Monday, February 23, 2015

An Ethiopic manuscript of Jannes and Jambres

TED ERHO, who is pursing a PhD under the supervision of Professor Loren Stuckenbruck at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, has informed me that he has discovered a new manuscript of the Old Testament Pseudepigraphon Jannes and Jambres in an Ethiopic translation in a collection in Ethiopia. Hitherto the text was known only from a couple of very fragmentary manuscripts in the (presumably original) Greek and an excerpt in a Latin translation. In volume 2 of the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, pp. 427-442, there is an English translation of this material by A. Pietersma and R. T. Lutz.

Jannes and Jambres are legendary Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses during the ten plagues against Egypt. They are mentioned in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 3:8, in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Damascus Document (CD V.17-19), and in various other places. This new manuscript preserves quite a lot of missing text from the book and it is a very exciting discovery. Ted told me about it last December at the Bible as Notepad Conference, but he asked me to keep it confidential until he could return to Ethiopia and study the manuscript more closely. I am now delighted to have his permission to announce the discovery. He e-mails the following information on the manuscript.
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.
Back in 2009 I mentioned the book of Jannes and Jambres as an Old Testament pseudepigraphon that is not entirely lost. Now it is less lost than before.

Let's all say it together: Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

UPDATE (24 February): Peter M. Head comments.