The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized

James H. Charlesworth, Author . Yale Univ. $45 (719p) ISBN 978-0-300-14082-8

Despite its imposing size and the reputation of its author as a formidable scholar (Charlesworth is a professor of New Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of more than 60 books), this book is a surprisingly readable treatment of all things snake in religious iconography and literature of the ancient Near East. Beginning with the question: why would Jesus be equated to a serpent in the New Testament gospel of John when serpents get such a bad rap (isn’t the Eden snake a symbol of Satan, after all?), Charlesworth goes on to show, in great and well-documented detail, how much more nuanced serpent imagery was in the ancient Near East and in the Bible itself. This includes an excellent treatment of popular assumptions about that Eden snake and the problems with such assumptions. When Charlesworth returns at the book’s end to his initial question, readers can appreciate how powerfully positive the ostensibly puzzling gospel image is. The book could have been better edited to remove some repetition, and it occasionally assumes specialized knowledge, but Charlesworth offers a fascinating treatment overall. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/11/2010
Release date: 03/01/2010
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Hardcover - 608 pages - 978-0-385-49696-4
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