Barry Newman's Blog

May 20, 2011

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 3:21 am

Yahweh Elohim and his judgement on the serpent (c0nt)

The judgement on the serpent is two-fold.  The first has to do with its basic existence – its locomotion. Strikingly, the serpent is cursed. Walton points out that curses in connection with serpents are not uncommon in the ancient world (pp. 224, 225).  “The Egyptian pyramid texts … contain a number of spells against serpents … Some spells enjoin the serpent to crawl on its belly (keep its face on the path).”  He also argues that the eating of dust is not a reference to the diet of snakes in the ordinary world, but rather an allusion, found in ancient literature, to what is eaten in the netherworld.  He refers to Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic who “on his death bed dreams of the netherworld and describes it as a place with no light and where ‘dust is their food, clay their bread.’” He suggests that such imagery belongs to the netherworld because of the nature of the grave and concludes that “the curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on its belly) and death (eating dust).”

“Docility” seems too soft a word but its use by Walton is consistent with his earlier statement that “the curse combats its aggressive nature”. Walsh suggests that the idea of grovelling is entailed in the serpent crawling on its belly and “grovelling” suggests more than aggressive behaviour being curbed. Walton’s reference to “wishing upon” as a way of referring to “being cursed” would also seem to require further thought. He later argues (p. 237) that in what God says, we have first “a prescriptive statement imposing a condition (curse), followed by a descriptive statement indicating the consequences of the new situation brought about by his behaviour (crawling on its belly eating dust).”  If the curse is to be described as a “wish”, then when God makes this wish, it unavoidably results in a state leading to equally unavoidable consequences.  I think it is preferable to simply see what God does as uttering a curse, the fulfilment of which cannot be avoided because God has determined that it shall be so.  The idea of God uttering a curse will be further explored later when examining the cursing of the ground.

The cursing of the serpent gives it a lower status than all the livestock and all the beasts of the field (the same two groups that the man gives names to in 2: 20 – see above). Though it is described as craftier than all the beasts of the field in 3: 1, now in 3: 14, it is cursed above all such. Its greater craftiness has ultimately lead to its undoing and now results in its lesser status.  The serpent’s image may be found on the crown of a pharaoh, as is indeed the case, but this serpent is to become a groveller and the lowest of all these creatures. All because “it has done this” – it deceived the woman.


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