In the Genesis story of expulsion from the Garden of Eden, neither Adam nor Eve, as individuals, are particularly interesting.
They seem not all that bright, after all. Perhaps that’s understandable. While in the Garden, Adam and Eve had not much reason to reason about much of anything.
There were no politics in the Garden. Politics emerges from the primordial distinction between friends and enemies. Adam and Eve had no enemies in the Garden. They never had to reason about who is a friend, who is an enemy, how to tell the difference, and how to protect oneself and one’s allies from potential threats.
Moreover, with only two people on Earth, there were no alliances to be formed. Three is the minimum number required for politics so that two can ally against one.
Adam and Eve seemed to be in need of nothing, at least not materially. They had no reason, therefore, to reason about technology or innovation. Absent necessity, human beings can live pretty much like any other animal, eating, sleeping, metabolizing food, and satisfying sexual appetites. Only human beings who are consciously aware of being necessitous exercise their reason in ways that are inventive and innovative.
Based on what we know from Genesis, neither Adam nor Eve showed much interest in studying, philosophizing, or learning about themselves or the world around them. They did not appear to be especially introspective or scientific. They weren’t curious.
Unlike most of mankind after them, Adam and Eve had ample leisure to engage in theoretical speculation. But there’s no Biblical evidence that they were of the kinds of minds who enjoyed thinking simply for the sake of thinking, learning as an end in itself.
What of the Serpent? He is worthy of remark for more reasons than the obvious peculiarity of a talking snake.
Genesis 3:1 makes clear that the Serpent was the “most crafty” of all the creatures. Genesis also makes clear that all the creatures had been made by the Lord God. Ergo, the Lord God made the crafty Serpent, which means the crafty Serpent was exactly what the Lord God made him to be.
So what was so “crafty” about this talking snake? We don’t know much about him from Genesis except for one brief conversation he was alleged to have with Ms. Eve.
In Genesis 2:16-17, God is reported to have instructed Adam: “You may freely eat of every tree of the Garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Did Yahweh think it best for his newly created human beings to NOT possess knowledge of good versus evil? It seems so. More, could Adam and Eve understand that it is wrong, or evil, to disobey God if they did not possess knowledge of good and evil?
Whatever the answers are to these questions, it is this injunction, this prohibition from God, that most interested the “crafty” Serpent.
He asked Ms. Eve: “Did God say, ‘You may not eat from any tree in the Garden?’” To which Ms. Eve replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the Garden; but God said ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the Garden nor shall you touch it or you shall die.’”
(It seems Eve was the type inclined to add regulatory restrictions on top of already existing regulatory restrictions. Had her fortunes and timing been different, she someday could’ve been a bureaucratic government regulator!)
This is when the Serpent offered his allegedly “crafty” opinion in response: “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE WHEN A CHOICE IS MADE?
What happened after is famously well-known: Eve chose to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, then offered it to Adam, who ate as well. And, according to the Biblical account in Genesis, their eyes were indeed opened and they did indeed come to know good and evil.
It seems, therefore, that the opinion offered by the Serpent was at least partially, and perhaps wholly, correct. Adam and Eve did have their eyes opened and they did come to know good and evil, just as the Serpent predicted.
Further, Adam and Eve did not “die” in any literal sense on the day they ate the forbidden fruit, so perhaps the Serpent was correct about this as well?
Or maybe not. Some theologians have suggested that God used the word “die” in an esoteric rather than an obvious or literal meaning: that Adam and Eve would “die” spiritually, not physically—though it’s unclear whether Adam or Eve were capable of understanding subtle (or misleading) esoteric linguistic nuance.
I suppose the Serpent could’ve qualified his statement by opining, “I predict that you will not die PHYSICALLY on the day you eat of the forbidden tree, though you might suffer a kind of spiritual death.” But he did not add any such qualification. Then again, neither did God offer any qualifications about what He meant when he spoke of Adam and Eve “dying.”
Regardless, however, of whether the Serpent ended up being correct or incorrect in the prediction he offered to Eve, he was merely offering an opinion about possible outcomes in the future. Nothing more. How is that “crafty?”
Ms. Eve, and Mr. Adam, were perfectly free to ignore the Serpent, disagree with the Serpent, or question the Serpent. The Serpent in no way forced Eve or Adam to do anything, and both Eve and Adam were free to make whatever they wanted of the Serpent’s opinion, including making nothing at all by ignoring what the Serpent had to say.
EVE GETS THROWN UNDER THE BUS
When asked by God whether he had eaten of the forbidden tree, the very first thing the first man did was to throw his beloved woman under the bus!
While in the Garden, according to Genesis, Adam is reported to have spoken three times:
- The first was when Adam named the animals. [Genesis 2:20]
- The second was when he rejoiced at the creation of Eve by proclaiming: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” [Genesis 2:23]
- The third was when Adam responded to God questioning whether Adam had eaten of the forbidden tree. Adam answered, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” [Genesis 3:12]
Not only did Adam first point blame at Eve, he also put some of the blame back on God, emphasizing that Eve was “the woman YOU [God] gave to be with me.” Adam was saying to God, effectively, “Who me? I’m innocent Adam! Blame that bad woman that YOU gave to me!”
So much for chivalry at the beginning of mankind. Thankfully, later human beings gave us models of what chivalry means.
And yet—yet!—the Serpent was the only one in this Garden-set ancient drama who was cursed by God. Why? Adam and Eve both received punishment from God, sure. But why was the Serpent the only one to be “cursed” by God? Why was the Serpent cursed at all?
The Serpent offered a prediction that turned out to be either partially or perhaps wholly correct, according to no less an authority than the Book of Genesis itself. Within the story of the Garden, the Serpent is, arguably, a truth teller and the only character who speaks plainly rather than esoterically.
More important, the Serpent forced no one to act upon his opinion. He simply spoke his mind, what he thought might happen if Eve and Adam chose to eat of the forbidden tree. The choice, however, was theirs, not his.
If the Serpent was being “crafty,” he was being exactly the kind of being God made him to be. Was this a surprise to God?Why would God curse a being whom He created to be “crafty” and who was acting according to the nature God gave him?
Further, it’s not clear that the Serpent was terribly “crafty” at all. Or perhaps that is a matter of perspective? I, for one, read the Serpent’s words as reported in Genesis and I don’t find him to be especially “crafty.” Insightful? Maybe. Voicing an interesting opinion that warrants some questions? Perhaps. But not “crafty.”
BECOMING FULLY HUMAN
If there is one redeeming element in the Genesis story of the Garden, it seems to be that after Adam and Eve were expelled, they and their descendants at some point started to reason, to think, and to become productive. Perhaps getting expelled from the Garden was the best thing that could’ve happened to Adam and Eve and the subsequent human race?
Thinking through the prospect of what might’ve become of humans had they all remained in the Garden, it’s questionable whether that would’ve or even could’ve been a good thing. They were unreasoning. They were ignorant of good and evil. They lived in what could be described as a Divinely-subsidized welfare state where everything was handed to human beings without any effort on their part.
Whatever else can be said about the Garden of Eden, this much is beyond dispute: The Garden was a breeding ground for human idleness.
To boot, beings who don’t know good and evil are not and cannot be capable of nobility of any kind. Without knowledge of evil or bad, how can a being resist temptation and choose good or right? The Garden of Eden was a place where human magnanimity, courage, moderation, wisdom, justice, and all the lesser virtues were unknown and, arguably, impossible to exercise.
As for the Serpent, I am not sure of what happened to him. I don’t know if he continued to speak. But if he did, I for one would’ve been happy to speak with him. If he was truly the “craftiest” of creatures, it seems a conversation with him likely would’ve been more interesting, more enlightening, more educational, and probably more enjoyable than a conversation with the famed first of men and women, Mr. Adam and Ms. Eve.