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Old February 24th, 2013, 01:52 AM   #1

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Question Single snake on staff - first used by Moses or the cult of Asclepius?


Who used the image of single snake on a staff first?

Moses or the cult of Asclepius ?

What does the evidence suggest?




Originally Posted by Moses in Numbers 21:9

So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole.

Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
Click the image to open in full size.


Nehushtan Nehushtan


Quote:
The Nehushtan (or Nehustan, Hebrew: נחושתן or נחש הנחושת), in the Hebrew Bible, was a sacred object in the form of a snake of brass upon a pole. The priestly source of the Torah says that Moses used a 'fiery serpent' to cure the Israelites from snakebites. (Numbers 21:4-9)
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Old February 24th, 2013, 03:52 AM   #2

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kookaburra Jack View Post
Who used the image of single snake on a staff first?

Moses or the cult of Asclepius ?

What does the evidence suggest?




Originally Posted by Moses in Numbers 21:9

So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole.

Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!
Click the image to open in full size.


Nehushtan


Quote:
The Nehushtan (or Nehustan, Hebrew: נחושתן or נחש הנחושת), in the Hebrew Bible, was a sacred object in the form of a snake of brass upon a pole. The priestly source of the Torah says that Moses used a 'fiery serpent' to cure the Israelites from snakebites. (Numbers 21:4-9)
The Sumerians were the first to use that symbol.

Click the image to open in full size.
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Old February 24th, 2013, 05:37 PM   #3

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Thanks for the data on earlier usage. Can you tell me what the symbolism was used for by the Sumerians?

The question remains who between the author of Numbers (traditionally assumed to be "Moses") and the cult of Asclepius first used this symbolism.

Many thanks for any ideas.



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Old February 24th, 2013, 05:45 PM   #4

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Again, not what you're looking for, but the symbol is strikingly siomilar to the Caduceus, the herald's staff, supposedly invented by Imhotep, the Egyptian father of medicine.
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Old February 25th, 2013, 09:44 AM   #5

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The healing methods of Asclepius seem to have always been associated with sacred snakes, but the snake was not always seen entwined around his staff. Mythologically, Asclepius belonged to the time of Troy, c.13/12th Century BC. Early depictions show it coiling next to or behind him. The snake was certainly depicted on a staff in the 4th Century BC, but a paucity of sources before the 5th Century BC make it hard to say when it started.


The imagery of the brass serpent of Moses must predate the writing of the Book of Numbers (wherein it is mentioned) dated to the 6th Century BC. Biblical chronology places Moses in the 15th Century BC, and his rod was meant to have been destroyed by King Hezekiah, because it was being used as an idol. This was in c.700 BC, and if true, (The Book of Kings, which mentions this, might contain contemporary material for Hezekiah's reign) probably points to the Moses serpent on a staff as predating Asclepius' as a symbol of healing.
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Old February 25th, 2013, 09:55 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by Midas View Post
The Sumerians were the first to use that symbol.
Which makes perfect sense given the massive Mesopotamian influence upon the Jews.

It's funny to think that the symbol of a Near Eastern deity remains with us in everyday life.

Last edited by Wolfpaw; February 25th, 2013 at 10:37 AM.
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Old February 26th, 2013, 06:32 PM   #7

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Originally Posted by Moros View Post
The healing methods of Asclepius seem to have always been associated with sacred snakes, but the snake was not always seen entwined around his staff. Mythologically, Asclepius belonged to the time of Troy, c.13/12th Century BC. Early depictions show it coiling next to or behind him. The snake was certainly depicted on a staff in the 4th Century BC, but a paucity of sources before the 5th Century BC make it hard to say when it started.


The imagery of the brass serpent of Moses must predate the writing of the Book of Numbers (wherein it is mentioned) dated to the 6th Century BC. Biblical chronology places Moses in the 15th Century BC, and his rod was meant to have been destroyed by King Hezekiah, because it was being used as an idol. This was in c.700 BC, and if true, (The Book of Kings, which mentions this, might contain contemporary material for Hezekiah's reign) probably points to the Moses serpent on a staff as predating Asclepius' as a symbol of healing.
Thanks Moros.

I guess it depends on how one dates the Torah.

There seems to be a great spread of expert opinion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by WIKI
Today the majority of academic scholars accept the theory that the Torah does not have a single author, and that its composition took place over centuries.[18] From the late 19th century there was a general consensus around the documentary hypothesis, which suggests that the five books were created c. 450 BCE by combining four originally independent sources, known as the Jahwist, or J (c. 900 BCE), the Elohist, or E (c. 800 BCE), the Deuteronomist, or D, (c. 600 BCE), and the Priestly source, or P (c. 500 BCE).[19] This general agreement began to break down in the late 1970s, and today there are many theories but no consensus, or even majority viewpoint.[20]
It is true that both Moses and the Asclepians may have used the earlier Sumerian depiction of the snake. But the question then becomes what significance was this snake on staff image for the Sumerians and did it have anything to do with healing?

If Moses did not predate the Asclepius cult use of the snake in association with healing, then Moses may have been appealing indirectly to the known therapeutic Asclepius cult.
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Old February 26th, 2013, 07:56 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Kookaburra Jack View Post


It is true that both Moses and the Asclepians may have used the earlier Sumerian depiction of the snake. But the question then becomes what significance was this snake on staff image for the Sumerians and did it have anything to do with healing?

If Moses did not predate the Asclepius cult use of the snake in association with healing, then Moses may have been appealing indirectly to the known therapeutic Asclepius cult.
Moses would have predated the Aclepius cult by many centuries, living in the 13th, 14th century BCE? . The Asclepius cult spread around 300 BCE, which would have been after the Torah was written, and after the time of Hezekiah that destroyed the staff of Moses. Also, the snake and the staff in the Ascleipius cult were originally separate items and only later were combined. So it would seem that the staff of Moses was older, but not the oldest.

Quote:
The cult of Asclepius became very popular during the 300s BCE and the cult centres (known as an Asclepieion) were used by priests to cure the sick. http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/asclepius.html
The twin serpent rod appears to be associated with the Sumerian god of the underworld.

Quote:
Ningishzida (sum: dnin-g̃iš-zid-da) is a Mesopotamian deity of the underworld. His name in Sumerian is translated as "lord of the good tree"[1] by Thorkild Jacobsen.

In Sumerian mythology, he appears in Adapa's myth as one of the two guardians of Anu's celestial palace, alongside Dumuzi. He was sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head.

Lagash had a temple dedicated to Ningishzida, and Gudea, patesi of Lagash in the 21st century BC (short chronology), was one of his devotees. In the Louvre, there is a famous green steatite vase carved for king Gudea of Lagash, dedicated by its inscription: "To the god Ningiszida, his god Gudea, Ensi (governor) of Lagash, for the prolongation of his life, has dedicated this".
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Ningishzida is the earliest known symbol of snakes twining (some say copulation[who?]) around an axial rod. It predates the Caduceus of Hermes, the Rod of Asclepius and the staff of Moses by more than a millennium.[5] One Greek myth of origin of the caduceus is part of the story of Tiresias, who found two snakes copulating and killed the female with his staff. Although Wadjet 'the Green One', the serpent Goddess of Lower Egypt from the Pre-dynastic period demonstrates the earliest known representation of a single serpent entwined around a pole – in this case a papyrus reed (refer to first glyph): Wadjet Hieroglyph[unreliable source?]
Ningishzida - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Last edited by Bart Dale; February 26th, 2013 at 08:20 PM.
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Old February 26th, 2013, 08:50 PM   #9

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Originally Posted by Zeno View Post
Again, not what you're looking for, but the symbol is strikingly siomilar to the Caduceus, the herald's staff, supposedly invented by Imhotep, the Egyptian father of medicine.
They are different. In Greece, Caduceus (double snakes)is held by Hermes, who is like you said the herald of the gods. But Rod of Asclepius is single snake. In US, there are two different systems of medical schools. The Allopathic medical schools adopt Caduceus as their symbol. Osteopathic medical schools adopt Rod of Asclepius as their symbol.
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Old February 26th, 2013, 09:40 PM   #10

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Originally Posted by Bart Dale View Post
Moses would have predated the Aclepius cult by many centuries, living in the 13th, 14th century BCE? .
Well this is the question. When did the author of Numbers write?

Which of course begs the question what is the oldest manuscript evidence - is it the dead sea scrolls and dated to the 1st century BCE ????
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