Exodus 7:11-12 (ESV):

11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.

What kind of "secret arts" were the magicians of Egypt possibly exercising that would allow them to turn staffs into serpents? Can secular history shed any light on the kinds of occult practices that the Egyptians or contemporary cultures at the time used to practice? Were miracles like that of Exodus 7:11-12 believed to be possible and/or claimed to have happened in Ancient Egypt, according to historical records?

For the interested reader (in case this question ends up getting closed): mirror question on History.SE.

  • Absolutely. Recent findings related to ancient Mesopotamia also reflect the power of their gods. And, the gods of Egypt that Moses encounters ‘through’ Pharaoh had the same origin. The Egypt/Egyptians in the days of Moses were Amorites, and were of Mesopotamian origin. These gods were the ‘sons of god’ referenced in Deuteronomy 32, angels, and had real supernatural ability.
    – Dave
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 22:56

1 Answer 1


This is a common interpretation of how the magicians did it.

In fact, to this day Egyptian snake charmers practice the deception of turning a rod into a serpent. They are able to induce catatonic rigidity in the native cobra by exerting strong pressure on a nerve just below its head. In this state, the snake assumes a rodlike appearance and can even be handled by onlookers. The jolt it receives when thrown to the ground restores its mobility. -- Sarna, N. M. (1991). Exodus (p. 37). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

Note that Moses grabbed the serpent by the tail, distinguishing him from the magicians.

2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand. (Exodus 4:2–4, ESV)

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