A Comprehensive Investigation On The Obscure Sefer HaYashar – The Biblical Book That Was Lost

The Sefer HaYashar, an enigmatic ancient text, remains a profound mystery that captivates scholars and historians alike.

Its origins and authorship are enshrouded in the mists of time, sparking intrigue and speculation that have persisted, especially since the rediscovery and subsequent 1625 printing of the text in Venice. This edition, characterized by its unadorned Biblical prose, spans from the dawn of creation to the era of the Judges, resonating with themes found in other historical texts.

Rarely does the Tanach make mention of external literature, yet the Sefer HaYashar stands as an exception. A compelling instance is found in the book of Joshua (Yehoshua 10:13), where it is cited during the miraculous event of the sun and moon standing still: “The sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged its enemies; is this not written in the Sefer HaYashar?”

This reference has ignited fervent discussion among scholars about the nature of the Sefer HaYashar. Was it an authentic document that detailed events also chronicled in the Tanach? Views diverge. The Targum interprets Sefer HaYashar as Sifra De’oraisa (the Torah), suggesting the verse might simply allude to the Torah itself.

Rashi, on the other hand, sees it as pointing to a passage in Bereishit (Genesis 48:19), which prophesies Joshua’s renown for stopping the sun. Meanwhile, the Ralbag posits that the Sefer HaYashar was a distinct historical record, albeit one that was lost during the Babylonian exile.

The debate extends to another reference in II Samuel (1:18), where David’s command to teach archery is linked to the Sefer HaYashar. Once again, the Targum identifies the text with Sifra De’oraita, whereas Rashi connects it to a prophetic verse within the book of Genesis.

These discussions highlight the Sefer HaYashar as a text of significant intrigue and importance, bridging the divine and the historical, and its references within the Tanach.

Sefer HaYashar was given to Yehoshua Bin Nun

The Sefer Milchamot Hashem, noted in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar 21:14), ignites a discussion reminiscent of the debates surrounding the Sefer HaYashar.

Yonathan Ben Uziel interprets it as Sefer Oraita, suggesting a canonical status, while Ramban posits it as a sage-written historical compendium of wars (d’rabanan).

This intrigue around ancient texts paralleling the Tanach has captivated many, including the curious episode in the 19th century when an American publisher commented on the fervor surrounding such elusive works. This fascination even led to notable forgeries, such as the notorious “translation” by Illivc, first appearing in England in 1750. Allegedly sourced from a Hebrew manuscript discovered in Persia, this work was quickly dismissed as a spurious concoction.

The 17th-century unveiling of a Sefer HaYashar in Venice stirred considerable debate. The Chida, in his Shem Hagedolim, depicted it as a captivating anthology of narratives, particularly emphasizing tribal confrontations with the Canaanites. Intriguingly, its preface recounts the discovery of an aged man hidden within a wall amid the destruction (Churban), safeguarding numerous precious texts, including this one.

Despite such enthralling accounts, skepticism exists.

The Yalkut and Rabeinu Bechaye, referencing it in early and medieval Jewish literature without doubt, contrast with Ramban’s reservations, hinting at the Sefer Milchamos Bnei Yaakov. Notably, Rabeinu Bechaye, acknowledged by the Chida as a proponent of Sefer HaYashar, interprets Bereishit (48:19) in a way that seems to align with the skeptical view of its ancient provenance, suggesting an acknowledgment of its later creation rather than Biblical antiquity.

Thus, while some advocate for the Sefer HaYashar’s authenticity, arguing for its value as genuine Midrashic literature, others cast doubt on its historical credibility, reflecting makhloket of belief and skepticism within the scholarly community.

The narrative of the Sefer HaYashar’s journey to the 1625 Venice edition is laced with captivating tales of its ancient origins and survival. One such story recounts the aftermath of Jerusalem’s second destruction, where a Roman officer named Sidrus discovers an elderly scholar hidden in a secret chamber filled with sacred texts, amidst the chaos wrought by Titus.

Moved by the old man’s foresight and dedication, Sidrus transports him and his treasures to Seville, marking the beginning of the manuscript’s remarkable voyage through history, ultimately leading to its revered publication in Naples, a testament to the enduring quest for knowledge and the preservation of heritage across tumultuous epochs.

DALL·E 2024 02 18 11.15.28 A group of ancient Jewish warriors each adorned in gleaming golden armor and helmets march toward a looming battle. These warriors are depicted in a

Yet another captivating origin narrative of the Sefer HaYashar is woven through King Talmai’s endeavor to amass global knowledge, including the Jewish Torah. Deeming the request a desecration, the Jews strategically send the Sefer HaYashar in its place. Upon realizing the switch, Talmai demands the authentic Torah translation, leading to the creation of the Septuagint. This tale posits that the Sefer HaYashar remained in Egypt before its eventual journey to Naples.

Further deepening the enigma is a third preface by the printer, Yoseph ben Shmuel, who unveils yet another lineage for the Sefer HaYashar. He recounts how his father came into possession of the last copy in Fez, Morocco, meticulously transcribed by Yaakov ben Atyah from an ancient manuscript that was nearly beyond decipherment.

Intriguingly, the publishers of the Sefer HaYashar do not claim it to be the identical text referenced in the Tanach. Rav Yehuda Aryeh of Modena, living between 1571 and 1648, notes the controversy surrounding its publication in Venice, which proceeded despite the opposition of local rabbis, including himself. Efforts were made to dissociate this publication from the Sefer HaYashar alluded to in the Torah, yet a belief persisted among some that it was a post-Destruction discovery.

Rav Ezra Batzri, in his introduction to a 1987 reprint, underscores the Sefer HaYashar’s enduring appeal, noting its frequent reprints, translations, and the esteem in which it is held by notable figures, likening it to the midrashim of Chazal. This acknowledgment, however, is juxtaposed with the printer’s preface that suggests a 16th-century printing, further complicating the text’s already enigmatic history.

This mosaic of origin stories, claims, and scholarly debates enriches the legacy of the Sefer HaYashar, portraying it as a work that has navigated the complexities of history, cultural shifts, and religious interpretations. Its journey from ancient times, through various cultures and controversies, to modern recognition, illustrates the dynamic interplay between tradition, scholarship, and the quest for historical authenticity.

The English Version of the HaYashar

The journey of the Sefer HaYashar to the English-speaking world was notably advanced by Moses Samuel, a Jewish resident of Liverpool, England. Samuel, firmly believing in the text’s legitimacy as the very Sefer HaYashar mentioned in the Tanach, undertook its translation with great enthusiasm. In 1839, he sold his English rendition to Mordechai Manuel Noah, an eminent American Jew of the 19th century, celebrated for his visionary yet unrealized plan to establish a Jewish republic on an island in the Niagara River.

However, the collaboration between Samuel, the dedicated translator, and Noah, the ambitious publisher, was marred by disputes. Samuel, due to concerns over the text’s authenticity and perhaps differences in vision, opted to dissociate his name from the final publication. Nonetheless, Noah’s edition emerged with a bold declaration, branding the work as “The Book of Yashar, referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel.”

This proclamation marked it as the inaugural printed version of the Sefer HaYashar to claim such a direct linkage to the biblical references. Despite this audacious assertion, Noah’s introduction presents a more tempered stance, recognizing the text’s venerable age and intrigue without fully committing to its ancient pedigree.

The enduring mystery of the true Biblical Sefer HaYashar, should it indeed have historical roots, tantalizes scholars and believers alike. The prospect of its discovery looms as a tantalizing enigma, promising to shed light on untold historical and religious dimensions. Such a find would not only be a monumental contribution to our understanding of the past but also a profound testament to the enduring quest for knowledge and truth across generations.

Get "The "Illustrated Book of Kabbalah" for FREE!

Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

You may also like:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »

Get Real Torah in your mailbox

Subscribe to the Newsletter!

Receive powerful authentic Kabbalistic ideas in your mailbox!

We won’t spam your e-mail or sell your information with any party.