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(10) The Serpent and the satan (Part 1)
If we are willing to acknowledge that the fallen angel myth of I Enoch is not part of the Old Testament idea of the origin of evil, then it is possible to read Genesis 2-4 in a different light. The reading I am proposing is an anthropological one. Let me explain what I mean. Rather than come to this text burdened with a host of assumptions about how the text was formed or who wrote it, or how it was inspired or if it is inspired, I will interpret this text for what insight it may offer about the human condition. What it says about God or spiritual matters is an irrelevance to me (in the opening stages of my work, later they will become important), I seek to discern how the text ‘reads me’ as a human being. One further note: I come at this text as though the concept of “The Fall” had never entered my mind, as though Plato, Augustine, Calvin and almost two millennia of the (Western) Christian doctrine of original sin had never existed. I want to read this text pretending I have never read it before and there is no such thing as a God. This is not blasphemy but it may be the only way some have of learning how to see this text in a new and liberating light.
First, things first. There are no such things as talking snakes, so I know I am dealing with something metaphorical, something symbolic. The talking snake is the clue that this text cannot be read literally. Second, I can immediately recognize that it is an “originary myth”, that is a story about the origins of the world and the human being, similar to other types of stories/myths found all over the planet. So now I know how to classify it and what it is seeking to communicate. Third, I see that it is the second of two creation myths, the first being Genesis 1:1-2:4. I may notice many of the subtle differences between the tales. I may notice that in the first creation story the male and female are created together (androgynously) while in the second creation myth they are created hierarchically; typically the woman is taken from the male and seen as subservient, I, and others, see the woman created last as the crown of creation.
As I read Genesis 2-4 I notice that several words get repeated. Words like man, woman, eat, fruit, tree, Lord God, God, and of course serpent. There is another word that appears once at the end of chapter 2 and twice in the first seven verses of chapter 3, or in other words, three times in eight verses; that word is ‘arum.’ The first time ‘arum’ appears is in 2:25 where the “the man and his wife were both ‘arum’”, the second in 3:1 where the “serpent was more ‘arum’ than any other wild animal” and the last in 3:8 where after having eaten of the fruit of the tree “then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were ‘arum.’” So what is this ‘arum’ business and why is this word used of both the human and the serpent? How can a word mean ‘naked’ and ‘shrewd or clever?’
Rather than go into deep, dark technical places where horrendous etymological creatures wait to gobble up the weak and weary, I offer this simple example as a suggestion. The word ‘arum’ is used in Genesis 42:9 by Joseph who accuses his brothers of spying out “the nakedness of the land.” That is, places where the land may well be vulnerable or penetrable to enemy attack. Ah Ha! ‘Arum’ comes to refer to the human genitalia inasmuch as it is exposed or vulnerable. The snake has no defense mechanisms, no hands, feet or spine so it is vulnerable (although it may have a venomous tongue). ‘Arum’ is a word that connotes vulnerability. In the first use of the word, the male and the female had no idea that one could hurt the other, thus they were vulnerable and not existing in a place of shame (the feeling that would result from hurting the other who was vulnerable). The second time the word is used it is in regard to the snake that is also the most vulnerable of any of the wild creatures, thus making the connection between the snake and the humans: they are both ‘arum.’ The third time the word is used the couple have eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are aware that they can hurt one another and be hurt by the other, thus they begin ‘clothing themselves’, that is making themselves less vulnerable. So before tomorrow’s post your homework is this to ask yourself this: to what are the couple and the snake both vulnerable? Why do we experience assault on our genitalia as shameful (e.g., rape or the cutting off of a male penis). How might this text be about core human identity (rather than sex, sexuality or gender)? Let’s get beyond Augustine and Freud into something new and insightful.