[Milton-L] Serpents and their coloring

Nancy Rosenfeld rosenfeld.n at gmail.com
Sat Nov 1 03:32:44 EDT 2014

Dear Jeffery,

Thanks for raising the question of traditions as to serpents' coloring (and
for posting the link to the tapestry).

Actually we can start with the Hebrew Bible itself, focusing on Numbers
21:6-9, which tells how the Deity sent "fiery serpents" (KJV) to bite
people as punishment for speaking "against the Lord." In response to Moses'
prayer, God instructs him to "make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a
pole." Moses "made a serpent of brass" and held it aloft; everyone who had
been bitten and looked on the brass serpent was able to live.

[In Hebrew the above is a play-on-words, since nahash (serpent) and
nehoshet (brass in KJV; copper in the Jewish Publication Society
translation) come from the same 3-letter root. There's also a problem
understanding saraf - the word translated as fiery. I looked at 2
commentaries on these verses - Rashi and Ramban - but couldn't get much out
of them - my fault; I'm not a biblical scholar.]

But whichever metal the serpent was made of - brass or copper: both brass
and copper, especially when held aloft with the strong desert sun shining
on them, would probably have a fiery color which is a combination of red
and gold (and fire itself is often pictured by combining red and

Hope this helps,

Dr. Nancy Rosenfeld
Max Stern College of Jezreel Valley, 19300, Israel
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