It is significant that John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” which basically meant he viewed them as poisonous children of snakes.
In the ancient world this was an especially contemptuous insult because of a common belief regarding the circumstances of viper births. Many thought that some breeds of viper babies ate their way out of the stomach of their mother, killing the mother in the process. In that context, John’s insult is a horrifying characterization of the religious elite.
“It was bad enough to be called a viper,” one theologian comments on John’s preaching, “but to be called a viper’s child was even worse—killing one’s mother or father was the most hideous crime conceivable in antiquity.”
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