Is the Snake a Fake? A Herpetological Defense of the Maltese Snake in Acts 28:1–7

There has been debate concerning the accuracy of Acts 28:1–7, in which a Maltese snake bites Paul and, to the astonishment of the Malta natives, Paul remains unharmed, despite no miracle having taken place, according to Luke’s account. Certain scholars maintain that the passage is a legend due to two questions surrounding the nature of the snake: Why did the snake wait to strike Paul until it was placed in the fire? Why did the natives expect Paul to become ill or die, when currently no vipers are on Malta? This paper offers scientific responses to these questions that are not found in most commentaries. To answer the first question, a kind of serpentine hibernation called brumation fits well in the context of Paul’s winter shipwreck on the island of Malta. Concerning the second question, the four snakes currently on Malta are assessed, all of which are in the Colubridae family of snakes. Of particular interest is the Green Whip Snake, which herpetologists have recently found can be toxic should the snake latch onto its target for more than a minute. The paper also considers the influence of the Roman invasion of Malta in 218 BC and Malta’s subsequent prosperity for the Maltese snake population in light of Human-Induced Rapid Evolutionary Change (HIREC), changes that can occur in areas where an increase in human population causes limitations in wildlife habitat.

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