The Book of Jubilees in Latin

Todd R. Hanneken, St. Mary’s University

This is the pre-publisher copy delivered to Brill. The official publication should be consulted for citation: Todd R. Hanneken. “The Book of Jubilees in Latin.” In The Textual History of the Bible. Armin Lange, General Editor; Matthias Henze, Editor of Volume 2, DeuteroCanonical Writings. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

Nature and Significance

The Jubilees Palimpsest preserves one third of the book of Jubilees in a Latin translation copied in the fifth century. Although this one copy in Latin is plagued by lost folios, illegible text, and scribal error, its date alone establishes its significance for text criticism of Jubilees. The fragments found at Qumran preserve only small fragments of the Hebrew text, and the oldest copies from the Ethiopic tradition date to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Ethiopic tradition provides many variants for text-critical analysis, but the Latin copy is important as an external witness. Unlike excerpts that paraphrase Jubilees in Syriac, the Jubilees Palimpsest was once a complete copy.

The Manuscript Evidence

The manuscript is preserved today at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The copy was produced in the fifth century on sixty-four bi-folios (256 pages) and bound into a common codex with sixteen or more pages of another work attributed to Moses, the Testament (or Assumption) of Moses. Around the eighth century this codex was unbound, erased, shuffled with folios of an Arian commentary on Luke, and overwritten with a copy of Eugippius’ anthology of Augustine. The volume appears in a 1461 catalog of the Bobbio library, but at some point was split in two. The second half at least was brought to the newly established Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan in 1606. Another quire was subsequently lost, leaving 144 pages, eighty of which preserve Jubilees. The fate of the first half, presumably containing the remaining folios of Jubilees, is not known. It may have burned in a fire in Turin in 1904, it may have been otherwise lost, or it may await proper identification at the Vatican or another library.

Although quire numbers leave us certain that the text was once complete, the manuscript as we have it is incomplete in two ways. First, 176 of the original 256 pages are missing entirely. The hope of recovering these pages lies in searching for manuscripts matching the physical description in other libraries, namely the Vatican Library, to which other portions of the Bobbio library were brought. It is possible that the under text, if cataloged at all, may have been listed as a “vulgar copy of Genesis” as once occurred with the now-known portion.[1] Second, much of the text is illegible due to erasure in the eighth century and partial application of chemicals in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Even less text is readable today than when Antonius Maria Ceriani prepared his edition published in 1861. The hope of recovering illegible text, both to check Ceriani’s readings and to go beyond them, lies in technological innovations. Spectral imaging technology is able to see colors and contrasts invisible to the human eye, and related technologies can detect texture where acidic ink, now missing, once corroded the parchment. The Jubilees Palimpsest Project is pursuing the application of these technologies.

[1] A. Peyron, Ciceronis orationum (Stuttgart: Cotae, 1824).

Modern Editions

The primary modern edition of Latin Jubilees is that of Ceriani, published in 1861. Some alternative readings and reconstructions were proposed by Hermann Rönsch in 1874 and Robert Henry Charles in 1895. Ceriani’s text is now in the public domain and available from Google Books. The Online Critical Pseudepigrapha also attempts to present Ceriani’s text but as of 2013 contains serious errors of omission and disregard for signifiers of uncertain and illegible letters. James C. VanderKam reproduces Ceriani’s text and adds an English translation in his masterful 1989 critical edition of Jubilees. The critical notes to the English translation of the Ethiopic frequently discuss alternate readings from the Latin.

History of Research

Ceriani was able to identify the palimpsest as a Latin translation of Jubilees because August Dillmann had recently (1850–1851) published his own translation of Ethiopic Jubilees. Prior to Ceriani, work was done in the eighteenth century by Doctor of the Ambrosiana College Gaetano Bugati, whose handwritten notes are still catalogued with the manuscript. Ceriani refers to Amadeus Peyron (1824), who dated the paleography to the fifth century but mistook Jubilees for a vulgar copy of Genesis, and Angelo Mai (1828), whom Ceriani blames for the application of damaging chemical treatments. Whereas Ceriani was content to offer a physical description and transcription, significant additional study was carried forward by Rönsch. Among his contributions were identifying additional quire numbers and reconstructing the number of folios now lost. Charles, who disparaged the quality of the Latin text, did more to discourage study of Latin Jubilees than to advance it. As the manuscript itself became more difficult to read, additional Ethiopic manuscripts became available, and the Qumran discoveries promised original-language texts, interest in the Latin text waned in the twentieth century. In 2001 VanderKam proposed the application of advanced imaging technology to the manuscript, and progress is finally being made in this endeavor. The Jubilees Palimpsest Project along with the Biblioteca Ambrosiana plans to make available a digital facsimile of the manuscript that is interactive, detailed, and enhanced beyond what is visible to the human eye.

Because Latin Jubilees is preserved in the same manuscript with the Testament (or Assumption) of Moses, an Arian commentary on Luke, and Eugippius’ anthology of Augustine, scholars interested in Latin Jubilees, particularly its codicology, should also consult works primarily concerned with the other texts, particularly Gryson, Les palimpsestes ariens latins (English translation available online through the Jubilees Palimpsest Project).

Original Form, Date, and Milieu

Rönsch argued from thin philological evidence that the translation from Greek to Latin was done by a Jewish native of Palestine working in Egypt in the fifth century. The known manuscript was originally produced in the fifth century in northern Italy. Jubilees was planned to fill exactly 256 pages (but see below on the possibility of running over this target). The pages measure 24 by 29 centimeters with margins of 2 to 4 centimeters. The text is written in large uncial script in two columns of 24 lines, with about 145 Latin words per page. The codex began with Jubilees and continued with the Testament (or Assumption) of Moses, which is known only from this manuscript. Besides attribution to Moses, the texts share measurements of time in jubilee periods and perhaps an original layer of composition around the time of the Maccabean revolt.

The fact that the manuscript was combined in the palimpsest stage with an Arian commentary on Luke suggests that the Mosaic collection may have been copied by Arian Christians. The texts are similar in scribal practice except that the commentary on Luke is written in one column. It has been suggested that Arian Christians used a broader swath of Jewish literature than their Nicene counterparts.[2] For example, an Arian commentary on Matthew refers to several texts not known to us, whereas Ambrose tends to make more dismissive comments about esoteric writings in his commentary on Luke, also written in Latin around the same time. If such speculation withstands further scrutiny a Christian view of canon and scripture alternative to the surviving view may be found in Arian compositions and copies of texts now classified as Pseudepigrapha.

[2] Rudolf Lorenz, Arius judaizans? Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1979.

Translation Character and Techniques

Ceriani referred to the Latin as reflecting a slavish translation of a Greek text which was itself a slavish translation of Hebrew. The text-critical value of Latin Jubilees lies in its age and independence from the Ethiopic tradition. Still, one should not call it the best single witness, as scribal error and interference occurred at a more rapid pace than the strikingly reliable Ethiopic tradition. For example, the Latin text reflects a superficial attempt to “correct” references to jubilee periods as consisting of fifty years, rather than forty-nine (Jub. 19:7). Ceriani attributed additional errors to “the sleepiness of the copyist.” No pattern of theological alteration has been detected.

Relevance for Exegesis

The Latin resembles the Ethiopic texts in most regards. The Latin variants can be judged superior witnesses when they concur with larger patterns in the book. For example, the Ethiopic of Jub. 32:18–19 implies that in the future Israel will imperialize the entire habitable earth, whereas the Latin text imagines Israel living securely in its own land. The Latin concurs with the larger themes in Jubilees of separation from Gentiles and condemnation of territorial expansion. Whereas the Ethiopic suggests Israel will rule wherever anyone has set foot, the Latin is closer to Deut 11:24 in claiming that the Israelite conquest will bring them victory wherever they set foot against anyone of the other nations in the land of Israel, “ubicumque fecerint uestigium pedum suorum aduersus filios hominum” (Jub. 32:18). In the same passage the claim in the Latin text that the Israelites will receive “uniuersas benedictiones quaecumque sunt sub caelo” (all the blessings under heaven) makes more sense than the Ethiopic, “all the land that is beneath the sky.” The Latin text also fits the eschatology of Jubilees better by suggesting that Jacob warned his sons about what would occur later in the land of Egypt, “indicauit quaecumque uentura essent eis in terra aegypti in nouissimis diebus,” compared to most Ethiopic manuscripts which indicate that Jacob foretold what would happen in the land of Egypt and in the final days (Jub. 45:14). Copious additional examples of instances when the Latin text is to be preferred can be found by skimming the critical notes in VanderKam’s 1989 edition (see also Charles, Book of Jubilees, xxix).

On literary grounds it has been suggested but not widely accepted that the original ending of Jubilees was shorter than the Ethiopic text by eight verses.[3] The last page of Latin Jubilees is not preserved, but the penultimate page is. If the Latin text contained the full text known from Ethiopic Jubilees the remaining text must have been squeezed onto the last page or carried onto a folio in addition to the planned quire structure of exactly 256 (28) pages. Alternatively, the Latin text may have been shorter. However, this would still not prove that the original text was shorter and expanded in the Ethiopic, rather than longer in the original and truncated or compressed in the Latin. One would have to imagine that the branches that lead to the Ethiopic and Latin translations separated very early in the transmission history.

[3] Ravid, “Sabbath Laws in Jubilees 50:6–13” Tarbiz 69 2000, 161–66 [Hebr.]; VanderKam, “The End of the Matter? Jubilees 50:6–13 and the Unity of the Book” in Heavenly Tablets edited by LiDonnici and Lieber, 267–84. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

The very existence of Jubilees in Europe in Latin bears on questions of the influence of Jubilees. Although interpretive motifs first attested in Jubilees appear widely in the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, the scholarly tendency is to see these as oral traditions that circulated independent of any particular text. However, some motifs are as detailed as the names of the daughters of Adam and Eve, and some excerpts are as verbatim as the introduction to the book of Asaph the Physician. The known Latin text proves that at least one complete copy circulated in Europe, and it stands to reason that other copies or excerpts may have been available for a time.

Relation to Other Translations

Ceriani, Charles, and VanderKam have demonstrated that both the Latin and Ethiopic translations depend on an intermediary Greek translation (see Jub. 16:10 where Ethiopic “mountains” and Latin “boundaries” reflect understandings of Greek ὀ/ὁρός, and 38:12 where timoris [fear] > δειλίας [fear] > δουλείας [servitude] supported by context and the Ethiopic). No Greek translation survives except for very brief fragments quoted or paraphrased in other works. There are lengthier excerpts paraphrased in Syriac, but it is not known whether the book as a whole ever existed in Syriac.


A.M. Ceriani, Monumenta Sacra et Profana (2 vols. Vol. 1; Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, 1861).

R.H. Charles, The Ethiopic Version of the Hebrew Book of Jubilees (Anecdota oxoniensia; Oxford: Clarendon, 1895).

R.H. Charles, The Book of Jubilees: or The Little Genesis (London: A. and C. Black, 1902).

R. Gryson, Les palimpsestes ariens latins de Bobbio: contribution à la methodologie de l'étude des palimpsestes (Armarium Codicum Insignium 2; Tourhout: Brepols, 1983).

A. Mai. Scriptorum veterum nova collectio e vaticania codicibus (Vol. 3; Rome: Typis Vaticanis, 1828).

A. Peyron, Ciceronis orationum (Stuttgart: Cottae, 1824).

H. Rönsch, Das Buch der Jubiläen oder die Kleine Genesis (Leipzig: Fues, 1874).

J.C. VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees: A Critical Text (2 vols. CSCO 510-511; Leuven: Peeters, 1989).

J.C. VanderKam, Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees (Harvard Semitic Monographs 14; Missoula: Scholars, 1977).


Jubilees; Palimpsest; Testament of Moses; Assumption of Moses; Arian; Ceriani; Rönsch; Charles; VanderKam


Quire – a stack of four bi-folios folded together to create eight folios or sixteen pages, typically bound with other quires into a codex

Bi-folio – a single piece of parchment folded in half to create two folios or four pages

Palimpsest – reuse of a manuscript by re-scraping the parchment to remove ink from one text before copying another text

List of Manuscripts

MS catalog number

S.P. 9/9-10 (formerly C 73 inf)


Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy


Fifth century



Format (e.g., codex)

Codex, palimpsested, currently unbound


One third of the book of Jubilees, starting in chapter 13 and ending in chapter 49.

Critical editions

Ceriani, Antonius Maria. Monumenta Sacra et Profana. 2 vols. Vol. 1. Milan: Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, 1861.

Rönsch, H. Das Buch der Jubiläen oder die Kleine Genesis. Leipzig: Fues’s Verlag, 1874.

Facsimile editions

Microfilm facsimiles and some digital photographs of the manuscript itself are held privately, but offer no benefit for textual recovery.

Electronic versions

Online Critical Pseudepigrapha (uncorrected as of 2013)