“The Perspective from Mt. Sinai: The Book of Jubilees and Exodus” by Betsy Halpern-Amaru

BetsyBetsy Halpern-Amaru. The Perspective from Mt. Sinai: The Book of Jubilees and Exodus. Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplement 21. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015, 192 pp., 80,00 €. 

*I like to express my gratitude to Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht for providing me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Perspective from Mt. Sinai by Betsy Halpern-Amaru explores “the treatments of Exodus narrative and law in Jubilees” from a literary perspective, with special regard for the “intersection of structure and context” (20). In other words, Halpern-Amaru examines how Jubilees reworks the Exodus narrative, including themes, motifs, and structures. While her goal is not to challenge a redaction approach, at times she interacts with critical scholarship in order to provide an alternative a redaction approach.

She begins by examining how Jubilees re-orients accounts in regard to transition and era markers. In particular she highlights how the author disconnects Joseph from the spiritual authority in Genesis, symbolized freedom to enslavement through Amram rather than Joseph, and the birth of Moses by the appearance of Amram rather than following three stages of oppressive enslavement. Chapter Three examines how the author of Jubilees utilizes, omits, or adjusts elements of Exodus in order to draw out the literary reworking of Moses’ life.

Chapter Four focuses on how Jubilees treats the plague and Exodus in terms of redemption. Redemption, as she demonstrates, is reworked from Exodus by demonstrating God’s care and how heavenly forces served as instruments to God. Chapter Five considers how Jubilees present Pesach/Massot through a patriarchal prototype in the Akedah account and in the exodus account. Chapter Six analyzes how Jubilees uses Exodus 12-13 to develop the pesach statute in association with Moses at Mount Sinai. Chapter Seven explores treatment of Sabbath in Jubilees from three perspectives: (1) expansion of the institution of Sabbath during creation, (2) expansion of the command to keep Sabbath, and (3) expansion of the command against work on Sabbath in the Decalogue. Chapter Eight illustrates how Jubilees‘ angel narration “displays a medley of three types of closure” (149): thematic, present time, and circular closure.

While Halpern-Amaru’s work has a few good comments on how Jubilees reworks Exodus, it lacks organization, structure, and well-defined methodology which otherwise would have made the book digestible.  As she bounces between Jubilees, Exodus, and other supporting texts, it becomes unclear to which texts she is referring. As a result, her arguments are not clear and lack strength. Much of this is in part due to the lack of clear structure and methodology. At the outset of the book, her stated purpose, a study on ” the treatments of Exodus narrative and law in Jubilees” from a literary perspective, is so broad that is gives the reader no mental stage-preparation for the ensuing analyses.

For the interpretation of Jubilees and reception of Exodus, this book is valuable. For it draws out many nuanced aspects how the former reworks the latter. Opacity of her arguments, though, make it incredibly difficult to engage with. As a research resource for studies of Second Temple Judaism, this book is worth referencing. As a standalone books, beneficial for general reading, The Perspective from Mt. Sinai would do better on the library shelf rather than your own shelf.

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