The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament/Jannes and Mambres

Jannes and Mambres

Jannes and Mambres (or Mambres). The Penitence of Jannes and Mambres is mentioned in the Gelasian Decree. Origen (on Matthew xxv.) says: "Paul's statement, 'As Jannes and Mambres withstood Moses' (2 Tim. iii. 8) is not found in the 'public' scriptures, but in a secret (apocryphal) book entitled the Book of Jannes and Mambres." The writer called Ambrosiaster, on 2 Timothy, says: "This example is from the Apocrypha. For Jannes and Mambres were brothers, magicians or poisoners, of the Egyptians, who thought they could resist by the art of their magic the mighty works of God which were being accomplished through them. But when the might of Moses in his works proved greater, they were humbled, and confessed, with the pain of their wounds (of. Philostorgius, below), that it was God that wrought in Moses."

These are the old allusions that imply the existence of a book of Jannes and Mambres. There is a good deal of scattered legend about them, chiefly Jewish. They are the two sons of Balaam (Num. xxi. 22): they educated Moses (Abulpharaj): they were drowned in the Red Sea, or slain with their father by Phinehas. St. Macarius visited their tomb, which was full of demons, from whom he obtained leave to enter and look round. He found a brazen vessel hanging by an iron chain in a well and much consumed by time, and also a number of dried-up pomegranates (Palladius, Hist. Lausiaca).

Another set of allusions is in heathen writers. Numenius, quoted by Eusebius, names them, and so does Artapanus. Pliny speaks confusedly (N. H., xxx. 11) of the magicians Moses, Jannes, Jotapa; and Apuleius (Apology, 90), enumerating famous wizards, names Jesus perhaps, and certainly Moses and Jannes, Apollonius, Dardanus, Zoroaster, Hostanes.

The allusions to the two wizards which occur in Oriental chronicles have been collected by Iselin in Zeitschrift f. Wissenschaftl. Theol., 1894, 321.

We now come to consider possible fragments of the book. Photius's excerpts from Philostorgius's Ecclesiastical History has one (ix. 2, p. 166, ed. Bidez): "Moses chastised Jannes and Jambres with sores and sent the mother of one of them to death." This must have been introduced by Philostorgius as an illustration: the ninth book of the History is concerned with the reign of Valens.

In the eleventh-century MS. Cotton Tiberius B. V., appended to a tract On the Marvels of the East, is the following fragment in Latin and Anglo-Saxon, illustrated by a beautiful picture of Mambres doing an incantation, and hell open with souls in it.

"Mambres opened the magical books of his brother Jannes, and did necromancy and brought up from hell the shade of his brother. The soul of Jannes answered him saying: I thy brother died not unjustly, but of a truth justly, and judgment will go against me, for I was wiser than all wise magicians, and I withstood the two brethren, Moses and Aaron, who did great signs and wonders: therefore died I and was brought down from among men into hell, where there is great burning, and the pit (lake) of perdition, whence there is no coming up. And now, my brother Mambres, take heed to thyself in thy lifetime to do good to thy sons and thy friends: for in hell there is nothing of good, but sadness and darkness: and when thou shalt have died and shalt be in hell among the dead, thy dwelling-place and thy abode (seat) will be twenty (probably two) cubits broad and four cubits long."

With the Penitence of Jannes and Mambres in the Gelasian Decree is classed the Penitence of Cyprian (the magician and martyr of Antioch, the parent of the Faust-legend). This we have, and it gives an account of his initiation into the devil's service. There are two mentions of our wizards in it: §6. The prince of the devils praises Cyprian, and calls him a youth of good gifts, a new Jambres, apt for the ministry. §17. Cyprian says of himself: "I do not believe there was ever a worse man than I was: I outdid the Jannes and Jambres of history. They in the midst of their lying wonders acknowledged the finger of God, but I was wholly set upon it that there was no God. If God did not pardon them who even partly recognized Him, how should He pardon me who ignored Him altogether?" In this view the Egyptian magicians, it seems, did not find forgiveness.

The Greek Acts of St. Katherine are printed in three texts by J. Viteau (Paris, 1897). The first says that Katherine had studied all the art of Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle, Homer, Plato, Philistion, Eusebius, and the necromancies of Jannes and Jambres and the Sibyl. The second repeats this, more than once, and also gives two quotations from Jannes and Mambres, the first of which defies translation, but adds: "They show, to them that seek to behold, the faces (or persons) that have slept in the earth from the ages." The other is better: "But concerning the mountains (sic—? mules) Jannes and Jambres spake, signifying the sign of the manger of the Lord; and concerning the stone whereby the stone of the tomb (a verb is wanted), as also it was said by the prophet: The stone which the builders rejected," etc.

If this is a genuine quotation at all (and one from the Sibyl which precedes it is correct) it implies Messianic, even Christian, predictions in the book.

Philostorgius by speaking of the mother "of one of them" (θατέρου) contradicts the tradition that the two men were brothers, if he is to be taken literally.

The Latin fragment remains the best. It would form a possible opening for the book, or it might come near the end of it: it would hardly be the closing note. Mambres must have made some reply, and even perhaps repented as a finale. But we must confess ourselves quite ignorant of the general character of the Penitence. It was older, we see, than Origen, and it may have been Christian. Cyprian's Penitence is possibly modelled upon it to some extent.

By way of appendix a curious fragment may find a place here. In the Roman edition of the works of Ephraem Syrus (ii. p. 405), in the midst of the Syriac Testament of Ephraem is suddenly interpolated the following piece of Syriac verse, which has no link of connexion with its context, and which I here translate from the Latin rendering:

"In the time of Moses the magicians rose up against the son of Amram: but the finger of God overcame them, as they themselves also confessed.

"The righteousness of God smote the wicked men with an evil sore, that even against their will they might proclaim the truth: for the Truth is wont to bear patiently until deceivers repent: but when they are puffed up and think themselves safe, then are they cast down into the pit.

"For when Moses was sent to bring the people out of Egypt, at the bidding of Pharaoh's Lord he came to Pharaoh and told him the command of God. When Pharaoh heard it he was driven to rage and fury and turned to blasphemy; and when the matter was published throughout the city and was come to the ears of the nobles of those parts, some said: It is the command of God and must be obeyed at all costs.

"But the King, when he saw Moses, feared, and began to feel the punishment that hung over him.

"Is there any that does not fear at the sight of the Lord? or who would not tremble at beholding God? So Pharaoh feared Moses, because he was the god of Pharaoh.

"The whole multitude of the magicians of Egypt hasted together to see a new marvel, for in the face of Moses was the angel of fire and wind, surpassing the brightness of the sun and of lightning, so that whoever fixed his eyes on him took him for a god; but they who heard his voice—for he was stammering and stuttered—despised and contemned him as a man. And one affirmed that he was come down from heaven: another set him wholly at naught: for, said he, if there were any great thing in him, surely he would have healed himself.

"Now Moses, as you have heard, knew the tongue of that country well; bred up in the house of Pharaoh, he had drunk in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, as the Apostle witnesses to us of him. And though he were not aware of it himself, yet he had the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, from whom he had learned all that had happened from Adam even to his own days, and was not ignorant of what the magicians were plotting against him.

"So Pharaoh called together all the magicians and their disciples and spoke to them of Moses thus: It is now time that whatever power you have you should put forth for the common good. When war is upon us there is need of mighty men, and the skill of physicians appears then when diseases are rife. Throughout all the world the people will laugh at us with great disgrace of our name if we are overcome by this stammering stutterer. Be therefore strong in conflict till we bear off victory: contend valiantly till we triumph. There is no man who knows not our name or extols you not as workers of wonders: we (ye?) have been wont to be helpers even of Kings when war came upon them. If then they see us made a laughing-stock to a stammerer, much more shall we be despised by all other men. Up then, put on a manly spirit, and go forth to battle like heroes of renown, that we may gain an eternal name; and so all who hear of it may be smitten with fear and not dare to resist our people. And though I excel in royal dignity, yet I uphold the common cause with you. To all of us there will be like honour or like shame.

"The magicians, stirred by these words, as if made drunk with wine, promised seas and mountains to Pharaoh King of Egypt. The sun, said they, shall not again rise to lighten Egypt before the son of Amram has ceased to live. What time thou, O King, takest quiet slumber in thy bed, then shalt thou hear that Moses has been punished by a shameful death. And this, indeed, we account as nothing: it is child' s play. Come then, enter thy chamber and climb up upon thy bed and sleep: for the death of Moses is at the doors, and he shall not, believe us, see another day.

"Thus the magicians left Pharaoh. And he, believing their words, could not sleep for his impatience, looking for the dawn of day: nor, had he slept, could he rest without the coming of the same images to him in his slumber.

"But they, practising their arts, called up devils and sent them against Moses. The evil spirits rushed in hosts upon the holy man: but the power of God and the prayer of the righteous one drove them back as the storm scatters the fire and the wind the smoke. So did the demons fly from the face of Moses as the conquered flee in battle before the victors, and thieves turn their backs when they hear the voices of the watchmen approaching.

"As light dispels darkness, so did Moses drive away the wicked ones. Headlong they returned to the magicians by whom they had been hired; and, said they: We lose our labour against this man, for he is stronger than we, and we cannot get near to the border of the place where he dwells.

"Meanwhile the day dawned, and Pharaoh anxiously expected that what the magicians had promised him, of the death of Moses, should have been fulfilled. But when the appointed time was past, and there came none to tell the tidings he desired, the King called the magicians and spake thus to them: Why, said he, hath the matter fallen out otherwise than as you promised? for you said, Moses shall not see another day after this.

"The magicians said to him: Have patience a little: the man's death is indeed near, but we can do nothing in haste, O King, and this day allows it not, for to-day it is new moon: when the moon begins to wane, then shall the life of Moses fail.

"This was the cause they pretended to him, until the appointed hour should come to Moses: but the King received their words gladly, being subject to the same errors as they.

"The magicians therefore set to work: they took somewhat of the hairs and garments of Moses, and made an image of him, and laid it up in a tomb, and set evil demons against it. Immediately the demons came, and the princes of them: Satan was ready with his hosts, all of them in divers forms, to destroy Moses.

"They ran against him in a troop. But when they lifted up their eyes to the holy prophet and saw him encompassed by a host of angels, like as it was once with Elisha, they could not bear the look of him, much less attack him, and all together they fled away in confusion with cries and howlings.

"This thing brought the magicians to perplexity. They turned therefore to other means to save their name and not be found guilty of deceit and lying before the King. Accordingly they took a cup full of wine and by their enchantments compelled vipers and dragons to spue their venom into it; and when it was ready they gave the cup to Moses, that he might drink it and burst asunder. Take, said they, this wine which the King of Egypt sends thee, and drink it, for to this pinnacle of honour he will have thee raised, as he hath long ago desired; and this wine itself is like the desire of the King, for it is old, and by reason of length of time is become muddy and dark.

"At this Moses smiled, and took the cup and signed it in the name of God and drank the wine without any hurt. But that they might know that their deceit was not hidden from him, he turned to them and said: Come, tell the King, who hath sent me to drink wine mingled with the poison of serpents, that none of these things do any hurt to the servants of God.

"Thus far concerning Moses and the Magicians."

The elegancies of the poetic form are not so excessive as to disguise the story, and it is one which I do not find elsewhere. The drinking of the poison is like, or has been made like, the famous miracle of St. John the Evangelist: the "signing" of the cup may well be a touch of the poet's; it is the only one that is obviously Christian. I should not be at all surprised to find that we had here a paraphrase of part of the story of Jannes and Mambres. Note that the unsuccessful attacks of the demons are just such as occur in the Penitence of Cyprian, which is linked with that of the Egyptian wizards. The (Latin) Acts of St. James the Great contain something similar, in the tale of Hermogenes and Philetus.