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Jannes and Jambres

First to Third Centuries A.D.

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Emil Schürer writes: "But among the books referring both to himself [Moses] and his time there is still another work to be mentioned, the theme of which was a single episode in the lawgiver's life, we mean the Book of Jannes and Jambres, the two Egyptian magicians who, according to Ex. vii. 8 sqq., wrought miracles before Pharaoh equal to those of Moses and Aaron, but were nevertheless beaten in the end. The names are not mentioned in the Old Testament, but they occur at a comparatively early date in the legends, and they were known not only in Jewish, but in Gentile and Christian circles as well, as the names of the two famous Egyptian magicians in question. . . . The book written about the magicians in question is mentioned by Origen, and in the Decretum Gelasii. As the name of Jannes was known even to so early a writer as Pliny, and as it is probable that those anonymous personages owed their name and individuality first of all to the apocryphal book itself, we may perhaps venture to refer the date of the composition of this work to pre-Christian times." (The Literature of the Jews in the Time of Jesus, p. 149)

A. Pietersma and R. T. Lutz write: "Possible evidence for Jannes and Jambres as a Christian book is as follows: (1) In fragment B of the Vienna papyrus (1. 8), the word chiazein occurs, the basic meaning of which is 'to form (the Greek letter) chi.' It need mean no more than 'to cross out' or 'to mark with an X' but could possibly be a reference to the cross. Unfortunately the context is no aid to interpretation, hence the evidential value of the word is slight. Furthermore, only the Vienna text but not the basically parallel text of Chester Beatty has the reading in question. (2) Chester Beatty 23e recto, line 2, reads apparently 'this one having descended to Ha[des . . .],' which may be a reference to the descent of Christ. The remainder of the sentence might run '[did not] die,' but again we cannot go beyond the realm of the possible. Other interpretations can be adduced. (3) Perhaps the best argument for Jannes and Jambres, in its present form, as a Christian book lies in its apparent literary form. If our ordering of the material is even approximately correct and if the Gelasian Decree has reference to our book, Jannes and Jambres is essentially a confession (poenitentia), a genre of literature that was manifestly Christian but not Jewish." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2, p. 433)

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