Egyptian / Persian / Judean wisdom: Judean legends of Jannes and Jambres as enchanters or Magians in the Exodus account (third century CE and earlier)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Egyptian / Persian / Judean wisdom: Judean legends of Jannes and Jambres as enchanters or Magians in the Exodus account (third century CE and earlier),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 25, 2024,

Ancient authors: Translators of the Septuagint account of Exodus 7-8 (third-first century BCE); Anonymous, Damascus Document 5.17-20 (first century BCE or earlier); Pliny the Elder, Natural History 30.11 (first century CE); 2 Timothy 3:1-8 (early second century CE); Apuleius, Apology 90 (158 CE); Numenius of Apameia, On the Good, book 3 (late second century CE); Origen, Commentary on Matthew 117 (240s CE); Anonymous (Ambrosiaster), Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, at 2 Timothy 3:8 (ca. 366-384 CE); Jannes and Jambres as a book, including Papyrus Chester Beatty XVI, Papyrus Vindobonensis Greek 29456 + 29828verso, and Cotton MS. Tiberius B.V. 87 (date unknown but likely citing a work before the third century CE); Syriac interpolation in Testament of Ephraeum II, page 405 = CSCO 334/5; Palladius, Lausiac History 18.5-9 (fifth century CE).

Comments: The materials gathered here attest to complicated traditions that grew up around the opponents of Moses and Aaron in the Exodus narrative’s story of the plagues (chapters 7-9). Almost all of these traditions speak of Jannes and Jambres (or: Mambres) as Egyptian (or even Judean) wise men, experts or makers of potions, particularly labelling them “Magians” (magi / magoi). These traditions are directly relevant to the idea of wise “barbarians,” in this case with a Persian Magian connection despite the Egyptian and Judean settings. We cannot go into all of the issues (on which see Pietersma 1994) but here it is worth mentioning two trends around these figures, both of which have to do with contests between peoples over “barbarian” wisdom.

There are two main strands of these traditions that are quite different. On the one hand are several Roman or Greek authors, including Pliny, Numenius, and Apuleius, who speak as though Jannes and/or Jambres are in fact examples of the dissemination of Magian knowledge from Persia into a Judean setting. So these sources speak as though Jannes and Jambres were Judean wise men, even if these authors seek to undermine the legitimacy of their wisdom (as Pliny clearly does in speaking of all Magians as frauds, but Apuleius and Numenius do not). Apuleius and Numenius are speaking positively about apparently Judean wise men trained in Magian knowledge. All of these authors are in the first two centuries CE. Some materials, not included here, have Moses being taught Egyptian wisdom by precisely Jannes and Jambres, which may help to explain this strand.

The second main strand of interest to us is the one that aims to undermine these figures as frauds from a Judean (or Jesus adherent) perspective, attempting to downplay Egyptian (and indirectly Persian Magian) wisdom and give Judeans an advantage. Another way of putting this is that Judeans were tapping into the potential of the Exodus story to one-up other wise “barbarian” contenders of their own times. This latter strand constitutes the majority of writings produced or cited by Judeans and Jesus adherents below, including a partially preserved work devoted to retelling an expanding story of Jannes and Jambres. The author of 2 Timothy (early second century) already knows about circulating stories (oral or written) regarding these characters.

The Greek Septuagint translation of the Exodus account speaks only of “enchanters” and “potion-makers” without giving names (with the exception of two manuscripts which already start to plug in Jannes and Jambres). The figures of Jannes and Jambres become key examples of precisely those enchanters of the Exodus account as the traditions develop. The Damascus Document from the Dead Sea scrolls incidentally refers to a Yohanah (not yet Jannes) but it seems that this does relate somehow to the emerging tradition (on which see Pietersma).

That will have to do for now, since these complicated legends could (and do) occupy a monograph. But at least you can evaluate them with respect to notions of wise “barbarians,” whether Persian, Egyptian, or Judean.

Works consulted: A. Pietersma, The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians (Leiden: Brill, 1994).


Exodus 7-8 (Greek Septuagint version)

[Israelite god intends to free his people and punish the Egyptians]

7 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Look, I have given you as a god to pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your prophet. Now you will speak to him everything that I command you, and Aaron, your brother, will tell pharaoh so that he sends the sons of Israel away from his land. But I will harden pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land, Egypt. And pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and I will bring out with my host my people, the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt with great vengeance. (5) And all the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out the hand against Egypt, and I will bring the sons of Israel out from their midst.” And Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them; so they did. Now Moses was eighty years old, but Aaron, his brother, was eighty-three years old, when he spoke to pharaoh.

[Egyptian experts and potion-makers, namely enchanters, imitate Moses’ powers or fail to do so]

[Rod into a snake]

(8) And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “And if pharaoh should speak to you, saying, ‘Give us a sign or wonder,’ you also will say to Aaron, your brother, ‘Take the rod, and throw it upon the ground before pharaoh and before his attendants, and it will be a dragon.’” (10) Now Moses and Aaron went in before pharaoh and his attendants and did so just as the Lord commanded them. And Aaron threw down the rod before pharaoh and before his attendants, and it became a dragon. And pharaoh summoned the experts (sophistai) of Egypt and the potion-makers (pharmakoi), and they also, namely the enchanters (epiaoidoi) of the Egyptians, did likewise by their potions (pharmakeiai). [Note: Two manuscripts (ms 799 and Fb) expressly name Jannes and Jambres here]. And each one threw down his rod, and they became dragons, and the rod of Aaron swallowed the rods of those people. And the heart of pharaoh prevailed, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord spoke to them.

[Blood rivers]

Now the Lord said to Moses, “The heart of pharaoh is weighed down so as not to send away the people. (15) Go to pharaoh in the morning. Look, he himself is going out to the water, and you will stand, meeting him on the bank of the river, and the rod that was turned into a snake you will take in your hand. And you will say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying, “Send away my people so that they may serve me in the wilderness.” And look, you did not listen up to this point. This is what the Lord says, “By this you will know that I am the Lord. Look, with the rod that is in my hand I am about to strike upon the water that is in the river, and it will turn to blood. And the fish that are in the river will die, and the river will stink, and the Egyptians will be unable to drink water from the river.” ‘ “ Now the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, your brother, ‘Take your rod, and stretch out the hand over the waters of Egypt and over their rivers and over their canals and over their marshes and over all their accumulated water, and they will be blood.’” And blood occurred in all the land of Egypt, both in things made from wood and things made from stone. (20) And Moses and Aaron did so just as the Lord commanded them, and Aaron lifted it up and with his rod struck the water that was in the river before pharaoh and before his attendants, and all the water in the river turned into blood. And the fish in the river died, and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the river, and there was blood in the whole land of Egypt. But also the Egyptians’ enchanters did likewise with their potions. And pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord said. And pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not put his mind even to this. Now all the Egyptians dug around the river so that they might drink water, and they could not drink water from the river. (25) And seven days passed after the Lord struck the river.


8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to pharaoh, and you will say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Send away my people so that they may serve me. But if you are unwilling to send them away, look, I am going to strike all your borders with frogs. And the river will vomit frogs, and when they come up, they will enter into your houses and into the secret places of your bedrooms and upon your beds and into the houses of your attendants and your people and in your bread dough and in your ovens. And upon you and upon your attendants and upon your people the frogs will come up.’” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, your brother, ‘Stretch out by hand your rod over the rivers, the canals and the marshes, and bring up the frogs.’” And Aaron stretched out the hand over the waters of Egypt and brought up the frogs. And the frog was made to come up and covered the land of Egypt. But also the Egyptians’ enchanters (epaoidoi) did likewise with their potions (pharmakeiai), and they brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.

Then pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray on my behalf to the Lord, and let him take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will send away the people, and they may sacrifice to the Lord.” Then Moses said to pharaoh, “Arrange for me when I should pray for you and for your attendants and your people, to remove the frogs from you and from your people and out of your house. They will only remain in the river.” (10) And he said, “Tomorrow.” He said, therefore, “As you have said so that you may know that there is no other except the Lord. And the frogs will be taken away from you and out of your houses and out of your villages and from your attendants and from your people. They will only remain in the river.” Then Moses and Aaron went out from pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord about the curtailing of the frogs, as he had arranged with pharaoh. And the Lord did just as Moses said, and the frogs died from the houses and from the villages and from the fields. And they gathered them in heaps and heaps, and the land stank.


(15) But when pharaoh saw that respite had occurred, his heart was weighed down, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord said. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘Stretch out by hand your rod, and strike the levees of earth, and there will be gnats both on people and on quadrupeds and on the whole land of Egypt.’ “ Aaron, therefore, stretched out by hand the rod and struck the levees of the earth, and the gnats were both on people and on quadrupeds, and in every levee of the earth, the gnats were in all the land of Egypt. But also the enchanters did likewise with their potions to produce the gnat, and they could not. And the gnats were both on people and on quadrupeds. So the enchanters said to pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” And pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, just as the Lord said.


(20) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning, and stand before pharaoh. Look, he himself will go out to the water, and you will say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Send away my people so that they may serve me. But if you should be unwilling to send away my people, look, I am going to send the dog-fly against you, your attendants, your people and your houses, and the Egyptians’ houses will be filled with the dog-fly, even into the land which they are on. And I will distinguish gloriously on that day the land of Gesem, which my people are on, whereon the dog-fly will not be, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the Lord of all the land. And I will put a distinction between my people and between your people. Now tomorrow this sign will be upon the land.’”

And the Lord did so, and the dog-fly came in great numbers into the houses of pharaoh and into the houses of his attendants and into the whole land of Egypt, and the land was ruined as a result of the dog-fly. (25) Then pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, saying, “Go, and sacrifice to your God in the land!” And Moses said, “It cannot be so! For we would sacrifice to the Lord our God the abominations of the Egyptians. For if we should sacrifice the abominations of the Egyptians before them, we will be stoned. We will go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, and we will sacrifice to the Lord, our God, according as he told us.” And pharaoh said, “I will send you away. Sacrifice to the Lord, your God, in the wilderness, but you will not proceed far. Pray, therefore, for me to the Lord.” Then Moses said, “Right now I will go out from you, and I will pray to God, and the dog-fly will depart from you and from your attendants and your people tomorrow. Do not add anymore, pharaoh, to deceiving, so as not to send away the people to sacrifice to the Lord.” (30) Then Moses went out from pharaoh and prayed to God. Now the Lord did as Moses said, and he took away the dog-fly from pharaoh and from his attendants and from his people, and not one remained. And pharaoh made his heart heavy also on this occasion, and he was unwilling to send away the people.


9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to pharaoh, and you will say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘Send away my people so that they may serve me. Yet if you are unwilling to send away my people, but still hold on to them, look, the hand of the Lord will be on your animals on the plains, both on the horses and on the draft animals and on the camels and cattle and sheep – a very great death. And I will distinguish gloriously between the animals of the Egyptians and between the animals of the sons of Israel. Not a thing from all the sons of Israel will die.’” (5) And God gave a limit, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing on the land.” And the Lord did this thing on the next day, and all the Egyptians’ animals died, but from the animals of the sons of Israel nothing died. But when pharaoh saw that nothing from the animals of the sons of Israel died, pharaoh’s heart became heavy, and he did not send away the people. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “You take handfuls of furnace soot, and let Moses scatter it toward heaven before pharaoh and before his attendants. And let it become a dust cloud over all the land of Egypt, and there will be upon humans and quadrupeds festering sores, oozing blisters, both on humans and on quadrupeds and in all the land of Egypt.” (10) And he took the furnace soot before pharaoh, and Moses scattered it toward heaven, and festering sores, oozing blisters occurred both on humans and on quadrupeds. And the potion-makers (pharmakoi) were unable to stand before Moses because of the festering sores. For the festering sores occurred on the potion-makers and in the whole land of Egypt. But the Lord hardened pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, according as the Lord instructed Moses. . . [omitted remainder of the plagues, since the enchanters or potion-makers disappear from the narrative].


Damascus Document 5.17-20 (early first century BCE or earlier)

[Mention of Yohanah who may connect later with Jannes]

For in ancient times there arose Moses and Aaron, by the hand of the prince of lights and Belial [personified evil figure], with his cunning, raised up Yohanah [Israelite figure and seed for later development of an Egyptian Jannes, according to Pietersma] and his brother during the first deliverance of Israel.


Pliny the Elder, Natural History 30.11 (first century CE)

[Mention of Jannes in discussion of dissemination of Magian skills to Judea, on which see the full passage at this link]

There is yet another sect (factio) of Magian skill (magice) which is derived from Moses, Jannes, Lotapes [Iotape = Yahweh], and the Judeans, but living many thousand years after Zoroaster.


2 Timothy 3:1-8 (early second century CE)

[Jannes and Jambres used as example of godless deceivers]

You must understand that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, savages, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.


Apuleius, Apology 90 (158 CE)

[Jannes in a list of Magians, on which see the full passage at this link]

If you can discover one trivial reason that might have led me to seek after Pudentilla for the sake of some personal advantage, if you can prove that I have made the very slightest profit out of my marriage, I am ready to be any Magian you please: the great Carmendas himself or Damigeron [cf. Tertullian, On the Soul 57.1] or Moses, or Jannes [perhaps drawing on Pliny the Elder, above] or Apollobex or Dardanos himself or any Magian of note from the time of Zoroaster and Ostanes until now.


Numenius of Apameia, On the Good, book 3 (via Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 9.8 and Origen, Against Celsus 4.51)

[Jannes and Jambres as Egyptian sacred scribes who used Magian skill to repel plagues]

And next in order came Jannes and Jambres, Egyptian sacred scribes (hierogrammateis), men judged to have no superiors in the practice of Magian skill (mageusai), at the time when the Judeans were being driven out of Egypt. So then these were the men chosen by the people of Egypt as fit to stand beside Mousaios [i.e. Moses identified with Mousaios], who led forth the Judeans, a man who was most powerful in prayer to God. Among the plagues which Mousaios brought on Egypt, these men showed themselves able to repel the most violent.

[Reference to Numenius presenting a story of the Jannes and Jambres, from Origen]

Numenius presents the story about Jannes and Jambres.


Origen, Commentary on Matthew 117 (on Mt 27:3-10) (ca. late 240s CE)

[Reference to a work on Jannes and Jambres]

“Paul’s statement, ‘As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses’ [2 Timothy 3:8] is not found in the common books, but in a secret book entitled Jannes and Jambres.”


Anonymous (Ambrosiaster), Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (ca. 366-384 CE)

[Reference to Jannes and Jambres as Magians and poisoners]

“This example [in 2 Timothy 3:8] is from an apocryphal work. For Jannes and Jambres were brothers, Magians (magi) or poisoners (venefici) among the Egyptians, who thought they could resist by Magian skill (arte magiae) 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, that it was God that was active in Moses.”


Jannes and Jambres work

Papyrus Chester Beatty XVI

(Frame 1ab) This is (?) . . . the book of the accounts of Jannes and Jambres . . . the Magians (?). . . , in Memphis during the reign of king Pharaoh which . . . wrote, a handsome young man endowed with . . . , being a writing about king Pharaoh. . . [omitted remainder which is too fragmentary to translate].

Papyrus Vindobonensis Greek 29456 + 29828verso

(Fragment B) “. . . withstand Moses the Hebrew. . . who is doing (?) . . . signs and wonders so that all are amazed.” And when he (Jannes) had come to the king, he withstood Moses and his (5) brother Aaron by doing whatever they had done. But immediately his fatal illness tormented him again with a serious tumour. Into the . . . sanctuary (literally: seat) he went (?) . . . trying to find a way to get rid of it. Then he sent word to the king saying, “This is (10) the power of God; I am not able to accomplish anything, . . . not unto death . . .” Now when Jannes met his brother Jambres he urged him and his mother not to grieve him. “But remember (15) . . . [omitted remainder of fragment B, which is too fragmentary to translate].

(Fragment A) “ . . . in case, by chance, you are annoyed with me . . . but every day I [Jannes] will send word to you in order that you too may know the charges against me. And I was indeed amazed how loyally Jambres my brother kept being (5) devoted to you, kept listening to you.” Then he [Jannes] stepped forward and kissed her, fighting back tears. But when she had . . . gone out, he burst into tears. He then embraced his friends, having urged all of them to show regard (10) for his mother. And having taken along his brother [Jambres] he traveled to Memphis. After taking the book, he said, “Brother, I am entrusting a document to you. Keep it secret and be careful not to go out on the day on which the king and (15) nobles of Egypt go out to pursue the people of the Hebrews nor to accompany them.

But pretend to be sick and guard your life from death and from Hades . . . God heaven . . . [remainder missing].

MS. Cotton MS. Tiberius B.V. 87, with picture of Jambres (eleventh century CE manuscript)

“Jambres opened the Magian books (libros magicos) of his brother Jannes, and communicated with the dead (or: performed necromancy) and brought up from the underworld the shade of his brother. The soul of Jannes answered him saying: ‘I, your brother, did not die unjustly, but truly I died justly, and judgment will go against me. This is because I was wiser than all wise Magians (magi), and I withstood the two brothers, Moses and Aaron, who did great signs and wonders. So I died and was brought down

from among men into the underworld, where there is great burning and the lake of ruin, from where there is no rising. And now, my brother Jambres, be careful in your lifetime to do good to your sons and your friends, because there is nothing good in the underworld, but sadness and darkness. When you have died and are in the underworld among the dead, your dwelling-place and your seat will be two cubits wide and four cubits long.”


Syriac interpolation in Testament of Ephraeum II, page 405 = CSCO 334/5

[Introduction to Moses and the Magians]

In the time of Moses, the Magians rose up against the son of Amram. However, the finger of God overcame them, as they themselves also confessed. The righteousness of God struck the wicked men with an evil sore, so that they would even proclaim the truth against their own will. For the truth is accustomed to waiting patiently until deceivers repent. But when they are puffed up and think they are safe, then they cast down into the pit.

[Moses and pharaoh’s anger]

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 this, he was driven to rage and fury and turned to blasphemy. When the incident was publicized throughout the city and came to the ears of the nobles of those regions, some said, “It is the command of God and must be obeyed at all costs.” But the pharaoh, when he saw Moses, feared, and began to feel the punishment that hung over him. Is there anyone that is not afraid at the sight of the Lord? Or who would not tremble at seeing God? So pharaoh feared Moses, because he was the god of pharaoh.

[Magian impressions of Moses and Moses’ great wisdom]

The whole multitude of the Magians of Egypt quickly came 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. The result was that whoever fixed his eyes on Moses took him for a god. But those who heard his voice – for he was stammering and stuttered – despised and condemned him as a man. One among them affirmed that Moses had come down from heaven. Another considered him nothing, for he said that if there were any great thing in Moses, surely he would have healed himself.

Now Moses, as you have heard, knew the language of that country well. Being raised in the house of pharaoh, he had taken in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, as the apostle witnesses to us about him. And though Moses was not aware of this himself, he still had the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, from whom he had learned everything that had happened from Adam even up to his own days. Moses was not ignorant about what the Magians were plotting against him.

[Pharaoh’s instructions to the Magians]

So pharaoh called together all the Magians and their disciples and spoke to them about Moses in this way: “It is now time that, whatever power you have, you should use it for the common good. When war is upon us there is need of mighty men, and the skill of physicians appears when diseases are widespread. Throughout all the world the people will laugh at us with great disgrace for our name if we are overcome by this stammering stutterer. So be strong in conflict until we are victorious, contend courageously until we win. There is no one who does not know our name or does not praise you as wonder-workers. You have been used to helping even kings when war came upon them. If then they see us made a laughing-stock in relation to a stammerer [Moses], we will be despised even more by all other men. Get up, be manly, and go out to battle similar renowned heroes so that we may gain an eternal name. As a result, all who hear the name may be struck with fear and not dare to resist our people [Egyptians]. And though I excel in royal dignity, I still uphold the common cause with you. To all of us there will be similar honour or similar shame.

[Magians plan to kill Moses]

Moved by these words and as if drunk with wine, the Magians promised seas and mountains to pharaoh king of Egypt. They said that the sun would not rise again to lighten Egypt before the son of Amram has ceased to live. After you sleep in your bed, oh king, you will hear that Moses has been punished by a shameful death. In fact, we consider this easy; it is child’s play. Come then, enter your bedroom, climb on your bed, and sleep, because the death of Moses is at the doors. Believe us, he will not see another day.

So the Magians left pharaoh. And he, believing their words, could not sleep due to impatience, looking forward the dawn of day. Even if he had been able to slept, how could he rest with the same images coming to him in his sleep.

[Magian skills repelled by the power of God through Moses]

But they, practising their skills, 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 blows away the smoke. The demons flew away from the face of Moses in the same way that 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. They quickly returned to the Magians by whom they had been hired, and they said: “We waste our labour against this man, because he is stronger than us and we cannot get near to the border of the place where he lives.”

[Pharaoh calls the Magians to account for their failure]

Meanwhile the day dawned, and pharaoh anxiously expected that what the Magians had promised him about Moses’ death would have been fulfilled. However, when the appointed time passed, and no one came to share the news he wanted, pharaoh called the Magians and said: “Why has the situation turned out differently than what you promised? For you said: “Moses will not see another day after this.” The Magians said to him: “Have some patience. The man’s death is actually near, but we cannot do anything too quickly, oh pharaoh. Today does not work, because today is a new moon. When the moon begins to wane, the life of Moses will end.” They imagined this was the reason until the appointed hour should come to Moses. But the pharaoh happily received their words, being subject to the same errors as them.

[Magian techniques, invocation of demons, poisons, and their failure]

So the Magians got to work. They took some hairs and garments of Moses, they made an image of him, they set it down in a tomb, and they sent evil demons against the image of Moses. Immediately the demons and their princes came. Satan was ready with his hosts, in various forms, to destroy Moses. They ran against him as a troop. But when they lifted up their eyes to the holy prophet and saw him encompassed by a host of angels, just like it once happened with Elisha, they could not bear the look of him, much less attack him. All together they fled away in confusion with cries and howlings.

This situation made the Magians perplexed. So they turned to other means to save their name and not be found guilty of deceit and lying to the pharaoh. Accordingly, they took a cup full of wine and, by their enchantments, forced vipers and dragons to spew venom into the cup. When the cup was ready, they gave it to Moses so that he would drink it and burst apart. They said: “Take this wine which pharaoh of Egypt sends you and drink it. As a result of this pinnacle of honour, he will have you elevated, as he has long ago wanted to do. This wine itself is like the desire of the pharaoh, for it is old, and by reason of length of time has become muddy and dark.” Moses smiled at this, and took the cup and signed it in the name of God and drank the wine without being hurt at all. However, in order to make it known to them that their deceit was not hidden from him, Moses turned to them and said: “Come, tell the pharaoh, who has sent me to drink wine mingled with the poison of serpents, that none of these things do any damage to the servants of God.”

Thus far concerning Moses and the Magians.


Palladius, Lausiac History 18.5-9 (fifth century CE)

[Dangerous demons associated with the supposed tomb of the Jannes and Jambres the Magians repelled by the ascetic Macarius]

Once he [Macarius of Alexandria, fourth century CE] desired to enter the garden-tomb of Jannes and Jambres, as he told us. But this garden-tomb had once belonged to the Magians who had great power long ago with pharaoh. In so far as they had the power for long periods, they built their work with stones faced four-square, and made their tomb there, and stored away much gold. They also planted trees, for the place is rather damp, and they also dug a well. Since therefore the saint [Macarius] did not know the way, he followed the stars by a kind of guess-work, crossing the desert, as one does at sea. Taking a bundle of reeds he planted them one each mile as landmarks in order to find his way as he returned. So, having travelled nearly nine days, he approached the place. Then the demon, who always withstands the athletes of Christ, collected all the reeds and put them at his head as he slept about a mile from the garden-tomb. So Macarius arose and found the reeds, God having allowed this perhaps to try him further, that he might not trust in reeds, but in the pillar of cloud that led Israel forty years in the desert he used to say: “Seventy demons came out from the garden-tomb to meet me, shouting and fluttering like crows against my face and saying : ‘What do you want, Macarius? What do you want, monk? Why have you come to our place? You can’t stay here.’ I told them,” he said, “‘Let me just go in and look round and go away.’ So,” he said, “ I went in and found a little brazen jar suspended and an iron chain against the well, rusted already by time, and some pomegranates with nothing inside because they had been dried up by the sun.”

So then he turned back and went on his way for twenty days. But when the water which he was carrying failed him and also the loaves, he was in great distress. And when he was nearly collapsing there appeared to him a maiden, so he declared, wearing a pure white robe and holding a jar dripping with water. He said she was some distance, about a stadium-length away from him, and he went on for three days, gazing at her as she stood with the vessel and being unable to catch up with her, as happens in dreams. But he endured because he was sustained by the hope of having a drink from the jar. After her appeared a herd of antelopes, one of which (with a calf) stopped. (There are many antelopes in those regions.) And he said that her udder was flowing with milk. So, creeping under her and sucking, he was satisfied. And the antelope went as far as his cell, giving him milk, but not allowing her own calf to suck.


Source of translations: Exodus translation adapted from that of Larry J. Perkins in Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, A New English Translation of the Septuagint (Oxford: OUP, 2007); 2 Timothy RSV; Numenius from Edwin Hamilton Gifford, Eusebius: Preparation for the Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903); M.R. James, The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament: Their Titles and Fragments (London: SPCK, 1920), 31-32 (Cotton MS and Syriac interpolation); W.K.L. Clarke, The Lausiac History of Palladius (London: MacMillan, 1918) (link).

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