Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "The Curse on the Serpent"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world byJSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 




In the third edition of his commentary on Genesis (Gottingen, 
1910) p. 20 Gunkel translates the last line of the Curse on the 
Serpent : He may tread upon thy head, and thou may est snap at 
his heel. In the Notes he states, Gressmann had called his 
attention to the fact that we had here a paronomasia: in the 
first hemistich the verb silf meant to tread down; in the second, 
to snap. I pointed out more than 33 years ago (BAL 102)^ 
that we had a play upon words in the last line of the Protevan- 
gelium, adding that I failed to see M'hy suf could not have two 
different meanings in the two hemistichs; the Heb. verb suf, 
to tread under foot, was connected with Assyr. sepu, foot, and 
iesufeka ros meant he will crush thy head. My explanation is 
recorded in n. 157 of Casanowicz's Paronomasia in the OT 
(JBL 12, 160). In the same year (1893) I published a Note 
on the Protevangelium in JHUC, No. 106, p. 107. I showed 
there that we have in Assyrian a Piel ustp, he crushed. In the 
last line of the additions to iv R^ 15, col. 1 (c/. CT 16, 43, 1. 63) 
we read : nise mdti usipu, they crushed the people of the land, 
just as 55 has in Ps. 94 :5 'ammdk lahue iesufun for M. 'ammekd 
lahue iedakke'u, they crush Thy people, Jhvh ; cf. Lam. 3 : 
34 : le-ddkke tdht ragldu kol-aslre 'drg, to crush under his feet 
all the prisoners of the land, and Ps. 143 :3 : dikkd la'drg haiiati, 
he crushed my life to the ground. 

In the OT the verb sdf, he crushed, is generally spelled plene 
with an Aleph (GK § 72, p). In the gloss Am. 2:7^ we must 
read: Has-sdfim Id-afdr dallim ye-darok 'dnuiim la-' drg, who 
crush the poor to the dust, and tread the humble to the ground. 
Be-ros is a gloss to sdfim as in Gen. 3 :15 ; for the prefixed he- 
see JBL 32, 112, n. 19 ; 113, n. 23 ; contrast WP 217, iii. For 

' For the abbreviations see vol. 34 of this Journal, p. 41. 


'al-'afar read la-' afar, and for drg read la-'arg which must be 
inserted after 'anauim (read 'anunm). For Id-' afar and la-'drg 
see JBL 29, 97, n. 12 ; 3Iic. 77, 1. 6. lattu after 'dnauitn in 
Am. 2 :7'' is dittograpliy of iattu in the following verse. In Am. 
8:4 we must read: Sim'u-zot has-sdfim dhion it-massikmi 
la-'dnuie 'drg, Hear this, ye wlio crush the poor, extortioners 
of the humble in the land ! Secondary and tertiary additions 
to this passage are preserved in 5 :10-12 and 9 :13-15. The la- 
of M iie-la-shU must be prefixed to tlie following word (c/. Deut. 

Tlie scripUo plena of sdf, he crushed, must not be confounded 
with sa'df, he snapped, snuffed, snorted, panted, puffed, blew. 
In my paper on the Semitic roots qr, kr, xr (AJSL 23, 248) I 
explained this stem as an old causative of af, nose. I have sub- 
sequently noticed that Tuch in his commentary on Genesis 
(Halle, 1871) p. 70 assumed a connection between sa'af and 
anaf. In Ethiopic, af means, not nose, but mouth (NBSS 174). 
The n in Eth. and Arab, anf, nose, may be secondary as it is in 
Aram, qendt = Heb. quQ {Nah. 31, beloAv) . In Assyrian, appu 
means, not only nose, but also face, Syr. dppe, Heb. appdini; 
cf . our to nose = to face. The original meaning of both pa, 
mouth (AJSL 22, 258) and af, nose, is blower, respiratory 
organ: pa expresses expiration, and af, inspiration; cf. our 
exclamations pooh, puff, ouf, and our privative to blow = to 
put out of breath. 

In iv K- 19, 46'' we find : nakru dannu kima qani edi usipdni, 
the mighty foe has crushed me like a single reed {cf. Halevy's 
translation in EP 11, 160). The reading udisanni (Zimmern, 
Busspsalmen, p. 57, 1. 55) is unwarranted; see Pinches' auto- 
graphed text in BOE 1, 22. SGI 240 reads instead of supu, 
to crush, suhhu, to knock down, overpower, but GB^" 815* gives 
now Assyr. sdpu, to overpower. The inf. Piel is supu = suiiupu, 
not suppu or suhhu (AJSL 1, 180, n. 1). 

Syr. suf. to rub, is not connected with Assyr. sepu, foot, but 
with Assyr. sipu, grease (cf. BL 128) = Syr. seidfd, salve, paste 
(AJSL 26, 16). The stem of Assyr. septi, foot, would appear 
in Syriac, not as suf, but as tuf. Assyr. sipu, wooden lining 
or boarding, corresponds to Heb. sahif (Ezek. 41:16) which 
means covered, wainscoted (GB^" 781"). The noun suhu in 


the phrase ktma suhe usnd'il (HW 645^") is the Syr. saitba in 
rulia de-sduba, simoom, sand storm (EB" 18, 181") from sub, 
to be scorched by a hot wind. A byform of supu, to tread, 
is suppu (or subbu, HW 637) from a stem tertice i, correspond- 
ing to Arab. Mlfd- The participle sdpu means conqueror. 

Jensen combines Assyr. septh, foot, with Heb. pasd' , to step 
(GB^*^ 664''). This is possible from a phonetic point of view: 
Assyr. sepu could stand for sa'pu, with transposition of the 'Ain, 
just as Assyr. zenu, to be angry (= zand' u) corresponds to Heb. 
za'dm, the 'Ain being transposed, and n representing a par- 
tial assimilation of m to z (AJSL 26, 3, below). I prefer, how- 
ever, to adhere to Guyard's combination of Assyr. sepu, foot, 
with Arab. utfUah or itfiiah, tripod, or stand set upon a fire, 
especially the stones on which a pot is set (ZDMG 58, 632). 
They were regarded as the feet of the caldron. In the Song of 
Deborath we find this stem in the form mispatdim which does 
not mean sheepfolds, but hearths (WF 204, n. 44; JAOS 34, 
422) : Reuben dwelt at the fire-places to listen to pastoral flutes. 

W. R. Smith showed in his Lectures on the Religion of the 
Semites (1894) p. 377 that Topheth, the place of sacrifice in the 
Valley of Hinnom, represented an Aramaic form of this stem, 
with the vowels of bost, shame {Kings 294, 28). The original 
pronunciation may have been tefdt, and the genuine Hebrew 
form would have been sefdt, a form like mendt, part, or qecdt, 
end. In Syriae, iefdjid (or tcfdid; Noldeke, Syr. Gr.- 
§ 79, A) denotes a three-legged caldron or kettle, or hearth; 
this cannot be derived from cfd, to bake. The Hebrew 
verb safut, to set a pot on the fire, is denominative.^ Also the 
noun aspot, which is generally mistranslated dung-hill, belongs 
to the same stem ; the correct meaning is ash-heap, and the pri- 
mary connotation is fire-place. In the Song of Hannah (ZDMG 
58, 621) we must translate: 

From dust He raises the lowly, from the ash-heap He lifts up the needy. 

In nomad life the fire place of one day is the ash-heap of the 
next (W. R. Smith, I. c). 

' The feminine t (JAOS 28, 115) appears here as third stem-consonant as 
in Aram. Mt, to spend the night, from bait, house (AJSL 22, 259) and 
qassatd, archer. 


This root appears in Arabic, not only as tdfd with final u or 
i, but also as udtafa and dtafa. The second form dttafa signifies 
to set a pot on a tripod or three stones, like Heb. safdt and Arab. 
udtafa, but the first form means to persecute. Also the stem 
tdfd (with final u or i) has the same meanings in the first and 
second forms. The original signification is to foot. This may 
mean to strike with the foot, to kick, or to fix firmly on the feet, 
to set up, or to go on foot, to walk. In Bavaria the reflexive 
sich fussen is used for to he niwible-footed, to run with speed. 
In the same way istaqsequn, they speed, race, rush, run {Nah. 
25) is connected with soq, leg, and Heb. pdrd, mule, is derived 
from a denominative verb parddu, to leg = to run nimbly, from 
Assyr. puredu, leg, originally fork, crotch (HK 130) from the 
stem parad, to part (c/. the Chaucerian cleft). Assyr. puredu, 
leg and runner = messenger, is the prototype of our palfrey = 
German Pferd (cf. Nah. 41; GB^" 657"). In Assyrian we have 
both parddu and rapddu, and in Syriac and Hebrew this stem 
appears as raddf (AJSL 32, 64). Cf. Syr. itradddf, to be hur- 
ried and to be put to flight, lit. to be caused to run ; cf. Lev. 26 : 
36: ue-raddf otdm qol 'ale nidddf, the sound of a shaken leaf 
will chase them. Heb. raddf means to chase, pursue, perse- 
cute, but the original meaning is to run; therefore raddf is often 
construed with ahre, after. See the fourth paragraph of my 
paper on Shalman and Beth-arhel in BA 10, part 2. 

The Heb. verb suf is derived from a noun for foot correspond- 
ing to Assyr. sepu. In the last line of the Curse on the Ser- 
pent this denominative verb does not mean to tread under foot, 
to crush, but to tread on the heels of, i. e. to track, stalk, hunt 
down, waylay, seek to injure, persecute. 3 has correctly in the 
last hemistich insidiaberis. P. v. Bohlen, Genesis (Konigs- 
berg, 1835) p. 42 rendered in both hemistichs trachten nach (so, 
too, Dillmann, Gen."). J. D. Michaelis (1775) translated: 
dieser wird deinem Kopfe, und du wirst seinen Fersen naeh- 

The meaning to persecute (Arab, dttafa, tdffd) suits not only 
the last two hemistichs of the Protevangelium, but also the two 
other passages in which this verb occurs. In Job 9 :17 we must 

' ♦'^ip fW'-'D p^xx-N*? 'm'n 'nay D^<^ 
: D-jn ♦i^vd' n^nm ♦J£3i£5'» ny^:i -\m 


If I called, would He answer my call 1 
I trow not He would heed my voice ; 

For He would pursue me with a storm, 

and increase my wounds without cause. 

In Ps. 139 :11 we have : 

If I thought that darkness would stalk me, 
night would be daylight about me. 

The translation to fall on, to assail, suggested in Priedrich 
Delitzsch's Hiob, p. 150, is inaccurate. 

The Curse on the Serpent consists of two triplets with 2 + 2 
beats in each line. Skinner, Genesis (1910) p. 78, says, The 
form of the oracle is poetic ; but the structure is irregular, and 
no definite metrical scheme can be made out.^ In the second 
line u-mik-kol liaiidt has-sade after mik-kol hai-iehemd is 
scribal expansion based on the first line of the chapter, ue-han- 
nalms haid 'arum mik-kol liaiidt has-sade. Stade (ZAT 17, 
209) advocated excision of mik-kol hab-behemd u; but mik-kol 
hah-hehemd includes all animals, both wild and domestic. The 
preposition min in this case does not mean more than all, but 
singled out from, i. e. thou alone of all animals; cf. my trans- 
lation of Am. 3 :2 in TOCR 1, 269. The phrase thou wilt eat 
dust (bite the dust) means thou wilt be prone on the ground or 
thou ivilt grovel. We use to bite the dust for to fall, be thrown, 

' The view that not only the poetical and prophetical books, but also the 
historical books of the OT were metrical was advanced more than sixty 
years ago by Archdeacon Leopold Haupt, of Gorlitz. An abstract of his 
investigation Vber die Metrik und Musilc der Gesdnge des Alien lestck- 
ments is printed in vol. 54 of the Neue Lmmtsische Magaein, but the manu- 
script was completed in 1853; see p. 5 of Leopold Haupt 's preliminary 
publication (Leipzig, 1854) cited by Franz Delitzsch in his Psalmen', p. 
28, n. 1. The report on the iiftieth meeting of the OherlausiUer Gesell- 
scliaft der Wissenschaften, Feb. 5, 1861, states that vol. 31 of the Neue 
Lausitgische Magazin (Gorlitz) records the fact that during the winter 
1853/4 Archdeacon Haupt delivered some lectures on ancient Hebrew 
poetry, in which he tried to show that the historical books of the OT were 
metrical. See now Sievers, Metrischo Siudien (Leipzig, 1901) p. 379, § 249 
(ef. also p. 78) and Die hebr. Genesis (Leipzig, 1904) p. 163 (cf. IN vii; 
TLZ 32, 630; Cornill 's Einleitung'', p. 15, below). 



vanquished. J. D. Michaelis compared the German phrase ins 
Gras heissen = to fall, to die. Grotius (1644) cited Mic. 7 :17 ; 
Ps. 72:9; Is. 49:23, and Vogel (1775) added: Haec loca claris- 
sime docent dictionem terram comedere nil aliud significare 
quam toto corpore in terram projectum esse (cf. 31ic. 42, n. 10). 

The last clause of v. 14, kol-jeme haiieka, should stand at the 
end of the second line, not at the end of the third. For ic-ben 
ha-'issd in the fourth line we must read u-henah; ros and 
'aqeh in the last line (GK^* § 117, 11) are secondary additions. 
There is no connection between the verb Mf in this passage and 
the noun sefifon in Gen. 49 :17 ; this word must be derived from 
Aram, saff, to crawl; cf. Delitzsch, Gen. (1887) p. 106, n. 1. 

The two triplets should be read as follows : 

-IQXn 14 

n'm n^'Ki 15 

2r>j (£) tyxi ((5) nm 15 (y) mij'n n^n Saai (/?) d'hSn u (a) 

This may be translated as follows : 
14 Jhvh" said to the Serpent : 

Since thou hast done this 

Of all the beasts/3 

Thou shalt crawl on thy belly, 

15 I '11 put enmity 

Between thy progeny 
They will persecute thee,5 

thou art accursed 

all the days of thy life . 

biting the dust j } . 

between thee and her,7 

and her progeny ; 

thou wilt persecute them.e 

(a) 14 God 
(7) 15 woman 

(/3) and of all the wild animals 
(S) head (e) heel 

The persecution of serpents on the part of man is supposed 
to be due to an atavistic belief that snakes lie in wait for all 


human beings, although very few poisonous snakes will follow a 
man and attack him when he retreats (EB'^'^ 25, 287^).* Danger- 
ous snakes generally keep away from inhabited places. Most 
people have an instinctive dread of snakes and a longing to 
destroy them, even if they are harmless. Some people in Europe 
even think that the small lizard, commonly known as blind- 
worm or slow-worm, is noxious. The Hebrew name of the gecko, 
semamit (more correctly sammamit) means poisonous; the 
geckos are commonly regarded as poisonous, although they are 
harmless and useful ; see my paper on Arab, samm poison = 
Sumer. sem, apwfm in BA 10, part 2. 

A communication (by T. G. Dabney) to Science (reprinted 
in the Literary Digest, Feb. 19, 1916, p. 431) states that the 
great majority of the snakes to be encountered in this country 
are entirely innocuous, yet any intelligent person when unex- 
pectedly brought into close proximity to any kind of snake, 
large or small, venomous or non-venomous, or even a semblance 
of a snake, is suddenly seized by a panic of horror and fear, 
with an impulse to spring away out of the serpent's reach as 
quickly as possible in a sort of blind terror. According to 
Mr. Dabney the probable origin of this instinctive horror of 
serpents, that still dominates the mind of civilized man, was 
during the countless generations when early man was slowly 
climbing up from his animal ancestry to his present eminence 
as Homo sapiens. Being without fire, and without clothing and 
shelter, he was peculiarly defenseless in an environment beset 
by deadly serpents against this, probably the greatest danger and 
greatest menace to racial survival that he had to encounter. 
Hence his instinctive horror of the serpent form. Among the 
inhabitants of India at the present time the annual mortality 
from attacks of serpents exceeds 20,000, notwithstanding the 
efforts of the British authorities to suppress the evil (EB" 
25, 287). 

Mr. Dabney 's theory has been contested by the director of 
the International Herpetological Society, Allen S. Williams, 
who states that he can refer to tests innumerable with small 
children from two years of age upwards who showed no signs 

*BB" 22, 920a states. Every snake prefers being left alone to being 
forced to bite. 


of fear of serpents, but readily handled them, and were loath 
to part with pets which evidently pleased them. Mr. Williams 
thinks that the fear of serpents cherished by many adult human 
beings in the temperate zone on this hemisphere is chiefly due 
to the absorption of misinformation imparted to them in child- 
hood by their elders who in turn were similarly misled (see Lit. 
Digest, April 8, 1916, p. 966). 

This is no doubt true to a certain extent, but the fear of ser- 
pents is evidently based on the experience that the bite of some 
serpents is fatal. In a recent letter to the New York Times Mr. 
Williams emphasizes the fact that the average serpent is the 
most gentle and timid animal alive. Of all wild creatures ser- 
pents of most species are more quickly tamed and accustomed 
to proximity of human beings and contact with them than any 
creature, whether it wears scales, fur, fins, or feathers (c/. the 
Baltimore News, July 3, 1916, p. 6, col. 1). 

Serpents abound in Palestine, and several species are highly 
venomous, but deaths from snake-bites are rare (cf. Baedeker's 
Paldstina,'' p. liii). In the Story of Paradise the serpent sym- 
bolizes carnal desire, sexual appetite, concupiscence (see JBL 
34, 75). 

Johns Hopkins University. ^^'^^ Haupt.