Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Dan shall be a serpent in the way

Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse's heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
(Gen 49:17).

Perhaps this is just coincidental, but there are some intriguing connections:

i) On a traditional interpretation, the only two talking animals in Scripture are a snake (Gen 3) and an equid (Num 22).

ii) Both are mentioned in the Pentateuch.

iii) In the ANE, both snakes and equids sometimes have occultic associations. As one scholar notes, donkeys are connected with dream omens. Cf. K. Way, Donkeys in the Biblical World (Eisenbrauns 2011), 99.

In that regard, it makes sense that Balaam is a pagan seer. Almost like the donkey is his familiar. 

iv) There are ANE texts which express enmity between snakes and equids. Ibid. 99.

v) Gen 49:17 is a case in point. A snake biting a horse prompts the horse to panic and throw its rider. 

vi) Gen 49:17 alludes to Gen 3:15, where the snake bites the woman's seed in the heel. 

There may also be an allusion to Jacob's name (Gen 25:26; 27:36).

vii) Joseph's oracle occurs in the Pentateuch.  


  1. Samson, a prototypical fulfillment of this prophecy, also crushed the [seed of the] serpent with a donkey's jawbone.

  2. This is a bit of a long shot, but do you think that Jacob's negative appraisal of Dan is some how related to John's exclusion of Dan in his list of the twelve tribes in Rev 7:5-8?