Why the Villain of Eden was a snake

The following as an archived version of a post originally made Jan 3, 2018. The original post received 139 comments.

This YouTube presentation argues ancient Judahite religion believed seraphim were serpentine divine beings and that the serpent in the Garden of Eden story was likely one of these creatures in the original context of the Hebrew Bible.


Footnotes:

[1] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015), 87. See also, Michael S. Heiser, The Nachash (הנחש) and His Seed: Some Explanatory Notes on Why the “Serpent” in Genesis 3 Wasn’t a Serpent,” 1-7. Available at: http://www.pidradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/nachashnotes.pdf

[2] See T. N. D. Mettinger entry “Seraph” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) ed. K. van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 743.

[3] Othmar Keel, Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst: Eine neue Deutung der Majestatsschilderungen in Jes, Ez 1 und 10 und Sach 4 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1984), 102; 104; 109. See also William A. Ward, "The Four-Winged Serpent on Hebrew Seals," Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 43.2 (1968), 135-43.

[4] Benjamin Sommer, “Seraphs,” Bible Odyssey presented by The Society of Biblical Literature, Accessed May 8, 2017, www.Bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/seraphs.

[5] Ibid.

[6] As Mettinger, “Seraph” in DDD, 743. See also Lowell Handy, Among the Host of Heaven: The Syro-Palestinian Pantheon as Bureaucracy (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 155.

[7] Though contested, Joines notes that in the Adapa legend Ningishzida, the serpent-god, offers Adapa the food of immortality. The common Semitic root for serpent (hawwa) has also been linked with the same root for ‘life,’ and Eusebius reports that the Phoenicians and Egyptians associated the serpent with indefinite renewal (see K. R. Joines, “The Serpent in Gen 3,” in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 87 [1975], 2). Lurker agrees that, “the snake, because it sloughs its skin, became a symbol of survival after death, as in Chapter 87 of the Book of the Dead” (Manfred Lurker, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt [Britain: Thames and Hudson,1980], 108). Even in modern times, we still use the caduceus, two serpents intertwined on a pole, as a symbol for healing (i.e. rejuvenation). The caduceus can be found in Semitic antecedents on Mesopotamian amulets and seals and was later inherited by the Greeks—a sympathetic magic tradition that Moses’ bronze seraph serpent seems to be participating in in Num 21 (see Leslie S. Wilson’s discussion of the origin and history of the caduceus in The Serpent Symbol in the Ancient Near East: Nahash and Asherah: Death Life and Healing [Lanham: University Press of America, 2001], 183-194).

[8] A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 723.

[9] Matthew Black and James C. VanderKam, trans., The Book of Enoch or I Enoch: A New English Edition with Commentary and Textual Notes (Leiden: Brill, 1985), 37. Note: The translators of this passage insert a parenthetical suggestion in the text that the serpents are seraphim. I have omitted this to avoid redundancy.

[10] See Testament of Amram, manuscript B, frag 1, line 14 in Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, trans., Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for over 35 Years (USA: Penguin Books, 1992).

[11] As Ronning agrees, “In both passages [Gen 3 and Isa 6], the serpents speak, and by their speech show knowledge of both human and divine affairs, as would be expected from those who are privy to the divine council.” John L. Ronning, “The Curse of the Serpent (Genesis 3:15) in Biblical theology and Hermeneutics” (PhD diss. Westminster Seminary, 1997), 134.

[12] See the wealth of images collected in Keel’s appendix: Keel, Jahwe-Visionen, 102; 104; 109.

[13] This notion that seraphim were circumscribed by the term cherub is further supported by the fact that both the cherubim in Ezekiel and the seraphim in Isaiah possess a multiplicity of wings. Whereas Egyptian art attributes only two wings to serpent guardians, Judean art seems to have appropriated the copious number of wings common to cherubs and attributed them to seraphim. For iconographic examples, see Ward, “The Four-Winged Serpent.” However, the degree of overlap between the cherubim and seraphim is contested, though I have been unable to find any detractors who sufficiently interact with the types of objections Heiser makes in order to fairly compare and contrast the arguments in this presentation. Heiser presents a brief summation of his reasons for dissenting starting at 36 mins into this lecture: youtube.com/watch?v=-W19X6TtgQ8. For an example of a scholar who argues against overlap between cherubim and seraphim, see Anna Rozonoer, “The Invariable Variability of the Cherubim” (PhD diss. Boston University, School of Theology, 2014). Available at: https://open.bu.edu/bitstream/handle/2144/15153/Rozonoer_bu_0017E_10667.pdf?sequence=1

[14] H. J. van Dijk, Ezekiel’s Prophecy on Tyre (Ez. 26,1-28,19): A New Approach, Biblica et orientalia 20 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1968), 113-115.

[15] Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 78.

[16] Ibid. See Heiser’s extended discussion in chapter ten of the Unseen Realm.

[17] Ronning, “The Curse of the Serpent,” 132.

[18] Ibid., 135.

[19] Bernard F. Batto, In the Beginning: Essays on creation Motifs in the Ancient Near East and the Bible, Siphrut 9 (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, 2013), 47.


Comments

  1. Who said that the serpent in Genesis was a villain? On the contrary. It was a wise creature that red-pilled the earthling and his wife about their sad state of naked servitude to Yahweh, and told them the truth that Yahweh's lie: they can gain knowledge and they won't die. Everything that the serpent told them about eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was true, by Yahweh's own admission (they did become "like us" as the serpent claimed).

    Not a villain, but a hero. Yahweh is the villain of the story.

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