The origin and evolution of the saraph symbol

Nissim Amzallag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The abundance of uraeus iconography in Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Canaan has led most scholars to interpret the saraph, a winged and/or burning serpent evoked in the Bible, as an Egyptian religious symbol borrowed by the Canaanites and thereafter integrated in the Yahwistic sphere. The strong affinity of the saraph symbol with a local serpent species, Echis coloratus, however, challenges this view. It reveals that the saraph was an indigenous Canaanite symbol later influenced in its representation by the Egyptian glyptic. Comparison of the biology of Echis coloratus and the literary source relating to the saraph suggests that the latter was once approached as an animal that guarded the copper mining areas of the Arabah and Sinai against access by unauthorized persons. By extension, it became the privileged symbol of copper metallurgy and its proximate spheres of influence. It is concluded that the essential relation between YHWH and the seraph is probably rooted in the metallurgical background of the god of Israel. Furthermore, the closer affinities of the properties of the uraeus with Echis coloratus rather than with the cobra species that symbolize it suggest that this Egyptian symbol had been borrowed from Canaan as early as the pre-Dynastic period before influencing it in the reverse direction in the Late Bronze Age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-126
Number of pages28
JournalAntiguo Oriente
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Echis coloratus
  • Primeval Yahwism
  • Saraph
  • Uraeus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Classics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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