Jim said he had finished his commentary on Jubilees today, having made it to chapter 50, verse 13. This was an occasion for celebration! This particular project has been ongoing since early 2010. Jubilees has been a part of his life since he began his dissertation in 1974--40 years!
We went out to eat to celebrate. I said it had to be Jim's choice so it was a Main Street restaurant--Cheddars. It was amazingly busy on a Monday night--probably for good reason. The prices are good and the food is just fine!
While waiting for our food, I thought it was appropriate to quiz Jim on his long journey with Jubilees and I took notes. This occasion was worth a blog posting!
Jubilees is a retelling of the Genesis story and part of the Exodus story. The author omits some things and elaborates on others. I have read Jim's translation recently and it is interesting to read it next to Genesis and make the comparisons and wonder why the author made the choices he made.
When Jubilees was first studied and published in modern times, there were only a few Ethiopic manuscripts. Now Jim is working with 15 Ethiopic manuscripts, one Latin manuscript, and 14 Hebrew manuscripts from Qumran along with bits of citations in Syriac and Greek. It gets complicated! He compared readings in the textual notes and he wrote a commentary on his translation comparing it to Biblical material The entire project is not finished. A graduate of Notre Dame's program, Brandon Bruning, is helping Jim with formatting the textual notes and Jim is grateful for his careful work.
There were ups and downs in the process. The notes to chapter seven are in large manuscript print because Jim was working on that chapter during the awful summer of his failed retinal detachment surgeries. Sarah Schreiber, a graduate assistant, helped him through that time. This past year Jim had a year of leave so progress was much faster. The last few weeks with another eye problem have slowed the work again.
Other scholars gave Jim their work over the years when they lost interest or felt they could not complete the work. In 1981, two Dutch scholars gave him printouts of the Ethiopic manuscripts they had found from various European libraries and monasteries. In 1990, Jim went to Paris and met a Polish scholar there, Josip Milik, who gave him his detailed notes. That was an adventure in itself, meeting Milik who never wrote anyone but had all of Jim's letters to him on his desk, and meeting Milik's wife who blocked the door as Jim left making sure that Jim would credit her husband.
At times, Jim would wonder who would finish the project if he were unable to do so. He might have had to pass on the work to others as others did to him. But he sees the end of it now and is even beginning to wonder what will be his next major project. Of course, if more mamuscripts are found again, an update would be needed. This is not impossible. Modern photographic techniques may make it possible to give a better look at old manuscripts, in particular one in Latin now in Milan. Another former student, Todd Hanneken, is working on this possiblility.
The book has been contracted with Fortress Press for years. It will be a reference work--and not a best seller! But the press must feel they will sell enough to make it worth their printing. We have talked about the value of publishing on the web instead with easy access and easy updates. But that is not to be this time.
Jim may retire from teaching at some point although he has no plans and is reluctant to discuss any. But as long as he can see and think clearly, he can do his research. So in that sense, he can hope never to retire completely.
Jubilees has been a part of my life too for forty years but I am sorry that I was not as interested in it as I could have been. That has been an advantage of my own retirement--to have time and energy to try to understand better what Jim has been doing all those hours and days and months and years pouring over ancient manuscripts.