Jump directly to the content

Snake Handling History in Six Bites

Condemned Pentecostal practice lives long enough to get its own reality TV show.
Snake Handling History in Six BitesCourtesy of U.S. National Archives
Kentucky snake handlers (1946)

With today's debut of Snake Salvation, a new reality TV show focused on the condemned Pentecostal practice of handling poisonous snakes, here are six bite-sized facts about this fringe but growing Appalachian tradition:

1) The practice began in 1910 when an illiterate Tennessee preacher tried to literally apply Mark 16:18: "They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them..." (ESV). However, scholars debate the authenticity of that passage.

2) Snake Salvation star Andrew Hamblin is a 22-year-old pastor leading a resurgence of snake handling among younger Pentecostals (photos and timeline). (Update: Veteran religion reporter Julia Duin is writing a book on this trend.)

3) The rattlesnake death of West Virginia pastor Randy "Mack" Wolford, thoroughly profiled by The Washington Post Magazine, happened to be photographed by the Post as well.

4) More than 100 venomous snakes were confiscated in a 2008 sting operation in Kentucky. Gregory James Coots, father of Snake Salvation star Jamie Coots, owned the majority.

5) In 1940s Georgia, snake handling was penalized by death.

6) Five Tennessee children were orphaned in 1999 after their parents died handling snakes. A judge ruled that the paternal grandparents, who also believed in snake handling, would have custody during the summers and holidays, but could not bring the children to snake handling services.

Hamblin explains to Time magazine why "For God so loved the world, let's handle a snake" is not the takeaway message he seeks to share with viewers. Meanwhile, CT's former sister publication Christian History offers more details on the history of snake handling.

Posted:September 10, 2013 at 5:04PM
Gleanings aggregates what others are reporting. Learn more.
Recent Posts
150 Million Bible Readers Were Searching for Love Most in 2014
Bible Gateway finds patterns in how the world searched and read the Bible this past year.
India Intervenes on Christmas Conversion of Thousands of Christians to Hinduism
In Modi era, are government officials finally reining in Hindu nationalists?
Korea's Christmas 'Psychological Warfare' Canceled After All
South Korean Christians reverse plan to light the North Korean border with holiday cheer.
Sorry Again, John 3:16: The World's 10 Most Popular Bible Verses of 2014
YouVersion studies which scriptures 164 million users shared and remembered most this year.
Christianity Today
Snake Handling History in Six Bites