“Ask a Priest: What Was the Snake Before Eden?”

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Q: I have a question about the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. Could humans communicate with all animals in the garden, or is the snake a metaphor? Why is there this one talking animal in the whole of the Bible? Also, I know it talks about God’s having cursed the snake so that it had to slither and eat dirt. So, what was the snake before it was a snake? – Anna

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: For the record, there is a talking donkey in the passage beginning at Numbers 22:21.

The Genesis story need not be read in a literalist way. It is trying to convey deep lessons about what went wrong at the start of human history that accounts for evil in the world.

Talking animals were a standard device in ancient stories (think Aesop’s Fables). Even in our day there are cartoons which use talking animals to convey political and moral lessons.

The same thing is happening in Genesis: The writer is relying somewhat on a literary device to transmit an important message.

We need not try to figure out every specific detail. The writer doesn’t mean to imply that snakes had legs before the Fall. Rather, this story in Genesis is, in part, a way for the ancients to explain why (widely feared) snakes are relegated to slithering while most other creatures get to walk or fly.

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One Comment
  1. ABSOLUTELY! The bible is not always to be taken literally, but heard in the SPIRIT of FAITH in GOD who is the ALMIGHTY ONE, and the IMMORTAL ONE.

    When Jesus said to those disciples listening that He was the vine and they the branches, they could see he wasn’t really ‘a vine’ / when He said I am a door, whoever knocks . . . the door will open. (Spiritual understanding, ‘knock’ aka SEEK and he NEVER SLAMS THE DOOR on anyone. I have been the recipient of door slams and phone receivers slammed in my ear, simply because I wished to convey an elaboration to a topic the other spoke. Also, ‘blocking me’ from social media (the equivalent of a door slam, a shut down) Humans who do such and yet speak ‘they are CHRISTian?’ will have to eventually answer for their ways. (we pray they answer for it on earth via the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)

    WITH EYES OF FAITH we read those biblical words. (in words, that means ‘reading between the lines’ ie: not always literally) This also applies to John Chapter 6, verse 46 – 54; where Jesus, the GOD INCARNATE, said to His apostles ‘take and eat, this bread is my body, this drink is my blood.’ Unless you eat of ‘my flesh’ you do not have life in you. MANY walked away, he wants us to eat of his flesh? Some down thru the years spoke of this direction as ‘cannibalism’ . . . which is A LITERAL interpretation. THE WORDS must be reflected on with a knowing that THIS WAS GOD INCARNATE… GOD who is pure SPIRIT, who came to earth and was born within a girl named MARY… GOD can do what GOD wishes to do…and by THE WORDS OF FAITH, the ministerial priest (an apostle in a long unbroken chain of apostles) by FAITH, do bring THE LORD GOD to transcend our ‘earthly’ reality of ‘material’ anything . . . TRANSUBSTANTIATION… breaking the word down, (correct me if wrong Father) ‘TRANS’ means ‘to come across’ SUBSTAN. . . the root of SUBSTANCE, material substance. GOD CAN COME ACROSS from the SPIRITUAL WORLD into OUR WORLD by OUR FAITH. THE BREAD IS THE ‘REAL BODY AND BLOOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST’ . . . not a writer’s interpretation. HE WILL REVEAL THIS TRUTH to us. . . if we PERSEVERE in the taking and eating. (the substance may appear to be bread, but by FAITH WE RECEIVE THE GRACE OF HIS REAL PRESENCE … because we know by faith GOD IS REAL . . . NOT A SYMBOL. What Father would hand HIS SONs and DAUGHTERs a stone, when they ask for bread? THE EYES OF FAITH THAT ‘WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE’ (MYSTERY it may be to our minds but FAITH AND THAT REAL PRESENCE will bring understanding… PERSEVERE IN GOD’S WORD)

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