“The ‘book of Jashar’ is mentioned in the Old Testament. Can you explain what this book was?”

The “book of Jashar” (ASV) is referenced twice in the literature of the Old Testament — once in Joshua 10:13 and also in 2 Samuel 1:18. We will consider each of these passages and their relationship to this ancient document.

Joshua 10:13

After Joshua, had conquered the cities of Jericho and Ai, the community of Gibeon made an alliance with Israel out of fear. When Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, learned of the alliance, he gathered together a confederation of rulers who attacked Gibeon.

The men of Gibeon sent for Joshua, pleading for his help against these hostiles. The Israelite commander immediately engaged the enemy at Beth-horon about 12 miles northwest of Jerusalem. One of the greatest battles of history then ensued.

Jehovah joined forces with the Hebrews, raining great hailstones from the sky, and the heathen forces were slain mightily. In order to extend the time of the mopping up effort, Joshua petitioned the Lord, saying,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon;
and moon, in the Valley of Ajalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies” (Josh. 10:12b-13a).

Subsequently, the writer (most likely Joshua himself) asked, “Is not this written in the book of Jashar?”

2 Samuel 1:18

The second reference to the book of Jashar is found in David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan following their deaths (1 Sam. 31). King Saul had made himself an enemy of the shepherd lad, but Saul’s son, Jonathan, became David’s closest friend.

The poignant ode is recorded in 2 Samuel 1:19-27, but the author of 2 Samuel cites the book of Jashar as the earlier source from which the poem was taken.

The Book of Jashar

The expression, “book of Jashar,” translates two Hebrew words that signify “book of the upright” or “book of the righteous one.”

Apparently it was an ancient Hebrew hymnbook containing nationalistic songs. The Syriac translation of the text in Joshua calls it the “book of praises,” or “book of hymns.”

The references in the books of Joshua and 2 Samuel suggest that this collection of songs were compositions designed to celebrate great battles and notable characters in Israel’s illustrative history as the nation prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

A text in 2 Samuel may suggest that the book was used as a training text for Israel’s military forces. The passage reads:

“and he bade them teach the children of Judah the song of the bow: behold it is written in the book of Jashar” (2 Sam. 1:18 ASV).

One scholar, R. A. Mitchell, of the Institute of Mediterranean Studies (Berkeley, California), has paraphrased the text as follows:

“He instructed them to train the Judeans in bowmanship, the training-poem for which is written in the book of Jashar” (884).

The book of Jashar is no longer extant.

A copy, circulating under that name since 1751, has been determined to be a forgery.