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The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized
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The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized


Yale University Press 2010

Runs on Windows, Mac and mobile.


In a perplexing passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus is likened to the most reviled creature in Christian symbology: the snake. Attempting to understand how the Fourth Evangelist could have made such a surprising analogy, James H. Charlesworth has spent nearly a decade combing through the vast array of references to serpents in the ancient world—from the Bible and other religious texts to ancient statuary and jewelry. Charlesworth has arrived at a surprising conclusion: not only was the serpent a widespread symbol throughout the world, but its meanings were both subtle and varied. In fact, the serpent of ancient times was more often associated with positive attributes like healing and eternal life than it was with negative meanings.

This groundbreaking book explores in plentiful detail the symbol of the serpent from 40,000 BCE to the present, and from diverse regions in the world. In doing so it emphasizes the creativity of the biblical authors’ use of symbols and argues that we must today reexamine our own archetypal conceptions with comparable creativity.

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

If you like this title be sure to check out the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library.

Key Features

  • Discusses the subtle and varied references to snakes in the Bible and other religious texts
  • Explores the positive attributes of the snake in ancient times
  • Emphasizes the creativity of the biblical authors’ use of symbols


  • Physiology Undergirds Symbology: Thirty-two Virtually Unique Characteristics of a Snake
  • Realia and Iconography: The Symbolism of the Serpent in the Ancient Near East (and the Religion of Israel)
  • The Perception That the Serpent Is a Positive Symbol in Greek and Roman Literature
  • The Full Spectrum of the Meaning of Serpent Symbolism in the Fertile Crescent
  • Serpent Symbolism in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
  • The Symbolism of the Serpent in the Gospel of John

Praise for the Print Edition

In this masterpiece, the snake emerges from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and carries on an unending hostility to humankind in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation. This book is packed with data about this mysterious creature and backed by compelling evidence and argumentation. I recommend it unreservedly to any and all with an interest in this fascinating subject.

—David Noel Freedman, general editor, Anchor Yale Bible

Charlesworth has done us all an immense service in pulling together evidence from around the world and through the ages of the crucial role snakes have played in the human story.

—James A. Sanders, professor of intertestamental and biblical studies, Claremont School of Theology

Making use of his vast knowledge in archaeology and ancient literature, Professor Charlesworth has written an outstanding research on serpent symbolism, which is certain to become the standard book of reference to this topic in years to come.

—Adolfo Roitman, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Product Details

About James H. Charlesworth

James H. Charlesworth is George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, and a world-renowned translator, particularly of pseudepigraphical material. He is the author of The Old Testament Pseudepigraph.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition