Matthew 2:9-10).
There is a good reason to accept that Matthew’s celestial event happened. Astronomers believe Jupiter stood still in the night sky on December 25, 2 BC. Quoting from Pursiful’s Bible & Faith Blog, “Amazingly, one possible answer is that the visit of the Magi took place on December 25, 2 BC. On that date, Jupiter stopped in its path and began its yearly retrogression through the heavens. Remember: It was Jupiter that, in the previous year, highlighted the star Regulus by in effect tracing a crown above it, likely alerting the Magi to the birth of the King. According to Matthew 2, when the Magi left Herod, the star they were following “stood still” over the place where Jesus was to be found (Mt 2:9)”.
“Astronomical calculations reveal that in the predawn hours of December 25, 2 BC, Jupiter indeed stood still in the sky. Observed from Jerusalem, it did this at 68 degrees above the southern horizon, directly over the city of Bethlehem. This date may have been memorable even to those unfamiliar with the astronomical observations because, by Roman reckoning, it fell on the exact date of the winter solstice. (When Julius Caesar instituted the new Julian calendar in the first century BC, the winter solstice festival was celebrated on December 25. This date continued to be observed for many years.)” (Pursiful, 2021). The reason Matthew mentioned the Star in the East was because of a long-expected belief in Messiah’s Star.
The basis for the belief in Messiah’s Star in Judaism and Christianity stems from the passage in Numbers. “A Star will shoot forth from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). The same scripture was applied to the leadership of Shimon bar Kochba by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva believed Kochba was the promised messiah. In the end Kochba’s star faded and he was referred to as Bar Koziba, the son of a lie. His ‘messiahship’ ended abruptly with the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews. It was an incredibly sad time in the history of the Jewish people (Bar Kochba, 2021). Throughout the whole episode of Kochba, we got a glimpse of the early Christian understanding of being born under a star.
Justin Martyr (Apol.i.31) mentioned that early Christians were severely punished for not accepting Bar Koshba’s Star. When Rabbi Akiba referred to the prophesy in Numbers as being fulfilled in Bar Kochba (Taanith IV.8, p.68d) the Christians simply replied… “Thou art in error, Jesus of Nazareth and no other is the true Son of a Star.” Although Christians accepted the Star had manifested in Jesus Christ, most Jewish people did not. Hence, the quest for Messiah’s Star continued in some sects of Judaism. The Messianic idea is different in Judaism than it is in Christianity. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, they were all messianic, because they led their people in victories over their enemies. There is still one more Messiah to come according to Judaism. My reason for writing more on Abraham’s Star was to show that Jasher had a very clear plan when he mentioned the importance of Abraham’s Star. And, that the early Christians still believed humans could be guided by the stars.
When was Abraham born?
Abraham’s life is very well documented in many religious texts. Texts that are fundamental to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jasher being one such text. And despite Jasher providing intimate details of Abraham’s life, loves and wars he leaves us clueless about when Abraham was born. Because there is no actual dating for Abraham, we must use specific biblical passages as a guide to gauge when he was born. Extra-biblical sources such as the Amarna Letters, Mari and Nuzi documents also assist by comparing events in Abraham’s life with external cultural contexts. But as I discovered, this was no easy task and all we can do is get a rough estimate at best.
From the Hebrew Scriptures Abraham is dated as follows:
1 Kings Ch.6:1 says the ancient Israelites were 480 years in the land before Solomon’s Temple.
Exodus Ch.12 says the ancient Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt.
Solomon’s temple was built in approximately, 960 BC.
By adding the dates 960+480+430, scholars conclude that Abraham was on the move in approximately 1870 BC. However, because some scholars support an early Exodus and others a late Exodus (1450 BC/1250 BC), Abraham’s timeline changes accordingly. When dating Abraham using extra-biblical sources there is evidence of considerable movement of people in the region during his lifetime. Scholars refer to the period Abraham was on the move in Canaan as the Amorite Hypothesis.
The Amorite Hypothesis:
The Amorite Hypothesis is a hypothesis that originated in the 1930’s by William Albright, archaeologist, and historian. According to Albright’s theory, it is conceivable that Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees and travelled to the land Canaan, on a popular trade route. Although most modern-day scholars reject Albright’s Hypothesis. Professor Cline, states that scholars who do not accept Albright’s Amorite Hypothesis, do so based on the genealogy and the chronology not adding up and because the average life span was around 40 years. It appears the Hebrews lived two, three or four times longer than the average person. Some lived hundreds of years more than the average person. Therefore, according to Cline, an accurate date for Abraham is not possible (Cline, 2006).
Despite varying views on Abraham, Jews, Christians, and Muslims tend to agree by faith, that Abraham was a real person. And that in obedience to God, he made the journey from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan. Apart from God telling Abraham to go to Canaan, Jasher alludes to some trouble that made Abraham make the journey. Jasher states that, Anuki (Nimrod’s servant) insighted Nimrod to kill Abraham. So, Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees and went to Canaan. Jasher also states that Abraham was in the land of Canaan three years when God Cut the Covenant with him (Charles, 1887). Whereas the Bible says, God Cut the Covenant with him while calling him out of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis Ch.12).
From other ancient sources we also learn that the Elamites, the Nanna Moon Cult, could possibly be another reason for Abraham leaving Ur of the Chaldees. “Those who believe in the Hebrew Bible as history have long sought the background to the tale of Abraham and his family, their trek around the arc of the Fertile Crescent, from Ur of the Chaldees in Sumer to Haran in the north, and from there westward to the land of Cana’an, in the years following the collapse of Ur’s empire. Perhaps, they suggest, Terah took his family from Ur because of the Elamite onslaught and the consequent move of the moon cult from the conquered southern city to safer Haran in the north.” (Kriwaczek, 2010).
If Abraham was on the move in 1870 BC, then it is conceivable he visited Salem (Jerusalem) around 2000 BC where he had his encounter with Melchizedek. I will deal with the mystery man, Melchizedek later. I will attempt to answer whether Melchizedek was Jesus Christ or if he was Shem as Jewish literature concedes. After all the Bible does say that Shem lived a long time, to 600 years of age (Genesis 11:10). Even though Shem (the Name) is a bit of a riddle in Jewish literature, he is still fundamental to Judaism. Jasher states that Adoni Zedek (Melchizedek) was Shem. In Jasher, Shem is a guiding force in the life of Abraham. On more than one occasion Abraham lived with Shem. In fact, Jasher states that Abraham learned The Law from Noah and Shem. Which Law they are referring to remains uncertain, since according to the Hebrew Scriptures the ‘Law’ originated with Moses, some 500 years after Abraham.
Abraham’s Life Events:
I found the Book of Jasher to be far more detailed than the Biblical text. Especially, with the life of Abraham. As most of my readers are already familiar with the scriptural version of Abraham’s life, I will not bore you with the same stories again. Instead, I will do a dot-point summary of details found in Jasher that have been left out of the Biblical text.
1. As mentioned earlier Abraham was born under a Star which meant he had enemies and his life was always in danger. Which fits nicely into the Talmudic belief that Abraham was so blessed because he was alone and needed extra protection. From the get-go, Nimrod tried to kill him. He took refuge with Noah and Shem for thirty-nine years and it was there that he studied The Law. Which Law, we do not know. He also hid in Caves and was ministered to by the Angel Gabriel. The whole episode of the cave experience was reminiscent of the Islamic story of Mohammed.
2. Despite Abraham’s schooling with Noah and Shem, he is shown as being a polytheistic worshiper of the Sun, Moon and Stars. At the same time Jasher says, Abraham followed the Lord since he was three years of age. Later, Abraham did become monotheistic and followed the One True God. Evidence of this is when he smashed all his father’s (Terah’s) idols. Terah tried to kill his son but again Abraham escaped. Reading between the lines, I glean that this revelation of Abraham’s relates more to The Unity of God, which is the same in Judaism and Islam. Christians have a different understanding of The Unity of God.
3. In another instance Abraham finds himself facing the Fiery Furnace with words that are like the book of Daniel. Abraham also walked about in the furnace, while those that came near died. “And Abram said to the king, The God of heaven and earth in whom I trust and who has all in his power, he delivered me from the fire into which thou didst cast me.” (Charles, 1887).
4. Another interesting aspect to Jasher is the story of Ishmael. First, I must mention that Hagar, together with Eliezer were gifts to Abraham from Pharoah. Hagar was the daughter of Pharoah, by a concubine. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out, and we heard very little about them. Except that Ishmael made a brief appearance at the funeral of Abraham. Jasher on the other hand, portrays a very different story. Ishmael, threatened Sarah’s life, so had to leave the family home. But Abraham never lost touch with Ishmael, he visited him on a regular basis and instructed him in the Ways of the Lord. “And Ishmael and his children dwelt with Abraham many days in the land, and Abraham dwelt in the land of the Philistines a long time.” (Charles, 1887). Jasher also states that Ishmael was very much present at the Binding of Isaac. Which is explained in the text as a human sacrifice, a Burnt Offering.
5. Sarah the mother of Isaac was both Abraham’s half-sister and his niece. Niece was a preferred choice, because of Leviticus laws concerning incest. Sarah had trouble conceiving, hence the intrusion of Hagar and Ishmael into Abraham’s life. Abraham and Sarah eventually had Isaac, when Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebecca who was ten years old (ouch). Isaac was sixty when Rebecca gave birth to Jacob and Esau. Isaac the child of Promise was the biggest blessing and the biggest test for Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was tempted to offer up Isaac as a human sacrifice. What we do not read in the Genesis version is that Satan enticed God to test Abraham. The similarities to Satan enticing God to test Job for me were undeniable. As with Job, Satan wanders to and fro on the earth and spots Abraham and decided he needed some testing (See Job Ch.1 & Jasher Ch.22).
6. The Binding of Isaac in Jasher, leaves no doubt that it was “A Burnt Offering to the Lord as he commanded.” Sarah was devastated as she said her goodbyes to Isaac. Ishmael was also present. Like the perfect son, in total obedience to his parents, Isaac said to his father … “Bind me securely and place me upon the alter lest I should turn and move and break loose from the force of the knife upon my flesh, and therefore prepare the burnt offering, and Abraham did so.”. In the end, Isaac lived, much to the disappointment of Satan. If Satan solicited the temptation of Abraham just like he did with Job, then that would add another dimension to his existence in the Scriptures. Often his existence is denied in the Abrahamic faiths.
7. I left Melchizedek until last because I have a few things to say about him. The encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis Ch.14 is shrouded in mystery. And as always Jews and Christians have very different viewpoints of what occurred. It is my job to tell you what those viewpoints are. Both are rather complicated, and both require a great deal of faith to believe. Josephus had the simplest understanding of Melchizedek in Antiquities of The Jews, he believed Melchizedek was a peaceful king, a real person who ruled in Salem before it was called Jerusalem. If only we could all believe that, but we do not! For the simple reason there are too many loose ends, and since speculation surrounds Melchizedek we must explore all the options. So, here we go …
First, I need to stipulate that Salem is Jerusalem (Jerushlaim). Salem means peace, therefore any king of Salem would automatically be associated with peace. Later either Jerush (possession) or Jarah (foundation) were added to create the word, Jerusalem. But originally it was called Salem and it was called that before King David. Genesis Ch.12 is not the only reference to Melchizedek in Jerusalem in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is also a mention of him in Joshua Ch.10:1-4 and it is a very similar battle. In Joshua Melchizedek keeps his Hebrew name, Adoni Zedek rather than being changed to Melchizedek. Both titles are similar, although Adoni Zedek is Lordship whereas Melchizedek is more about Kingship. I will explain further.
Adoni Zedek means Lord (Adoni) Righteous (Zedek), or my Lord is Righteous. In past times Zedek has meant Jupiter, but the meaning has changed over time. Adoni Zedek has been left as Adoni Zedek in Joshua in his battle, but in Genesis 14, Psalm 110 and in Hebrew Chs. 3;15-17 the title is written as Melchizedek. It appears from both Jewish and English understanding of this name that Melchizedek was not just some ordinary person. The mention of a Adoni Zedek in Joshua is somehow overlooked, and all the focus is placed on Genesis 14, where Adoni Zedek (Melchizedek) met with Abraham and shared a sacrament of peace. Unlike Josephus’s simple understanding of who Melchizedek was, Christians have interpreted him as none other than Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt this is due to the writer of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews (presumably Paul) uses various Psalms to establish the Kingship and Priesthood of Jesus Christ. Paul uses Psalm 110 as a prophecy about Jesus Christ. “The Lord said to my Lord.” There is mention of Zion, which is Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2) and finally, “You are a priest forever after the Order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110). From a Christian perspective of the Lordship, Rule (Kingship) and Priesthood of Jesus, Genesis Ch.14 ticks all the boxes. Yet as I discovered the idea of a coming King/Priest was not original to the writer of Hebrews. He expounded on it, but it was not his. The sect of Qumran lived in expectation of two Messiah’s, a Priest like Aaron, and a Royal like David (Merrill, 1996). Since Christians also believe the Hebrew Scriptures are Types and Shadows of the New Testament, some Christians hold the view that Melchizedek was not Christ himself but a type of Christ.
As I mentioned earlier you will need faith to believe both the Christian and Jewish versions of who Melchizedek was/is. Because they are both steeped in spiritual symbolism. If you thought the Christian version was complicated, then stay tuned for the Jewish one. The Book of Jasher states, Melchizedek was Shem. As far as I understand in Talmudic literature, R. Zacharia said on R. Ishmael’s authority that Adoni Zedek in Genesis was Shem (Dennis, n.d.). Also, from my understanding, Shem is the father of Israel. His name Shem (Name) is like Ha Shem (The Name of God). Since it is considered disrespectful to mention God’s name, Jewish people use Ha Shem (the Name) or Adoni (Lord) instead. The exchange between Adoni Zedek and Abraham was perceived in some Jewish circles as a transference of power or an ordination into the Priesthood (Graves and Patai, 2014). Adoni Zedek anointed Abraham and made him a Priest after the Order of Melchizedek, and they broke bread and drank wine.
Shem has a lot of significance in Judaism, more in some sects than others. He lived a long time, 600 years. The 600 then is symbolic, 6 being the number of man and the zeros divine (hidden). Numbers are coded in the Bible. I appreciate Christians having trouble accepting this but trust me they are. Jasher is full of 600’s, and the Bible has that number as well. For example, Noah entered the Ark at 600 years of age, another divine (hidden) number. Then there is the prophesy of Shem, about Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem (Genesis (:27). From that we can gather that Shem carried messianic expectations, based on his prophesy. If that prophesy is yet to be fulfilled, then Shem is till here in spirit at least. In yet other sects of Judaism Shem is the divine presence, the Shekinah, and the all-encompassing name of God. Shem Hamphorash (YHVH) is 42 letters of the name of God in Kabbalah. It encapsulates the entirety of God’s name in the four-letter tetragrammaton.
Most Christians nowadays also use YHVH to address the God of the Israelites. Yet the inclusion of YHVH in the English Bibles is a recent addition. That appears a little strange to me, since in the Jewish texts, it was being removed and replaced with Adoni. YHVH (Yahweh) existed some 6828 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was removed because the scribes could not determine its correct pronunciation. But why take my word for it? Maimonides, the great Hebrew scholar, stated in Guide for the Perplexed, “The letters yod, he, vau, he, is applied exclusively to God, and is on that account called Shem ha-Meforash, the nomen propium.” Maimonides, explained why, when, and how YHVH was removed from circulation, but insisted it was still the 42 letters of God’s name (Moses Maimonides A Guide for the Perplexed, 2013).
Since I am mentioning numbers and their significance in the Hebrew Scriptures. I discovered that the authors of the JPS Torah, discovered some unusual aspects of Genesis Ch.14. For instance, they noted, “Uncommon divine titles, such as God Most High” and “Creator of Heaven and Earth”. Phrases that were not common in other books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Numbers were also repeated, Adam was mentioned 7 times and Melchizedek’s two blessing each contained seven words. In total according to the authors, 11% of the text occupies unique words and phrases (Sarna and Potok, 1989). By all accounts, whether from Jasher, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Book of Hebrews, from a Jewish perspective or a Christian perspective, Abraham’s encounter with Adoni Zedek (Melchizedek) will always be mysterious.
In Part Two of my series on The Book of Jasher, I emphasized that according to the text, Abraham was born under a Star. And at his birth he received blessings which were again pronounced on him by God in Genesis Ch.12. Being born under a Star also meant Abraham was a threat to kings and rulers, hence his life was in danger. Jasher states that Abraham was schooled by Noah and Shem in the Law. Most aspects of Abraham’s life from the Jasher text aligned with the biblical version. I mentioned a few aspects that were different. Such as his relationship with Ishmael, his walking in the midst of the fire, and Satan enticing God to test him, were new to me. I delved a bit deeper into Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek than perhaps I needed to. But my view always has been that the meeting in Jerusalem between Abraham and Melchizedek had layers of meanings. And for me in that instance, Abraham had arrived, he went from being a scared man hiding in caves to a warrior in the company of Canaanite Kings.
To be continued …
Author: Cheryl Mason.
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