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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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פתן . Deuteronomy 32:33 ; Job 20:14 ; Job 20:16 ; Psalms 58:4 ; Psalms 91:13 ; Isaiah 11:8 . A very venomous serpent, whose poison is so subtle as to kill within a few hours with a universal gangrene. This may well refer to the baeten of the Arabians, which M. Forskal describes as spotted with black and white, about one foot in length, and nearly half an inch in thickness, oviparous, and whose bite is death. It is the aspic of the ancients, and is so called now by the literati of Cyprus, though the common people call it kufi, ( κουφη ,) deaf. With the PETHEN we may connect the python of the Greeks, which was, according to fable, a huge serpent that had an oracle at mount Parnassus, famous for predicting future events. Apollo is said to have slain this serpent, and hence he was called "Pythius." Those possessed with a spirit of divination were also styled Πυθωνες . The word occurs in Acts 16:16 , as the characteristic of a young woman who had a pythonic spirit. It is well known that the serpent was particularly employed by the Heathens in their enchantments and divinations. See SERPENT .

Pethen, פתן , is variously translated in our version; but interpreters generally consider it as referring to the asp. Zophar alludes to it more than once in his description of a wicked man: "Yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him. He shall suck the poison of asps: the viper's tongue shall slay him." The venom of asps is the most subtle of all; it is incurable; and, if the wounded part be not instantly amputated, it speedily terminates the existence of the sufferer. To these circumstances, Moses evidently alludes in his character of the Heathen: "Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps." To tread upon the asp is attended with extreme danger; therefore, to express in the strongest manner the safety which the godly man enjoys under the protection of his heavenly Father, it is promised, that he shall tread with impunity upon these venomous creatures. No person of his own accord approaches the hole of these deadly reptiles; for he who gives them the smallest disturbance is in extreme danger of paying the forfeit of his rashness with his life. Hence, the Prophet Isaiah, predicting the conversion of the Gentiles to the faith of Christ, and the glorious reign of peace and truth in those regions which, prior to that period, were full of horrid cruelty, marvellously heightens the force of the whole description by declaring, "The sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Asp'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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