The Mystery of Jannes and Jambres

This post is about a bit of Bible trivia.

Out at the prison we were in the book of 2 Timothy. I haven't spent a lot of time studying 2 Timothy, so when I was giving the book a close reading in preparation to teach, I encountered some Bible characters I didn't recall ever encountering before. 

Here's the passage, from 2 Timothy 3:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Reading this passage, I didn't recall any story from the Old Testament where two men named "Jannes and Jambres" opposed Moses. I did a quick search for their names in Bible Gateway and found that the names "Jannes and Jambres" only appear here, in 2 Timothy, and never in the Old Testament. So my memory hadn't failed me. "Jannes and Jambres" aren't mentioned in the Old Testament.

So, a mystery. Who were "Jannes and Jambres"? 

My Bible contained a cross-reference for the passage about "Jannes and Jambres," taking me to Exodus 7:10-12:
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.
Names for the Egyptian magicians are not given in this passage. But in Jewish tradition, two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses were named "Jannes and Jambres." More, these two magicians seemed to be a thing during Second Temple Judaism. From Wikipedia:
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 [in 2 Timothy] 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, and in an extensive Ethiopic fragment which was discovered in 2014. It was also probably known to the Qumran community, since the Qumran community refers to one of the magicians by the name of Jannes. The Testament of Solomon also refers to the magicians by the name of Jannes and Jambres.
I went and checked the cast list of the movie The Ten Commandments. Sadly, while Pharaoh's court magicians are portrayed in the movie, they are not named in the script. A missed opportunity!

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply