Biblical Archaeology Review 33:2, March/April 2007

The Mystery Nechushtan

Why did King Hezekiah of Judah destroy the bronze serpent that Moses had fashioned to protect the Israelites?

By Hershel Shanks

After all, it had been fashioned by Moses himself a half millennium earlier—and for good purpose.

In the Biblical passage that tells us what Hezekiah did, we learn of several other things the late-eighth century B.C.E. king destroyed: “He abolished the high places (or shrines; Hebrew bamot) and smashed the pillars (or sacred pillars; Hebrew matzevot) and cut down the sacred pole (or post; Hebrew asherah). He also broke into pieces the bronze serpent (Nechushtan)” (2 Kings 18:4).

All but the Nechushtan (which is simply Hebrew for “serpent” or “snake”) are quite understandable, especially in terms of Hezekiah’s well-known religious reform aimed at centralizing worship in the Jerusalem Temple. But the Nechushtan? What is it doing here?

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.