Christians are often ridiculed for their willingness to believe in outlandish and idiotic tales – a sure sign that their faith is a fairy tale. In his anti-religion documentary, Religulous, Bill Maher explains he can’t take anyone seriously who believes in a talking snake.
I can’t blame anyone for balking at the unlikely notion that Eve could speak Parseltongue and managed to converse with a snake long before Harry Potter or Voldemort. But is this really true? Was Eve the original Dr. Doolittle? Atheists like Bill Maher are not interested in understanding these stories. Like most misconceptions about the Bible, this is explainable once we take a closer look, specifically at the language used in the passages in question.
There are two immediate problems with the assumption that Eve was actually talking to a snake. First, Eve doesn’t express any concern about a talking animal. In fact, she replies with deference, not exactly what you would expect of someone speaking to an animal slithering on the ground. There’s no reason to assume any animal in the garden could talk. The only instance in the Bible of a talking animal is Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22, in which case it specifically says, “the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth.” Second, the characteristics of a snake are only attributed to the serpent after the Fall. Apparently it didn’t slither on the ground like a snake before. So what exactly was this creature?
The Hebrew word used in Genesis 3 that English Bibles translate as “the serpent” is “ha-nachash.” This is the literal word for snake, but it also means “the shining one.” Other parts of the Bible describe luminous angelic beings using the same Hebrew word. (e.g. Daniel 10:6) Different translations of the word could also be “the brilliant one” or “the glowing one.”
We even get another glimpse of what this creature was when God gives a description of the King of Tyre, as if He is saying, “You remind me of someone I used to know.”
Ezekiel 28 reads: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your setting and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.”
So, when we look at the passage about Eve and “the serpent” and treat the Bible as a unified work, it doesn’t make any sense for us to believe the creature is a snake. What we encounter in the garden is a brilliant, shining, crafty, created being that talks to Eve.
Leave the Parseltongue to Harry Potter.