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Jannes and Jambres

JANNES AND JAMBRES (jăn'ēz, jăm'brēz). Two magicians who withstood Moses and Aaron by duplicating some of their miracles. Paul, who was familiar with rabbinical traditions, named them as types of evil men of the last days (2Tim.3.8).

JANNES AND JAMBRES jăn’ ĭz, jăm’ brĭz (̓Ιαννη̂ς καὶ ̓Ιαμβρη̂ς, or Μαμβρη̂ς, cited by a few MSS; for יוֹחָנִי וּמַמרֵא; Aram. Targ. ינים וימברים, possible meaning: he who seduces and he who makes rebellious). Traditional names of Egyp. sorcerers who opposed Moses before Pharaoh (2 Tim 3:8); evidently a reference back to unnamed magicians in the OT (Exod 7:11, 12, 22).

In the Exodus narrative, Moses and Aaron delivered to Pharaoh the Lord’s message that Israel be allowed to go into the wilderness to worship God, and the monarch refused (Exod 5:1-4). Then Moses performed authenticating miracles, such as making his rod a serpent, which the sorcerers with their magic also did (Exod 7:10-12, 20-22; 8:5-7, 17, 18). It is to this series of events that Paul is referring in 2 Timothy 3:8.

The orthography of the names, Jannes and Jambres, is rather confused. The spelling in the Gr. texts is generally ̓Ιαννη̂ς and ̓Ιαμβρη̂ς, G2612, (corresponding to the Targum of Jonathan on Exod 1:15; 7:11; Num 22:22, which has Yanis and Yambris). The Talmud, however, has Yôhanî and Mamre’, and the Lat. reading is Jannes (or Jamnes) and Mambres.

These two names are mentioned in Scripture only in 2 Timothy 3:8 and are evidently connected with Jewish tradition. The names are also mentioned in pagan and early Christian lit. These terms are either thought of as a part of Jewish oral tradition, or connected with a book that had the title Jamnes et Mambres, as mentioned by Origen (Tract 35 in Matt.) and in the Decretum Gelasii (Credner, p. 220). Schürer (HJP, sec. div., III, p. 149) refers to a Jewish apocryphal work bearing both of these names, but which had disappeared except for the title and which he thinks may have been composed in pre-Christian times because the name Jannes was known by Pliny in the 1st cent.

Besides being mentioned in the Jewish Targum of Jonathan, and the Talmud, pagan writers knew of these two names. Both Pliny the Elder (1st cent. a.d.) in his Historia Natural 30, 1, 11 and Apuleius (2nd cent. a.d.) in his Apologia (or De Magia) ch. 90, refer to Jannes, whereas the neo-Platonist Numenius of Apamea (2nd cent. a.d.) referred to in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 9, 8, 1, was acquainted with both Jannes and Jambres, calling them holy scribes and magicians of Egypt.

Among materials connected with the Church and written in the early Christian centuries where reference is made to the names, Jannes and Jambres, are mentioned in such Gr. works as Evangelium Nicodemi (Acta Pilati) ch. 5, and the Apostolic Constitution 8, 1, and Lat. works as Evangelium Nicodemi (Gesta Pilati), ch. 5 and Cyprian, De unitate ecclesia, ch. 16.

That Paul mentions these traditional names in 2 Timothy 3:8 evidences his acquaintance with this current Jewish tradition (he was a student of Gamaliel, Acts 22:3) and, by using these terms (which could have been accurately passed down from OT history), Paul seemingly demonstrates his desire to make vivid the personal and forceful opposition of the Egyp. magician class against Moses. The Jewish tradition about Jannes and Jambres is confused as shown by Eusebius’ statement (Praeparatio Evangelica 9, 8) that these two men were sons of Baalim but yet teachers of Moses and then his opponents, who then died with the Egyp. army in the Red Sea.


E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2nd rev. ed., sec div., vol. 3 (1891), 149-151; W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (1965), 287, 288.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

jan’-ez, jam’-brez (Iannes kai Iambres, 2Ti 3:8):

1. Egyptian Magicians:

These are the names of two magicians in ancient Egypt, who withstood Moses before Pharaoh. This is the only place where the names occur in the New Testament, and they are not mentioned in the Old Testament at all. In Ex 7:11,22 Egyptian magicians are spoken of, who were called upon by Pharaoh to oppose Moses and Aaron: "Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers: and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did in like manner with their enchantments." Jannes and Jambres were evidently two of the persons referred to in this passage. It should be observed that the word translated here "magicians" occurs also in Ge 41:8 in connection with Pharaoh’s dreams: Pharaoh "sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof." the Revised Version margin reads for "magicians" "or sacred scribes." The Hebrew word is charTummim, and means sacred scribes who were skilled in the sacred writing, that is in the hieroglyphics; they were a variety of Egyptian priests. Jannes and Jambres were doubtless members of one or other of the various classes spoken of in the passages in Exodus and Genesis, the wise men, the sorcerers, and the magicians or sacred scribes.

2. Mentioned by Pliny and Others:

Jannes and Jambres, one or both, are also mentioned by Pliny (23-79 AD), by Apuleius (circa 130 AD), both of whom speak of Moses and Jannes as famous magicians of antiquity. The Pythagorean philosopher Numenius (2nd century AD) speaks of Jannes and Jambres as Egyptian hierogrammateis, or sacred scribes.

3. Traditions:

There are many curious Jewish traditions regarding Jannes and Jambres. These traditions, which are found in the Targum and elsewhere, are full of contradictions and impossibilities and anachronisms. They are to the effect that Jannes and Jambres were sons of Balaam, the soothsayer of Pethor. Notwithstanding this impossibility in the matter of date, they were said to have withstood Moses 40 years previously at the court of Pharaoh, to whom it was also said, they so interpreted a dream of that king, as to foretell the birth of Moses and cause the oppression of the Israelites. They are also said to have become proselytes, and it is added that they left Egypt at the Exodus, among the mixed multitude. They are reported to have instigated Aaron to make the golden calf. The traditions of their death are also given in a varying fashion. They were said to have been drowned in the Red Sea, or to have been put to death after the making of the golden calf, or during the slaughter connected with the name of Phinehas.

4. Origen’s Statement:

According to Origen (Comm. on Mt 27:8) there was an apocryphal book--not yet rediscovered--called "The Book of Jannes and Jambres." Origen’s statement is that in 2Ti 3:8 Paul is quoting from that book.

5. Derivation:

In the Targumic literature "Mambres" occurs as a variant reading instead of "Jambres." It is thought that Jambres is derived from an Aramaic root, meaning "to oppose," the participle of which would be Mambres. The meaning of either form is "he who opposes." Jannes is perhaps a corruption of Ioannes or Iohannes (John).