Charlton Heston gave us the archetype righteous Moses but the Moses of the Bible was fond of snakes and had a set of horns.
Why Does Moses Have Horns?
While it is often labled as a mistranslation by Saint Jerome in the vulgate despite his correct use of the term elsewhere, Moses horns took root in the art and culture before the twentieth century. Regardless of the validity of the translation, Moses as a character had actions that sit uneasy with Christianity when scrutinised.
Moses and The Serpent
Serpents feature strongly in the biblical account of Moses. While we are told that the serpent in the garden is subtle, cunning and crafty, Moses is given a staff that is able to change into a serpent by The Angel of the Lord. When he performs this act infront of Pharaoh and his magicians are able to repeat it, his snake consumes them thus depicting his snake as one more mighty than any other. Note, this is not a heavenly appearance of God but an actual serpent and by all accounts one of some power. The Angel of the Lord gives Moses a divine instrument in an unfortunate form.
The bronze serpent or “Nehushtan” is the second and perhaps more suspect of Moses serpent actions. He raises up a serpent on a pole and tells the children of Israel to turn to the serpent.
Moses Serpent Worship and Defiance of Gods Will?
While it’s notable that the LORD sends serpents along with a strange and symbolically strange cure, Moses actions the creation of Nehushtan and tells all to turn to the serpent upon a cross. The LORD has sent “fiery serpents” to punish the children of Israel and their only hope of earthly salvation is to turn to the serpent. Salvation through a serpent but under the threat of serpents. Again, we are shown serpent dominance by way of the idol that’s actually a divine instrument of cure.
The LORD sends the serpents to punish but by way of Moses intercession they do not suffer the punishment. Moses tells them that the LORD tells him to create the serpent thus negating himself from defying the LORD despite it being the will of the LORD that they were punished. Interesting.
King Hezekiah destroys the serpent of brass and it is he who first gives it the name “Nehushtan”. He establishes an iconoclastic reform that disallows any and all idols and denounces the brass serpent made by Moses. Hezekiah himself is held up as a righteous king who did the will of God.
The Hypocrisy of Moses
When Moses descends from the mountain with the tablets of the law he is met with a sight that causes him to smash the tablets. He arrives to find the children of Israel worshipping the Golden Calf. Again, it’s a metal idol and superior metal this time and a different creature. Moses is incensed by the idolatry and smashes the tablets upon it.
Moses himself is the one who gave an initial instruction to worship the metal idol of a creature, his being the serpent upon a cross. While he claims divine instructions were given for his own creation and the mistake is simply the Israelites following his example, he shows no mercy and uses the tablets of the law given to him by the LORD to smash the golden calf.
Moses, Destroyer of Law
The act of smashing the tablets into the Golden Calf is an action that can be viewed in a number of ways. Why does Moses bring the law of the LORD down only to smash what’s written. What can we read from this act? Is it simply the loss of temper for the children of Israel trying to replicate his act of creating the brass serpent? What does it say that he chooses the divine instructions given to him to break the idol? The example he gives doesn’t seem a particularly Godly act. He brings them rules and then smashes the tablets before them which symbolically destroys the law.
The broken tablets or Law are placed within the Ark of the Covenant along with Aarons staff which also could perform unnatural acts like Moses. The Ark is then worshipped by Aaron, Moses and the Children of Israel. The location of the Golden Ark containing the magical staff and the broken law is unknown to the day but speculated about a great deal by Jewish writers and in the Steven Spielberg movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Moses Refused Access to The Promised Land
Moses isn’t forgiven for a sin and cannot enter Israel, the promised land. Whether himself or his spies, a sin is committed and the Biblical account shows this as the striking of the rock by the mystical staff to bring forth water. Because they showed no faith in the LORD they are punished by never being allowed access into the promised land. Moses dies before they are to go forth into the land.
We are told in Genesis 14 that the King of Jerusalem is Melchizedek and that Christ is after the High Priestly Order of Melchizadek. The establisment of the Godly intent for Israel is established from the very beginning so Moses being unable to enter is worthy of note. Was the act so unforgivable? Could this be a covering for something else?
The Sanitisation of Moses Image
One of the very few positive acts Hollywood has done for Christianity is a positive depiction of Moses. This uncharacteristic act came through The Ten Commandments by Cecil B DeMile. No expense was spared in this endeavour either and it remains as a huge triumph in Hollywood Lore and the development of both the modern epic and the craft of movies at large.
In the movie, Moses is without Horns and Nehushtan isn’t depicted. He is righteous and merciful and pitched as Messiah over Mystic as some of his actions could suggest. All Biblical art and renditions of events from that point on took on the Heston Moses with no horns and the brass serpent he crafted to be worshipped for salvation all but forgotten.
4 thoughts on “Horns and Snakes: The Altered State of Moses Image”
Here is what I wrote about this to one who was trying to teach his doctrine to me, but who had failed to do his own research. you can probably guess from what religion the guy was as I used term that were familiar to him IE. Jehovah.
In the power of the evil one
Accusing causes a loop suffering causes more suffering, suffering causes more accusations
Gen 3:1 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said YOU must not eat from every tree of the garden?”
Exo 4:3 And He said, Throw it on the ground. And he threw it on the ground. And it became a serpent. And Moses ran from it. +Exo 7:10
Num 21:8 Then Jehovah said to Moses: “Make for yourself a fiery snake and place it upon a signal pole. And it must occur that when anyone has been bitten, he then has to look at it and so must keep alive.” 9 Moses at once made a serpent of copper and placed it upon the signal pole; and it did occur that if a serpent had bitten a man and he gazed at the copper serpent, he then kept alive.
Joh 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.
But did not anyone believe in him and did anyone have eternal life for it.
2Ki 18:4 He it was that removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars to pieces and cut down the sacred pole and crushed to pieces the copper serpent that Moses had made; for down to those days the sons of Israel had continually been making sacrificial smoke to it, and it used to be called Lucifer.
What was he saying?
signal pole; and it did occur that if a serpent had bitten a man and he gazed at the copper serpent, he then kept alive.
2Co 11:3 But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, YOUR minds might be corrupted away from the *sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ.
*sincerity translated form ἁπλότης haplotēs = singleness also used in
Eph 6:5 not by way of eye-service as men pleasers, but as Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled. Not freedom
Jas 1:6 But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting* at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. *Lit., “judging for self dividedly.”
Jas 1:7 In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; 8 he is an indecisive* man, unsteady in all his ways. Lit., “two-souled.” Gr., diʹpsy•khos; two spirited
Jas 4:8 Draw close to God, and he will draw close to YOU. Cleanse YOUR hands, YOU sinners, and purify YOUR hearts, YOU (indecisive*) ones. *Lit., (two-souled) Gr., diʹpsy•khos; two spirited the only one who is called the accuser is called satan
Col 3:22 YOU slaves, be obedient in everything to those who are [your] masters in a fleshly sense, not with acts of eye-service, as men pleasers, but with sincerity* of heart, with fear of Jehovah. sincerity* *Lit., singleness. ἁπλότης haplotēs
Heb 5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; 9 and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him, to obey means that someone else is above and has authority
*Lit., a traducer false accuser, devil, slanderer. διάβολος diabolos (traducer; disparaging contemptuous or disapproving) *Lit., κατήγορος katēgoros a complainant at law; specifically Satan: – accuser.
Joh 5:45 Do not think that I will accuse YOU to the Father; there is one that accuses YOU, Moses, in whom YOU have put YOUR hope. (Moses the accuser?)
Rev 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ, because the accuser* of our brothers has been hurled down, who accuses them day and night before our God!
Joh 8:44 YOU are from YOUR father the Devil*, and YOU wish to do the desires of YOUR father. 45 Because I, on the other hand, tell the truth, YOU do not believe me.
47 He that is from God listens to the sayings of God. This is why YOU do not listen, because YOU are not from God.”
So, if there is only one begotten son, how can all this be re-conciliated and reconsolidated?
Mar 1:23 Also, at that immediate time there was in their synagogue a man under the power of an unclean spirit, and he shouted, 24 saying: “What have we to do with you, Jesus you Naz•a•reneʹ? Did you come to destroy us? I know exactly who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked it, saying: “Be silent, and come on out of him!” Luk 4:34 why “Be silent”? Did you come to destroy us?
*Lit., singleness. ἁπλότης haplotēs
*Lit., “two-souled.” Gr., diʹpsy•khos; two
*Lit., “judging for self dividedly.”
Who had a split personality?
Luk 15:11 Then he said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the part of the property that falls to my share.’
Gen 3:5 for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
Joh 10:18 No man has taken it away from me, but I surrender it of my own initiative. I have authority to surrender it, and I have authority to receive it again. The commandment on this I received from my Father.”
Act 7:52 Which one of the prophets did YOUR forefathers not persecute? Yes, they killed those who made announcement in advance concerning the coming of the righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers YOU have now become
*Lit., a traducer false accuser, devil, slanderer. διάβολος diabolos (traducer; disparaging contemptuous or disapproving)
*Lit., (two-souled) two spirited
*Lit., κατήγορος katēgoros a complainant at law; specifically Satan: – accuser.
*Lit., singleness. ἁπλότης haplotēs
*Lit., “two-souled.” Gr., diʹpsy•khos; two
*Lit., “judging for self dividedly.”
Isaiah 14:12 “O how you have fallen from heaven, you shining one, (Lucifer) son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who were disabling the nations! 13 As for you, you have said in your heart, ‘To the heavens I shall go up. Above the stars of God I shall lift up my throne, and I shall sit down upon the mountain of meeting, in the remotest parts of the north. 14 I shall go up above the high places of the clouds; I shall make myself resemble the Most High.’ 15 “However, down to Sheʹol you will be brought, to the remotest parts of the pit. 16 Those seeing you will gaze even at you; they will give close examination even to you, [saying,] ‘Is this the man that was agitating the earth, that was making kingdoms rock, 17 that made the productive land like the wilderness and that overthrew its very cities, that did not open the way homeward even for his prisoners?’ 18 All other kings of the nations, yes, all of them, have lain down in glory, each one in his own house. 19 But as for you, you have been thrown away without a burial place for you, like a detested sprout, clothed with killed men stabbed with the sword that are going down to the stones of a pit, like a carcass trodden down. 20 You will not become united with them in a grave, because you brought your own land to ruin, you killed your own people. To time indefinite the offspring of evildoers will not be named
LikeLiked by 1 person
Excellent post. A lot to unpack there. I will get back to you on this. Thanks for taking the time