SERPENT:(Redirected from VIPER.)
The following terms are used in the Old Testament to denote serpents of one kind or another: (1) "naḥash," the generic and most frequently used term; (2) "peten" (asp or adder; Deut. xxxii. 33; Isa. xi. 8; et al.), perhaps identical with the Egyptian cobra (Naja haje), which is found in southern Palestine, and is frequently kept by snake-charmers; (3) "ẓefa'" (A. V. "cockatrice," R. V. "basilisk," LXX. "asp"; Isa. xiv. 29); (4) "ẓif'oni" (adder, basilisk, cockatrice; Isa. xi. 8, lix. 5, et al.), perhaps the large viper (Duboia xanthina); it is identified also, by some, with the cat-snake (Tarbophis fallax); (5) "ef'eh" (Arabic, "af'a" = "viper"), connected in Isa. xxx. 6 with Egypt; (6) "shefifon" (adder; Gen. xlix. 17 [R. V., margin, "horned snake"]), perhaps identical with the Cerastes hasselquistii, said to have been the asp with which Cleopatra killed herself; (7) "'akshub" (Ps. cxl. 3; LXX. "asp," Arabic version, "viper," A. and R. V. "adder"; Talmud and Rashi, a kind of spider, or tarantula [comp. "'akkabish"]); (8) "zoḥale 'afar" (Deut. xxxii. 24; comp. Micah vii. 17, which designates the serpent as creeping on the earth); (9)"tannin" (Ex. vii. 9 et seq.; elsewhere, "dragon," "monster"); (10) "ḳippoz" (Isa. xxxiv. 15; A. V. "great owl," R. V. "arrow-snake"; the connection suggests some bird); (11) "saraf" and "naḥash saraf" (Num. xxi. 6; Deut. viii. 15; the epithet "fiery" probably refers to the burning sensation and inflammation caused by the venom of the snake).
The idea of flying serpents ("saraf me'ofef"; Isa. xiv. 29, xxx. 6) rests, perhaps, on the confusion of serpents with lizards, which is found also in classical writers. They belong to those fanciful creatures with which folk-lore peoples the desert regions ("Pal. Explor. Fund, Quarterly Statement," 1894, p. 30). For the "naḥash bariaḥ" and "naḥash 'akalaton" in Isa. xxvii. 1 see Leviathan.
Serpents abound in Palestine, as well as in Egypt, the Sinaitic Peninsula, and the Arabian desert. According to Tristram, the serpent tribe is represented in Palestine by eighteen species, mostly belonging to the genera Ablabes and Zamanis, of the Colubridœ family.
The qualities and habits attributed to the serpent in the Old Testament are subtlety (comp. Gen. iii. 1), the disposition to lie concealed in holes, walls, and thickets (comp. Amos v. 19; Eccl. x. 8; Prov. xxx. 18-19), and the habit of eating dust (comp. Gen. iii. 14; Isa. lxv. 25), a belief in which was common among the Greeks and Romans. The art of serpent-charming is referred to in Ex. iv. 3, vii. 9, Jer. viii. 17, and Eccl. x. 11. The ability to stiffen serpents into rods is still possessed by Oriental jugglers.In the Talmud.
The generic names for the serpent are "naḥash" and
The poison of the serpent forms a coherent mass (B. ḳ. 115b). It varies in strength and weight. That of a young serpent is heaviest, and falls to the bottom when dropped into a vessel of water; that of an older one remains suspended midway; and that of a very old one floats on the surface. While the serpent is one of the three creatures which grow stronger with age (the other two being the fish and the swine), the intensity and deadliness of its poison decreases with advancing age ('Ab. Zarah 30b). The poison of the serpent is deadly ('Ab. Zarah 31b). If it is left in the wound it causes a burning pain, so that one sentenced to die by fire may be bitten by a snake instead (Soṭah 8b). The poison spreads through the whole body, and it is therefore dangerous to eat the flesh of an animal which was bitten by a snake (Ter. viii. 6), and even to wear sandals made from its hide (Ḥul. 94a, Rashi). If the bone of a snake enters the foot death may result (Pes. 112b). The snake alone of all animals harms without gain to itself, and is therefore compared to the slanderer (Ta'an. 8a et al.). It is also revengeful (Yoma 23a). Still, it seldom attacks unless provoked; and it gives warning by hissing (Ber. 33a; Shab. 121b). The snakes of Palestine were considered particularly dangerous (ib.); but it is mentioned as one of the perpetual miracles of Jerusalem that no one there was ever bitten by a snake (Ab. v. 5).
The flesh of the snake, mixed with other things, was considered the most effective antidote against the poison of the snake as well as of other animals (Shab. 109b). Other cures for snake-bite are: placing the bitten part into the body of a hen which has been opened alive; applying to the wound the embryo taken from the womb of a sound, white she-ass; and putting crushed gnats on the wound (Yoma 83b; Shab. 77b, 109b). A snake cooked in olive-oil was considered a curative for itch (Shab. 77b).Species or Varieties.
Probably the anaconda is referred to in Ned. 25a et al., where it is related that in the time of Shabur a serpent devoured the straw of thirteen stables. The ringed snake is mentioned under the name of
A bad wife is called a snake in the proverb, "No man can live in the same basket with a snake" (Ket. 72a). But the appearance of a snake in a dream is of good omen (Ber. 57a). For the relation of the serpent to Adam and Eve see Shab. 146a.
- Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 269;
- Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, p. 234;
- O. Günther, Die Reptilien und Amphibien von Syrien, Palästina, und Cypern, 1880.