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Upon reading the recent CNN article, That Actually Isn't In The Bible, one not-really-in-the-Bible misconception they cite is the idea that serpent in the Garden of Eden was the Satan.

The article cites several biblical scholars who correctly say that the Satan is not mentioned in the creation account, and indeed, not at all in Genesis. (Of course, the Satan is mentioned in the Tenakh, in particular, in Chronicles and Job.)

Even though Genesis doesn't explicitly call out the serpent as the Satan, this nonetheless seems to be a reasonable conclusion among some theologians, particularly in light of the Satan's dealings with G-d in Job.

My question is, what is the general consensus about the serpent in the Garden of Eden? Do scholars believe this was the Satan mentioned in Job?

Whether the creation account is interpreted literally or allegorically, we are left with this figure, represented by a snake, that draws humans towards evil. Who is that figure, according to religious Jews and Jewish scholars?

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Instead of asking if this is the satan of Job, try defining what you mean by "satan", as this may affect the answer of 'is there a general consensus?'. – YDK Aug 3 '11 at 5:10
The satan of job seems to be what he means by satan... :) Also for the record, that article has got to be one of the worse I have read on the topic. – avi Aug 3 '11 at 5:57
According to the Rambam, we know the Garden of Eden is story is allegorical because there is a talking snake, and snakes don't talk. – zaq Aug 3 '11 at 13:14
Yes, the Rambam is 'famous' for reading all the instances of talking to the divine, angles animals etc, to be 'visions' or allegory. According to the rambam, if we know it can't physically happen in our world, then we know it didn't happen in Tanach that way either. Rather it was a vision or an allegory. – avi Aug 3 '11 at 19:20
@JudahGabriel, users on the site are pretty good at answering on the topic, reserving debate about your presuppositions for the comments (as you can see!). My point is that we may have an overwhelming consensus of the serpent being "satan", but a fierce debate about whether "satan" is an angel, human nature, some other force, an allegorical idea, etc. So an answer to your question as it stands may be insufficient. – YDK Aug 3 '11 at 19:41

2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Among the classical Torah commentators, there are those that interpret that whole Garden of Eden story as being literal historical fact, while others interpret it allegorically.

The main authority who treats it as allegory is Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (Volume 2, Chapter 30), and according to his interpretation, the snake represents a person's "appetitive faculty" (the part of the Aristotelian model of the psych that controls a person's emotions and desires).

Those that interpret the story literally, though, differ in how they explain the talking snake:

  • The snake from creation was an intelligent animal that talked, thought, and walked upright like a human. Only after its sin was it downgraded to the level of all the other animals (or perhaps below the level of most animals). [See Ibn Ezra (Bereshis 3:1).]
  • The snake is actually the Torah's way of referring to Satan. (As @avi noted, the Satan is traditionally believed as being the evil inclination and/or the angel of death.) In this case, either there was no actual snake at all, or the Satan appeared in the form of a snake. [R' Saadia Gaon brought in Ibn Ezra.]
  • There was an actual snake, but it never really spoke. The Torah "speaks in the language of Man" when it writes "The snake said...", the same way one would say "That food is saying 'Eat me'". The snake, by climbing on the Tree of Knowledge and eating its fruits was "telling" Eve that the fruits were good and harmless. [See Abarbanel (Bereshis 3).]
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The more nevuchim (guide for the perplexed) was written for people with trouble in emunah-faith, so the rambam took the stance there that it's allegorical, because people with trouble in faith wouldn't necessarily believe in a talking snake, it sounds like it came from a fairy tale; but it doesn't mean the rambam holds it. I might be wrong, but i believe there's places where the rambam contradicts moreh nevuchim. – user613 Aug 17 '14 at 22:54
@user3949142 I found this online " Maimonides clearly wrote things that contradict his other writings, but this was done because Moreh Nevuchim was written with a specific audience in mind, those Jews who were being led away from Judaism by the contemporary philosophers of the time.(For example, see what Maimonides writes in Moreh Nevuchim about the reason why the Torah prescribes animal offerings.)" – user613 Aug 17 '14 at 23:03
@user3949142, What is your point? We can argue forever about what the Rambam himself did or did not believe, but the fact remains that Moreh Nevuchim is an authoritative source, and the fact that the Rambam included this in this book means that he deemed it acceptable, regardless of whether he secretly did not believe it. – jake Aug 18 '14 at 16:44
Who says the food is saying "eat me"?! (and who listens?) – barlop May 2 at 19:08

Satan in Judaism is a very different beast than satan in popular culture (pun intended)

The snake in the garden of Eden is identified as the personification of the "Yetzerh Harah" (Bad/evil will/desires/inclination) by the midrashim.

The Talmud also states that the Yetzer Harah, Satan, and the angel of death are one. (Some might understand this to mean that they are 'bad things' which really are good, and necessary.

In Judaism, the Satan is an angel commanded by Gd to accuse human beings of wrong things. In modern terms, you might call satan the heavenly prosecutor, who seeks to bring all people to court.

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Thanks for the answer. In summary, you are saying that, according to the Talmud and midrashim, the serpent is the evil inclination, the angel of death, and Satan. So it seems the CNN article implies a falsehood, then: that people mistakenly say Satan was in the Garden, when in fact, Satan/serpent/evil inclination/death angel was in the garden according to Jewish and Christian theology. Thanks for the answer. – Judah Himango Aug 3 '11 at 16:30
A strict reading of the bible would tell you just a snake, and nothing else. An interprted reading of the bible based on Jewish sources would tell you its the Evil Inclination. An interpreted reading of the interpretation based on Jewish sources would tell you that the snake represents three things. (Which, could be seen as a reason for only the serpent to be mentoned in the first place) – avi Aug 3 '11 at 19:18
So it's not a real snake or an actual species of snake that can actually talk. – Jim Thio Sep 30 '11 at 6:22
No - There are, but today we cant talk to animals. In heaven they can "talk" by the spirit, like moving thoughts, or intuition... Everything that told in the bible - DID happened in the reality AND in addition symbolizes somthing. (or many things..) – ParPar Dec 4 '11 at 12:45
@juanora I'm guessing it's R. Aryeh Kaplan, quoting Ramban. I definitely read it during my "Kaplan phase" – avi Jul 1 '13 at 9:51

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