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Sonderdruck Frankfurter Judaistische Beitrge 37 (2011/12)

Koji Osawa

Jannes and Jambres: The Role and Meaning of Their


Traditions in Judaism

1. Introduction
In this paper, I would like to demonstrate an example of how traditions in
Jewish literature were transmitted and used for a given purpose by comparing
a variety of traditions about Jannes and Jambres, focusing especially on their
names. As will be seen below, Jannes and Jambres have two kinds of names,
and this can help reveal the background of their traditions. First of all, we turn
to an example of Jannes and Jambres traditions and recent research on them.

2. The Background of Jannes and Jambres in Midrash


In Exodus chapter 32, it is obvious that Aaron and some of the Israelites,
presumably the three thousand killed by the Levites, should have been
charged with the sin of idolatry, that is, the making of the golden calf. In
Midrash Tanhuma, which appears to have been composed around the ninth

century,1 however,
there is an interesting interpretation of this episode:
When the people saw that Moses was so long . . . (Ex. 32,1)2. Six hours passed, (and)
forty thousand who came up with the Israelites assembled and two Egyptian magicians with them and their names were Yonum and Yombrum (urbmuiu unui), who
had done before Pharaoh the same sorcery as written and the Egyptian magicians
also did the same things by their secret arts (ibid. 7,11). And all (people) gathered
to Aaron as it was said, they gathered round Aaron and said . . . etc. (ibid. 32,1)
(. . .) Aaron and Hur said to them, now (Moses will) descend from the mountain
(but) they did not pay attention. There are sayings (in another tradition) that Satan
1

Moshe D. Herr, Midrash, in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, Detroit 20072, Vol. 14,
pp. 182185.
All quotations from the Hebrew Bible are NIV. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica,
Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Koji Osawa
stood and showed them the image of his [Moses] coffin from the mountain; (this is
deduced) from the passage that said, As for this fellow Moses . . . (loc. cit.). Soon
Hur stood and scolded them. (The people) stood up to him and killed him. When

Aaron
saw this he was scared and started to make them busy in talking. And they
said to him Come, make us gods (loc. cit.) (. . .) Aaron said to them Take off the
gold ear-rings that your wives . . . are wearing (ibid. 32,2). (. . .) The men walked to
the women, and the women stood up to them and said, God forbid that we will
deny the Holy One, blessed be he, who did to us all these miracles and brave deeds,
and perform idolatry. For they [men] did not listen to them [women], as it is written
there (ibid. 32,3), not And all the people took off their wives gold ear-rings, but
their ear-rings. (. . .) Aaron looked up to the sky and said, I lift up my eyes to
you, to you whose throne is in heaven (Ps 123,1). You know all the notions I do
against my will. He [Aaron] threw (ear-rings) to the fire and the magicians came and
made (the statue) by their magic. (. . .) And the young calf came out jumping. They
began to say, These are your gods, Oh Israel (Ex 32,4). (. . .) What Aaron did was
to say, it will be put off till tomorrow, as it is said, and announced, Tomorrow
there will be a festival to the LORD (ibid. 32,5). The Holy Spirit cried, They
forgot his deeds immediately. The Holy One, blessed be he, said, in this world you
sinned by the hand of inclination, to the future (the next world), I remove it from
you, as it is said, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of
flesh (Ez 36,26).3

This interpretation transfers the blame for idolatry, according to the biblical
narrative, which should be placed on Aaron and some of the Israelites, to
Satan, to Jannes and Jambres4 and to inclination (rci). According to
this Midrash, Satan showed them the vision of Moses death, which caused
them fear; Jannes and Jambres made the golden statue of the calf with their
magic; and, finally, all things considered, the inclination caused a series of
actions, including the idol worshipping. The inclination or in some cases
Satan and inclination are often interpreted as those who cause evil deeds or
lead people to sin. However, modern scholars have not given similar attention
to Jannes and Jambres mentioned with them in this Tanhuma passage, despite

a number of traditions about them found in Jewish literature.


In this paper we
will focus on the two magicians as receivers of blame for the sin of idolatry,
and will examine who they are.

Tan, Ki Tissa 19. Midrash Tanhuma on the Pentateuch (Hebrew). Jerusalem 1984
(reprint of the Warsaw edition).Jannes and Jambres do not appear in Salomon Buber
(ed.), Midrash Tanhuma on the Pentateuch (Hebrew) 1883 (repr. Jerusalem 2008).

Although these names


seemingly do not agree with those in the text (Yonum and
Yombrum), indeed they can be identified. I discuss below the several versions of
their names. The English version of their names, Jannes and Jambres, is the one most
frequently used.

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3. The Other Traditions about Jannes and Jambres in Judaism


We will begin with the question of who Jannes and Jambres are. There is a
prevailing understanding in secondary literature that they are the Egyptian
magicians who vied with Moses and Aaron in a magicians context at Pharaohs court as described in Exodus chapter 7ff., the foundation for the Tanhuma passage quoted above.5 Although this understanding is not incorrect, it
not sufficient to explain a variety of traditions about them. Given the exis
panse for research, there are still too few studies about them. Those studies
that do deal with them merely introduce the traditions about them (although
the value of Geros study lies in the very enumeration of the traditions),6
or focus on only one particular document that mentions them.7 Considering
the many traditions about them in Judaism, more studies could have been
expected.
This paper will analyse the traditions about the two magicians in Jewish literature, while referring to previous scholarship, in particular work by Albert
Pietersma.8 Pietersmas work focuses on the restoration and the revision of a
lost book known as The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres (hereafter J&J),
of which only fragments have survived. As its title shows, the book centres on
the two magicians, Jannes and Jambres. It is thought to have been written
sometime in the first century CE.9 Judging from the extant manuscript fragments, Pietersma and other scholars agree that Greek was the language used in
the original text.10 In addition to analysing J&J, Pietersma also discusses many
other traditions about Jannes and Jambres besides the one in J&J. His list of
traditions11 is well-arranged, although it has a few minor flaws12. It is very

5
6

9
10

11

See Menahem Stern, Jannes and Jambres, in: EJ 2, Vol. 11, p. 78.
Stephen Gero, Parerga To the Book of Jannes and Jambres, in: JSPE 9 (1991),
pp. 6785.
Lester L. Grabbe, The Jannes/Jambres Tradition in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and
Its Date, in: JBL 98,3 (1979), pp. 393401.
Albert Pietersma, The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians. Leiden
1994. The tradition about them is not limited to Jewish literature. Some Ancient
Middle-Eastern traditions and Greek and Latin traditions all mention them. For
information on these traditions, which were written in Arabic, Syriac, Greek, Latin
et al., see Gero, Parerga. I will discuss later one other important work: Johannes
Tromp, Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3, 89), in: A. Graupner; M. Wolter (eds.),
Moses in Biblical and Extra-Biblical Traditions. Berlin 2007, pp. 211226.
Pietersma, Apocryphon, p. 58.
See Emil Schrer (ed.), The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ.
Edinburgh 1987, p. 781 and Pietersma, Apocryphon, p. 58.
Pietersma, Apocryphon, pp. 2632.

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useful for surveying these traditions. The following survey is based mainly on
Pietersmas list. The following discussion regards some traditions mentioning
anonymous Egyptian magicians as referring to Jannes and Jambres, because
no other Egyptian magicians were mentioned by name in Jewish literature.
Identifications of Jannes and Jambres
The foregoing interpretation, that the two magicians are the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses in Pharaohs court is based mainly upon the tradition in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:
Pharaoh then summoned the wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians
also did the same things by their secret arts (Ex 7,11).
Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and, Yanis and Yambris
(sirbmiu sini), the sorcerers who were in Egypt, also did the same with the spells of
their divinations (TPsJ Ex 7,11).13

Contrary to the original biblical text, the passage in the Targum has names for
the two: Yanis and Yambris and adds the description sorcerers who were in
Egypt.14 Although Yonum and Yombrum in Tanhuma are somewhat differ variants of their names
ent from Yanis and Yambris in the Targum, the two
can be explained as follows: In Hebrew manuscripts, generally speaking, mem
at the end of the word can easily be confused with samekh. The same can
happen with waw and yud, due to scribal errors and the transformation of
vowels. Besides, these four names have Greek characteristics, not Hebrew, and
their original Hebrew names are considered to be Yohana and Mamre,
which were translated into Greek and formed Yonum and Yombrum, or
Yanis and Yambris.15 These Hebrew names can be found in the other
traditions to which we will refer later on.
Some traditions say that Moses argued with two magicians. We find this in the
Babylonian Talmud but not in the Hebrew Bible:
Yohana and Mamre (armmu anxui) said to Moses: You are bringing straw to Afo 16. He (Moses) said to them: People say, to a place of vegetables take vegrayim
etables (bMen 85a).
12

13

14

15

16

For example, when he translated the passage from Yalqut Re uveni, Ki Tissa 81a

(p. 30), he wrote the signs and wonders performed by Moses,


although it should
be translated the signs and wonders done to Moses (by God). See fn. 38.
Ernest G. Clarke (ed.), Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of the Pentateuch: Text and Concordance. Hoboken 1984.
I do not distinguish between sorcerers who were in Egypt and Egyptian magicians.
See Grabbe, Jannes/Jambres Tradition, pp. 397398. A list of names with comments
is given below. In connection with their names, Mamre appears as an ally of
Abraham in Genesis (14,13 et al.).
Aforayim is the place full of straw (Rashis comments on this place).

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The two magicians deride Moses, who is about to bring magic into Egypt, the
home of magic.17 As to their names, this tradition is among the oldest ones,
because it contains the original Hebrew names that were translated into
Greek. ShemR 9,7 has a similar tradition for the names: Yohani and Mamre.

This tradition quotes the biblical text (Ex. 7,12) before this argument
between
18
them and Moses. Judging from these points, it is reasonable that this retort
occurs in the magicians contest at Pharaohs court.
TPsJ has another tradition which says that the two magicians served at Pharaohs court:
And Pharaoh said (that while) he slept, he saw in his dream (. . .) Immediately he sent
and summoned all the magicians of Egypt and told them his dream. Immediately
Yanis and Yambris (srbmiu sini), the chief magicians, opened their mouths and said
to Pharaoh: A son is to be born in the assembly of Israel, through whom all the
land of Egypt is destined to be destroyed (TPsJ Ex 1,15).

According to this tradition, these are the two Egyptian magicians who interpreted Pharaohs dream, which leads him to issue a decree that all the Israelite
male children are to be killed (Ex 1,16: When you help the Hebrew women in
childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if
it is a girl, let her live.). On this episode, there is another tradition:
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Simai: Three were in that counsel:
Balaam, Job and Jethro. Balaam, who counselled, was slain; Job, who was silent, was
punished by suffering. As for Jethro, who fled, his descendants merited to sit in the
Chamber of Hewn Stone (. . .), (bSot 11a).19

According to this tradition, Balaam, Job and Jethro were said to be present
with Pharaoh. This tradition tells that Balaam20, who advised Pharaoh to kill
all the Israelite male children,21 was killed; Job, who kept silent without stopping him, suffered punishment, as is described in the Book of Job; and
Jethro,22 who objected to him and caused Pharaohs rage which led him to
escape from the court, generated his descendants important role in the
Temple. Although Balaam appears in other traditions as serving in Pharaohs
court (see below), the other two have no connection with Pharaoh in other
17

18
19
20
21
22

This interpretation is based on an annotation by Rashi, which tells that Aforayim is


a fruitful region. The two say that it is no use bringing straw to such a fruitful region,
and Moses replies that because there are markets in the places which yield a lot of
vegetables, it is meaningful to bring more vegetables there. On the reason why Egypt
was regarded as the home of magic, see bQid 49b.
Cf. Rashis comment on Ex 7,22.
There is an almost identical tradition in bSan 106a.
Balaam/Bilam is a non-Israelite prophet, who appears in Numbers et al.
The passages in which Balaam is killed by the Israelites are Num 31,8 and Jos 13,22.
Jethro appears as Moses father-in-law in the Hebrew Bible (Ex 3,1, et al.).

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traditions in Judaism as far as I know. It is common, however, to these two


traditions, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Bavli Sota that Pharaoh consulted

with someone before he issued the decree. Although


there is a variety of
23
traditions about whom the adviser was , Jannes and Jambres can be counted
among those possible advisers.
Jannes and Jambres Relations to Balaam
Some traditions show the magicians relationship to Balaam:
But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the
road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were
with him (Num 22,22).

But the anger of the Lord increased because he went to curse them. So an
angel of the Lord was ready in the street to hinder him. And he was riding on
his ass and his two lads, Yanis and Yamris (sirmiu sini), were with him (TPsJ,
ibid.).
As in the case of Ex 7,11, the Targum adds names to the biblical text. Balaam
tends often to be described negatively in Jewish literature, including the Hebrew Bible.24 In the following biblical passages, however, Balaam does not
comply with Balaks request to curse the Israelites, but celebrates them
instead, which causes Balaks rage. Considering this and other traditions, like
the one about his murder by the Israelites (Num 31,8, Jos 13,22), we can say
that the description in the Hebrew Bible is ambivalent.
As for the tradition in Joshua that the Israelites killed Balaam (13,22), there is a
tradition that says that the two magicians were killed at that same time. We
discuss it below. The Aramaic word that is translated as lads in the foregoing passage (iumiluy) can also be translated children, which could prove
their kinship to Balaam.
The other tradition that shows their relationship with Balaam more clearly
and that overlaps with the tradition that they are Egyptian magicians is
found in Yalqut Shim oni, an anthological Midrash compiled in the thirteenth

century:25
23

24

25

Although Kaufmann identifies Job and Jethro with Jannes and Jambres (Kohler
Kaufmann, Jannes and Jambres, in: The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York 1925,
Vol. 7, p. 71), we cannot accept this identification, at least in view of the spelling of
the names. It is more acceptable to think that several people could have served as
advisers.
See Michael L. Barre, The portrait of Balaam in Numbers 2224, in: Interpretation
(Richmond) 51, 3 (1997), p. 255.
Jacob Elbaum, Yalkut Shimoni, in: EJ 2, Vol. 21, pp. 275276. On the importance of
the anthology, see David Stern, (ed.), The Anthology in Jewish Literature. Oxford
2004

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When Pharaoh ruled over Egypt, his heart became heavy about all the dwellers in
his country, and also on Yaakovs house he did not take pity, according to the advice
of Balaam the diviner and his two sons, who were advisers for the king in those
days. The king counselled with his three advisers and said to his people, the Israelites . . . (Ex 1,9), (Yalq Shem 2, 166).26

It states that it is Balaam and his two sons who advise Pharaoh to impose
slavery on the Israelites in the opening scene of Exodus (1,911: Look, he
said to his people, the Israelites have become much too numerous for us.
Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more
numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and
leave the country. So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with
forced labour, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.). Although this tradition does not mention their names, the following
two traditions refer to them as sons of Balaam.27
(In Pharaohs palace,) he (Pharaoh) feared very much in the presence of them (Moses
and Aaron), and said to them: Go today, and come tomorrow. And they did as
the king told them. And after they went, Pharaoh sent (a messenger) and called
Balaam the diviner and Yanim and Yamkhrim (irkmiu ini), his sons, magicians and
all the Egyptian craftsmen, and they came to the king. The king told them what they
(Moses and Aaron) told him (Yalq Shemot 5, [173]).

This tradition tells us that after the first visit of Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh
(Ex 5), he consulted Balaam and his sons, Jannes and Jambres, about them. It
corresponds with the foregoing tradition in that those three were Pharaohs
counsellors. There is a similar tradition about the names, Yanis and Yambris
(sirbmiu sini) in the Chronicles of Jerahme el 47,6.28

There is a tradition which says that before


the three of them served Pharaoh,
they took over the kingdom of Kush in Ethiopia, and fought against Moses
there. This tradition is included in the tenth-century Chronicles of Moses.29
The gist is as follows:
Balaam the magician and his two sons, Yanim and Mamrim (irmmu ini), from
Egypt used a plot to take over the kingdom of Kush. Moses fled there from Egypt
26
27

28

29

Bezalel Landau (ed.), Yalqut Shim oni (Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1960.

I have found no other tradition


specifying other names for Balaams sons. No tradition says that Job and Jethro, referred to in the preceding section, were Balaams
sons; but they are the main character in the Book of Job and Moses father-in-law in
Exodus, respectively. It is hard to consider them sons of Balaam.
Eli Yassif (ed.), The Book of Memory: That is the Chronicles of Jerahme el (Hebrew).
Jerusalem 2001, p. 168. The chapter and verse numbering follows Moses Gaster, The
Chronicles of Jerahmeel or, the Hebrew Bible Historiale. London 1899 (repr. Whitefish 2010).
Joseph Dan, Moses, Chronicles of, in: EJ 2, Vol. 14, pp. 545546.

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[as written in Ex 2,1114]. He gained the trust of the king of Kush and his soldiers,
who were kept out of the palace. After the Kings death, Moses succeeded him and
became the new king. He recovered the palace with his wisdom, and ejected the
three magicians, who ran to Egypt.30

This tradition explains the hostility between Moses and the two magicians (as
well as Balaam). It says that rivalry for the hegemony over a kingdom was the
background to the magicians hostile attitude toward Moses and the Israelites.
We have surveyed the traditions about the two magicians relationship with
Balaam, who is often described as an adversary of the Israelites. Those traditions show why the two magicians also oppose the Israelites.

Jannes and Jambres Relations to Belial


In addition to the tradition on Balaam, there is one that says Belial may have
brought up the two magicians.
For in ancient times Moses and Aaron arose by the hand of the Prince of Lights, and
Belial raised Yohana (hnxi) and his brother by his evil device, when Israel was
delivered for the first time (The Zadokite Documents 5,1719).31

According to this tradition in the Zadokite Documents, which appear to have


been composed in the first century BCE,32 Jannes and his brother were raised
by Belial, in contrast to Moses and Aaron, who were raised by the Prince of
Lights. Although there is disagreement among scholars about who Jannes and
his brother were, Theodore J. Lewis identifies them without doubt as the
Egyptian magicians.33
Although Belial is described here as a personal figure, in the Hebrew Bible it is
merely a common noun characterising persons who behave in a dissolute
manner, give false testimony, or hatch infamous plots.34 In addition to the
quoted passage, the Zadokite Documents have other references to Belial
(4,1214: And during all those years shall Belial be let loose upon Israel, as he
30

BHM II, pp. 111. Other versions are, Rav Abraham Azolai (ed.), The Chronicles of
Moses (Hebrew). Krakow 1897 (repr. 2008), and Avigdor Shinan, The Chronicle of
Moses: The Genre, Time, Sources and Literary Nature of a Medieval Hebrew Story
(Hebrew), in: ha-Sifrut 24 (1977), pp. 100116. The Chronicles of Yerahme el 45,18

has parallel passages.

31

Chaim Rabin (ed.), The Zadokite Documents (Second revised edition). Oxford 1958;
Philip R. Davies (ed.), The Damascus Covenant. Sheffield 1983.
Michael E. Stone; Frederick F. Bruce, Damascus, Book of Covenant of, in: EJ 2,
Vol. 5, pp. 397399.
Theodore J. Lewis, Belial, in: Jacob Neusner et al. (eds.), The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York 1992, vol. 1, pp. 654656. He does not provide any reason.
Theodor H. Gaster, Belial, in: EJ 2, Vol. 3, pp. 289290.

32

33

34

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spoke by the hand of the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz . . ., 12,23: Every man
over whom spirits of Belial obtain dominion, so that he speaks rebellion, shall
be judged in the same manner as the case of a ghost and a familiar spirit (Lev
20,27)), which describe him as opponent of God, or the object of Gods
judgment. Given this negative character of Belial, we deduce that Jannes and
his brother also opposed God, or the Israelites.
We have thus far examined the traditions of Jannes and Jambres, their identity
and their relationship to Balaam and Belial.

Jannes and Jambres and the Making of the Golden Calf


Next, we will examine what some traditions have to say about their deeds. The
first one is about the making of the golden calf in the wilderness:
Rabbi Yudan says in the name of Rabbi Aha: Egyptian magicians did their sorceries,
before them (ShirR 1,9.3).35
and it (the golden calf) seemed to be dancing

Although the specific names of the magicians of Egypt are not mentioned
here, judging from the foregoing traditions, it is to be assumed that they are
Jannes and Jambres.
Here is another tradition that connects the two with making the golden calf:
What did the evil ones see to make the calf? They are magicians of Pharaoh, Yonum
and Yombrum (urbmuiu unui). It is said about them that the Egyptian magicians
also did the same things by their secret arts (Ex 7,11) (. . .) they came back with
Moses and received the circumcision. And the Lord, who knows both the revealed
and the hidden, knew about them that they were from the (evil) seed. (Yalqut

Re uveni, Ki Tissa 81a).36

Yalqut Re uveni is, like Yalqut Shim oni, an anthology; it was first published
37 This tradition states unmistakably that Jannes and Jambres are the
in 1681.
Egyptian magicians referred to in Exodus chapter 7 and they made the golden
calf.
Aside from their reason for getting involved with the golden calf, why did the
two magicians, who served in Pharaohs court, go into the wilderness with the
Israelites? Only the following tradition answers this question:
35

36

37

Shimshon Dunski (ed.), Midrash Rabbah: Shir haShirim (Hebrew). Jerusalem 1980.
The section number follows the English translation (Maurice Simon [transl.], Midrash Rabbah. Song of Songs. London 1951), though the translation is my own.
Reuben Hschke (ed.), Rabbi Nathan in Frankfurt and Hamburg. Yalkut Reubeni
on the Pentateuch (Hebrew). Warsaw 1882 (repr. 1962). The source of this passage is
Tiqqune ha-Zohar 142a.
Moritz Steinschneider, Catalogus Librorum Hebraeorum. Hildesheim 1964, pp. 2138
2139.

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Pharaoh then summoned the wise men . . ., and the Egyptian magicians also did (the
same things) . . . (Ex 7,11). Pharaoh wanted to stand to receive the miracles of God,
because they (the magicians) saw the miracles and wonders done to Moses in
Egypt.38 After that, they went up to Moses and wanted to be converted to Judaism.
God told Moses not to accept them, etc. But Moses received them by himself, and
the Egyptian magicians and their chiefs, Yonus and Yombrus (surbmuiu sunui), became the mixed multitude (Yalqut Re uveni Wa era 19a).

Although there are many traditions outside the Hebrew Bible (Ex 8,15 / 8,19
in NIV: The magicians said to Pharaoh, This is the finger of God) that the
two magicians recognised the power of the God in the miracles that were
shown to Moses and Aaron,39 a tradition that they converted to Judaism is
preserved only in this passage from Yalqut Re uveni. According to the Hebrew Bible the number of the Israelites who left Egypt for the wilderness was
six hundred thousand (Ex 12,3738: The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides
women and children. Many other people40 went up with them), and this
tradition asserts that Jannes and Jambres were included among them. Since
there is no tradition which contradicts it, it should be regarded as the explanation for one of Jannes and Jambres actions. This, however, can be true only
on condition that the two went into the wilderness with the Israelites. As
discussed below, there are some traditions that say that the two did not go
into the wilderness, but accompanied Pharaoh and his army, which had chased
after the Israelites, and that they died with them in the Red Sea. According to
this tradition, they died before the making of the golden calf in the wilderness.

The Death of Jannes and Jambres


There are at least three conflicting traditions on when and how Jannes and
Jambres died. At least two say that the two magicians accompanied Pharaoh
and his army when it chased after the Israelites, battled with God or his
messengers at the Red Sea and died there.
Two magicians, Yohani and Mamre (armmu inxui), were among the Egyptians. They
with their magic, flew in the air and floated in the height of the
made wings for them
world. Gavri el said: In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who
opposed you. (Ex 15,7) Soon the Holy One, blessed be he, said to Mikha el, go and
make the judgment to them. Mikha el took hold of the lock of their head and flung
the magicians on the face of the water, as it is written, It was you who split open
38

39
40

Pietersma mistranslated this phrase, the signs and wonders performed by Moses
(Pietersma, Apocryphon, p. 30).
For example, J&J, which is discussed below.
Mixed multitude in KJV.

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the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters (Ps 74,13),
(Yalq Beshallah 14, 236).
your breath . . . (Ex 15,10). (What does this mean?) The wise men
You blew with
say, when the Egyptians drowned in the sea, there were among them two magicians.
Their names were Yohani and Mamre (armmu inxui). And they said to Pharaoh, if it is
One, blessed be he, we cannot do anything to him. But if it
in the hand of the Holy
is in the hand of (his) messengers, we can shake them off. Soon they do their magic
and take them down to the sea. Then, the messengers said, help me God, the water
came up to our throat, and you by your words sank the magicians in the water.
Therefore, it is said that you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead in the mighty waters (ibid.), (Midrash Wayyosha , p. 52).41

Midrash Wayyosha , an exegesis of Exodus, is thought to have been composed


in the eleventh century.42 Although the two stories are different in some
details, the fact that the two magicians died in the Red Sea is common to both.
Needless to say, if the magicians died in the Red Sea, they could not have
played a role in the making of the golden calf in the wilderness. It would also
have been impossible to transfer to them the sin of idolatry, as was done in
Tanhuma. Another tradition about their death mentions the golden calf episode:
The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the
people died. . .. (Ex 32,28). What is about three thousand (ibid.)? This means that
Yonus and Yombrus (surbmuiu sunui) were in this small total, that is, they were
estimated as three thousand (Yalqut Re uveni Ki Tissa 85a).

This tradition says that Jannes and Jambres are included in the three thousand who were blamed for the sin of idolatry. Although it matches the tradition in Tanhuma, it conflicts with the preceding one that said that the two
Sea.
died in the Red
He (Moses) then fought against Midian and slew Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba,
the five kings of Midian. He put Balaam the enchanter and his two sons to the edge
of the sword (The Chronicles of Yerahme el 48, 1314).

Although the specific names are not mentioned in this place, other places use
the names Yanis and Yambris in 47,6 and 45,18 that parallel Yalqut Shim oni
ani and
Shemot 5 (173) and the Chronicles of Moses respectively, and Yoh

41

42

BHM I, p. 52. There is a parallel description in the Chronicles of Yerahme el 54,8. It


ask God to
says that it is Mikha el and Gavri el who cannot control the two and
help, and God sends Metatron to suppress them.
information of this literature, see Elisabeth Wies-CamHerr, Midrash. For further
pagner, Midrasch Wajoscha. Berlin 2009; Gnter Stemberger, Midrash Wa-yosha
Quellen und Tendenzen einer mittelalterlichen Erzhlung, in: id. (ed.), Judaica
Minora. Teil II: Geschichte und Literatur des rabbinischen Judentums. Tbingen
2010, pp. 587601.

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Mamre in 54,8. This use of different names can be explained by the fact that
this literature is an anthology of a number of traditions. What is important
here is that in this quotation the ones Moses and the Israelites killed are Jannes
and Jambres. It means that the two had died neither at the Red Sea nor in the
wilderness but were killed with Balaam by Moses and the Israelites after the
golden calf episode. According to this tradition, it is again impossible to transfer the sin of idolatry to them, as Tanhuma did.

So far we discussed the death of Jannes


and Jambres. Although we find
agreement on the fact that all traditions say that someone Judaic killed them,
like God, his messenger or the Israelites, these traditions contradict one another completely. Then, what does this group of conflicting traditions so very
similar in names and character mean? Before answering this question, we will
turn to the traditions in other kinds of documents.

Jannes and Jambres in Some Greek Documents


The first document is the New Testament.
Just as Iannes and Iambres (Iannhw kai Iambrhw) opposed Moses, so also these men
oppose the truth, 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. (2 Timothy 3,89, NIV).43

The phrase these men in this passage means those whom the writer of
Timothy tells the readers not to be, and they have no direct connection with
Jannes and Jambres. As to their names, the Greek names Ianhw and
Iambrhw are the transcribed versions of the Hebrew ones (hnxui and armm).
As we noted above, the Greek names were transcribed back into Hebrew to
become Yanis and Yambris (sini and sirbmi) etc. As to the contents, what this
passage in 2 Timothy tells us is that the two have opposed Moses.
The second is J&J. Although it is difficult to say whether this Greek work is
part of Jewish literature, we cannot disregard it because of its contents. As
Pietersma already concluded, the book focused mainly on the two magicians
and told many of their stories. The following is a digest that generally follows
the temporal axis of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. What can we learn from this
tradition?
43

Tromp argued that this story originally had nothing to do with the one in J&J, and
early readers of 2 Tim 3,89 connected Jannes and Jambres with the Egyptian
magicians in Exodus (Tromp, Jannes and Jambres, p. 226). Although I can accept his
idea, it is no reason to omit this tradition in 2 Tim. from the traditions about Jannes
and Jambres studied in this paper.

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The magicians Iannes and Iambres had a brother who lived somewhere
around Memphis (no exact information on the location is given).
Iannes is told by the messenger of God that his days were numbered.
The Pharaohs messenger comes to Iannes, who is made to confront with
Moses the Hebrew at Pharaohs court.
Iannes, who lost to Moses partly because of a fit caused by a chronic
disease, admits that Gods power is in Moses and goes back to his house.
Iannes advises Iambres not to accompany Pharaoh on the chase after the
Israelites, and he takes the advice.
They hear the news of the Egyptians defeat and Pharaohs death.
Iannes dies suffering the pain of his disease.
Iambres uses his magical arts to summon Ianness soul.
Iannes tells Iambres about the world where he is after death.
Although there are some contradictions in this book,44 that is the summary of
the story. It shares with the foregoing traditions that Iannes confronted Moses
and that he died tragically, but there are also differences (e. g., little mention of
Iambres etc.). Although both types of traditions, the various foregoing ones
and J&J, complement each other with their different readings, all things considered, the traditions are so contradictory that few of them are consistent.

Lesser Known Texts Mentioning Jannes and Jambres


Unlike all the foregoing traditions, the following ones have thus far been
omitted from scholarly research. They are found in two piyyutim and in

Havdala deRabbi Aqiva. The latter is not a normal liturgical Havdala


but
45
rather is a magical text. First, we deal with a piyyut read on the seventh day
of Pesah, considered to have been composed by Yosef birabbi Nisan about the
seventh century CE.46 The following is the scene alluding to Ex 14, where the
Egyptian army, which had chased the Israelites, drowned in the Red Sea:
umskurb iytm idz / umimsqb rkmiu inui udz
inudizb qnx / inidm iaklt

44

45

46

This contradictory means that there are different readings among the manuscripts
of J&J that Pietersma restored. We do not need to point out every difference here.
I could locate these references to Jannes and Jambres thanks to the online version of
the Historical Dictionary of the Academy of the Hebrew Language <http://hebrewtreasures.huji.ac.il/>, last viewed on 22. 04. 2012.
On the original text and interpretation of this piyyut, see Israel Davidson, Piyyutim
and Songs from the Genizah in Egypt (Hebrew), (Ginzei Shekhter, Vol. 3). New
York 1928, pp. 9697. He did not find their names in the second stanza but thought
that Yanis means Egypt and read Yambris he will sell him.

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Yonim and Yamkhrim plotted with their sorcery.
The ones who are plotting beguile people with tricks.
The deep waters have covered them (Ex 15,10).

This overlaps with the traditions in Yalqut Shim oni, Beshallah 14 and
Midrash Wayyosha , which mentioned that the two died in the Red Sea by the
hand of God. Their names appear only in this place, which tells us that they
plotted with their sorcery, that is, they did harm to the Israelites and God
drowned them. Although it is not something novel for the foregoing traditions, it is clear that, even in the popular tradition in this piyyut, Jannes and

Jambres are the ones who use magic and do harm to the Israelites.
The next text containing a reference to Jannes and Jambres is a piyyut read on

Purim, considered to have been composed by Haduta (Hedvata) bar Avraham

47
about the latter half of seventh century. It follows the story of Esther in the
Hebrew Bible and focuses on Hamans execution. The following are the verses
in which Jannes and Jambres appear:
sirbmiu sini iiwuxn / sirdm ydun
.sirs uaiwih / sirab skij yun

The one who is trampling was known


(Because of) magic of Yanis and Yambris
He (Haman) did their (magicians) act on the sharecropper (Israelites)
Eunuch seduced him.

Schirmann thought that the one who is trampling is a nickname for Haman
and that the eunuch is Hatakh, who appears in Est 4,5ff. There is a tradition
that Haman, who is often described in Judaism as an evil person and who is
compared with Jannes and Jambres in this piyyut, was an astrologer.48 On one
two magicians, Jannes and
side, in this piyyut, Haman the astrologer and the

Jambres, are spoken of as equals. On the other, Jannes and Jambres used
magic, and that fact made them similar to Haman the evil person, at least as far
as ordinary people were concerned.49
Certain kinds of prayers, which were thought of as practical Kabbala, came to
be a part of the Havdala ritual. They included some kinds of incantation and

47

48

49

On the original text and interpretation of this piyyut, see Jefim Schirmann (ed.), New

Hebrew Poems from the Genizah (Hebrew). Jerusalem


1965, pp. 1618.
PRE 50. This is based on the fact that Haman used lots (Est 3,7). The Israelites also
used lots to assign land (Jos 18,6). This means that using lots, like magic, is permitted
if it is done in accordance with Gods will.
Prof. Elisabeth Hollender suggested another similarity. It is that Jannes and Jambres
were the magicians at Pharaohs court and Haman was the advisor of Ahashverosh
who tried to kill all Israelites, like Pharaoh who planned to kill all male Israelite
babies. I express my gratitude to her.

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invocation against evil spirits. In Havdala deRabbi Aqiva Jannes and Jambres
are mentioned as magicians:50
ipwkmh iwnah lk umuqi al k ircmb hwm inpl sir bna
uiu sina
ui hwym umq alw wk
51
.unidgnk tuyrh tucyh icyuihu imsuqhu iwxlmhu

Just as that a deed of Yoanis and Yoanbris in front of Moses in Egypt indeed did not
arise, all the sorcerers, whisperers, charmers and advisers who make advice against
us will not arise.

We see in this passage evidence that Moses defeated the two magicians in
Egypt and for their being compared with the sorcerers, whisperers and
charmers. Although it does not tell us anything new when compared with the
foregoing traditions, it does reinforce some of them.

4. Conclusions
We have so far referred to traditions about Jannes and Jambres in Judaism by
theme. In this section, I will classify them by their names to provide an organised and comprehensive understanding of the traditions about the two magicians in Judaism. As already noted, the names Jannes and Jambres as used in
the various traditions can be classified into two groups: They are original
Hebrew ones (e. g. hnxui and armm) and re-transcribed ones (e. g. sini and
sirbmi). Added to these are the cases where they remain anonymous and are
referred to simply as Egyptian magicians or sons of Balaam, but where we
can suppose that the texts refer to these two. The following presents the classification in a table.
name

contents

source

original
hnxi

compared with Moses and Aaron


and raised by Belial (the name
Jambres does not appear)

Zadokite Documents
5,1719

armmu anxui

quarrel with Moses

bMen85a; BerR 9,7

armmu inxui

fly at the Red Sea by magic, fight


with God or his messenger and
die

Yalq Beshallah 14 (236);

Midrash Wayyosha
p. 52; the Chronicles of
Yerahme el 54,8

50

51

For further information on this document, see Gershom Scholem, Havdalah de


Rabbi Akiba (Hebrew), in: Tarbiz 50 (19801981), pp. XIIIXIV, 243.
Ibid., p. 277. On the full original text and its interpretation, see ibid., pp. 243281.

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name

contents

source

re-transcribed
irmmu ini

fight with Moses for Ethiopia

the Chronicles of
Moses; the Chronicles
of Yerahme el 45,18

Yalq Shemot 5 (173); the


Chronicles of Yerah
me el 47,6

irkmiu ini

as the advisers of Pharaoh with


Balaam, consult with Pharaoh
when Moses and Aaron appear in
the court

sirbmiu sini

Magicians contest with Moses


and Aaron at Pharaohs court

TPsJ Ex 7,11

sirbnauiu sinaui

fail something in front of Moses

Havdala de Rabbi
Aqiva

surbmuiu sunui

accepted as converts by Moses


and go to the wilderness with the
Israelites

Yalqut Re uveni Wa era

19a

rkmiu inui

do evil things by magic at the Red piyyut read on Pesah

Sea and drowned by God

urbmuiu unui

make the golden calf with their


magic in the wilderness

Tan, Ki Tissa 19; Yalqut

Re uveni Ki Tissa 81a

surbmuiu sunui

included in the about three


thousand (Ex 32,28) killed by
the Levites

Yalqut Re uveni

Ki Tissa 85a

sirmiu sini

when Balaam goes to curse the


Israelites, they are with him

TPsJ Num 22,22

sirbmiu sini

listed as magicians with Haman

piyyut read on Purim

two sons of
Balaam

two sons of Balaam advise


Pharaoh to impose slavery on the
Israelites

Yalq Shemot 2
(166)

Egyptian
magicians

Egyptian magicians have to do


with the making of the golden
calf

ShirR 1.9.3

Balaams two
sons

When Moses fights against


Midian, Balaam and his two sons
are killed at that time

the Chronicles of
Yerahme el 48,13

anonymous

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Although, as mentioned before, this study does not include all traditions
about Jannes and Jambres, it is evident that the traditions with the original
name in Hebrew and Aramaic literature are few.52According to the original
traditions that use the Hebrew names, Jannes and Jambres, who were raised by
Belial (questionable), parallel Moses and Aaron, who were raised by the Prince
of Light. Jannes and Jambres also quarrelled with Moses (at Pharaohs court,
probably), accompanied the Egyptian army that chased the Israelites, flew by
magic at the Red Sea and were killed by God or his messenger. There is no
contradiction in this series of traditions. On the other hand, in the re-transcribed traditions, they served at Pharaohs court, fought against Moses in
Ethiopia, returned to Egypt to be Pharaohs advisers, confronted with Moses
in a magicians contest, lost to him, converted to Judaism and went to the
wilderness with the Israelites. However, an obvious contradiction arises between the traditions that say that God killed them at the Red Sea, the ones that
say that they the Levites killed them after they made the golden calf in the
wilderness and the one that says that they went with Balaam to curse the
Israelites. In this paper, I use the word original to mean that some traditions
with Hebrew names like armmu hnxui are older than those with re-transcribed
names. However, this cannot be ascertained from the date the documents
containing the Jannes and Jambres traditions were compiled, because the date
of compilation is not the same as the date the tradition was created. It can
happen that a very old (e. g. sometime BCE) tradition first appears only in late
Medieval literature. Given this presupposition and judging from the differences between the original traditions and the ones with the re-transcribed
names, I presume that several new episodes were added to the original consistent traditions during the course of transition. When this happened, no one
gave any attention to the possibility of contradiction, which resulted in a
disorderly addition of traditions.
How, then, did those contradictions arise, and how can we overcome them?
There are two possible reasons for why they arose: (1) there were two pairs of
Jannes and Jambres, with Hebrew names and Greek names, (2) a consistent

52

It is natural to raise the thought that the original names are in fact not original and
the re-transcribed ones are really original, and that those re-transcribed names
were re-transcribed back into Hebrew to be the original names. I base my presupposition that the names Yohana and Mamre are original on the date of compi first century BCE. This does not mean that there
lation of the Zadokite Documents,
is no doubt that Yohana and his brother in the Zadokite Documents are Jannes and
is important is not whether they are but whether they can be
Jambres, because what
so considered. If a document compiled prior to Zadokite Documents should be
discovered and should it use the names Yanis and Yambris, I will have to reconsider
my position.

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tradition had developed individually in each region and in each period. Although it is impossible to deny the former possibility, it is unrealistic to think
that there were two pairs of Egyptian magicians who had names like Jannes
and Jambres. We can thus deduce from the original traditions that the
version saying that they were raised by Belial, quarrelled with Moses (at
Pharaohs court, probably), accompanied the Egyptian army that chased the
Israelites, flew at the Red Sea and were killed by the messenger of God are
really the oldest and most original version. The traditions which conflict with
them or are not included in them are later ones added to the original ones.
It is noticeable that none of the extant traditions describing Jannes and Jambres has anything to say in their favour.53 In every tradition, they are evil
people, who oppose God or the Israelites or harm them. All the traditions
agree on this. I stress this point to show that Jannes and Jambres, who have
been described as evil according to the original traditions such as raised by
Belial, oppose to Moses or killed by God or his messenger, can be used
as archetypes of evil persons in later traditions without restriction of time
and place. For example, as seen in the piyyut read on Purim, Jannes and
Jambres were used in a comparison to show that Haman was an evil person,
despite their having nothing to do with Haman directly, and they appeared as
Balaams sons to emphasise Balaams evilness. It is not rare in Judaism to
use evil person in many cases. For instance, Aramaic poetry54 describes a
scene where some evil persons55 argue about who is more evil than Haman.
I assert that Jannes and Jambres, the two magicians, are examples of such evil
persons that can be used in many cases.
Our discussion began with the transfer of the blame for the sin of idolatry to
the evil inclination, Satan, and the magicians, then turned to what the magicians were and to the development and the background of their traditions. In
Judaism, these two magicians, evil inclination and Satan are all flexible and
useful entities, onto which one can easily transfer blame for sin in any case.
The are many traditions about the magicians, interpreted as the Egyptian
magicians who opposed Moses in Ex 7,11: i. e. that they were connected to
Belial or Balaam, who are likely to be described as negative in Judaic literature,
that they opposed God, Moses and the Israelites and that, as the retribution
for those things, they were killed at Gods will. They came to be seen as the
exemplars of evil persons in Judaism, so that their names came to be used in a

53
54

55

This is not limited only to the traditions in Hebrew and Aramaic.


See Joseph Yahalom; Michael Sokoloff (ed.), Poems of Bne-Ma arava (Hebrew).
Jerusalem 1999, p. 31.
They are Nimrod, Pharaoh, Amalek, Sisera, Goliath, Ebed-Melek the Cushite, Sennacherib and Jesus.

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variety of scenes without restriction by time or place. That is to say, those


who recorded the Judaic traditions included Jannes and Jambres in stories
from whatever time to portray someone as an evil person in Judaism by
comparing that someone with Jannes and Jambres and thus to emphasise the
sinfulness of those who oppose God. I believe, therefore, that their names are
a useful label to attach to evil persons and that the sense of absolute evil
is subsidiary in this label. Besides, it is noticeable that the traditions about
Jannes and Jambres had spread beyond Judaism to a large area and over many
periods.56 Finally, I would like to point out that the two magicians also served
as a bridge connecting Jewish culture to its surrounding culture.

56

For example, Christian literature has a number of traditions of Jannes and Jambres
(Origen, John of Nikiu, Bar Hebraeus, etc.). Besides, as mentioned above, Gero,
Parerga, refers to plenty of traditions of Jannes and Jambres not limited to Jewish
literature.