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"CURSED ARE YOU ABOVE ALL LIVESTOCK AND ALL WILD ANIMALS!
YOU WILL CRAWL ON YOUR BELLY AND YOU WILL EAT DUST
ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE"              GENESIS 3:14               
              
                        

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Get's not get bitten by Biblical Snakes

It was the serpent – nahash in the Hebrew Bible -- that tempted Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, thus bringing about the fall of humanity.  The serpent was then cursed and destined to be the most despised beast on earth.

This conflict between man and slithering snake is a metaphor of the conflict between divine knowledge and the force of evil.  When Moses was appointed leader of the Israelites, he was given the power to control the serpent.  In Numbers 21 we learn that Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole.  Whenever a serpent bit someone (and that happened occasionally during their wilderness sojourn), that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
There are four poisonous snakes mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that are with us in Israel to this day.  But not to worry, in all my years of hiking, particularly in the wilderness areas, I have seen not even one!  But I have often been asked, "Are there poisonous snakes in Israel?"  So here goes a description…
The black desert cobra or Egyptian cobra, called peten shchor in Hebrew, is found in desert areas from Egypt on all the way to Iran.  In Israel it is found in the Judean Desert, the Arava and the Negev.  With a maximum length of 1.20 meters, the black desert cobra is sometimes translated as asp.  To compensate for its weak vision, it has a strong sense of smell which it uses to hunt its prey. 

The Egyptian cobra has a round body and a narrow head.  When the cobra finds its prey -- birds, lizards, rats or other snakes -- it grasps the prey for a long time, while injecting its poison.  It lets go of the prey only after it is dead and then devours its victim s-l-o-w-l-y.  (Yum yum!!)

Black desert cobra or Egyptian cobra

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Black Desert Cobra or Waterinnesia aegyptia or Peten Shchor

The black desert cobra is connected in scripture to the ancient craft of snake charming.  In a description of the wicked, the psalmist (58: 4-5) sings "Their poison is like the serpent (nahash). They are like the deaf cobra (peten) that stops its ear which will not heed the voice of charmers, charming ever so skillfully."

Black desert cobra mentioned in Isaiah 11

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Black Desert Cobra mentioned in Isaiah 11

But in Isaiah's vision of the idyllic reign of Jesse's offspring when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, "the nursing child shall play by the cobra's (peten) hole. (Isaiah 11:8)
The carpet viper or ef'eh in Hebrew changes color according to region with its color ranging from grey-brown to orange-red.  Its back can be yellow to reddish brown with lighter spots whose borders are black.  Near Eilat in the south of Israel, some red-brown and purple carpet vipers have been spotted.

Carpet Viper or Ef'eh found between or under rocks

Courtesy of Migron at Wikipedia Commons

Poisonous Carpet Viper or Ef'eh found between or under rocks

They are found in all rocky regions like the Gilboa mountains, the Jordan valley, the Negev and En Gedi. They hide during the day between the rocks and emerge in the cooler evenings.  Their maximum length is one meter.
The carpet viper eats small rodents, lizards, crabs and insects.  In some populated areas they have become accustomed to eating green toads which congregate in puddles, irrigation drips and sewerage streams. 
The prophet Isaiah compares the carpet viper to those who are separated from the Almighty – that "he who eats of their eggs dies and from that which is crushed a viper breaks out." (Isaiah 59:5)

The carpet viper is mentioned in Isaiah and in Job

Courtesy of Migron at Wikipedia Commons

The carpet viper (Echis coloratus in Latin) is mentioned in Isaiah and in Job

The prophet Job mentions both the peten (cobra) and ef'eh (viper) in one breath.   In Job 20:16 the wicked man "will suck the poison of cobras and the viper's tongue will slay him."  Oh my!! Let's not be wicked!
The Palestinian viper, named tzefa in the Bible and Vipera Palaestinae in Latin, is the most common poisonous snake found in Israel.  It has a triangular shaped head because of its large prominent poisonous glands on each side.  It is found in northern and central Israel.  In populated areas during hot weather, it enters homes to hide in cool shady places.  The Palestinian viper is active at night.
The Palestinian viper is the most common poisonous snake found in Israel

Courtesy of Eren Finkle at Wikipedia Commons

The Palestinian viper is the most common poisonous snake found in Israel

Its maximum length is 1.35 meters.  It has a relatively wide body with a short tail.  It's body is yellowish with brownish fragmented wavy zigzag stripes.  (My good friend Miriam who found one on her porch described the background color as a bright mustard yellow.)  If the markings on the back of the snake are connected together, then the snake is a poisonous tsefa

The Palestinian viper has dark brownish wavy zigzag stripes on its yellowish body

Courtesy of Eren Finkle at Wikipedia Commons

The Palestinian viper has dark brownish wavy zigzag stripes on its yellowish body

I've heard that it's not aggressive but don't ever try holding it. Even when held in the accepted manner, it can manage to bite the holder by extending one of its venom teeth sideways and lashing its head rapidly sideways and backwards.

Isaiah referred to the Palestinian viper in his prophecy against the Philistines

Courtesy of Guy Haimowitz at Wikipedia Commons

Isaiah referred to the Palestinian viper in his prophecy against the Philistines

Isaiah used images of three different kinds of snakes when he prophesized against the Philistines.  "Do not rejoice, all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken, from the root of that snake will spring up a viper (tzefa).  Its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent."  Isaiah 14:29
The shefifon or Persian horned viper buries itself in the southern desert areas, coiled in loose sands.  It is so covered in sand that often only its eyes protrude marked by two scaly little horns above the eyes.  It is light yellow with brownish grey faded cross stripes.  Its maximum length is only 80 centimeters.  Its Latin name is Pseudocerastes persicus. 

The Persian horned viper buries itself coiled in loose sands in desert areas

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Persian horned viper buries itself coiled in loose sands in desert areas

The tribe of Dan is compared to this hidden viper.  "Dan shall be a serpent (nahash) by the way, a viper by the path (shefifon) that bites the horse's heels so that its rider shall fall backward."  (Genesis 49:17)

The tribe of Dan. lying in ambush, is compared to the Persian horned viper

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The tribe of Dan. lying in ambush, is compared to the Persian horned viper

The horned viper lies in wait for its prey under a bush or in the sand.  Jacob's prophecy about Dan may relate to its location along the dangerously vulnerable border with the Philistines or perhaps to the tribe's strategic position close to the main trade routes.  Recently while researching Samson, I read that perhaps this verse compares Samson, a son of the tribe of Dan, to the horned viper – both attacked their adversaries alone.
So the serpent and viper are portrayed as threatening symbols of venom, evil and temptation.  Yet in one instance, in Matthew 10:16 Jesus uses the image of the snake in a somewhat positive way. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."  Here we are back to the image of the snake in the Garden of Eden.  "Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made." (Genesis 3:1)
 

Serpent and viper are threatening symbols of venom, evil and temptation

Courtesy of Adam Matan in Wikipedia Commons

Serpent and viper are threatening symbols of venom, evil and temptation

Whether it's snake, serpent, viper, cobra or asp, fear not.  You won't see any of these on your holy land pilgrimage.  (Unless that is, you go to visit my friend Miriam!  See below)  Instead, you will see donkeys, goats, sheep, rock hyrax, camels, ibex, storks, ravens and gazelles.  As you travel along the holy land highways and byways, you will constantly praise the sovereign Lord Almighty for his wondrous creations.

Copyright 2019 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Read about the balsam of En Gedi, a popular antidote to snake bites in biblical days.  It may have been the biblical Balm of Gilead which healed the body and the soul....
Gila Yudkin who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David's court, has not yet seen a poisonous holy land snake.  Even though she has been guiding for nearly forty years!  She did however see a snake while in the Sistine Chapel on a recent visit to the Vatican in Rome.  She gasped when she realized that Michelangelo had painted the serpent coiled around the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden with the head of a woman!!
Although Gila has never seen a poisonous holy land snake, her good friend Miriam just last month faced a Palestinian viper.  During an outrageous heat wave, the viper was coiled around a large clay pot on her porch in a Jerusalem suburb!  But not to worry.  She called a professional snake catcher who arrived within twenty minutes!

A biblical Palestinian viper and a 21st century snake catcher

Photo:  Miriam Feinberg Vamosh

A swinging 21st century poisonous biblical snake just outside Jerusalem

 
Postscript: In response to Gila's highlight on holy land venomous snakes, Sonja Stroud from Ramsgate Kwazulu Natal, South Africa wrote to her, 
"It is no wonder that Jesus used the image of vipers to describe the sliminess of Pharisees and Sadduces in Matthew 3:7, "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadduces coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?' "
 
"Let's not get bitten by poisonous biblical snakes" (as text without the photos) is one in a series of free quarterly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" or to respond to a web article, please contact Gila. 
 

Gila holding a cobra in Delhi India

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Gila with snake charmer and holding a cobra in Delhi, India

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GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
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