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“Curse on the Serpent” in Genesis Bites the Dust

“Curse on the Serpent” in Genesis Bites the Dust

An article of Bobʼs with my reply, broken down into two parts and two replies. As any well informed student of both the Bible and science can see, Bobʼs article “bites the dust.”

First Part of Bobʼs online article, “Is Genesis Wrong About Snakes Eating Dirt?”: Classified by critics in the Bibleʼs “bad science” department: Gen. 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: Critics say that this verse offers a herpetological inaccuracy, saying that snakes do not eat dirt. In my view, it is enough to point out that snakes do take particles into their mouths on their tongues to “taste” the air. Thatʼs their sense of smell, and if this isnʼt “eating dirt” literally, it certainly is figuratively!

Edwardʼs critique of the first part of Bobʼs article: Bob says, “it is enough…” Enough for someone like Bob apparently. But how is tasting “air” the same as tasting “dust?” And does Bob wonder or ask why the serpents are tasting the “air?” And does Bob expect everyone who reads his article to believe as he does that the words “eat dust” in Genesis 3:14 were placed there to demonstrate Godʼs advanced knowledge of herpetological behavior to people living 2,500 years later? Why did God say that serpents “eat” rather than “taste” the dust? (The word, “taste,” is more precise and would have demonstrated “greater knowledge.”) And, wouldnʼt the gain of a “super tasting” skill be viewed as a “blessing” rather than a “curse?”

Speaking of the “tasting” ability of snakes, Dr. William R. Teska, a biology professor at Furman University who specializes in snakes informed me that snakes “taste” both dirt and air to navigate. However, other senses, like sight, sound, smell (in some species), and heat sensing (in vipers), probably play even more important roles in their navigation. Moreover, some snakes live in lakes or even oceans, and could hardly be described as “dust eaters.” Others live high in the branches of tree-canopied rain forests, and seldom if ever rub their bellies on the ground and “eat dust.” Besides, virtually all animals “eat” or swallow “dust” or dirt, either voluntarily or accidentally. So, Bobʼs “apologetical belief” that the Scriptures must jive with modern herpetological science is based on selectively emphasizing only some herpetological observations, ignoring others, viz., stretching the meaning of an obvious literary put down to mean something “scientific sounding,” i.e., “tastes” the air. Such a method of defending the Bibleʼs truth and accuracy is fallacious in the extreme.

Furthermore, like all “Bible believers,” Bob only takes seriously and scientifically the passages he wants. For instance, a mere 13 verses away, Gen. 3:1 states, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he [the serpent] said to the woman [it spoke]…” To the best of my knowledge herpetologists have not proven that “the serpent is more crafty than any beast of the field,” neither have they discovered a talking serpent. Such descriptions make Genesis read more like a fable from Aesop than the “truth.”

While Iʼm discussing the tale of the poor cursed serpent, I should add that there isnʼt the slightest evidence that the “serpent” had any connection with “Satan.” Thatʼs a later Christian invention. “Satan” is not even mentioned in the whole book of Genesis, not when Cain kills Abel, nor when the “whole world” turns away from God prior to “the Flood,” nor at “the tower of Babel” incident, which also “displeased” God. No mention of “Satan” anywhere. (Of course regardless of the fact that Genesis nowhere mentions “Satan,” Christian apologists still have no trouble finding “Satan” wherever and whenever they need to. In fact they find “Satan” lurking behind everything going on in the world today, and of course also find him hiding inside that serpent mentioned in Genesis, except they do not want to take seriously every verse concerning that serpent, namely that “Satan” was “craftier than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made,” and “Satan,” was “cursed more than any beast of the field, more than all cattle…to go upon his belly and eat dust all the days of his life.”

Itʼs plain to see there is no mention of “Satan” in the original Hebrew fable***, just a “crafty talking serpent,” whom Yahweh curses by washing its mouth out with dirt for the rest of its life - a fable in the most Aesopian sense of the word.

***And why indeed, with an event of such incredibly monumental significance as the “war in heaven” between God and the fallen angels (that Milton wrote of so eloquently), why did neither the authors of the creation stories, nor later editors of Genesis think to mention such a “war” even though they were allegedly inspired by God to write their “Godʼs eye view” of “the beginning” of all things. Neither did the author of Job (with his “Godʼs eye view” of matters) in which he saw “Satan” entering Godʼs holy court unmolested, mention any such “war.” Satan back then was just Godʼs chief accuser, a sort of heavenly D.A.

Even the earliest reference in the Bible to a fall of “Lucifer” isnʼt speaking of Satan, but the word “Lucifer” was a loan word referring to an ancient god of a rival culture. Only after a period of centuries in the development of Hebrew religious conceptions did people start talking about “Satanʼs” “fall from heaven,” and make him “prince of this world,” “prince of the power of the air,” etc. In fact, the intertestamental Book of Enoch is the first to eloquently explain “Satanʼs” “fall from heaven,” before even the N.T. mentioned such a thing. (The Book of Enoch also explained other things as well, to the great embarrassment of whomever connected the name of a revered Biblical patriarch with a collection of utter nonsense. Oh, and the Book of Enoch and Judeʼs endorsement of a direct quotation from it, attributing it to “Enoch, the seventh from Adam,” is yet another source of embarrassment for “Bible believers.” Itʼs interesting that the intertestamental Book of Jubilees circa, 200 B.C. was the first to mention the biblical patriarch “Enoch” as a writer of many books, and soon after that or perhaps contemporaneously with that, the earliest writings attributed to “Enoch, the seventh from Adam” began appearing, various portions of them dated anywhere from 150 B.C. to the late first century A.D., and later collected into what is now known as 1st Enoch.)

Second Part of Bobʼs online article, “Is Genesis Wrong About Snakes Eating Dirt?”: In fact, though, the sense probably is figurative: The idea of eating dust is associated with abject humiliation elsewhere - cf. Ps. 72:9 (“They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.”), Is. 49:23 (“And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet”) and especially Mic. 7:17 (“They shall lick the dust like a serpent”.) I should add that the word here, “lick,” was not unknown (it is used in Numbers), but the word “eat” was chosen as a poetic counterpoint to the profession of Adam and Eve that they did “eat” of the tree.

Edwardʼs critique of the second part of Bobʼs article: Duh, yes, Bob it is obvious that being “cursed” to “crawl on your belly” and “eat dust” are ancient Near Eastern curses or “put downs” rather than descriptions of God blessing the serpent with some new additional sense, i.e., a new heightened “tasting” sense: “And the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle [Please Bob, tell us when cattle were first ‘cursed’ and why that story isnʼt in the Bible], and more than every beast of the field; on your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life.’” (Gen. 3:14)

However, the question remains, why curse the serpent to “go on its belly” and “eat dust” if it was already doing so?
In other words how was the serpent “getting along” if it wasnʼt already moving via its belly?

Did it have wings, or legs? Today there are species of amphibians and reptiles and even some lungfish that are long and serpentine with tiny legs/appendages, so were are only “half-cursed?”

Final bonus question: Compare the way Isaiah employed a very similar phrase to the one found in Genesis: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and Dust Shall Be The Serpentʼs Meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.” Isa. 65:25 (KJV)

In this verse the “dust” the serpent eats is its literal “meat,” and not a metaphor at all. Though I wonder by what miracle a serpent or snake will be able to eat “dust” as its “meat.” That sounds more like an earthworm than a serpent or snake. So the serpent does finally “eat dust,” and in quite a literal fashion, but only in the coming kingdom. Amazing how one Scripture writer built on anotherʼs use of a phrase, but in a way in which one Scripture writer so twists anotherʼs earlier words that you wind up being reminded of the head twisting scene in The Exorcist. It is apparent that apologists like Bob lack both knowledge, and the fearless curiosity to continue asking questions. Maybe he needs to take another bite out of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge and start over?

On 11/5/2004 Willie wrote:
Hmmm! Wonder why Genesis 3.15 has the Lord referring to the “seed OF the woman” bruising the head of the serpent? The Man Christ Jesus who metaphorically bruised the head of the “serpent”. Again, metaphorically it was the “seed of the serpent” (the Jews of John 8) who bruised the heel of the Savior. Your misunderstanding of Isaiah 65 tells me a lot.

Edward: The serpent in Genesis is clearly a serpent, “the shrewdest beast of the field that the Lord God had made,” and it was cursed to crawl on its belly and eat dirt “all the days of its life,” and was understood to be a serpent by ancient Hebrews according to even the Evangelical Christian Wheaton College professor of Old Testament, Walton, who wrote the NIV Application Commentary On Genesis (2002), available at any major Christian bookstore.

Serpent figures were common in the ancient world, and the description in Genesis of the serpent being stepped on and biting the heel of the seed of woman is merely a generic description of conflict. Hardly proof of anything. Consider Genesis, chapter 49 when Jacob blesses his children before his death, part of his blessing to Dan in verse 17 is: “May Dan be a snake beside the road, a viper by the path, that bites the heels of the horse so that its rider falls backward,” (NET Bible). The generic term for serpent, “nahash,” is used here (just as in Genesis when the “nahash” spoke to Eve). Most commentators believe that the serpent image in this passage is positive since this is a blessing. Dan, though a small tribe, will be as shrewd as a serpent, able to bite its enemiesʼ heels so that they are defeated.
[NET Bible, 131, note no. 6; Sailhamer, 278; Henry, 92; The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 46; H. C. Leupold, Leupold on the Old Testament. Vol. 2, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House and The Wartburg Press, 1942), 1188-1189]

In the story of Eveʼs temptation, the generic term for “serpent” is used, a “nahash.” And that generic serpent is merely described as being “crafty,” the Hebrew word being “arum,” a word which is not necessarily negative, but suggests wisdom and adroitness, or being shrewd or clever. [The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 6-7; John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositorʼs Bible Commentary, vol. 2, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1990), 50]

There was also a miraculous sign given to Moses and Aaron when their rods were turned into serpents by God. (Exodus, chapters 4 and 7) Numbers, chapter 21, adds the story of “firey serpents” sent by God to bite the children of Israel, after which God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent that brought healing to all who gazed upon it. References to “serpents” in the New Testament Gospels include Jesus telling the disciples to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16; 2); Jesus rebuking the Pharisees as “serpents and vipers” (Matthew 23:33); and a metaphor linking Jesus to the healing bronze serpent of Moses (John 3:14).

“Satan” is not a figure in Genesis, “satan” is only mentioned infrequently throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. In fact, the word “satan” probably did not begin as a personal name because in the earliest passages of Scripture the word is used in a generic fashion to describe both men and angels of God, and simply meant, “accuser.” The “Angel of the Lord” who stopped the pagan prophet Balaam from going to a city to curse it, is called “satan.” Yup, “an Angel of the Lord” sent by God is called “satan.” Thatʼs an early usage of “satan.” Check out the NIV Application Commentary On Genesis that I mentioned above.


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