WORM exegesis? Re: Gen 3:15 (snakes)

Lewis Reich lewreich at javanet.com
Wed Dec 1 14:21:05 EST 1999

----- Original Message -----
From: Harold Helm <sundance at neosoft.com>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, November 30, 1999 2:18 PM
Subject: WORM exegesis? Re: Gen 3:15 (snakes)

> > a snake that twists around a
> > sword,I think, in the symbol for medicine )
> My med school Profesors characterized it a a worm
> or two worms (depending on the field) - stick was
> used to extract the worm from the patient - any
> one have midrash etc on the "WORM" in b-Hebrew?

I'm surprised.  I'd always thought it was a serpent (snake) rather than a
worm, and that the association of snakes with health and healing had to do
with their  ability to "renew" themselves by shdedding their skin.  The
caduceus, the ancient symbol of Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods, and
himself Greek god of merchants, is a winged staff entwined by two serpents.
In ancient Greece, the caduceus was carried by heralds and ambassadors as a
mark of personal inviolability; today it is associated with the healing
arts - it appears on the emblem of the US Public Health Service
commissioned corps. (see  The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the
Caduceus Symbol in Medicine by Walter J. Friedlander).  In the 16th and 17th
centuries, Friedlander says, the caduceus was associated with wise and
eloquent individuals, including some physicians. However, in the early 19th
century it was adopted by a medical publisher as a sign, not that he
published medical books, but that he was a commercial deliverer of
information. Friedlander goes on to indicate that in 1902 the sign was
adopted by the U.S. Army as the insignia of its Medical Department. The sign
became widely recognized after the exposure it had during World War I. It
became frequently used and, once popular, bred popularity.

 The staff of Aesculapius (the Greek Asclepus), a forked staff (or knotted)
entwined by a single serpent is the insignia of the American Medical
Association. Aesculapius, son of Apollo and Coronis, was educated in healing
by the Centaur, Chiron. Shrines and temples of healing known as Asclepieia
were erected throughout Greece where the sick would come to worship and seek
cures for their ills. Harmless serpents were kept in these temples of
healing. Snakes were held sacred by Asclepius and he himself was thought to
sometimes appear in the form of a snake. Patients who saw snakes in their
dreams believed that the god of healing himself had come to their aid. My
impression was always that the association of snakes with healing had to do
with their ability to shed their skins, a symbol of renewal.

The Hebrew Bible, of course, records an enigmatic association of snakes with
healing in the episode of Moses holding aloft the "n'khash ha'n'khoshet",
brass snake, to halt an epidemic, and the recording that in Josiah's (?)
reforms that relic (*nekhushtan*) was destroyed.

Lewis Reich
lewreich at javanet.com

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list