The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Parting of the Scribes: A Jewish and a Christian Rendition of the Book of Jannes and Jambres?

The Parting of the Scribes: A Jewish and a Christian Rendition of The Book of the Words of Jannes and Jambres?

The so-called “Book of the Words of Jannes and Jambres” is an apocryphal Jewish-Hellenistic composition known to us solely from papyri. Several fragments of the work have survived and are now housed in various collections in the world: P.Mich (Michigan), P. Vindob. (Vienna), P.Oxy. (Oxford), P.Heid. (Heidelberg), and the largest text-fragments, P.Chester Beatty XVI (Dublin). Some of these fragments (P.Vindob., P.Oxy., and P.Heid.) overlap (in different sections) with the larger fragments of P.Chester Beatty – only P.Mich. does not have any parallel. There is an ongoing debate whether the composition is of Jewish or Christian origin, as – at least in the case of the larger Chester Beatty fragments – the text displays certain affinities with Christian theology. However, the Viennese and Michigan fragments were written on a roll, are dated earlier (3rd cent. CE) than the other fragments (4th cent. CE) and are devoid of nomina sacra – all of which are features characteristic of Jewish scribal practice. They also feature a different spelling of the names of the two magicians, namely Εἰοάμβρης and ’Ειοάννης/Εἰάννης, as opposed to the spelling in 2 Tim 3:8-9 and the other fragments (P.Oxy., P.Heid., P.Chester Beatty XVI: Ἰάννης and Ἰαμβρῆς), which all derive from codices and feature nomina sacra, thus suggesting a Christian scribal tradition. This paper investigates a particular parallel passage in the Vienna fragments (of Jewish origin?) and the Chester Beatty fragments (of Christian origin), where the scribe of the latter fragments introduces Christian ideas, while the scribe of the Vienna fragment does not. I suggest that this is not coincidental and that this alteration reflects upon the different religious background (Jewish/Christian) of the fragments’ copyists.