Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Enter the serpent: Adam, Eve, and the Devil (Satan 8),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified February 11, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=141.
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 Judeans (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 Judean (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). 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.