Flying Snakes in the Bible
In the fifth century BC—a time when several Old Testament books were composed—there lived a Greek historian called Herodotus. His books The Histories are, among other things, an extremely interesting read about the various countries, cultures and exploits of the ancient world. They are a great source of information on a bygone time.
However, I would advise every reader to take certain accounts with a grain of salt. Not everything in Herodotus is accurate by a modern historian’s standard. His books often blend fact with legend—sometimes clearly stating that it is a legend, but at other times not. Some of his accounts are twisted by Greek prejudice; others contain scientific inaccuracies. The modern reader should be aware of these and read the books accordingly.
For instance, in Book II of The Histories, Herodotus reports on the existence of flying snakes in Egypt, getting there from the East. Now as far as we know, there was never any such thing as a flying snake. It must have been a legend which Herodotus believed because he did not know any better. And when, in addition to our scientific knowledge on the non-existence of flying snakes, archeologists tell us that they have found pictures of flying snakes on Egyptian monuments, we have found a probable source for Herodotus’ account.
He simply followed common belief. This is quite excusable, since we often do the same. But it is, nonetheless, (as far as we know) scientifically inaccurate.
If we approach the books of the Bible in the same way that we approach Herodotus and we found a report of flying snakes there, we would have to draw the same conclusion that we did in Herodotus’ case. We cannot have a double standard. We cannot brand Herodotus’ account of the flying snakes as scientifically inaccurate, but explain the Bible’s account away. If one is scientifically inaccurate, so is the other.
Are there, then, biblical references to flying snakes in Egypt? Yes, there are. The prophet Isaiah writes: “Through a land of trouble and distress, of lioness and roaring lion, of viper and flying serpent, they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that cannot profit them. For Egypt’s help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her, ‘Rahab who sits still’” (italics mine).
From these verses we have to conclude that Isaiah, like Herodotus, held to the inaccurate belief that there are flying snakes. Otherwise he would not have included it in his oracle. This means that if the oracle was inspired by God, then God did not attempt to correct Isaiah’s false assumption about flying snakes.
One could, of course, also endeavor to explain the flying snakes by saying that they were another term for locusts or a similar flying animal. But the main point is that we have to interpret Isaiah the same way that we do Herodotus. And since I, at least, find the explanation most convincing that Egyptian paintings and a common belief suggested the flying snakes to Herodotus, I am forced to adopt the same explanation about Isaiah’s flying snakes.
 See John Marincola’s notes on The Histories by Herodotus.
 Isaiah 30:6-7. The Hebrew word which is here rendered “flying” is עוּף (“oof”), which, as far as I understand with my limited grasp of the matter, quite clearly implies that the said serpents had wings. Some translations render it to mean “darting,” but such a translation seems to stem from the presupposition that the text cannot contain any scientific inaccuracies and therefore has to mean something reasonable.