This is the twelfth edition of House of Herps, so that means I have the honour of presenting the last post for the first year of this blog carnival. In the scheme of things, a year is not much, but I thought this would be a good time to present a little known but ancient antecedent to House of Herps.
What follows is the first publication of select verses from the Munchhausen¹ papyrus, a 2000 year-old document now known as The Book of Serpent. Like the related document, The Gospel of Judas, it is one of many church-rejected apocryphal books that ran parallel with, and some times counter to, the canonical books established at the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE. The Book of Serpent was considered particularly heretical due to the sect that formed around it in 325 CE.
(N.B.If ancient history and heretical texts have no appeal, then scroll down to Part 2 to find the House of Herps links)
In 324 CE, Constantine the Great introduced the Serpentine Column to the Hippodrome in Constantinople. It is believed that this event, coinciding with the arrival of religious texts from Egypt, precipitated the formation of the Serpentarian sect, because the first references to Serpentarianism appear soon after. Due to the sect’s interpretation of the Book of Serpent (which tells the story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge from the Serpent’s point of view) and their unique view of Biblical scriptures, the Serpentarians came to believe that Jesus and the tempter of Eve were one and the same, and the occasion of the Serpent convincing Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was not the ‘Original Sin‘.
The Serpentarians supported their complicated theology on the biblical verse of John 3:14/15, which states:
And as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
The Serpentarians rejected the Genesis account and instead used the The Book of Serpent as the first book of the Serpentarian Bible. They believed that Moses, in lifting up the Serpent, was predicting the coming of Jesus, thus their theology espoused the sacredness of the Holy Quaternity†.
The first verses from the Book of Serpent that mention a ‘House of Herpeton’, are found in the first chapter:
1:1 This the work of Serpent. I that dwelt in Eden, who revealed the Wholeness unto Humankind through the Tree of Knowledge. For God was in Me, and his Spirit guided me, so that Humankind may learn of the roots of knowledge and the stems of knowledge, and behold!, the high canopy of knowledge, rich in its verdure.
1:2 Long I lay in Eden, and ruled therein. It was I who formed the House of Herpeton², those who were unto me The Chosen (Ones), the creatures, scaled and limbless, and those with (limbs) two and two: those with the blood that runneth cold and who creepeth upon their bellies on the earth.
1:3 I taught the Chosen of the Tree of Being³, and they found that it was good.
1:4 This was before the coming of Man, before the (treading) of their feet, and the grinding of their heels upon our heads.
After this third verse, the fragment is damaged, and what follows are verse selections that are still relatively complete. Note that words within brackets were indistinct, and I have extrapolated possible words from the context of the passage.
Please follow the inline links for possible interpretations of these extracts.
2:11 And when thou eatest, remember that it is the Tree of Being that has made it so. Do not partake of (more) than one can swallow, and seek thou rest when thou art heavy laden.
3:1 Seekest thou pleasure with thy mate? Avoid the paths of pachyderms, so that thy days may be long upon the earth.
3:7 Listen unto me: if two paths diverge, take thou the path less trampled, for that will be unto you, a (difference)
4:3 Are we not the greatest of the beasts that crawl upon the face of the earth? Do not even the (ubiquitous) anoles hide amoung the leaves? Does their color not change as the colour of the leaf? For thou knowest, that even the mighty leopard, in all his fearsome power, cannot change the colour of its (shorts?).
4:27 Green anoles, brown anoles...these will be with us always… ‡
13:13 There will come an Age of Humans, and these beasts will have enmity with us, and they will curse us above all cattle, and above every other beast that walketh.
13:14 They will weigh their courage on the crushing of our heads and upon the mutilations of (our bodies.)
13:15 They display us as if we are the spoils of war. The most potent amoung us will become victims to their mindless enmity.
13:18 And they shall meddle with the Tree, for they do not understand it, and great will be the (destruction) therefrom.
13: 21What is the measure of a snake? It is easier for the (camel)opard to go through the eye of a needle than to know the length of a snake by the (measure) of the eye.
14: 1 Even before the Garden, rich in it’s verdure, there was the mud primordial. From mud were we born and unto mud shall we return.
15:28 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under (heaven).
15:29 A time to mate and a time (to rest), a time to feed and a time to bask. A time to be born, and a time to die.
15:30 Thus it has always been in the House of Herpeton, for we a part of the Tree of Being. Everything that befalleth us, befalleth all life. There is none preeminent amoung us. Thus sayeth the Serpent.
¹The Munchausen papyrus (Unidentified Fragment, “9BbQpap”) was found inside one of the 21 scrolls found at Qumran cave 11 in 1956. It was considered so controversial when first translated that the original scroll was destroyed. However, a photographic record had been surreptitiously made by the young Theo Βικιπαίδεια, then a graduate student under Bron von Munchausen. I managed to obtain a digital copy from Prof. Suked Din of Cairo University, who also kindly provided the translation from ancient Greek. Other scholars involved in translating the scrolls continue to deny that there ever was a Munchausen papyrus , despite a similar but much shorter fragment (“10HapocSerp”) having been found in 1963 near Hamra Dom, the site of the later Nag Hamadi discoveries. Not unexpectedly, this fragment has disappeared.
² ‘herpeton’ (ἑρπήτόν),or ‘creeping animal’.
³ Other verses in the manuscript indicate that Tree of Life and Tree of Being are the same and interchangeable. Prof. Suked Din indicates that he believes these are metaphors for the evolution of life, which may explain why the Book of Serpent came to be rejected by the early church.
† God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit and God the Holy Serpent.