I'm going to repost some comments I left at Lydia McGrew's blog:
Since, in the running commentary, a fair amount of ink has now been spilt on the argument from miracles, perhaps this should be recast in a more systematic context. What is the evidentiary function of miracles? Are miracles just an accommodation to inveterate skeptics who demand a sign?
i) The Bible itself warns about the proliferation of false prophets. People who come speaking in the name of the Lord. They say God spoke to them and told them to tell you what you should do or not do, believe or disbelieve. Some of them are deceivers. Liars. Conmen. They themselves don't believe their own claims. They simply pose as religious figures.
Others are self-deluded. They really think God is sending them messages, even though that's not the case.
So one practical question is how to winow the wheat from the chaff.
ii) Apropos (i), how did ancient Israelites know that God spoke to Abraham? How did they know that God called Abraham out of Ur and made a covenant with Abraham? What's the evidence?
iii) One line of evidence would be indirect. They knew that God spoke to Abraham because they knew that God spoke to Moses. If Moses wrote the account of Abraham's life, then it comes down to his credibility rather than the credibility of Abraham, per se.
iv) And how did they know God spoke to Moses? Because God vouches for Moses by empowering him to perform miracles which mirror divine agency. God's word is attested by God's deeds. That's how the evidential value of miracles functions in the early chapters of Exodus.
v) Likewise, how did 1C Christians know that Jesus was the divine messiah? Same argument.
How did they know that Peter was divinely commissioned apostle?
a) There's a direct line of evidence: if Peter was a miracle-worker.
b) There's an indirect line of evidence: if Peter was chosen by a miracle-worker (i.e. Christ).
Even if, say, Matthew was not a miracle-worker, if he was chosen by Christ, then he is attested by Christ.
vi) One potential objection is that even if contemporaries of Moses or Christ were in a position to witness their miracles, later readers are not.
That, however, involves a chain-of-custody. Historical knowledge is generally based on testimonial evidence. I don't have to personally witness the gunfight at O.K. Corral to know that it happened. That event was vouched for by contemporaries. And we have contemporary records. Living memory of that event lingered for many years. Oral history was committed to writing.
vii) Complementing the argument from miracles is the argument from prophecy, which is a kind of miracle. Moreover, long-range prophecy can be a direct evidence for later readers who live to see the fulfillment. It was future to the original audience, but past to a later audience.
viii) In addition, it's not just a question of believing reports of miracles, or believing reported miracles from the distant past. Miracles aren't just a thing of the past. There's credible evidence for the intermittent occurrence of Christian miracles throughout the course of church history right up to the present.
ix) Another potential objection is that miracles and prophecies are not a sufficient proof of divine authorization inasmuch as evil spirits can empower humans to perform miracles or possess paranormal insight and foresight.
That, however, significantly narrows the range of explanatory options. It eliminates the status of the claimant as a mere charlatan. He's not just a garden-variety liar.
Rather, we've entered the realm of superhuman ability. So that's something to be taken more seriously.
x) Apropos (ix), it then becomes a question of how to distinguish messages from God from messages from evil spirits.
Evil spirits have a very different character than God. By the same token, messages from evil spirits have a very different character than messages from God.
xi) A final objection is that my argument makes assumptions about dating and authorship. That's true, and there's an abundant literature defending those assumptions.
All I'm doing is to sketch the outline of the general argument. The details can and have been penciled in elsewhere.
"We are told in Mt 24:23–25 and Rev 13:11–15 that "mighty works" will be fraudulently produced."
That's a valid consideration in the abstract. But a basic problem with that objection is that few false prophets, cult-leaders, New Age gurus et al. (e.g. Buddha, Muhammad Joseph Smith, Bhagwan Rajneesh, Ron Hubbard, Benny Hinn, Jeane Dixon) even make it to Round 2. Precious few even pass that initial test. Either they don't perform miracles and don't make daring predictions which come true, or they make daring predictions which turn out to be false.
If a claimant can actually avoid being disqualified in the first round, then additional considerations come into play.
To my knowledge, some Roman Catholics, working within the framework of Humani Generis, believe that God created man by ensouling a subset of primates. Theistic evolution produced prehuman hominids. God then elevated a subset of this preexisting species to humanity through the process of ensoulment–thereby conferring on it the imago Dei. Something like that.
Since, Humani Generis has been dragged into the discussion (not by me), I'll make a few brief observations:
i) It was published 65 years ago. It's not the last word on the status of theistic evolution in RC theology. It was more of an icebreaker. It began a conversation. Demonstrated that it was now allowable to consider theistic evolution. It marks a shift from the previous position.
ii) It is not an infallible encyclical. And having opened the door a crack, it's inevitable that subsequent RC scientists, philosophers, and theologians will open the door wider. That's the theory of development in action.
I think Humani Generis is more about what's permissible than what's impermissible. It doesn't set the parameters. It was a first step. A mid-20C pope getting his toes wet. Others wade deeper into evolution.
I believe that Karl Rahner later made allowance for polygenism. From what I've read, this is an ongoing discussion in RC circles.
"True. But this road leads to Harnack, and everything that trek implies about a pristine, pre-metaphysical, untouched by philosophy, biblical faith. But such a thing never was, and never can be, you end up with liberal Protestantism and then unbelief."
I didn't suggest that exegesis is presuppositionless. That, however, doesn't justify plugging whatever extraneous philosophical presuppositions we cater to into an ancient text–then pretending that's what the text really meant.
Keep in mind, too, that there's a trajectory from traditional Catholicism through liberal Catholicism to unbelief. For instance, just compare the views of Scripture propounded by the Pontifical Biblical Commission under Leo XIII with the current status quo to see the inroads that modernism has made within your own communion.
Here are some comments by OT scholar Richard Averbeck, in response to Walton:
"A more controversial point is that Walton sees substantial accommodation to the ANE worldview in the locutions of Gen 1, although not in the illocutions or perlocutions…There is something to this, but, in my opinion, he goes too far with it. The Bible is not only in its world in this regard but also against its world."
"He compares the seven days of the Gen 1 account with this temple dedication pattern in contrast to the material construction of the temple. The difficulty with the latter part of this comparison is that Gen 1 is not just about the dedication of the world as God's temple but the actual fabrication of the material world.
"…in fact, Gen 2:7 makes it clear that God 'formed' the man out of dust from the ground. This is material creation, and so it is in Gen 1:26-28 as well."
"When a person makes a clay pot, he or she makes something material, even though the potter uses preexisting material (original clay) to make it."
"In Gen 2:22 the verb 'build' is used for the making of the woman out of the rib of the man because a rib is the kind of thing you 'build' with (like a board or log) rather than 'shape' or 'form," like clay (dust of the ground) in Gen 2:7."
"Furthermore, it is simply not true that material creation was not a major concern in the ANE world surrounding ancient Israel. We have a good number of examples of material creation in the literature from Egypt to Mesopotamia."
J. Daryl Charles, ed. Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation (Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 170-72.
"This is corroborated by Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, in which he argues that the very notion of truth, for the Hebrews, was very different from the still very dominant Correspondence Theory of Truth."
What about the OT distinction between true and false prophecy? How did they distinguish the two without a correspondence theory of truth?
Likewise, how did they adjudicate crimes without a correspondence theory of truth? Don't all those Pentateuchal laws distinguish compliant from noncompliant behavior?
How could OT prophets indict Israel for disobedience to the Mosaic covenant absent a correspondence theory of truth?
It's unclear how, absent a correspondence theory of truth, the Hebrews could distinguish true worship from false worship. Yet that surely looms large in the OT.
This isn't just about competing ideas of the divine, but different religious practices. Different stated objects of worship. As well as historical actions attributed to Yahweh.
It's unclear how Breuer's objection is even relevant to Lydia's review. Walton drives a wedge between functional and material origins. But if, according to Breuer, ancient Hebrews didn't operate with a concept of truth approximating the correspondence theory, then how is Walton's dichotomy even sustainable? How would Hebrews be able to differentiate functional from material origins, given Breuer's claim?
"Do you have evidence that the ancient Israelites cared about this matter? My suspicion is that they did not…"
i) Strictly speaking, it's irrelevant whether ancient Israelites cared about that. The OT frequently addresses issues which many ancient Israelites would rather ignore. The OT isn't primarily a product of what ancient Israelites cared about. Left to their own devices, they were just like other ANE pagans. That's why God had to take the initiative.
ii) From what I've read, creation stories are pretty common among primitive people-groups throughout the world. There's a natural human curiosity about where we came from. So even from an a priori standpoint, it's to be expected that the Bible would have an account of how the world originated.
One mark of the true God is that he is the absolute Creator of the world. And that's in studied contrast to the pagan pantheon. In heathenism, even the old gods, the high gods, are ultimately the product of an immemorial world process.
"In this day and age, we are obsessed with how things work and what they're made of…"
Seems to me the ancients shared that preoccupation. Take Mesopotamian floodworks, to control and channel the Tigris and Euphrates, in order to limit the damage caused by flooding from untamed rivers, as well as redirecting river water to irrigate farmland. The ancients took an interest in technology. They had to–to survive in a savage environment.
iii) Finally, it's not uncommon for some theologians to downplay Biblical miracles because they don't believe in miracles or the historicity of the narratives recording them. But to maintain pious appearances, they turn their unbiblical skepticism into a theological virtue. That's a a standard offensive move. Bultmann deployed that tactic. "We're justified by faith, not by evidence!"
But in reality it camouflages the loss of faith.
"Do you think YHWH cared about [fixing] ANE science? Yes, or no?"
i) Yahweh cared about correcting false beliefs concerning the origin of the world and its inhabitants–as well as the origin of evil.
Israelites came out of ANE paganism. Pagans were enslaved by fear of high gods, low gods, local gods, tribal gods, patron gods, evil spirits, ancestral spirits, &c. They went to great lengths to manipulate (i.e. witchcraft) or placate (i.e human sacrifice) these many malicious, conniving deities.
It was necessary to set the record straight. There is one true God. One absolute Creator of the world. Everything and everyone else is a creature of Yahweh. There are no other divinities to supplicate or placate. Everything comes from Yahweh's hand.
It was necessary to reassign man to his true place in natural order. To explicate his true relation to God.
ii) You also posit the arbitrary notion that somehow God can't do two things at once. If he "fixes" ANE "science," then he has to wait a while before he can fix injustice.
"When one compares Genesis 1–2 to Enûma Eliš, does one see major differences with respect to material ontology, or functional ontology? I claim the biggest differences are functional, having to do with formal and final causation."
i) You're equivocating. Both are about material and functional ontology alike.
ii) Walton's position is incoherent. If Gen 1 teaches functional creation rather than material creation, then there's no obsolescent science in view. For obsolescent science presuppose a material description.
Walton can't consistently say both that Gen 1 narrates the antiquated depiction of a physical three-story cosmos and that Gen 1 only narrates functional fiats, not material fiats.
iii) I don't know why you take the Enûma Eliš, as a standard of comparison. It's really not a full-blown creation account. From what I've read, Marduk used to be the patron god of what was then a minor city-state (Babylon).
However, with the rise of the Babylonian empire, an earlier creation myth was redacted to retroactively legitimate the city of Babylon as the political and religious capital of the Babylonian empire. The Enûma Eliš supplies the backstory for Marduk's ascendancy to the top god in the pantheon, which serves the political function of making the city-state of Babylon the preeminent power center in the Babylonian empire.
The Masked Chicken:
"Whenever God creates, He imbues the Formal, Efficient, Material, and Final Causation for that creation, together, since God is simple in His acts…Prof. Walton could make an analogy to the theistic evolution possibility allowed for man in Humani Generis…"
The obvious problem with that approach is that it superimposes an alien interpretive grid onto the ancient text. The narrator wasn't operating with Thomistic metaphysics or theistic evolution. That's not exegeting the text. Rather, that's on the same level as a ufologist who reinterprets Ezk 1 as a description of little green men emerging from a flying saucer.
The Masked Chicken:
"The attributes of God (not a God, but God) is found in theology 101 and forms the basis for the description of any activity of God, whether the person writing about it knows it or not. Your claim that I am reading into the text is wrong. Rather, you are reading about a different God than the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, if you believe you can find any other God through exegesis than the one understood by proper theology."
You're filtering the text through an Aristotelian-cum-Thomistic theory of formal, efficient, material, and final causation. That, in turn, is bound up with other bits of metaphysical machinery, like his form/matter, substantial form/prime matter distinctions.
That's not a divine attribute. That's a philosophical theory of causation (and other ontological postulates). And there are competing philosophical theories of causation.
You seriously think an exegete is reading about a different God than the God of the patriarchs if he doesn't filter the text through an Aristotelian/Thomistic theory of causation? You need to open a window and get some fresh air.
In addition, you try to combine that with theistic evolution. Was Aquinas a theistic evolutionist?
Furthermore, one can espouse God's mereological simplicity without buying into the Thomistic version of simplicity.
"The point is that ancient peoples thought the regularities of nature were divine acts too. The sun wasn't a mindless natural object following a mathematically predictable path; it was the divine power and will of the sun god that physically carried light through the sky."
That may be what pagan Near Easterners believed, but as commentators routinely point out, Gen 1 demotes and demythologizes the sun from a deity to a natural object, one of God's impersonal creatures.
"Also, you and Lydia are not reading Genesis in the appropriate context of ancient Near Eastern literature and folklore."
i) To begin with, the article you link to is about Gen 2-3 (and only tangentially Gen 1). But Lydia was reviewing Walton's interpretation of Gen 1. So the article is pretty irrelevant to the issue at hand.
ii) There's an irony in claiming that the appropriate context is folkloric and mythological (Tigay's terms). For that characterization reflects the viewpoint, not of the narrator or his ANE audience, but a modern scholar with a secular outlook. Scholars like Tigay don't think Gen 2-3 even could be true. They operate with a naturalistic worldview, that's antithetical to the worldview of the narrator.
What Tigay is doing is actually the polar opposite of sympathetically entering into the thought-world of the ancient text. Rather, his classification (folklore, mythology) projects his own secular Western thought-world onto the text. That's not interpreting the text on its own terms.
"The text is at pains to point out the creatureliness of the serpent, describing it as one 'of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made' (3:1, 14); it is distinguished from the other beasts only by its shrewdness (3:1). Its insignificance is underlined in 3:9–19, where God interrogates Adam and Eve, and both respond, while the serpent is not questioned and does not respond. In view of the prominent role played by serpents in ancient Near Eastern religion and mythology this treatment of the serpent amounts to desecration and demythologization, quite possibly intentional. As a result, the source of evil is denied divine or even demonic status: evil is no independent principle in the cosmos, but stems from the behavior and attitudes of God's creatures."
i) He erects a false dichotomy between creaturely and demonic. But in Scripture, demons are fallen creatures.
ii) It's true that the "serpent" has been "demythologized" in the sense that the "serpent" is not a snakegod.
iii) The "serpent" isn't distinguished from the other creatures only by its shrewdness. It can also speak. So the narrative doesn't treat it as just a brute beast.
iv) To call it the "serpent" flattens out the polysemy of the original designation. To my knowledge, the Hebrew has three different meanings: "snake," "diviner," "shining one."
It's likely that the name of the tempter is a pun which trades on two or more of these evocative connotations. There's more to the tempter than meets the eye.
It's likely that the name of the tempter is a pun which trades on two or more of these evocative connotations. There's more to the tempter than meets the eye.
v) It's hermeneutically naive to think that Gen 3 contains all the interpretive clues to identify the tempter. Gen 3 isn't a self-contained story. It's part of a continuous narrative. We need to make allowance for Pentateuchal angelology and demonology when we read about the "serpent" in Gen 3.
"The location of Eden and its rivers clearly remains an open question."
i) Even if that were true, that doesn't mean Eden is fictional. This is from millennia ago. Rivers change course. Rivers dry up.
ii) In his monograph On The Historical Reliability of the Old Testament, Kenneth Kitchen offers a plausible location for Eden.
iii) And here's a scientific reconstruction:
"Certain details of the narrative seem not to conform to 'classical' biblical religion, but rather to reflect more primitive notions and premises. The very need to withhold immortality from man bespeaks divine jealousy: God and the divine beings are unwilling to have man acquire both of the distinctive characteristics of divinity, "knowledge of good and bad" and immortality (even if they may be willing to have man acquire immortality alone)."
If Yahweh was insecure, he would not have given them access to the tree of knowledge in the first place.
"Critics generally hold that the Eden narrative stems from a different source than the preceding creation narrative (Gen. 1:1–2:4a or 4b). Divergent authorship is indicated, according to the documentary hypothesis, by the two narratives' contradictory orders of creation (ch. 1: trees, animals, man and woman; ch 2: man, trees, animals, woman)."
The sequence is only contradictory on the assumption that Gen 1 and Gen 2 are both global creation accounts. But, in context, Gen 2 is concerned with the original location of Adam and Eve. Preparing a place for them to live. Creating fauna and flora for that immediate purpose. It's very localized. Therefore, it was never intended to synchronize with Gen 1 across the board. That's not a contradiction.
"The primordial absence of produce and standard forms of irrigation resemble the immediately postdiluvian conditions, which presumably duplicate primordial conditions in the Sumerian 'Rulers of Lagās' (in: JCS, 21 (1967), 283). The notion of a divine garden, paradigm of fertility, is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible."
This illustrates a methodological weakness of many OT scholars. They go in search of literary parallels, as if Gen 2-3 could only be a literary construct. But what about the great river valley situations? That isn't a literary convention. "Primitive" people really do cluster around major fresh water bodies.
Likewise, Gen 2 is explicitly situated in a Mesopotamian setting (2:10-14). Therefore, it's entirely consistent with the historicity of Gen 2 to reflect Mesopotamian conditions.
"So you claim to know the ANE audience and the narrator’s motives, very interesting. The ancient Israelites were surrounded by other mythic cultures; but in order to be hermeneutically wise and making allowances I must assume their similar motifs and symbols were uniquely real in order to be sympathetic to it as an origin story that explains certain facts about the human condition."
Your statement is confused at several levels:
i) If you don't think we can know the ANE audience and the narrator's motives, then linking to Tigay's interpretation is self-defeating. Do you or don't you think Tigay can know the ANE audience and the narrator's motives?
ii) If you think the outlook of the narrator was mythological, then you're admitting that the perspective of a modern scholar stands in contrast to the perspective of the ancient narrator. So you just conceded my point–albeit unwittingly.
iii) And, yes, as a Christian, I do think that God corrected the understanding of ancient Israelites.
Your statement about "similar motifs and symbols" is too vague to merit comment.
"Some OT scholars have abandoned the documentary hypothesis entirely, they don’t assume the authors and/or editors were attempting to be consistent or avoid contradictions, the divergent accounts may have been an intentional feature instead of a bug. This makes the “inerrant” defense seem a little odd, to put it mildly."
I notice that you don't engage my actual argument.
"Jealousy is a known trait, in fact a self-designation of God."
Once again, I notice that you don't engage my actual argument. Thus far it seems like you just have a set of prepared objections. You don't interact with what others actually say in response to you.
Finally, linking to a pop Internet source on the meaning of nachash is unimpressive.
i) To begin with, your counter appears to be confused. Quoting a source that says nachash means "snake" doesn't begin to disprove my contention, for I never denied that that's one of the word's meanings. In fact, I explicitly said that's one the word's meanings.
But I went on to say that it has more than one sense. Are you just uninformed about the semantic range of the word?
For instance, both Victor Hamilton, in his commentary on Genesis, as well as standard reference works like the NIDOTTE, support my contention. The latter gives the following definition: "magic curse, bewitchment, omen" (3:84), while Hamilton says "divination."
Likewise, OT scholar Michael Heiser has discussed the "shining one" sense of the word.
"I'm not clear on how you think scholarship is supposed to work if objective explanations accounting for the cultural context are rendered impossible."
You're attacking a position I didn't take. Rather, I pointed out that being an OT scholar doesn't automatically qualify the scholar to get into the minds of the author or audience. For instance, one must also consider how ancient people experienced their environment. That goes outside the text to consider their interaction with the physical world they inhabited. What were they in a position to know.
"Simply because the audience believed the story doesn't make the story valid."
Once again, you're attacking a position I didn't take. You seem to be conditioned to react in certain ways, regardless of what your respondent actually says.
The immediate question at issue is whether Tigay is imputing implausible beliefs to the ancient narrator and his target audience. That's an epistemological question, in distinction to an ontological question.
"Your personal belief makes it objectively true because ???"
That isn't the topic of Lydia's post.
"You made a claim based on the supposition that the authors and/or editors would be concerned about contradictions."
No, I was simply responding to Tigay on his own grounds. He gave a reason to support the alleged contradiction, and I demonstrated that his reason was dubious.
"However, I would like to know if the range of meanings of the Hebrew word can actually be traced back to its earliest usages or if those other possibilities are of more recent derivation, which would be helpful to supporting your theory."
One could raise the same question about your preferred rendering: "snake." What makes you think the onus is on me rather than you?
"They didn't really have what we would consider science since modern science is largely built on mathematical models and math and its cousin economics were basic and limited in theory and practice for the ancients…"
Which completely overlooks the fact that the examples I gave don't require modern scientific knowledge. For instance, one doesn't need satellite photography to know that the world didn't end at the edge of the local mountain range. Likewise, that a solid sky didn't rest on the mountaintops. Scaling the mountain or traveling through a mountain pass would reveal that Walton's reconstruction of ancient cosmography was false. That kind of knowledge was readily available to prescientific Jews.
You consistently fail to follow the logic of the argument.
"… although interestingly some non-Jewish mystics refer to the Jewish sacred geometry of the Sephirot as the 'Tree of Life'".
You're interpreting Genesis based on medieval Kabbalism?
"I'm merely disputing the accuracy of yours."
Since you admit that you're uneducated in ancient languages, how are you qualified to dispute the accuracy of the scholars I referred you to?
"A majority of the available evidence."
What are your scholarly sources for Classical Hebrew lexicography?
"Did the world have an edge or did they know it was a sphere?"
Once again, you have difficulty following the argument.
i) According to Walton, Gen 1 reflects a flat-earth, three-story cosmography–because that's how the world appeared to earthbound ANE observers.
The sky appears to be a dome, which keeps the cosmic ocean from inundating the earth. Rain passes through sluice gates in the dome. The sky is supported by mountains that encircle the flat disk of terra firma. The view he imputes to the narrator presumes that the world had an edge.
It's irrelevant to my argument whether or not the narrator and/or the original audience knew that the earth was a spherical.
The point, rather, is that what they were in a position to know, as a matter of common experience, is inconsistent with the view that Walton imputes to them. They don't need to know that the earth is spherical to know that the view he imputes to them was unrealistic.
You need to work at being logical.
The tripledecker cosmography is all of a piece. If you take away one or two pieces, it falls apart. If the sky is not a dome, if it doesn't physically rest on mountains–like post and lintel construction–then that alone is sufficient to dismantle the entire conception.
"Were the heavens the abode of the gods? Why was Yahweh at Mt. Sinai if mountains and volcanoes were not considered supernatural places?"
i) Once again, that comment reflects your inability to focus on the question at issue. The real point is whether the evidence available to ANE observers was sufficient to disprove the cosmography that Walton imputes to them. It's an architectural conception. Like a building, it collapses if you remove key parts.
ii) In addition to the irrelevancy of your question, your question is also confused. To begin with, if you were to read Exodus with any care, you'd see that Mt Sinai was not Yahweh's dwelling. Rather, there's a theophany that temporarily envelops Mt. Sinai for that special occasion. It's just the opposite of being Yahweh's residence.
iii) Moreover, if you were more attentive to the text, you'd notice that that's just one of many ways in which God manifests himself in the Pentateuch. It may be on a mountain, in a garden, in the Sinai desert. As an angel, a fiery pillar, the Shekinah, &c.
Once more, that evinces your inability to step outside your conditioning and imagine the experience of ANE observers. Ancient people scaled the local mountains, you know. We're not talking about inaccessible Himalayan peaks.
For instance, there are archeological remains of buildings on the summit of Mt. Hermon. Ancient mountain-climbers didn't find any gods up there when they got to the summit. No mountaintop palace for divinities.
"Genesis 3:14-15 is nonsensical if the Hebrew word does not reference a snake, so either it's okay to omit sections of the Genesis account or it isn't."
i) To begin with, you don't bother to say how you interpret Gen 3:14-15. So there's no way of telling why you think that would be "nonsensical."
ii) Let's take a wild stab at your interpretation. I'm guessing you think it's an etiological fable for why snakes are nonpedal.
If so, it's actually your own interpretation of the curse that's nonsensical. Assuming (ex hypothesi) that the tempter was a snake, it was a talking snake, a rational snake. A snake that overheard and understood God forbid Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge. That's how it knew how to single out the tree of knowledge when it questioned Eve.
But if the curse simply changed pedal snakes into nonpedal snakes, then you'd have nonpedal talking snakes. But I daresay no one in the ANE ever encountered a talking snake, with or without legs. So on the ophic interpretation, surely the bigger question is not how snakes lost their legs, but how snakes lost their capacity to speak and reason. Hence, if Gen 3:14-15 is a just-so story, it fails to explain the most striking development in the history of snakes.
iii) I think the curse is using serpentine symbolism, the way Rev 12 uses serpentine and reptilian (or draconian) symbolism for the Devil.
iv) BTW, it's ironic that we're discussing this in the context of Walton, for he himself doesn't think the curse is about a change in ophic morphology. Rather, he points out that ancient Near Easterners used imprecations to make venomous snakes assume a docile posture (lying flat, head down), in contrast to an aggressive posture (raised to strike).
v) Finally, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck had two patients referred to him. Based on differential diagnosis, he concluded that they were possessed. He organized a team to perform exorcisms. At the height of possession, one patient would take on a reptilian appearance while the other patient would take on a serpentine appearance.
He discusses this in Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist's Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption–as well as this interview:
"To begin with, if you were to read my comment with any care, you’d see that I didn’t claim Mt. Sinai was the residence of Yahweh. I clearly stated that the ANE view was that the gods reside in the heavens (among the starry skies)."
No, that's not what you did. Rather, you posed a rhetorical question with an implicitly negative answer: ""Were the heavens the abode of the gods?"
"The Greeks believed their gods resided atop Mt. Olympus since it was considered unclimbable."
How do you know that ancient Greeks considered it unclimbable? From what I've read, even hikers who aren't mountaineers climb Skolio.
"…yet they still left offerings to the gods."
Which doesn't imply that they thought their gods resided atop Mt. Olympus. Rather, that could just as well be a divine visitation.
In any case, you can't simply extrapolate from Greek religion to OT religion.
"In fables and myths irrational animals frequently speak and use reason. Are you suggesting that all such stories required those narrators and audiences to expect other animal species to communicate in human language?"
You suffer from a persistent inability to follow the argument. According to the etiological interpretation, the curse explains the origin of ophic nonpedality. Supposedly, ancient people wondered why snakes were nonpedal.
If, however, you insist that the tempter in Gen 3 is a snake, then the curse fails to explain the origin of mute snakes. So the etiological interpretation fails to explain how ordinary snakes derive from tempter in Gen 3.
"Secondly, you are overlooking a mystical solution already present in the story, the snake could have eaten the fruit from the tree of knowledge."
i) The tree of knowledge doesn't confer speech or reason. Adam and Eve already had those abilities prior to eating the forbidden fruit.
ii) The "mystical solution" is irrelevant to the nature of the curse. You have a bad habit of grasping at miscellaneous notions that have no exegetical basis or explanatory value in reference to the issue at hand.
"There isn't an explanation given for why the longevity of the antediluvian patriarchs was lost, it just was."
That's a specious comparison. As usual, you're not tracking the argument.
The etiological interpretation treats the cursing of the snake as an explanation for why snakes don't have legs. On that interpretation, it is meant to be explanatory. Hence, your comparison fails.
"Try to think about how much knowledge you could have without language or reason. See the problem?"
Adam and Eve already had language and reason without eating the forbidden fruit.
"Their (apparent) inability to self-reflect indicated by their nakedness suggests their language and reason were very limited."
They had no occasion to feel unduly conscious of their appearance until they disobeyed.
"Maybe, but it is relevant to the overall meanings of the narrative."
The "mystical interpretation" isn't stated or implied in the narrative.