Serpent Symbolism

Snakes can get a pretty bad rap in a lot of religious thought — always causing mischief, embodying the devil, persuading people to eat fruit. But I’ve always kind of liked snakes. I liked them even more after seeing these photographs by Guido Mocafico. Not only are these images beautiful and vibrant, but placing these coiled, twisted creatures into right-angled, straight-edged, rectangular boxes makes for a striking contrast.

Of course, in Genesis, our friend the snake causes Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Sin commence.

Genesis 3:1-4 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the Garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil…”

In Revelation, serpent=beast/devil.

Revelation 20:2 “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended.”

However, some non-canonical texts use the symbolism of the snake in a very different way. The Testimony of Truth, an early Christian text discovered as part of the Nag Hammadi codex, depicts Christ as a ‘bronze serpent’ who brings life through true knowledge:

“for the one who will gaze upon this bronze serpent, none will destroy him, and the one who will believe in this bronze serpent will be saved. For this is Christ; those who believed in him have received life. Those who did not believe will die.”

The Gospel of Truth, a 2nd century early Christian text, portrays Christ as the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden which, when eaten, again brings life-saving, eternal knowledge:

“He was nailed to a cross. He became a fruit of the knowledge of the Father. He did not, however, destroy them because they ate of it. He rather caused those who ate of it to be joyful because of this discovery.”

Either way, serpents make for some powerful imagery. Mocafico has produced over 50 of these photographs in two series (1, 2). Check them out!

(Images from This is Colossal.)

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