IT WASN’T THE DEVIL that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Not according to the story’s anonymous writer—which ancient Jewish tradition says was Moses.
It was just a snake with a vocabulary.
Another Bible writer does, however, ID the talking critter as a Devil of a Snake: “That old serpent…is the devil, Satan” (Revelation 20:2).
On the other hand, scholars say they aren’t sure which John wrote that last book of the Bible. So the source is uncertain. But John, whoever he was, wrote about 1,500 years after Moses could have written the original story without mentioning the devil.
Also, John wrote in a style called apocalyptic, featuring wild and crazy poetic symbolism. So some students of the Bible don’t know how literally to take some of his words.
One theory is that the Genesis writer wasn’t thinking about the devil at all. Instead, he was thinking about snakes in other Creation stories popular at the time.
There were at least two that sounded like the Genesis snake, which robbed humanity of immortality because it got Adam and Eve banished from the Garden of Eden and “the tree of life” that lets people who eat the fruit “live forever!” (Genesis 3:23).
- Babylonian snake. At least 300 years before Moses could have written Genesis, someone in what is now Iraq wrote the Epic of Gilgamesh. There, a snake robbed the hero Gilgamesh of immortality. Gilgamesh was hunting a plant that gave immortality to anyone who ate it. The snake got to it first.
- Sumerian snake. In a south Iraq story as old as Moses, possibly older, a god with the body of a snake and the head of a man offered a sage named Adapa some bread of immortality. Adapa refused to take it because he thought it was a trick and it would kill him. The god’s name sounds a little like “tree of life.” It’s “Lord of the Good Tree,” ( Ningishzida).
Perhaps, some scholars speculate, the Genesis writer was spinning a parable-like tale as a metaphor to make a point. The point is anyone’s guess. One guess: God’s the boss. No snake or snake god anywhere can tell God where to go.
God tells them.
“Crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live” (Genesis 3:14).
Other Christian scholars, perhaps most, read the story as more history than metaphor.
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