In the garden of Eden there lived a snake. Of every land animal, the snake was by far the most cunning. Among all the animals that lived, the snake was the third craftiest. Only the octopus of the sea, and raven of the air were more wise than she. One day the snake meets the woman and strikes up a conversation.
After the small talk and pleasantries are done with, the snake gets right to the point and asks the woman, “Has Yahweh told you that you can’t eat from any of the trees in this garden?”
The woman was not surprised this snake could talk, and was pleased that the snake was such a great conversational partner, unlike her husband who talked over her head a lot. “No, like Yahweh said we can totally eat any of the fruit from like any tree in like the whole garden. He wasn’t like super specific about strawberries, but like any tree’s fruit we can totally eat. But there’s like this tree in like the middle of the garden that he said like, ‘Don’t eat the fruit of this tree or even touch it or you’ll like, you know, totally die right then’. I don’t know what like, ‘die’ means but it sounds totally final, you know?”
To this the snake replied, “You’re making up the part about not touching it aren’t you?”
“Yeah, like the Lord said just to not eat it, but I added the don’t touch part so I’d be super sure not to do anything wrong,” the woman replied.
The serpent nodded, “I see, but you won’t actually die if you eat the fruit from that tree.”
“For real?” the woman asked.
“For real. See, Yahweh knows that when you eat that fruit, you’ll be just like Him. Your eyes will be opened and you’ll know good from evil, just like He does.”
“I don’t know,” the woman said while winding a lock of her hair around her finger. “Like, God was like pretty specific to my husband not to eat it. I haven’t even gone near that tree in pretty much ever. But like, sure it makes sense God would say that so we wouldn’t be like Him. I’m totally going to go check it out.”
“Totally,” said the snake.
The woman went to look at the tree some time later. She saw that it was a pretty tree with pretty, shiny red fruit. The fruit looked pretty good to her, and if any fruit would make her wise, it was this fruit. And why not? Her husband, who she just called ‘man’, said God called it the ‘Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’. So eating it must let her know what the difference is. So she picked a fruit and broke it open.
“There’s like a million tiny seeds in here,” she said looking in the fruit. After picking a few out and eating she came to a realization, “Oh. My. God. This is the most annoying thing I’ve ever eaten. It looks good, but like, so annoying.” She popped a few more seeds in her mouth, “Oh, I totally get it now! The difference between good and evil! Some things look great, but are not worth trying. Like this pomegranate. Other things look awful, but are so worth trying in the end. Like my husband’s penis.”
So she found her husband, and held the fruit out to him, “Man! Eat some of these pomegranate seeds.”
“What the hell is a pomegranate, woman?” the man asked.
“This is a pomegranate, you know from the tree of knowledge of good and evil over there, I’m calling it a pomegranate,” she said, pointing to the tree, “Wait, what’s hell?”
“Never mind about hell. This seems legit,” he said, throwing a hand full of the seeds in his mouth, “Oh God! This is the most annoying thing I’ve ever eaten. It looks great, but Jesus, it’s so crunchy and awful.”
“I know right!” she said, “Wait, who’s Jesus?”
“Nevermind. So, for reasons I don’t want to explain, I didn’t want to tell you this earlier, but I can see your lady bits. It’s distracting now.”
“Oh, I know. Ever since I ate this fruit, I’ve been thinking a lot about your dick. Could you like, cover it up? It’s weird looking.”
So the man stitched together some fig leaves into what he called, “Dick Coverings.”
The woman, who obviously didn’t have a penis, suggested he call them “Loin Clothing” instead.
“Oh that’s much better,” the man said after putting his on, “But, I kind of want to convince you to take yours off again.”
“I know right! It’s weird, but I kind of want to see your dick again.”
The man held his hand up and stopped her short, “I hear Yahweh. Quick, hide in this bush, He won’t see us here!”
Sure enough, Yahweh was noisily walking around the garden, as He was known to do in the evening. The man and the woman were nowhere in sight, which confused Yahweh.
“Man! Man! Where are you?” God started calling while He tore through the garden.
After a few minutes God walked by the bushes the man and woman were hiding in.
“Yahweh, we’re hiding over here,” the man called from the bushes.
Yahweh whipped his head around as soon as he heard the man, “I knew that! Why are you hiding, man?”
The man crawled out of the bush and stood up. “Why are you suddenly covering your junk?” God asked. The woman crawled out from under the bush and stood next to her husband.
“Well Yahweh, we were embarrassed that we were naked so we made some loin clothing and hid in the bushes,” the man replied.
“Who told you that you were naked?” Yahweh asked, tilting His head like an inquisitive dog, “Wait a minute. Did you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Like I specifically told you not to?”
“Well, I did. But this woman you made here told me to,” the man replied, pointing to the woman.
The woman folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes at the man, who flinched at the look she gave him, “Like I gave it to him, but that snake made me forget I wasn’t supposed to at it. She tricked me!”
“SNAAAAAAKE!” Yahweh yelled when He realized the serpent wasn’t around.
The snake flew in and coiled up around a tree branch, “Yes, Yahweh? What do you want?”
“Since you tricked the woman into eating the fruit I’m cursing you to crawl on the ground on your belly and eat dirt.”
“You’re confusing me with a worm. They already do that,” the serpent replied.
“Look I’m removing your legs, and making you eat dirt.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. If I had legs, I’d be called a lizard. I don’t have any sudden desire to eat dirt. Nice try, El.”
“Stop calling me that. Now, I’m going to make the descendants of the woman hate you, and your descendants hate them. They’re going to crush your head, and you’ll do nothing more than bruise their heel,” God said, smugly.
“Whatever. Look guys, He’s making a big show, but all of my kin are more afraid of you then you are of them. Some will even kill you if they bite you. So, be careful, your heel may be a lot more than bruised,” the snake said, slithering off.
Yahweh rolled his eyes and turned to the woman, “I’m cursing you with a lot of pain in childbirth. Also the man will subject you to him but you’ll be horny for him constantly.”
The woman shrugged, “What’s a child? Also, like, I don’t know what horny is but I kind of want to try some stuff with my man, and I was feeling that way before you showed up. Could you wrap this up? I have stuff I want to do to him,” she said, winking at the man.
Yahweh rolled his eyes, “As for you man, because you listened to your woman, I’m cursing the ground.”
“Are you sure? I was the one who screwed up. The ground did nothing,” the man asked, “Also you made her horny for me, shouldn’t you curse me to be revolted by her or something? You have a terrible sense of tragedy, Yahweh. Also, why shouldn’t I listen to my woman? You made her from my rib, with the express purpose of helping me out. She’s pretty and smart. I don’t see why you’re punishing the ground for me listening to her bad advice. ”
“I am cursing the ground! It won’t grow anything for you easily, you’ll have to work hard every day of your life. The bread you eat will only come in proportion to how much you sweat! You’ll have to pull weeds and till the ground until you die!”
“Question, what is bread? Also you’re saying I’ll be doing the exact same thing you made me to do, except harder. So now I just play life on hard mode? Also woman, who is insanely hot, will be constantly horny for me. Are you sure this is how you want to do the whole curse thing? You can try again, we’ll wait if you want to change your mind” The man asked.
“Yes!” Yahweh said.
“Challenge accepted!” The man said, “Woman! I’m going to call you Eve now, because soon you’re going to be the mother of everyone. Except me. I guess Yahweh is my mom.”
The pair walked off and Yahweh turned to his fellow gods that he suddenly remembered exist and said, “I think we have a problem guys. They’re just like us now because of that stupid tree. If the man is smart, and he is, he’ll make a bee line for the Tree of Life and be immortal.”
“So, effectively more gods?” One of the gods asked.
“Yeah, we need to kick him out of the garden,” Yahweh replied.
“That line about how you’re his mom was kind of sweet though,” a goddess piped in.
“I know, I kind of feel sorry for them. I wish I could do something,” Yahweh said, eyeing two animals that were passing by. He promptly killed those animals and made clothing out of their skins and presented them to the man and woman. Then He kicked them out of the garden. He placed a winged monstrosity with the body of a bull and the head of a man at the entrance of the garden with a flaming sword so they couldn’t get back in.
And that’s how unicorns went extinct.
Notes, So Many Notes
There’s a lot to unpack here with my telling of The Fall. As with all of these retellings I’m using the RSV, Young’s Literal Translation, and the Orthodox Jewish Bible as primary sources. I list a few extra-biblical sources for some of the information as necessary. These are typically books that didn’t make it into the canon, and scholarly research and commentary.
The word for serpent in Genesis 3:1 is “Nachash” which is the probable root for “Nahushtan” mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Nachash is the Hebrew word that refers to all kinds of snakes on a generic level. The difference seems to be the same as ‘snake’ and ‘viper’ in English. Viper typically means a poisonous snake, whereas snake can be any number of legless reptiles. Most places I looked claimed Hebrew has fourteen other words for snake, or specific snakes.
Of all the interpretations for who exactly the serpent is, and there are a number of them, I lean towards the following three:
- A Watcher. One of the angels that fell from heaven and had sex with human women. Watchers are mentioned by that term in the Book of Daniel, and in the extra biblical Book of Enoch. The ‘bene elohim’ that produced children with human women are really the same idea according to most sources I found.
- A goddess of some kind. I’ve lost my sources on this. However even a basic examination of artwork related to the fall from antiquity will show Eve talking to a woman whose lower half is that of a snake. At least some people believed this. One source I saw indicated that the tree and the snake were the same thing, a goddess and her name meant “Tree of Good”, implying the “and Evil”. Unfortunately I didn’t save a link the book where this came from, but it fits in with all the artwork.
- A literal talking snake. This is to my mind the likeliest possibility. Just about everyone has a story that includes talking animals from ancient times.
At no point is the snake said to be the devil. The idea of the devil didn’t seem to exist in Judaism until sometime around 200 BC. As best I can tell, Genesis 2 (if not the entire book in some form) had been around at least eight hundred years before this. The story itself is likely much older.
You’ll note I use “Yahweh” for God in this story as opposed to “God” or “gods” as in chapter 1. In English translations God is called “God” in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2 He is called “Lord God”. The reason being that in Genesis 1 the Hebrew word “Elohim” is used by itself, the word itself usually denotes more than one god. In Genesis 2 the phrase is “Yahweh Elohim”. The Yahweh part being a rough pronunciation of the sacred name of God that’s being used in the text. The English translators kept the tradition of not saying the name of God by substituting “Lord” for “Yahweh”. This is much the same as what the priests would do when reading the text out loud. They would say “Adonai” or sometimes “The Name” when they came across God’s name in the text. In some modern English translations you’ll find either “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in the text instead of “Lord”.
As I pointed out earlier, Adam is never named in all of Genesis. He’s just “the man” or “HaAdam” in the Hebrew. So he’s just “Man” for the purposes of these stories. I was always told Adam was probably the smartest man to ever live, hence his knowledge of some things that don’t exist yet in this story.
I like to imagine Eve, who does get a name, as a smart valley girl from the 90’s. Kind of like a brunette version of the main character in “Legally Blonde”. My upbringing in a Southern Baptist church taught me that Eve was stupid for whatever reason. I don’t see it that way, she was ‘tricked’ by the snake and made the decision on her own.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is another subject of a millenia long debate. What it actually granted Adam and Eve is equally uncertain. The most commonly taught idea is they then knew the difference between Good and Evil as the name of the tree suggests. This makes very little sense in context of the story, hence the debate. Generally, the Old Testament indicates that ‘good’ is “What God says is OK” and ‘evil’ is “What God says is not OK”. I admit that’s stripping away a lot of nuance, but that’s typically what it comes down to.
One of the longest standing ideas is that the Tree taught Adam and Eve how to reproduce. You can see this idea in an absurd amount of medieval artwork and pornography. This also explains a lot of Christian belief about how sex is evil. The idea being that the first sin was not eating the fruit, but Adam and Eve having sex after they had done so. It also makes sense of much of the story. The pair already knew disobeying God was evil. It also explains why God said they were like gods (the gods could reproduce), and only needed to eat of the Tree of Life to essentially be gods. There are holes in the theory, but as absurd as it seems, it does make a lot of sense without applying a lot of modern ideas to it.
The Tree of Life isn’t talked about much. I haven’t found any reason to think that it was anything other than a tree that produced food that made you immortal. The idea was that you wouldn’t die as long as you kept eating this fruit. God Himself says as much to His divine counsel (other gods) at the end of the chapter.
The idea is identical to Ambrosia in Greek myth. Many myths from all over the world talk about heroes missing out on eating from the ‘divine food’ that would grant them immortality. The Chinese talked about “Peaches of Immortality”, The Epic of Gilgamesh talks about an herb of immortality that only a sacred snake could find, and the Egyptians wrote about something called “White Drops”. Some ancient Hebrews believed in a Tree of Life with immortality granting fruit. It’s all the same thing.
The curses strike me as odd. The serpent is punished directly. I had never thought about the snake being cursed to eat dirt until I wrote this. I can’t imagine that the writer meant snakes literally ate dirt, unless he’d never encountered a snake, and no one he knew had either. One wonders if there’s another story where the snake is a worm or some other creature, or if the author was meaning that snakes ate dirt metaphorically, because they slither on the ground. Many think that this curse is why snakes lost their legs. I think perhaps they’d have been called ‘lizards’ if they had legs and snakes after they lost them. The idea that snakes had wings, not legs, and could fly makes a lot more sense here.
Eve is also punished directly with pain in childbirth. There’s no indication that they had children at that point. So how would she know the difference? What ties this together is that she’ll desire her husband and he’ll lord over her. So she’ll want the very thing that causes her so much pain.
The man’s curse is indirect. The ground is cursed, not the man. He’ll have to work very hard for his bread until the day he dies. What I find hilarious here is the idea of ‘bread’ in the Garden of Eden. There was no bread, there was no death. The only thing we’re told the pair ate was fruit. How was Adam supposed to know what bread was. This is like an author using the idiom “fly under the radar” in a period piece set in the 1800’s. It’s nonsensical.
The Cherubim at the gates of Eden are not the chubby winged angel babies we call “Cherubs” today. They are fearsome beings with four faces, six wings, and legs like a bull. There are carvings all over the middle east of winged bulls with a man’s head, generally called “Lamassu”. The four faces might indicate they imagined the Cherubim to have four faces. It could, in my opinion, mean that they thought there were four ways a cherubim could appear. The four faces are generally a man, an eagle, an ox (bull) and a lion. The various winged animals depicted in the middle east were generally combinations of those four animals. Griffins are lion/eagles, Lammasu are bull/men, kirabu are winged humans, sphinx are man/lions, and so forth. All of those hybrid animals are depicted as having wings at some point. Even the sphinx, depending on who is depicting it, often have wings. Just speculation on my part, but perhaps some people thought all those hybrids were essentially the same thing?
I personally think that this story was adapted from an older story and we don’t have the full picture. It could be ripped off from the Babylonian or Sumerian creation stories. It could have just as easily been one that the Hebrew people had been telling each other for generations. Either way