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Nehushtan

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Nehushtan

In the biblical Book of Numbers, the Nehushtan (or Nohestan) (Hebrew: נחושתן or נחש הנחושת) was a bronze serpent on a pole which God told Moses to erect to protect the Israelites who saw it from dying from the bites of the "fiery serpents" which God had sent to punish them for speaking against God and Moses.

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King Hezekiah later instituted a religious iconoclastic reform and destroyed "the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan". (2 Kings 18:4)

Alternate transliterations and translations

The name is transliterated as "Nohestan" in the Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition, as "N’chushtan" in the Complete Jewish Bible and as "Nechushtan" in the Orthodox Jewish Bible.

The English Standard Version of the Bible and the majority of contemporary English translations refer to the serpent as made of 'bronze', whereas the King James Version and a number of other versions state 'brass'. The Douai-Rheims 1899 edition has 'brazen'. Eugene H. Peterson, who translated the Bible as The Message, opted for 'a snake of fiery copper'. The reference in 2 Kings 18:4 is translated as 'brasen' in the King James Version and the Blue, Red and Gold Letter translation.

Serpent image

Snake cults had been well established in Canaan in the Bronze Age: archaeologists have uncovered serpent cult objects in Bronze Age strata at several pre-Israelite cities in Canaan: two at Megiddo, one at Gezer, one in the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies) of the Area H temple at Hazor, and two at Shechem.

According to Lowell K. Handy, the Nehushtan may have been the symbol of a minor god of snakebite-cure within the Temple.

Hebrew Bible

In the biblical story, following their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites set out from Mount Hor, where Aaron was buried, to go to the Red Sea. However they had to detour around the land of Edom (Numbers 20:21, 25). Frustrated and impatient, they complained against Yahweh and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), and in response God sent "fiery serpents" among them. For the sake of the ones who were repentant, Moses was instructed by God to erect a "serpent of bronze" which was used to heal those who looked upon it (Numbers 21:4-9).

The term also appears in 2 Kings 18:4 in a passage describing reforms made by King Hezekiah, in which he tore down altars, cut down symbols of Asherah, destroyed the Nehushtan, and according to many Bible translations, gave it that name.

Regarding the passage in 2 Kings 18:4, M. G. Easton noted that "the lapse of nearly one thousand years had invested the 'brazen serpent' with a mysterious sanctity; and in order to deliver the people from their infatuation, and impress them with the idea of its worthlessness, Hezekiah called it, in contempt, 'Nehushtan', a brazen thing, a mere piece of brass".

The tradition of naming it Nehushtan is not considered to be any older than the time of Hezekiah.

New Testament

In the Gospel of John, Jesus discusses his destiny with a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus and makes a comparison between the raising up of the Son of Man and the act of the serpent being raised up by Moses for the healing of the people.

Charles Spurgeon preached a famous sermon on "the Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent" and this passage from John's Gospel in 1857.

Bronze Serpent Monument

There is a Brazen Serpent Monument on Mount Nebo in Jordan created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni.

References

Nehushtan Wikipedia


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