November 1, 1985

More Snakes

Author Affiliations

Harvard School of Public Health Boston

JAMA. 1985;254(17):2409-2410. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360170049015

To the Editor.—  In a recent issue of The Journal, Dr Rakel1 discussed the origins of both the twin-snake caduceus and the single-snake staff of Aesculapius as symbols of medicine. In his discussion, Dr Rakel looked back to 800 BC and pointed out the roots of the snake and staff motif in Greek mythology. We would like to revive appreciation of another source for the association between the snake and the staff and the healing arts that dates from a much earlier period. Although keeping records was not characteristic of that period, we are lucky to benefit from one scene captured in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:5-19):And the people spake against God and against Moses.... Then God let the poisonous serpents loose against the people, and they bit the people and many people of Israel died. Then the people came to Moses and said; We have sinned, for