The Good and Evil Serpent

How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized

James H. Charlesworth

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March 23, 2010
744 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
102 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300140828
Cloth

Also Available in:
e-book

In a perplexing passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus is likened to the most reviled creature in Christian symbology: the snake. Attempting to understand how the Fourth Evangelist could have made such a surprising analogy, James H. Charlesworth has spent nearly a decade combing through the vast array of references to serpents in the ancient world—from the Bible and other religious texts to ancient statuary and jewelry. Charlesworth has arrived at a surprising conclusion: not only was the serpent a widespread symbol throughout the world, but its meanings were both subtle and varied. In fact, the serpent of ancient times was more often associated with positive attributes like healing and eternal life than it was with negative meanings.

This groundbreaking book explores in plentiful detail the symbol of the serpent from 40,000 BCE to the present, and from diverse regions in the world. In doing so it emphasizes the creativity of the biblical authors’ use of symbols and argues that we must today reexamine our own archetypal conceptions with comparable creativity.

James H. Charlesworth is George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, and director and editor of the Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls Project, Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of more than sixty books and six hundred articles. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

"In this masterpiece, the snake emerges from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and carries on an unending hostility to human kind in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation. This book is packed with data about this mysterious creature and backed by compelling evidence and argumentation. I recommend it unreservedly to any and all with an interest in this fascinating subject."—David Noel Freedman

“Charlesworth has done us all an immense service in pulling together evidence from around the world and through the ages of the crucial role snakes have played in the human story.”—James A. Sanders, Claremont School of Theology

"Making use of his vast knowledge in archaeology and ancient literature, Professor Charlesworth has written an outstanding research on serpent symbolism, which is certainly to become the standard book of reference to this topic in the years to come."—Adolfo Roitman, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

“Magnificent . . . Exposing the rich complexity of historic, symbolic, and religious meanings associated with serpents, this fascinating and comprehensive study is highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Magnificent . . . fascinating and comprehensive . . . highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Charlesworth provides indispensable material for anyone studying the symbolic use of snakes.”—Pheme Perkins, America

 

“Masterful”—Christianity Today (2011 Christianity Today Book Award, Biblical Studies category)

"Charlesworth gives a masterful account of the serpent that challenges common assumptions about its role in religious thought throughout the Ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world."—Christianity Today

"This book is a comprehensive account of the symbolic role of the serpent in both the biblical text and the surrounding cultures. Charlesworth gives a masterful account of the serpent that challenges common assumptions about its role in religious thought throughout the Ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world."—Christianity Today

“The Good and Evil Serpent is an unusual and rather quirky volume, resting on immense erudition in areas foreign to most biblical scholars.”—John Barton, Times Literary Supplement

"[The book's] importance lies . . . in the sheer amount of data assembled and assessed, the result of six years of searching for and collecting images and realia on the serpent, from approximately 40,000 BCE to the present, conveyed in an interesting way for an audience of broad colors and stripes. As such, it will become a very handy reference tool for Classicists and specialists in Near Eastern Studies, as well as Biblicists, while even lay persons will find his book accessible."—Isaac W. Oliver, International Journal of the Classical Tradition

"[A] very handy reference tool for Classicists and specialists in Near Eastern Studies, as well as Biblicists . . . even lay persons will find his book accessible."—Isaac W. Oliver, International Journal of the Classical Tradition

"[A] superb introduction to, and analysis of, ophidian symbolism and function in the ancient world."—Marvin A. Sweeney, Journal of American Academy of Religion

Tied winner of the 2011 Christianity Today Book Award in the Biblical Studies category sponsored by Christianity Today International
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