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The Hebrew version was printed in Venice in 1625 and the introduction refers to an earlier 1552 edition in Naples of which neither trace or other mention has been found. The printer Joseph 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 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.
Some Mormon scholars consider this to be the authentic Sefer HaYashar referenced in the Old Testament (though in recent decades this has become a minority view). That belief comes from the preface to the 1625 version which says its original source book came from the ruins of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. A Roman officer named Sidrus discovered a Hebrew scholar hiding in a hidden library. The officer reportedly took the scholar and all the books safely back to his estates in Seville, Spain, which in Roman times was known as Hispalis, the provincial capital of Hispalensis (cf. Hispania Baetica). At some uncertain point in history (presumably after the Islamic conquest of Iberia (cf. Al-Andalus)), the manuscript was transferred or sold to the Jewish college in Cordova, Spain. Scholars apparently had preserved the book until its printings in Naples in 1552 and in Venice in 1625. Outside of the preface to the 1625 work, there is no evidence to support any of this story.
The book covers Biblical history from the creation of Adam and Eve to 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.
But the book in its entirety cannot be so old as shown by chapter 10, covering the descendants of Noah, which contains medieval names for territories and countries, perhaps mostly 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 either other medieval compilations, or in the Talmud, or in other midrash or in Arabic sources. For example it contains the common tale that Lamech and his son Jabal accidentally killed Cain, thus requiting his wickedness for slaying Abel.
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 work was used extensively but not especially more than many other sources in Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews.
In the 19th century, Moses Samuel of Liverpool, England, was given a copy of the Hebrew work 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, a Jewish New York publisher who published it the following year.
Samuel's name did not appear on the translation. "I did not put my name to it as my Patron and myself differed about its authenticity", Samuel later explained. Yet M. M. Noah 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 published book also contained within it endorsements by four top American Hebrew scholars of the day, all of whom praised the quality of the translation but said nothing to indicate they believed it to be the work referred to in Joshua and 2 Samuel. Indeed one of them, Samuel H. Turner, 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, ...
Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement, wrote in Times and Seasons, Sept. 1, 1842, 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". (External Link: Times and Seasons, Volume 3, Number 21.)
Subsequently copyright of the translation was obtained by J. H. Parry & Company in Salt Lake City who published it in 1887. It has continued to be held in high repute by many Mormons but is not officially endorsed.
It is sometimes confused with the very different Book of Jasher (Pseudo-Jasher), which is said to be an obvious forgery. Pseudo-Jasher claims to have been translated by the Anglish monk Alcuin. That version was printed by Jacob Ilive in 1751 in Early Modern English. Alcuin spoke Old English (or Old Anglish), which, coupled with the printer's seeming anti-Christian sentiments, would suggest that it was a fraud.
For other works of the same name see Sefer haYashar.
- Sefer ha-Yashar, ed. Rosenthal, Berlin, 1898,
- English translation:
- Book of Jasher Referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel (1887), edited by J. H. Parry (Kessinger Publishing Company, 1998). ISBN 0-7661-0260-2
- The Authentic Annals of the Early Hebrews: Also Known as the Book of Jasher, edited by Wayne Simpson (Morris Publishing (NE), 1995) (Hardcover - January 1995) ISBN 1-57502-962-6 hardcover; (Lightcatcher Books, 2003) ISBN 0-9719388-3-0 paperback