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ASP (פֶּ֫תֶן, H7352, poisonous snake; ἀσπίς, G835, a viper). Of six OT occurrences two are tr. “adder” and four “asp” in both KJV and RSV (Isa 11:8). Even though aspis today is part of the scientific name of one of the sand vipers, pethen is usually identified with the cobra, mainly the Egyp., but also the closely related black-necked, or spitting, cobra. In addition the following points are relevant:

1. All references make clear that the reptile is venomous.

2. The fact that in ancient Egypt the bite of the asp was used for suicide suggests that it was of the neurotoxic group (cobras) which kill quickly, rather than the haemotoxic group (vipers) whose venom may take days to kill.

3. Isaiah 11:8 “the hole of the asp.” Cobras are often found in holes in the ground.

4. Psalm 58:4, 5 “...the deaf adder [asp] that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers.” Cobras have long been the traditional subject of snake charmers in Asia and Africa. This passage is another early record of a snake myth still common. All snakes are permanently deaf and the charmer holds their attention by the movement of his pipe, not by its sound. A further reference to charming poisonous snakes is in Ecclesiastes 10:11, where the general word nachash is used.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(pethen (De 32:33; Job 20:14,16; Isa 11:8); aspis (Ro 3:13)); Any poisonous snake, or even poisonous snakes in general, would satisfy the context in all the passages cited. Pethen is also translated ADDER (which see) in Ps 58:4; 91:13. Most authors have supposed the Egyptian cobra (Naia haje, L.) to be the snake meant, but while this is widely distributed throughout Africa, its occurrence in Southern Palestine seems to rest solely on the authority of Canon Tristram, who did not collect it.

There are Other poisonous snakes in Palestine, any one of which would satisfy the requirements of these passages. See Serpent. While the aspis of classical Greek literature may well have been the Egyptian cobra, it is to be noted that Vipera aspis, L., is confined to central and western Europe.

See also

  • Animals