In this paper, we shall explore the character and symbolism of the snake, in ancient Egypt and in the Bible, through the stories of Moses. In the paper, we will try to answer this question: Are there any similarities and differences in the form of the serpent in these two cultures – if so, what are they – and why do they exist.
The word ‘Egypt’ appears 434 times throughout the entire Bible, a fact which is not surprising, due to the geographical proximity between Egypt and the region where the Bible was written. In many times, Egypt appears as an example and a model for everything that is wrong and negative in the eyes of Israel’s leaders. Egypt appears as an origin place for slavery, hedonism and heresy:
“After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do” (Leviticus 18, 3);
“Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger” (Ezekiel 17, 26); “Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20, 7).
One of the arguments of God for the obligation of his people to worship him is the fact that he took them out of Egypt, a place of bondage. The exodus from Egypt is considered a constitutive event in the life of Israel, the moment they became a nation.
Civilization as significant as Egypt, which had vast influence on its surroundings, naturally applied great impact, particularly on the people who lived within it. Moses grew up in the Egyptian royal court and was accustomed to Egyptian iconography; so do the Israelites, who spent many years among the Egyptians – as soon as they were given the first opportunity to ease God’s burden, they “regressed” to the Egyptian iconography (The Golden Calf – Exodus 32).
This explains why it was so essential for the author of the bible, to emphasize the dichotomy between Egypt and the Israelites, and how in his eyes the Israelites’ attraction to Egypt and its culture was dangerous to their existence. Moreover, it is evident that the author warned his people not to wander after the Egyptian customs throughout the entire Bible, which indicates that this trend was widespread among the Israelites.
Due to its unique shape and the complex relationship with its environment, the image of the snake occupies a prominent place in the various religions of the world. Its deadly quickness, winding crawl, the periodic shedding of its skin, its shiny scales, the threatening venom and some say hypnotic beauty, are the qualities that make the snake so common in the vast majority of world mythologies. Its enigmatic nature and the mystery surrounding the snake, led people of all ages to two contradictory approaches about it.
The evil-looking appearance of the snake and its habit to crawl on its belly in burrows in the ground, associated it with the underworld, darkness and the forces of evil; and yet at the same time, due to its ability to shed its skin, the snake seemed to live for eternity – therefore it was attributed divine forces of renewal, healing and protection and in many places it was also revered as a god.( M. Lurker, “Snakes” in M. Eliade (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion, V. 13, (New York, 1987), pp. 370-374.)
So it is in the Bible and in ancient Egypt, which we examine in this paper: one example of this dichotomy from the Egyptian mythology is the snake Apep (Apophis), the sworn enemy of the sun god Ra – while in the same time, during his journey in the underworld, Ra is surrounded by a protective ring of a snake called Mehen. In the Bible, the snake represents death, lies and seduction, as shown in the story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3); its power to kill with its poison:
“He shall suck the poison of asps: the viper’s tongue shall slay him” (Job 20, 16), and in Psalm the wicked are compared to snakes: “Their poison is like the poison of a serpent” (Psalm 58, 4).
However, the snake represents also life and healing, as shown in the case of the story of the bronze serpent, Nehushtan (Numbers 21), which we will examine in this paper.
The snake is an ambivalent symbol that appears dichotomous, but in fact it represents the complete unity of the opposites – “Coincidentia Oppositorum“. Many cultures’ symbolic systems addressed this issue of complemented opposites, including the Chinese Tao (Yin-Yang symbol), the Greek Caduseus, the Hindu Hexagram, the Minoan Labrys, etc. These symbols contain within them the unification of opposite principles of good and evil, sickness and health, darkness and light, as they are unified in the snake’s enigmatic figure.
The Snake in Ancient Egyptian Magic and Medicine
Every field of Egyptian medical specialty had a patron god, who influenced the healer; it was Horus, the falcon-god, who supervised the treatment for stings of bees and scorpions, snake bites and the deadly bites of crocodiles, injuries that were quite common in ancient Egypt.(C. Reeves, Egyptian Medicine, (Great Britain, 1992), p. 22.)
The ancient Egyptians drew a direct link between the element which caused the disease and the healing method – in a manner that reminiscent of the homeopathic principle of Similia Similibus Curentur (‘like cures like’ in Latin). One of the prominent examples of this principle is the goddess in the form of a lioness – Sekhmet – literally ‘powerful one’; she is the goddess who provokes epidemics and diseases, yet her high priests were healers.(G. Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, (New York, 2005), p. 139.)
The Egyptian Snake – Protects and threatens Simultaneously
A myth from Heliopolis(S. Israeli, Egyptian Mythology, (Israel, 2005), pp. 44-45.) tells how in the times before creation, Atum was alone in the vastness of the infinite Nun, the primordial watery abyss. He created Shu and Tefnut, who went to explore the darkness and gotten lost. With much concern, Atum took out his eye – that was associated with the sun – and sent her to look for them. The eye illuminated the deep abyss, until it found the lost offsprings and returned with them to Atum, but much to her anger, she discovered he replaced her with a new eye. In order to appease and please her, Atum put her on his forehead as a protector cobra, the Uraeus who can spit fire on his enemies. This myth illustrates the essence of the snake to the Egyptians as a dangerous element, which can be harnessed in order to benefit the gods and kings, as their protector from enemies and dangers.
Another example is the protective snake Mehen; the role of this coiled snake is to protect Ra on his night journey in the underworld. In the Coffin Texts, spells No. 758-76, describe how Mehen embodied in nine concentric rings, which are ‘ways of fire’, surrounding and protecting the sun god.( R. H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, (New York, 2003),
Poisonous snakes were a real and daily danger to the workers of the Egyptian fields, mines and houses. Brooklyn Papyrus( S. Sauneron, Le Papyrus Magique Illustre de Brooklyn, (Great Britain, 1970) deals with snakes and their bites. It is dated to the 30th dynasty or to the early Ptolemaic period, but it was written in Middle Egyptian language, which is earlier then that period, perhaps because it was actually a copy of an earlier document, or a deliberate choice of the author to use an archaic form of Egyptian, to give it more authenticity.( J. F. Nunn, “Ancient Egyptian Medicine”, (London, 1996), p. 40.) Reading the papyrus makes it evident that the Egyptians knew all the kinds of poisonous snakes in their area: the first part of the papyrus (paragraphs 1-38) described 38 types of snakes living in Egypt, their names, characteristics, nature of their bites and a prognosis about the recovery of the patient.
The second part of the Brooklyn Papyrus (paragraphs 39-100), contains a list of medicines to treat the bites and the spells that could help heal them. A. P. Leca had pointed out in his book: “La médecine égyptienne au temps des pharaons” that in order to keep out snakes from the house, the Egyptians used to lay down small boxes at the house threshold, which were decorated with the form of a snake. Also here we meet a magical attempt to keep afar the harmful element, using its own shape and image.(B. Halioua & B. Ziskind, Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs, (London, 2005), pp. 140-143.)
Amulet is an object, which is attributed with magical features of protection and healing due to its shape, color, or the material it was made from. For the ancient Egyptians, magical amulets and jewelry were an important part of daily wear, but they were an essential part, particularly as burial equipment.(C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, (Great Britain, 1994), p. 6.) One can see the role of amulets as an agent of protection, through three Egyptian words that are translated as ‘Amulet’, which are related to the meaning of protection and safety:
– mk.t-Ha.w – protection of the body; amulet.( A. Erman & H. Grapow (ed.), Worterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache, V. 2, (Leipzig, 1971), p. 161.)
– wDA.w – amulet; protective spell.(A. Erman & H. Grapow (ed.), Worterbuch Der Aegyptischen Sprache, V. 1, (Leipzig, 1971), p. 401.)
The Snake God Nehebkau
Nehebkau who’s form is of a snake, symbolizing the invincible force of life. He protects both the living and the dead and he is even identified with Atum. Nehebkau is
the son of Serket / Selkis – the goddess with the form of a scorpion. His family connections emphasize his role as the restorer of health for the victims of venomous
bites or stings; he is another example of the link drawn by the Egyptians, between the cause the disease and its cure.(G. Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, pp. 99-100.)
Sometimes he appears as an amulet of a complete snake with arms, but usually he is shown as a man with a snake’s head, while the final part of the snake trailing
behind him. Both of these performances were found in tombs of the Third Intermediate Period, the majority of amulets are made of glazed faience, some from copper.( C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, p. 26.)
Nehebkau’s image appears on another amulet type, this time next to the goddess Sekhmet, whose role in Egyptian medicine mentioned above. Sekhmet is holding a Sistrum in her hands, and sitting on a throne which on both sides there are two Nehebkaus in a snake-like form, relying on their tails.(C. Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, pp. 33-34.)
It appears that the medical context Attributed to Sekhmet is what ties these two gods in these type of charms.
Copper Snake Staffs:
Copper staffs designed in the form of a snake, which Egyptologists assume that were in the hands of Egyptian magicians, apparently designed in the form of the snake goddess Weret-Hekau.(G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt, (London, 1994), p. 11.)
Weret-Hekau – ‘Great of Magic’, was an epithet used for several goddesses as Isis, Hathor and Sekhmet, but as a goddess on its own, she appeared in the form of a snake or a lioness, and was one of the goddesses which served as a guardian to the kings of Egypt.( G. Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, p. 163.)
It is interesting to mention the relationship between copper as a material for staffs and as the material that the Egyptians used for healing snake bites: The Egyptians knew certain materials (including vinegar, willow tree leaves, barley flour and onions) as antiseptics; the Egyptians used to place pieces
of copper on the bitten area.
Copper oxide is known today as capable of stopping bleeding.(B. Halioua & B. Ziskind, Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs, p. 39.)
Perhaps the chemical-medical value of copper, led the Egyptians (and also the Israelites who were among the Egyptians long time and learned their customs) to design
the snake staffs from copper, perhaps as an attempt to magically transfer the therapeutic properties of the metal.
Cippi Stelas were found in homes and temples of the Late Period onward and were used for protection against scorpion stings, snake bites and predators.(B. Halioua & B. Ziskind, Medicine in the Days of the Pharaohs, (London, 2005), p. 142.) The front side of a stela show Horus as a child, naked, standing on crocodiles and holding in his hands snakes, scorpions, lions and horned
animals, on his head lays the god Bes. Some stelas were designed in small size to be carried as an amulet, protecting from poisonous snake bites and scorpions. The Egyptians believed that the water poured on the stela, could absorb the nature of spells engraved on it and serve as magical anti-venom device.
As an example of these stelas we will show the Metternich Stela, for it is the most impressive example of preserved Cippi Stelas.( J. P. Allen, The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt, (New York, 2006), pp. 49-63.)
This stela was found in the temple dedicated to the bull-shaped god Mnevis/Mer-wer from Heliopolis. It was made in the Late Period, during the reign of King Nectanebo II, at the request of the priest Esatum. Over the years, the stela moved to Alexandria, where it was discovered in the early 19th century.
In the main scene, one can see the naked figure of Horus the Child, Bes and Horus-eyes are protecting his head, and he holds snakes, scorpions, a lion and a ram in his hands. Protective figures are carved on the front, rear, base and sides of the stela, including the gods Bes and Taweret. The stela also include a magical spell against Apophis, the primordial serpent of the Amduat (the afterworld), who tries to foil the progress of the sun in its nocturnal journey. Afterwards appears anti-venom spell and three more spells of healing a cat that was bitten by a snake (cat often symbolizes the Sun God).
Thoth appears on Horus’s left and Isis on his right, their appearance here links to the myth that tells how Horus was cured by Thoth. The myth tells how Isis, which carried Horus in her womb from the recently murdered Osiris, listened to an advice of Thoth, and ran to hide in the swamps of the delta fearing her brother Set, Osiris’ murderer, in order that Horus could grow up safely and return to rule Egypt when he will mature.
After giving birth, Isis went every day to seek food disguised as a beggar, leaving the infant Horus alone, worried about the dangers surrounded him. Indeed one day during her absence, Set disguised as a snake bitten Horus. Isis found her bitten son lying on his back, drooling, his heart is weak and without a pulse; despite her screams, Horus did not respond and Isis was alone. Delta-dwelling fishermen came to her, but
they were unable to help, until a wise woman with the Ankh symbol in her hand, declared the child is safe from Set’s attacks because the power of Atum protects him.
Isis listened to the woman’s advice and looked for the source of the child illness – was it a snakebite or a scorpion bite? She discovered he was poisoned by a snake, and Serket the scorpion goddess ordered her to beg to Ra to appear with his ship – and so she did. ‘The ship of millions of years‘ – appeared with Ra and Thoth in it. After she had tell them her concerns that Horus was poisoned by his uncle, Thoth promised her that he will bring from the sky the breath of life, to heal the child. Thoth began casting a series of spells and invocations, and the poison was removed. Eventually Horus grew and strengthened and went to avenge his father’s death, and demand his right to the throne.
A myth that tells the story of the gods was not just a fairy tale for the Egyptians, but a lively and powerful report about how the god’s overcome dangers and illnesses; this description had delegated the power of the gods over the sick and validated the spells appeared in the myth.
As pointed out by Mircea Eliade, a magical action is effective and meaningful, only if it imitates or repeats the archetype embodied in the myth. A person who is recreates the mythical story, finds himself transported to the mythical time in which the myth occurred, he can experience the forces the god provoked and pass them on to himself or others. / M. Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, (Israel, 2000), pp.38-39.)
Telling the myth story and reciting the spells in it, together with themagic power of the images and words engraved on the stela, were very powerful weapons for Ancient Egyptian medicine.(J. P. Allen, The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt, (New York, 2006), p. 63.)
The Biblical Snake in the Stories of Moses
Staffs that become snakes
In the Book of Exodus, God revealed himself from the burning bush to Moses,who shepherd Jethro’s flock. Moses, called by God to go and redeem his people from the Egyptian drudgery, voice his fears and doubts about his ability in fulfilling the mission entrusted to him:
“And Moses answered and said: ‘But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say: The LORD hath not appeared
unto thee.” (Exodus 4, 1)
Knowing nothing is better than seeing; God decided to provide a proof to Moses and asked him to throw his staff. The staff became a snake, which was so threatening so that Moses escaped it, but God told him to grab his tail, and the snake became a staff again,
“that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee”. (Exodus 4, 5) Before his meeting with Pharaoh, God told Moses:
“When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying: Show a wonder for you; then thou shalt say unto Aaron: Take thy rod,
and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it become a serpent.” (Exodus 7, 9).
In the meeting, the brothers did what God told them to do:
“Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did in like manner with their secret arts. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. (Exodus 7, 11-12)
Despite this proof of superiority of God over Egyptian magic, Pharaoh’s heart became stubborn, and he did not fulfill their wishes.
The rabbinic interpretation
Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865), which relies on the opinion of Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164), sees the acts of the Egyptian magicians as mere sham:
“And here on the act of the magicians, Rabbi Hiyya Bar-Abba said: “their legerdemain is the deeds of demons” and some of the commentators agreed that they did something above nature by using magic, and Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra wrote that it was only a bluff… The magicians took sleeping snakes that looked like sticks and by throwing them down they woke them up… and still there are people in Egypt who are familiar with this method.”
The serpent symbolizes Pharaoh:
“behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh King of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers.” (Ezekiel 29, 3)
The Bronze Serpent, Nehushtan
In the book of Numbers, it is told that after defeating the Canaanite king of Arad, the Israelites came out of Mount Hor through the Red Sea, to the land of Edom, “and the
soul of the people became impatient because of the way” (Numbers 21, 4). The path grow longer with the hardships of the journey, and the Israelites began complaining against Moses and God, that brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert, without bread and water.
In response, God sent the Seraphs snakes (as punishment or educational measure), to bite the rebellious Israelites, and indeed many of the people died from
snakebites. The suffering Israelites, turned to Moses and declared that they recognize their sin and begged him to pray to God so he would remove the snakes from them; and Moses did so. Then, God told Moses:
“Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he see it, shall live”(Numbers 21, 8).
Moses did as God said, and made a brass serpent and put it on a pole, and the Bible says that
“if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21, 9).
The rabbinic interpretation
The Mishnah: in Rosh Hashanah tractate, the authors of the Mishnah ask: “Can a snake be deadly or reviving?” and answer: “While the people of Israel were looking up and enslave their hearts to their father in heaven – they were cured; if not, they were decayed” (Chapter 3, 8).
According to the authors of the Mishnah, we learn that the bronze serpent didn’t heal the people of Israel, but the observation toward its high location (on its pole), lead them to carry their eyes upwards and supposedly also to God, an observation that brought about the miracle of healing.
Nahmanides (Ramban) (1194-1270) who was also a physician, saw double value in the observation of the bronze snake: 1) he refers to the fundamental medical principle of homeopathy ‘Similia Similibus Curentur‘ (‘like cures like’), 2) he saw God’s action as divine education aimed to instill awareness within the Israelites – who has the power to kill and revive:
“And seems to me the secret of this thing, for this is the way of the Torah that all its actions are miracle within a miracle – remove the damage with what caused the damage, and cure the illness through the pathogenic… God commanded they would be cured with the killing element and made its image and name, and when a person looked intentionally toward the bronze serpent, to let them know that God causes death and gives life.”
Ramban’s approach suggests that healing through the harmful agent itself will stimulate the Israelites to believe that God is the healer, not the medicine itself; one can see it also as an answer to the complaints about the bad food: the food is not what sustains you, but God.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) saw the snake as the root of all sin, separation and death in the world and thought that observing it could correct the sin and help to return to a path of healing, unity and life:
“The Seraphs snakes were the source of evil that came to the Israelites. But this source itself served as their rescue. The boundaries between death and life were blurred; the snake is not what kills, but the sin, the misleading, the barrier, and distinction. The snake brought death into the world, the separation. Looking at the causes of sin brings medicine, unity and life to the world. When this recognition enters the mind, it removes the fear of death.”
The End of the Bronze Serpent
The bronze serpent was kept by the Israelites, and later was placed in the temple. Through the Ages, Some believed that he could cure various diseases, and thus began worshiping it, burning incense in its favor and sacrificing to it. It was Hezekiah king of Judah that, finally destroyed the bronze serpent, and called it Nehushtan, as part of his reforms to return his wayward people to belief in God:
“He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah; and he broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did offer to it; and it was called Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18, 4).
The name Nehushtan could have come from the Hebrew word ‘snake’ and the word ‘copper’ -; according to K. R. Joines the Nehushtan represents “copper god” or a”snake idol made from copper”. More she claims, that the fact that Hezekiah had given the ritualistic object a new name, indicates deliberate contempt, referring it to a mere copper scrap and nothing more. (K. R. Joines, Serpent Symbolism in the Old Testament, pp. 61-84.)
In order to investigate why King Hezekiah destroyed the copper serpent idol and examine what the serpent symbolized to the Israelites, Joines examines in detail the importance of the snake in the entire ancient Near East, according to archaeological and textual evidence. She brings as an example snakes made of copper, which were discovered in Canaanite areas as Megiddo, Gezer, Hazor, Shechem, etc., as well as other examples of copper snake from the area of Syria, the Hittite and Babylonian culture.
Obviously the ritualistic snake symbol had a broad and ancient background before the arrival of the Israelites to the area; upon arrival in Canaan, this symbol has been adopted all over the Levant. Since the snake cult in the Israeli Temple was not unique to Israel of the time, it seems directly influenced by the worship practices of the great civilizations of the ancient Near East.
Moreover, after reviewing many symbolic snake appearances in this area, in a cultic, mythological and artistic context, Joines tends to the conclusion that the importance of the snake which was placed in the temple, was identical to the importance attributed to snakes by other peoples of the region: the snake was a pagan symbol, which was adopted by the Israelites from the Canaanites around them, and it was placed in the temple in order to describe the power of fertility and strength of the Israeli God.
The same in the words of the Bible itself:
“And they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the peoples that were round about them, and worshiped them; and they provoked the LORD” (Judges 2, 12).
This conclusion explains in her opinion why the Israelites worshiped it, why Hezekiah chose naming it with a degrading name and destroy it. She explains as well how only after the preaching of prophets and judges of the eighth century BC, they were vastly recognizing the snake as a pagan symbol, an alien to the spirit of the faith of Israel.
Copper snakes from the area of Canaan
In excavations conducted at Tel Mevorach(http://lib.cet.ac.il/pages/item.asp?item=14083) in Israel, researchers discovered a bronze ritualistic object in the form of snake from the Late Bronze Age. Bronze is a metal alloy made mostly of copper.
The head of the snake is not preserved entirely, but one can notice signs of eyes; there were no remains of gold or other metals, which may be covered of the snake figure.
Objects of snakes made from copper or bronze, similar to the object found in area of Tel Mevorach, were found in different ritualistic sites from the Canaanite period and they probably indicate a popular snake cult at this period.
Wall reliefs of snakes, as well as various tools adorn by snakes images were discovered in several worship place. Snakes figures were found also in the temples of Hazor and Timnah, figures that could be used for ritualistic purposes.
The snake was commonly associated with medicine throughout the entire ancient Near East.
A staff with a snake wrapped around it, is one of the attributes of Thoth, the Egyptian god equivalent to Greek Hermes, the father of Hermetic teachings, magic and medicine.
Perhaps Ancient Egypt Inherited the staff of snakes to the Greeks – the Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, and the staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of
medicine, which serve to this day as symbols of medicine. (K. R. Joines, Serpent Symbolism in the Old Testament, p. 86.)
If we accept the hypothesis that the staff with snakes wrapped around it was inherited from Egypt to Greece and Rome, certainly it will not be difficult for us to accept the idea that it came earlier to Israel, which obviously had closer connection to the Egyptians then the Greek.
This paper was an attempt to examine the role and significance of the snake, in the biblical stories of Moses and in ancient Egyptian culture. The paper tried to answer the question: Are there any similarities and differences in the form of the snake in these two cultures – and if so – what are they?
During the examination we emphasized the connection between the snake andEgyptian magic-medicine, bringing examples of the ‘Similia Similibus Curentur‘ healingprinciple, in order to compare it to the biblical story of the bronze serpent. The similarities that were found were: the medical principle mentioned above and the close link between the snake to magic and medicine in both cultures. The difference we found: the role of the snake image in the Bible and in Egypt – and the meanings attached to it; while in Egypt the use of the form of the snake was embraced vastly in a positive connection, the authors of the Bible rejected the snake and made it repulsive.
The most striking similarity between the ancient Egyptian approach and the biblical one is the homeopathic principle, suggesting that a patients can be cured with the element brought him the illness in the first place, or as noted by the Ramban:
“Remove the damage with what caused the damage, and cure the illness through the pathogenic”.
Using the threatening and harmful element as a protective and curative element, reminiscent tremendously the use of which Moses did with the bronze serpent ‘Nehushtan‘ and we think under clear Egyptian influence.
The Jewish Rabbinic interpretation regarding the bronze serpent negates the element of medicine driven from snake statue itself, because in their opinion it is idolatry, and the snake was used but as a means to look up toward God in repentance. In our opinion there is a need for a more critical examination of this subject. If ancient Egypt was indeed the origin of the Israelite culture – it is obvious that during a crisis and distress as severe as poisonous snakes attack, the Israelites would return to Egypt’s traditional medicine, which as demonstrated above, practiced healing using the factor that created the disease to begin with. After a long Israeli sojourn in Egypt and the discoveries of many snakes figurines used in worship throughout the ancient Near East – the use of an element so Pagan of healing by using a statue on a pole, was no stranger to the Israelites at all, as well as the placing of the snake idol in the temple and worshiping
The considerable difference between the two cultures is how they reacted to the snake, the place this symbol took in their culture and its associated meaning. While the Egyptians entered the snake into their hearts, painted, carved, sculpted its image in thousands of works of art, and admired it as an divine element (although they feared it greatly, and perhaps because of this reason) – the Israelites and later the Jewish people kept themselves away from it more and more, until it become so disgusting to them, as a symbol seductiveness, lying, separation and death.
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