Jannes and Jambres

In Jewish and Christian traditions, Jannes and Jambres (Hebrew: יניס Yoḥanai, ימבריס Yambres) are the names given to magicians mentioned in the Book of Exodus. This naming tradition is well-attested in ancient and medieval literature. In Latin manuscripts of the New Testament, and in Latin writing traditions, their names are known as Jamnes and Jambres.[1]

Illustration of the rods of Aaron and of the "wise men and sorcerers" becoming snakes.

Hebrew BibleEdit

Jannes and Jambres are not specifically mentioned in the Tanakh ("Hebrew Bible"), but the Egyptian "wise men and sorcerers" (two of whom were identified with Jannes and Jambres in Jewish and Christian traditions) are mentioned in Exodus 7:10-12 (KJV)

And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.

New Testament and Second Temple literatureEdit

The names Jannes and Jambres (Greek: Ἰάννης, Ἰαμβρῆς; Iannēs, Iambrēs) appear in 2 Timothy[2] in the New Testament. Origen says that there was an apocryphal book called The Book of Jannes and Jambres, containing details of their exploits, and that Paul the Apostle was quoting from it. This book, known as The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the magicians, exists in some Greek fragments present in the Chester Beatty Papyri No XVI (which has been edited and translated by Albert Pietersma[3]), and in an extensive Ethiopic fragment which was discovered in 2014.[4] It was also probably known to the Qumran community, since the Qumran community refers to one of the magicians by the name of Jannes.[5] The Testament of Solomon also refers to the magicians by the name of Jannes and Jambres.

Greco-Roman LiteratureEdit

The name of Jannes as magicians occurs in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (XXX, II, 11);[6] Pliny refers to Jambres and Iotape as famous magicians of antiquity related rather than against Moses; Pliny's citation is also referred to in Apuleius. Numenius of Apamea, a Neopythagorean philosopher, called them sacred Egyptian scribes. The Gospel of Nicodemus also refers to the magicians by the name of Jannes and Jambres.

Rabbinic LiteratureEdit

Two "wise men" are referred to by the names "Johana and Mamre" in the Babylonian Talmud in Menachoth 85a.[7] "Jannis and Jambres" are mentioned by name in the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan in sections Exodus 1:15,[8] Exodus 7:10-12,[9] and Numbers 22:2.[10][11] Jewish traditions in the Targums preserve other legendary lore about the pair. They are called the sons of Balaam, the unwitting non-Jewish prophet of Peor.[12] It was also claimed that they converted to Judaism, and that they left Egypt at the Exodus to accompany Moses and the Israelites; however, they perished on the way, either at the Red Sea, or the destruction of the Golden Calf, or at the slaughter of Korah and his followers.[citation needed]

Apart from their opposition to Moses there are other aggadic lore and legends about Egyptian sorcerers; it was said that during the end of their days they had necessary occult knowledge to embark on a journey to the Jewish world to come. They were not welcomed and the angels of the first few heavens fought them vigorously but they could not evict them due to the potent talismans that were worn by the wizards. As they entered the fourth heaven they were met by Michael and Gabriel; legends say that the battle was very evenly balanced, but in the end it was the angels who had to fall back. Upon entering the fifth heaven they were met by none other than Metatron, who did not come at them with defiance or anger, but appeared accommodating, considering the circumstances; after conversing for a short time the angel was successful in convincing Jannes and Jambres to remove their talismans, leaving them thus vulnerable. Metatron was quick to act and threw them out of heaven with a wave of his hand. It is said that they lost all memory of the event after that.[citation needed]

The "Book of Jasher", of which the earliest known copy is from a 16th Century Hebrew printed manuscript (first edition 1552), also refers to the two magicians by the name of Jannes and Jambres.[13]

In popular cultureEdit

In the film The Ten Commandments (1956), Douglass Dumbrille plays Jannes as a constantly fretful and pompous High Priest of Egypt and a devoted follower of the Nile God Khnum, as well as Court Mage and one of the Pharaoh's top advisers. The Prince of Egypt, an animated DreamWorks film, has Steve Martin and Martin Short provide the voices of Hotep and Huy, characters who were based on Jannes and Jambres. In the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings, Indira Varma plays an Egyptian high priestess whose character is roughly parallel to the role of Jannes and Jambres.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sparks, H. F. D. (1939-07-01). "ON THE FORM MAMBRES IN THE LATIN VERSIONS OF 2 TIMOTHY iii 8". The Journal of Theological Studies. os–XL (3): 257–258. doi:10.1093/jts/os-XL.3.257. ISSN 0022-5185.
  2. ^ 3:8
  3. ^ Pietersma A. The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres
  4. ^ Erho, Ted; Krueger, Frederic; Hoffmann, Matthias (2016). "Neues von Pharaos Zauberern". Welt und Umwelt der Bibel. 2: 70–72. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  5. ^ "For in times past, Moses and Aaron stood in the power of the Prince of Lights, and Belial raised up Yannes and his brother in his cunning when seeking to do evil to Israel the first time." The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation; Michael Wise, The Damascus Document, pg56)
  6. ^ http://www.masseiana.org/pliny.htm#BOOK Archived 2017-01-01 at the Wayback Machine XXX
  7. ^ https://halakhah.com/pdf/kodoshim/Menachoth.pdf
  8. ^ http://targum.info/pj/pjex1-6.htm
  9. ^ http://targum.info/pj/pjex6-9.htm
  10. ^ http://targum.info/pj/pjnum22-25.htm
  11. ^ Clontz, T.E. and J., "The Comprehensive New Testament with complete textual variant mapping and references for the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, Nag Hammadi Library, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Plato, Egyptian Book of the Dead, Talmud, Old Testament, Patristic Writings, Dhammapada, Tacitus, Epic of Gilgamesh", Cornerstone Publications, 2008, p. 680, ISBN 978-0-9778737-1-5
  12. ^ "Chapter IV: Moses in Egypt". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2021-02-08.
  13. ^ "Book of Jasher, Chapter 79". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2021-02-08.