Sefer haYashar (midrash)

For other works of the same name see Sefer haYashar (disambiguation).

The Sefer haYashar (first edition 1552) is a Hebrew midrash also known as the Toledot Adam and Dibre ha-Yamim be-'Aruk. The Hebrew title may be translated Sefer haYashar - "Book of the Correct Record" - but it is known in English translation mostly as The Book of Jasher following English tradition. The book is named after the Book of Jasher mentioned in Joshua and 2 Samuel.[1]

Although it is presented as the original "Book of Jasher" in the translations such as that of Moses Samuel (1840), it is not accepted as such in rabbinical Judaism, nor does the original Hebrew text make such a claim. It should not be confused with the very different Book of Jasher (Pseudo-Jasher) printed by Jacob Ilive in 1751, which claimed to have been translated by the English monk Alcuin.


The earliest extant version of this Hebrew midrash was printed in Venice in 1625, and the introduction refers to an earlier 1552 "edition" in Naples, of which neither trace nor other mention has been found. The printer Yosèf ben Samuel claimed the work was copied by a scribe named Jacob the son of Atyah, from an ancient manuscript whose letters could hardly be made out.

This work is also not to be confused with an ethical text by the same name, which, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 14, p. 1099, was "probably written in the 13th century." Scholars have proposed various dates between the 9th century and 16th century.

The Venice 1625 text was heavily criticised as a forgery by Leon Modena, as part of his criticisms of the Zohar as a forgery, and of Kabbalah in general. Modena was a member of the Venetian rabbinate that supervised the Hebrew press in Venice, and Modena prevented the printers from identifying Sefer ha-Yashar with the Biblical lost book.[2]

Behold, it [the Zohar] is like Sefer ha-Yashar, which they printed (without my knowledge and without the knowledge of the sages here in Venice, about twenty years ago). Although I removed the fantasies and falsehoods from it, [eg,] that it is the Sefer ha-Yashar mentioned in Scripture, there are still those who claim that it was discovered during the time of the destruction [of the temple]. But who can stop those who imagine in their minds whatever they wish.
Leon Modena, Ari Nohem, before 1648[3]

Despite Modena's intervention, the preface to the 1625 version still claims that its original source book came from the ruins of Jerusalem in AD 70, where a Roman officer named Sidrus allegedly discovered a Hebrew scholar hiding in a hidden library. The officer Sidrus reportedly took the scholar and all the books safely back to his estates in Seville, Spain (in Roman known as Hispalis, the provincial capital of Hispania Baetica). The 1625 edition then claims that at some uncertain point in the history of Islamic Spain, the manuscript was transferred or sold to the Jewish college in Cordova. The 1625 edition further claims that scholars preserved the book until its printings in Naples in 1552 and in Venice in 1625. Apart from the preface to the 1625 work, there is no evidence to support any of this story. The work was used extensively, but not especially more than many other sources, in Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews.

Although there remains doubt about whether the 1552 "edition" in Naples was ever truly printed, the study of Joseph Dan, professor of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the preface to his 1986 critical edition of the 1625 text[4] concludes, from the Hebrew used and other indicators, that the work was in fact written in Naples in the early sixteenth century. The Arabic connections suggest that if the preface to the 1625 version is an "exaggeration", it was then probably written by a Jew who lived in Spain or southern Italy.


The book covers biblical history from the creation of Adam and Eve until a summary of the initial Israelite conquest of Canaan in the beginning of the book of Judges. It contains references that fit those cited in the Biblical texts, both the reference about the sun and moon found in Joshua, and also the reference in 2 Samuel (in the Hebrew but not in the Septuagint) to teaching the Sons of Judah to fight with the bow. This appears in Jasher 56:9 among 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. (MCR)

But the book in its entirety cannot be so old as shown by chapter 10, covering the descendants of Noah, but containing medieval names for territories and countries, most obviously Franza for France and Lumbardi in Italia for Lombardy. The text of this chapter closely follows the beginning of Josippon, a tenth-century rabbinic text that lists the various peoples living in Europe in ca. 950.

Most of its extra-Biblical accounts are found in nearly the same form in other medieval compilations, or in the Talmud, other midrash or Arabic sources. For example, it includes the common tale that Lamech and his son Jabal accidentally killed Cain, thus requiting his wickedness for slaying Abel.

There are 5 discrepancies, when comparing it with chapter 5 of Genesis, in chapter 5 alone. The first is in verse 1: 'And it was in the eighty-fourth year of the life of Noah that Enoch the son of Seth died;', Enoch was Jared's son, it was Enosh (or Enos), that was the son of Seth (or Set; Shet). Other than the confusion between Enosh and Enoch, the date is correct. The second is in verse 4: 'And Jared the son of Mahlallel died in those days, in the three hundred and thirty-sixth year of the life of Noah;', it was the 366th year of the life of Noah, that Jared died. The third is in verse 19: 'And Lamech the father of Noah died in those days; yet verily he did not go with all his heart in the ways of his father, and he died in the hundred and ninety-fifth year of the life of Noah.', it was the 595th year of Noah's life that Lamech died. The fourth is in verse 20: 'And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy years, and he died.', Lamech's age at death was 777. The fifth is in verse 36: ' And it was at that time Methuselah the son of Enoch died, nine hundred and sixty years old was he, at his death.', Methuselah (Matuvshelakh) was 969 at his death.

In its genealogy of Abram (7:19), it makes no mention of the 'second Cainan' between Arpachsad, and Shelah, coinciding with the Masoretic Text and Samaritan Pentateuch, but conflicting with the Septuagint (LXX) and with Luke's genealogy in chapter 3 of his Gospel.

In its highly interpolated account of the LORD's testing of Abraham concerning Isaac, it says in 23:50-51: 'And when they were going along Isaac said to his father, Behold, I see here the fire and wood, and where then is the lamb that is to be the burnt offering before the Lord? And Abraham answered his son Isaac, saying, The Lord has made choice of thee my son, to be a perfect burnt offering instead of the lamb.', this conflicts with the biblical account which says Abraham's response was this: 'My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering'.

Johann Abicht's Latin translation

Johann Georg Abicht, professor of theology at the University of Halle-Wittenberg,[5] translated the 1625 text into Latin as Dissertatio de Libro recti (Leipzig, 1732).[6]

Moses Samuel's English translation

The first translation of the 1625 Venice edition into English was that published by Mordecai Manuel Noah and A. S. Gould in 1840. Mordecai Noah was a prominent Jewish newspaper editor and publisher, as well as playwright, diplomat, journalist, and utopian. The translator of the 1840 edition was not published, but indicated as an eminent Jewish scholar in Britain in the comments of one of the four certificating Hebraist scholars to the publisher in the preface to the 2nd editions:

To Mssrs Noah and Gould. Gentlemen - I am acquainted with the 'Book of Jasher,' having read a considerable part of it while in the hands of the translator in England. The Hebrew is very purely written, and the translator is an eminent scholar.
Rabbi H. V. Nathan, Kingston Synagogue, Jamaica, April 14, 1840

Subsequently, the translator identified himself as Moses Samuel of Liverpool (1795–1860), who obtained a copy of the 1625 Hebrew edition and became convinced that the core of this work truly was the self-same Book of the Upright referenced in Hebrew scriptures. He translated it into English, and in 1839 sold it to Mordecai Manuel Noah. Samuel gave the reason his name did not appear on the translation thus: "I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity" the NYC publisher Noah having had a lower opinion of the work's authenticity than Samuel.[7] Samuel had in fact originally tried to persuade The Royal Asiatic Society at Calcutta to publish the work, a fact alluded to obliquely in the preface to Noah's 1840 edition, but eventually Samuel sold the work to Noah for £150. Even so, Noah in his promotional materials did enthusiastically claim that the historian Josephus had said of the Book of Jasher: "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." No such statement is found in Josephus' works. Noah's 1840 preface contained endorsements by Hebrew scholars of the day, all of whom praised the quality of the translation, but these said nothing to indicate they believed it to be the work referred to in Joshua and 2 Samuel. In fact one of them, Samuel H. Turner (1790–1861), of the General Theological Seminary, NYC, referred to the "Rabbinical writer" in this way: "The work itself is evidently composed in the purest Rabbinical Hebrew, with a large intermixture of the Biblical idiom, ..." indicating that Turner was not of the opinion that it was an ancient text.

Acceptance by Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, acquired a copy in 1841 or 1842 and wrote in the September 1, 1842 edition of the Times and Seasons, in reference to the patriarch Abraham: "the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldeans".[8]

In 1886, Joseph Hyrum Parry of Salt Lake City acquired the rights to the translation from Mordecai Noah's estate. It was published by J. H. Parry & Company in Salt Lake City in 1887.

A number of Mormon scholars consider this Book of Jasher to be of authentic ancient Hebrew origin. Some of these scholars suggest that the book likely contains many original portions of the Sefer HaYashar referenced in the Old Testament but also has a number of added interpolations. This Joseph Hyrum Parry edition of the Book of Jasher continues to be held in high repute by many Mormons. A number of Mormons have pointed to certain portions of the book that have commonalities to parts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, particularly those parts dealing with the antediluvian period. The Bible has only scant information about pre-flood times, but both the Book of Jasher and parts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible contain additional information, some of which is strikingly similar. The LDS Church does not officially endorse this Book of Jasher.


Hebrew editions

English translation:


  1. Joseph Jacobs Schulim Ochser 1911 Jewish Encyclopedia article
  2. The Scandal of Kabbalah: Leon Modena, Jewish Mysticism, Early ... - Page 68 Yaacob Dweck - 2011 "Modena compared the pseudepigraphic character of the Zohar to Sefer ha-Yashar, a Hebrew work printed in Venice in the early seventeenth century. 34 Sefer ha-Yashar appeared in Venice in 1625. See Joseph Dan, ed., Sefer ha-Yashar "
  3. Leon Modena's Ari Nohem, MS A ed Libowitz 1929 pp73-74
  4. Joseph Sefer HaYashar, edited with an Introduction, Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute 1986.
  5. Johann Christoph Gottsched Briefwechsel: Unter Einschluss Des Briefwechsels Von Luise ... 2007 Page 398 "13 Der vorherige Rektor, Johann Georg Abicht, war 1729 zum Professor der Theologie nach Wittenberg berufen worden und hatte im Mai 1730 sein neues Amt angetreten;"
  6. Religious books, 1876-1982: Volume 1 R.R. Bowker Company. Dept. of Bibliography, R.R. Bowker Company. Publications Systems Dept - 1983 "A Latin version by Johann G. Abicht appeared in Leipzig, 1732, with title: Dissertatio de Libro recti."
  7. Jewish historical studies: transactions of the Jewish Historical ...: Volume 35 Jewish Historical Society of England 2000 "'I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity', Samuel later explained.16 This was odd since Noah seems to have had a lower opinion of the work's authenticity than Samuel."
  8. Times and Seasons, Volume 3, Number 21, reprinted by
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