The Prayer of Jacob

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.

Ancient magical papyri, The Prayer of JacobIt 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).



The Prayer of Joseph

This prayer of repentance is only known through three fragments embedded in the writings of Origin. J. Z. Smith described the text as “a tantalizing fragment that has left no discernible impact on subsequent literature” (OTP 2:711).

Although the prayer originally ran some 1100 lines, only nine are now extant. Since the longest fragment appears in Origin’s Commentary on John, the prayer dates before A.D. 231. Origin introduced the text as “an apocrypha presently in use among the Hebrews.” J. Z. Smith thought the parallels with Hebrew and Aramaic prayers suggest a date in the first century (OTP 2:700). After observing the uncertainty associated with this text, Stephen Robinson suggests the prayer was written in the first century in either in Aramaic or Greek by a Jewish author (ABD 3:976). In his Lexham Bible Dictionary article, John Barry suggests the possibility the text may have “gnostic undertones” since Jacob is described as elevated figure with special abilities and knowledge.

Of interest to New Testament studies is the description of Jacob as “firstborn of every living being” in line three of the first fragment:

“I, Jacob, who is speaking to you, am also Israel, an angel of God and a ruling spirit. Abraham and Isaac were created before any work. But, I, Jacob, who men call Jacob but whose name is Israel am he who God called Israel which means, a man seeing God, because I am the firstborn of every living thing to whom God gives life.

This is remarkably similar to Colossians 1:15, although the Prayer of Joseph uses πρωτογενός rather than πρωτότοκος. But as Smith points out, both usages have their origin in Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my firstborn” (πρωτότοκός μου Ισραηλ, cf., 4 Ezra 6:58; Sir 36:17; PssSol 18:4). In addition, this fragmentary text also stats Abraham and Isaac were created before anything else.  In John 8:58, Jesus claims “before Abraham was, I am.” In both Colossians and John, the issue is the pre-existence of Jesus, the Prayer of Joseph may be evidence of some interest among some first century Jews in the pre-existence of patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob.

One additional intriguing element of the first fragment is the re-interpretation of the struggle between Jacob and an angel in Genesis 32:22-32. In that canonical story, the identity of the man who wrestles with Jacob is not at all clear; he is never called an angel, but he seems more than human. When he blesses Jacob, the man says “you have striven with God.” Although this may imply the man was an angel (on an incarnation of God), that is not clear in the text. The Prayer of Joseph identifies the angel as Uriel:

And when I was coming up from Syrian Mesopotamia, Uriel, the angel of God, came forth and said that ‘I [Jacob-Israel] had descended to earth and I had tabernacled among men and that I had been called by the name of Jacob.’ He envied me and fought with me and wrestled with me saying that his name and the name that is before every angel was to be above mine. 6I told him his name and what rank he held among the sons of God. ‘Are you not Uriel, the eighth after me? and I, Israel, the archangel of the power of the Lord and the chief captain among the sons of God? Am I not Israel, the first minister before the face of God?’ And I called upon my God by the inextinguishable name.”

This angel is one of the archangels, serving as a “chief captain among the sons of God,” but so too is Israel, the “first minister before the face of God.” Uriel appears in Uriel are those found in The Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 72–82) and guides Enoch in several other heavenly journeys (1 Enoch 19:1; 21:5, 9; 27:2; 33:3-4). 1 Enoch 20:2 identifies him as one of the angels ruling over Tartarus. Since Israel overcomes Uriel, Barry suggests this is an allegory for the elevation of Israel (the nation) over all people.


Bibliography: Barry, John D. “Prayer of Joseph” LBD; Newsom, Carol A. “Uriel (Angel),” ABD 6:769; Smith, J. Z. “Prayer of Joseph,” OTP 2:699-714.



What is Third Maccabees?

This “historical romance” was written in Greek sometime after the battle of Raphia (217 B.C.) and before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The book seems to know the additions to Daniel and possible the Letter of Aristeas as well, so it is probable the book was written in the first century B.C. The book may also have used 2 Maccabees, there are parallels in vocabulary and style. The book is often included in texts on the Apocrypha. The book is misnamed, since it does not contain a history of the Maccabean period, nor is it a continuation of the other two Maccabean books.  The book concerns an incident unrelated to the Maccabean family, and is titled Ptolemaica in some manuscripts (deSilva, 306).

Image result for third maccabeesSome scholars date the book to the reign of Caligula because of his desire to place an image of himself in the temple in A.D. 40. This sort of fictional “reaction” to Caligula is told in the guise of a similar crisis of the not-too-distant past. The problem with this view is there nothing explicit in the text which points to Rome or Caligula as the real point of the book.

A third possibility is the book was written in response to the shift from Egyptian to Roman control of Egypt in 24 B.C. The civic status of the Jew in Egypt was in question at that time, therefore the author creates a story as a comment on the beginning of Roman rule in Egypt. The evidence for this is a hint in 2:28 to a Roman poll tax.

This is a very thin argument and cannot serve as a final proof of the date of the book either. As Anderson says in his introduction, the real problem with each of these theories is that the book does not read like a “crisis document.” It lacks nearly every important characteristic of the apocalyptic response to a crisis (judgment, retribution, overthrow of the present age by God himself).

3 Maccabees may have been written as a defense of Diaspora Jews written to a Judean Jewish audience (Williams, 17). Since they live outside the land, they are considered to be “still in exile” and are therefore still under God’s judgment. The book demonstrates that God hears the prayers of the Diaspora Jewish community and preserves them in persecution, as he did during the Jewish community in Judea during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. It is possible the Jews in Jerusalem looked down on the Jews living outside the land.  The Jew of the Diaspora has as close of a connection to God as of the Jewish living in the land.

The book certainly addresses the problem of apostasy in the Diaspora since the Jews who have renounced their faith in the book are judged harshly. A major theme of the book is the boundary between the Jew and the Gentile. When Gentiles appear in the story, they are prejudiced, lawless and abominable. Even in Egypt Jews are warned to keep their distance from Gentiles and to avoid apostasy at all cost.

The context of the Caligula decree seems to make the most sense, but there does not seem to be enough time for a book like this to be written and circulated to make much of a difference in that situation. It is possible the author has in mind “generic” persecution, since a number of Greek and Roman generals sought to enter the temple. Pompey did in fact enter the Holy of Holies without any judgment. It is possible the book was written after Pompey as a sort of “what should have happened” story.

The study of this book is valuable to the student of the New Testament because it describes the Jews as unwilling to compromise their faith even in the Diaspora. When Ptolemy threatens to enter the sanctuary the whole population of Jerusalem join in the protest, but it is a protest to God to step into the situation and stop Ptolemy himself.  God is “the God, who oversees all things, the first Father of all, holy among the holy ones” (NRSV), therefore he can act and do what he needs to in order to defend himself.

Paul’s encounters with Jews in Asia Minor, for example, indicate that most Jews were keeping the law and not particularly interested Paul’s encouragement of Gentiles to “convert” partially by believing Jesus is the Messiah and not keep the Law. Here in this book those Jews who chose to “following their own bellies” and reject the Law in order to gain favor with the King are killed in the climax of the story. It is little wonder Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law often resulted in riots and physical abuse (2 Cor 12).


Bibliography: David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 304-322; David Williams, “3 Maccabees: A Defense of Diaspora Judaism,” Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), 17-29.


2 Peter and Pseudepigraphy

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept the idea historical Peter was the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus. Bart Erhman deals with this issue in his popular book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.

In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter were rejected by the church because they were not authentic. If there was a possibility Peter was not authentic, it would have been treated the same as other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is very different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if the amanuensis was given a more free hand in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case the two letters are related. Statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter in order to “sound like” Peter, I would include these details to give the letter the “ring of truth.” In fact, it is odd the is to Matthew when Peter was associated with Mark. The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This allusions sounds is too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than Galatians 2 might imply. Still, there is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter be less authoritative? Suppose someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, a letter written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, most scholars are confident there was a “historical Clement” who wrote 1 Clement. If 1 Clement is authentic and 2 Peter is not, why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?


Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

Resources for 2 Enoch (Slavonic)

2-Enoch-PerspectivesI am happy that Jim Davila  has been posting links to my Enoch series on his PaleoJudaica blog.  He also included a few links to older posts on PaleoJudaica that might be of interest.

I failed to mention in my introductory post that 2 Enoch was only known in Slovonic until recently.  In No longer ‘Slavonic’ only: 2 Enoch attested in Coptic from Nubia, Jim reports on the re-discovery of fragments of 2 Enoch in Coptic. The fragments of 2 Enoch chapters 36-42 were found in 1972. Joost Hagan published his paper in New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only (Andrei Orlov, Gabriele Boccaccini, eds.; Leiden: Brill, 2012). If Brill wants to send me a copy, I’d be glad to review this book!

2 Enoch: ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US is a report from The fifth Enoch Seminar held in Naples in 2009. Interesting note: “Even so, very few scholars know Slavonic. Of the sixty delegates of this year’s Enoch Seminar, only eight were specialists in this language.”

Slavonic-EnochOLD CHURCH SLAVONIC WATCH: The “Other” Lost Scriptures: Beyond the Dead Sea Scrolls, Slavonic texts break all the rules (Philip Jenkins, Aleteia). here Jim takes some issue with Jenkins’s claim that “The shorter, older version takes us back to a work written by an Alexandrian Jew somewhere around the 1st century AD—roughly the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” As he rightly objects, “he Greek text went through a long period of transmission in the Byzantine period, then it was translated into Old Church Slavonic and again underwent a long period of transmission before the surviving late medieval manuscripts were produced.”

Jim also had a short note on Grant Macaskill, The Slavonic Texts of 2 Enoch (Leiden, Brill, 2013). According to the Brill catalog, “The book also includes an introductory discussion of the manuscripts and the problems associated with text-critical work on them, and a translation of the neglected manuscript B, with notes on the significance of its readings for the reconstruction of an ur-text.”

I should also mention Andrei Orlov’s collection of resources for Slavonic Enoch.