- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1 edition (April 1, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 087049788X
- ISBN-13: 978-0870497889
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 1.3 x 10 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,520,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Serpent Handling Believers 1st Edition
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From Library Journal
Melding oral history with scholarly research, this remarkable book explores the controversial practice among some Christians of handling poisonous serpents as an act of faithful obedience. Dramatic photographs and interviews introduce readers to some of the devoted practitioners. Burton's respectful approach does not prevent him from asking hard questions, however, as he analyzes the history of the practice and accompanying ethical and legal issues. Having produced three documents on serpent handling, Burton (English, East Tennessee State Univ.) here, too, distills the salient issues while giving readers a glimpse of the serpent-handlers' culture, as they understand it. Highly recommended.
- Cynthia Widmer, Downingtown, Pa.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Thomas Burton is professor emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of Serpent-Handling Believers and The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford's Story.
Alan Burton, MD, Professor of Anesthesia, University of Texas School of Medicine.
Michael Fisch, MD, Professor of Oncology, University of Texas School of Medicine.
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Top Customer Reviews
A must for any serious student of Southern American culture!
You would also enjoy reading Burton's "The Serpent and the Spirit", the totally intriguing story of Glenn Summerford, which is a true crime story that can still be called a mystery, even as Summerford serves time following his conviction for attempting to murder his second wife.
Burton's writing style would make any subject matter fascinating. He serves up non-fiction in a way most authors can only dream of doing. Treat yourself to a Burton read.
The author is keen to stress that serpent-handlers are not abnormal or backward, and he wonders why there is so much hostility against them as compared with other risk-taking activities.
Chapters 2 & 3 deal with the life of pioneer George Went Hensley and the early history of the movement from around 1908. The history is further explored in chapter 4, illumined with quotes from the church publication The Evangel. The next one is devoted to the legal history of serpent handling in Tennessee courts with reference to particular cases of arrest and prosecution. The practice has always presented a dilemma between religious freedom and protecting the lives of citizens. It seems that the authorities have consistently been divided but in general have attempted not to interfere with freedom of faith.
Three personalities are given a voice in the chapter titled Portraits, in an attempt to provide psychological insight on the serpent handler. The three individuals are Liston Pack, Charles Prince and Anna Prince, all three of whom are quoted at length.
Media criticism of these believers is examined in the Conclusion, together with psychological studies, from the negative Freudian perspective of Weston La Barre to the sympathetic conclusions of Nathan and Louise Gerrard using the Multiphasic Personality Inventory Test, and the work of Susan Gilmore and Troy Abel. The views of various theologians and contemporary fundamentalist religious leaders like Jerry Falwell are also provided.
Appendix A: The Anointment, examines the phenomenon of acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This section includes a report of an electroencephalograph test taken of Liston Pack by Dr Michael Woodruff, detailing the EEG patterns which occur in the mystical state.
Appendix B: The Music, describes the worship music of the serpent handling churches. It is improvisatory in nature, derived from a blend of bluegrass and country-western styles utilizing 12- and 16-bar blues progressions. Secular melodies are often employed with scriptural lyrics. The instruments include piano, organ, guitar, bass, cymbals and tambourines.
Appendix C is a chronology of the life of George Hensley from 1880 to his death in 1955, and Appendix D: Questions and Answers, attempts to answer a wide range of questions about the snakes, the poison, the fire, key scriptures, the customs of the Pentecostal Holiness churches and the number of believers which sadly seems to be in decline.
According to Kurt Rudolf in Gnosis: The Nature And History of Gnosticism, there were Gnostic sects like The Ophites (also called Ophians or Serpentinians) and the Naassenes in the early Christian era who had some unusual views of serpents but they cannot be considered as forerunners of the Signs Following churches that follow a strict interpretation of the Bible. Theologically the members include Trinitarians and Oneness (Jesus Name) believers but this difference does not seem to matter at all and the churches are non-denominational.
Although there are certain individuals in these churches who have an unhealthy obsession with snakes outside of the religious service and although some of the preachers have led less than exemplary lives, it seems to me that most of the church members are sincere in their beliefs and are godly people who try to live holy lives. I also recommend the book The Serpent Handlers by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald.
The book concludes with a reference section of sources in the archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University plus printed sources, legal references and a section on films, videos and records. There are 84 black and white photographs of services, the Church Of The Lord Jesus at Jolo, The Holiness Church of God In Jesus Name at Carson Springs and the former Dolley Pond Church Of God With Signs Following in Birchwood, plus prominent personalities like Lydia Elkins Hollins, organist and singer at the Jolo church whose voice resembles that of Janis Joplin.
It includes a mention of her mother Columbia Gaye Hagerman who died from a snakebite in 1961 at the age of 23. For five days Columbia suffered excruciating pain, refusing all offers of medical intervention before she passed away. An award-winning, personal account of a writer's involvement with this practice is the highly recommended Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington.