The Fall

Snake or Seraph? The Identity of the Serpent in Genesis 3 (Part 2)

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Perhaps what Adam and Even saw and heard in the Garden was no mere snake but a serpent-like creature belonging to a higher order than the ordinary “beasts of the field.” Several considerations lend support to this view.

More Than a Mere Beast of the Field

First of all, the serpent obviously bears qualities that are superior to the animal life, namely, intellectual, communicative, and moral capacities. The use of the min (מן) comparative to describe the serpent as wiser than the ordinary animals (מכל חית השדה) indicates a contrast and need not imply that the serpent in fact belonged to the same class of beings with which he was being compared.16 Thus, when Solomon pledges to build Yahweh a great temple, “for our God is greater than all gods [מכל האלהים] (II Chr 2:5), he does not intend to place God in the same class as the false deities of the pagan nations. When the Psalmist declares, “I have more understanding than all my teachers [מכל מלמדי],” he views himself as a pupil, not as a teacher (119:99). Similarly, “the serpent” of Genesis 3:1 may appear to belong to the class of animals with which he is compared but in fact does not. Hence, the narrator’s syntax seems to place the serpent into a class of his own. Rowland Ward agrees and remarks

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Snake or Seraph? The Identity of the Serpent in Genesis 3 (Part 1)

Genesis 3:1 introduces a new character into the Eden narrative and signals a shift in the plot. He is introduced as “the serpent.” Initially, the reader may picture nothing more than a legless reptile (suborder: serpentes). The Hebrew term נחש is generally used to refer to a type of a reptile, usually a legless reptile such as a snake (Num 21:6; Deut 8:15; Ps 58:4; Prov 23:32; Isa 65:25; Jer 8:17; Amos 5:19; Mic 7:17). But additional information in the account suggests that this entity is more than a mere snake. This creature talks with the humans and entices them to sin (3:1–5). As a result, he and his “offspring” are cursed by God (3:14–15). The mixture of animal and supra-animal characteristics raises the question of the real identity of this “tempter,” the answer to which is vital for a proper interpretation of the text.

Some Modern Views

Some modern scholars suggest that the narrator’s portrayal of a talking animal classifies the text as ancient folklore and myth, and it serves both an etiological as well as a moralistic function. Herman Gunkel opines,

The myth belongs to the category of myths and fairy tales very common in antiquity and among primitive peoples which tell how certain animals came by their unusual characteristics, “why the flounder has its oblique mouth, the donkey its long ears, and the bear its stumpy tail.”1

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Death and the Fall

When It Comes to Calvinism, Logic Can Lead to Heresy