Academic Year 2009-2010
James L. Kugel received his B.A. from Yale University and was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University from 1972 through 1976. He received his Ph.D. degree in 1977 from the City University of New York (CUNY). From 1982-2003 he was Starr Professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University. He is currently Director of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel and chairman of the Bible department there.
His primary academic interests include the Hebrew Bible, the history of ancient biblical interpretation, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is a member of the editorial boards of several publications, and is Editor-in-Chief of Jewish Studies: an Internet Journal. He is author of numerous books including The Bible As It Was (Harvard University Press, 1997), The Ladder of Jacob (Princeton University Press, 2006), and How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (Free Press, 2007). Among the prizes his writings have won are the Grawemeyer Award for the best book on religion (2000) and the National Jewish Book Award for the best book of 2007.
The Sources of Torah in the Book of Jubilees
The book of Jubilees was composed in Hebrew sometime close to the beginning of the second century BCE. Though fragments of the Hebrew original have turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls, this book is known in its entirety only thanks to an ancient translation of it into Ethiopic (Ge’ez). A substantial portion of the text also survives in an old Latin translation discovered in the nineteenth century.
Jubilees takes the form of an interpretive retelling of the book of Genesis. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its attempt to connect various laws of the Pentateuch with events described in the book of Genesis, before Israel was given the great corpus of divine law at Mount Sinai. These legal passages in Jubilees are particularly interesting in what they show about the relationship between narrative and law, and in the ways that they differ from narrative-based laws in the Pentateuch itself.
In addition, I intend to explore the relationship between Jubilees and later, specifically rabbinic, traditions. It is clear that these two have a great many common elements, particularly in the area of biblical exegesis. At the same time, the halakhic orientation of Jubilees remains something of a mystery: it cannot be fully identified at present with any other known system. This is evident in, among other matters, the calendrical system it advocates, which matches no other known system, although Jubilees’ is close to one of the systems documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls.