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Jannes and Jambres

JANNES AND JAMBRES, two legendary Egyptian sorcerers whose names appear in various sources as the adversaries of *Moses. Jewish tradition seems to identify them with the sorcerers mentioned in Exodus 7:11ff. (cf. Targ. Jon., ibid.). They are also mentioned as the sons of Balaam (Targ. Jon., Num. 22:22; Yal., Ex. 168, 176) and as having played a part in the incident of the *golden calf after joining the mixed multitude that accompanied Israel in the exodus from Egypt (Tanḥ., Ki Tissa, 19). The sources of the legends surrounding the activities of Jannes and Jambres go back at least to the time of the Second Temple. They are mentioned in the "Damascus Document" (Zadokite Fragments, line 17ff.) as "Jannes and his brother" and in the New Testament (11 Tim. 3:8). Mention is also made by the Church Fathers of an apocryphal book dealing with Jannes and Jambres.

The names also appear in pagan Greek and Roman literature. Both Pliny (Natural History, 30:11) and Apuleius (Apologia, 90) mention the name of Jannes only, the former including him in a list of Jewish sorcerers the first of whom is Moses, while the latter names him immediately after Moses in a list of famous magicians. Both Jannes and Jambres, however, are mentioned and discussed in detail by Numenius, the neo-Pythagorean philosopher (quoted in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9:8; cf. Origines, Contra Celsum, 4:51). They are described as Egyptian priests who excelled in wizardry at the period of the "expulsion" of the Jews from Egypt and as having been considered by the Egyptians capable of rescuing their country from the disasters brought upon it by Musaeus (Moses). Jannes (Iannis), with slight variations, is the most common form in which the name appears in Greek sources, as well as in the Palestinian Targum and in the main midrashic references. The Babylonian Talmud, however, gives the name as Yoḥana (cf. Yal., Ex. 235 – Yoḥane). There appears therefore to be justification for retaining the reading Johannes as it appears in the best-preserved manuscript of Apuleius.


Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 402–5; H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 3 (1926), 660ff.; F. Cumont, in: RHR, 114 (1936), 19ff.; J. Bidez and F. Cumont, Les Mages Hellénisés, 2 (1938), 14 no. 23; Ginzberg, Legends, 7 (1938), 251 (index); J. Guttmann, Ha-Sifrut ha-Yehudit ha-Hellenistit, 2 (1963), 114ff.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.