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By: David Deschesne
Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal,
December 30, 2009, p. 8
In Genesis 3:1 we are introduced to a new character, who appears out of nowhere, the serpent.
The Hebrew word for serpent is nachash,1 which has its roots in the same word for “to divine,” “enchanter,” “to learn by experience” and “diligently observe.”2 It can also been translated as “copper” or “brass”3 from a similar Hebrew root, meaning “coppery or brass colored,” as the back of a snake’s throat.4
There have been several interpretations of what kind of snake the serpent was - the Literalist theory - or whether it was just a metaphor for human thought and behavior - the Figurative Theory.
“The serpent has been excessively interpreted. Whatever the serpent may have meant in earlier versions of the story, in the present narrative it has no independent significance. It is a technique to move the plot of the story. It is not a phallic symbol or satan or a principle of evil or death. It is a player in the dramatic presentation. This is the first theological talk in the narrative. The new mode of discourse here warns that theological talk which seeks to analyze and objectify matters of faithfulness is dangerous enterprise.”5
The Literalist Theory
Even though the root for nachash is a verb - to observe, to divine, to learn by experience - the popular belief of nachash is that it was a literal snake or serpent under the inspiration of Satan (the adversary) with whom Eve had the conversation.
“Contrary to the popular conception, which makes Satan the author of the grosser sins of the flesh, and which attributes to him that which our Lord plainly declared issues out of the human heart, we are here informed that the sphere of his operations is the religious or spiritual realm. His chief aim is to get between the soul and God, to estrange man’s heart from his Maker and inspire confidence instead, in himself.”6
The actual form, or type of snake, the serpent took has been the source of much conjecture. “Bochart thinks it was the Dragon serpent; Bishop Patrick, a saraph, the supposed winged serpent, which from its bright luminous appearance and springing motions, he conceived, strangely enough, to bear some resemblance to the seraphim; Dr. Adam Clarke held the opinion that the animal was an orang-outang - an opinion, however, which has found no supporters. Whatever was the species of serpent (and as no hint is given it would be idle to prosecute an enquiry where certainty is unattainable) it is presented in this narrative as the prominent agent in a wicked scheme of seduction.”7
The Literalist Theory is supported by the non-canonical book, Adam and Eve from the Forgotten Books of Eden collection. In it, Adam and Eve are said to have approached the western gate of the Garden, after having been expelled from it. There, they met with the serpent who was sorrowfully wriggling in the dust on its belly, blaming them for its demise. It then swelled with anger, stood on its tail and proceed to attempt to kill the two. God then sent an angel to save them, throwing the serpent away from them, then striking it dumb so it could speak no more.8
The Figurative Theory
There are some who hold to the theory that there was no serpent, rather it was Eve debating with herself over whether or not the tree was off limits. Using the verbal form of nachash - “to observe, to learn by experience,” it has been suggested that Eve was observing all the acts/practices of those around her and seeing how all those people enjoyed what they were doing, without seeing immediate “judgment.” She concluded that there was no death for violating God’s word. However, the death God mentioned was not immediate. It was that moral decay that produced a “dead” society, which takes more than a few years to develop.
The Figurativist says that the nachash is that part of the mind - the free will - that was designed by God that allows us to stray from him and it was that nachash with whom Eve was conversing on that fateful day.
A third, and more obscure, theory is that the serpent was Enki, a human-like character from Sumerian lore. Enki, whose pictographic symbol in Sumerian is a snake. According to Sumerian texts, Enki worked in the ‘bio-engineering’ field, specifically DNA and is the one responsible for helping form Adam and Eve via genetic engineering. Enki’s symbol has been used for eons, and is still in use today, as the world-recognized symbol for medicine - the caduceus - whose two intertwined serpents seem to resemble the double helix structure of DNA.9
Whoever, or whatever the form of the Serpent, the result was the same - man’s disobedience to God’s word. God set the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, gave man one law - that it was off limits - and gave man free will to obey, or disobey Him. Willful obedience, trust and Faith are what God wants from us, not to just avoid the tree, but to willfully follow His will for each of us in our lives. The act itself is not relevant, only the choice to do or not do the act, based on His will, that voluntary obedience is all God wanted from Adam and Eve and still desires from each and every one of us today.
1. Strong’s 5175
2. Strong’s 5172
3. Strong’s 5173
4. Strong’s 5153, 5154
5. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis, Walter Brueggemann, ©1982 John Knox Press, p.47
6. Gleanings in Genesis, Arthur W. Pink, ©1952 Moody Bible Institute, p. 36
7. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old Testaments, Vol. I: Genesis, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, ©1945 WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 50
8. Adam & Eve, 12- 13; The Forgotten Books of Eden, ©1926 Alpha House, Inc. p. 14
9 see Divine Encounters, ©1995 Zecharia Sitchin and Genesis Revisited, ©1990 Zecharia Sitchin.