And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast
The viper is called "Therion", a beast, it being of the viviparous kind; and hence comes "Theriaca", or "Venice treacle", the foundation of which composition is vipers' flesh; and it is called venomous, because it is of all serpents the most venomous: this when the country people saw
hang on his hand,
having wrapped itself about it,
they said among themselves, no doubt this man is a murderer:
they might see he was a prisoner by his chain, or might learn it from some of the company, and therefore took it for granted he had been guilty of some crime; and by the viper's fastening on him, they concluded it was murder he was guilty of; for the same notion might obtain among them, as among the Jews, that a murderer that could not be legally convicted, was sometimes punished this way.
``Says R. Simeon ben Shetach F12, may I never see the consolation, if I did not see one run after his friend into a desert place; and I ran after him, and I saw the sword in his hand, and the blood dropping, and he that was slain panting; and I said to him, O wicked man, who has slain this? either I or thou; but what shall I do? for thy blood is not delivered into my hand; "for the law says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses he shall surely die" (( Deuteronomy 17:6 ) ): may he that knows the thoughts take vengeance on that man that slew his friend; they say, they did not remove from thence, (vxn abv de) , "till a serpent came", and bit him, and he died.''So the Jews observe, that when the execution of capital punishments was taken away from them, yet such who deserved them were punished by God in a way equivalent to them: so for instance, if a man committed a crime, for which he deserved to be burnt, either he fell into the fire, or (wkvwn vxn) , "a serpent bit him" F13; or if he deserved to be strangled, either he was drowned in a river, or died of a quinsy. There is a kind of an asp which the Egyptians call "Thermuthis", which they reckon sacred, and worship: this they say will not hurt good men, but destroys the wicked; and if so, says the historian, then (dikh) , "vengeance", or justice has honoured this creature, to be so sharp sighted as to discern the good from the bad; and they say, Isis sends it to the most wicked F14. Agreeably to which these men reason,
whom though he hath escaped the sea:
has not been drowned there, when shipwrecked,
yet vengeance suffereth not to live.
The Greek word "Dice" rendered "vengeance", is the name of a goddess among the Heathens, said to be the daughter of Jupiter and Themis F15. She is represented as sitting by her father Jupiter; and when anyone does injury to another, informs him of it F16. She is painted sorrowful, and with a contracted forehead, a grave countenance, and a rough aspect, to strike terror in unrighteous persons, and give confidence to righteous ones F17, agreeably to her name, which signifies "justice". This deity the barbarians supposed pursued Paul; and though she let him escape the sea, she will not suffer him to live any longer; for they looked upon the viper's fastening on him, as to be sent by her, so to be immediate death to him.
F12 T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 37. 2. & Shebuot, fol. 34. 1.
F13 Bemidbar Rabba, fol. 214. 2. & T. Bab. Sanhedrin, ib. & Sota, fol. 8. 2.
F14 Aelian de Animal l. 10. c. 31.
F15 Apollodarus de Deorurn Origon. l. 1. p. 6. Phurnutus de Natura Deorum, p. 80.
F16 Hesiod Opera v. 254, 255.
F17 Chrysippus apud Geilium, l. 14. c. 4.