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I want to talk to you today about the snake’s temptation, what it is that the snake tempts Eve with. How would you tempt Eve if you were the snake? Well, there are movies, ‘snow white’ comes to mind, and there you got the shiny apple being presented by the Wicked Witch, and this woman taking the apple and eating it, and it really seems to be a play of the Adam and Eve story.
And in that story, all it is was this shiny apple. It’s just, “isn’t this delicious?” That’s what I would have said. Here is this beautiful apple, isn’t this delicious? Something like that! Let’s look at what the snake says. The snake doesn’t really say that; the snake said something else which is really hard. Now, it is so hard, and I want to caution you here that the translations struggle with it. And you can begin to tell that something is almost not right by how various different translations are over here.
But just to backup for a second; for many of you, some of you who are reading the bible on Hebrew and some of you are reading it English. If you are reading in English, you will of course do have the disadvantage of not reading the primary text. So, if you are not reading the primary text, if you are reading in English, what you really want to do is use different translations.
And sometimes, because you are really at the mercy of the translator, the translator will try to make things easy for you by smoothing over difficulties in Hebrew and trying to make it sort of fit. And the problem with that of course is that the difficulty is where the action is and it’s in the difficulty we begin to find the germs that really shade light on the story. So, if the difficulty is all smoothing over for you, you’re kind of stock.
A Partial Solution: If you can at least identify sections of text that are rendered differently by various translations, you’ll be able to tell where the areas of ambiguity are in the original Hebrew.
One of the most notorious translations for this is the New JPS translation, which is very colloquial and really tries to do a lot to smooth things over. And the Kaplan Translation sometimes do this too; this is a translation by Aryeh Kaplan, available at the Living Torah, also available in the bible and ort , kind of, Google ‘Bible and ort.’ And you will come upon this, very nice, and they are available over here, you just click any of these hyperlinks and it takes you to the various places.
But anyway, if you look at Kaplan’s translation… So, what I was saying was that you can look at the various different translations in English, and even though you are sort of at the mercy of the translator, if various different translations translate things really differently, you’ll kind of know something is up. And here I want to give you an example of that. Here is Kaplan on what the snake says – ‘The serpent was the most cunning of all the wild beasts that God has made. (The serpent) asked the woman, ‘Did God really say that you may not eat from any of the trees of the garden?’
Let’s shift over to JPS. Over here, this is JPS since 1917 translation. Before it was redone, so it’s very archaic-sounding, but let’s see what they say – ‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman: ‘Yea, hath God said: Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’ Now, I don’t about you, but I don’t know what ‘Yea, hath God said’ really means. In the Kaplan translation, that was ‘Did God say’. And over here, all of a sudden, the ‘Did’ is getting switched into ‘Yea’. What does that exactly mean?
And, of course, the problem here is that this is coming off of an ambiguous Hebrew. So, let’s look at the Hebrew and actually try to translate the Hebrew literally and to see how outstanding the Hebrew really is. ‘V’hanachash hayah arum mikol chayat hasadeh – the snake was more cunning than any of the beast of the field.’ We would have translate it into ‘subtle,’ but I think cunning is probably better. ‘Asher asah Elokim – God had made.’ ‘Vayomer el-haishah – and the snake said to the woman…’
Now, here is the first issue here. Af ki-amar Elokim lo tochlu mikol etz hagan. So, for you Hebrew speakers, this part is easy to translate, right? Lo tochlu mikol etz hagan, this is the part when God is saying you shouldn’t eat from all the trees of the field. But the first part here is excruciatingly difficult to translate.
Let’s go through it word by word. Word, number one is ‘af’. What does ‘af’ mean? Well, ‘af’ actually means ‘even’, OK? So, ‘even’!
Let’s go to the next word, ‘ki. What does ‘ki’ mean? ‘ki’ can mean ‘because’ or in this case ‘if’ – ‘If’ or ‘because’, right?
And then, ‘amar’! Amar is easy, amar is ‘said’.
So, in order, that is, ‘even if God said, lo tochlu mikol etz hagan – don’t eat from all the trees of the garden.’ What’s that suppose to mean?
“Even if God said don’t eat from all the trees of the garden…”
First of all, it’s not even a complete sentence. “Even if God said don’t eat from all the trees of the garden…” So, like, what’s the rest of the sentence? And, seemingly, if you would put together the rest of the sentence and add the implied part of the sentence, it would seem to be “even if God said don’t eat from all the trees of the garden, so what?” Eat anywhere.
And that’s a really weird translation. It has nothing to do with this being a really delicious apple; that has to do with why you just disobeyed what God said. What kind of temptation is that? I mean, the last thing in the world which you would want to do is remind Eve that God said not to eat. Why would you emphasize that? Even if God say, don’t eat, so what kind of temptation is that? So, that’s a really strange kind of thing. And again, all the translations are smoothing that over, making it into a very nice question – did God said you shouldn’t eat?
Ok, so, that’s one problem with the snake. And let me just give you one last problem while we’re at it. If you continue down and look at what the snakes says in the final part of the conversation that the snake has with Eve, the snake then says, “don’t worry, Eve, you are not going to die if you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Really, God knows that the day that you eat from the tree, your eyes will be opened, you will be like God and you will be knowing good and evil.” So, again, the reason why God doesn’t want you to eat from the tree is because the day you eat from that, you are going to be like God knowing good and evil.
Now, is the snake right about that, is that just a boldface lie, right, or is that the actual truth that the reason God doesn’t want us from eating from this tree is because if we do we will be just like him knowing good and evil? I mean, you would say, oh, common, God is territorial on that kind of way. He is worried that we are going to be too much like him knowing good and evil. And that totally is got to be a lie. I mean, why would God care about us…we are suppose to be more godly if we can. And God is thinking that just because we eat from a little tree we are going to become just like him?” You can’t think about a more ridiculous thing than that, right? So, totally, the snake is lying.
OK, so it seems like the snake is lying. But let’s actually look at the evidence.
Do we get any clues from the text as to whether the snake was lying or telling the truth?
Well, let’s look at the evidence at the text. If you go to the end of the story, when God banishes them from Eden, let’s look at God’s language. Here is what God says, God says, ‘man has now become like one of us knowing good and evil. Now he must be prevented from putting forth his hands…’ Oh my gosh, the snake is totally right! ‘Man is now like one of us knowing good and evil.’ God is actually saying this. And this seems so strange. Does God really think we are like him just because we took some fruits from the tree and put in our mouth? I mean, God made the tree, Good made the fruit, God made us; no one knows more than God, then we are not like him just because of that. So, what is God saying over here, that man is now become like one of us in knowing good and evil. It is such a strange, strange thing. How do we understand that?
And also, if you think about that, how do you describe God? If you are to take a quick test, give me two or three qualities by which you would describe God. So, if I were to come up with those qualities, I would say, well, God is omniscient, which just means that He knows everything. And I would say that God is all-powerful, very, very powerful.
So, these are the kind of things that you would say. You might say that God is Just. You might say God is Kind. These are sort of the top ten lists of things that you would say about God. I think, way down in the bottom, we’ll just say that God is a knower of good and evil. That would be like the number one way you would explain what God is. But that is what God himself says over here. God said ‘man is now become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’ That’s God’s own definition of what it means to be godly? Such a strange thing! So, we can add all these together. The snake is very, very puzzling.
First of all, is the snake human or is the snake a snake, and what really is the difference between a human and the snake? That comes in and relief our story. Plus what about the snake’s temptation that seems to be a very un-attempting temptation – ‘even if God say don’t eat from the three, so what?’
And finally, is the snake telling the truth. Seemingly, he is. But what a strange thing that God is worried about us being godly. These are, I think, really serious issues in trying to understand what to do with the snake.
And then, to really understand the story we have to come back to them. So, we are going to that, but before we do that, there are other questions from the story. What are the other questions? We will come back and entertain some of those.
What are some of the other questions in the Adam and Eve story?
1. The Lullaby Effect
2. Kinds of Questions
3. The Mystery of the Pre-Tree World
4. The Tale of Two Trees
5. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle
6. The Primal Serpent
7. A Perplexing Temptation
8. A Naked Paradox
9. A Snake in the Garden
10. Beasts of the Field
11. Beauty and the Beast
12. What Does It Mean to Know?
13. A World of Broccoli and Pizza
14. Are All Dilemmas Created Equal?
15. The Phantom Boxer
16. The I of the Beholder
17. The Filter of Desire
18. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
19. Epilogue: God as Knower of Good and Evil (Premium)
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