Barry Newman's Blog

April 27, 2011

Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24 (part I)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 12:31 pm

                                                                                                                                             Science and Genesis 3: 1 – 24

Genesis 3: 1 – 5 – the serpent and its dialogue with the woman

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (NIV)

The serpent

The serpent arrives upon the scene entirely unannounced.  The Hebrew begins, “And the serpent”. We cannot but focus upon it.

According to Walton, the serpent features prominently in the mythology of the ancient world. (pp. 202, 203) “The serpent was viewed as possessing mystical wisdom and as a demonic and hostile creature.” “It played a significant role in … the religious symbolism, and the cults of the ancient Near East.” (Walton quoting, N. Sarna) In Egypt, “Adapis, the enemy of the gods in the form of a snake, represented the forces of chaos.” In Mesopotamia, the god Ningishzida, shaped like a serpent, is “one of the deities who offers Adapa the bread of life by which he can gain immortality” and he is associated with a tree of some mystical primeval significance.

By comparison, the serpent of Genesis 3 is not portrayed as a being of great power.  Indeed as the narrative unfolds, as a generic being, it is consigned to being a creature that is to be crushed while still having power in its bite. Nonetheless in its dialogue with the woman it demonstrates characteristics somewhat reflective of the myths found within surrounding cultures.  It claims knowledge about what eating the fruit of an extraordinary tree will and will not do.  Its assertion is that eating the fruit of that tree will not necessarily result in death (see later) – the implication being that those who eat of the fruit of that tree will not necessarily put in jeopardy the possibility of having ongoing life. And as the account progresses, we see it as an agent for chaos. 

It has a type of wisdom – it is craftier than any of the beasts of the field – those creatures referred to in Gen 2: 20, to whom the man gave names.  Craftiness or shrewdness can be a desirable characteristic and is related to wisdom in Proverbs 8: 12.  But those having a spirit of ill intent towards others can also be spoken of as being crafty (Job 15: 5).  In the case of the serpent of Gen 3, its shrewdness is probably better described as a type of cunning, with deception its goal.  Though the serpent possesses no magical ability, its destructive capabilities are enormous.  No wonder that in later writings it is portrayed as Satan. 

Yet in the Genesis account, it is one of those “beasts of the field” that Yahweh Elohim has made.  One could maintain that it simply appears on the scene and is compared with the “beasts of the field”, rather than being one of them. However, if this were the case, we have a single entity that simply makes its appearance, as though it were a creature quite independent of God.  Yet later in the account God deals with it as though it is one of his creatures and I assume that that is the real situation. It is under the authority of God.  It will have to answer to God.  It is not a creature that has an independent existence, coming into being apart from God.


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