I'm reading 2 Kings 18:4 which references Numbers 21,
[Hezekiah] removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the ashera pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.
So the timeline is roughly like:
- 1250 BC for Numbers 21
- 950 BC for the United Monarchy of David and Solomon
- 750 BC for Hezekiah
Those deltas are 300 years and 200 years between intervals. Now here is the thing. This serpent on a pole was a "נחש" which is the kind of serpent first mentioned in Genesis 3:1. Now much of the scholarship I have read places the writing of the Eden story, amongst other contents of Genesis and Exodus, as during the period of Israelite power in the united monarchy. The Hebrew is fairly archaic compared to the Genesis 1 creation narrative which seems to be a product of Babylonian exile, for a variety of reasons.
Does this mean that the story of the serpent was written during a period of serpent worship in the temple? That Hezekiah had to drag out the serpent and pulverize it seems to imply that before Hezekiah ("until those days") the people had been making sacrifices to it.
Should this change how we read the Genesis 3 narrative? There is generally a perspective of negativity applied to the serpent in that story. Is that anachronistic? While the text doesn't specify a period of time other than "until those days", if serpent worship was part of the temple cult during the united monarchy (when Genesis 3 was written or written down) how might that inform our reading of Genesis 3? This even seems to wrap over to the nachash/serpent that was Moses' staff (a symbol of God's power). Was a serpent in a garden a positive image? A complex multivalent image?
Is our hermeneutic of the serpent as evil trickster some sort of anachronistic take? Was the "wise serpent" of Genesis 3:1 instead a positive symbol?