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Could it be that the story of Gan Eden, Adam, Hava and the Snake is an allegory meant to teach us lessons but not a recording of an actual event?

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    Commentless downvote? – mevaqesh Oct 30 '16 at 5:28
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    related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/64380/759 and the links there – Double AA Oct 30 '16 at 5:31
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    Why might you think it can't be so? Is interpreting anything literally an Ikkar Emunah? Which? – Double AA Oct 30 '16 at 5:31
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    While this is a mtter of dispute, Riaz felt strongly that allegoric interpretation is inappropriate here. קונטרס הראיות לריא"ז מסכת סנהדרין דף צ עמוד א :ואם באת לומר בגן עדן שהוא דרך משל אף על פי שהוא מסומן בנהרות, כל שכן שנוכל לומר על שאר המקראות שהן דרך משל, וזו כפירה גדולה היא, שהרי אמרו חכמים האומר אין תורה מן השמים, ואפילו על פסוק או דקדוק אחד אין לו חלק לעולם הבא, והפותר המקראות דרך משל ומוציאן ממשמעותן כופר בהן, ומבטל כל התורה, ודומה לאומר אין תורה מן השמים. – mevaqesh Oct 30 '16 at 5:35
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    @DoubleAA's comment "Why might you think it can't be so? Is interpreting anything literally an Ikkar Emunah?" points to an inclarity: The question post itself asks whether it can be true that the story is an allegory (and this prompted that comment). The title, though, asks whether it is literal, which sounds (to me at least) as though you want to know whether any commentators actually interpret it literally/allegorically. Do you mean to ask whether there are any actual commentaries one way or the other, or only whether such a thing is conceivable in light of our faith's foundations? – msh210 Oct 30 '16 at 6:23
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Ralbag writes that the serpent is allegorical but Adam and Eve are real. His proof is that it would be very improper to say that a creature originally had the faculty of speech, but was then given a new nature. He understands Rambam as holding that Eve was allegorical as well, (an allegory for one of the human faculties) and he criticizes Rambam for maintaining this view, noting that there is nothing to force us to interpret her allegorically, and, moreover, it is clear from the rest of the narrative (where she gave birth to three children) that she must have been real. Ralbag concludes by strongly cautioning against allegorization unless absolutely necessary, noting that it ruins the goal of the Torah in these narratives, and can eventually lead to destruction of the entire Torah.

וראוי שתדע בענין הנחש שהוא מחויב שנודה שהוא משל לפי שהוא מגונה מאד שנאמר שיהיה הב"ח ההוא מתחלת הבריאה מדבר ואח"כ הושם לו טבע שני ישוב בו בזאת המדרגה הפחותה אשר הוא בה וזה מבואר מאד עד שהאריכות ממיאואו מותר ואולם בענין וה אין בכאן סבה תחייב שיהיה לפי המשל כמו שאתה רואה מדברינו ר"ל שכבר נמשך לנו ביאור זה הספור עם הניחנו חוה הנקבה הנבראת עם האדם וכבר יתבאר ג"כ שאנה לפי המשל ממה שהמשיחה התורה לזה הספור שכבר הולידה חוה קין והבל ושת שאי אפשר שיהיה משל ואולם הרב המורה נראה שהבין שענין חוה הוא גם כן משל לכח אחד מכחות הנפש האנושי ולא נתבאר מדבריו אי זה כח הוא זה הכח שישלם בו הסתת הבחש וסמאל שהוא רכוב עליו והנא אחר ההתבוננות הטוב יתבאר למי שידע הנפש וכחותיה שזה בלתי אפשר שימשך על זה האופן כשיונח הענין לפי מה שבא בזה הספור כי לא ימצא שם כח יאות בו מה שנאמר בכאן בחוה עם הנחת כח [אשר] יאות בו מה שנאמר בכאן בנחש וכבר טעו בזה המקום קצת גדולי החכמים מן המתאחרים ועשו ציורים בענין קין והבל ושת והפסידו בזה כוונת התורה וראוי שתדע שאין ראוי שיעזה ציור בדברי תורה אם לא במקומות אשר יחוייב בהם שיהיו משל שאם היה זה השעור מסור ביד האנשים הנה תפול התורה בכללה ולא יגיע ממנה התועלת המכוון בה וזה מבואר מאד עד שהאריכות בביאורו מותר

  • Note also ramban and riaz in comments to question. – mevaqesh Jan 5 '18 at 20:18
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R. Azariah de Rossi quotes Philo's allegorical explanation of the Garden of Eden, and severely castigates him for denying the literal truth of the story:

Meohr Einayim, Imrei Binah 1:5

The third defect appears to be the following evil matter: several stories are recounted in the Torah which absolutely and certainly happened and saw the light of day. Even those who expound the underlying meaning of the texts and uncover the hidden and veiled allusions and symbols for whatever intellectual consideration will assert that all the stories happened as described and are not simply parables or allegories. But I have caught this Yedidyah several times like a thief divesting the word of the Lord of its true meaning, asserting that the real essence of the story is simply some philosophy or intellectual consideration. However true and correct is his conception, evil and bitter is his rejection of the truth of the written word. it is as though the perfect Torah is a piece of poetry, the best part of which is its lie which draws attention to the falsity of its apparent meaning, and that its essential character can only be elicited by the initiates. (Weinberg translation p. 137)

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Similarly, in the closing of his first work, and in the first book on the Allegories of the Law and near the beginning of his book On the Planting of Noah, Yedidyah deals with the garden which God planted in Eden. He writes: "Do not imagine that the garden was like the gardens and orchards we have, the fruit of which is for eating and their foliage for medicine as is well known. For God has no need of it nor do human beings live there. Rather, it signifies a garden of wisdom and intellect that instructs us regarding the soul and all the parts of its faculties." If you should so desire, you can look at the passage yourself – it is very lengthy. (Weinberg translation p. 138-139)

  • How about the defense that De Rossi offers for Philo (quoted on page 36 of this interesting article)? – רבות מחשבות Apr 13 '18 at 5:06
  • The article doesn't quote the main part of the defense that is relevant to allegorization. Regardless, though, that is a question as to what Philo actually believed and whether he was a good Jew or not. It doesn't affect the strong declaration that the story must be also true in some literal fashion. – Alex Apr 13 '18 at 5:28
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In addition to Alex's answers as well a answer for the questioner:

The answer is yes, but that doesn't mean that everything happened according the way it appears from it's plain meaning, nor from our interpretation of the text.

That being said I would like to give some thoughts to ponder...

Seforno explains that the snake was the Yetzer HaRah, which is our 'imagination' our power to imagine, form thoughts, which is in our head. Besides the image of a snake could be used as a metaphor because it reminds us of something comparable, this is why a king can be called a lion (Jer 8:17); When it says that 'the snake' was more 'arum' as the other animals it means that humankind had the most powerfull and creative mind of all living beings on earth, but this was cunning/crafty/subtle when it presents us with images, thoughts and feelings. The Or HaChayim explains that Adam and Chava could interpreter the language as 'spoken by the animals', while Arbarbanel explains this doesn't meant the snake spoke literally but through it's deeds and behaviour (see similar examples in Job 12:7-8, 28:14, 28:22 and Psalm 148:7), which Adam and Chava overthought in their mind. Chazal pictures the snake as a symbol of our imaginative power (to be ingenuity, creative), while the Zohar not only pictures the snake as a physical snake but also as a inner voice, so it could be that based on all this information that Chavah saw a real physical snake and held a intern dialogue (see also the commentary of Rabbi Twersky).

This is only one example of the way one could give meaning to certain descriptions given in this fascinating story. One doesn't have to take everything literally, but that doesn't mean it did not happened.

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