WELCOME to the first* Web site that offers a full English version of
the Jashar Apocryphon. From the ancient tradition of retelling the
creation stories which appear in the Bible, this short idiosyncratic document may still be
worthy of some interest today. A longer commentary and a shorter apology are also included here.
*The Internet now includes other sites on this rich literary tradition  , and readers who seek the best current scholarship are urged to consult them. (The version here is based on early texts found on 5.25" floppy disks, written in WordPerfect 4.0.)
1. At God's first word, a point burst into flames. From the chaos of the heat came patterns that lived, and they strove to grow and consume each other. Then God spoke again. The patterns spread and cooled and, in time, they could flow together and yet remain distinct from each other. So they formed a song of love that echoed throughout the universe, and they found peace.
Then God said, "Let there be another story." And great clouds were formed in the patterns. But within each swirling milky way, there was no feeling, no hope and no fear.
The sun and the stars formed in the clouds, and dust was gathered into planets and the world. But in the stars and planets there were no dreams, except those of God and peace.
The world was warm and wet and nourishing for living things, and so they formed and grew on its surface. New life came from old, which died and gave its place. Plants turned their leaves to the sun, and animals grew eyes to see. And yet their eyes could see neither good nor evil in the world.
Such was the world, when God led Flo and Faben and Human and Eve wandering northwards in Africa, along the great river. By day, Faben and Human hunted together, while Eve swam for fish and Flo gathered fruit. In the evening, Human sang and Eve shaped rocks into tools, while Flo and Faben slept together under a tree.
Then God said, "See now what I can do with a spark." And thus fire was given into the hand of Eve. She nourished the spark with dry leaves, and Human brought her sticks, and they felt the warmth of their fire. Faben and Flo awoke to a vision of angels with flaming swords, and they fled into the wilderness. So Human and Eve sat alone by their fire, and its light shone up into heaven, past the moon and the stars, but there was no one else watching.
Then Human delved and Eve spanned, and they followed the river to the sea, where Eve gave birth to Cain. "Look," she said, "I have made another human!" Then God smiled on their family. And Eve gave birth to Abel, and later to Seth.
2. Cain gathered the fruits of all seed-bearing plants. But Abel made spears for hunting and brought meat to Eve and young Seth. And the sons quarreled over the leadership of the clan, after Human lost the use of one arm. Then Cain lived in great fear, for Abel was a stealthy hunter who could kill without warning in the wilderness. So Cain killed Abel with his own spear as he rested in the camp.
They buried Abel, and Human found support from Eve beside him. So Eve brought Human a flaming branch, to wield in his good hand, and they approached Cain together. Now Cain started away towards the wilderness, but Human commanded him to return after twenty years, so that they should not lose another son forever. Cain cried that they would not remember him, but Eve said, "We will remember our son, for we are not animals." And Cain touched a burning stick to his forehead, so that they would know him by its mark.
Cain was strong and swift, and he fled from the river, into the east. He ran for six days, pausing only to eat or rest. On the seventh day, he ascended to the top of a mountain. There God showed him a vision of a great city of peace, surrounded by fields and orchards, which the children of Abel would have made. Cain looked in wonder at his vision until it faded with the setting sun, for there were then no other people outside of Africa.
And Cain continued thus in his exile. Six days he walked and gathered food, but every seventh day he had visions of cities which God had planned for the children of Abel. Cain wandered for twenty years, and then he knew the whole vastness of the world.
Seth found Rama, Flo's daughter, alone along the river, and together they had a daughter named Jashar. When Jashar had grown into womanhood, she met Cain returning home. On that day, Seth had killed a great beast, and so they celebrated at the return of Cain. Eve made a fire, and Human sang, and Rama and Jashar danced.
And God married Cain and Jashar that night, under the stars. "In this way," Human said, "we shall always rejoice when two branches of my family are rejoined." Then they feasted late into the night, while Human foretold joys and sorrows, and Cain described his visions. Everything that Human said was true, but Cain spoke only of the world of the children of Abel. So Human was the first true prophet, and Cain the first false prophet, but they dwelt together as kinsmen for all the rest of their days.
3. At that time, giant beasts lived in every part of the world, and they consumed trees and made a devastation throughout the wilderness. But Seth taught his sons to hunt as he had learned from Abel, because God told them that children must learn from their elders' wisdom. Then the daughters of Cain married the sons of Seth and, after the death of Eve, they scattered to find the lands that Cain had seen. So the human children killed the giant beasts, and the trees spread over all the lands, until a squirrel could run from sea to sea without touching the ground. Then the whole world was like a garden in the sight of God.
The cold years came, and ice flowed over the North. God watched as the great glaciers slowly melted back, and then looked again for the Humanites under the trees. And God was angered, for they were still hunting and gathering just as they had in the time of Seth. Then God found Noah, in the land between the two rivers.
4. Noah was the daughter of Zelophehad, the wife of Tubalcain, and the mother of Shem, Ham, and Jafet. At night, while her family slept, Noah talked to God. Then God told Noah to leave the forest and go up into the mountains. "Make disks of wood, two by two, and set rods through their centers. Lay a sled four cubits long across the rods, and put all that you possess on the sled. Then go with your family up to the high slopes of Mount Ararat. For the forests below are to be destroyed by a great flood which will cover all the lands of the world."
To raise the sea level over all land would require more water than then existed in the oceans of the world. Noah knew that her family would wonder how more water could be made. So she asked whether God's plan would deviate from the natural laws, which had guided the universe since the beginning, and she got no answer.
But Tubalcain faithfully made the cart to carry their tents and the younger children. No one knew the way to Mount Ararat, and so they followed a dove for forty days and forty nights, until it came to rest on an olive tree in a field of wheat, high above the valley. And there they stayed, waiting for the flood.
In their first winter on the mountain, they had no food, except for the wheat. But God put a blessing on Noah's porridge, and Tubalcain set out to enlarge the field. With torch and axe he cut the brush, and in the spring they scattered their last grains over the clearing. By autumn, the rain and sun had brought them a rich harvest.
When Noah's sons grew up, they found wives from the surrounding forest and moved down the mountain. Shem left with Ishtar and cleared the bottom land to the south. Then Ham and Dravidia cleared a farm to the east, and Jafet and Juropa settled land to the west. They raised many children on the bounty of their fields, while Noah prayed each day for the safekeeping of the world.
Noah lived long into the years of her great-grandchildren. Once, after a day of rain, she walked up her mountain and surveyed the green fields which stretched in all directions. Then she understood that the laws that God gave at the beginning would never be forsaken. For Noah saw, under the rainbow, that the forest was being destroyed by her own family, which was spreading as a flood over the land.
5. Nimrod was the mightiest hunter in the age after Noah. He shared his booty with other landless men, and he taught them loyalty by his stories of the jinn, who strove before the world was made. Then Nimrod triumphed, and with his two hands he settled all disputes among the Noahites. For Nimrod knew that a united people could do great deeds before God.
But when Nimrod grew old, he heard young men grumbling, and he felt evil eyes from the children of those whom he had slain. So he spoke to the people. "You cannot see the peace that I have given you, so let us build a tower for God. You have forgotten the warfare that I ended, so let us make blood sacrifices at the new moon. Then you will see and remember, and you will know that God still inhabits our kingdom." Thus Nimrod reigned until his death, and he was entombed in the high tower, and everyone mourned how the mighty had fallen.
The people were afraid of being divided, so Nimrod was succeeded by other kings. But each king was driven to exalt his own name, and the tower of each generation was built higher than before. In time, the royal engineers learned how to reach up to heaven. Monitors were appointed in every village, so that those who did not make bricks for the tower should be sacrificed into its mortar. And Isaac was arrested, because he left his work gang when his sons were born.
6. When Isaac was brought before the crowd, his mother Sarah blew a ram's horn, and she called out to stop the new moon. Then God withdrew from the tower and saw them breaking humans into red earth. "All the people are united in one kingdom, and they have no one else to set them straight, like a man alone in the wilderness. They can go wrong forever if they are not divided. So each father today will become the patriarch of a separate nation, with its own language for laws and prayers. And henceforth, any nation that sinks into such folly may be destroyed by its neighbors." Thus the kingdom of the Noahites was dissolved by the voice of God, for they then ignored each other's commands and all returned to their homes.
On the road to Hebron, Abram had a vision of endless wars. So he turned to God and asked, "Must all that is good in a nation be destroyed because of one error?" Then God relented and said, "The elders of each nation should learn from other nations, even as they teach their own wisdom to their children. Let no one fight against another people unless he has heard their story and listened to their prayers. Then you may find peace."
And Abram asked, "How can we be fathers of separate nations? Will not my sons marry their daughters, and my daughters marry their sons?" Then God put a blessing on Abram, and so to this day he has been called Ibrahim, the father of many nations.
COMMENTARY ON THE JASHAR APOCRYPHON
At the dedication of the First Temple, a supreme watershed moment in the history of the Jewish religion, King Solomon is said to have justified the proceedings by a scriptural quote from the "Book of Jashar" (1 Kings 8.13, from the Greek Septuagint sources). Other citations of Jashar in the Hebrew Bible include Joshua 10.13, where Joshua stops the moon and the sun, and 2 Samuel 1.18, where David mourns Jonathan and Saul. We cannot help wondering what could have been in this "straight book" (in Hebrew, jashar means straight) which the Bible itself cites for authority.
The Jashar Apocryphon is obviously a pseudepigraphic forgery of a much later date. The cultural roots of the text are eclectic, although linguistic analysis suggests that the author probably had little knowledge of Hebrew, and his work shows no understanding of the great traditions of Biblical commentary and midrash. There are obvious Islamic influences (jinn, Ibrahim), but the sexual imagery used to describe Human (Adam) and Eve echoes the battle cry of the English Peasant's Rebellion of 1381. ("When Adam delved and Eve span, where then was the gentleman?") With this quotation, if the document can be attributed to a Jew of Spain, then it could have been written any time between 1381 and 1492.
The passages cited by the Bible appear only muted and transformed in this text. One might try to interpret Solomon's speech as a reference to Nimrod's justification for his tower. Only a few elements of David's lamentation appear in Nimrod's epitaph. It is hard to fit Joshua's quote with this text, except as a hyperbole derived from the story of Sarah stopping the sacrifice at the new moon. The best that can be said for a connection between this text and the original Israelite "Book of Jashar" is that the author might have drawn on some ancient manuscripts and traditions; but he also mixed in many other cultural strands from the rich and complex world in which he lived.
Whatever its sources may be, the Jashar Apocryphon offers us an alternative and strangely contemporary view of the traditional creation story. Although the story of Jashar never exactly follows Genesis, it also never diverges very far from Genesis. It seems that this text was intended to be read in counterpoint to Genesis. When we read it this way, we may find that the challenge of reconciling related but distinct perspectives on Creation can help us, as by triangulation, to understand more aspects of this profound mystery than we could from any one mythic perspective. In the same way, the discrepancies between the various strands (J, E, P, etc.) within the Torah itself offer us such a binocular perspective on Creation.
1. The text begins with God's first word, at the moment of Creation, and God remains a central character throughout the story. The initial image is one of intense unity. Everything comes out of one explosive point and one profound word. The wording of the first sentence suggests that God's own existence also begins at the moment of Creation. If not, then God was silent before Creation.
Readers today are likely to become defensive and distracted when we find God included as a character in a story. We assume that an author is demanding that we should believe a story if he has written God into it, so we prepare to be force-fed some dogma, and we become unable to appreciate the story as a work of fiction. These expectations must be dropped before we can appreciate this manuscript. It is written in counterpoint to Genesis, and so we must suppose that the author wants us to read it as fiction, not as dogma. Indeed, the manuscript may prompt us to ask whether a taboo on using God as a literary character might in some ways limit and weaken our modern fictional literature.
But why should anyone use God as a character in a story, if it puts readers on their guard and evokes images of the doctrines that launched a hundred religious wars? It would not be hard to rewrite the narrative without mentioning God: "At God's first word" becomes "At first," "God put a blessing on Noah's porridge" becomes "Noah's porridge was remarkably good," etc. But including God in the story serves as an effective literary device for expressing the fundamental importance of events. God serves as a thread that ties specific events into the grand scheme of the infinite universe, and that allows the author to express the importance of events in this scheme. By telling us how God is intimately connected both with the origin of the infinite universe and with the porridge that Noah served her family, the author helps us to realize the enormous significance of Noah's fateful porridge, which was the first fuel of the agricultural revolution. To make these connections, the story needs God and it needs to begin at Creation. That is, the purpose of a creation story is not to explain where the universe came from, because saying that God made the universe only begs the question of what made God. The purpose of a creation story is to help us to understand the significance of events in history and in our own lives, by putting them into a universal coordinate system that includes the beginning of everything. God is the unity of that coordinate system.
The introductory story of the "patterns," later identified (by Nimrod) as jinn, is a synopsis of a complete history of life and civilization. In this synopsis, history is divided into two eras. During the first era, living patterns emerge spontaneously from a high-energy universe, and they evolve in a Darwinian struggle to grow and reproduce, according to the law of survival of the fittest. Then there is a time of prophecy in which God speaks again. God's words begin a new era in which the jinn are gradually transformed, and the law of survival is replaced by a law of love.
But what is love? Love is characterized here as an ability to come together and yet remain distinct from each other. The story of the jinn does not end as a Gaia world in which everyone becomes merely part of a pantheistic whole. The separation of individual identities is preserved even as the individuals flow together in harmony and peace. The great problem of the second era of history is to resolve the tension between these two needs: the need to be together and the need to be separate.
But the story of the jinn is not necessarily our own story. We are a part of a second story that begins when God calls for another story, after the story of the jinn has come to a happy ending.
Although we do not know what God's first word was, God's later words lead us to guess that it was a call for a story. So here, as in Genesis, the first beginning of the universe is apparently derived from an aesthetic imperative. "Let there be light" in Genesis becomes "let there be a story" in Jashar. To understand what God wants in the universe, we just need to understand what makes a good story.
As the history of the universe is surveyed next, there is a progressive focusing and narrowing of scope. Galaxies are introduced as structures within the jinn, but it seems that each galaxy is too small a fragment to manifest within itself any sign of a greater pattern. From the lifeless realm of galaxies, we are brought to our own nourishing world, one speck in a fragment of a vast cosmos. Here the cycle of life and death develops again, but its potential is unfulfilled until the appearance of intelligent beings. Thus, the beginnings of human life on earth are portrayed as a long-awaited event for which God has prepared a vast stage in both time and space.
So we find ourselves following a tribe of hominids who live along the Nile river. (The "great river" in Genesis is the Euphrates, but the author of Jashar obviously uses "the great river" to mean the Nile instead.) The image of these four individuals, at the borderline between animal and human, is sharpened for the modern reader by the fact that "Flo" and "Faben" are names that Jane Goodall used for wild chimpanzees that she studied in Gombe. The name "Human" is of course just a retranslation of "Adam." Like the name "Adam" (which comes from a Hebrew word for earth), the word "human" is derived from a root that means dirt (humus).
Human's singing voice and Eve's skilled hands, sharpening stone tools by moonlight, show God that they are ready for the great transition. So with the tiniest bit of divine intervention, virtually at the quantum-mechanical level, God creates a spark, at the right place and the right time, to stimulate the birth of humanity. There is an obvious contrast between this spark and the original explosion that was called forth by God's first word. After Creation, God's interventions are shifted in scale from cosmic to microscopic, as will be confirmed by the promise to Noah.
Eve and Human are ready to accept this gift of fire, and they immediately begin learning to use it, but their companions Faben and Flo are not ready and they flee. As in Genesis, flaming swords mark the division between animal innocence and human sophistication, but here the direction of the swords is reversed. In Genesis, the angels wield flaming swords to drive Adam and Eve away from the Garden of Eden. Here, however, the flaming swords drive Faben, Flo, and the other animals away from the newly created domain of humanity.
The word "wilderness" first appears at this point, to denote the land not yet tamed by people. At this moment, the wilderness includes the whole earth except for the little campsite that is warmed by Human and Eve's fire. Long before the invention of radio, the light of their campfire is the first electromagnetic radiation sent by humans into outer space, and it could have been observed by intelligent extraterrestrial life, if there were any nearby in the galaxy; but there are no such observers. The first human couple is utterly alone, in the middle of the vast stage that God has made for them. So they come together by their fire and, in doing so, they begin the first human family.
2. As in Genesis, the second son Abel is favored because of the meat that he brings, but his sacrifice to God here becomes dinner for his mother and her youngest son. Human's crippled arm creates a power vacuum and an apparent absence of authority that causes the sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel to escalate into a mortal struggle. Like the European powers of 1914, Cain and Abel find themselves in a deadly situation where whoever attacks first would be expected to win, and so the fear of a fatal conflict can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cain feels that he must kill Abel in a surprise attack, because Abel anticipates the possibility of such an attack and may try to save himself by killing Cain in a surprise attack instead.
Cain may have expected that, when his brother was dead and he was the strongest individual in the clan, then he would become its leader. His power bid fails, however, because Eve and Human find at last a solidarity and strength in the process of burying Abel. Confronted by the bitter fruits of anarchy, they apparently reach an understanding that they must work together to make a new social system. So Eve now comes to Human's side (a "help meet for him," as described in Genesis 2.18) to support him in retaking the leadership of the family. Eve's support enables Human, in spite of his individual weakness, to make laws that even Cain can be compelled to obey. Human exercises this authority with remarkable wisdom and restraint, when he sets Cain's sentence at twenty-years exile.
Thus, when Human and Eve move together against the rebel Cain, the old system of domination by the strongest single individual is replaced by a mutually supported social contract that defines legitimate leadership and restrains individual behavior. The consolidation of this social contract, within a generation after the discovery of fire, completes the transition from animal to human; so Eve can now truly say "we are not animals." The brand on Cain's forehead marks him, even in his exile, as one who has also accepted the social contract.
Cain runs east from the Nile delta for six days, and on the seventh day he has a vision of a great city. It is tempting to suppose (straining the limits of how far a man on foot can go in six days) that Cain's first sabbath vision was at Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. But what future Jerusalem did he see: the modern Jerusalem, the Crusader city, the city of the Second Temple, the city of David, the Jebusite village, or did he see some heavenly Jerusalem that has never existed on earth? Cain only knows that he is seeing the Jerusalem that Abel's descendants would have made. Living at the very beginning of human history, he cannot compare it to any Jerusalem that has actually existed. Indeed, we might ask, how large would a city have to be to seem "great" to someone who grew up in a world that had only five people! So we are left to wonder whether we, the descendants of Seth and Cain, have done better or worse than Abel's family would have done.
Thus the Jashar manuscript gives us an account of the origins of the week. In this story, it is Cain in exile (rather than God at Creation) who first rests on the sabbath. Cain is given the sabbath as a day of reprieve when he can transcend his lonely exile and have visions of a better world. Although this story gives a less cosmological origin for the sabbath than Genesis, it nonetheless adds something to the mythic purpose of the holiday. For Cain did not stop merely to rest from his travels, but also to contemplate a vision of the distant future and the potential of his late brother. Thus the first sabbath is portrayed as a day of meditation on the past, the present, and the future. It is a day when the distinctions between actual, potential, and lost can become blurred in a higher vision.
The story of Cain's journeys and visions also serves the narrative function of bridging the gap between us and the first humans. No matter where we are, on any major continent, we can imagine that this early man might have come here in his twenty-year wandering, and might have had a sabbath vision of our homes as they are today. We may speculate at how amazing such a vision of the future might have seemed to him. The whole human story is brought full circle as Cain brings his vision of us into focus, even as we try to imagine him and the others who were there at the start of the human story.
At this point in the story, the gap between human and animal is still narrow enough to be crossed once more, when Rama (whose name might come from the Hebrew word meaning high, or from the Sanskrit word meaning joy, but the modern reader may be reminded of Ramapithecus), the daughter of Flo (and Faben?), becomes Seth's mate. Their daughter is Jashar, the title character. We may suppose that Jashar is in her teens and Cain is close to forty when they meet and are drawn together after his return from exile.
Human's blessing at the marriage of Cain and Jashar brings us back to the fundamental theme of separation and togetherness. Human is saddened whenever his family is divided, and we understand that the exile of Cain is only the first such division of humanity. But marriage can reunite two separated strands of Human's posterity. So Human rejoices and blesses the institution of marriage, which continually reunites fragments of his family in new combinations.
Human and Cain both prophesy at the wedding feast, but only Human is accepted as a true prophet. Although Cain's contemporary family rejects Cain's prophecy, they accept him as a member of the clan, and the true and false prophets are never separated again. So the story is here setting an example for religious tolerance, to suggest that people with different beliefs should appreciate each other and remember their human kinship. We may also guess that, by our standards, Cain's false prophecy of a future civilization might have been rather more interesting than Human's true but trite predictions of joy and sorrow in marriage.
At another level, the end of section 2 could also be interpreted as a personal plea for acceptance by the author of Jashar. He obviously hopes that we will find value in his work, in spite of the fact that it is false prophecy.
3. After the marriage of Jashar, the perspective abruptly shifts. Instead of a tight focus on a few individuals, there is a softer focus and a broader perspective on the world.
Yet as the first humans fade from our view, we get a few last glimpses into their lives. The marriages of Seth's sons to their cousin-nieces remind us that incest taboos might have to be less tightly defined when humanity was so small. We perceive the importance of the aged matriarch Eve in holding the human family together, as the family scatters after her death. We learn of Seth's position as a cultural heir to Abel, when Seth passes Abel's hunting techniques on to the next generation. But this generation is also moved by Cain's visions, and so we find contributions of both Cain and Abel in the developing human culture.
The most important fact that we are told here about these early humans is that they take education of children as a commandment from God. The wording of the commandment ("God told them that children must learn from their elders' wisdom") is ambiguous as to whether it is commanded to the parents or to the children. In either case, the importance of education in human history is strikingly emphasized by the fact that this is the first explicit mention of any specific commandment, following only the general commandment, "Let there be another story." So we see that passing traditions from generation to generation is a necessary prerequisite for humanity to build a story that is worthy of God's Creation.
The importance of cultural heritage may suggest another interpretation of Cain's visions. We understand that Abel died without giving his genes to biological children, but perhaps we should interpret the phrase "children of Abel" as referring to his cultural heirs, who have received his lore and his ideas. After all, genes and ideas both are patterns that can endure across generations (one stored in chromosomes and the other in synapses). So in a cultural sense, people of Seth's family might also be children of Abel whom Cain foresaw.
A desecration of trees by people is the pivotal event leading to the fall of humanity in Genesis. The Biblical story of the Garden of Eden is echoed in our modern ecological myth of the great primeval forest that has been destroyed by the growth of civilization. Destruction of trees is also a central theme in the Jashar Apocryphon, but the story here is a complex counterpoint to both Genesis and modern ecological thinking. In the first place, the tension is not just between trees and people, but between trees and herbivorous animals. Long before the advent of humanity, the forests were already decimated by great herbivores. Elephants and mastodons grew too large for any contemporary predators, and multiplied until their population reached the Malthusian limits of their devastated ecology. But then the early humans, with their sophisticated hunting technology, became effective predators of the great herbivores, reduced their populations, and so allowed the forest to spread.
Thus, the expansive paleolithic forests are presented here as a creation of humanity, during the period when people knew how to hunt but had not yet learned to farm. We may notice that this paleolithic Eden is like a garden not only in the sense of being dominated by plants, but also in the sense of being artificially sustained by human activity.
At the end of section 3, the narrative leads us to look at the world from above, as if from God's perspective. Our attention is diverted from the forests to the glaciers, which spread and flow during the long ice age, reminding us of the primeval jinn-patterns. When the ice age draws to a close, however, we search for the humans again, but they are frustratingly difficult to find in the vast wilderness of trees. Their technological backwardness has made them almost insignificant in the forests. So God is angry and impatient for the agricultural revolution to begin. Thus, in this story, technological stagnation (rather than some moral depravity or injustice) is the source of God's anger at the beginning of the story of Noah.
Recalling the introductory creation sequence in section 1 may give us some clues as to why God should be so dissatisfied with the paleolithic world of forests. As the setting for a story, a world dominated by trees would probably be much less interesting than a world dominated by animals; and a world dominated by humans should have the greatest potential of all for a good story, because of the human abilities to hope and dream and to distinguish good and evil.
To achieve dominance of the world, however, the humans must change from predators to herbivores, that is, from hunters to farmers, and the forests must be decimated anew. Noah is introduced here as the agent whom God has selected to bring about this transformation of humanity, and the consequent reversal of peoples' relationship with the forests.
4. The book of Numbers (26.33) tells us that a woman named Noah was one of the daughters of Zelophehad, who set a legal precedent for women's rights to inherit property. In the Jashar manuscript, the daughter of Zelophehad becomes the Noah of the flood. Confusing these two Noahs would be less likely in Hebrew, where their names are spelt differently.
According to Genesis 4.22, Tubal-cain was a maker of metal tools, his parents were Lamech and Zillah, and his sister was Naamah. But chapter 4 of Genesis lists Naamah at the end of an eight-generation genealogical sequence that is almost the same as the sequence that ends at Noah in chapter 5 of Genesis. For example, Genesis 5 also lists Lamech as the name of Noah's father. It is natural to see some link between Naamah and Noah, and there has been a rabbinical tradition that identifies Naamah as Noah's wife. In this story, however, Tubal-cain is identified as Noah's husband, rather than as Naamah's brother.
Thus, from the Biblical perspective, Noah in this story seems to be a mixture of Noah the son of Lamech (from Genesis 5), Noah the daughter of Zelophehad (from Numbers 26), and Naamah the daughter of Lamech and Zillah (from Genesis 4). Once we have remarked this mixing of characters from Genesis and Numbers, however, we are left with a more fundamental question: What happens to the story when Noah is recast as a woman?
By casting Noah as a woman, the narrative achieves a more even balance between men's and women's roles. There is an interesting symmetry between the two central couples: Human and Eve, and Noah and Tubalcain. The subsequent naming of descendants ("humans," "Noahites") calls our attention primarily to the husband in one couple (Human) and the wife in the other (Noah). But Human and Noah both rely on the skills, the strength, and the faithful support of their spouses, Eve and Tubalcain. So, in this text, leading and supporting roles are not type-cast as exclusively male or female.
Otherwise, however, Noah's gender actually makes very little difference in the story. Of all the factors that differ here from the Biblical story (the nature of the flood, the wooden vehicle, the promise of the rainbow, etc.), the gender of Noah is one of the least essential. And yet Noah's gender tends to capture readers' attention more than any other aspect of the story. (Indeed, we could readily imagine that a reader might more easily accept Goliath being transformed into a short Philistine general, assassinated by David!) Thus, our reaction to Noah's womanhood in this story may show something fundamental about our own attitudes towards sexual identity.
The Bible tells us that Noah was the first farmer to plant a vineyard. In the Jashar version, this development-of-agriculture theme becomes the central focus of the story. The story of Noah becomes a myth about the beginnings of the agricultural revolution in the Anatolian highlands, and about the origins of the three great linguistic groups (Semitic, Indo-European, and Dravidian) that came out of this period. The Hamites (whose identity in the Bible seems somewhat ill-defined) are here clearly identified with the Dravidians, by the name of Ham's wife. Similarly, Juropa's name clearly links the Jafetites with the Indo-Europeans. (The manuscript apparently uses the letter J in names to denote the Hebrew letter yod, so "Juropa" could be "Yuropa" or "Europa.")
The ecological significance of the agricultural revolution has been described already in section 3, where we saw that God was impatient for the destruction of the great forests (which people inadvertently created when they hunted down the great herbivores). To make an interesting story, God wanted the earth to be dominated by intelligent animals, not by trees. Noah was led up from her home because God wanted people to progress beyond hunting and gathering, and to dominate the earth by farming. So we should not have been surprised, as Noah was, to learn that God's destructive flood is a flood of humanity, not a flood of water. This reinterpretation of the flood may be particularly satisfying to a modern reader, because it relates the flood directly to our own lives. Even today, as chain saws reduce the last forests and jungles, we can see the advancing waves of Noah's flood. The ecological impact of civilization is thus portrayed here as a part of God's plan.
Woven in with the agricultural-revolution theme, there are at least three other strands in this Noah story: the invention of the wheel, the tension between Noah and her daughters-in-law, and the inviolability of natural law. Each of these themes merits some discussion.
From the awkward way that the wooden vehicle is described, we understand that wheeled carts were previously unknown to Noah and Tubalcain. So when Tubalcain builds the wooden vehicle to Noah's divinely inspired specifications, they are inventing the wheel. If we ask which technological advances most deserve a place in a mythic history of humanity, the invention of the wheel and the domestication of grain (along with the earlier invention of fire) should be high on our list. Thus, replacing the wooden ark by a wooden cart nicely broadens the significance of the story. Also, it gives us the amusing image of Tubalcain and Noah pulling the cart, while the younger children enjoy the ride, as the family goes on a wild dove chase. (Like modern archaeologists, Noah and her family are uncertain about the exact location of the Biblical Ararat.)
Another, more serious strand concerns intermarriage and unbelief, which Noah confronts when her sons marry forest women who do not share the family's belief in the flood. The unbelieving wives lead Noah's sons down the mountain to the better lands below. Noah is in anguish for her family, and she prays each day that the flood should be deferred long enough to get her whole family back up to safety on the mountain. We recognize, however, that Noah and her daughters-in-law have complementary and equally essential roles in God's plan. Without Noah's prophecy and Tubalcain's faith in it, the family would not have gone up to invent farming on the mountain. Without the unbelieving daughters-in-law, however, the family would have stayed up on the mountain indefinitely, and the agricultural revolution would not have been spread across the earth. Thus, the family achieves its destiny because it includes both the prophet and the unbelievers.
Noah's vision of the rainbow, which is the climax of the story, has a double message. One message, as we have seen, is that the agricultural revolution and its ecological consequences are a part of God's plan. The other, more fundamental message, is that God's plan is to be realized without arbitrary miraculous deviation from the natural laws of physics. By the sign of the rainbow, it is revealed to Noah (and to us) that God gave the laws of physics, as a part of that profound "first word," and that God's gift of consistent natural law will never be revoked. Thus, in the first call for a story, God also articulated the natural laws of kinetics and dynamics, to provide a coherent structure in which the story can evolve. The constancy and regularity of these laws are precious to us, because we rely on them so deeply for our ability to understand every event in the world. If oceans of water could suddenly appear, or not appear, without any predictable pattern, then our lives would truly be meaningless. God has given natural laws and has promised to eschew big arbitrary miracles, so that we can have meaning and structure in our lives, which may be the greatest miracle of all. Thus, we may appreciate more deeply Eve's spark, which sets a precedent of God intervening only at the microscopic level, where such intervention may be consistent with quantum-mechanical unpredictability.
In Genesis, the rainbow denotes a promise by God to not destroy life on earth in its totality. A modern reader may find it disturbing to notice that these terms are missing from the rainbow promise here. Our civilization could be totally destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, provided that this destruction is consistent with the laws of physics. Thus, we find ourselves left with ultimate responsibility for our own survival. We are only guaranteed that, as we struggle to survive, the rules of game that we must play will never be changed arbitrarily or unpredictably.
At the end of the story of Noah, we may imagine ourselves on the heights with her, watching as her family spreads to the horizon. In the settlements below us are the seeds that will grow into the great Semitic, Indo-European, and Dravidian civilizations of the world. After Noah's death, these Noahite settlements will proliferate beyond the horizon and will become a nation, and then will become many nations. The story of Nimrod is about the process of becoming a nation, and the story of Abram is about becoming many nations.
5. We can readily understand how the early farmers, struggling to defend their lands and stored harvests, might have submitted to skilled hunters-turned-soldiers for protection. Thus, as in the Bible, Nimrod is described as a great hunter who becomes the first king. Here, however, Nimrod's talents include much more than just the killing ability of a hunter. He is portrayed as a shrewd leader, who has a keen sense of how to motivate and control the people around him, as he uses both material rewards and mythological stories to gain his soldiers' loyalty. So Nimrod forms his band of landless hunters into a disciplined army, and then he uses this army to become master of all the Noahite communities.
Nimrod's use of mythological story-telling to teach loyalty to his soldiers is just what we should expect from a Platonic philosopher-king at the start of his career. When he tells stories to mold his army, he incidently gives us the name "jinn" for the patterns that existed in the first age after Creation, and we may guess that our own knowledge of these jinn (as summarized in the first paragraph) might be attributed to Nimrod's revelations. As he creates the first kingdom, Nimrod also acts as a prophet, revealing that God wants people to organize themselves into a large nations, so that they will be able to do greater deeds.
There is a direct contrast between Nimrod, who can settle all disputes among the Noahites with his two hands, and Human, who had a withered arm and could not control the dispute between his sons. Both men faced the perennial problem of disputes that threaten to fracture the community. But whereas the story of Human and Cain is a tragedy resulting from weak leadership, the story of Nimrod and Isaac is a tragedy resulting from leadership that grows too strong.
Even Nimrod, a philosopher-king and prophet, could not achieve the suppression of disputes and the union of the Noahites without force and killing. When his ability to exercise force weakens in his old age, he finds that he is trapped in his position, because the families of his victims are waiting for revenge. He understands that they will devour him if he ever lets go of the reins of power, but his great hands are weakening. With a flash of genius, Nimrod solves his problem by developing the first state religion. He diverts the people from their anger at him by a system of public sacrifices and monumental building. This state religion gives his regime a new support, other than his own ability to apply military force, and so he is able to maintain his position long enough to die in power and get a glorious state funeral.
The generations that follow Nimrod repeat his story: a king is needed to suppress disputes, but subsequent resentment against the king can be deflected only by awesome monumental building and sacrifice. The only difference in each generation is that, to earn the people's awe, each king needs to build a tower that is greater than the previous king's. It is not clear whether each generation is building directly on top of Nimrod's tower, or whether a new tower is built from the ground up for each king, like the pyramids of Egypt's Old Kingdom. In any case, the engineers of each generation are building on the technology developed by their predecessors, until they can accomplish virtual miracles of construction.
The royal engineers face constraints that are social and economic, as well as the constraints of the physical materials that they use. Eventually, the entire society itself must be redesigned to serve the needs of the construction project. To keep people working on the tower, regimentation and oppression must reach into every village. Taking time off from construction work, even to care for newborn babies, becomes a crime punishable by death. Thus, the Jashar manuscript brings the binding of Isaac into the story of the Tower of Babel.
6. The Noahites' ultimate sin is their reversal God's act of Creation, when they break humans back into red earth, in sacrifice to their tower. (The red earth may be interpreted as a reference to Adam in Genesis; in Hebrew, adom means red, and adamah means earth.) So Sarah calls God out of the tower, before the execution of her son Isaac, and the unity of the Noahites is destroyed.
The Tower of Babel is a story that speaks directly to us today, as national and ethnic divisions generate a seemingly endless series of international crises and wars. We may ask why the world must be so divided. Why should it be so easy for people to see themselves as divided into rival groups ("us" against "them"), and why should it be so hard for people to see a common heritage and unity of all humanity? If a tendency to schisms and group rivalries is a fundamental law of human history, then the story of the tower is an attempt to find some reason for this social law.
God's speech at the tower gives a simple answer. Just as individuals need to rely on other individuals for guidance, so nations need other nations. A universal kingdom of all humanity is compared to Cain wandering alone, with no one else to guide him away from madness and hallucination. Just as Cain needed Jashar to set him straight (recall that jashar in Hebrew means straight), so each nation needs other nations, and each religious group needs other religious groups, to set each other straight. God has commanded a system of competition between groups so that humanity can achieve its true destiny. Thus, we begin to see social laws as given by God along with physical laws.
God's destruction of the Noahite kingdom is a simple game-theoretic change of equilibrium. If everyone expects everyone else to obey the king's orders, then it is fatal for any one person to disobey. However, if everyone expects everyone else to ignore the king's orders, then no one person has any incentive to pay any attention to the king's orders. Either set of expectations can be a stable equilibrium. Thus, when God's words shift the expectations from one equilibrium to the other, the king's universal authority simply vanishes, and the new world order of international rivalries and wars can begin to evolve.
The phrase "with its own language for laws and prayers" suggests that the divisions may be both political and religious. The word "language" here could be interpreted in the sense of "wording." That is, we may be divided simply by our use of different words to describe similar codes of behavior and religious principles.
The abrupt introduction of Abram leaves us wondering which of his Biblical relationships should be assumed in this story. In Genesis, Abram is both father and executioner to Isaac. We can only guess whether he had either or both these roles here. We should notice however, that the name Abram in Hebrew has the same derivation as the word patriarch in its Latin origins; both mean high father. So on the day when every family became a separate nation, each with its own patriarch, any father could have been called "Abram." However, this particular patriarch has an ability to challenge and question God that is so like the Biblical Abraham on the road to Sodom that we can recognize them as the same person.
There are two other Biblical characters who are present although unnamed in the story: Isaac's new-born twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Notice that, if Isaac was sacrificed at the tower and Abram was not his father, then these children would have a special status. Because they were not fathers when the tower fell, they would not have been ordained as patriarchs. On the other hand, with no living male ancestor, they would also not be members of any other patriarch's nation. Yet as children of the man whose sacrifice led to the great revolution, and as grandchildren of the woman whose courage made the revolution possible, they should have a claim to special treatment. Thus, the story puts Jacob and his twin in a position to found tribes whose claim to nationhood might be disputed, but whose special status in God's plan cannot.
Abram fears the terrors and tragedies of a world order that is based on unrestrained international rivalry and warfare, and so he asks God whether conflict must be so wasteful of human values and potential. God answers Abram's concerns by commanding that we must not fight or destroy other nations until we have learned about them. This commandment is linked to the earlier commandment, to pass cultural traditions on to our children. Thus, while the children are only commanded to learn their nation's culture from their elders, the elders are commanded both to teach their national culture to their children and to study the cultural traditions of foreign nations, especially those nations with which they are in conflict.
If attentive and sympathetic listening is an essential manifestation of love, then the new commandment here can be compared closely to the Christian commandment to love your enemy. Notice that the loving act commanded here does not require giving material aid and comfort to a dangerous enemy. We are required instead to listen our enemies and to learn from them, lest their accomplishments be lost and their story forgotten if we vanquish them.
The crucial words "then you may find peace" lead us back to the primeval story of the jinn, who also found peace after God spoke for the second time. So we may now guess that God's second speech, which taught the jinn how to flow together and yet remain distinct from each other, might have been similar to what God has told Abram here. But God's words to Abram are about relationships among nations. Thus we are led to a new interpretation of the primeval story, in which the jinn-patterns may correspond to whole nations in our world, rather than just to individual human beings (each of whom must die and give his or her place).
Abram questions how a nation can be meaningfully defined and distinguished from other nations, given that sexual reproduction will allow our genetic lines to entwine across any social boundary that we can imagine. For this perception of the common heritage and posterity of all humanity, Abram is blessed with a new name, but it is a name that implicitly reaffirms the existence of divisions between nations. The unspoken answer to Abram's question is evidently that national identities are cultural, not genetic, and so the patriarchs are the founding fathers of separate cultural traditions. Each national or religious group can retain a distinct cultural tradition, even though its individual members may have ancestors and cousins in many other nations, because each nation has its own educational system in which the children learn the nation's traditions, as God has commanded.
On the other hand, as Abram has recognized, national cultures can also be mixed together, through the movement of people across national and religious boundaries, through intermarriage, and through the study of foreign traditions, which God has also commanded. Thus, human nations can flow together and yet remain distinct from each other, like the jinn. As Abram comes to understand this pluralist vision of humanity, divided into competitive groups which develop their own separate stories, which will mix and entwine forever, then he truly becomes our Abraham or Ibrahim, the father of many nations.
TRANSLATOR'S APOLOGY (a postscript): When I finished my book on game theory in 1991, I had some thoughts of writing a monograph about the philosophical foundations of social theory. Then I read Harold Bloom's "Book of J," an homage to the J-strand in the Bible. ("J" is an early draft of the books of Genesis and Exodus, which can be extracted from the later priestly additions on the basis of its linguistic style.) Bloom's thesis is that this J-strand was intended by its author, not as theology nor as history, but as literature. That is, it was written just to be a good story, which might tell us something fundamental about the universe or might simply entertain us. Bloom compares J to Shakespeare's "King Lear," which is not diminished by being neither history nor theology.
After reading Bloom, I became fascinated by the power of simple stories to transform our view of society. The best works of economic theory are also such stories, but written in a new and specialized vocabulary. I began to wonder whether the creative process by which we write modern social science might in some ways be similar to the way that the ancient prophets produced their scriptures.
Then, I came across the Biblical references to Jashar, another book of ancient Israel. Many apocryphal and pseudepigraphic texts are studied today, but it was Jashar that captured my imagination. So I began to work on producing a new English version of the Jashar Apocryphon, a task that I continued intermittently over several years. Having undertaken this project for my own pleasure, I had no reservations about retelling this story in my own words, recasting it as a myth for our time.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that the Jashar Apocryphon says in five pages more than I could hope to say in a long monograph on the philosophical foundations of social theory; and thus the world was spared another tedious academic book. I noticed that others did not generally share my appreciation of this text, however, and so I wrote my commentary to explain what I saw in it.
I have found that many people react to a creation story with some hostility. Their logic seems to be that new creation stories start new religions, and so creation stories are ultimately to blame for the Thirty Years War, the Spanish Inquisition, etc. Having worked so intimately with a creation story, I feel that this perception is a bit off the mark. New religions (for better or for worse) are started not by new creation stories but by new prayer books. I personally have no interest in writing or translating any prayer books.