He was part man, part god. He performed miracles, including the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead. He was lifted up into heaven. He died, but he came back to life. His symbol is seen outside many churches today in the form of a cloth draped on a cross, and is worn by those who seek a way to do more good than harm.
Jesus? Well, yes, but someone else too: Asclepius.
Asclepius was the Greek god of healing, and his symbol is still seen in the caduceus, a winged post encircled by two snakes, topped by two wings. The snakes symbolize the power of a being that can be born again, leaving its old skin behind, as a snake does, shedding its skin. In ancient Greece, the skin shed by a snake was left draped upon a post, to symbolize the growth of a powerful self that is then reborn in a higher plane. This worship was in some places later transformed into the nailing of a live snake on a post.
That form is still seen in the alchemical symbol of a snake on a post, on a crucifix, or in a tree. The Encyclopedia of Alchemy, written by Rosemary Guiley, claims that “A snake climbing up a tree represents the process of becoming conscious or going through psychic transformation.”
The vision of Jesus on a crucifix, or of a long purple cloth seen on a crucifix, as we see outside many churches on Easter, is often identified as but a part of the snake on the post tradition. One Christian church, acknowledging this link, tells its follower that the snake is Jesus, writing in Bible study notes, “The Snake nailed to the pole symbolized Jesus – who became sin for us.”
This motif is found not just in the gospels, but also elsewhere in the Bible, as in the Book of Numbers, in a passage which reads:
“The Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”
The references in non-Jewish, non-Christian traditions are much more numerous than what’s in the Bible. That fact has led some Christians to reject the idea of focusing on the crucifixion of Jesus, identifying it as a primarily non-Christian, or “pagan”, form of false idolatry.
One such Christian group decries what it depicts as “pagan” worship of the symbol of the cross, saying, “To argue that this heathen symbol ‘is now OK to use and honor because the meaning now points to Christ,’ is not only to ignore that Jesus Christ and the Apostles and the original New Testament Church never worshipped or revered the cross…”
Another Christian says that he doesn’t care if the crucifix is a pagan symbol, asking rhetorically, “Many pagans pray, does that mean we as Christians should stop praying because it is a pagan practice?”
Christians: How do you react to the idea that Jesus is one form of a sacred snake nailed to a post? If you accepted this idea, would it deepen your faith or weaken it? Why?
Non-Christians: Does the idea of Jesus as one form of a sacred snake nailed to a post change the way you think about Christianity or not? If there is change, is that change positive or negative? Why?