The snake of Genesis 3:1

by Halcon 34 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Halcon

    We've got some really knowledgeable members on here so I have a question for them and everybody.

    What was the earliest adjective used to describe the snake of Genesis 3:1?

    Currently one can read words in English translations like 'cunning' and 'crafty'....but in other languages you see words like 'wise' and astute...which convey a completely different idea.

    I'm wondering what may have been the earliest and most accurate adjective known or used.

  • iloowy.goowy

    Dr. Michael S. Heiser has did a great explanation you can find on ChannelC2tv in YouTube:

  • Vidqun

    It can mean anyone of those, depending on the context. I like the explanation of TWOT:

    עָרוּם adj. crafty, shrewd, sensible;—1. crafty, ע׳ as pred., of serpent Gn 3:1; pl. as subst. מַחְשְׁבוֹת עֲרוּמִים Jb 5:12, לְשׁוֹן ע׳ 15:5. 2. in Pr, in good sense )opp. אֱוִיל, כְּסִיל, (פֶּתִי; as attrib. אָדָם עָרוּם Pr 12:23 a shrewd or sensible man; ע׳ as subst. = id., v:16, 13:16, so חָכְמַת ע׳ v:8; = prudent man 14:15, 22:3, 27:12; pl. עֲרוּמִים 14:18. BDB.
    —1. cunning: נָחָשׁ Gn 31 )Sept. φρόνιμος, Matthew 1016(, Jb 512 155;
    —2. clever ):: פֶּתִי, כְּסִיל, (אֱוִיל Pr 1216.23 )Bühlmann Vom rechten Reden und Schweigen )Göttingen 1976(:232f: smart(, 1316 )for כָּל־ rd. (כֹּל, 148.15.18 223 2712. HALOT.
    עָרוּם: pl. עֲרוּמִים: subtle, shrewd, clever Gn 3:1. ) pg. 283. (Holladay Lex).

    'arûm. Crafty, prudent, subtle. The adjective `arûm is construed to be a positive virtue when rendered "prudent." The prudent one does not vaunt his knowledge (Prov 12:23), ignores an insult (Prov 12:16), acts with knowledge (Prov 14:8), looks where he is going (Prov 14:15), sees danger and acts appropriately (Prov 22:3 = Prov 27:12), and is crowned with knowledge (Prov 14:18).
    This adjective is negative when rendered "crafty" (see Job 5:12; Job 15:5). The most memorable use of

    `arûm in this negative nuance is, of course, Gen 3:1, "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild creature which the Lord God had made." His "malevolent brilliance" (D. Kidner, Genesis, Chicago: Inter Varsity, p. 67) is contrasted by paronomasia to the naked innocence of Adam and Eve in Gen 2:25 (`arûm "craftiness, " vs. `arûmmîm "nakedness;" see U. Cassuto, Genesis, I, p. 143). TWOT.

  • KalebOutWest

    The word in Hebrew is aROOM, and it means "sensible," to have "smarts," which is why the RJPS 2023 renders Genesis 3:1:

    The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the Eternal God had made.

    It means "shrewd" in the sense of "prudence" in clever knowledge and sight, usually in navigation.

    The idea, when absent of all Christian influence, is to be compared to the only other time, later in the Torah when an animal speaks, Numbers 22, when a jenny, or female donkey, talks to the prophet Balaam.

    The situations are identical. Both people act as if animals always speak. Both talk back to the animals like normal. An angel with a sword is present in both accounts. A sin against the Mosaic Law is what is being considered by each player.

    But the stories end differently. In Genesis, Eve breaks the Mosaic Law, the Law against stealing. Balaam does not, the Law against testifying falsely against one's neighbor (and using God's Name is vain in a curse--since he is a prophet). Both narratives seem to be lessons in dealing with breaking Decalogue terms of the covenant and their outcomes.

    Due to the influence of Christology, most readers cannot see beyond the idea that the serpent must be "Satan the Devil," and thus the "shrewd" abilities of the "serpent" must be of "evil" intent. But there was no such being in Judaism at the time this was composed (and there continues to be none).

    Yet when compared to the donkey in Numbers 22, the idea is that serpent is a narrative device of warning, having foresight into Eve's inner conflict over whether or not the idea of taking the steps she is contemplating is really a good idea. The same is to be said about the jenny in Balaam's story. The donkey can be likened to an inner dialogue, a form of narrative device that had yet to be invented for Balaam's "crisis of conscience." (Such "inner dialogue" would later be found in Hellenistic writings and even suggested in the Song of Songs.)

    The angel with the sword at the end of both tales shows that deadly error for the negative path could be the outcome, but only one takes it. The other hears the warning, Balaam. Neither talking animal is a demon.

    The idea of "Satan the Devil" as an evil entity would not be fully created until Christianity fleshed itself out as a facet within Judaism. For a brief time Judaism itself considered the idea that some angels were separate entities, some of which could be demonic as the Hellenists taught, but this idea fell to the wayside as the idea of God as an anthropomorphic deity was abandoned in favor of being the Ineffable concept it is today. It was during this period that Christianity developed the idea that Jesus was likely divine, and thus an "archenemy" in the Devil made more and more sense.

  • Halcon

    Thank you goowy, vidqun and kaleb. This is all very helpful and interesting.

    It means "shrewd" in the sense of "prudence" in clever knowledge and sight, usually in navigation.

    This definition of aroom in particular seems to be well aligned with the general gnostic interpretation of the snake, which I was reading into the other day.

    Coincidentally, Taze Russell seems to have been greatly influenced by the Freemason line of thought, of which it burrowed much from the gnostic one.

  • Diogenesister
    It means "shrewd" in the sense of "prudence" in clever knowledge and sight, usually in navigation.

    It almost sounds like the Bible wasn't quite so black and white when this was written. (Ie not the later idea of absolute evil and good)

    Because - well - the snake was right. "In that day" they absolutely did not die, they died much, much later. And they did afterward know right from wrong, or good from bad.🤷🏼‍♀️

    I like the explanation of TWOT:

    😂Funny acronym

  • Halcon
    Diogenesister-it almost sounds like the Bible wasn't quite so black and white when this was written. (Ie not the later idea of absolute evil and good)

    Or, the scriptures were being accurate in describing the snake's comprehension of the "mechanics" or functions of the spiritual world in relation to the physical one.

    The 'navigation' part of the definition of aroom is especially interesting. Going back to the gnostic beliefs, the snake is described as being a benevolent figure who has the capacity to show a human being the path back to their divinity, aka become one with God again. This implies that the being, identified as satan to Christians (hence I assume the translation of the word into "crafty" or cunning), knew how to maneuver between spirit and flesh with ease.

    In the garden of Eden, the snake claimed that Eve would be like God, which again is a concept associated today with gnosticism (this of course being a version of much older concepts). He seemed to be playing the benevolent role of the gnostics here, implying he had knowledge that could transform her.

    The snake, as Genesis describes, did in fact posses wisdom and insight into the method of transforming from spirit into flesh and vice versa that made it stand apart from other spiritual beings that presumably didn't know how to. Where it lied blatantly was in claiming that a human could be like God himself.

  • KalebOutWest

    I don't think the serpent "possesses" any "knowledge" or is meant to be a separate entity from Eve. It is just an early Hebrew narrative device explaining a character's crisis of conscience, as in the case of Balaam and his donkey.

    The talking donkey is the same device. It has no knowledge. It is just Balaam too, trying to decide whether he should break the Mosaic Law or not, just like Eve.

    Neither animal existed. Neither event is historical. The Garden of Eden is a myth and the Balaam tale is folklore, but both contain the same Jewish trope.

  • Halcon

    It is, however, interesting that the word aroom seemingly corroborates the description of the snake in Genesis with the way the snake is described by completely different and opposing spiritual and mystical writings.

  • KalebOutWest

    Well of course. And I am not arguing with your general conclusions.

    The Christians and the Gnostics later saw things in the words the same way that rabbinical sages of the Talmud composing midrash would from these texts. This was not the original intent, any more than Balaam telling his donkey that her warning was making him a "fool" or "made a mockery of me" at Numbers 22:29. Was the donkey likewise wise, shrewd, able to "navigate" in a way that Balaam could not? Or was this just a device for what he could do himself if he followed the Law? What was the intent of the authors of the Torah but to tell Jews to observe the Mosaic Law?

    The Christian and Gnostic commentators and theologians of later ages endowed the serpent not only with qualities, but entirely disconnected it from the Torah. In both Genesis and Numbers the "speaking animal" is simply a stand-in for the Jewish conscience telling the Jew not to break any of the Ten Commandments. (Later, Jews would actually invent what cartoonists would much later depict as an "angel" on one shoulder and a "devil's advocate" on the other.)

    Eventually the serpent became an entity of its own for Christians, but it's all unassociacted invention whether it's Christology, Gnostic teaching or even Jewish Midrash.

    I can invent anything after the fact that looks like it matches the original material. Anybody can do that. To "ooh" and "aah" over something that is not original is to give a lot of credit where it just isn't due.

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