The Serpent Tempter In Oriental Mythology -- By: William Hayes Ward

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 038:150 (Apr 1881)
Article: The Serpent Tempter In Oriental Mythology
Author: William Hayes Ward


The Serpent Tempter In Oriental Mythology

Rev. William Hayes Ward

In a valuable and interesting volume published during the present year (1880) M. Fr. Lenormant points a contrast between the serpent form taken by the tempter in the Mosaic story, and the griffin form taken in the Chaldean legends. The Chaldean mythologers called the power of disorder and evil Tihamti, or Tiamat, the Deep, who was not a serpent at all, but a griffin with the jaws of a lion and the talons of an eagle; and with them the attack of Bel-Merodach upon the Dragon was not so much in punishment for the temptation of man as it was to represent the warfare of light and order upon darkness and chaos. “We need not introduce here,” he says,” the myth of the great cosmogonic struggle between Tiamat, the personification of chaos, and the god Maraduk, related in a portion of the epic fragments in cuneiform characters discovered by George Smith. Tiamat assumes the form of a monster, often repeated on the monuments, but this form is not that of the serpent.” 1

Perhaps it may be interesting to look a little at oriental mythology, and see if it does not recognize this Bible attribution to the serpent of the character of a tempter and

enemy. If the writer is not mistaken this famous Timat, the dragon principle of chaos and disorder was sometimes represented as a serpent, and not always as a monstrous griffin, as the distinguished French scholar supposes. I think it can be shown that the Chaldeans, as well as the Hebrews, possessed an indigenous and extremely ancient story of the temptation, which compared very closely to that given by Moses, and in which the serpent performs the same part.

Apart from the Chaldean poems and monuments the traditions of antiquity cast but a dim light upon this remarkable Hebrew narrative. The serpent was a favorite object of worship among the primitive non-Shemitic and non-Aryan races everywhere. The Mexicans worshipped the serpent under the name of Coatl. The Turanian aborigines of India paid very great honor to the serpent, and although such worship was quite foreign to the conquering Aryan faith, it yet was finally adopted in the deification of the wicked and hated Siva. To a comparatively recent epoch the serpent has been an object of divine honor in Cashmere. Indeed the worship of serpents as benevolent deities was, and still is, widely diffused among the lower and more primitive races. The fact admits of a sufficient explanation in the mysterious character of the serpent itself: in its sloughing its skin and renewing its youth; in its stealthy, gliding motion, which excited the wonder of Agur; its poison so speedily deadly ...

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