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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Brazen Serpent

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(נְחִשׁ נְחשֶׁתּ, nechash' necho'sheth, serpent of copper, ὄφις χαλκοῦς). On the way from Mount Hor to the Elanitic Gulf, the Israelites were bitten by venomous serpents (שְׂרָפַים, seraphin'), and many of them died. (See SERPENT). Moses therefore, at the Divine command, erected (hung on a pole) the metallic (" brazen," i.e. copper-cast) figure of one (such) serpent, and every one that had been bitten who looked toward it was cured (Numbers 21:5 sq.; comp. Wisdom of Solomon 16:5 sq.; John 3:14). This "brazen serpent" was still (under the name הִנְּחֻשַׁתָּן, han-Nechushtan'), in the time of Hezekiah, an object of idolatrous reverence among the Israelites (2 Kings 18:4). This miraculous relief is interpreted by the Jews (comp. Wisdom of Solomon 16:7) as the result of a lively faith in Jehovah on the part of the beholders (see Onkelos, the Targums, Jerome, and the rabbins, in the younger Buxtorf's Hist. serpentis cen. v, 5, in his Exercitt. p. 458 sq.), while others of them regard this serpent-form as a talisman which Moses was enabled to prepare, from his knowledge of astrology (see Rabbi Samuel Zirza in Deyling's Observatt. ii, p. 210). From the notice in the Gospel (John 3:14), most Christian interpreters have rightly inferred that the "brazen serpent" was intended as a type of Christ as the Redeemer of the world (see Menken, Ueb. die eherne Schlange, Brem. 1812; Kerns, in Bengel's Archiv, v, 77 sq., 360 sq., 598 sq.). For various futile attempts to explain this miracle on natural principles, see Bauer, Hebr. Gesch. ii, 320; also Ausfiihrl. Erkl&r. der Wunder des A. 7. i, 228; Paulus, Comment. IV, i, 198 sq.; Hoffmann, in Scherer's Schriftforsch. i, 576 sq. (See MOSES). Parallels more or less complete have been traced between the brazen serpent and similar ideas among other nations, which, although not strictly illustrative of the Biblical narrative, are yet interesting, as showing that the fact was not at variance with the notions of antiquity. From 2 Kings 18:4, it would seem to have been eventually looked upon by the degenerate Jews themselves as a symbol of curative power (comp. Ewald, Isr. Gesch. ii, 177); as among the ancients the figure of a serpent appears to have been derived from the East, as a type of Esculapius, i.e. health (Macrob. Sat. i, 20; see Junker, in Meusel's Museum, ii, 127 sq.; Muller, Archaol. p. 597). In the Egyptian theology the (innocuous) serpent was early an emblem of sanatory virtue; such were worshipped in the Thebald (Herod. ii, 74), and they appear on the monumental delineations in various connections, sometimes with the beneficent Isis, sometimes ingrafted upon the figure of Serapis [? as a benign deity] (Creuzer, Symbol. i, 504 sq.; ii, 393). So Philo interprets,the serpent of the wilderness (σωφροσύνη ἀλεξίκακος). See further Funk, De Nechustane et Esculapii.serpente (Berol. 1826); Wochter, Naturce et Scripturce concordia (Leips. 1752), p. 116; Nova Biboth. Lubec. iii. I sq.; Hengstenberg, Beitr. i, 164. (See NEHUSHTAN).

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

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