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The text of Jannes and Jambres is fragmentary and lacking in solid historical allusions, making it doubly difficult to date. Origen appears to refer to the book when commenting on 2 Timothy (Contra Celsus, IV. 51.)  The fragments in Chester Beatty papyri XVI date to the third century A.D. The book could be either Jewish or Christian since the Jannes and Jambres traditions are found in both streams.

The Damascus Document is the first reference to one of the magicians by the name, suggesting a tradition which predates 100 B.C.: “For in earlier times Moses and Aaron arose with the help of the Prince of Lights, while Belial raised up Jannes and his brother in his cunning, when Israel was saved the first time” (CD–A Col. v:18, trans. Davies, 245). In his commentary on Matthew, Origin indicated the reference to the Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy came from a non-canonical source (see commentary on 27:3-10). There are several rabbinic sources for the names (b.Men., 85a; Exodus rabba, 7 on 7:11) and in Targum. Ps.-Jonathan. on Exod 1:15, but these are also late and not useful for dating the document with any precision

It is possible Paul knew the tradition since 2 Timothy 3:8 to two men who opposed Moses, Jannes and Jambres. Paul’s point is his opponents stand in the tradition of Jannes and Jambres, “corrupted in mind” and “disqualified in the faith.” From about the same time as 2 Timothy, Dibelius and Conzelmann quote Pliny, Hist. Nat. 30.2.11: “There is yet another branch of magic, derived from Moses, Jannes, Lotapes and the Jews, but living many thousand years after Zoroaster.” They also mention a tradition in the Acts of Peter and Paul 34: “For just as the Egyptians Jannes and Jambres deceived Pharaoh and his army until they were drowned in the sea, so also etc.” (The Pastoral Epistles; Hermenia, 117).

These two men are the magicians who were able to change their staff to a snake as did Moses in Exodus 7:11. Although they are not mentioned by name in Exodus, the traditional use of these two names as prototypical magicians is well known. In Eusebius’ Praeparatio evangelica (9.8) the pagan Numenius may have alluded to this tradition, saying that Jannes and Jambres were able to undo, the plagues against Egypt. In the Decretum Gelasianum, a sixth-century Latin manuscript attributed to Pope Gelasius I (492–96), Jannes and Jambres is listed among the sixty-two “apocryphal” (rejected) works.

The book makes for difficult reading since most lines are fragmentary and there are a number of gaps in the text. When the two magicians are summoned to oppose Moses, Jambres ran back to the library to collect his “magical tools.”  A fragment in the British Library states that Jambres (Mambrews) performed necromancy. When he died he went into the netherworld where there is a great burning pit of perdition.

Mambres opened the magical books of his brother Jannes; he performed necromancy and brought up from the netherworld his brother’s shade. The soul of Jannes said in response, I your brother did not die unjustly, but indeed justly, and the judgment will go against me, since I was more clever than all clever magicians, and opposed the two brothers, Moses and Aaron, who performed great signs and wonders. As a result I died and was brought from among (the living) to the netherworld where there is great burning and the pit of perdition, whence no ascent is possible. (Pietersma A. and R. T. Lutz, “Jannes and Jambres,” in OTP 2:440)

The use of the fragments for New Testament studies is extremely limited, perhaps only serving to illuminate the tradition standing behind 2 Tim 3:8.



Davies, Philip R. The Damascus Covenant: An Interpretation of the “Damascus Document” (Translation) (JSOTSupp 25; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1982), 245–247.

James, M. R. “A Fragment of the ‘Penitence of Jannes and Jambres.’ ” JTS 2 (1901): 572–77.

Klippenstein, Rachel “Jannes and Jambres, Text,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

Pietersma A. and R. T. Lutz, “Jannes and Jambres,” in OTP 2:427.

Pietersma, Albert. “Jannes and Jambres” in ABD, 3:368-369.

Like many of the smaller books in the Pseudepigrapha, it is nearly impossible to guess a date the Ladder of Jacob. H. G. Lunt argues for a Jewish origin of the first six chapters based on the otherwise inexplicable reference to “lawless Falkon” as a Satan-figure in 6:13. Observing that Isaiah 27:1 Leviathan is called a crooked or twisted serpent (נָחָ֖שׁ עֲקַלָּת֑וֹן), Lunt suggests this can be taken as a proper name and speculates the Hebrew ʿqltwn was transliterated as καλθον, then through a transposition error, the word became θαλκον. When translated into east Slavonic, the word became φαλκον. Since the only extent copies of this work are Slavonic translations, it is not difficult to change a θ to a φ in the copying process. At best this thin piece of evidence indicates a Jewish origin.

The book expands on the details of the dream of Jacob only briefly described in Genesis 28. After his vision, Jacob worships (chapter 2) and the angel Sariel visits Jacob and explains this dream of the angels going up and down a ladder. This angel is identified as the “leader of the beguiled,” but this term can mean “sweetness, charm” or negatively, “deluded.” He is further described here as the angel who is in charge of dreams. The twelve steps of the ladder are the twelve ages of the earth, each with two kings who will oppress the people of God.

In Jacob’s vision the ladder going up to heaven had twelve steps on each step were two human faces which continually changed their appearance. Chapter five uses the twelve steps of the ladder from Jacob’s Vision as a kind of “timeline” of the future. Like other apocalyptic visions where heads on a beast refer to kings, each step on the ladder are the “kings of ungodly nations.” These wicked kings

“You have seen a ladder with twelve steps, each step having two human faces which kept changing their appearance. The ladder is this age, and the twelve steps are the periods of this age. But the twenty-four faces are the kings of the ungodly nations of this age. Under these kings the children of your children and the generations of your sons will be interrogated. These will rise up against the iniquity of your grandsons.”

In chapter 6 we are told a king will arise in judgment and Israel will go into slavery. This is such a general statement it cannot be used for dating the book since it could refer to 568 B.C., 67 B.C. or A.D. 70. The Mighty One will rise at that time and fight for his people when the land is swarmed by reptiles and all sorts of deadly things, killing the lawless Falkon by the sword. After this seed of Israel will sound a horn and the kingdoms of Edom and Moab will perish.

Chapter 7 is a Christian addition giving a few of the signs of the impending apocalypse. Lunt indicates the work is described as a first century A.D. work, but he does not argue in his introduction (OTP 2:404). Lunt states the source for the chapter is the Explanation of the Events in Persia (also known as the Tale of Aphroditanus, known from thirteenth to nineteenth century Russian and Serbian Slavonic texts). This book appears as The Legend of Aphroditanus in New Testament Apocrypha (Burke and Landau (Eerdmans, 2017, p. 3-18), although the translator Katharina Heyden does not reference the Ladder of Jacob. In two manuscripts one of the Magi describe their first encounter with Jesus. The first sees a child, the second sees a thirty year old man and the third as like an old man. This is similar to Ladder of Jacob 7:6-9, but it is far from a clear allusion and cannot be used to determine dependence. Other than the reference to wise men in 7:18, there is less connecting the two books than expected.

In the final chapter of the book, author of the Ladder of Jacob describes several signs the “expected one” will soon arrive: “Such will be the signs at the time of his coming: A tree cut with an ax will bleed; three-month-old babes will speak understanding; a baby in the womb of his mother will speak of his way; a youth will be like an old man” (7:4-8).

As with most of the short expansions of Scripture in the Pseudepigrapha it is difficult to assess the value of the Ladder of Jacob. The activity of the angels in the book certainly is consistent with other apocalyptic books and the series of kings who will oppress Israel until a messiah-like liberator appears is similar to Daniel or 2 Baruch.

The Lives of the Prophets (Liv. Pro.) seems to have been written in the first century by a Jew, but because it was preserved by Christians there many interpolations with distinctive Christian theology. It is possible the legendary acts of the prophets included in the book date to the Maccabean period but it is almost impossible to date the various strata of the book (the legends, the Jewish text, the Christian editing.) The best hint is the description of Elijah as having come from “the land of the Arabs” (21:1), possibly connecting his birthplace to the Nabateans. Since the Nabateans virtually disappear after A.D. 106 when Trajan moves trade routes to avoid Petra, the book was written after this time.

This book lists prophets from the Hebrew Bible and gives details on their birth, city of residence, and death. As D. A. Hare notes, the reason the book is so rarely included in collections of Pseudepigrapha is that it is nearly devoid of theology: “Religious edification is not its prime purpose, and consequently theological themes are for the most part dealt with only indirectly” (OTP 2:382). However, expanding biblical narratives is a practice driven by theology. For many of the prophets in the collection were not associated with miracles in the canonical texts. By passing along traditions of miracles (or creating new miracle stories) the author validates the word of these particular prophets. No non-canonical prophet appears in the list, even if a few are obscure in the Hebrew Bible. There are a few Christian additions, such as Jeremiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth, including the detail that the child would be laid in a manger (2:8).

Image result for The Martyrdom of IsaiahThe book assumes the text of the Bible as a foundation and adds legendary miracle stories to the adventures of the prophets. For example, Jeremiah prays for asps and crocodiles to leave the Jewish refugees alone when then arrive in Egypt (2:3). When Nebuchadnezzar goes mad in Daniel 4, the prophet is asked to pray for Nebuchadnezzar when asked by his son Baltasar (4:4).  Daniel did “many other prodigies” for the Persian kings which were not written down (4:18). Habakkuk sees the glory of the Temple and predicts its destruction (12:10-12).

The stories pass along a few traditions about the prophets. The tradition Isaiah was sawn in two by Manasseh (1:1) appears in the Martyrdom of Isaiah and possibly Hebrews 11:37. According to the book, Daniel was born in Upper Beth-Horon and was thought to be a eunuch (4:2). When Elisha was born in Gilgal, the golden calf in Bethel bellowed shrilly, so loud that it was heard in Jerusalem (22:1-2).

The Lives also passes along the story that Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a rock in the wilderness (2:11-19), a story with some parallels in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 and 4 Baruch 3:8-12. Since D. R. A. Hare sees no evidence of borrowing he suggests the Lives of the Prophets is evidence for the currency of this tradition in the “folklore of Palestine” (384). There is a location near the Dead Sea some Israeli guides will point out as the location of the Ark, at least according to fringe archaeologist Vendyl Jones.

A major interest of the author of these prophetic lives is the burial place of the prophet. Isaiah was buried underneath the Oak of Rogel (1:1). Jeremiah died in Taphnai, Egypt “in the environs of Pharaoh’s palace” after being stoned by his own people (2:1). Ezekiel was buried in the “field of Maour” in the grave of Shem and Arpachshad (Gen 10:22, possibly the “Oaks of Mamre”). The tomb is described as a double tomb like Abraham’s tomb at Hebron (3:3-4). Catherine Hezser speculates in her Jewish Travel in Antiquity (WUNT/2; Mohr Seiberg, 2011) that it is possible the Lives of the Prophets was used as a kind of guidebook to the tombs of the prophets, but she concludes it is impossible to be certain (386).


Bibliography: D. R. A. Hare, “The Lives of the Prophets: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985)379-399.

Fourth Baruch was likely written in Hebrew, although no Hebrew manuscript of the book is extent. There are a number of words which are difficult in Greek, but make some sense of a Semitic language original is assumed. The book refers several times to the “vineyard of Agrippa.” Agrippa II ruled Judea from A.D. 41 until the fall of Jerusalem. If the fall of Jerusalem in the book refers to the events of A.D. 70, then the book must have been completed in the late first century. The problem for this date is the presence of redactional levels within the “Jewish” text. It seems probable a number of books could have been written in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem using Baruch and Jeremiah as models, 2 Baruch is the most obvious example of such a literary attempt to deal with the crisis of faith a Jew might have experienced after the temple was destroyed. A Christian revision of the work was made at a later date including the obviously Christian ending (8:12-9:32).

If the book does come from a Jewish context, then 4 Baruch is evidence some first century Jews believed the Temple administration were “false stewards” and the fall of Jerusalem was God’s just punishment. Just as in the apocalyptic literature, there is a pattern of punishment (exile) and restoration. The restoration is described in terms of a resurrection of the nation (represented by the eagle flying over the tombs). In the Christian conclusion the writer implies the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus and are justly punished in the events of A. D. 70. In either case, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is interpreted as a just act of a righteous God.

The book begins with Jeremiah praying to the Lord on behalf of the city of Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah the city will fall, which Jeremiah reports to Baruch. Baruch is to take the vessels from the temple “to the earth” and guard them. Abimelech the Ethiopian is sent to the vineyard of Agrippa to collect figs and while he is gone the city falls. Baruch is told the city fell because the people were false stewards and he goes and sits at a tomb waiting for the things God would reveal to him. Abimelech, meanwhile, sits under a tree in the heart of the sun with his basket of figs. He sleeps there for sixty-six years, awakens and takes his basket of figs to the city. Obviously he is a bit surprised to find the city destroyed and long abandoned, so he cries out to the Lord.

An angel is sent to him and takes him to the tomb of Baruch, who is waiting patiently for him to return. They embrace and the angel tells him to prepare himself because the Mighty One is coming. Baruch writes a letter to Jeremiah telling him what the Angel of has announced. This letter is delivered to Jeremiah in Babylon by an eagle, along with fifteen of the figs (cf. 2 Baruch 78). When the eagle flies over the place where exiles have been buried, the dead come alive. Jeremiah reads the letter to the people and they rejoice and celebrate a feast day since they are about to return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah is going to lead the people back from Babylon but many do not want to leave because they have married Babylonian women. Jeremiah forbids them to enter Jerusalem, so they go and found Samaria instead.

The final chapter is a scene of worship in Jerusalem led by Jeremiah (verse 7f mentions the Son of God, Jesus Christ the light of the Aeons). Before the Lord comes will be four hundred and seventy seven years (chronologically the author thinks this return from captivity is about 477 B.C.). Why 477 years? This is an odd number since it is not a multiple of 70 (as would 490 years in Daniel 9). The number 477 is 3×159, but 159 is not a particular significant number either.

The people are angry at Jeremiah for this prophecy about Jesus and attempt to stone him, but the stones cry out condemning Israel for their treatment of Jeremiah (cf. the Lives of the Prophets, where the prophecy of the Virgin Mary is the reason Jeremiah is stoned by the Jews). In Luke 19:40 Jesus says that if he commands the people to be silent “the stones will cry out.” This is not likely a direct parallel since the words of Jesus probably go back to several Psalms which indicate creation will rejoice when the Lord “the Lord reigns” (Pss 96:11; 98:7-9; 114:1-8, see also Isa 55:12; Hab 2:11). This Christian ending to the book is a polemic against the Jews for their role in killing Jesus. The Jews in the story are enraged by the prophecy from Jeremiah about the coming Son of God, so much so they kill him.


Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum is a Second Temple period collection of biblical expansions. These are not quite “alternate histories” but rather attempts to fill-in-the-gaps left by some of the stories in the Hebrew Bible. Joshua and Judges mention a few characters in passing, the author of LAB attempts to expand these tantalizingly brief biblical stories.

In LAB 25 Kenaz, from the tribe of Caleb, was elected as leader after the death of Joshua. This Kenaz is an obscure character in Judges, where he identified as the younger brother of Caleb and the father of Othniel.  He captured the city of Kiriath Sepher (Joshua 15:17, Judges 1:13, 1 Chron. 4:13). Like Joshua, he dedicates the people to the covenant as they are to continue the conquest. Kenaz discovers that some men from the tribe of Reuben have made a copy of the Golden Calf. In fact, men from many of the tribes are discovered to have made idols or committed idolatry. These sinners are punished with death (put to death in the river Fison). The precious stones from the idols are to be destroyed “under the ban.”

The Lord himself destroys them, but Kenaz is instructed to look for twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes and to make these into an ephod. Which stone was to represent which tribe is detailed in chapters 9-11 (cf. Ex. 28:17-20, which does not designate specific stones for tribes.) As Kenaz discovers stones not burned by fire and he finds they have names of the tribes inscribed on the back. It might be possible to use this passage as a guide for the various stones in the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21. It is possible there are several competing lists of stones for tribes since this list includes Joseph and Levi, but not Ephraim and Manasseh. The military victory of Kenaz are recorded in chapter 27. Like Moses and Joshua, his victories are based on prayer and relying on the Lord to fight the battles.

Chapter 28 is Kenaz’s last testament, although it differs a bit in form since he allows Phineas, the son of Eleazar the priest report a dream which he had three nights before in which the Lord threatens to destroy the nation if they do not follow the covenant. The holy spirit came upon Kenaz and he was “put into an ecstasy” and he began to prophesy about the creation of the world. Man has been given 7,000 years during which time they will dwell in this world. In chapter 29 Zebul is appointed to lead after Kenaz. Zebul is another obscure character from Judges 9:28-41 who liberates Shechem from Gaal, the son of Ebed. Perhaps this otherwise unknown person is Ehud (Judges 3:12-30, immediately after Othniel and before Deborah; see OTP 2:342 note o).

Chapter 38 expands on the career of Jair (Judges 10:36). In the biblical material there is little said about the man. Here he is a leader appointed by the Lord who does not lead the people to follow the Law, rather, he builds an altar to Baal. Both he and the worshipers at his sanctuary are burned with fire.

Chapter 40 offers some details on the well-known story of Jephthah’s rash vow appears here, with a great deal more detail (the daughter’s name is Seila, for example. “Seila is only one of more than forty names given by subsequent writers to this girl, who is unnamed in the biblical story” (Sol Liptzin, “Jephthah and His Daughter” in D. K. Jeffrey, editor, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature.) Her lament while on Mount Stelac makes it clear she expects to be sacrificed, which exactly what happens. Israel mourns for Seila for four days every year and they named her tomb after her.

In chapter 44 the writer develops the intriguing story of Micah’s sin and idolatry (Judges 17). The idols are described as in the shape of human boys, calves, a lion, and eagle, a dragon and a dove. Depending on what one was praying for, they would offer a sacrifice at one of the altars (at the altar of boys for children, and the dove for a wife, etc.) This complex idolatry begins a stinging rebuke from the Lord himself (no prophet is mentioned here.) The Lord will destroy the whole nation because they have chosen to worship idols despite the fact they agreed (in the covenant) not to do. The Lord will cut his root off of the earth and the dying will outnumber the ones being born. Micah and his mother are the first to be burned up because of their idolatry.

The writer develops the disturbing story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). The story in Judges has an implied parallel to the story of Lot’s rescue from Sodom, our author makes this parallel explicit. The difference is the priest stopped in Gibeah and went on to Nob; in Judges the outrage occurs at Gibeah (The biblical story may be part of an anti-Saul polemic. King Saul was from Gibeah, therefore his own family may have been involved in the atrocity recorded here; at the very least his father or grandfather would have been among the men who stole brides in Judges 21). Perhaps the writer is shifting the location of the outrage in order to protect the reputation of King Saul.

Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum is retelling of biblical stories originally written in Hebrew in the late first century A.D. This date is based on a possible reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 19:7, but the evidence is thin and could be interpreted as referring to the Babylonians (586 B.C.) or Romans (67 B.C.), or even the period of Antiochus IV Epiphanies’ persecutions. There are potential parallels with 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra which would imply a date in the late first century.

The book claims to be written by Philo of Alexandria, but this is unlikely since Philo wrote in Greek. At several points in the text Pseudo-Philo contradicts Philo (the number of years from Adam to the flood, the description of Moses’ burial, etc.) The book is important for New Testament studies since it sheds light on how Jews in the first century may have understood their own history. However, this is limited since the texts “expanded” by Pseudo-Philo are not discussed by the New Testament authors in any detail.

The major interest in the book is the Covenant of God. The whole book of Genesis is summarized in chapters 1-8, yet there are four chapters detailing the covenant rededication at the time of Joshua (21-24). The leadership of the nation is an important theme, so much so that the author invents careers for Kenaz and Zebul to fill in the gap between Joshua and the first of the judges. Several “minor” judges are given detailed stories where the Hebrew Bible has nothing. This succession of leadership is more important than the origins of the nation, Genesis is rapidly summarized while the careers of Joshua, Kenaz, Zebul and the other Judges are quite detailed.

There are a few expansions of the biblical text in this book which are interesting. Chapter 6 relates the apocryphal tale of Abram’s refusal to make bricks for the Tower of Babel. Both Nahor and Lot are included among the twelve individuals who refused. The story was rewritten through the lens of the three youths in Daniel 3, including the climactic statement of faith in God in 6:11.

“Behold, today I flee to the mountains. And if I escape the fire, wild beasts will come out of the mountains and devour us; or we will lack food and die of famine; and we will be found fleeing from the people of this land but falling in our sins. And now as he in whom I trust lives, I will not be moved from my place where they have put me. If there be any sin of mine so flagrant that I should be burned up, let the will of God be done.”

The Babylonians throw Abram and his supporters into a fiery furnace, but God “caused a great earthquake, and the fire gushing out of the furnace leaped forth in flames and sparks of flame. And it burned all those standing around in sight of the furnace. And all those who were burned in that day were 83,500. But there was not the least injury to Abram from the burning of the fire” 6:17). God responds to Abram’s faith by promising to bring Abram to the “the land upon which my eye has looked from of old” and promises him “I will have my servant Abram dwell and will establish my covenant with him and will bless his seed and be lord for him as God forever” (7:4). Abram settles in Canaan after the confusion of tongues, although the author skips over Abram’s attempt to have a son through Hagar (ch. 8).

Overlooking the faithlessness and sin in the live of Abraham is typical of biblical expansions in the Second Temple period. As the great heroes of the faith become even more heroic, there is a tendency to omit their shortcomings. Even within the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles overlooks David’s sin with Bathsheba. In the case of LAB, the author offers an explanation of why God chose Abram. Abram is a faithful monotheist before God gives him the promise of Genesis 12.

In the summer of 2016 I began a long series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. I made about 75 posts that summer but only managed to work through the Enoch literature, the Sibylline Oracles, Fourth Ezra and 2 Baruch, and short posts on Treatise of Shem, The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, and Apocalypse of Zephaniah. I picked up the series again in the summer of 2017 and worked my way through Joseph and Asenath. Even after 120 posts on this literature, there is still many more the pseudepigraphical books I have yet to cover in Charlesworth. I hope to get to the recent More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (eds. Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, Alexander Panayotov; Eerdmans 2013).

My original motivation for the series was preparation for teaching an intertestamental literature class in Spring 2017. I enjoyed teaching the class and I think most of the students liked the class and learned a great deal about the literature of the Second Temple Period. Evangelicals tend to shy away from this material, but I think it is essential to have a firm grasp on what was in the air in the Second Temple period in order to understand the New Testament, especially as more scholars recognized the apocalyptic nature of both Jesus and Paul.

Another benefit of an open publication like this blog is the feedback I get from readers. There were a number of comments which interacted with what I had posted and often gave me new insights or links to other material to supplement my posts. Most of the posts in the original series still generate hits every day, so I hope people are finding some value in this series.

I plan to pick up this series again this summer beginning with the biblical expansions as they appear in Charlesworth and then move on to the Wisdom and Poetry Literature.

If you missed the series last two summers, here is an index for the previous posts on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.


1 Enoch

2 Enoch

3 Enoch

Sibylline Oracles

The Treatise of Shem

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragment 1

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, Fragments 2-5

What is the Apocalypse of Zephaniah?

Fourth Ezra

2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch

The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)

Apocalypse of Abraham

Apocalypse of Adam

Apocalypse of Elijah

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Testament of Job

Testament of Abraham

Testament of Isaac

Testament of Jacob

Testament of Moses

Testament of Solomon


The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Christian Visions and the Ascension of Isaiah

The Life of Adam and Eve

The Apocalypse of Adam and Eve

Joseph and Aseneth






In the opening paragraph of the book we are introduced to Joseph and Pharaoh and the well-known situation of the famine. Pentaphres a priest in Hierapolis has a beautiful daughter named Asenath. She is described as tall like Sarah, handsome like Rebecca and beautiful like Rachel. The son of Pharaoh desires to marry her, but the king pushes him toward a royal marriage. We are told Asenath has scorned the attention of men and is “scornful and arrogant to everyone.

Image result for joseph and asenethIn chapter 3-6 Joseph visits the priest’s home to collect corn because of the famine. He stays until the afternoon and Asenath prepares herself to meet him. Before he arrives, her father proposes a marriage between Asenath and Joseph. She arrogantly refuses and becomes enraged at the suggestion. When Joseph arrives, however, she sees him dressed in this royal outfit she falls in love with him (she trembles and her knees are paralyzed). The description of Joseph is angelic, prompting David Aune to see a parallel to this passage in the description of Christ in Revelation 1 (See Aune, Revelation 1-5, 72), although the description in both Joseph and Asenath and Revelation is likely a development from Daniel 7 (as Aune himself notes). Expecting a shepherd from Canaan, she was not prepared for “such beauty.” She describes him as a “son of a god.”

Joseph, however, is not a hurry to meet Asenath (chapter 7-9). Only after he is convinced she will not “molest him” does he consent to meet her. Asenath expects him to kiss her, but he refuses since he worships God and she worships idols and eats the food offered to idols. This section is the main crux of interpretation for the study of the book since Joseph describes his worship as eating blessed bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality. This passage has been the subject of lengthy discussions concerning the possibility of finding the Lord’s Supper here as well as potential parallels to John 6 and 1 Cor. 10 (OTP 2:211 note i).

There are at least two possibilities. The most obvious (and easiest to handle) is that this is a Christian interpolation added at a much later date to make it appear as though the Communion was anticipated in the book of Genesis. The second possibility is that the reference to “true worship” as the eating of the bread of life and drinking the cup of immortality is a Jewish concept which may have had an influence on the book of John. This creates all sorts of issues when dealing with the book of John and the sources of imagery chosen in Chapter 6. This is a possibility because the text clearly contrasts the food of Joseph with the “bread of strangulation and the cup of insidiousness.” The reference in the book may be simply “true worship” versus “false worship.” How this influences John 6 (or is influenced by John 6) is a separate issue. Asenath is insulted and “distressed exceedingly” at Joseph’s rather final refusal of her. She resolves to repent, to pray to the God of Israel, and to ask him to “make her alive again” (8:11). Spurned, Asenath returns to her room and bitterly weeps in repentance. Joseph promises to return in a week’s time.

Chapters 10-13 describe Asenath as a model of repentance. She only eats bread and drinks water, she wears sackcloth put ashes on her head. She refuses to be comforted by her attendant virgins and she destroys her idols. Chapters 11-13 are “soliloquies” on repentance.

Asenath’s repentance is genuine and she is reward with a visit from an angelic figure (chapter 14-17). This sequence is the most mysterious in the book and may not be very well understood for as much has been written in it.  This angel calls to her (Asenath, Asenath) to which she responds “here I am,” just as Abraham did at critical points in Genesis (Gen 22, for example). She sees a man very much like Joseph except that he is shining like sunshine. He tells her to have courage and to dress. Her prayers have been heard and she has been accepted by God. He tells her she will be the bride of Joseph and that her name will be “city of refuge.” The heavenly man, who refuses to give his name, gives Asenath a honeycomb “which is the bread of life.” Asenath invites him to sit on her bed (which no one has been in other than herself), and she prepares a table for him.

Image result for joseph and aseneth honeycombHe asks for honeycomb, but Asenath tells him there is none in the store room. He tells her to go and check, and returns with a wonderful honeycomb. She knows the man “spoke, and it came into being,” a spiritual insight. The man blesses her (“happy are you” is the form a beatitude) and he tells her this honeycomb is the bread of life. He breaks off a piece and gives it to her, telling her that now she has eaten the bread of life and drank the cup of immortality. The man then touches the honeycomb, drawing his finger in the shape of a cross (or an X), and his finger became like blood. Innumerable bees began to rise from the comb and surround her mouth. They eat the honeycomb out of her mouth then ascend into heaven. He then blesses the seven virgins who attend Asenath – they will be the seven pillars in the “City of Refugee” (i.e., Asenath). The man disappears while she is putting the table away. She sees a chariot of fire with four horses traveling to the east, and then she realizes either a god or the God has been in her chamber.

Joseph arrives for his second visit in chapters 18-20. Asenath is instructed to prepare herself for his arrival, so she dresses beautifully. She is so striking her foster-father says “At last the Lord God of Heaven has chosen you as a bride for his firstborn son, Joseph.” When Joseph arrives he too is amazed at her beauty and asks her name. She explains to him her decision to no longer worship idols and of her vision of the man from heaven. They embrace for a long time and hold hands.

Pentephres proposes marriage and Joseph suggests the Pharaoh give the wedding banquet. We are told Joseph did not sleep with Asenath until after they were married, “It does not befit a man who worships God to sleep with his wife before the wedding” (20:1). This line is important for what it says about sexual morality in Judaism at the time of Christ, but also because Joseph refers to Asenath as wife before the wedding. This is helpful in sorting out the descriptions of Mary in Matthew and Luke. There Joseph can refer to his “wife Mary” and perhaps seek a divorce despite the fact they have not yet been married.

Pharaoh presides over the wedding of Joseph and Asenath (ch. 21) and holds a seven-day banquet for them. Asenath confesses her sin before the Lord in eleven stages (idol worship, trust in arrogance of beauty, etc.). Jacob and the rest of the family move from Canaan to Goshen (ch. 22. Asenath is astounded at his beauty even though he is an old man. She especially likes Levi because he has devoted himself to the service of the Lord.

Joseph and Aseneth book is a “romance,” telling the story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of Potiphera (called Pentepheres in this book.)  Like the book of Jubilees, the book attempts to answer a question which many people have about the story of Joseph.  If Joseph was such a godly Jew, how could he marry an Egyptian, especially one whose father is a pagan priest?  The book was written in Greek and seems to have been a Jewish book, although there are Christian interpolations (possibly the honeycomb sequence, for example, which mentions the “bread of life.”) The book may have been known in the fourth century A.D. since it is mentioned in the Pilgrimage of Etheria. This book is a list of “holy sites” written about A.D. 382.  The reference to Asenath’s house is found in a fragment of the work in Peter the Deacon of Monte Cassino’s On the Holy Places, which is dated to about A.D. 1137.

Image result for Joseph and AsenethIt is probable that the book uses the LXX, making for a date of no earlier than 100 B.C. If the work is from Alexandria (again, the scholarly consensus), then it is unlikely to have been written much after the Jewish revolt under Trajan, A.D. 115-117. A major argument in favor of Egypt is that Asenath is the heroine, the only convert to Judaism from Egypt.  If it was from Palestine, then Ruth or Rahab might have been better examples of pagan conversions, see OTP 2:187-188.  This argument weakens if the book is an apologetic explaining why Joseph married an Egyptian, or an explanation of how Joseph married a gentile without punishment, aimed at Diaspora Jews tempted to marry gentiles.  Like Reuben or Judah in Jubilees, the story may be intended to explain that just because Joseph “got away with it” does not mean you can!

The book falls into two parts.  The first is the “romance” between Joseph and Asenath (chapters 1-21).  This romance is more about repentance and gentile conversion than romantic love.  From the perspective of the book, it is entirely possible for a gentile to truly convert to Judaism.  Asenath is so thorough a convert she receives a heavenly visit which confirms her resolve.  In order to convert she must completely reject her former idolatrous ways, a point made several times in the book, including the eating of food associated with these idols.  This may play into the background of the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols which turns up at several points in the New Testament, especially in Pauline letters.

As Christianity spread into Gentile regions, the meal became a potential problem on two levels.  Some Jews appear to have been more than uncomfortable eating with Gentiles, especially those that were not of the “God-Fearers.” A second and related reason was the potential for non-kosher foods to be eaten, included meats that had been sacrificed to idols.  To the Gentile, this was not a problem, since they never cared about it before Christ, and it isn’t really a problem after becoming a Christian for them.  But to the Jew, this is a sin!  Such food is unclean so they could not eat it in good conscious.  The issue of table fellowship appears in Galatians 2:11-18.  Peter had shared the table with Gentiles, but after a visit from “certain people from James” he withdrew from eating with Gentiles.  Asenath indicates that, at least for some Jews, the food laws were of critical importance for true conversion. Circumcision may be the primary “boundary marker” but it is obviously not an issue for Asenath.

The second part of the book concerns a plot by the son of the Pharaoh to kill his father to revenge his losing Asenath to Joseph.  This plot goes wrong when Asenath is caught in the trap.  The son of the Pharaoh is injured in the attack and dies soon after.  This section has less to do with New Testament issues than the first, although there is a continuation of the theme that Asenath is more righteous than the (Jewish) sons of Bilah and Zilpah.

M. D. Johnson translation of the Greek version of the Life of Adam and Eve is rearranged and placed in parallel columns to the Latin version in Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. This text is sometimes called Apocalypse of Moses, although he refers to it as the Apocalypse of Adam and Eve. Based on possible parallels to rabbinic material and 2 Enoch, Johnson argues the text was originally written in Hebrew near the end of the first century and translated into Greek in the fourth century.

Ultra White Adam and EveIn Chapter 29 Adam and Eve mourn for seven days after the fall. Eve asks that Adam to “do away with her” because of what she has done. Adam dismisses the thought since he cannot commit murder against his own rib. He suggests, rather, that they repent. The story continues much the same as the Vita.

After they came out of paradise, Eve has two sons, Diaphotos, called Cain, and Amilabes, called Abel (Chapters 1-5:1). Eve has a vision of Abel’s murder, so as in the Vita, so the parents attempt to separate the children. Cain however is a “son of wrath” and murders his brother. In 5:1 we are told Adam fathered thirty sons and thirty daughters.

In chapters 5-14 Adam falls ill and requests Seth and Eve go to paradise and bring fruit to receive his pain (instead of the oil of life as in Vita, although in 13:2-6 Michael tells Seth it is no good trying to get the oil from the tree.) At this point Michael says that all men must die, but they will be raised up in the “great day.”

Chapters 15-30 the fall from Eve’s perspective and are not paralleled in Vita. Adam was responsible for guarding the north and east of the garden along with the male animals, while Eve was responsible for the south and west and the female animals. The devil convinces the serpent to “be his vessel” so that Adam can be tempted. When the angels who were watching over the humans in the garden depart to worship God the devil approaches Eve and discusses the fruit with her. The dialogue is expanded from the biblical narrative. For example, the devil makes Eve swear by the throne of the Lord and the cherubim to share the fruit with her husband. The fruit was sprinkled with the poison of covetousness. When Eve eats she realizes she is naked (the glory which clothed her was gone) so she makes a skirt from fig leaves.

She calls to Adam and tells him she will share with him a great mystery, but when she opens her mouth to speak it is the devil who talks. Adam is persuaded, eats, and realizes what Eve has done to him – “you have estranged me from the glory of God” (Cf. 2 Enoch 31, blaming Eve for the fall of Adam. In Genesis Eve is not cursed, here she is the subject of a lengthy curse). God arrives in Paradise and the throne of God is made ready at the place where the tree of life was. When God calls on Adam to explain himself, Adam says the serpent deceived him (rather than Eve, as in the biblical account). Chapters 24-26 contain the “curses” on the woman and the serpent (which imply the serpent had hands and feet prior to this).

In chapters 27-30 Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden and they are not allowed back into paradise. The Lord tells them if they guard themselves from evil they will be raised to paradise again “at the time of the resurrection.” As Adam dies, Eve repents of her sin in deceiving her husband (ch. 31-37). She is visited by the “angel of mankind” (probably Michael, OTP 1:287 note b). who tells her to look up and see Adam’s spirit leave his body and is taken up to meet its maker. She sees a brief vision of heaven and Adam on the chariot along with the seraphim. Adam’s soul is taken up into Paradise, in the third heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2, Paul was called up into Paradise, in the third heaven).

Finally, in chapters 38-42 The archangel instructs Seth how to bury the body of Adam. Michael brings silk cloths from the third heaven and wraps the body which is placed in a sealed tomb for six days, after which time his “rib” would be returned to him (i.e., Eve will die and “join him in the tomb”). Chapter 41 is a promise to Adam that “on the last day” he will participate in the resurrection along with “every man of your seed.” Presumably this means spiritual seed rather than universal resurrection.


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