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What’s More Likely: Snake or Stake?

What’s More Likely: Snake or Stake? June 13, 2021

A recent comment by WCB on a thread today reminded me of the Exodus claim of Moses’ staff:

The Staff of Moses is a staff mentioned in the Bible and Quran as a walking stick used by Moses. According to the Book of Exodus in the Bible, the staff (Hebrewמַטֶּה‎ matteh, translated “rod” in the King James Bible) was used to produce water from a rock, was transformed into a snake and back, and was used at the parting of the Red Sea.[1] Whether or not Moses’ staff was the same as that used by his brother Aaron (known as Aaron’s rod) has been debated by rabbinical scholars.

There is also this old Moses story, as presented here by an apologist website. I have highlighted a section that I think is hilariously loving:

Numbers 21:4-9 is one of those remarkable Old Testament stories that is just dripping with lessons for our lives.

Near the end of their journey in the wilderness, Israel once again complained to God. It started with them losing their patience (v. 4), and once the lid was off everything spilled out — they spoke against Moses, God, the food the Lord had provided, etc., (v. 5). They were not a happy bunch!

God’s response? He sent snakes. Not just any snakes — poisonous ones. Why? We’re not given the reason, but it’s reasonable to assume the punishment fit the crime. Chronic complaining is a spiritual toxin. It not only poisons the complainer, it inevitably spreads to the surrounding community with conditions usually deteriorating rapidly unless something is done.

The snake intervention was effective. Some of the complainers died immediately from their bites, while others lingered near death. The people confessed their sin and asked Moses for deliverance. He prayed for them (v. 7).

If the story hasn’t grabbed our attention yet, what happens next will. God tells Moses to make a replica of a snake and put it on a pole. Everyone who looks at the snake will be healed from their bite….

Suddenly someone sticks their head inside your tent and tells you that word is circulating through the camp that Moses has crafted this snake-on-a-pole contraption and that everyone who looks at it will be healed.

You make them repeat what they just said because you’re sure you didn’t hear it correctly. But you did. Your mind races in a dozen directions. Could this possibly be true? It sounds so nonsensical. But then again some incredible things have happened in the wilderness . . . water from rocks, manna from the sky, clothes that didn’t wear out. Certainly Yahweh has the power. And, what do we really have to lose? So with the help of others, you take your loved one out of the tent to a place where they can see the snake.

Looking at the snake made Israel confront their sin, but there was something more. Mustering up the faith to believe that looking at a snake on a pole would heal them from a snake bite was no small feat.

But let’s quickly think about the original Moses’ staff story.

The question is simply this, as WCB asked:

Hume’s razor. Is it more believable that wooden staffs can become living snakes, or that the Exodus writer was lying about that?

We can get onto the technicalities of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, and then whether the complete lack of archaeological evidence, and the mere assertions of fragments of text from 800 years of more later constitute extraordinary evidence. This makes it even worse for the biblical litedralist here.

But even ignoring that (thus to look at this as a prior probability in a Bayesian evaluation), what is more likely? That his stake magically became a snake, or that this was made up?

The most accurate answer, of course, is neither snake nor stake, since Moses is a mythological figure.


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