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Did the Egyptian magicians actually perform magic of a miraculous kind, or were they fakes and tricksters?
The "wise men" of Egypt were the learned and schooled men of that time. The "magicians" or "sorcerers" (from the intensive form of the Hebrew verb meaning "to pray, to offer prayers") is used in the Old Testament only in the sense of sorcery. This word for "magicians" is derived from the Egyptian loan-wordhry-hbt, later shortened to hry-tp, "the chief of the priests."
The use of magic in Egypt is best seen in the Westcar Papyrus, where magicians are credited with changing wax crocodiles into live ones and back to wax again after seizing them by their tails. However, the relation between Aaron's miracles and those done by the magicians, whom the apostle Paul named as Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:8, is difficult to describe. It could well be that the magicians cast spells over serpents that were rendered immobile by catalepsy, due to pressure on the nape of their necks. However, it is just as likely that by means of demonic power they were able to keep up with Aaron and Moses by using supernatural powers from a realm other than God's for the first two plagues. But when they came to the third plague, they bowed out with the declaration to Pharaoh that "this is the finger of God" (Ex 8:19).