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Jannes and Jambres, or sometimes Johanai and Mamre, or Iannes and Mambres, or Janis and Jamberes, are names given to the magicians who contended with Moses and Aaron and were discomfited by the Hebrew leaders in the Hebrew Bible Book of Exodus. These names were not given in the book of Exodus itself, but they appear in 2 Timothy 3:8 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 St Paul's epistle was quoting from it. This book has not been rediscovered. Jannes and Jambres are mentioned in the Old Testament Targum Jonathan Exodus 7:11-8:19.[1]

They also appear in Pliny the Elder's Natural History, together with Moses, as famous magicians of antiquity; Pliny's citation is also referred to in Apuleius. Numerius, a Pythagorean philosopher, calls them sacred Egyptian scribes.

Jewish traditions in the Targums preserve other half-legendary lore about the pair. They are called the sons of Balaam, the unwitting prophet of Peor. 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.

Apart from their opposition to Moses there are other legends about these two Egyptian sorcerers; it was said that during the end of their days they had necessary occult knowledge to embark on a journey to the Judeo-Christian heavens. 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, the battle legend says 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.




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Names of two legendary wizards of Pharaoh "who withstood Moses" (2 Tim 3:8) by imitating "with their enchantments" the works of Moses and Aaron, though they were defeated (Ex 7:11, Ex 8:7). According to rabbinical tradition they were the two chiefs of the magicians at the court of Pharaoh who foretold the birth of Moses, "the destroyer of the land of Egypt," thereby causing the cruel edicts of Pharaoh (Soṭah 11a; Sanh. 106a). They said to Moses when he performed his miracles with the water and the rod: "Dost thou wish to introduce magic into Egypt, the native land of the magic art?" (Men. 85a). According to Midrash Yelammedenu, Ki Tissa (Ex. xxxii.), they were among "the mixed multitude that went up with Israel from Egypt" (Ex 12:38) and aided in the making of the Golden Calf. They were the "two youths" (A. and R. V. "servants") that accompanied Balaam on his travels when commissioned to curse Israel (Targ. i. to Num 22:22). They flew up into the air before the sword of Phinehas and made themselves invisible, until, by the power of the Ineffable Name, they were caught and slain (Zohar, Balaḳ, 194; comp. Targ. Yer. to Num. xxxi. 8).

Numenius the Pythagorean, quoted by Eusebius ("Præparatio Evangelica," ix. 8), relates after Artapanus (see Freudenthal, "Alexander Polyhistor," 1875, p. 173) that "Jannes and Jambres, the most powerful Egyptian magicians, dispersed the plagues which Moses (Musæus) had brought upon Egypt." In the third century the tomb of Jannes and Jambres was shown in Egypt; Christian saints knew it as a place where the evil demons could be consulted for magic purposes (see the story of Macarius in Palladius, "Historia Lausiaca"; Fabricius, "Codex Pseudepigraphus Vet. Test." i. 181, ii. 106-111).

Jannes and Jambres are the subjects of many legendary tales, one of which is presented in a Greek work entitled "Pœnitentia Jannis et Mambre," counted among the Apocrypha in Pope Gelasius' "Decretum," and referred to by Origen (to Mt 27:9). These legends seem to have been known also to such pagan writers as Pliny and Apuleius; Pliny ("Historia Naturalis," xxxi. 11) mentions Moses, Jannes, and Jotape (Rotape?) among the Jewish magicians, and Apuleius ("Apologia," xc.) mentions Moses and Jannes among the world's great magicians.

Regarding the names, various etymologies have been proposed. Ewald ("Gesch." i., pt. ii. 128), Lauth ("Moses der Hebräer," p. 77), and Freudenthal (l.c.) believe them to have been derived from the Egyptian; Steiner (Schenkel, "Bibel-Lexicon") attempts to find for them a Hebrew origin; Geiger ("Urschrift," p. 474) considers the sons of Jambri as Amorites (comp. 1Macc 9:36; see Kohut, "Aruch Completum"). Jastrow ("Dict.") and Levy ("Neuhebr. Wörterb.") each offer equally untenable explanations. The fact that a demon belonging to the class of Lilith, or a sorceress named Yoḥane bat Reṭibi ( (image) ), was greatly dreaded in Talmudical times (Soṭah 22a), and that Abraham's concubine Keturah (believed to have been familiar with magic) was also known as "Yoḥane" (Zeb. 62b; but see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." i. 357; 2d ed., p. 350), seems to throw some light upon the names "Jannes" and "Jotape" in Pliny; while the name "Mambre" appears to be correctly identified with (image) (= "the rebel"; Levy, l.c.).

Bibliography: Schürer, Gesch. iii. 292 et seq., where all the literature to date is given; to this may now be added Israel Abrahams, in Cheyne, Encyc. Bibl.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
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