Nehushtan

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The Nehushtan (or Nehustan, Hebrew: נחושתן or נחש הנחושת), in the Hebrew Bible, was a sacred object in the form of a snake of brass upon a pole. King Hezekiah (reigned 715/6 – 687) instituted a religious iconoclastic reform and destroyed "the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did offer to it; and it was called Nehushtan." (2 Kings 18:4); the Masoretic text does not in fact say so, but rather "he [Hezekiah] called it Nehushtan".[1] The Priestly source of the Torah says that Moses used a 'fiery serpent' to cure the Israelites from snakebites (Book of Numbers, chapter 21:4-9), though the tradition of naming it Nehushtan is no older than the time of Hezekiah.[2]

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,[3] one at Gezer,[4] one in the sanctum sanctorum of the Area H temple at Hazor,[5] and two at Shechem.[6]

Contents

Origin

The creation of a snake of brass (the Nehustan) is attributed to Moses in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 21:6).

Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live." So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.[7]

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