Jannes and Jambres

by Kathryn Taylor

[Kathryn Taylor is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews.–JRD]

The text of Jannes and Jambres survives only in fragments, which has caused difficulties for scholars trying to reconstruct the original. Albert Pietersma has attempted to produce an outline of the original text from the remaining fragments. The story has it’s roots in Jewish history, the biblical account of the Exodus, described in Ex. 7:8ff. Although the names of the two magicians are not mentioned in the Old Testament narrative, they do appear early in both Jewish and pagan writings.

The original language of composition appears to have been Greek, as no evidence has yet proven conclusively otherwise. The book about the exploits of Jannes and Jambres must have appeared before the third century AD, as Origen makes a reference to such a book in the third century AD.

It is not clear if the fragments which do exist tell the same story, or if, as seems more likely from what evidence exists, there were several different versions of the acount. Fragments are extant in Greek and Latin with an Anglo-Saxon translation.

Pietersma suggests that the unusual features of the book’s compilation, namely the stabbed-stitched binding and reverse formation of the quire, point to the book having been produced in Egypt’s hinterland, not in a literary centre such as Alexandria.

Any further deductions are difficult, if not impossible to prove conclusively, and will probably remain so, unless further fragments are found.


As in Course Bibliography.

(c) 1997
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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