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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The Greek word occurs in the classical writings of Herodotus (iv. 191) and Aristotle (de Anim. Hist. iv. 7. 14), and generally represents the Heb. פָתָן (pethen) in the Septuagint (pethen is translated ‘asp’ in Deuteronomy 32:33, Job 20:14; Job 20:18, and Isaiah 11:8, but ‘adder’ in Psalms 58:4; Psalms 91:13). In the NT the ‘asp’ is mentioned only once (Romans 3:13 : ‘The poison of asps [ἰὸς ἀσπίδων] is under their lips’). Here it is introduced in a quotation from Psalms 140:3 (Psalms 139:4), where the Heb. word used עַכְשׁוּב (a ἅπαξ λεγ. and probably corrupt, perhaps read עַכָּבִישׁ, ‘spider’), but the Septuagint word is ἀσπίς, as in Romans. The general meaning of the passage is obvious (cf. James 3:8 : ‘The tongue can no man tame-a restless evil-full of deadly poison’), and the position of the poison-bag of the serpent is correctly described.

The serpent referred to is without doubt the Naja haje, or small hooded Egyptian cobra, which, though not found in the cultivated parts of Palestine, is well known in the downs and plains S. of Beersheba (cf. Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, p. 270), and frequents old walls and holes in the rocks (cf. Isaiah 11:8 : ‘And the sucking-child shall play on the hole of the asp’). It does not belong to the viper tribe (Viperidae) but to the Colubridae, which includes the ordinary British grass-snake. The chief peculiarities of cobras are: (a) a clearly defined neck, which they can dilate at will, and (b) the equality in size of the scales on the back with those on the other parts of the body. There are about ten different species, of which the Naja haje, or Egyptian asp, and the Naja tripudians, or Indian cobra, are the best known. The latter is the species upon which Indian snake-charmers usually practise their skill, while the Naja haje is used for this purpose in Egypt.

See also Serpent, Viper.

Literature.-H. B. Tristram, Natural History of the Bible10, London, 1911, p. 270f.: SWP [Note: WP Memoirs of Survey of Western Palestine.] vii. 146; R. Lydekker in The Concise Knowledge Natural History, 1897, p. 424; Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria5, 1912, p. lvi; W. Aldis Wright, The Bible Word-Book2, 1884, p. 50, for the use of the word; cf. also Sanday-Headlam, Romans5, 1902, p. 79; Driver, Deuteronomy2, 1896, p. 372; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , vol. iv. p. 459; Encyclopaedia Biblica , vol. iv. col. 4394; Murray’s Dict. of the Bible , p. 67; Hastings’ Single-vol. Dictionary of the Bible , p. 837.

P. S. P. Handcock.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Asp'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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