Serpent Intertexts: Tantalizing Twists in the Tales -- By: Elaine A. Phillips

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 10:2 (NA 2000)
Article: Serpent Intertexts: Tantalizing Twists in the Tales
Author: Elaine A. Phillips

Serpent Intertexts: Tantalizing
Twists in the Tales

Elaine A. Phillips

Gordon College

Intertextuality as an approach to biblical studies has received considerable attention and varied responses. Because the foundation of the enterprise is the almost limitless potential in interrelated texts, the complexity both of definition and of process is daunting. At the same time, the pursuit through this complexity yields a renewed appreciation for the richness of the biblical text in its wider cultural contexts. Tracking the serpent through the wealth of intertextual connections in the Hebrew Bible illustrates the ongoing infusion of ideas and development of interconnections. The approach does not presume the loss of the authoritative Center but acknowledges that divine Authorship does not preclude a plurality of voices as the canonical text is produced and interpreted.

Key Words: intertextuality, serpent, Leviathan, dragon


Following the serpent through the network of related biblical intertexts is an adventure rich in interpretive possibilities. The sinuous twining of the serpent captures in a compelling metaphor the intertwining of texts and contexts that is integral to the notion of intertextuality, a term for which a firm definition and a stable exemplar seem frustratingly elusive. The lightning speed with which a serpent changes directions, darting this way and that, sometimes hardly visible amidst the surrounding camouflage, is characteristically what happens in the encounter with tantalizing but tenuous connections among words and concepts in selected biblical texts. The unexpected twists of direction might be likened to the “way of a serpent on a rock” (Prov 30:19).

Preliminary Considerations

At the outset, it is important to address the matter of definition or description of the presuppositions and processes that are associated

with “intertextuality.” Even a brief tour through the literature of the past two decades is indicative of the large number of often conflicting ideas on what constitutes this enterprise as it has been applied to the field of biblical studies.1 Part of the issue is whether to think of intertextuality primarily in terms of its methodological emphasis on textual interconnectedness, or whether it necessarily presumes a particular philosophical and theological stance as well. In the latter case, biblical scholars whose view of the text accords it authoritative status are disturbed by the lack of “center” and the indeterminacy of meaning that is implied by an approach, ...

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