Truth, Understanding, Insight

Dragon, Year of the Snake & Snake Oil Healing

10th February 2013, hej


It is a matter of culture; one culture reveres snakes the other believes they have their place. In the matter of Dragons. In one culture mighty warriors are described as 'dragons', in another the mighty warrior defeats the dragon. But they may have the same source. It all has to do with the beginning, and cunning.

Dragon to Snake

Give or take some months, as the Chinese is a lunar year, 2012 was the year of the dragon, and 2013 the year of the snake. They have always been in that order, the snake following the dragon.

The dragon has a snake body, but has 4 legs with claws and a 'noble' head often with horns. It produces clouds from its nostrils, but is associated water. The dragon is the only one of 12 Chinese year symbols which is not a recognisable modern animal. Ancient sources speak of dragon bones in reference to dinosaurs and it is possible that the term may have been used to refer to the largest saltwater crocodile (wikipedia). This verse from Isaiah appears to describe well the Chinese conception of a Dragon.

In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. (Isaiah 27:1)

In many of these characteristics it matches the Leviathan in the book of Job. The book of Job pre-dates the books of Moses, and describes Job as a “man of the East”. The Semites at the time Abraham left to go to Canaan were furthest East.

Is there a case for the book of Job being known to the people of the East? In any case there is a shared understanding of a creature that does not appear to exist now that spans the length of the spice road.

But more than that the order of the Chinese zodiac matches the Hebrew's record of the dragon that becomes a snake. According to one source “Chinese dragons are actually cousins to snakes” ( The first Hebrew serpent had legs like a dragon and became a snake. In addition the serpent, like the dragon was 'subtil'.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, “Yea, has God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Genesis 3:1)

The Hebrew word 'arum' most often means 'cunning' or 'crafty' in a bad sense, but it also can mean 'prudent'. At this stage all had been made 'good' (Gen. 1:31) and the serpent had done no evil, so this speaking animal had shades of ability to think with more complexity than other animals.

It is precisely this characteristic that is thought to belong to the snake, even to modern days from tradition,

People born in the year of the snake are believed to be thoughtful and stylish yet complex characters. JPost

Complex is also 'subtle'.

After the events the serpent is cursed for its role and its lie leading to Eve's deception and Adam's sin. The serpent is first to be cursed.

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shall thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15)

In literal fact the snake is feared in many cases above other animals. It may indeed bite humans on the heel, to which the human will kill the snake by thumping it on the head. So much is the fear that some humans hit first before the snake has a chance to get near the heel. There is more to this we will return to, but the point for now is that what is described is that a dragon becomes a snake.

If Moses assembled texts which were once common to all people, then we can see how the account of the serpent became so important to both ends of the East. One basis but different conclusions. Is it possible if one culture that lost a part of the account, the bit about how humans sinned (which most humans don't want to know), and that the cleverness of the dragon was remembered? For the other that 'arum' cleverness came to mostly be though of as a 'bad' trait, as they were willing to remember their first father and mother were not great but sinned and failed.

Politics of the Snake year?

Still despite all even in China the snake is not loved, so some Chinese have worried about the snake as,

2001 was the year of the September 11 attacks and 1989 was when Chinese forces crushed pro-democracy protests around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.SMH

But two points is not a line, and one event was in the USA.

But there might be some issues with a nation who has the characteristics of dragon.

Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote you is broken [Assryia in context]: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. Isaiah 14:29

As yet we have not seen this event in modern times, as the very next event,

And the firstborn of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety:
and I will kill thy [Palestina's] root with famine, and he [flying serpent] shall slay thy remnant. Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed times. What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation?
“That the LORD has founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.” (Isaiah 14:30-32)

It is of note that China's rise comes at the same time the world has again a 'observer' nation at the UN called 'Palestine'. In some way a 'flying serpent' nation will cause consternation to 'Palestine.'

Is this China? Of all nations China is most associated with the snake.

The snake makes prosperity?

The BBC featured and article on “Visiting China's 'snake village' of Zisiqiao”

It is a sleepy village with a deadly secret. A couple of decades ago, locals in Zisiqiao made a living from farming and fishing. But now they rear snakes - among them pythons, vipers and cobras. There are three million snakes in total - leaving the locals outnumbered by the serpents by a ratio of almost 3,000 to one.
One snake is particularly feared here - the so-called "five-step snake". The snake is so deadly, say villagers, that if you are bitten the furthest you will get is five steps before dying.
..their sold to restaurants, and their body parts.. are highly sought after in traditional Chinese medicine.

But the part to note is how the 'deadly' snake brings 'prosperity',

"In the year of snake we hope our company's profits will double," says Yang Hongchang, the 61-year-old farmer who introduced snake breeding to the village decades ago.
"May the snake bring us prosperity and happiness.",
Mr Yang says he first caught wild snakes to cure a serious illness he suffered as a young man.

Then also another story,

On his snake farm, I met one young man who had travelled hundreds of miles for treatment.
He says he was bed-ridden for three years. But after taking snake medicine for several months, he claimed, he could now walk. "Snakes are my saviour," he said. "When I first came here I was scared of snakes but that's no longer the case."

Snake oil

Can the deadly snake indeed cure? Sadly for the reputation of snake for treatment, 'snake oil' is synonymous with deception and quackery. It appears, according to wikipedia, that Chinese labourers in America had some success with a snake oil liniment for joint pain, or at least were known for it. On this reputation a certain Clarke Stanley went about making great claims for his snake oil liniment, building a technique of having fake 'testimony' from the crowd. It seems he may have even had copyists. In 1917 Clarke Stanley's liniment was tested and found to have no snake oil and he was famously convicted 'of misbranding and misrepresenting' (wikipedia). While it was clear Stanley's oil had no benefit, the jury was still out on snake oil, however its reputation was tarnished in the Western world.

Whether snake oil as a liniment, to those who had confidence in it, worked with the placebo effect or had some real benefit seems still not known.

How the snake might cure

The Economist reported (Jan 5th, 2013) that Snake venom is being used to cure, rather than kill,

Plant poisons, from digitalis to curare, are routinely employed as drugs. And now it is the turn of animal toxins, as researchers examine venoms secreted by snakes and lizards, to see if they, too, might be turned into treatments.
Snake venom, collected from farmed reptiles, has been used to make antisera for snake bites for decades by injecting it into mammals such as sheep and horses, and collecting the antibodies thus generated.
In a paper published recently by Toxicon, they report how a protein called eristostatin, which can be extracted from the venom of the Asian sand viper, helps people’s immune systems fight malignant melanoma. ...One is that eristostatin has a particular affinity for melanoma cells, which presumably have a protein on their surfaces that is similar to the one which attracts eristostatin to platelets. The other observation is that when eristostatin is attached to a cell’s surface it attracts the attention of T-lymphocytes. These are immune-system cells whose job is to kill other body cells that have been infected with viruses, or which have turned cancerous. If melanoma cells could, in this way, be made especially attractive to T-lymphocytes, that might clear away the tumour completely.
If eristostatin does prove an effective means to treat cancer, it will join a growing stable of medicines derived from reptile toxins. Tirofiban, for instance, is a modified version of another anticoagulant—in this case from the venom of the African saw-scaled viper. It is given to people with angina, and also to those who have had heart attacks. Exenatide is the synthetic form of a hormone called exendin-4 that occurs naturally in the saliva of the Gila monster, a venomous North American lizard. It works as a treatment for type-2 diabetes because it increases insulin production in those whose blood-sugar levels are high. And captopril, a blood-vessel-relaxing agent widely used to treat hypertension, is based on teprotide, from Brazilian arrowhead vipers, which helps the other toxins in the venom circulate quickly, and thus reach their targets rapidly.
Perhaps the most astonishing toxin-derived drug of all, however, is hannalgesin, which is made from king-cobra venom. Kini Manjunatha of the National University of Singapore is developing this substance as a pain-relieving agent. economist

An article on a similar snake venom extract shows that all this is still has a long way to go,

contortrostatin, is a protein found solely in copperheads. Lab studies show the compound works as an elixir to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer cells.
Great news, right? Absolutely. All we have to do now is figure out how effective the compound really is on humans. So far it's just been tested in cell cultures and lab animals.
When used as an anti-cancer agent, it freezes the spread of cancer. And, it's believed to work for several types of cancer. He [Dr Markland] has yet to test the protein on humans.
It has some issues, such as bleeding.. It's difficult to isolate the protein from crude venom, so it's terribly expensive.

If indeed the snake might heal, brings us to the famous symbol of medicine. Two intertwined snakes about a pole. This is a symbol from paganism as shown by the wings. There is an older single snake about a pole from 5th century BCE Greece, where the snake was associated with healing. Did this symbol come from Isarel's history, when those dying by looking at a snake obtained 'life'?

A healing of the people

In the wilderness as Israel in it formation as a nation left Egypt after the plagues, and the parting of the sea,

the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. (Numbers 21:6)

Moses prayed, and instead of healing and a removal of the serpents, Yahweh solved the issue in a rather remarkable way.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)

Now Christians tend to immediately think “Jesus!” and the idea that he was raised on a stake and they look it and are healed, but in doing so they might miss some things.

Let us try and see events as Israel would have. What if the only texts we had were Genesis and Job? What if Genesis was as well known to them as it might be to us? In context Israel were complaining about the food they had been given. In Eden, Eve had not been content with the food she had. She had lusted after the forbidden food. In a parallel Israel lusted after other food than the God-given manna.

This point was not lost. After writing this, a commentary was found to confirm it,

Regarding the cause of the plague, our Sages taught, "Let the snake, which was smitten for speaking evil to Eve come and punish those who spread slander about the manna. Let the snake, for which all types of food taste the same, come and punish those ingrates who complain about the manna which miraculously has many tastes" (Rashi, from Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 19, Num. Rabbah 19:22).

So they were sent snakes, biting serpents. If they at that time thought about the issue of food, and their first history they should have seen how fitting that was that serpents were sent. They were mortal bites, for a slow death. If it was an immediate death the pole would not have been of any use. Adam was told 'dying you shall die.'

If they looked up at the serpent on the pole they would live. If they didn't they would die. They had a choice. The first point is that to look up at the pole required obedience. The second point is how might a serpent be on a pole, whether brass or not? How might a serpent be put on a pole? The Hebrew word used for when Moses is instructed to 'set' the serpent on a pole is of such wide meaning we cannot be dogmatic as to how it was put there. Might it be hung by it's head? If not hung by its head it was put up on the pole in some way so it wouldn't fall off. The Hebrew word set 'sum' in late Hebrew meant 'designate' or 'fix' and has come into English through Arabic from 'insert' or 'sheath' as 'compute' from 'putting together' or in English the 'sum' (from Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon). Even in brass, there isn't anything of a snake to fix or hold onto a pole except about the head. The healing symbol from pagan Greece shows it winding, but that only works if there is something to stop it sliding.

There is one case where 'sum' means seized by force.

So they set/ laid (sum) hands on her [Athalia, the daughter of Jezebel]; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king's house, they slew her there. (2Chronicles 23:15)

So knowing the account of the curse of the snake, what might the Israelites think when they see the snake raised up on a pole?

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shall thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15)

Firstly they know this is not an image they worship, and that it of itself had no power as they were commanded not to make images. Secondly they are looking at an animal which was specifically cursed. Thirdly they know that there should be enmity between them and it. Fourthly they might be reminded that this serpent is to bruise the heel of the promised seed. They might have much to think on for indeed they had been bruised. So in what way would the seed of the woman bruise the head of the serpent?

The only way a serpent who is cursed to slither on the ground is up a pole, is that it is set, or fixed, there and / or is dead.

When they looked at the serpent on a pole they are reminded that at some point the seed of the woman is going to bruise the head of the serpent.

Now if the symbol is taken further, it might be made to mean something not intended. Because one thing is for sure you would tie yourself in mental double knots if the brass 'serpent' equates to 'Jesus'. It is indeed useful to understand what the Israelites could know. The lived because they saw a brass image of a dead serpent.

Hezekiah gave us the end of that serpent, in an incident which shows the Hebrews as preservers of their history and that that incident was not forgotten,

He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. (2Kings 18:4)

It was called a 'piece of brass'. The thing itself had no meaning. Israel were not allowed to make it holy. What had happened was that they had willigly misunderstood and made it an idol. Some have the tendency to fail in the same way as the Israelites did, in making Christ on the stake holy, and in effect like an idol. It follows that the point of it was not the physical form. Hezekiah had the text and had no need of the material. It does have meaning when seen in context to the reference to the fate of the serpent who lied, and how that the woman who was deceived and lusted was to have a seed who would bruise or break the head.

Now to break a serpent's head mostly means the serpent is dead. The serpent as a dragon once had feet, but due to deception lost them so had no heel to be broken, so the only significant part left to the serpent is the thinking 'cunning' part, the head. To break the head is to break also the cunning complex thinking.

The one who was first given the life we all seek said, “Take up your stake and follow me.” Perhaps we might remember that when he said it, he had said also,

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:” (John 3:14)

There was a dead brass snake on Moses' stake as it had no feet: but the son of man had feet. The point was that it was in a similar way, not he was like the serpent. The outcome would likewise be life, just as dying people had to come to see How Jesus Saves