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Jannes and Jambres

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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These two men are referred to in 2 Timothy 3:8 as having withstood Moses; they are traditionally identified with two leading men among the magicians (Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22; cf. Genesis 41:8; Genesis 41:24). They are mentioned in the Gospel of Nicodemus (ch. 5) in the warning given to Pilate by Nicodemus that he should not act towards Jesus as Jannes and Jambres did to Moses. Origen (c. Cels. iv. 51) says that Numenius (2nd cent, a.d.; probably following Artapanos, an Alexandrian Hellenist of the 2nd cent. b.c.), related the story also; and in his commentary on Matthew 27:9 he says that the reference in 2 Tim. was derived from a ‘secret book’ (perhaps the ‘Liber qui appellatur Paenitentia Jamnae et Mambrae,’ an apocryphon referred to in the Decretum Gelasianum), as he suggests was the case with 1 Corinthians 2:9 and Matthew 27:9 itself (Patr. Graeca, xiii. 1769). Eusebius also quotes Numenius in his Praep. Ev. ix. 8 as relating the story to Jannes and Jambres, two ‘Egyptian scribes’ (cf. חַרְטֻמִים ‘magicians’ above, where the primary meaning is ‘scribes,’ and the secondary ‘magicians’). The Acts of Peter and Paul (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, xvi. [1873] 268) makes the two apostles warn Nero against Simon Magus by the example of Pharaoh, who was drowned in the Red Sea through listening to Jannes and Jambres. The Apost. Const. (viii. 1) compares the action of Jannes and Jambres to that of Annas and Caiaphas. It is possible that the two magicians were identified by hostile Jews with John and Jesus (cf. Levy, Chald. Wörterbuch, p. 337), but the story seems older.

The licentious play of fancy which meets us everywhere in the superstitions about magicians throughout the two centuries before and the two centuries after Christ, is responsible for the variegated and contradictory legends about Jannes and Jambres. They were sons of Balaam, and accompanied him on his journey to Balak; they perished in the Red Sea; they were among the ‘mixed multitude’; they were killed in the matter of the golden calf; they flew up into the air to escape the sword of Phinehas, but were brought down by the power of the Ineffable Name and slain. All these legends are in the style of the Midrash, pious but groundless, and serve only to illustrate the mind of the period in which they rose and took form. Whether the author of 2 Tim. is quoting from oral legend or from an apocryphal work is uncertain. Origen suggests the latter, Theodoret the former. Nor is there any final certainty about the origin and meaning of the names. The first has been identified with Johannes or John, and may have contained an allusive reference to Heb. יָנָה, ‘to oppress’ (cf., further, articles Balaam, Nicolaitans). Jambres occurs in the form Mambres also (the b in both is probably euphonic only), and may have been treated as if from Aram. מַכְרֵא, ‘rebellious’ (cf. the opprobrious מִיו, ‘heretic’). But the polemic use of the two terms as = ‘oppressor’ and ‘rebellious’ does not explain their origin. H. Ewald (Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 1864-66, i. ii. 128), F. J. Lauth (Moses der Ebräer, 1869, p. 77), and J. Freudenthal (Alexander Polyhistor, 1875, p. 173) regard the names as Graeco-Egyptian. In 1 Maccabees 9:36 the ‘children of Jambri’ are mentioned, an Arab tribe, and perhaps not Amorites, but there is no good ground for tracing Jambres to this.

We can only conclude, therefore, that all that is certain about Jannes and Jambres is that they were the names of two men who were believed in the Apostolic Age to have been the leaders of the magicians who withstood Moses, and that they have been made the centre of pious legends and the cause of much critical ingenuity.

W. F. Cobb.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jannes and Jambres'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​j/jannes-and-jambres.html. 1906-1918.
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