Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8)

The story of Adam and Eve in the first chapters of Genesis makes no explicit reference to “Satan” or the “Devil” (merely the serpent). Yet around the first century BCE or CE we first get clear signs that some Jews were interpreting this narrative in ways that clearly linked the serpent with the story of Satan as an evil-intentioned angel.

Some background and reminders are necessary before addressing the convergence of Satan and the serpent of Paradise. We have already discussed how the earliest developments in the story of a fallen angel, named Azazel or Semyaz (not Satan per se), centred on a particular interpretation and elaboration of the sons of God mating with the daughters of men in Genesis 6 (reflected by about 200 BCE in book 1 of 1 Enoch). This positioning of the angels’ introduction of evil and sin into humanity helped to explain why God sent the flood in this case. Furthermore, in the second or first century BCE, certain Judeans belonging to the Dead Sea sect — those who composed the Community Rule (or Manual of Discipline) — placed the origins of an evil angelic power, identified variously as Belial (Worthless one) and the Angel of Darkness, earlier in the mythical time-line:

God “created man to rule the world and placed within him two spirits so that he would walk with them until the moment of his visitation: they are the spirits of truth and of deceit. In the hand of the Prince of Lights is dominion over all the sons of justice. . . And in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is total dominion over the sons of deceit. . . [God] created the spirits of light and of darknesss and on them established all his deeds” (1 QS III 17-25; Florentino Garcia Martinez, trans., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated [trans. by W. G. E. Watson; Leiden: Brill, 1994], p. 6).

So there are differences in where Satan makes his entrance on the narrative time-line, so to speak. And, as time progressed, there seems to have been a tendency among certain Jewish (and Christian) authors to find the origins of personified evil at points earlier than the story of the fallen angels of Genesis 6. In some respects, this is the interpretive context in which to make better sense of the association of the serpent in Paradise or Garden of Eden with the fallen angel. This component begins to appear clearly on our radar screen in the centuries around the time that the Jesus movement emerged (first centuries BCE and CE).

The expansions of the story of Adam and Eve that came to be incorporated within the so-called Apocalypse of Moses (in Greek, first century CE) and the Life (Vita) of Adam and Eve (in Latin, 3rd-4th centuries CE) likely reflect an earlier source of the first century BCE, a source which scholars often call the Book of Adam and Eve (online translations here; online resources here). In these particular expansions of the story of Adam and Eve, the blame for sin, illness, and death is placed firmly upon the first woman, Eve (in a way that diverges from the Genesis account itself, which is somewhat more “balanced”, one could say, in apportioning blame and punishment to both Adam and Eve for eating from the tree of knowledge). This association of women and Satanic deception was to continue for centuries to come, as we know; the notion that women were more susceptible to evil temptation or were more likely to be deceivers themselves still has its legacies today within our patriarchal culture (despite attempts to deconstruct just such notions or gender stereotypes).

So, in the Adam and Eve expansions, Eve is presented as not learning from her mistake and is tricked not once, but twice, by the angel Satan. Once Eve gives in to Satan’s temptation (via the wise serpent) by taking from the forbidden tree (Apoc. Moses 15-30). A second time Eve is fooled while doing acts of repentance for the first mistake and follows the advice of an apparently nice, bright angel (really Satan) that God was satisfied with how much penance she had done (Vita 9-11). God was not (according to the authors of this story).

What I want to draw attention to here, however, is a first-person statement by Satan himself as to why he so eagerly sought the downfall of humanity by way of tempting Eve, and why he inspired covetousness in Eve (making her want something she was forbidden, the knowledge of good and evil). This story became an important component in the portrayal of Satan as the jealous, envious, or covetous rebel against God:

Following the second temptation, Eve cried out,

“‘Why do you treacherously and enviously pursue us, O enemy, all the way to death?’ And the devil sighed and said, ‘O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you . . When you were created, I was cast out from the presence of God and was sent out from the fellowship of the angels. When God blew into you the breath of life and your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God, Michael (the archangel) brought you and made us worship you in the sight of God, and the Lord God said, ‘Behold Adam! I have made you in our image and likeness” (Vita 11:3-13:3; trans. by M. D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [Garden City: Doubleday, 1985], vol. 2, p. 262).

When Michael then tried to enforce this command of God:

“I (Satan) said to him, ‘Why do you compel me? I will not worship one inferior and subsequent to me. I am prior to him in creation; before he was made, I was already made. He (Adam) ought to worship me.’

This denial is what then leads Satan to his jealous and covetous plan to overtake the power of God himself, alluding to the passage in Isaiah 14 regarding the king of Babylon as Day Star, Son of Dawn (later Lucifer in the Latin Vulgate):

“And I said, ‘If he (God) be wrathful with me, I will set my throne above the stars of heaven and will be like the Most High.’” (15:3)

“So with deceit I assailed your wife and made you to be expelled through her from the joys of your bliss, as I have been expelled from my glory” (16:3).

Bitter revenge, jealously, envy, and covetousness is why.

That was a long one, but it had to be done.

UPDATE (Feb.7 ): In an ironic twist of sorts, I was listening to Led Zeppelin (for whom I have an appreciation that does NOT stem from their expressed views of women) the same day I wrote this post. I thought I’d provide an example of the comment above about the legacies of the association of the first woman with Satan:

“Been Dazed and Confused for so long it’s not true.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you.
Lots of people talk and few of them know,
soul of a woman was created below. ”
Jimmy Page, “Dazed and Confused,” Led Zeppelin I (SuperHype Music Inc, 1969). Full lyrics online here.

One can appreciate the raw expression of emotion in Led Zeppelin’s (or others’) performances without agreeing in any way with their opinions on things like this, thankfully.

3 thoughts on “Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8)

  1. Mel Steffor

    In the Book of Genesis, God is telling us two stories with the words of one. From the appearance of being the first two humans in creation Adam and Eve share a commonality with all of us. Adam and Eve are representatives for all of us. God has hidden a prophesy about the future in the story. The following is the interpretation of the story about Adam and Eve in the present. I start at Genesis 2:17

    Gen 2 : 17 But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”

    Trees don’t grow knowledge so I know God is talking in symbols. Knowledge comes from Books. Books are made from the pulp of trees. So the Tree is a Book. A Tree is a metaphor for a Book. This book has knowledge of good and bad. The Book is the Bible. The Bible contains the knowledge of good and bad. Besides I took this verse right out of the Bible. You can’t eat from a book and gain knowledge, but you can digest a book . As in Readers Digest. You are taking the words in, like food. God says, you will positively die. The Book has poison in it. The poison is the fruit on the tree.

    What is the fruit on the tree that we must not eat? Or, What is the fruit in the New Testament? We know that a Cross is also a Tree and Jesus was nailed to the tree. The fruit from the Bible is Jesus. Clues are Adam and Eve are bare naked. Bare sounds like Bear.

    The Tree bears Jesus

    The Tree of Knowledge is a Book, and the fruit on the tree is Jesus. This is what God is saying.

    Gen 2 : 17 But as for the (Book) of the knowledge of good and bad you must not (take in Jesus) from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”

    The Jews are right. Jesus is not the Messiah.

  2. Shelly

    Before I go to the next verse I need to make a point about talking snakes. You can’t read the story about Adam and Eve literally for one reason; and that is 1: ‘Snakes don’t talk‘. The first question you have to ask yourself is, ‘How does this snake manage to talk?’ Some people who are reading this literally put it aside. They must be thinking, Well this is God talking and there are things I don’t know about. So they sweep it aside. Yea, there are things you don’t know about if you think that way. The thing you don’t know is that, Snakes don’t talk.

    In the next verse God tells us exactly who Satan is:

    Genesis 3 : 1 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made. So it began to say to the woman: “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?” 2 At this the woman said to the serpent: “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. 3 But as for [eating] of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You must not eat from it, no, You must not touch it that you do not die.’”

    The snake talks. Again we know that snakes don’t talk so God is talking in symbols. God says the snake is a wild beast. That’s not true, snakes are reptiles. A beast is a mammal. God didn’t make a mistake by saying, wild beasts, he knows what he’s doing. So the Serpent is really a mammal that talks. Man is the only mammal that talks. The serpent is really a man. Then, how do snakes deceive us. We think the snake is a stick until we almost step on it. Then it moves. Now we know the Serpent is a Man with characteristics of a stick. The snake speaks from the stick. Does this sound familiar:

    The Church speaks from the Cross.

    The Cross is a metaphor for a Stick. The serpent talks from the stick and the Church talks from the Cross. If it sounds the same it is the same. The Roman Catholic Pagan Church is Satan, The great deceiver. Who would have ever known if it hadn’t been written by God himself right into the Bible. Satan is really the Christian Church.

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