Recently we covered Joshua 10 in class and the question came up regarding the book of Jasher. I am reposting this article, which was written by Edward Brandt, back in 1981 and published in the Ensign.
What is the Book of Jasher?
I recently read a text called The Book of Jasher, which is claimed to be the book of missing scripture referred to in the Bible. Can you tell me if it is authentic?
Edward J. Brandt, college curriculum writer, Church Educational System.
In Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel1:18 [Josh. 10:13; 2 Sam. 1:18] the ancient writers indicate that another account, perhaps more complete, of two events they had mentioned—Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still, and David’s instruction that the children of Judah should be taught the use of the bow—is to be found in a record called the “book of Jasher.” From very early times this lost book has been the object of much interest and speculation, and many have sought to find the missing work.
Through the years a number of works bearing this same title have appeared, and each has aroused the speculation that perhaps the missing biblical work had been located. These are all spurious, however, since the real Book of Jasher is not known to have been found. Of the dozen or such books of Jasher, one has been widely circulated and utilized by members of the Church. Following is a brief genealogy of this particular work.
In Hebrew the “book of Jasher” is called Sefer Hayashar, which means the “book of the upright one” or “the book of the righteous”; and in the vast body of Jewish literature are found a number of writings with that title. One of the oldest of these, written in Hebrew, was first published in Venice in 1625. (There is no known manuscript of this 1625 work in existence.) I know of thirty-two Hebrew editions of this same work that have been published since then, and I have personally examined copies of most of them. This particular book of Jasher has also been published in languages other than Hebrew (e.g., Yiddish, or Judaio German, 1674; Latin, 1732; English, 1840; French, 1858; and a second English translation, 1876).
The first English edition of this book of Jasher was published (as noted above) in 1840 in New York by Mordecai Manuel Noah, a prominent Jewish writer and newspaper editor-publisher of that day. Mr. Noah secured the English translation of this work from an individual who had completed the work but was reluctant to publish it. There was a great stir in England at the time caused by an earlier fictitious book of Jasher that had been published in 1751 in London and again in Bristol in 1829. In 1833, booklets were published to expose the fraudulent claims of the fictitious work, which has since been characterized as Pseudo-Jasher. Because of this unfavorable climate, the translator, choosing to remain anonymous, sold his manuscript to Mr. Noah.
In 1887, the Joseph Hyrum Parry Printing Company of Salt Lake City secured the rights to the New York 1840 edition and republished the work. In 1964 the work was reissued as a photo reprint of the 1887 edition and has experienced a number of printings to date.
However, this particular work, called The Book of Jasher, is characterized by Jewish scholars as midrashic agadah or haggada—an exegetical type of legendary or historical narrative and is generally thought to have been written during the thirteenth century A.D. in Spain. Most of the names of characters in the stories other than the biblical names are of Arabic, Spanish, or Italian origin. Written in a scriptural paraphrase style typical of the Jewish liturgical writing of the late middle ages, the published Hebrew editions (except for the1923) follow the general pattern of the rabbinical parashot (the 54 sections of the Torah read weekly in the synagogue). This suggests that this particular work is the product of later rabbinical writers. The system of chapters and verses contained in the 1840/1887 Book of Jasher was provided by the translator.
Because of its content and its unknown authorship, this Book of Jasher is not highly regarded by Jewish authorities. It very roughly parallels the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, with many deletions and many more elaborations, enrichments, and amplifications of scripture stories that are also found in other older Jewish writings of this kind(e.g., Pirke R. Eliezer; Yosippon, or the Pseudo Josephus; Midrash Wayyissau; etc.). One of the most popular stories quoted from this Jewish Book of Jasher, for example, is the account of Abraham’s dealing with his father’s wooden idols. It is a very entertaining story, but in fact it does not contribute any more to our doctrine than the principle taught in Isaiah 44:9–20 [Isa. 44:9–20].
Perhaps the most conspicuous weakness of this particular work is that although it does contain a parallel account of Joshua 10:13 [Josh 10:13] (Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still), the promised account mentioned in 2 Samuel 1:18 [2 Sam.1:18] (David’s instruction that the inhabitants of Judah should be taught the use of the bow) is not included. Furthermore, it contains numerous contradictions to the scriptural accounts found in the standard works of the Church.
I believe there is ample evidence to show that the popular 1840/1877 Book of Jasher is not the lost scriptural book mentioned in the Old Testament. Consequently, I think one would not want to use it as a substitute for or even an authoritative supplement to the scriptures. The standard works of the Church still stand as the only authorized scripture today. At best, this nonscriptural claimant for the book of Jasher might be considered an apocryphal type of writing to which the principle revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 91 could be applied:
“There are many things contained therein that are true… [after all, it does contain much material that compares practically verbatim with the Bible];
“There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. …
“Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth.” (D&C 91:1–4.)
I personally think that the spirit of discernment manifests few “golden threads” of truth hidden in the nonscriptural material in this particular work. (See: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/06/i-have-a-question?lang=eng Accessed 1/6/2016)