When the Israelites complained God sent serpents to bite them. As a way to reverse the plague, Moses put a copper serpent on a pole. Upon looking at the copper serpent, the israelites would be healed from the effects of the serpent bites.

I've been told this prefigures Christ in a way.

The symbolism is strange indeed, because serpents always represent ... the other guy... The Not Jesus.

How does the serpent on the pole represent Christ? Does the event have any other symbolic meanings relating to redemption?

  • 2
    BRONZE not copper – Affable Geek Jan 24 '15 at 2:06
  • Thanks for the correction. I was raised with it written "copper serpent", funny how it grows on you. – user9485 Jan 24 '15 at 2:28
  • I believe Jehovah's Witnesses refer to it as a copper serpent. – DJClayworth Jan 24 '15 at 18:39

According to 2 Kings 18:4, the serpent of Moses was subsequently placed in the Jerusalem temple, where it was known as Nehushtan and remained until smashed by King Hezekiah.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that modern exegesis holds that the biblical Hebrew word Nehushtan, by which the bronze serpent is referred in 2 Kings 18:4, is explained either as denoting an image of bronze or as a lengthened form of naḥash ('serpent'), and thus as implying that the worship of serpents was of ancient date in Israel.

Referring to the Canaanite heritage of the Jewish people, Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger say, in Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God, page 274, that we can no longer determine whether the copper snake was a genuinely Canaanite element or was Egyptian instead. They say that its Canaanite provenance was more likely because Hezekiah was quite receptive to Egyptian symbols of the day.

The Exodus tradition is perhaps less informative than the action of King Hezekiah. The Bible describes him as a strong monotheist who brought many reforms to Judaism. His destruction of Nehushtan means that he saw the idol as incompatible with Judaism. It would therefore also be incompatible with Christianity. It could not represent Christ, or have any symbolic meaning for redemption.

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