[p. 48]



Fortunately, the book about Jannes and Jambres, known to Origen and other ancient and mediaeval authors, is more than an intriguing title, since it has, at least in part, survived the vicissitudes of transmission. Several of the fragmentary remains have already been mentioned in the course of our discussion up to this point. It remains to present them systematically and in greater detail. We will do so in the order in which they became known to modern scholarship.
First is British Library Cotton Tiberius B.v folio 87a and 87b, the latter page being a pictorial representation of the written text in Latin and Old English, namely, Jambres, standing on a mountain, in the act of conjuring the shade of his dead brother Jannes from Hades by means of the book of magic to which he points the viewer (see further IV below). The date of this manuscript is xi AD. Though known to modern scholarship since 1861, when its written text was published by T. O. Cockayne, it was re-published more recently by M. R. James in JTS 2 (1901) and Max Foerster in ASNSL 108 (1902). The Latin text of 18 lines is accompanied by a translation in Old English, and gives us part of Jannes' admission of wrong doing from Hades.
The second text is Papyrus Vindobonensis inv. G(reek) 29456+29828verso, accessible since Hans Oellacher's publication of 1951 but republished and correctly identified by Pierre Maraval in ZPE 2 (1977) (see further III). It has been dated to iii AD and in two (probably four) fragments, belonging to a re-used scroll, features material paralleled for the most part in the Chester Beatty papyrus. Its Greek text comprises some 42 fragmentary lines, not counting the two less certain fragments which, because of their small size, have not yet been securely placed.
In the third place, we now have Papyrus Chester Beatty XVI, consisting of 99 fragments gathered into eight frames plus a stray piece erroneously included in a frame of Coptic papyrus fragments (see Notes on Frame 8), for a total of 100 fragments. As will be argued later, a date of iv AD may be assigned to its Greek text. The existence of this manuscript has been known since 1974 (see [p. 49]A. Pietersma, BIOSCS 7 [1974] p. 15), and a preliminary English edition of the larger fragments appeared in OTPs 2 (1985). The original document was in codex form, comprising a minimum of 24 pages, some of which have apparently been lost in their entirety.
A fourth text, Papyrus Michigan inv. 4925verso was announced by L. Koenen in BASP 16 (1979) p. 114. The two fragments (one of them blank on the [verso] side, according to Michigan authorities), containing 10 fragmentary lines of Greek text, document the genealogy of Jannes and Jambres and, consequently, must belong early on in the book (see Notes on 1ab [recto]). Like the Vienna text, this papyrus belongs to a re-used scroll with literary texts on both sides. Consequently, it is similarly unclear which side is the more original. Since the date of the poetic text (comedy) on the [recto] side is said to be late ii AD or early iii, it seems likely that the piece from Jannes and Jambres on [verso] will turn out to be of roughly the same date. The text has been assigned to R. W. Daniel for editing but unfortunately remains unpublished to date.
Before delineating the contents of our book on the basis of these four manuscripts, we mention here briefly a number of additional texts which have been surmised to belong to Jannes and Jambres (cf. IPGAT pp. 147-48). None of them, however, can lay convincing claim to such status.
M. R. James in LAOT, after referring to the Latin text of the British Library, mentions in addition four possible excerpts from our book. The first of these is Photius' citation from Philostorgius' Ecclesiastical History , which alleges that Moses smote the adherents of the two brothers with sores and sent the mother of one of them to her death (see I.3.20 above). That this fragment, however, is a citation from the book, rather than being merely a reference to something it contained, is unlikely. Indeed, the information it gives on Jannes and Jambres being sons of different mothers directly contradicts what we read in the Beatty text, and for that reason alone James' conclusion is unwarranted. Moreover, Photius' text on Jannes and Jambres gives the distinct impression of being a summary of protracted action rather than a citation per se . Nonetheless, the mention of the mother rather than the father, Balaam, who regularly appears in the traditions, betrays an unmistakable acquaintance with the book.
The second set of texts James mentions as possible excerpts from the book are in the Penitence of Cyprian , namely, 6 and 17. In the [p. 50] former the devil praises Cyprian as a new Jambres, and in the latter Cyprian laments that since he outdid Jannes and Jambres, who acknowledged the finger of God, he even less than they will receive divine pardon (see I.3.24). Although there can be little doubt that the Penitence of Cyprian , like Philostorgius, shows familiarity with Jannes and Jambres (see Notes on 6[recto]), we are scarcely warranted to say more. (For the question of forgiveness see Notes on 6[verso])
James' third candidate is the Acts of St. Catherine 4 (Texts A and B) and 11 (Text B). In the first of these, Catherine is said to have studied inter alia the necromancies of Jannes and Jambres (see above I.3.15), and the second passage states that Jannes and Jambres made reference to "the manger of the Lord" and "the stone of the tomb." Though we know from the extant fragments of our book that Jambres conjured up Jannes' shade from Hades (see no.19 below), there is no evidence to suggest that the two brothers practised necromancy on a regular basis. Indeed, the plot of the book seems to make this unlikely. Similarly, it is quite possible that certain passages in the book were interpreted in a christianizing manner (see Notes on 2h3g[verso]), but actual citations in Acts of St. Catherine are quite an other matter. Once again, familiarity with our book readily accounts for the information we are given.
The final alleged text of Jannes and Jambres referred to by James is an interpolation in the Syriac Testament of Ephraem (CSCO 334/5) which speaks at length about a crowd of Egyptian magicians who, in their fight against Moses, marshaled demons against him. Moses, however, easily repelled them, and on a second occasion was found to be surrounded by angels. Similarly, the magicians' attempt to kill Moses through poisoned wine failed utterly. Significantly, the magicians are clearly more than two in number and the names of Jannes and Jambres never appear. But apart from a mutual indebtedness to the Exodus account as well as a shared interest in the confrontation between Moses and the magicians, one fails to find any similarities between the Ephraem passage and the tale of our two brothers as we know it at present.
More recently K. Koch in ZNW 57 (1966) has proposed that Pharaoh's dream in TPsJ on Ex 1:15, about the lamb and the scales (cf. I.3.6), hails from Jannes and Jambres . For our purpose his central arguments are 1. that the passage in TPsJ has been interpolated and, consequently, stems from elsewhere, and 2. that the Latin text of BLCot shows a number of Semitisms, making it probable that the [p. 51]original language of the book was Hebrew or, more likely, Aramaic. Ch. Burchard in the same volume of ZNW has taken Koch to task and convincingly refuted his thesis. Interestingly, the particular 'Semitisms' of the Latin text, cited by Koch, are not supported by the Greek fragments now in our possession. Moreover, we will note presently that the original language of the book must have been Greek rather than Hebrew or Aramaic.
Since Jannes and Jambres , even after recent discoveries, is extant only in part, there is naturally good reason to continue to look for additional material that may have belonged to the book. For the present, however, the four manuscripts enumerated above constitute its sole exemplars. When their contents are put together, the following outline of Jannes and Jambres can be delineated:

  1. The book containing the story of Jannes and Jambres, magicians at the court of King Pharaoh in Memphis, was written by a named author in the king's employ, an individual endowed with the necessary qualifications for the undertaking. (Chester Beatty 1ab[recto])
  2. Jannes and Jambres, the magicians, are the sons of Balaam(?) the son of Petephres(?) an official and priest of the Egyptian bull god Apis. They apparently held sway at Pharaoh's court for a stated period. (Michigan)
  3. An author's preface may have stated the aim of the tale before the action per se commences. (Chester Beatty 1ab[verso])
  4. The mother of Jannes and Jambres has a dream that an intruder into the paradise cuts down a cypress-tree. She relates the dream to Jannes who apparently grasps its meaning but chooses to ignore it. Possibly wishing to shield his mother, he urges her to go home and tend her private affairs, and orders her to keep quiet about the dream. The text's subsequent reference to human features may be descriptive of the intruder. (Chester Beatty 1cd[recto])
  5. The mother's dream comes true: an extra-terrestrial being saws down the cypress-tree. A human agent (Moses?) addresses Jannes, vowing to implement, after an interval of three years, what the symbolic act foreshadows. Affliction will strike Egypt, he states, whenever he deems it appropriate. Seemingly as a counter measure, Jannes gives orders that "the paradise" be surrounded with a wall and watched closely. (Chester Beatty 1cd[verso])
  6. The opponents of Jannes and Jambres object to a "wicked en-[p. 52]closure" Jannes has erected and predict death for the magicians and their mother. A reference to Serapis or a Serapeum appears included. Perhaps at this point, Jannes is smitten with his fatal disease about which we hear later in the story. (Chester Beatty 1ef[recto])
  7. Sexual morality is discussed by the two brothers and apparent approval is expressed for the abrogation of the institution of marriage. (Chester Beatty 1ef[verso])
  8. Jannes summons Egypt's wise men to the magicians' private estate in order to view the abundant foliage of his paradise, which has quickly provided protection against the sun's rays. The guests are told to sit under "a certain apple-tree," but when they are seated there, a thunderstorm accompanied by an earthquake strikes, tearing off several branches from the leafy canopy. Upon seeing what has happened, Jannes runs into the library where his magical tools are said to be, presumably in an effort to ascertain the meaning of the occurrence. (Chester Beatty 2a[recto])
  9. Probably while engaged in magical proceedings in the library, Jannes is again made aware of the destruction threatening Egypt. Then four "men" confront him with the message that "the Lord of the earth and the Overseer of the universe" has sent them to lead away Jannes to Hades where he will be "a companion of corpses forever." Two of the four men, wearing white clothing, take pity on him and grant him a reprieve of fixed duration. (Chester Beatty 2a[verso])
  10. While Jannes is speaking to his friends about marriage and wedding celebrations, messengers from the palace summon him to oppose "Moses the Hebrew" and his brother, who are doing feats that astound everyone. Jannes arrives at the palace, matches Moses' accomplishments, but is immediately tortured by his ailment ("his death"). He leaves the royal presence, enters "the hedra" and sends back word to the king that divine power is active in Moses, a conclusion which he seemingly had reached previously and which hardened his resolve to take a stand against Moses. But to strike a mortal blow against Moses seemingly eludes him (Chester Beatty 3a+[recto], Vienna B)
  11. He apparently returns to his estate near Memphis and during the night (or evening), a portent in the form of a setting star/planet is seen, which is interpreted by Jannes(?) to signal [p. 53]the downfall of an evil generation. Other astral omens are apparently seen as well. (Chester Beatty 3a+[verso] and Vienna B)
  12. Jannes, quite ill and knowing that his end is imminent, goes to Memphis, possibly to stand trial for charges brought against him. He therefore takes leave of his mother whom he commends to the care of his friends during his absence, though he promises to keep her informed. The friends he embraces in farewell, but his own brother he takes along to Memphis and, by entrusting him with an important document which he warns him to keep secret, appoints him his successor. (Chester Beatty 4a+[recto], Vienna A)
  13. Also, he warns Jambres against accompanying the king and nobles of Egypt when they start out in pursuit of "the people of the Hebrews." Jambres is apparently advised to feign illness and thus to save himself from the doom which Jannes clearly foresees. His 'final' instructions seemingly include their mother. (Chester Beatty 4a+[verso], Vienna A)
  14. A din is heard, perhaps that of the Egyptian army marching out in pursuit. One brother addresses the other. (Chester Beatty 2h[recto])
  15. In seemingly brief compass the book relates the pursuit and the Egyptian disaster at the Red Sea, as well as a national lament which follows. Jambres had clearly heeded his brother's warning. (Chester Beatty 3g[recto])
  16. Jannes' physical condition is deteriorating steadily and in graphic language he gives vent to his distress. (Chester Beatty 2h[verso])
  17. Jambres complains of violated oaths and changed behaviour (on the part of the devil?); Jannes groans in pain. As it seems, the magicians with their mother and accompanied by a large number of beasts of burden (mules, asses, camels . . .) retreat to their private estate. (Chester Beatty 3g[verso])
  18. When news of the king's death reaches Egypt, Jannes is still able to comfort his friends, but shortly thereafter meets his own death, apparently in a violent manner (by fire ?) rather than as a result of his disease, while his mother attempts to come to his assistance. A touching exchange between mother and son precedes his death. Jannes' reprieve evidently had run out at this point. (Chester Beatty 5a+[verso])
  19. The mother addresses a lament to Jannes' corpse, but not long [p. 54]afterwards she too dies, violently as it seems, and is buried by her surviving son, Jambres, with all due rites, in the tomb of Jannes. Probably at a loss as to how to continue, deprived of both brother and mother, Jambres opens the magical books under the apple-tree, and conjures from Hades Jannes' shade, which apparently expresses annoyance at being disturbed. (Chester Beatty 5a+[recto], Latin)
  20. Seemingly, the shade gives a retrospective account (for the benefit of the reader) of what transpired during the struggle. (Chester Beatty 5d+[verso] and [recto])
  21. Jannes' shade launches into an admission of wrong-doing, describes conditions in Hades, including the confined space allotted to himself, and warns his brother to mend his ways. Hell knows no forgiveness. (Chester Beatty 6[verso] and [recto], Latin)
  22. The shade conveys divine displeasure with idol worshipers and condemns a variety of other sinners, who will receive their due in hell, the great equalizer of all humans. The prostitute is apparently singled out as a sinner par excellence . (Chester Beatty 7[verso] and [recto])
Though for the most part the four texts can be successfully integrated, some points of difference are also apparent. Thus a few textual variants emerge between the Beatty and Vienna texts. Of greater interest than these, however, is the more substantial literary difference that may have existed between them. As will be shown in detail later, after Jannes leaves the presence of the king (see 10 above), the two texts evidently to a large extent go their own separate ways. Accidental corruption may have played a role, but can hardly explain all the evidence. Similarly problematic is the exact relationship between the Beatty text and the Latin, since the latter defies full integration into the former (cf. 19 and 21 above). Whether these differences among our witnesses are to be read as comparatively minor textual variants among manuscripts of our book or as indications of larger versional differences in its plot is not possible to answer with confidence at the present stage of our knowledge.
Thanks to Papyrus Chester Beatty XVI, we now know the beginning of Jannes and Jambres . Unfortunately, about its conclusion we are in the dark as much as ever. How did the tale end and what could the ending have told us about the original purpose of the book or the role it was assigned in the community that transmitted it? We may [p. 55]recall in this connection the title given our book in the Gelasian Decree, namely, the Confession of Jannes and Jambres .
When M. R. James in 1901 re-published the Latin text, the only text of Jannes and Jambres then known, the wording of the title did not fail to attract his attention. After making a variety of comments on the Latin fragment and noting some affinity with the speech of the Rich Man of Lk 16:19ff., James writes:

The story must have had a sequel. Any attempt at reconstructing it lands us in the region of pure conjecture. We can imagine Mambres taking the advice of his brother (to make sure not to end up the way he had), falling at the feet of Moses, confessing his wicked arts, burning his books and becoming a devout proselyte. This is the only dénouement that we are warranted in imagining by the title Poenitentia Ianne et Mambre. (p. 576)

Before entertaining the question of possible conclusions to the book, which must remain a matter of conjecture in spite of the vast increase in textual material at our disposal, we may ask what the fragmentary remains are able to tell us about the book's chief concern or central thrust. This question deserves priority since the answer to it is largely independent from the precise details of Jambres' end.
As is clear from the delineation we have given of the book's plot, the theme in the extant materials (and no doubt in the book as a whole) is the willful opposition and stubborn persistence of the book's chief protagonist, Jannes, who in our story has largely usurped the role of the Pharaoh in the biblical account. We note the following in the course of the narrative: the mother's dream, warning of coming ruin, is not heeded, and the advent of the angel who cuts down the cypress-tree, as well as the threatened implementation of what his act is meant to symbolize, are countered with a wall around the paradise; not even when Jannes has been afflicted with leprosy is he induced to alter his course; omens in nature predict imminent doom, but Jannes persists; heavenly emissaries, ready to carry him off to Hades, grant him a respite presumably to give him time to come to his senses--all to no avail; he recognizes and admits that Moses is endowed with divine power and informs the king accordingly, but defiantly declares that this is the very reason for his opposition; astronomical phenomena signal coming disaster, yet he stays his perilous course; he perceives the destruction that awaits the king and his nobles when they set out in pursuit of the Hebrews, yet, though warning his brother not to participate, he is not persuaded [p. 56]to halt his opposition; when his own death stares him in the face, he appoints a successor to continue the fight. In this way the story moves step by step inexorably toward its climax, namely, Jannes' violent exit to hell where at last he is brought to his knees--but his paenitentia from beyond the grave comes forever too late. Forgiveness can no longer be obtained.
The important and climactic role played by Jannes' confession from hell in the structure of the book is underscored by the fact that, of the at least 22 pages represented in Papyrus Chester Beatty XVI, some six are seemingly taken up with Jannes' paenitentia. Admittedly, we do not have the entire book, but the crucial significance of Jannes' post mortem speech can scarcely be questioned.
If what we have argued is correct, it means that the author of our book, like the author of the old German (and English) Faust book, could have written his piece as a warning to his readership. But even if this was not his immediate aim, it is easy to see how such a role might be assigned to the book subsequently. Jannes' penalty for his obstinate opposition to God, i.e. his having been consigned to hell without hope of forgiveness, would certainly warn the reader against following his example and thus sharing his fate. Such an interpretation stands, in our judgement, irrespective of how brother Jambres ended his career. A similarly paradigmatic role of Jannes and Jambres is in evidence in 2Tim 3:8-9.
We may now perhaps conjecture how our book ended. James, as was noted, thought that the title assigned to it in the Gelasian Decree demanded Jambres' repentance in sackcloth and ashes, presumably because, strictly speaking, paenitentia is ascribed to both brothers. In favour of James' conclusion one might further argue that, unless Jambres repents and becomes a proselyte, the message of the book may be shown to have had no effect. That is to say, Jannes' admonitions, addressed to his brother from the bowels of the earth, will have fallen on deaf ears and, consequently, the author of our book (if his aim was to warn his readership) may be seen as being at cross purposes with himself. To avoid reaching this conclusion, one may be induced to posit a happy end for Jambres.
Somehow these arguments fail to convince. Though it is true that the title ascribes paenitentia to both, the ultimate fate of the two brothers, in James' scenario, would nevertheless be opposite. Jannes remains in hell, but Jambres is placed (at least incipiently) in heaven. A note of caution should be sounded here: no tradition [p. 57]can be cited which makes a distinction between their respective ends, and this includes the Penitence of Cyprian which says that the pair, in spite of acknowledging the finger of God, did not obtain forgiveness. Of course, an identical treatment in the traditions may be no more than a kind of human hendiadys, i.e. a fusing of two individuals into one paradigm; yet it leaves one uneasy, the more since the Penitence of Cyprian also states that Satan called Cyprian a new Jambres, suggesting thereby something of an independent career in magic for Jannes' successor.
Alternatively, it may be argued that Jambres did indeed turn a deaf ear to his brother's words and that, as a result, his fate illustrates the point made, for example, in the closing sentence of the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead" (Lk 16:31). Such obstinate refusal to listen, on the part of Jambres, would perfectly echo the same attitude displayed by Jannes throughout his struggle against God, and hence underline it. Given this scenario, one could read the attribution of confession to both brothers in the title of the Decretum as underscoring the central, dominant role played in the book by Jannes' paenitentia. In other words, his paenitentia was regarded as characterizing the entire composition. On the other hand, even though the climactic role of Jannes' paenitentia scarcely leaves room, in the structure of the book, for one of similar size by Jambres, a simple statement of posthumous regret on the part of Jambres need not be deemed incompatible with the role of Jannes' confession.
Also possible is that Jambres, like Wagner in the Faust tale, simply disappears. Though Wagner is duly instructed in magic, inherits Faust's magical books and thus becomes his successor, his own story remains undeveloped in the Faust book. He simply vanishes from the reader's view. Jambres may have been little more than the vehicle for Jannes' paenitentia.
But recognizing the importance of Jannes' confession for the central thrust of our book does not absolve us of trying to discern the Sitz im Leben of book and author alike. That is to say, even if we are correct in concluding that the author held up Jannes (and Jambres?) as an example not to be followed or as a stubborn sinner who, by his own admission, got his just deserts, what geographical location and historical circumstances may have produced his book? On the question of location, it is probable that the place of origin was Egypt. [p. 58]As we will argue in due time, the author's inspiration for the magicians' paradise (see no. 5 above) derived, in all likelihood, from an Egyptian setting. The date of our book cannot be pinpointed precisely but a reasonable conjecture can nonetheless be made. We may recall that Origen in the third century of our era not only knew of the existence of Jannes and Jambres but that both he and his contemporaries who rejected 2 Timothy, since it was indebted to an apocryphal work, imply a Pauline date. While this can by no means be taken as proof, the book was clearly not regarded as a recent composition. Furthermore, if Numenius of Apamea in ii AD, as we have already suggested, shows acquaintance with our book, a date earlier than Numenius is in any case assured, and an even earlier date may be indicated, if the writer of 2 Timothy was in fact familiar with our book, as Origen alleged and as we will argue in the Notes on Beatty 1ef[verso]. The date of this evidence, however, fluctuates with the question of Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy. All in all, then, it is likely that our book originated no later than ii AD and a date in i AD is quite plausible. In an Egyptian context either date assures a Jewish rather than Christian origin.
When we next look for an appropriate Sitz im Leben , the first century of Roman rule in Egypt presents itself as an appropriate setting. As is well known, this period, for Egyptian Jewry, was one of great upheaval and stress, which found partial expression in a book such as 3 Maccabees, whose author cloaked his confrontational message, aimed at the government-in-power, in stereotypical stories from the Ptolemaic era (which is not to deny all historicity to 3 Maccabees). Similarly, the author of Jannes and Jambres may be seen to be aiming his barbs at the authorities using, instead, a biblical tale from Pharaonic times as his vehicle. The fate he pictures for them is reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar's fate in Dan 4: downfall followed by admission of wrong-doing. That our author was well acquainted with this story will become clear presently.
Against the kind of background we have suggested, it becomes possible that the magicians and their mother are meant to embody actual historical personages, and it is tempting to think that the mother and the important role she plays in the book somehow reflect one or more of the prominent women we meet in Ptolemaic-Roman politics. Furthermore, anti-Jewish imperial henchmen such as Sejanus and Flaccus, Prefect of Egypt, would be apt models for our two opponents of Moses. At present, however, we lack the detailed [p. 59]information to make specific equations, if such were in fact intended.
Interestingly enough, it seems probable that both the tradition about Jannes and Jambres as well as the book detailing their subsequent role as Pharaoh's magicians had their origin in situations of confrontation. The one, as we have argued, emerged from the internecine struggles within Palestinian Jewry of ii BC, the other was written, we have suggested, during the darkest period of Egyptian Jewry around the turning of the era or shortly thereafter.