Bronze figure of a serpent which was broken in pieces by Hezekiah at the beginningof his reign (II Kings xviii. 4). It was identified with the bronze serpent raised by Moses in the desert in order to heal the Israelites from the bites of the poisonous serpents to which they were exposed (Num. xxi. 4-10). The Rabbis regarded the word "Nehushtan" as in the dual number, and believed that sacrifice to it involved the loss both of the present and of the future life (Midr. Esfah in Yalḳ., Num. 764). In the baraita Ber. 10b, which was incorporated in the Mishnah (Pes. iv. 8), the additional information is given that the destruction of the bronze serpent was applauded by the people.
Modern exegesis holds two different opinions in regard to the meaning of the word "Nehushtan," which is explained either as denoting an image of bronze, and as entirely unconnected with the word "naḥash" (serpent), or as a lengthened form of "naḥash" (comp. νεεσθάν in the Septuagint), and thus as implying that the worship of serpents was of ancient date in Israel. The assumption that the tradition about "Nehushtan" is not older than the time of Hezekiah is, however, not contested.
- Schenkl, Bibellexikon, s.v. Schlange;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. s.v. Schlange;
- Hastings, Dict. Bible.