Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes!?

Taught the first part of Lesson 4 yesterday — I say the “first part,” because we had 10 minutes of class time (thanks, Ward Conference!), and this lesson is important enough to bump Lesson 5 forward. See here for an example of how class is supposed to be done. So, in our ten minutes, I covered the Council in Heaven, Satan’s fall and the serpent. Next week we’ll do the Fall and the redemption (if Aaron Brown shows up). At one point, we read Moses 4:5-6:

And now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which I, the Lord God, had made. And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.

There’s a lot to unpack in those verses, and we didn’t try in our time to talk about why Eve, or why Satan would not know the mind of God, etc. Best leave that for next week. Instead, I asked: “was there really a snake?”

Moses 4 and Genesis 3 both say that the serpent is more subtle than any beast of the field. Not sure what this means, exactly, except that the use of subtle here is more linked to subterfuge and cunning than to fashion sense or understatedness. Did God create snakes to be more wily? Genesis 3 doesn’t mention Satan separately; instead, many readings view ‘serpent’ as another name for the Devil, and accordingly whether there was a physical snake or not is left an open question. But Moses 4 forces a more narrow view: Satan puts the temptation of Eve into the heart of the serpent. In other words, the JST seems to have a real talking snake.

Also note the reference to Satan’s influence over the created world: he has drawn away many after him. Presumably this includes some of the animal kingdom. This is I believe consistent with the Bible: the devil has power over snakes and can possess other animals in certain conditions (see, e.g., Mark 5:7-13). The worldview put out by Moses 4 is one in which the Devil has real power and is not merely a tempting spirit — we have already seen Satan’s attempts to destroy Moses personally (with echoes of the First Vision narrative), and now in the retelling of the Garden of Eden story that Satan is not just a passive observer but a physical participant.

When I asked the question, “was there really a talking snake,” a classmember of a certain age shouted out, “I don’t care!” That’s a fair reaction – we certainly don’t have to think about these issues if we don’t want to. Most of the rest of the class argued that the serpent was metaphorical, again a very conventional way of approaching the Biblical account. I tend to agree that that there was probably no actual talking snake — but this conclusion raises as many questions as it solves. Yes, we’re no longer faced with the logistics of a conversant reptile, but if there’s no snake, then who’s beguiling Eve? Is it all in her head? Is she conversing with the unembodied spirit of Satan? More importantly, if there was really no serpent, WHY MENTION ONE AT ALL? I don’t think the serpent is mechanically required by the text — after all, angels and ill spirits converse with people elsewhere in the O.T., so why not just go with that view instead? Further, if it is a metaphor, why the added explanation of possession/sway by Satan over the serpent in Moses 4? Writing off the snake as an image is clean in the short-term but it leaves us some messy textual questions as well.

I also found it interesting how people were quick to interpret some parts of the Creation as symbols, but not others, without any real reasoning behind one choice or the other. Snakes: metaphor. Fruit: metaphor. But you ask them whether Adam and Eve are symbolic, and the answer is almost always a very quick defense of a literal Adam and literal Eve. They existed, were formed from the clay and there was a real Fall that took place in Missouri. I tend to believe in a literal Fall, but maybe we need to pay attention to the text a little bit. If we’re so willing to swing wide the metaphor door for snakes and apples, we may find it harder than we’d like to clap it shut again for our Parents.


  1. was there really a talking snake

    What, you’ve never heard of parseltongue??

    I also found it interesting how people were quick to interpret some parts of the Creation as symbols, but not others

    True dat. I know I do the same thing (even though I seem to be willing to call a lot more of the tale allegory than most Mormons I encounter)

  2. Aren’t serpents Messianic symbols in some cultures?

    And remember that Moses used a brazen serpent to represent Christ on the cross.

    So maybe the reason Satan chose a serpent because Eve would recognize the symbolism and not be afraid thinking it was from the Father?

    I don’t know…just thinking aloud.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    In our class one person opined that there really was a snake.

    Another said no, the snake is just a metaphor.

    The teacher wrapped it up by saying it doesn’t really matter either way.

    So we had a little microcosm of what you’re talking about here.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    “Literal” is a funny word to use as an antonym for “figurative” in the fashion that we do. That came to mind yesterday as a question of this sort was asked. “Was there a literal snake?” “Well, sure, there are the letters in Genesis: S-N-A-K-E. If it was figurative, we would have a drawing instead.”

    OK. I’m done. Back to understanding English as it is used.

  5. Stephanie says:

    Tim J, that’s an intriguing thought.

  6. Wouldn’t Tim’s suggestion require that Adam and Eve were products of a pre-existing culture as opposed to being the first humans?

  7. Hehe. Geoff, I think Tim’s suggestion could make sense if reworded to refer to the people reading the Adam and Eve story rather than Eve herself.

    I still maintain that Steve is merely a metaphorical blogger. Frankly, I don’t believe he exists.

  8. Satan doesn’t have a body…did he posses a snake? did he make his spirit look snakelike?

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Quite right, Geoff. Unless there was some sort of pre-existential serpent symbology, I don’t think Eve had any reason to recognize any symbolism.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    John Mansfield, you have quite rightly skewered me. Alas, if only usage were not more important than rule!

  11. My sick kid home from school was watching that very scene as you typed up this very post. I’m freaked. And not just by Sir Hiss.

  12. So did Moses really put a snake on a stick and if you looked at it you would live?

  13. As I was preparing for class, I got hung up on verses 6 and 7 which Steve mentions above:

    6 And Satan put it into the heart of the serpent, (for he had drawn away many after him,) and he sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world.
    7 And he said unto the woman: Yea, hath God said—Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? (And he spake by the mouth of the serpent.)

    The antecedent (in English) of “many” in verse 6 seems to be “serpent,” which seems to imply that nature, animals, or at least certain animals are servants of Satan, or in some way influenced by him. Somehow that does not ring quite true to me. This worldview seems to be the product of a more primitive civilization where snakes, among other creatures, are considered evil because they are particularly threatening to humans, in a way that other animals, for instance birds, are not, and not an inspired metaphysical declaration.

    Thoughts? Of course, not a whole lot riding on this for me personally, since I am not a believer in a literal Adam and Even, Garden of Eden, or one-time historical event called the Fall.

  14. Eric Russell says:

    Frankly, I don’t believe he exists.

    And I don’t care!

  15. Selective literalism. We Mormons love it. In regards to the A&E story, I’ve given up trying to determine which parts are history and which parts are allegory (which to me seems like the wrong question altogether) and read it for personal application. If a literal reading will give me a certain insight, great, if an allegorical reading gives me a different insight, fantastic. Probably not the most “correct” way to read scriptures, but it works for me for now.

  16. As I mention on my blog’s Gospel Doctrine OT discussion, in the Book of Moses, only Adam was around to receive the command to not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. This would possibly mean that Eve received it second hand, and so the command would be of greater import to Adam.
    Eve does check out the serpent’s claims, before partaking. She sees that the fruit is safe to eat, delightful to look at, and can make a person wise. What she didn’t think about, is that Satan was having her choose for the wrong purpose, and obeying the wrong being (like Cain and his sacrifice later).

    Eve is thinking about the second commandment: to multiply and replenish the earth. It is shown later, when she and Adam are taught the full gospel by the angel. Adam proclaims: because of MY transgressions, I’m going to resurrect and see God again. Whereas, Eve states: because of OUR transgression, we will have children, have the hope of the atonement, etc.

    The snake, real or not, is a symbol. It is the symbol that is most important, as is the entire story.

  17. I think there’s a very interesting connection with the appearance of the Snake leading Adam and Eve astray, and the appearance of the Snake that was torn from the temple during Hezekiah’s reform that had led Israel astray.

    In the non-Restoration version of Genesis, Adam represents the Priesthood and the Monarchy. The exit from the garden was the loss of the Temple, Priesthood, and the Exile.

    I tried to explore this idea a little bit here.

  18. The antecedent (in English) of “many” in verse 6 seems to be “serpent,” which seems to imply that nature, animals, or at least certain animals are servants of Satan, or in some way influenced by him.

    One could possibly read Moses 4 and conclude that “the serpent” was not literally a serpent, nor was it Satan, but rather a follower of Satan. Just a thought.

  19. Nate W., if so, then who? There are no other human beings alive at this point in time.

  20. As said before, the A&E story is almost a perfect allegory to the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer. The curse of Adam was to be a farmer. Since farmer’s wives have many more children than hunter-gatherers, Eve’s curse was to be a farmer’s wife.

    Sexual selection brought forth intelligence. Women finally began to have the greater choice as to who the father of her children was going to be. She chose for intelligence or the knowledge of good and evil. Men are just along for the ride.

    Why the snake? No idea. Might stand for some Jungian or Freudian sexual symbol. The standard christian view is that the fall was sexual, which sort of matches the idea of sexual selection. Snakes are certainly Freudian symbols of male sexuality, which Eve was able to choose and control.

    I really like the idea of the curse as agriculture. What does that make code writing?

  21. Again, fine with me if we want to take this all as allegory, but someone should have told the writers of the Bible (and Joseph Smith).

  22. I think it was Pres. Kimball who said “the rib is, of course, metaphorical.” Of course? Is it supposed to be obvious what’s metaphorical and what’s not? Like Rameumptom said, the rib/snake/fruit/garden, real or not, is a metaphor. That’s the attitude I take to most of Genesis (that is, probably not literal).

  23. #20: Nice.

  24. “This would possibly mean that Eve received it second hand, and so the command would be of greater import to Adam.”

    For this reason, one could read v. 7 as Satan asking Eve directly “Did God tell YOU not to eat the fruit?”

    “Eve is thinking about the second commandment: to multiply and replenish the earth.”

    This, I don’t think is true. You’ve already said the fruit commandment came before Eve was created. Well, scripturally, the multiply commandment came well before Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden.

  25. The problem with seeing the Fall as wholly allegorical, is the Atonement since it was done in direct response to it. If we have an allegorical fall, we have an allegorical Atonement.

  26. Tim: BINGO.

  27. Mike Parker says:

    From my lesson notes on this passage:

    1. The Genesis account does not identify the serpent with Satan. [fn1]
    1.1. In Genesis 3:1 the serpent is portrayed merely as a deceptive creature or trickster [fn2], promoting as good what God had directly forbidden.
    1.1.1. For Jews, the serpent is an etiological myth or “just-so story” that explains the origin of snakes, why they slither on the ground instead of walking on legs, and why there is hostility between them and man.
    1.1.2. The connection between the serpent and Satan was made in later Jewish and Christian literature. [fn3]
    1.2. In Moses (which is the Joseph Smith translation of Genesis), the serpent is an intelligent, speaking creature with its own will. The snake is a follower of Satan, and Satan speaks to Eve through the snake. (Moses 4:5–6.) [fn4]
    1.3. In the temple endowment, the snake is not even present. Instead, Satan appears in the Garden in bodily form, and converses with Adam, Eve, and God as one man converses with another.
    1.4. Assuming one of these accounts represents what actually happened, it’s clear that artistic license has been taken with the event.
    2. The word subtle in verse 5 means “crafty, sly.”
    3. Genesis 3:14-15. There are a couple of ways to interpret this:
    3.1. The serpent was cursed.
    3.1.1. In this view, the serpent had legs in the Garden, and its form was changed so that it would slither on its belly.
    3.1.2. God placed enmity (animosity or hatred) between men and snakes. Men would step on the snake’s head, and the snake would in return bite man’s heel. The Hebrew word translated “bruise” (shuwph) means to “crush” or “strike.”
    3.1.3. The serpent was one of the animals classified as “unclean” in the law given to Moses (Leviticus 11:42).
    3.2 Satan was cursed.
    3.2.1. In this view, the curse is metaphorical: Satan, who had previously been cast out of heaven for rebellion, now becomes the lowliest of God’s creations.
    3.2.2. Genesis 3:15 is interpreted by many Christians to refer to Jesus. [fn5]
    3.2.3. Satan delivers a crippling blow to the Seed of the woman (Jesus, through his crucifixion), who in turn delivers a fatal blow to the Serpent (defeating both death and sin).

    [fn1] Satan only appears in the Old Testament as an individual character in Job 1–2. The three other occurrences of the name in the KJV (1 Chronicles 21:1; Psalm 109:6; Zechariah 3:1–2) are better translated “adversary.” The majority of scholars believe that the concept of Satan in Hebrew theology did not appear until the second century B.C., and were carried over from there into Christianity (see Victor P. Hamilton, “Satan,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary [Doubleday, 1992], 5:987). The Joseph Smith Translation inserts Satan into the creation stories, beginning with Moses’ encounter on the mountain (Moses 1:12–24), and continuing with a recounting of Satan’s fall from heaven and his temptation of Adam and Eve (Moses 4:1–6).
    [fn2] In mythology, a trickster is a deity who breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously but usually, albeit unintentionally, with ultimately positive effects.
    [fn3] See especially Revelation 20:2, “And [the angel] laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.” This connection may go back as far as the sixth century B.C.; Lehi himself makes it in 2 Nephi 2:18.
    [fn4] George Q. Cannon, a member of the First Presidency at the time, took the account in the Moses as the accurate one. See his remarks given on 18 October 1884 (Journal of Discourses 26:252): “He [Satan] has instilled into the minds of the children of men hatred for the truth—that is, every one that has been willing to listen to him. He has entered into them, taken possession of their souls, and has used them to accomplish his wicked purposes. He has done this through man. He could not do it without he had some tabernacle to operate through. He could not deceive Eve—or did not deceive her—except through the means of the serpent. He entered into the serpent. The serpent was willing, doubtless, to let him enter, and he spoke through the serpent. It was the mouth of the serpent, but it was the voice of Satan that beguiled the woman.”
    [fn5] Roman Catholics identify the seed of the woman as Mary. This is often portrayed in religious iconography, where Mary is represented standing on a snake.

    Full notes here:

  28. but someone should have told the writers of the Bible

    Calling it all allegory does require Mormons to use several heaping spoonfuls of the Section 19 Principle to be sure. And of course that means we start dealing with the slippery slope problem.

    But of course the slippery slope problem happens on the literal side of the hill as well. (Young earth theories etc.)

  29. Thanks Mike P for providing the particulars.

  30. Snakes, they slither across the dirt, not quite wallowing in mire, but certainly in very firm contact with the earth, the world. They can twine themselves around and swallow their prey whole. They are most decidedly carnivores, sometimes venomous. Yet it’s possible for humans to crush/decapitate them. Seems like a mighty fine symbol for sin and temptation to me.

    I’d say that the insistence of members on a figurative snake yet a literal Adam and Eve comes from the presentation of the creation in the temple.

  31. The word ‘arum’ is used both as the craftiness of the snake, and as the innocence Adam and Eve displayed before the fall. it think it’s all a play on words. Snakes were a symbol of wisdom, infertility and immortality. I personally don’t have a problem with having a symbolic snake in the story of a real fall and a real need for a real atonement.
    I too don’t see Satan equally the snake in Genesis. (I can’t reconcile that with the account in Moses however.) I think that’s the more interesting question, how Satan becomes symbolized by a serpent here–if that’s the reading we’re accepting. I personally have a hard time with the snake literally talking, so I’m not sure there was really a snake involved.

    Is the snake symbolizing wisdom? Eve’s gaining fertility after the fall? I do wonder if it was all in her head, making a decision–since we don’t see it as a sin, but a transgression.

  32. Mike Parker says:

    @mmiles: “The word ‘arum’ is used both as the craftiness of the snake, and as the innocence Adam and Eve displayed before the fall. it think it’s all a play on words.”

    The man and woman are “naked” (ערומים / ’arummim) and the serpent is “subtle” (ערום / ’arum). Subtle means “shrewd” or “clever,” and contrasts with the innocence and ignorance of Adam and Eve.

  33. Thanks. My Oxford annotated is lying to me.

  34. Very nice.

  35. Tim/Steve,
    Why does an allegory that explains the Fall of Man require an allegorical Atonement? Doesn’t an allegorical reading suggest that WE are Adam & Eve and that “The Fall” is our own sin? Under this reading we are still in need of an Atonement, right? I guess it looks like I’m asking if it is true that “Adam fell that man may be…” But again, what if we read Adam as ourselves?

  36. The whole purpose of the Fall was to introduce physical and spiritual death into this world. But God could not do this himself, he had to have someone do it for him–Adam.

    Likewise, God could not redeem man from the effects of the fall (death & sin) himself–he had to have another who was like unto him do it for him–Jesus Christ.

    If there was no fall then there is no need for a Savior. Else what are we being saved from?

    “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

  37. Rusty, what Tim said. The gospel is just not set up for an individualized Fall/Atonement paradigm — it clearly also envisages a Fall of all mankind stemming from an event.

  38. Tim,

    I’m with Rusty. Saying the story is an allegory does not imply that there is no such thing as the Fall. If we are just reading a history of what happened to the first man and woman, why am I supposed to consider myself Adam? That makes no sense at all unless the story is an allegory which applies to me personally and my own Fall and my own need for an atonement.

    Thinking that the Fall is simply an unfortunate result of a screwup by Adam and Eve leads to a serious misunderstanding of the Fall, including, but not limited to, the idea of original sin. It is the story of Adam and Eve that is allegorical, not the reality of a spiritual fall.

  39. Jacob, I agree that we are to consider ourselves Adam in terms of making covenants with God and making our way back to His presence, but in the Gospel paradigm the existence of physical death in the world didn’t come through some allegorical story, it came from Adam’s transgression. Fine if you want to apply the story of Adam and Eve to yourself and your spiritual path to God, but doing so does not address the physicality of the Fall and the Resurrection.

  40. Steve, I am honestly not sure what you mean by the physicality of the fall. I spent a fair amount of space in my Dialogue paper on atonement theory discussing the fall for the reason we are discussing now, viz. our understanding of the fall informs our understanding of the nature of the atonement. As I understand Joseph Smith in the KFD, the motivation for creating the plan of salvation was that God found himself in the midst of weaker spirits (us) and wanted to put in place a system by which we could advance like him. Our spiritual weakness pre-dates Adam and Eve’s time in the garden. Do you think something Adam did (or ate) has anything to do with your weaknesses and sins that require atonement?

  41. Mike Parker says:

    WRT Adam as us:

    Genesis 2:20 is the first time the KJV translates “Adam” as a proper name. By this time the Hebrew word אדם (‘adam) has already appeared several times, starting in 1:26, where is it translated simply “man.” The Hebrew word literally means “mankind” or “humankind” and is a play on words from the word for “ground” (adamah), from which man was created.

    I think this is significant, because it makes Adam a type or model that represents each of us on our journey through life (a concept that is taught in the temple endowment).

    I also agree with Jacob J that the A&E story is allegorical. Human history goes back long, long before the time of A&E (~4000 B.C.).

  42. Steve (#39),

    You are making literalistic assumption in that comment that are not necessary. Even if humans bodies appeared on earth strictly through evolution (as I tend to believe) there is no reason to assume we individually don’t need atonement or resurrection.

    Tim is misstating the problem I think. The problems with not believing in a literal Adam and Eve are related to all the canonized revelations we have that assume a literal Adam and Eve. The problems are not due to the fact that an allegorical Eden means the atonement must be allegorical too (which I believe is simply incorrect).

  43. Jacob, atonement is about more than forgiveness for sin; it is also about resurrection of the dead, which physical death (we teach) came into the world via Adam. When I talk about physicality of the fall I am referring to its physical effects, e.g. the presence of physical death in the world.

    As I said, I am largely OK with the idea of A&E being allegorical, but if that’s the case then we have been teaching this thing wrong for a long, long time, and continue to do so, and that fact is somethng we need to address.

  44. Don’t forget the serpent’s curse:

    Moses 4:20″ And I, the Lord God, said unto the serpent: Because thou hast done this thou shalt be acursed 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.”

    Makes simple sense for a serpent, not so much for a unembodied devil-man.

  45. Steve (#43): but if that’s the case then we have been teaching this thing wrong for a long, long time, and continue to do so, and that fact is somethng we need to address.

    Ah, but the Section 19 Principle (see #28) says that God sometimes doesn’t mind us teaching and believing some factually wrong stuff for a long, long time. So I am not sure it really is something we need to address. We just carry on instead I think.

  46. If there wasn’t an actual Fall, then there wasn’t an actual Atonement for it would not have been necessary..

  47. “Ah, but the Section 19 Principle (see #28) says that God sometimes doesn’t mind us teaching and believing some factually wrong stuff for a long, long time.”

    I think you’re reading quite a bit into that one verse.

  48. Tim, the point is that we all could have actually fallen without there ever have been a literal/historical Adam ans Eve.

  49. Well it’s an important verse.

  50. Mike Parker says:

    @Tim J (#46): “If there wasn’t an actual Fall, then there wasn’t an actual Atonement for it would not have been necessary.

    That’s a McConkieism. Even without a literal Fall there is still the problem of sin and death to overcome.

  51. Geoff,

    No. I’m pretty certain that if it were for a naked guy talking to snakes and eating fruit, I would be completely incapable of lying, stealing, and all-around screwing over my neighbor. I’m just glad that we have winged beasts protecting me from re-entering the albino-infested magic garden to keep me from eating life-preserving fruit.

  52. I forgot to add that those winged-beasts have light-sabers.

  53. “That’s a McConkieism.”

    Ouch! You really know how to hurt a guy.

    The point of the Fall was to separate Man’s sin from God’s own doing. God could not be ultimately responsible for man’s sin–again, it had to be introduced by man in the conditions that were set for him.

    Ancient prophets understood the Atonement was needed to satisfy the judgment that the Fall called for. Seeing the Atonement thru a different lense would be difficult IMO.

    For the record, I have no problem with aspects of the Fall being allegorical, but we seem to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. The Fall is fairly foundational to our religion–Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Joseph’s vision of Adam & Eve, Adam as Michael, etc., etc.

  54. “The problems with not believing in a literal Adam and Eve are related to all the canonized revelations we have that assume a literal Adam and Eve.”

    You say they assume a literal Adam and Eve and I would say they prove a literal Adam & Eve.

    And the whole 4000 years things isn’t that big an issue if that’s the only hold up.

  55. “I have no problem with aspects of the Fall being allegorical,”

    In your view, which part cannot be allegorical?

  56. I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me that.

  57. Tim,

    how literal does Adam have to be, to still be Adam?

    Did he have to be literally naked?
    Did he have to literally be in a Garden?
    Did he have to literally eat a fruit?
    Did he have to literally be named Adam?
    Did he have to literally be married to a woman who was literally named Eve?
    Did he literally need to be made of clay?
    Did he literally have to talk to a fruit?
    Did he literally have to father a child named Cain?
    Did he literally have to be the biological prime father of humankind?

  58. Mike Parker says:

    @Tim J: For the record, I think the revelations in the D&C (esp 107:41–57) are pretty firm on the reality of a historical Adam. I just don’t know if we have to accept the Garden story as literal.

    Just like I can accept a historical George Washington without having to believe he chopped down a cherry tree as a lad and then couldn’t lie about it. Or any number of actual historical figures about whom myths were written.

  59. My whole point is that the temple endowment seems to be quite clear that Adam is representative of me, and that the only Adam that needs to exist is me. Given that I seem to be quite capable of sinning without any body else’s help, I see no reason why my own fallen state is no sufficient for me needing redemption.

  60. I think Adam existed, and was a prophet (perhaps the first prophet). But I view the fall as being gradual–as our ancestors developed the capacity to sin, they began to sin and in so doing separated themselves from God. I don’t think the fall happened the instant the prophet Adam bit into a piece of fruit–I think it happened slowly as our ancestor’s capacity for understanding grew. I don’t think the separation from God was sudden, any more than it’s sudden in our own lives.
    As far as snakes go, I agree with the other Tim–the snake symbolized Christ, and the writers of the OT are showing us that Satan often tries to imitate Christ. This may conflict with some people’s unreasonable fear of snakes, but snakes are noble animals and protect human health and crops by keeping rodent populations under control.

  61. My take on the Genesis reference to Lucifer as a ‘snake’ is that it is somehow tied to ‘seraphim’ and its connection to concept of ‘fiery flying serpents’ (Heb. ‘saraph’). In such a case, the fall of Lucifer is related to no longer ‘flying’ [‘dust shalt thou eat’] but merely being a ‘fiery [poisonous] serpent’.

    In any case, it’s interesting to see all the appearances of ‘serpent’ in the scriptures and the contexts thereof:

  62. Why can’t the story of the Fall be a symbolic story about decisions made in the pre-mortal spirit world–like that it would be a good idea to become mortal, gain knowledge and experience, etc?

  63. Tim J, You keep insisting that an allegorical Adam and Eve story implies a rejection of the Fall. That is just a straw-man. Keep attacking it all you want, but I don’t see any comments on this thread suggesting there is no such thing as the Fall.

    Steve, I actually agree that we have taught this wrong (in many places) for a long, long time. I don’t think it is dire, but I do think we should fix it. As to the physicality of the fall, I argued my interpretation from the scriptures (in accordance with personalizing and generalizing the Adam and Eve story) in this post.

  64. Different Gary says:

    I am having trouble making sense of the story as pure allegory. If the entire story is allegorical, and represents my own personal fall (and the fall of all other humans), what do the following elements of the story mean:

    1. Apparently I fell by partaking of a metaphorical fruit which would give me knowledge of good and evil, but which God expressly prohibited me from partaking. What would that be? This action must surely represent something more than my garden variety sins and weaknesses. We hardly need this elaborate story to teach me that I am a sinner, so there must be something more going on here.

    2. I partook of this metaphorical fruit only after the metaphorical Eve partook and convinced me that I should. What does that part of the allegory represent if it is nothing more than a story about how we all sin and alienate ourselves from God. This element of the story seems quite extraneous if that is the case.

    3. It appears that I did all of this before entering mortality, and mortality was the consequence of this action. That seems precisely the opposite of what we are taught. We chose to come to mortality as part of God’s plan, and we did not get here as the consequence of act of disobedience or rebellion.

  65. Jared* (#62),

    Jeff G did a really good job of spelling out a feasible pre-mortal Garden of Eden structure here.

  66. Different Gary,

    My link in #65 responds to your questions as well.

  67. The Other Bro Jones says:

    In the Garden, Adam and Eve could talk to the animals. Having Eve talk to a snake is not a big deal

  68. Mike Parker says:

    @The Other Bro Jones: “In the Garden, Adam and Eve could talk to the animals.

    Reference, please.

  69. A couple thoughts:
    1) All we need to know about men and women is given in Moses 5:10-11:
    10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for
    (a) because of my transgression
    (c) my eyes are opened, and
    (d) in this life I shall have joy, and
    (e) again in the flesh I shall see God.
    11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying:
    (a) Were it not for our transgression
    (b) we never should have had seed, and
    (c) [we] never should have known good and evil, and
    (d) [we never should have] the joy of our redemption, and
    (e) [we never should have] the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
    2) Christ’s three temptations in Matt 4 and in Luke 4 were:
    – gave stones, asked for bread
    – jump from height, have angels save you
    – worship Satan, receive world as reward (odd promise to he who *made* the world)
    Later, in Matt 7:9, Jesus seems to have the first temptation in mind when he reverses the give-stone/ask-bread pattern in “what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? The likelihood of this being a subtle allusion to Satan’s temptation is strengthened by the symbols chosen for the following verse: “Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
    Feel free to use this in a lesson about how Satan asks for value (bread) and gives no value (stones) in return or how Christ gives us the greatest value (bread) when we ask for it – and takes our valueless sins (stones) in exchange.

  70. Latter-day Guy says:

    “I forgot to add that those winged-beasts have light-sabers.”

    narrator, I am soooo using this in my PH lesson on the Fall.

  71. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 60
    That is a very interesting idea. A gradual fall solves a lot of problems reconciling the doctrine with what we know about human evolution.

  72. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 67

    So if there had been no Fall, all of life would have been like this!

  73. I’m totally on board with real snakes. Since they arose in the late Triassic they would defiantly be around for Adam and Eve. The difficulty is in identifying the species of snake. I’ve always imagined it being in the Viperidae and some kind of pit viper. Since the cretaceous thoracic expansion under hox gene control has elongated the number of thoracic vertebra (those with ribs) the difficulty is imagining what sort of larynx arrangement allowed for the control and the production of sound to give it voice. This means of course it was no known extant family of snakes. Also, in order for the snake to speak it must have had the following areas of a cerebral cortex developed: Superior temporal gyrus, Inferior frontal gyrus, Inferior frontal gyrus , Middle frontal gyrus. So we can tell that is was a big brained snake with a modified mouth, tongue, and larynx. With all that it was probably a good singer and sounded something like Michael Balam.

  74. SteveP,
    Did it also look a little like Michael Ballam? Did it drive a pink convertible?

  75. #27
    Just a shout out for Mike’s lessons. They are awesome.

    The writers of the Bible, and Joseph Smith, made lots of mistakes. Prophets are people too.

  76. So, do we all agree that some of the Garden story is allegorical, but some of it is probably historical (Adam and Eve were real people)?

    I think there was an actual Fall, however God described it in an allegory, filled with symbolism, so that we could more easily see ourselves in the story line.

  77. So, do we all agree…


    Good one.

  78. SteveP
    Thank you for your informative explanation.
    If it can be determined what species Sir Hiss is, is it likely that the snake in the Garden was the same species?

  79. Mike, the Geritol ad seems out of place for the Garden of Eden. Other than that I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  80. Steve Evans says:

    Sir Hiss belongs to the genus Disneysis of the family Colubridae. Other examples include Kaa.

  81. StillConfused says:

    I have always wondered why they chose a snake for this role. I can’t imagine a snake convincing me to do anything. Now if he were a koala that told me to eat the magic fruit, I might listen

  82. Comment #40- I agree and think it is very important that Joseph taught over and over this idea of instituting the plan of salvation so we could overcome our weakness and be happy. Joseph taught getting a body was essential for us to be happy. I think sometimes we trust the OT more than Joseph.

    And I prefer Hiss in the Jungle Book to Hiss in Robin Hood.

  83. I think the biggest reason for looking for some sort of metaphorical approach to the story (isn’t this like the etiological myth to end all etiological myths?) is the idea that there was no death before the Fall, which happened when humans were on the planet. It leads us to have to make all sorts of weird excuses for the fossil and archaeological records, up the point of theorizing about odd changes to the physiology of animals’ digestive tracts, weather (naked=cold), genetics (2 people starting a race=worse teeth than English nobles), etc. The scriptures consistently fail to mention neighboring peoples not directly involved in the narrative (no one else at all in the Americas?, no one else out in the desert when Lehi’s band was?, giants in the land?). Doesn’t take a very sharp Occam’s razor to make pre-Adamites look mighty attractive. We’re seeing through a glass, darkly.

    BTW, I like snakes. They’re creepy. My daughter makes me catch them in the back yard as temporary pets. It creeps me out, but I love her so I do it anyway. I actually kind of like getting creeped out from time to time. I don’t much hold with the idea that God’s creations are susceptible to Satan’s whims. They fulfill the measure of their creation, unlike men. I also think that it is the only true and living God who rules the waters, just like He rules everything else. Satan’s only domain is in the hearts of men. If there is any curse upon the waters, it’s the chemicals men pour into them.

  84. “Asps. Very dangerous . . . You go first.”

  85. I think too often we get caught up in our own modernity and expect others to read (and write) the scriptures with our worldview. We tend to have an obsession with a correlation theory of truth where a statement can only be true if it correlates with a fact of the world. Thus, we say that the Adam story can only be true if there was in fact a man (Adam) who fell and thus caused all humans to be in a fallen state. The problem we have is that the Garden myth is so full of obvious absurdities today (talking animals, magical fruit, mystical beasts, light-sabers, etc) that we want to dismiss these as allegory, but still maintain our correlation theory of truth and demand that while their may not have been [a magical garden with naked people talking to animals and then being deceived by a talking lizard who convinces the naked people to eat a magical fruit which causes them to be banished from the magical garden and prevented from eating other magical fruit by winged beasts with light-sabers, while at the same time the talking lizard is cursed to lose his legs and is thus forced to crawl on his belly], we yet demand that each of these items must correlate to some historical (past) person/thing/occasion in order to be true.

    Imagine poor Jesus giving the parable of the Good Samaritan and being constantly interrupted by his disciples who were trying to figure out which historical (actual) person each character on the parable was supposed to represent. The truth of the parable, just as with the truth of the Garden narrative, isn’t in it’s historical accuracy, but in the truth of the message that is pulled from it.

    I think we as LDSaints need to come to grips with the fact that the Garden myth is not supposed to be some one-to-one retelling of historical (actual-through modernity’s eyes) events, but is a prophetic retelling and restructuring of ancient creation narratives borrowed from other cultures that pre-dated the OT’s creation narrative. In other words, the prophets were not giving us a description of what happened in the past. They were picking up others’ creation narratives and retelling them to teach us about the fallen nature of man and the reason why snakes don’t have legs and are an enemy to humans (who when get bit by snakes tend to die).

    But what about J Smith’s use of Adam? Simple, he was just doing the same thing that all the other prophets were doing. He took on a cultural myth and prophetically re-adapted it to teach new principles.

  86. to understand the account of the events in the Garden of Eden, we must understand the sole individual whose testimony we have of the account, Moses. Did Moses write literally or figuratively in all other cases? Did his target audience best understand things literally or figuratively? Did he have actual records of the accounts as they took place 2000 years before him? He may have had a vision of the account, but visions tend to be skewed by one’s ability to understand, and relate, visions and dreams. My feeling is that we do not have a fully accurate account of what took place in probably the most important event in human history, in terms of understanding who we are. The Atonement is a greater event overall, but in terms of understanding the point of humanity, no greater event took place than those in the Garden of Eden, or at least that is how Christianity wants humanity to think. Who knows. The discrepancies make it difficult to pin down definitive answers.

  87. What about the schedule for the church curriculum? I thought it was:

    1st Sunday – EQ Presidency, RS Presidency, HP Group choice.

    2nd Sunday – Manual

    3rd Sunday – Manual

    4 Sunday – Teachings for our time.

    So why is the rest of the Mormon world on lesson 4 already? We are not due for lesson 3 for three more weeks yet. We won’t get any snakes for nearly a month.

  88. This thread has done it’s job, I’m much more grateful for the fall esepcially considering #72’s version of life without it…those pink bows wow (and the girls get off easy, the boys? lovely). Definitely show the sacrifice and trade offs of the fall-we can’t talk to animals, but we get better clothes.

    I also feel a strange need to buy geritol

  89. OP: “a classmember of a certain age shouted out, “I don’t care!””

    wait wait wait…people “shout out” in your Gospel Doctrine class? That is even more unbelievable than talking snakes and people made from mud and ribs.

  90. Whilst serving as a missionary (meaning lots of study time on our hands) friends of mine (friends who are a lot smarter than me) arrived at a very interesting theory. (I hope I can do it justice trying to explain it after so many years).

    1st bear in mind that the A&E story occurred on countless other worlds.
    2nd for agency to work there must be opposition in all things. (including the pre-mortal world)
    3rd Think of satan or the devil as a name or title for someone who seeks to lead others to destroy Gods plan.

    In the pre-mortal world there was influence for both good & evil, a pre-mortal satan existed, one who tempted lucifer to rebel against Gods plan, lucifer was cast out of the grand council.

    lucifer being taught by “satan” as to what to do, tempts A&E to eat the fruit, when God finds out what lucifer (snake) has done binds him to this earth, (upon thy belly etc). lucifer now becomes the satan of our world and seeks to lead others to destroy the plan of God.

    this same pattern has happened on other worlds. (remember this is just opinion).

  91. Steve Evans says:

    #87 er……..

  92. Cynthia L. says:

    Best post title.
    Best doctrinal post.
    Best pictorial reference to most under-appreciated Disney movie.

    Love it.

    Ther was totally a literal snake but pre-cursing it had legs (so no going on belly), so it was clearly a Tokay gecko–totally cute and charming to chicks, but very fierce and crazy.

  93. #91


  94. Eric,

    pssst…we’re talking about Gospel Doctrine class…not Priesthood/Relief Society.

  95. StillConfused says:

    #92 could it save me a bunch on my car insurance?

  96. # 93: To er… is human, to forgive divine.

  97. Glenn Smith says:

    Lest we forget….
    Satan’s minions were frequently found in human bodies and cast out by Christ and the apostles. If those evil spirits can move from a human into a pig, why is it such a stretch for Satan, himself, to be in a serpent’s body????

    As an aside, I wonder how many legs the serpent had before he was cursed to go onto his belly??

  98. Are my comments being moderated, or are they just that lame that nobody cares to acknowledge them?

  99. They’re just so awesome nobody is even attempting to argue against them Narrator.

  100. I can handle that answer ;)

    I was just worried that I was on moderation for some reason.

  101. Isn’t it spelled ‘subtil’ rather than ‘subtle’ … I only say because somehow the spelling ‘subtil’ looks more nefarious to me. Not sure why. It just does.

  102. Mike Parker says:

    @danithew #101:

    The 17th century KJV rendering “subtil” is an archaic spelling. At the time the word had only recently (late 14th c.) come from the Old French subtil, meaning “clever, dexterous.”

  103. Glenn Smith
    What was the curse for those unfortunate possessed pigs and all piglet-kind?(and what were Jewish people doing with pigs, other than to provide alternative surrogate satanic bodies?)

    As for the number of snake legs lost, do we count their arms or is that a separate cursing?

  104. So the snake was clever and dextrous. I like that.

    The archaic language and spellings that remain in the KJV are kind of fun … every time I see that word ‘subtil’ it sticks out in my mind – which ends up making me think about it a little bit more.

  105. Mike Parker says:

    @danithew #104:

    Not exactly. The Old French word subtil came into Middle English in the late 14th century, and was still spelled that way by the time of the KJV and Early Modern English. That word means “clever, dexterous.”

    However, it is a translation of the Hebrew צךום (‘aruwm), which means “shrewd, crafty, sly.”

    Like all words in our English Bible, we are translating from one language into another, and sometimes an English word can have multiple meanings where the Hebrew original has only one (and vice versa).

    For example, KJV Matthew 24:41 is rendered “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” In 21st-century English grinding can mean to crush into fine particles, but it can also mean to dance in a sexually-suggestive fashion. Modern translations of the Bible have to account for this to prevent confusion on the part of the reader.

  106. Glenn Smith says:

    Those lucky pigs got to go swimming……

    I have lately wondered about animals* in Palestine / Israel at the time of Christ. Wild boars (pigs) were part of the mix along with bears and lions. While the pigs were unclean for the children of Israel, I expect the Romans and others enjoyed a ham dinner every now and then.

    (*What animals and birds may have been present at the Nativity – as I try to add authenticity to my outdoor Christmas display??)

  107. Mike, it’s a very subtil thing to be able to code Hebrew text into a comment like that.

  108. That’s some snake

  109. The serpent is a symbol.

    Watch a serpent move, or the path it leaves. Sine wave, cycles, vibrations, progress carried between two opposites.

    The most important cycle is that of the Sun, with it’s duality of light and darkness.

    The serpent is the positive and negative aspects of light. Light is knowledge. The serpent is concerned with the Tree of Knowledge.

    If the serpent is a metaphor, perhaps it exists inside of Eve, not outside of her. Many cultures related their different spiritual parts to animals.

    I read in Genesis 2 only of a serpent, not of Satan, nor Satan causing a serpent to do anything. Interesting that Lucifer means “light-bearer”.

    Serpents above the ground are positive. Moses held one up upon his rod. The modern health establishment uses the Caduceus as it’s symbol. Quetzalcoatl.

    Serpents on the ground are negative. Our serpent gets cast down. The magicians tricks in Egypt. The curvy red tail of the devil hanging down to touch the ground.

    The Tree of Knowledge is not prohibited, only the sweet fruit of the tree, which brings death.

    And Adam _knew_ Eve his wife.

    Eve, and the people of Moses, chose serpents on the ground, instead of serpents in the air. Should be simple not to eat a fruit, but maybe it’s just that tasty.

  110. Glenn Smith says:

    ghent ,
    Try Moses Ch.4

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