Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reading it again for the first time

After May I took a month or two "off" from writing and research. Then I began reading a bunch of theology texts dealing with Judaism around the time of Christ. Then I took another short break because the next thing on my agenda was starting again at Genesis 1:1.

I had postponed this for a couple reasons. First, it is obviously a big undertaking. Second, when I was doing my theology reading, I could do it anywhere I had my tablet computer. All I had to do was mark certain passages of interest. However, going through the Bible again requires more note-taking, so I use my desk-top computer in my office, so it cuts into my schedule in a different way from bedtime reading of theology texts.

But I've begun, and immediately things jumped out at me about the Garden of Eden. I try as much as I can to read the Bible with "open eyes," not making presumptions about what I'm going to read. This type of reading lets passages jump out at you that might otherwise have been overlooked because they don't fit the narrative you expect.

One thing that struck me about the Garden of Eden story is that there is no indication at all that the serpent who deceived Eve was actually Satan. In fact, a little research shows that "Satan" as a personification of evil [or at least an adversary of humanity] simply did not appear to exist in Jewish thought until many centuries later. Assuming that the Books of Moses existed [in some form] to be used for the teaching of the Israelites and their immediate progeny, we can clearly draw the conclusion that those early readers had no notion of the serpent as Satan. [Whether or not the serpent WAS Satan, a claim that gets some strong support from Rev 12:9 (and weak support from other passages), is another question entirely.]


Nick said...

This is where Sola Scriptura gets dangerous, and even self-refuting. If the Snake was not Satan, then Rev 12:9 made up a lie a hundreds of years after the fact. That's a pretty big theological issue to be wrong about.

That's why the Bible is never supposed to be read with "fresh eyes," since this hermeneutic presupposes a special gift given to you but denied to all your predecessors. This entails the Gospel cannot be 'handed down', only 'rediscovered' as each individual with 'fresh eyes' deems themselves more enlightened. I'm not saying any of this as a personal attack, only that this hermeneutic has absolutely no coherent basis in logic or history (be it Jewish or Christian).

David Rudel said...

I thought about that, and this is what I concluded:

I think we have to be careful how we interpret individual remarks, especially when they otherwise go against a huge yawning silence. I agree that on first read that Revelation 12:9 appears to clearly claim that the serpent in the garden was Satan. But I don't think that is necessarily true.

I think what might be happening here is that, because of the Garden of Eden story, the serpent because identified with deception. Thus, calling Satan an "Ancient Serpent" may not be a reference to the serpent in the Garden but rather is an accusation against Satan as a deceiver who has been lying since the beginning.

Think about this: if Satan took the form of a snake in the Garden [but was not a "real" snake], then it would seem odd for God to curse all actual snakes for something that Satan did while impersonating one.

I think there is a case to be made for Satan being like the serpent in the Garden rather than being identified with him.

Also, I think one can read the Bible with "fresh eyes" without doing theology that way. I don't think it presupposes a "special gift" that is "denied to your predecessors." I think anyone can try to minimize presuppositions when reading the Bible, but most are not inclined [or interested] in doing so because most people are at home with what what they have been taught and feel there is already a reasonably solid structure there that perhaps just needs a piece jiggled here or there within.