THE deception of Eve by Satan, through the instrumentality of a serpent, has ever been an object of ridicule with the profane, who, reading without reflection, or reflecting without reading, deem that "a foolishness" which they cannot understand, or that "a stumbling-block" which they cannot explain away. Thus faith, which had defied the sophistry of the acutest sceptic, has been sometimes shaken by an incredulous sneer: and Christians, who would have scorned to be argued out of their religion, have not been ashamed to be laughed out of it.
To establish by the testimony of heathen authorities the credibility of the Temptation and Fall of Man in Paradise, through the agency of Satan in a serpent's form, is my endeavour in the following Treatise: nor is it with a vain confidence that every argument adduced is either new or conclusive. Many have gone before me
in the same path of inquiry, though not to the same extent; and whatever I have found either useful in their arguments, or apt in their illustrations, I have unhesitatingly adopted and as readily acknowledge. But where no reference records the author of any opinion, I am content to take the responsibility upon myself; desiring only that the whole theory may not be pronounced untenable on account of the deficiency of any inconsiderable portion of it. For the force of the argument consists not in the independent importance of every individual inference, but in the aggregate effect of all. Facts in themselves apparently insignificant, and coincidences which singly might be deemed fortuitous, often assume in connexion a character and a consistency which amount to the weight of irresistible evidence. If, therefore, by the aggregate testimony of facts inconsiderable in themselves, and only considerable through the consistency with which they mutually support each other, the main object of this treatise--the universality of Ophiolatreia--can be proved, the point is gained; the proposition is demonstrated.
Many writers have remarked that the worship of the serpent by the ancient heathen is a conclusive
proof of the Fall of Man by the seduction of a serpent-tempter: but failing to show its universal prevalence, have reaped but half the advantages of their argument. They have left the multitude either doubtful of its force, or relying for the truth of it upon their authority only; while habitual unbelievers, who never search for themselves, deeming all such authorities suspicious, because interested, and interested because, for the most part, ecclesiastical, reject the reasoning and renounce the conclusion.
I have therefore endeavoured to establish the fact, while I appeal to the argument: to prove the universality of Serpent-worship, while I adduce the universal worship of the Serpent as a testimony to the Temptation and Fall of Man.
Of all the writers who have treated of this subject, Bryant and Faber may be regarded as the chief. But even these learned men have only considered it in the course of a System of Analysis of Pagan Idolatry. With either of these authors the worship of the serpent forms but a part of a more comprehensive work; and their observations, of necessity, have been circumscribed. To them, however, I am indebted for a great part of my information,
and only do not praise them so highly as I honour them, because one is beyond, and both above all praise.
To the kindness of the latter 1 have been still more indebted since the publication of the first edition of this treatise. Many valuable corrections, noticed as they occur, have been voluntarily communicated by Mr. Faber; and it is to me a source of no little gratification, that in my first effort to be useful, I have obtained the encouragement of the first of Christian scholars.
The Worship of the Serpent had already attracted the notice of the learned, when Bryant and Faber, each improving upon the discoveries of his predecessors, fixed its data upon a lasting basis. It was deemed a fit field for the recreation of the unwearied genius of Dr. Stukeley, whose work upon Abury is a masterpiece of ingenuity, and a key to the most obscure part of Ophiolatreia--the figure of the serpent temples. On this interesting subject nothing was even guessed at, until his master-hand evoked, as by the wave of a magician's wand, the Python of Delphi in the wilds of Wiltshire.
Other eminent writers, among whom Bishop
[paragraph continues] Stillingfleet should have honourable mention, have cursorily noticed the serpent-worship of the ancients. In the works of Mr. Maurice, also, much may be found interesting and useful, as connecting Ophiolatreia with the superstitions of the Brahmins of Hindûstan. Captain Franklin has likewise entered upon the subject in a chapter of his History of the Jains and Budhists, in which he gives a short, but excellent, analysis of the prevalence of Ophiolatreia in the ancient world. The plan of this analysis is so nearly the same as the one adopted in the following treatise, that I shall probably find some difficulty in persuading the reader that it was not the prototype of the present volume. But I can assure him that I never even heard of the existence of Captain Franklin's book, until twelve months after the publication of my own. It is only, however, in the general outline that they are similar. This treatise enters more minutely into the subject, and follows the serpent-god into more regions of the world. The application of the subject is also more extensively theological, and the scope of the inquiry considerably greater. I shall therefore be secure from the charge of
plagiarism with every one who compares the two volumes together.
Among foreigners, Bochart, Vossius, Kircher, and Heinsius may be profitably consulted. There is also a tract "De Cultu Serpentum," written by M. Koch, but valuable chiefly, as proving the idolatry in Scandinavia. Bryant mentions a treatise by Philip Olearius, entitled "Ophiolatreia:" but I cannot find it in any of the public libraries which I have searched.
I am not aware of any other important work upon the subject. I have made full use of all the foregoing authors; avoiding only, as much as possible, the etymological conjectures of Bryant, which are considered by some critics as open to objection. In this I have followed rather the taste of the age than my own conviction; for these conjectures are at all times ingenious, frequently plausible, and sometimes incontrovertible. Whenever they have appeared to be as coming under the last class, I have not hesitated to use them.
The plan of this work is simple. It professes to prove the existence of Ophiolatreia in almost every considerable country of the ancient world; and to discover, in the mythology of every
civilized nation, evidences of a recollection of the events in Paradise. If these facts can be established, the conclusion is obvious--that all such traditions must have had a common origin; and that the most ancient record, which contains their basis, must be the authentic history. The most ancient record containing this basis, is the Book of Genesis, composed by Moses. The Book of Genesis, therefore, contains the history upon which the fables, rites, and superstitions of the mythological serpent are founded.
I cannot close these remarks without recording my obligation to a gentleman whose sound and varied learning is equalled by the kindness with which he imparts it; and from whom no writer departs without encouragement, whose object is to promote or to protect the truth. The Rev. Lancelot Sharpe will, I trust, pardon this allusion, as due to one who kindly looked over the MSS. of the first edition of this treatise; and as one to whom I am indebted for many valuable suggestions.
Neither can I, in justice to my own sense of obligations, omit the mention of my esteemed friend, P. C. Delagarde, Esq. of Exeter, to
whose ingenuity I owe much that is novel and interesting in the present volume; especially the discovery of the origin of columnar architecture in the avenues of the Dracontium.
In conclusion, I must remark, that the present edition of this treatise, although very superior to the last, both as to correctness of information, and quantity of new matter, is still only an introduction to what may be written on "the Worship of the Serpent," as connected with the Fall and Redemption of Man. And I shall hail the day with pleasure, when "some person of true learning and a deep insight into antiquity shall go through (with this view) with the history of the serpent 1." It would be, indeed, as Bryant most justly observes, "a noble undertaking, and very edifying in its consequences;" and if this short syllabus shall be in any degree instrumental to a work so desired, it will not have been written in vain.
JOHN BATHURST DEANE.
LAURENCE POUNTNEY-HILL, LONDON,
July 12, 1833.
xii:1 Bryant, Anal. 2. 219.