Jannes and Jambres

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).

John Rutherfurd

Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

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