Wednesday, August 17, 2016


This is a sequel to my previous post:

i) Unbelievers mock the "talking snake" in Gen 3. Suppose a foreigner was reading a newspaper account of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, or Jacksonville Jaguars. He might be perplexed by how the reporter personifies animals. He'd be shocked at how superstitious Americans are. We actually believe in talking tigers and cougars! Americans are so backward!

My point is that just because a story, even a true story, refers to a talking animal, that doesn't ipso facto mean it's actually a talking animal. People sometimes use animal names to designate humans. And not just "primitive" people. Modern people name sports teams after aggressive animals. Likewise, consider some nicknames for military units: Screaming Eagles, Hellcat, Red Bull.

The motivation is to associate a human or humans with desirable animal traits. You want sports teams and military units to be aggressive, so you name them after predatory animals. 

(Admittedly, Oregonians name football team after ducks and beavers. No wonder they lose so often. How can you expect a team that's named after a big bucktoothed vegetarian rodent to win?) 

ii) This doesn't mean the Tempter in Gen 3 can't be a talking snake. But the mere fact that it has an animal name doesn't create that presumption. Consider names like Wolfgang and Beowulf. That doesn't mean the named individual is a werewolf. 

iii) Serpentine mythology is very ancient. Consider Australian depictions of the Rainbow snake–or the snake column at Göbekli Tepe, in Neolithic art. 

In addition, serpentine mythology is geographically diverse. Snakes have diverse features that give rise to diverse mythological roles.

For instance, shedding skin makes them a symbol of rebirth and immortality. Conversely, venom makes them a symbol of death and the underworld. Consider the fire-breathing cobras guarded the netherworld in Egyptian mythology, or gorgons in the netherworld of Greek mythology. The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains spells to ward off snakes. 

Consider Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent, and Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent, in Mesoamerican mythology. This may be based on indigenous species like the coral snake, bushmaster, fer-de-lance, and rattlesnake. But it may also be a carryover from their countries of origin. When ancient people migrated to the New World, they imported their heathen outlook.  

For the original audience, the "talking snake" in Gen 3 would evoke familiar connotations with ancient Near Eastern heathenism. Yet it's been demoted from a god to an accursed creature. 


  1. I know for a fact that Beowulf is, in fact, a werebear. Not a werewolf.

  2. More seriously, I think the curse of going on its belly and eating dust carries the metaphor a bit to far to be believable as a metaphor.