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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

In Egypt and other oriental countries, a serpent was the common symbol of a powerful monarch; it was embroidered on the robes of princes, and blazoned on their diadem, to signify their absolute power and invincible might, and that, as the wound inflicted by the basilisk is incurable, so the fatal effects of their displeasure were neither to be avoided nor endured. These are the allusions involved in the address of the prophet, to the irreconcilable enemies of his nation: "Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent's roots shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent,"  Isaiah 14:29 . Uzziah, the king of Judah, had subdued the Philistines; but taking advantage of the weak reign of Ahaz, they again invaded the kingdom of Judea, and reduced some cities in the southern part of the country under their dominion. On the death of Ahaz, Isaiah delivers this prophecy, threatening them with a more severe chastisement from the hand of Hezekiah, the grandson of Uzziah, by whose victorious arms they had been reduced to sue for peace; which he accomplished, when "he smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof,"  2 Kings 18:8 . Uzziah, therefore, must be meant by the rod that smote them, and by the serpent from whom should spring the fiery flying serpent, that is, Hezekiah, a much more terrible enemy than even Uzziah had been. But the symbol of regal power which the oriental kings preferred to all others, was the basilisk. This fact is attested by its Arabian name melecha, from the Hebrew verb malach, "to reign;" from its Greek name βασιλισκος , and its Latin name regulus: all of which, it is asserted, referred to the conspicuous place it occupied among the regal ornaments of the east. The basilisk is of a reddish colour, and its head is decorated with a crest in the form of a crown; it is not entirely prostrate, like other serpents, but moves along with its head and half the body erect; the other parts sweep the ground behind, And wind its spacious back in rolling spires.

All the other species of serpents are said to acknowledge the superiority of the real or the fabled basilisk, by flying from its presence, and hiding themselves in the dust. It is also supposed to live longer than any other serpent; the ancient Heathens therefore pronounced it immortal, and placed it in the number of their deities; and because it had the dangerous power, in general belief, of killing with its pestiferous breath the strongest animals, it seemed to them invested with the power of life and death. It became, therefore, the favourite symbol of kings; and was employed by the prophet, to symbolize the great and good Hezekiah, with strict propriety.

2. The cerastes, or horned snake. The only allusion to this species of serpent in the sacred volume occurs in the valedictory predictions of Jacob, where he describes the character and actions of Dan and his posterity:

"Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder, שפיפון , in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that his rider shall fall backward,"  Genesis 49:17 . It is indisputably clear, that the patriarch intended some kind of serpent; for the circumstances will not apply to a freebooter watching for his prey. It only remains to investigate the species to which it belongs. The principal care of the Jewish writers is to ascertain the etymology of the name, about which their sentiments are much divided. The Arabian authors quoted by Bochart inform us, that the sephiphon, is a most pernicious reptile, and very dangerous to man. It is of a sandy colour, variegated with black and white spots. The particulars in the character of Dan, however, agree better with the cerastes, or horned snake, than with any other species of serpent. It lies in wait for passengers in the sand, or in the rut of the wheels on the highway. From its lurking place it treacherously bites the horse's heels, so that the rider falls backward, in consequence of the animal's hinder legs becoming almost immediately torpid by the dreadful activity of the poison. The cerastes is equally formidable to man and the lower animals; and the more dangerous, because it is not easy to distinguish him from the sand in which he lies; and he never spares the helpless traveller who unwarily comes within his reach. Like the cerastes, Dan was to excel in cunning and artifice, to prevail against his enemies rather by his policy in the cabinet than by his valour in the field.

3. The seraph, or fiery flying serpent, to a Biblical student, is one of the most interesting creatures that has yet been mentioned. It bears the name of an order among the hosts of heaven, whom Isaiah beheld in vision, placed above the throne of Jehovah in the temple; the brazen figure of this serpent is supposed to be a type of our blessed Redeemer, who was for our salvation lifted up upon the cross, as the serpent was elevated in the camp of Israel, for the preservation of that people. It is the only species of serpent which the almighty Creator has provided with wings, by means of which, instead of creeping or leaping, it rises from the ground, and leaning upon the extremity of its tail, moves with great velocity. It is a native of Egypt, and the deserts of Arabia; and receives its name from the Hebrew verb seraph, which signifies to burn, in allusion to the violent inflammation which its poison produces, or rather to its fiery colour, which the brazen serpent was intended to represent. Bochart is of opinion, that the seraph is the same as the hydrus, or, as Cicero calls it, the serpent of the waters. For, in the book of Isaiah, the land of Egypt is called the region from whence come the viper and flying seraph, or burning serpent. AElian says, they come from the deserts of Libya and Arabia, to inhabit the streams of the Nile; and that they have the form of the hydrus.

The existence of winged serpents is attested by many writers of modern times. A kind of snakes were discovered among the Pyrenees, from whose sides proceeded cartilages in the form of wings; and Scaliger mentions a peasant who killed a serpent of the same species which attacked him, and presented it to the king of France. Le Blanc, as quoted by Bochart, says, at the head of lake Chiamay are extensive woods and vast marshes, which it is very dangerous to approach, because they are infested with very large serpents, which, raised from the ground on wings resembling those of bats, and leaning on the extremity of their tails, move with great rapidity. They exist, it is reported, about these places in so great numbers that they have almost laid waste the neighbouring province. And, in the same work, Le Blanc affirms that he had seen some of them of immense size, which, when hungry, rushed impetuously on sheep and other tame animals. But the original term מעופפּ? does not always signify flying with wings; it often expresses vibration, swinging backward and forward, a tremulous motion, a fluttering; and this is precisely the motion of a serpent, when he springs from one tree to another. Niebuhr mentions a sort of serpent at Bassorah, which they call heie thiare. "They commonly keep upon the date trees; and as it would be laborious for them to come down from a very high tree, in order to ascend another, they twist themselves by the tail to a branch of the former, which, making a spring by the motion they give it, throws them to the branches of the second. Hence it is that the modern Arabs call them flying serpents, heie thiare. Admiral Anson also speaks of the flying serpents that he met with at the island of Quibo, but which were without wings." From this account it may be inferred, that the flying serpent mentioned in the prophet was of that species of serpents which, from their swift darting motion, the Greeks call aconitias, and the Romans, jaculus. The original phrase will bear another interpretation, which, perhaps, approaches still nearer the truth. The verb עופ sometimes means to sparkle, to emit coruscations of light. In this sense, the noun חעפה

frequently occurs in the sacred volume; thus Zophar says: "The coruscation, תעפה , shall be as the morning." The word in the verse under consideration may therefore refer to the ruddy colour of that serpent, and express the sparkling of the blazing sunbeams upon its scales, which are extremely brilliant.

4. The dragon. In Hebrew, the word תנין signifies either a dragon or a whale. As the name of a serpent, it frequently denotes one of any species; as when the rod of Moses is said to have been turned into a serpent, לתנין . But, in its more strict and appropriate application, it is the proper name of the dragon, which differs from the serpent chiefly in its size. "Three kinds of dragons were formerly distinguished in India.

1. Those of the hills and mountains.

2. Those of the valleys and caves.

3. Those of the fens and marshes.

The first is the largest, and covered with scales resplendent as burnished gold. They have a kind of beard hanging from their lower jaw, their aspect is frightful, their cry loud and shrill, their crest bright yellow, and they have a protuberance on their heads, as the colour of a burning coal. Those of the flat country are of a silver colour, and frequent rivers, to which the former never come. Those of the marshes are black, slow, and have no crest. Their bite is not venomous, though the creatures be dreadful." This description agrees in every particular with the boa, which is justly considered as the proper dragon. But so great is the inconsistency of the human mind, that the creature which is now an object of universal dislike was, in early times, honoured with religious worship by every nation of the earth. Rites were devised and temples built to its honour; and priests were appointed to conduct the ceremonies. These miserable idolaters appeared before the altars of their contemptible deity in gorgeous vestments, their heads adorned with serpents, or with the figures of serpents embroidered on their tiaras, when the creatures themselves were not to be had; and in their frantic exclamations cried out, in evident allusion to the triumph which the old serpent obtained over our first mother, Eva, Eva. So completely was Satan permitted to insult our fallen race, that the serpent, his chosen agent in accomplishing our ruin, was actually raised to the first place among the deities of the Heathen world, and reverenced by the most solemn acts of worship. The figure of the serpent adorned the portals of the proudest temples in the east.

The serpent was a very common symbol of the sun; and he is represented biting his tail, and with his body formed into a circle, in order to indicate the ordinary course of this luminary; and under this form it was an emblem of time and eternity. The serpent was also the symbol of medicine, and of the gods which presided over it, as of Apollo and AEsculapius. In most of the ancient rites we find some allusion to the serpent, under the several titles of Ob, Ops, Python, &c. This idolatry is alluded to by Moses,  Leviticus 20:27 . The woman of Endor, who had a familiar spirit, is called Oub, or Ob, and it is interpreted Pythonissa: the place where she resided, says the learned Mr. Bryant, seems to have been named from the worship then instituted; for Endor is compounded of En-ador, and signifies fons pithonis, the "fountain of lights," the oracle of the god Ador; which oracle was probably founded by the Canaanites, and had never been totally suppressed. His pillar was also called Abbadir, or Abadir, compounded of ab and adir, and meaning the serpent deity Addir, the same as Adorus. In the orgies of Bacchus, the persons who partook of the ceremony, used to carry serpents in their hands, and with horrid screams call upon Eva! Eva! Eva being, according to the writer just mentioned, the same as epha, or opha, which the Greeks rendered ophis, and by it denoted a serpent, and containing no allusion to Eve, as above conjectured. These ceremonies, and this symbolic worship, began among the magi, who were the sons of Chus; and by them they were propagated in various parts. Wherever the Ammonians founded any places of worship, and introduced their rites, there was generally some story of a serpent. There was a legend about a serpent at Colchis, at Thebes, and at Delphi; and likewise in other places. The Greeks called Apollo himself Python, which is the same as Oupis, Opis, or Oub. In Egypt there was a serpent named Thermuthis, which was looked upon as very sacred; and the natives are said to have made use of it as a royal tiara, with which they ornamented the statues of Isis. The kings of Egypt wore high bonnets, terminating in a round ball, and surrounded with figures of asps; and the priests likewise had the representation of serpents upon their bonnets. Abadon, or Abaddon, mentioned in the   Revelation 9:11 , is supposed by Mr. Bryant to have been the name of the Ophite god, with whose worship the world had been so long infected. This worship began among the people of Chaldea, who built the city of Ophis upon the Tigris, and were greatly addicted to divination, and to the worship of the serpent. From Chaldea the worship passed into Egypt, where the serpent deity was called Canoph, Caneph, and C'neph; it also had the name of Ob, or Oub, and was the same as the Basiliscus, or royal serpent, the same as the Thermuthis, and made use of by way of ornament to the statues of their gods. Thee chief deity of Egypt is said to have been Vulcan, who was styled Opas; he was the same as Osiris, the sun, and hence was often called Ob-el, or Pytho, sol; and there were pillars sacred to him, with curious hieroglyphical inscriptions bearing the same name, whence among the Greeks, who copied from the Egyptians, every thing gradually tapering to a point was styled obelos, or obeliscus. As the worship of the serpent began among the sons of Chus, Mr. Bryant conjectures that from thence they were denominated Ethiopians and Aithiopians, from Ath-ope, or Ath-opes, the god whom they worshipped, and not from their complexion: the Ethiopes brought these rites into Greece, and called the island where they first established them, Ellopia, Solis Serpentis insula, the stone with Euboea, or Oubaia, that is, the Serpent Island. The same learned writer discovers traces of the serpent worship among the Hyperboreans, at Rhodes, named Ophiusa, in Phrygia, and upon the Hellespont, in the island Cyprus, in Crete, among the Athenians, in the name of Cecrops, among the natives of Thebes in Boeotia, among the Lacedaemonians, in Italy, in Syria, &c, and in the names of many places, as well as the people where the Ophites settled. One of the most early heresies introduced into the Christian church was that of the Ophitae, who introduced serpents emblematically among their rites.

This is seen in many of the medals, the relics of Gnosticism which are still preserved.

The form assumed by the tempter when he seduced our first parents, has been handed down in the traditions of most ancient nations; and, though animals of the serpent tribe were very generally worshipped by the Pagans, as symbols of the Agathodemon; they were likewise viewed as types or figures of the evil principle.

1. One of the most remarkable accounts of the primeval tempter under the shape of a serpent occurs in the Zend-Avesta of the ancient Persians.

2. To the dracontian Ahriman of the Persians, the malignant serpent caliya of Hindoo theology appears to be very closely allied. He is represented, at least, as the decided enemy of the mediatorial god; whom he persecutes with the utmost virulence, though he is finally vanquished by his celestial adversary.

3. The serpent typhon of the Egyptians, who is sometimes identified with the ocean, because the deluge was esteemed the work of the evil principle; and the serpent python of the Greeks, who is evidently the same as the monster typhon; appear to have similarly originated, in the first instance, from some remembrance of the form which Satan assumed when in paradise. Perhaps also the notion, that python was oracular,—a notion which caused the so frequent use of serpents in the rites of divination, may have sprung from a recollection of the vocal responses which the tempter gave to Eve under the borrowed figure of that reptile.

4. We may still ascribe to the same source that rebellious serpent whose treason seems to have been so well remembered among the inhabitants of Syria. Pherecydes, a native of that country, bestows upon him the Greek name of ophioneus, or the "serpent god;" which, in fact, is a mere translation of the Syriac or Chaldaic nachash. He represents him as being the prince of those evil spirits who contended with the supreme god Cronus, and who in consequence were ejected from heaven. Their happiness being thus justly forfeited, they were henceforth plunged in the depths of Tartarus, hateful and mutually hating each other. From Syria and the east the legend passed into Greece, mingled, however, with allusions to the deluge.

5. The same evil being, in the same form, appears again in the mythology of the Goths or Scythians. We are told by the ancient Scalds, that the bad principle, whom they denominate loke, unites great personal beauty with a malignant and inconstant nature: and he is described as surpassing all creatures in the depth of his cunning and the artfulness of his perfidy. Here the pristine glory and majesty of Satan, before the lineaments of celestial beauty were defaced by his rebellious apostasy, seem not obscurely to be alluded to; while the craft and malevolence, which mark his character as a fallen angel, are depicted with sufficient accuracy.

The most remarkable corroboration, however, of the Mosaic history is to be found in those fables which involve the mythological serpent, and in the worship which was so generally offered to him throughout the world. The worship of the serpent may be traced in almost every religion throughout ancient Asia, Europe, Africa, America. But how an object of abhorrence could have been exalted into an object of veneration, must be referred to the subtlety of the arch enemy himself, whose constant endeavour has been rather to corrupt than obliterate the true faith, that, in the perpetual conflict between truth and error, the mind of man might be more surely confounded and debased. Among other devices, that of elevating himself into an object of adoration, has ever been the most cherished. It was that which he proposed to our Lord: "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." We cannot, therefore, wonder that the same being who had the presumption to make this proposal to the Son of God, should have had the address to insinuate himself into the worship of the children of men. In this he was unhappily but too well seconded by the natural tendency of human corruption. The unenlightened Heathen, in obedience to the voice of nature, acknowledged his dependence upon a superior being. His reason assured him that there must be a God; his conscience assured him that God was good; but he felt and acknowledged the prevalence of evil, and attributed it naturally to an evil agent. But as the evil spirit, to his unillumined mind, seemed as omnipotent as the good agent, he worshipped both; the one, that he might propitiate his kindness; the other, that he might avert his displeasure. The great point of devil worship being gained, namely, the acknowledgment of the evil spirit as God, the transition to idolatry became easy. The mind, once darkened by the admission of an allegiance divided between God and Satan, became gradually more feeble and superstitious, until at length sensible objects were called in to aid the weakness of degraded intellect; and from their first form as symbols, passed rapidly through the successive stages of apotheosis, until they were elevated into gods. Of these the most remarkable was the serpent; upon the basis of tradition, regarded, first as the symbol of the malignant being; subsequently considered talismanic and oracular; and lastly, venerated and worshipped as divine.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]


1 . nâchâsh , generic name (cf. Arab. [Note: Arabic.] chanash ),   Genesis 3:1;   Genesis 3:3 etc.; the most commonly used word, occurs frequently.

2 . ‘eph’eh (root to ‘groan’ or ‘hise,’ cf. Arab [Note: Arabic.] , af‘a ) is applied to the viper (  Job 20:16 ,   Isaiah 30:6;   Isaiah 59:6 ).

3 . ‘akshûb ,   Psalms 140:3 ‘adder.’ The root meaning (cf. Arab. [Note: Arabic.] ‘akasa ) seems to be ‘bending back,’ as a serpent does before striking.

4 . pethen , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘asp,’   Deuteronomy 32:33 ,   Job 20:14 ,   Isaiah 11:8; tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘adder,’   Psalms 58:4 , where it is referred to as the favourite of the serpent-charmer.

5 . shÄ•phîphôn   Genesis 49:17 , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘adder,’ AVm [Note: Authorized Version margin.] ‘arrowsnake,’ RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘horned snake’ (cf. Arab. [Note: Arabic.] sheffûn ).

6 . tsepha ‘,   Isaiah 14:29 , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘cockatrice,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘basilisk,’ EVm ‘adder.’

7 . tsiphô‘nî ,   Proverbs 23:32 ‘adder’;   Isaiah 11:8;   Isaiah 59:6 ,   Jeremiah 8:17 , ‘cockatrice,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘hasllisk,’ mg. ‘ar adder.’

8 . qippôz .   Isaiah 34:15 , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘great owl,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘arrowsnake.’ See Owl.

9 . sârâph .   Isaiah 14:29;   Isaiah 30:6 ‘fiery serpent,’ coupled with nâchâsh in   Numbers 21:6 ,   Deuteronomy 8:15 .

10 . zôch ăl ç ’âphâr ,   Deuteronomy 32:24; zôch ăl ç’ erets ,   Micah 7:17; some creature that glides on or into the earth, probably therefore a serpent. Cf. Worm, 5.

11 . tannîn , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘serpent,’   Exodus 7:9-10;   Exodus 7:12 , RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘any large reptile’;   Psalms 91:13 , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘dragon.’ See Dragon.

12 . (Gr.) echidna any poisonous serpent (  Matthew 3:7;   Matthew 12:34;   Matthew 23:33 ,   Luke 3:7 ,   Acts 28:3 ).

Serpents are very common in the Holy Land and in the wilderness to the south. Over 30 species are known. Though the great majority are really harmless, all are dreaded by the natives, and several kinds are most deadly. Fatal snake bites are by no means uncommon; the writer knows of seven cases at first hand. The Egyptian cobra ( Naja haji ) is found, but fortunately is not common. It is the favourite with snake-charmers, and is very probably the pethen , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘asp’ in OT. It was held in much veneration by the ancient Egyptians, and a little bronze serpent recently found in the excavations of ancient Gezer probably an object of worship in pre-Israelite times was of this form. Another very dangerous snake is the horned sandsnake ( Cerastes hasselguistii ), supposed to be the ‘asp of Cleopatra.’ It lies in ambush (  Genesis 49:17 ) in depressions of the road and bites the passer-by. It is called by the Arabs shiffûn , which corresponds to the Heb. shÄ•phîphôn . Other poisonous Palestine snakes belonging, like the last mentioned, to the viper family are Vipera euphratica, V. ammodytes, Daboia xanthina a large, nocturnal species and the small Echis arenicola which haunts sandy deserts. These vipers are all included under the Heb. ’eph‘eh (Arab. [Note: Arabic.] af’a ). The viper of   Acts 28:3 was probably Vipera aspis , which is common on most of the larger isles of the Mediterranean, though extinct in Malta. The expression ‘ fiery serpent ’ probably refers to the burning sensation produced by the bite; in   Psalms 140:3 their poison is supposed to reside in their tongues.

Some of the references to serpents do not apparently refer to any natural object. This view is taken in the translation in  Isaiah 14:29 of tsepha ‘, and in   Isaiah 11:3;   Isaiah 59:5 ,   Jeremiah 8:17 of tsiph’ ônî , where ‘ cockatrice ’ occurs in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and ‘ basilisk ’ in RV [Note: Revised Version.] . The former was, among early English writers, a creature with a head and body like a cock, but the tail of a serpent, with a sting at its extremity. The basiliskos of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] was probably the golden urÅ“us , the ornament of the royal headdress among the Egyptians. There is no clear reason why in the passages quoted the references should not be to an actual species of snake. The reference in   Amos 9:3 to the serpent ( nâchâsh ) at the bottom of the sea may have some reference to the Babylonian myth of Tiâmat. See also Dragon and Leviathan. For the serpent of   Genesis 3:1-24 See Fall (4), and Satan, p. 829 b f.

E. W. G. Masterman.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [3]

Serpent. The Hebrew word, nachash , is the generic name of any serpent. The following are the principal biblical allusions to this animal -

its subtlety is mentioned in  Genesis 3:1;

its wisdom is alluded to by our Lord in  Matthew 10:18;

the poisonous properties of some species are often mentioned, see  Psalms 58:4;  Proverbs 25:32;

the sharp tongue of the serpent is mentioned in  Psalms 140:3;  Job 20:16;

the habit serpents have of lying concealed in hedges and in holes of walls is alluded to in  Ecclesiastes 10:8;

their dwelling in dry sandy places, in  Deuteronomy 8:10;

their wonderful mode of progression did not escape the observation of the author of  Proverbs 30:1, who expressly mentions it as "one of the three things which were too wonderful for him."  Proverbs 30:19.

The art of taming and charming serpents is of great antiquity, and is alluded to in  Psalms 58:5;  Ecclesiastes 10:11;  Jeremiah 8:17, and doubtless intimated by St. James,  James 3:7, who particularizes serpents among all other animals that "have been tamed by man." It was under the form of a serpent, that the devil seduced Eve; hence, in Scripture, Satan is called "the old serpent,"  Revelation 12:9, and compare  2 Corinthians 11:3. Hence, as a fruit of the tradition of the Fall, the serpent, all through the East, became the emblem of the spirit of evil, and is so pictured, even on the monuments of Egypt.

It has been supposed by many commentators that the serpent, prior to the Fall, moved along in an erect attitude. It is quite clear that an erect mode of progression is utterly incompatible with the structure of a serpent; consequently, had the snakes before the Fall moved in an erect attitude, they must have been formed on a different plan altogether. The typical form of the serpent, and its mode of progression, were, in all probability, the same before the Fall as after it; but subsequent to the Fall. Its form and progression were to be regarded with hatred and disgust by all mankind, and thus, the animal was cursed above all cattle," and a mark of condemnation was forever stamped upon it.

Serpents are said in Scripture to "eat dust," see  Genesis 3:14;  Isaiah 65:25;  Micah 7:17. These animals, which, for the most part, take their food on the ground, do, consequently, swallow with it, large portions of sand and dust. Throughout the East, the serpent was used as an emblem of the evil principle, of the spirit of disobedience and contumacy.

Much has been written on the question of the "fiery serpents" of  Numbers 21:6;  Numbers 21:8, with which, it is usual to erroneously identify, the "fiery flying serpent" of  Isaiah 14:29 and  Isaiah 30:6. The word "fiery," probably signifies "burning," in allusion to the sensation produced by the bite. The Cerastes , or the Naia haje , or any other venomous species frequenting Arabia, may denote the "serpent of the burning bite," which destroyed the children of Israel. The snake that fastened on St. Paul's hand, when he was at Melita,  Acts 28:5, was probably the common viper of England, Pelias berus . See Also Adder; Asp .

When God punished the murmurs of the Israelites in the wilderness, by sending among them, serpents whose fiery bite was fatal, Moses, upon their repentance, was commanded to make a serpent of brass, whose polished surface shone like fire, and to set it up on the banner-pole in the midst of the people; and whoever was bitten by a serpent had but to look up at it and live.  Numbers 21:4-9. The comparison used by Christ ,  John 3:14-15, adds a deep interest to this scene.

To present the serpent form, as deprived of its power to hurt, impaled as the trophy of a conqueror was to assert that evil, physical and spiritual, had been overcome, and thus, helped to strengthen the weak faith of the Israelites in a victory over both. Others look upon the uplifted serpent as a symbol of life and health, as it having been so worshipped in Egypt. The two views have a point of contact, for the serpent is wisdom.

Wisdom, apart from obedience to God, degenerates to cunning, and degrades and envenoms man's nature. Wisdom, yielding to the divine law, is the source of healing and restoring influences, and the serpent form, thus became, a symbol of deliverance and health; and the Israelites were taught that it would be so with them in proportion as they ceased to be sensual and rebellious. Preserved as a relic, whether on the spot of its first erection, or elsewhere, the brazen serpent, called by the name of Nehushtan , became an object of idolatrous veneration, and the zeal of Hezekiah destroyed it, with the other idols of his father.  2 Kings 18:4. See Nehushtan .

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [4]

SERPENT. —The prevalence of serpents in ancient Palestine is illustrated by the fact that no fewer than 11 Heb. words are rendered ‘serpent’ in OT. Tristram ( Nat. Hist. of Bible ) states that 33 different species of serpent are still found in Syria. Of 18 varieties which he himself secured, 13 were innocuous and 4 deadly, including cobras and vipers. Naturally there are numerous references, in the OT, in the NT, and in Rabbinical literature, to serpents as well-known but generally disagreeable inhabitants of the country. So unpleasantly common were they, that it was regarded as one of the perpetual miracles of Jerusalem that no one was ever bitten by a serpent there. The references in the Gospels may conveniently be grouped under three heads.

1. In  Matthew 10:16 our Lord charges His disciples, ‘Be ye wise as serpents’ (φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις). There may be here a reference to  Genesis 3:1 ‘the serpent was more subtil (עָרוּם) than any beast of the field.’ The Heb. word means ‘shrewd,’ and is used also in a good sense (cf.  Proverbs 12:16;  Proverbs 12:23), although the parallel root in Arabic suggests only a bad sense. It is probable, however, that our Lord refers to the well-known habits of the serpent, its ability to conceal itself in unexpected places, and to escape swiftly and silently in time of danger (cf. נָחָשׁבָּרִחַ ‘the swift serpent’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885,  Job 26:13,  Isaiah 27:1).

2. But the phrase which follows in  Matthew 10:16 ‘and harmless (ἀκέραιοι) as doves,’ suggests that there was also in the mind of Jesus the equally well-known reputation of the serpent as a dangerous reptile; and this is borne out by other passages in the Gospels. Almost parallel are  Mark 16:18 ‘they shall take up serpents,’ and  Luke 10:19 ‘I give you power over serpents’; while the noxious and repulsive nature of the serpent is referred to in  Matthew 7:10,  Luke 11:11 ‘if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?’

In all the above passages, ὄφις, the generic name for a serpent, is used. But in  Matthew 3:7;  Matthew 12:34;  Matthew 23:33,  Luke 3:7 we find ἔχιδνα, which probably means a poisonous serpent, and is rendered ‘viper’ both in Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885. In  Matthew 23:33 Jesus employs both words to describe the Pharisees—ὄφεις, γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, ‘serpents, offspring [see Generation] of vipers’ (cf.  Micah 7:17).

3. Very different is the passage  John 3:14 ‘and as Moses lifted up the serpent (τὸν ὄφιν) in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,’ where the reference is to the plague of serpents among the Israelites in the wilderness and the miraculous cure, as recorded in  Numbers 21:6-9. Full consideration of this passage, and of its relation to  2 Kings 18:4, does not fall within the scope of this article (see art. ‘Nehushtan’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 510b). It is interesting, however, to note, in connexion with  John 3:14, that both passages in the OT have been regarded as pointing to serpent-worship in some form among the early Hebrews.

Literature.—On the symbolism of the serpent: Baudissin, Studien zur Semit. Religiongesch . i. 257–292; Nöldeke, ‘Die Schlange nach arab. [Note: Arabic.] Volksglauben’ in Ztschr. f. Völkerpsychologie . On natural history: Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible  ; O. Günther, Die Reptilien und Amphibien von Syrien  ; Doughty, Arabia Deserta. See also Schultz, OT Theol . (English translation) ii. 272; Sayce, Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia , pp. 208–214; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iv. 459.

G. Gordon Stott.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [5]

The interesting circumstance as related in the very opening of the Bible concerning the subtlety of the serpent, and the direct application of it to the devil, renders it a subject of peculiar importance in a work of this kind that it should be noticed.

I do not mean, however, by what I have said, to enter into all the wonderful relations which we meet with in sacred record concerning the serpent. It will be sufficient to all the purposes I mean to offer upon the subject, to observe that the Great and Almighty Author of Scripture hath in many places plainly declared that by the serpent is intended the devil, yea, the devil is expressly called the old serpent. (Re I beg that this may be fully understood. And it were to be much wished that the sense of it was as fully impressed upon the mind of every reader. (See  Job 26:13;  Isaiah 27:1)

The whole tenor of Scripture, therefore being directed to set forth the devil under this image and figure of the serpent, there appears a beautiful analogy between the brazen serpent lifted, up in the wilderness at the command of God, and the Lord Jesus lifted up on the cross for the salvation of his people by the same authority—and for this plain reason, because none but the serpent of all the creatures in the creation of God was cursed; and therefore none but the serpent among the creatures of God could be the suitable type or figure to represent Christ when redeeming, his people from the curse of the law, "being made a curse for them." And as the simple act of faith in the Israelite in the wilderness, when beholding the brazen serpent as typical of Christ, became the sole means of recovery when dying under the effects of the serpent's poison in the old dispensation, so the simple act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the sole cause of salvation when dying under the consequences of sin and Satan under the New. Indeed so Christ himself explained it and so the faithful in all ages have understood it; and, no doubt, thousands who are now in glory, while they were upon earth, accepted this beautiful illustration of the subject, and lived and died in the most firm conviction of the truth of it, to the Lord's glory, and their souls' happiness.

I have thought it worth while to be the more particular on this point, not because there is the least question to be made of our Lord's own illustration of this subject, but because some doubts have arisen whether it was truly a serpent which beguiled Eve, or some other creature. But while the uniform testimony of Scripture is with this subject, and the devil is continually called by the name of serpent through the whole of the Bible, and while the faithful in all ages have, without a single instance of departure, received no other idea, it should seem the safest method to accept the good old way of translation, assured that if the fact had not been so, God the Holy Ghost would have taught the church accordingly.

The objection arising from the Serpent's being endowed with speech and reined in conversing with our first mother, and persuading her by argument, is no more in reality an objection than that of the ass possessing both in the instance of Balaam's history. Both were miraculous; both induced by the sovereign power of God for the accomplishment of the Lord's purposes. And of the two examples of the kind, surely, the great event of man's apostacy became a much more important occasion for such a miracle than the condemnation of a single character like Balaam.

I cannot help making a farther remark, that the Hebrew name for serpent (Nechash) is the general name used throughout the whole Scripture. And it is not only an ingenious but a beautiful thought of Mr. Parkhurst in his Lexicon, page 390, that the reason for which Moses in the wilderness when commanded to make the figure of a fiery serpent, made it of brass or copper, was not only because it was the nearest in resemblance to the colour of the serpent, but also from the noxious qualities of poison in it. For, saith Mr. P. "as man, no doubt, was acquainted with animals long before he had any knowledge of minerals and their qualities, it seems highly probable that the primeval language might in some instances, and where there was a similarity of qualified, describe the latter by names deduced from those which were at first given to the former. And in the present case it is observable that copper is not only of a serpentine colour, but resembles those noxious animals in its destructive properties, being in all its preparations accounted poisonous." All this is strikingly just upon the presumption that the word (Nechash) he rendered, as it hath uniformly been rendered, serpent, by all the translators of the Bible for centuries; but, if another beast of the field be substituted the beauty in the resemblance, is lost.

It is worthy of farther remark, in confirmation, that the church all along considered the word (Nechash,) which is rendered in our translation serpent, to have been uniformly connected with the idea of this beast; for we find, in the days of Hezekiah, that in his removing the brazen serpent which Moses had made, and calling it not immediately (Nechash,) but Nehushtan, thus playing upon the word, but still preserving the idea of the thing itself the good old king plainly, proved what the judgement of the church concerning it was in his day. Hezekiah saw that Israel had idolized the type, and forgotten the thing signified, therefore in removing it, and calling it Nehushtan, he aimed to direct the minds of the people from the type and shadow to him it was intended to prefigure. (See  2 Kings 18:4. See Nehushtan.)

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [6]

1: Ὄφις (Strong'S #3789 — Noun Masculine — ophis — of'-is )

the characteristics of the "serpent" as alluded to in Scripture are mostly evil (though  Matthew 10:16 refers to its caution in avoiding danger); its treachery,   Genesis 49:17;  2—Corinthians 11:3; its venom,  Psalm 58:4;  1—Corinthians 10:9;  Revelation 9:19; its skulking,  Job 26:13; its murderous proclivities, e.g.,  Psalm 58:4;  Proverbs 23:32;  Ecclesiastes 10:8,11;  Amos 5:19;  Mark 16:18;  Luke 10:19; the Lord used the word metaphorically of the scribes and Pharisees,  Matthew 23:33 (cp. echidna, "viper," in   Matthew 3:7;  12:34 ). The general aspects of its evil character are intimated in the Lord's rhetorical question in  Matthew 7:10;  Luke 11:11 . Its characteristics are concentrated in the archadversary of God and man, the Devil, metaphorically described as the serpent,  2—Corinthians 11:3;  Revelation 12:9,14,15;  20:2 . The brazen "serpent" lifted up by Moses was symbolical of the means of salvation provided by God, in Christ and His vicarious death under the Divine judgment upon sin,  John 3:14 . While the living "serpent" symbolizes sin in its origin, hatefulness, and deadly effect, the brazen "serpent" symbolized the bearing away of the curse and the judgement of sin; the metal was itself figurative of the righteousness of God's judgment.

2: Ἑρπετόν (Strong'S #2062 — Noun Neuter — herpeton — her-pet-on' )

"a creeping thing" (from herpo, "to creep"), "a reptile," is rendered "serpents" in  James 3:7 , AV (RV, "creeping things," as elsewhere). See Creep , B.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [7]

Nachash . ("Subtle".) ( Genesis 3:1). The form under which Satan "the old serpent" tempted Eve ( Revelation 12:9;  2 Corinthians 11:3). The serpent being known as subtle, Eve was not surprised at his speaking, and did not suspect a spiritual foe. Its crested head of pride, glittering skin, fascinating, unshaded, gazing eye, shameless lust, tortuous movement, venomous bite, groveling posture, all adapt it to be type of Satan. The "cunning craftiness, lying in wait to deceive," marks the particular serpent rather than the serpent order generally. The serpent cannot be classed physically with the behemoth, the pachyderm and ruminant animals; "the serpent was crafty above every behemoth in the field" ( Genesis 3:1); nor physically is the serpent "cursed above others"; it must be Satan who is meant. (See Devil .)

Wise in shunning danger ( Matthew 10:16). Poisonous:  Psalms 58:4;  Psalms 140:3, "they have sharpened their tongues" to give a deadly wound, "like a serpent" ( Psalms 64:3). Lying hid in hedges ( Ecclesiastes 10:8) and in holes of walls ( Amos 5:19). Their wonderful motion is effected by the vertebral column and the multitudinous ribs which form so many pairs of levers, enabling them to advance ( Proverbs 30:19); the serpent, though without feet or wings, trails along the rock (Stony Places Being Its Favorite Resort) wheresoever it will, leaving no impression of its way, light, gliding without noise, quick, and the mode unknown to us.

The curse in  Genesis 3:14 is mainly on Satan, but subordinately on the serpent his tool; just as the ox that gored a man was to be killed, so the serpent should suffer in his trailing on the belly and being the object of man's disgust and enmity. They shall eat the dust at last (I.E. Be Utterly And With Perpetual Shame Laid Low) , of which their present eating dust in taking food off the ground is the pledge ( Isaiah 65:25;  Micah 7:17;  Isaiah 49:23;  Psalms 72:9).

The Nachash is the Νaja Haje . It "will bite without (I.E. Unless You Use) enchantment" ( Ecclesiastes 10:11). In  Numbers 21:4-9 the "fiery (Causing Inflammation By The Bite) flying serpent" is the Naja , which has the power of raising and bringing forward the ribs under excitement, so as to stretch the skin wing-like into a broad thin flattened disc, three or four times the width of the neck in repose, and then dart at its prey. Hindu mythology represents Krishna first as bitten in the foot, then as finally crushing the serpent's head beneath his feet; evidently a tradition from  Genesis 3:15.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [8]

Serpent. The serpent is a creature distinguished for its subtility,  Genesis 3:1, and wisdom in avoiding danger,  Matthew 10:16, as well as for the instinctive dread which it inspires in man and most animals. About one-sixth of all the species known are venomous. The devil is called "the serpent" and "the old serpent,"  Revelation 12:9;  Revelation 12:14-15, probably in allusion to his subtility and malice, and also to the fact that in tempting our first parents to disobey God he employed a serpent or assumed the form of one.  2 Corinthians 11:3. We frequently find references in Scripture to serpent-charming.  Psalms 58:4-5;  Ecclesiastes 10:11;  Jeremiah 8:17;  James 3:7. This practice is still common in the east. Serpent-charmers carry enormous snakes, generally black, about them, allow them to crawl all over their persons and into their bosoms—always, however, with certain precautions, either necessary or pretended to be so. They repeatedly breathe strongly into the face of the serpent, and occasionally blow spittle or some medicated composition upon them. In  Psalms 58:4-6, there is evidently an allusion to certain kinds of serpents which cannot be charmed. Such serpents there still are, which the charmer cannot subdue; and instances are related in which they have fallen victims to their daring attempts. When God punished the murmurs of the Israelites in the wilderness by sending among them serpents whose fiery bite was fetal, Moses, upon their repentance, was commanded to make a serpent of brass, whose polished surface shone like fire, and to set it up on the banner-pole in the midst of the people; and whoever was bitten by a serpent had but to look up at it and live.  Numbers 21:4-9. This brazen serpent was a type of Christ: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."  John 3:14-15. To present the serpent form, as deprived of its power to hurt, impaled as the trophy of a conqueror, was to assert that evil, physical and spiritual, had been overcome, and thus help to strengthen the weak faith of the Israelites in a victory over both. The "fiery flying serpent" of  Isaiah 30:6 has no relation to the "fiery" or "burning serpents" of  Numbers 21:6;  Numbers 21:8. The latter were so called from the "fiery" or burning nature of their bite or sting.

King James Dictionary [9]

SER'PENT, n. L. serpens, creeping serpo, to creep.

1. An animal of the order of Serpentes, creepers, crawlers, Of the class of Amphibia. Serpents are amphibious animals, breathing through the mouth bymeans of lungs only having tapering bodies, without a distinct neck the jaws not articulated, but dilatable, and withour feet, fins or ears. Serpents move along the earth by a winding motion, and with the head elevated. Some species of them are viviparous, or rather ovi-viviparous others are oviparous and several species are venomous. 2. In astronomy, a constellation of the northern hemisphere, containing, according to the British catalogue, sixty-four stars. 3. An instrument of music, serving as a base to the cornet or small shawm, to sustain a chorus of singers in a large edifice. It is so called for its folds or wreaths. 4. Figuratively, a subtil or malicious person. 5. In mythology, a symbol of the sun.

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(1): ( n.) A bass wind instrument, of a loud and coarse tone, formerly much used in military bands, and sometimes introduced into the orchestra; - so called from its form.

(2): ( n.) Fig.: A subtle, treacherous, malicious person.

(3): ( v. t.) To wind; to encircle.

(4): ( v. i.) To wind like a serpent; to crook about; to meander.

(5): ( n.) The constellation Serpens.

(6): ( n.) A species of firework having a serpentine motion as it passess through the air or along the ground.

(7): ( n.) Any reptile of the order Ophidia; a snake, especially a large snake. See Illust. under Ophidia.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

  • In the New Testament it is both directly asserted and in various forms assumed that Satan seduced our first parents into sin ( John 8:44;  Romans 16:20;  2 co  11:3,14;  Revelation 12:9;  20:2 )." Hodge's System. Theol., ii. 127.

    Copyright Statement These dictionary topics are from M.G. Easton M.A., DD Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain.

    Bibliography Information Easton, Matthew George. Entry for 'Serpent'. Easton's Bible Dictionary. 1897.

  • Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [12]

     Genesis 3:1 (a) This is a type of Satan for he is so described in  Revelation 12:9.

     Numbers 21:6 (b) It is a type of sin in all of its terrible effect on the people.

     Numbers 21:8 (a) It is a type of the Lord Jesus when He was made sin for us (  2 Corinthians 5:21) as He hung on Calvary. (See  John 3:14).

     Matthew 7:10 (b) This is a symbol of a harmful, injurious thing which the Christian, in his ignorance, thinks is good and profitable. The Lord sees that he is mistaken in his request and so refuses to give it to him because He knows it would harm. GOD says "no" to the request.

    Holman Bible Dictionary [13]

     Exodus 4:3 Exodus 7:9-10 Job 26:13 Matthew 23:33 Luke 10:19

    Morrish Bible Dictionary [14]

    The Lord bade His disciples be as wise as serpents, probably an allusion to  Genesis 3:1 . The word 'subtil' there is translated by the same word in the LXX as used in this passage. It is 'prudence.'

    Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [15]

    See Satan

    Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [16]

    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

    sûr´pent  :

    1. General:

    Serpents are not particularly abundant in Palestine, but they are often mentioned in the Bible. In the Hebrew there are 11 names. The New Testament has four Greek names and the Septuagint employs two of these and three others as well as several compound expressions, such as ὄφις πετάμενος , óphis petámenos , "flying serpent," ὄφις θανατῶν , óphis thanatṓn , "deadly serpent," and ὄφις δάκνων , óphis dáknōn , "biting" or "stinging serpent." Notwithstanding this large vocabulary, it is impossible to identify satisfactorily a single species. Nearly every reference states or implies poisonous qualities, and in no case is there so much as a hint that a snake may be harmless, except in several expressions referring to the millennium, where their harmlessness is not natural but miraculous. In Arabic there is a score or more of names of serpents, but very few of them are employed at all definitely. It may be too much to say that the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine consider all snakes to be poisonous, but they do not clearly distinguish the non-poisonous ones, and there are several common and well-known species which are universally believed to be poisonous, though actually harmless. Of nearly 25 species which are certainly known to be found in Syria and Palestine, four are deadly poisonous, five are somewhat poisonous, and the rest are absolutely harmless. With the exception of ḳippōz , "dart-snake" (  Isaiah 34:15 ) which is probably the name of a bird and not of a snake, every one of the Hebrew and Greek names occurs in passages where poisonous character is expressed or implied. The deadly poisonous snakes have large perforated poison fangs situated in the front of the upper jaw, an efficient apparatus like a hypodermic syringe for conveying the poison into the depths of the wound. In the somewhat poisonous snakes, the poison fangs are less favorably situated, being farther back, nearly under the eye. Moreover, they are smaller and are merely grooved on the anterior aspect instead of being perforated. All snakes, except a few which are nearly or quite toothless, have numerous small recurved teeth for holding and helping to swallow the prey, which is usually taken into the stomach while living, the peculiar structure of the jaws and the absence of a breast-bone enabling snakes to swallow animals which exceed the ordinary size of their own bodies.

    2. Serpents of Palestine and Syria:

    The following list includes all the serpents which are certainly known to exist in Palestine and Syria, omitting the names of several which have been reported but whose occurrence does not seem to be sufficiently confirmed. The range of each species is given.

    (1) Harmless Serpents.

    Typhlops vermicularis Merr., Greece and Southwestern Asia; T. simoni Bttgr., Palestine; Eryx jaculus L., Greece, North Africa, Central and Southwestern Asia; Tropidonotus tessellatus Laur., Central and Southeastern Europe, Central and Southwestern Asia; Zamenis gemonensis Laur., Central and Southeastern Europe, Greek islands, Southwestern Asia; Z. dahlii Fitz., Southeastern Europe, Southwestern Asia, Lower Egypt; Z. rhodorhachis Jan., Egypt, Southwestern Asia, India; Z. ravergieri Menatr., Southwestern Asia: Z. nummifer Renss., Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, Asia Minor; Oligodon melanocephalus Jan., Syria, Palestine, Sinai, Lower Egypt; Contia decemlineata D. and B., Syria, Palestine; C. collaris Menerr., Greek islands, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine; C. rothi Jan., Syria, Palestine; C. coronella Schleg., Syria, Palestine

    (2) Somewhat Poisonous Serpents.

    Tarbophis savignyi Blgr., Syria, Palestine, Egypt; T. fallax Fleischm., Balkan Peninsula, Greek islands, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine; Coelopeltis monspessulana Herre., Mediterranean countries, Caucasus, Persia; Psammophis schokari Forsk., North Africa, Southwestern Asia; Micrelaps muelleri Bttgr., Syria, Palestine

    (3) Deadly Poisonous Serpents.

    Vipera ammodytes L., Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, Syria; Vipera lebetina L., North Africa, Greek islands, Southwestern Asia; Cerastes cornutus Forsk., Egypt, Sinai, Arabia; Echis coloratus Gthr., Southern Palestine, Arabia, Socotra.

    To this list should be added the scheltopusik, a large snake-like, limbless lizard, Ophiosaurus apus , inhabiting Southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, Persia, Syria and Palestine, which while perfectly harmless is commonly classed with vipers.

    Of all these the commonest is Zamenis nummifer , Arabic ‛aḳd - ul - jauz , "string of walnuts," a fierce but non-poisonous snake which attains the length of a meter. Its ground color is pale yellow and it has a dorsal series of distinct diamond-shaped dark spots. Alternating with spots of the dorsal row are on each side two lateral rows of less distinct dark spots. It is everywhere considered to be fatal. Another common snake is Zamenis gemonensis , Arabic ḥanash , which attains the length of two meters. It is usually black and much resembles the American black snake, Zamenis constrictor . Like all species of Zamenis , these are harmless. Other common harmless snakes are Zamenis dahlii , Tropidonotus tessellatus which is often found in pools and streams, Contia collaris , Oligodon melanocephalus , a small, nearly toothless snake with the crown of the head coal black.

    Among the somewhat poisonous snakes, a very common one is Coelopeltis monspessulana , Arabic al - ḥaiyat ul - barshat , which is about two meters long, as larke as the black snake. It is uniformly reddish brown above, paler below. Another is Psammophis schokari , Arabic an - nashshâb , "the arrow." It is about a meter long, slender, and white with dark stripes. Many marvelous and utterly improbable tales are told of its jumping powers, as for instance that it can shoot through the air for more than a hundred feet and penetrate a tree like a rifle bullet.

    The commonest of the deadly poisonous snakes is Vipera lebetina , which attains the length of a meter, has a thick body, a short tail, a broad head and a narrow neck. It is spotted somewhat as Zamenis nummifer , but the spots are less regular and distinct and the ground color is gray rather than yellow. It does not seem to have a distinct name. Cerastes cornutus , having two small horns, which are modified scales, over the eyes, is a small but dangerous viper, and is found in the south. Not only are the species of poisonous serpents fewer than the non-poisonous species, but the individuals also appear to be less numerous. The vast majority of the snakes which are encountered are harmless.

    3. Names:

    As stated above, all of the Hebrew and Greek names except ḳippōz , which occurs only in   Isaiah 34:15 , are used of snakes actually or supposedly poisonous. This absence of discrimination between poisonous and non-poisonous kinds makes determination of the species difficult. Further, but few of the Hebrew names are from roots whose meanings are clear, and there is little evident relation to Arabic names.

    (1) The commonest Hebrew word is נחשׁ , nāḥāsh , which occurs 31 times and seems to be a generic word for serpent. While not always clearly indicating a venomous serpent, it frequently does: e.g.   Psalm 58:4;  Psalm 140:3;  Proverbs 23:32;  Ecclesiastes 10:8 ,  Ecclesiastes 10:11;  Isaiah 14:29;  Jeremiah 8:17;  Amos 5:19 . According to BDB it is perhaps from an onomatopoetic root נחשׁ , nāḥash , "to hiss." It may be akin to the Arabic ḥanash , which means "snake" in general, or especially the black snake. Compare Ir-nahash ( 1 Chronicles 4:12 ); Nahash ( a ) ( 1 Samuel 11:1;  2 Samuel 10:2 ), ( b ) ( 2 Samuel 17:27 ), ( c ) ( 2 Samuel 17:25 ); also נחשׁת , neḥōsheth , "copper" or "brass"; and נחשׁתּן , neḥushtān , "Nehushtan," the brazen serpent ( 2 Kings 18:4 ). But BDB derives the last two words from a different root.

    (2) שׂרף , sārāph , apparently from שׂרף , sāraph , "to burn," is used of the fiery serpents of the wilderness. In   Numbers 21:8 , it occurs in the singular: "Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a standard." In  Numbers 21:6 we have שׂרף הנּחשׁים , ha - neḥāshı̄m ha-seraphim, "fiery serpents"; in  Deuteronomy 8:15 the same in the singular: שׂרף נחשׁ , nāḥāsh sārāph , also translated "fiery serpents"; in  Isaiah 14:29;  Isaiah 30:6 we have מעופף שׂרף , sārāph me‛ōphēph , "fiery flying serpent." The same word in the plural שׂרפים , serāphı̄m , is translated "seraphim" in  Isaiah 6:2 ,  Isaiah 6:6 .

    (3) תּבּין , tannı̄n , elsewhere "dragon" or "seamonster" (which see), is used of the serpents into which the rods of Aaron and the magicians were transformed (  Exodus 7:9 ,  Exodus 7:10 ,  Exodus 7:12 ), these serpents being designated by nāḥāsh in  Exodus 4:3;  Exodus 7:15 . Ṭannı̄n is rendered "serpent" (the King James Version "dragon") in  Deuteronomy 32:33 , "Their wine is the poison of serpents," and  Psalm 91:13 , "The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot." On the other hand, nāḥāsh seems in three passages to refer to a mythical creature or dragon: "His hand hath pierced the swift serpent" ( Job 26:13 ); "In that day Yahweh ... will punish leviathan the swift serpent and leviathan the crooked serpent" ( Isaiah 27:1 ); "...though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and it shall bite them" ( Amos 9:3 ).

    (4) זחלי , zōḥălē is translated "crawling things" in   Deuteronomy 32:24 (the King James Version "serpents") and in   Micah 7:17 (the King James Version "worms").

    (5) עכשׁוּב , ‛akhshūbh , occurs only in   Psalm 140:3 , where it is translated "adder" Septuagint ἀσπίς , aspı́s , Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) aspis ), "adders' poison is under their lips." It has been suggested ( BDB ) that the reading should be עכּבישׁ , ‛akkābhı̄sh , "spider" (which see). The parallel word in the previous line is nāḥāsh .

    (6) פּתן , pethen , like most of the other names a word of uncertain etymology, occurs 6 times and it is translated "asp," except in   Psalm 91:13 , "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder." According to Liddell and Scott, aspis is the name of the Egyptian cobra, Naia haje L., which is not included in (2) above, because it does not certainly appear to have been found in Palestine The name "adder" is applied to various snakes all of which may perhaps be supposed to be poisonous but some of which are actually harmless. Aspis occurs in  Romans 3:13 in a paraphrase of   Psalm 140:3 (see (5) above); it occurs frequently, though not uniformly, in Septuagint for (2), (5), (6), (7), (8) and (10).

    (7) צפע , cepha‛ , occurs only in   Isaiah 14:29 where it is translated "adder" (the King James Version "cockatrice," the English Revised Version "basilisk," Septuagint ἔκγονα ἀσπίδων , ékgona aspı́dōn , Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) regulus ). The root צפע , cāpha‛ , of (7) and (8) may be an onomatopoetic word meaning "to hiss" ( BDB ).

    (8) צפעוני , or צפעני , ciph‛ōnı̄ , occurs in   Proverbs 23:32 , "At the last it biteth like a serpent ( nāḥāsh ), and stingeth like an adder" ( ciph‛ōnı̄ ). In  Isaiah 11:8;  Isaiah 59:5 , and  Jeremiah 8:17 , the American Standard Revised Version has "adder," while the King James Version has cockatrice" and the English Revised Version has "basilisk."

    (9) שׁפיפן , shephı̄phōn , occurs only in   Genesis 49:17 :

    "Dan shall be a serpent ( nāḥāsh ) in the way,

    An adder ( shephı̄phōn ) in the path,

    That biteth the horse's heels,

    So that his rider falleth backward."

    This has been thought to be Cerastes cornulus , on the authority of Tristram ( Nhb ), who says that lying in the path it will attack the passer-by, while most snakes will glide away at the approach of a person or large animal. He adds that his horse was much frightened at seeing one of these serpents coiled up in a camel's footprint. The word is perhaps akin to the Arabic siff , or suff , which denotes a spotted and deadly snake.

    (10) אפעה , 'eph‛eh , is found in   Job 20:16;  Isaiah 30:6;  Isaiah 59:5 , and in English Versions of the Bible is uniformly translated "viper." It is the same as the Arabic 'af‛a , which is usually translated "viper," though the writer has never found anyone who could tell to what snake the name belongs. In Arabic as in Hebrew a poisonous snake is always understood.

    (11) קפּוז , ḳippōz , the American Standard Revised Version "dart-snake," the English Revised Version "arrowsnake," the King James Version "great owl," only in   Isaiah 34:15 , "There shall the dart-snake make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shade; yea, there shall the kites be gathered, every one with her mate." "This is the concluding verse in a vivid picture of the desolation of Edom. The renderings "dart-snake" and "arrowsnake" rest on the authority of Bochert, but Septuagint has ἐχῖνος , echı́nos , "hedgehog," and Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) ericeus , "hedgehog." The rendering of the King James Version "great owl" seems preferable to the others, because the words "make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shade" are as a whole quite inapplicable to a mammal or to a reptile. The derivation from קפז , ḳāphaz (compare Arabic ḳāfaz ), "to spring," "to dart," suits, it is true, a snake, and not a hedgehog, but may also suit an owl. Finally, the next word in  Isaiah 34:15 is "kites," דיּות , dayyōth  ; compare Arabic ḥida'at . See Bittern; Owl; Porcupine .

    (12) ὄφις , óphis , a general term for "serpent," occurs in numerous passages of the New Testament and Septuagint, and is fairly equivalent to nāḥāsh .

    (13) ἀσπίς , aspı́s , occurs in the New Testament only in   Romans 3:13 parallel to   Psalm 140:3 . See under (5) ‛akhshūbh and (6) pethen . It is found in Septuagint for these words, and also for 'eph‛eh ( Isaiah 30:6 ).

    (14) ἔχιδνα , échidna , occurs in   Acts 28:3 , "A viper came out ... and fastened on his (Paul's) hand," and 4 times in the expression "offspring (the King James Version "generation") of vipers," γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν , gennḗmata echidnṓn ( Matthew 3:7;  Matthew 12:34;  Matthew 23:33;  Luke 3:7 ). The allied (masculine?) form ἔχις , échis , occurs in Sirach 39:30, the Revised Version (British and American) "adder."

    (15) ἑρπετόν , herpetón , "creeping thing," the King James Version "serpent," is found in   James 3:7 .

    That the different Hebrew and Greek names are used without clear distinction is seen from several examples of the employment of two different names in parallel expressions:

    "Their poison is like the poison of a serpent ( nāḥāsh ); They are like the deaf adder ( pethen ) that stoppeth her ear" (  Psalm 58:4 ).

    "They have sharpened their tongue like a serpent ( nāḥāsh ); Adders' ( ‛akhshūbh ) poison is under their lips" (  Psalm 140:3 ).

    "For, behold, I will send serpents ( neḥāshı̄m ), adders ( ciph‛ōnı̄m ), among you, which will not be charmed; and they shall bite you, saith Yahweh" (  Jeremiah 8:17 ).

    "They shall lick the dust like a serpent ( nāḥāsh ): like crawling things of the earth ( zōhălē'erec ) they shall come trembling out of their close places" (  Micah 7:17 ).

    "He shall suck the poison of asps ( pethen ): The viper's ( 'eph‛eh ) tongue shall slay him" (  Job 20:16 ).

    "Their wine is the poison of serpents ( tannı̄nı̄m ), and the cruel venom of asps ( pethānı̄m )" (  Deuteronomy 32:33 ).

    "And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp ( pethen ), and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's ( ciph‛ōnı̄ ) den" (  Isaiah 11:8 ).

    See also (8) and (9) above.

    4. Figurative:

    Most of the Biblical references to serpents are of a figurative nature, and they usually imply poisonous qualities. The wicked (  Psalm 58:4 ), the persecutor ( Psalm 140:3 ), and the enemy ( Jeremiah 8:17 ) are likened to venomous serpents. The effects of wine are compared to the bites of serpents ( Proverbs 23:32 ). Satan is a serpent (Gen 3;  Revelation 12:9;  Revelation 20:2 ). The term "offspring of vipers" is applied by John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees ( Matthew 3:7 ) or to the multitudes ( Luke 3:7 ) who came to hear him; and by Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees ( Matthew 12:34;  Matthew 23:33 ). Dan is a "serpent in the way ... that biteth the horse's heels" ( Genesis 49:17 ). Serpents are among the terrors of the wilderness ( Deuteronomy 8:15;  Isaiah 30:6 ). Among the signs accompanying believers is that "they shall take up serpents" ( Mark 16:18; compare  Acts 28:5 ). It is said of him that trusts in Yahweh:

    "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder:

    The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot" ( Psalm 91:13 ).

    In the millennium, "the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den" ( Isaiah 11:8 ). The serpent is subtle ( Genesis 3:1;  2 Corinthians 11:3 ); wise ( Matthew 10:16 ); accursed ( Genesis 3:14 ); eats dust ( Genesis 3:14;  Isaiah 65:25;  Micah 7:17 ). The adder is deaf ( Psalm 58:4 ). The serpent lurks in unexpected places ( Genesis 49:17;  Ecclesiastes 10:8;  Amos 5:19 ). Serpents may be charmed ( Psalm 58:5;  Ecclesiastes 10:11;  Jeremiah 8:17 ). Among four wonderful things is "the way of a serpent upon a rock" ( Proverbs 30:19 ).

    Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [18]

    Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Serpent'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.