Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's the drama and who's the snake?

Thanks to James McGrath for lovely quote which inspires me to make two observations about Gen 2-3.

1. The suspense of Gen 2:18-20 relies on the reader not having read Gen 1:26-28.  The way the story is being told the audience are expected not to know what partner might be found for the man.  But Gen 1:26-28 has already given it away, man goes with woman and the two of them are supposed to "go forth and multiply."  Thus the suspense and resolution of Gen 2:18-25, which arrives at essentially the same answers by a different route makes no sense if treated as part of a continuous narrative with Gen 1.  The two creation accounts should not be harmonized but read as alternative accounts.  This is not because I feel the need to do this to satisfy some modernist need to justify my enjoyment of and adherence to these ancient myths, but because the text (which I believe is God's word) actually demands it. 

2. The serpent is introduced in 3:1 as being "more crafty than any other wild animal that God had made."  Because of this, and the resultant loss of limb for said serpent in 2:14, I have never understood the ease with which this chatty little reptile is conflated with Satan and the Devil.  To do so takes the story out of the category of myth and into allegory.  If it is allegorical then why do we need to get so excited about whether or not it is historical?  This also makes it hard for me to accept that in Gen 3:15 we find the proto-euangelion.  To me 3:15 is simply a folksy explanation of why snakes are nasty.  The true proto-euangelion is, IMHO at least, Gen 12:1-3 and it would seem that here the Apostle Paul agrees with me (cf. Gal 3:8, which might count for something with some people).

Let me know what you think :-)


  1. Even simpler perhaps--talking animals abound in all sorts of literature. It's my understanding that Canaanite lit was full of talking snakes and other animals.

  2. Er, not sure I get your point Anon, but welcome to the blog nonetheless. And what a wonderful generalisation to make, in fact in your understanding i expect ancient Canaanite literature was practically a draft version of Aesop's fables.

    The question is not whether or not the Bible's authors used the imagery and symbolism of the world around it (of course they did what else could they use?), but what is meant when it does and how it subverts, contradicts, or even affirms the world with which it is engaging.

  3. Your view agrees with that of John Walton's in his NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY on GENESIS.

    However, many Evangelicals continue to argue that the serpent is connected in some way with Satan, since Revelation calls Satan a serpent.

    I agree with you it's an allegory at best.

    Also, the text does not state that the serpent lost legs, it merely says it was cursed to go on its belly. For all anyone knows the serpent could have had wings, and "winged serpents" I think are mentioned in the Bible and in other ancient literature.

  4. ETB, welcome back, and thanks for a more moderate comment! :-) Interested to hear about Walton, will look that up. I think however if we are to see this as based on or using some sort of folk tale the question it would most likely be answering is not "why don't snakes have wings?" as a snake does not resemble any bird, but "why don't snakes have legs?" as snakes quite clearly resemble lizards but with nits missing. i think Leviticus' urity laws demonstrate that taxonomy was not alien to the ancient mind. but i concede it is a moot (and interesting) point. pax