Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ethiopic Manuscript of Jannes and Jambres (and 2 Timothy 3.8)

Over at PaleoJudaica, Jim Davila notes the recent discovery of an Ethiopic text of Jannes and Jambres (a work about the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses in Exodus 7, known only incompletely, which may be categorised, following the lead of Origen, as among the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha - an introduction and ET of the fragmentary Greek witnesses is found in Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, 427-442). I re-quote here from the source of the information, the discoverer of the manuscript, Ted Erho:
The fragment consists of a bifolium of non-consecutive leaves datable on palaeographic grounds to the beginning of the 14th century, or perhaps slightly earlier. Although in relatively good condition and generally legible, the top inside corner is damaged, resulting in the loss of a few letters from the first two lines of each affected column; mold or some sort of related bacterial contamination on the recto of the initial leaf have additionally caused several characters and one full word to become completely obscured.

Approximately 80% of the text of Jannes & Jambres preserved in this Ethiopic witness is previously unattested. In two places, however, parallels exist with the Greek evidence. The first of these occurs at the very beginning of the fragment and overlaps with both Vienna Frag A and P. Chester Beatty XVI Frame 4↓, while the second, which commences about two-fifths of the way through f. 1v and continues almost until the end of the leaf, aligns with Vienna Frag B and P. Chester Beatty XVI Frame 3→. No precise textual correspondences with the extant Greek material exist for any portion of the second Ethiopic leaf. Its content, however, consists primarily of laments for various elites who have died (probably the nobles of Egypt), which each section introduced by the question “Where is (name)?”, traces of which may be attested in the very fragmentary later leaves of P. Chester Beatty XVI. In any case, the substantial quantity of unique material in the Ethiopic fragment suggests that the Greek evidence probably represents a smaller portion of the full text of the apocryphon than has been supposed to date.
  This is interesting of course because Jannes and Jambres are mentioned in 2 Timothy 3.8f: “As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;  9 but they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.” This is interesting on at least three grounds: a) hermeneutical; b) canonical and c) textual.

  • a) In terms of the hermeneutical assumptions exhibited here, it seems to be a very clear example of a NT author reading (and referring) to an OT text not (only?) in its original form (where the magicians of Egypt are not named), but in the form in which it was understood in popular Jewish Bible reading (the names appear at Qumran in CD 5.18f; Tg Ps-Jon on Exod 1.15 & 7.11f; and become very widespread in magical circles, even appearing in Pliny, Nat. Hist 30.2.11) [Other clear examples to consider would include Acts 7.22; 1 Cor 10.4; Jude 9, 14f] It will be interesting to see whether the new discovery sheds any light on Paul’s appeal to these men in 2 Timothy 3.
  • b) According to Origen (who discusses the reference to these names in 2 Tim 3.8f in a little excursus to his Commentary on Matthew at 27.9) some people had rejected 2 Timothy on the grounds that it contained text from some secret book. Origen seems to broadly agree with the attribution of the source of the material to a secret book, but not with the consequential rejection of the epistle (partly at least on the grounds that Paul does something similar in 1 Corinthians). While it seems to me that it is not necessary to think of a written source for the names (as opposed to popular traditions), I think Origen’s canonical thinking is along the right lines here. [Jude also was rejected by some on the basis of its parallels with non-canonical texts.]
  • c) In terms of the textual interest, we could note that NA28 notes a variant reading “Mambres” for Jambres. “Mambres” is read by F G it vg(cl.ww) and Cyprian. This reflects the spelling within Latin and rabbinic sources for the Jannes and Jambres tradition which also read “Mambres” (including Origen, since the latter portions of his commentary on Matthew survive only in Latin). So there may be some intersection there between apocyrphal traditions and the text of the NT.
  • d) Although it doesn’t, as far as I can tell, address this passage, there is an excellent and informative discussion of some similar issues in relation to expansionist readings of the New Testament text in Bruce M. Metzger, “Names for the Nameless in the New Testament: A Study in the Growth of Christian Tradition,” in Patrick Granfield & Josef A. Jungmann (eds.), Kyriakon: Festschrift Johannes Quasten, 2 vols. (Münster, Verlag Aschendorff, 1970) vol. 1: 79–99 (reprinted in his New Testament Studies: Philological, Versional, and Patristic (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 23-45 (and available here).


  1. “Jannes and his brother” make an appearance in the Damascus Document. Louis
    Ginzberg wrote a learned and significant observation on the name Jannes in CD 5:1.
    Briefly, he suggested that Jannes may indicate an attack on Alexander Jannaeus (who, I think, was the Qumran "Wicked Priest"). As Moses was opposed in the past, so (CD claims) the "Teacher of Righteousness" was opposed by Jannes/Jannaeus and his brother. Details and bibliography in "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene," pages 19-20 and 33-34:

  2. There is also a helpful discussion of the Tg s-J passages here: http://www.ericlevy.com/Revel/DeadSeaScrolls/Grabbe%20L%20-%20The%20Jannes-Jambrus%20Tradition.PDF

  3. An example of "name for the nameless" I just noticed is in Luke 16:19 where MSS and church fathers name the rich man as "Neues" (for "Nineveh"?), "Phineas," "Amonofis," etc. (See Metzger's Textual Commentary, 140f.)

  4. Btw, Lk 16:19 is a nice example of what appears to be a genetic agreement of a singular reading (P75) with a versional witness (sa).

  5. In the above-mentioned article I wrote one thing (p. 20) that I might modify now: "In D we have “Jannes and his brother.” That brother, his only
    surviving brother, was Absalom, but the name didn’t match the tradition, and he was the
    lesser character, so he was merely recorded as “his brother.” The three figures, Jannaeus,
    his brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene were contemporaries in history, and together
    also in the Qumran scrolls. "
    Now I would add the possibility that Jambres/Mambres was a *later* (than Damascus Document 4Q copies) filling in of a name for the forgotten Absalom.

  6. Where is the ethiopic recension going to be published?