The Prayer of Jacob only appears in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM XXIIb), a fourth century collection. David Aune made the translation appearing in Betz’s The Greek Magical Papyri (p. 261). The version in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha runs 20 lines, in Betz it is 26. Charlesworth states there is no reason to doubt the work was written in Greek, and it is reasonable to assume it was written in Egypt since it “shares ideas with many other Egyptian documents and papyri” (OTP 2:715). For a short introduction to Greek Magical Papyri, see this online lecture by James Davila from April, 1997 at the University of Saint Andrews Old Testament Pseudepigrapha collection.
It is difficult to know the goal of this magical text, which is why Charlesworth includes it in his collection of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha despite its presence in Greek Magical Papyri. It does indeed appear to be Jewish. For example, line 17 may allude to Solomon’s request for wisdom: “Fill me with wisdom, empower me, Lord.” God rules over the archangels (line 7) and sits above Sinai (line 8).
The closest to a specific command in the text is line 14: “Make straight the one who has the prayer [fro]m the race of Israel and those who have received favor from you, God of gods.” The verb “make straight (διορθόω) has a medical connotation, as in the binding of broken bones (Hippocrates.Art.38). It is possible then the one who uses this prayer hoped or physical healing. The prayer concludes with the command to “say the prayer of Jacob seven times to the north and east.”
As is often the case, Hebrew words appear in this prayer as magical words. Hebrew was respected as having magical powers but usually not understood. Line nine reads “God Abōth, Abrathiaōth, [Sa]ba[ōth, A]dōnai, astra …the L[or]d of all (things).” In line 15 the word Sabaōth is the “secret name of the God of gods.” As Charlesworth comments, “appears often in the Nag Hammadi Codices; viz. it is in the Apocryphon of John, the Hypostasis of the Archons, On the Origin of the World, and the Testimony of Truth. It is also one of the most popular names in the magical papyri.” (OTP 2:722, note q).
Charlesworth, J. H. “Prayer of Jacob OTP 2:715-23.
Betz, Hans Dieter. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Rist, Martin. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: A Liturgical and Magical Formula.,” JBL 57 (1938): 289–303.
Schewe, Lena M. “Prayer of Jacob,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
2 thoughts on “The Prayer of Jacob”