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Moses’ Brazen Serpent

Publishing Date : 14 May, 2019

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER


It was his symbol of Pharaonic authority way back in Egypt

Moses’ divorce from Miriam, his half-sister wife, took place at Hazeroth. From there, the Israelites moved to Rithmah  just slightly further north  within the broader Kadesh-Barnea  region, also known as the Wilderness of Zin or the  Wilderness of Paran,  but towards the border with Edom.


Here, Adad, the Anunnaki Jehovah of the exodus, ordered Moses to spy out the land he had pledged to the Israelites – Canaan. This gesture was crucial if they had to know the strength of the enemy and acquaint with the fertility and vegetation of the land they would eventually come to possess.Moses assembled a crack 12-man espionage team, one from each tribe. The team was led by Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb from the tribe of Judah.


They were instructed to survey the Promised Land from the Negev Desert in the south to the “hill country” in the north (where the Jebusites, Hittites, and Amorites were concentrated).  The spies were expected to bring back with them specimens of crops that flourished in that land just to assure the doubting Thomases among the Israelites that the place of their bequest was indeed worthwhile, that it was worth dying for in the inevitable and in fact looming land-grab war.


The mission took 40 days to complete, which was reasonable for a rather spare piece of territory that was 240 km long and 96 km wide. The spy scouts were impressed with the fecundity and greenery of the Promised Land, which those days was not as arid as it is today. Particularly noteworthy was the valley of Eshcol, whose lush hillsides were awash with figs, grapes, and pomegranates. The fruits were so humongous in our time that would only be possible if they were GMOs, that is, genetically modified foods. 


A single cluster of grapes, for instance, had to be carried not by one person but two. When the scouts returned, they, on that basis alone, gave a very good report to Moses which was in affirmation of the fact that the Promised Land was the utopia it was touted as. “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” Sadly, that was the only good news they had in store for their compatriots. The rest was far from encouraging. Exactly what was that and what followed thereafter?

ADAD PRONOUNCES 40 YEARS OF PENAL WANDERINGS ON HIS PEOPLE

The scouts reported that most of the Canaanite cities were fortified. They were surrounded by walls as much as 20 feet thick and 25 feet high, with guards stationed on watchtowers. One city in particular struck fear in the hearts of the scouts. This was Hebron, as the Israelites would later call it, but at the time it was known as Kiriath Arba. Hebron was inhabited by a race of giants known as the Anakim, from whom the infamous Goliath arose. 


The Anakim, we have long learnt, were also known as the Nephilim, the offspring resulting from intermarriages between Earthling women and the Igigi, the space-based Anunnaki.  “We saw giants there, the descendants of the Anakim,” the scouts recounted. “All the people we saw were huge. Next to them, we were like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought too. We can’t go up against them: They are way stronger than us.”


There was yet another black mark against the Promised Land, the scouts reported. It   “devoured those living in it”, meaning it was prone to earthquakes, an observation which indeed had merit 
as Israel sits along the Syrian-African fault line, which runs along the border with Jordan. It is part of the Great Rift Valley that extends from northern Syria to Mozambique. The broader region has consistently experienced large-scale earthquakes every 80 to 100 years for centuries and a number of less deadlier ones in-between. About 30 years before the exodus, in 1365 BC, a serious earthquake had hit the Holy Land.


When news of the scouts’ report seeped through, a loud lamentation went up from the community of Israel in a manner akin to a mass funeral. They accused Moses and Aaron for setting them up so they ended up in the lion’s den and told the duo to their face that they would no longer recognise them as their leaders but would instead elect a new leader who would take them back to Egypt. When Joshua and Caleb took the floor and tried to reassure the people that contrary to the testimony of the other ten scouts the Israelite army was capable of defeating the Anakim in that they had an all-powerful god in Adad, the people thought the two were raving mad and even braced to have them stoned.


Having gotten wind of these goings-on, a livid Adad summoned Moses and there and then read the riot act. He said he was going to disinherit the Israelites, that is, disown them, since they were incapable of trusting him despite the many “wondrous” feats he had performed on their behalf.  Prostrating himself before Adad, Moses implored against this extreme measure, arguing all too vehemently that Adad would lose face in the eyes of the  Egyptians if he so did as he would come across to them as a capricious and feckless  god who left his people in the lurch after having brought them this far.


To his credit, Adad relented upon hearing Moses’ entreaties. However, he made two comeuppance pronouncements nonetheless. First, all the ten scouts who filed the  negative report about the reconnaissance mission would be struck dead – for telling the truth (what a god!): only Joshua and Caleb, who spoke with an optimistic tone, would be spared. Second, he was going to banish the Israelites to endless, back-and-forth wanderings in the wilderness for 40 years, one year for each day of the duration of the espionage mission.


During the course of these 40 years, he would in one way or the other kill off those who were 20 years and older, save for the clans and offspring of Joshua and Caleb. Only the relations and progeny of Joshua and Caleb  would set foot in the Promised Land. On hearing this, the protesting elements changed tack. They now decided to detach from the Israelite contingent and invade Canaan on their own independent of Moses: that way, they would,  if successful,  avoid Adad’s diabolical scheme to systematically and methodically  erase them from the face of the earth. Sadly, they were  too few and as yet inexperienced.


BESIDES, THEY DID NOT HAVE THE ADDED BATTLEFIELD ADVANTAGE OF THE ALL-POWERFUL ARK OF THE COVENANT. They were soundly defeated and repulsed by the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Moses was gracious enough to welcome them back as they showed genuine penitence. Meanwhile, Adad made good on his promise to punish the ten spies whose negative report caused disquiet and panic among the Israelite population. He visited an unspecified  “plague” on them in which they all  perished. Exactly how Adad focused these plagues on his intended victims is a mystery.   

ADAD CONTINUES TO BARE HIS FANGS

Thus far, a pattern was emerging in relation to the dynamics between Adad, Moses, and the Nation of Israel.  The Israelites simply never learnt lessons despite the fact that Adad ruled them with an iron fist. They were an implacably stubborn lot.  The more Adad struck terror in their midst with his summary executions, the more hardened they became in  their resolve to defy him. It seemed they had become accustomed to witnessing terror wrought by their own god and therefore grown insensitive to it.


On his part, Adad was determined to exact retribution on them, sworn that he would never brook any nonsense. The slightest intimation of displeasure with him would be met by a disproportionately  but consistently heavy-handed response,  invariably capital punishment. If Adad’s killing spree was somewhat kept in check, it was thanks to the relative restraint forced upon him by Moses. Every time Adad pronounced doom on some ranks of the Israelites, Moses threw himself at his feet and begged him to either exercise mercy or show leniency.


Otherwise, had Moses been Adad’s yes-man through and through, his people would have long been decimated thanks to his god’s penchant for the perpetration of gloating evil. Moses, however, could only temper Adad’s excesses, not reverse them full circle.  Adad continued to unleash his cruelty and ferocity on his hapless people. To him,  if his chosen people did not learn lessons, that was all the more reason to hit them harder with each transgression.  

 
Four more killing episodes followed after Rithman while Moses was still their leader. The first concerned a man  who was found gathering wood on the Sabbath. Adad had decreed that no work of any kind must be done on the Sabbath. He ordered that the man be stoned to death, in line with EXODUS 35:2. The second had to do with what became known as Korah’s rebellion. Korah (a priest), two fellow ring leaders, and 250 others confronted Moses in a bid to impeach him for what they thought was his rather inept leadership.


Korah  was particularly disillusioned that the Promised Land wasn’t going to be had soon enough but it was now a thing of a very uncertain future considering what Adad had pronounced.  When Adad heard of what was happening, he had the three ring leaders “swallowed up by the ground on which they stood”. Again, this was no miracle. What simply happened was that they were frog-marched to a mudcrack site (which have a very hard crust but are very soft underneath, like thin ice on a pond, and abound in some parts of the Arabian desert especially around oases), where they were made to drown in the quicksand.


(It is clear the story was not exactly as related in the Book of Numbers. For example, NUMBERS 16:32 says the three died along with members of their families, but some of the psalms, which became fashionable during the reign of King David about three hundred years later, are attributed to the “sons of Korah”, suggesting they did not die along with their father).   Their  250 followers Adad terminated by strafing them with a fierce blaze from his flying saucer.


The following day, when the people swarmed in on Moses and set about accusing him of his being a supine accomplice of his god in the deaths of Korah and his loyalists, Adad sent a plague that killed 14,700 people. The third took place at a place known as Shittim, where the Israelites were camped, in the country of the Moabites. It so happened that some Israelite soldiers were plucking around with Moabite women. The Moabite  women not only lured the soldiers into a sex cult but enticed them into worshipping a Moabite god, that is,  an Enkite god. Once again, Adad had made it clear that “idolatory” would be punishable by death.  He ordered Moses to round up all the culprits and execute them in broad daylight. Altogether, 24,000 soldiers were killed.
     
MIRACLE OR MIRAGE?
 

Finally, there was the incident of the “snake bites”. The Israelites were en route to the Moabite country having set off from Mount Hor. The journey was an arduous one in that it was rather long-winded: they had to skirt the boundaries of Edom as the King of Edom had refused them permission to pass through his country. In the process, some among the Israelite army were so overcome with fatigue  they began to plot against Moses for bringing upon them such untold hardships.


The soldiers not only were famished, being sustained on the usual Tamarind manna, but they had parched throats owing to a dire shortage of water, as a result of which they grew nostalgic of  Egypt as they always were prone to do. According to the Pentateuch writers, Adad reacted by unleashing on them a swarm of highly venomous snakes in an incident that came to involve the famous Bronze Serpent and in which many soldiers are said to have succumbed to the snake bites.   



The story of the Bronze Serpent is one of the unseemliest of the Bible. It goes as follows according to NUMBER 21:4-9. “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;  they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 


So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people.  Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a  serpent of copper, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”     


The story has two major anomalies. First, Adad had forbidden the Nation of Israel from making graven images. So how could he have instructed Moses to make a simulacrum of a snake when ordinarily such a gesture would have carried a death penalty meted out by he himself? Second, THE SNAKE WAS THE SYMBOL OF ENKITE GODS, more so Enki, Marduk, and Ningishzidda. These not only were sworn Enlilite rivals but they were the butt of  Enlilite jokes. Every  time Enlil sneered at Marduk, for instance, he referred to him as “the Great Serpent”. So how could Adad have gotten Moses to exalt a clan of rival gods? It all simply defies logic. Given the aforesaid contrarieties, how do we explain the incident?
 
BRONZE SERPENT WAS MOSES’ PHARAONIC STAFF

First, although the Pentateuch writers cast the swarm of snakes as a miraculous plague Adad visited on the Israelites, that was far from the case. The place in which the Israelites were trekking through after a successful military campaign against the Canaanite king Arad was the Arovar Valley, just below the twin-peaked Mount Hor. THEN AS NOW, THE BROADER SETTING OF THIS AREA WAS INFESTED WITH SNAKES AND SCORPIONS.


In the 7th century, a log of the Assyrian army under King Esaharddon when campaigning in this area described it as “a remote district, a desert plain of salty land, a region of droughts, with snakes and scorpions which cover the soil like ants.” Indeed, DEUTERONOMY 8:14-15 underscores the naturalness of this snake phenomenon in the area in these words: “The LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint.”


This was Moses talking in his valedictory speech to the Nation of Israel. SO THE EVENT WAS PERFECTLY NATURAL: THE ISRAELITES JUST HAPPENED TO FIND THEMSELVES IN AN EXPANSE OF WILDERNESS RIDDLED WITH HIGHLY POISONOUS SNAKES AND SCORPIONS. If people were mass-beaten by snakes (as they slept mainly as the Arovar snakes can simply pop out of the sand and strike), then the necessity of their healing did certainly arise. Exactly how were they healed?


The Pentateuch writers would have us believe that once again, Adad performed a miracle, by having Moses raise up a bronze snake to which every victim of a snake bite simply had to look and instantly be restored to full health. That is  a stretching of the truth: it is an embellishment of  the facts of the matter.  You will be aware by now that among the exodus caravan were Egyptians. And among these Egyptians were trained healers, known in Egypt as the Theraputae.


As Egyptians, the Theraputae worshipped or venerated Enki, who alongside his genius son Ningishzidda was reputed as the god of healing.  IT WERE THE THERAPUTAE WHO SPRANG INTO ACTION AND ADMINISTERED THE ELIXIRS THAT NEUTRALISED THE SNAKE POISON. For the Theraputae to perform such a duty, they insisted that their god, Enki, had to be at least momentarily exalted in the circumstances that prevailed, whereupon Moses had no option but  to cave in.


Now, the medium of exaltation was not a bronze pole that had to be set up on the spur of the moment. MOSES IMPROVISED WITH HIS OWN PHARAONIC STAFF THAT HE HAD COME WITH FROM EGYPT.  A pharaonic staff  was the symbol of a Pharaoh’s authority and was topped with a snake sculpted in bronze. Thus as the ranks of the Theraputae were busy doing their medical rounds, Moses held up his pharaonic staff for every patient to symbolically gaze upon.


Sadly, the story over time was infused with godly and miraculous overtones so that even during the time of Hezekiah King of Judah 600 years later, the Israelites were paying religious homage to Moses pharaonic staff in commemoration of the Arovah “miracle healing”! But there is still more to the bronze snake symbolism. That we unpack next week.

NEXT WEEK:   COPPER AND ENKI

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