We are told that the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field, that he had a conversation with Eve, in which he gave his opinion about the effect of eating certain fruit; that he assured her it was good to eat, that it was pleasant to the eye, that it would make her wise; that she was induced to take some; that she persuaded her husband to try it; that God found it out, that he then cursed the snake; condemning it to crawl and eat the dust; that he multiplied the sorrows of Eve, cursed the ground for Adam's sake, started thistles and thorns, condemned man to eat the herb of the field in the sweat of his face, pronounced the curse of death, "Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return," made coats of skins for Adam and Eve, and drove them out of Eden. Who, and what was this serpent? Dr. Adam Clarke says:--"The serpent must have walked erect, for this is necessarily implied in his punishment. That he was endued with the gift of speech, also with reason. That these things were given to this creature. The woman no doubt having often seen him walking erect, and talking and reasoning, therefore she testifies no sort of surprise when he accosts her in the language related in the text. It therefore appears to me that a creature of the ape or orangoutang kind is here intended, and that Satan made use of this creature as the most proper instrument for the accomplishment of his murderous purposes against the life of the soul of man. Under this creature he lay hid, and by this creature he seduced our first parents. Such a creature answers to every part of the description in the text. It is evident from the structure of its limbs and its muscles that it might have been originally designed to walk erect, and that nothing else than the sovereign controlling power could induce it to put down hands--in every respect formed like those of man--and walk like those creatures whose claw-armed parts prove them to have been designed to walk on all fours. The stealthy cunning, and endless variety of the pranks and tricks of these creatures show them even now to be wiser and more intelligent than any other creature, man alone excepted. Being obliged to walk on all fours and gather their food from the ground, they are literally obliged to eat the dust; and though exceeding cunning, and careful in a variety of instances to separate that part which is wholesome and proper for food from that which is not so, in the article of cleanliness they are lost to all sense of propriety. add to this their utter aversion to walk upright; it requires the utmost discipline to bring them to it, and scarcely anything offends or irritates them more than to be obliged to do it. Long observation of these animals enables me to state these facts. For earnest, attentive watching, and for chattering and babbling they (the ape) have no follows in the animal world. Indeed, the ability and propensity to chatter, is all they have left of their original gift of speech, of which they appear to have been deprived at the fall as a part of their punishment."
Here then is the "connecting link" between man and the lower creation. The serpent was simply an orangutang that spoke Hebrew with the greatest ease, and had the outward appearance of a perfect gentleman, seductive in manner, plausible, polite, and most admirably calculated to deceive. It never did seem reasonable to me that a long cold and disgusting snake with an apple in its mouth, could deceive anybody; and I am glad. even at this late date to know that the something that persuaded Eve to taste the forbidden fruit was, at least, in the shape of a man.
Dr. Henry does not agree with the zoological explanation of Mr. Clark, but insists that "it is certain that the devil that beguiled Eve is the old serpent, a malignant by creation, an angel of light, an immediate attendant upon God's throne, but by sin an apostate from his first state, and a rebel against God's crown and dignity. He who attacked our first parents was surely the prince of devils, the ring leader in rebellion. The devil chose to act his part in a serpent, because it is a specious creature, has a spotted, dappled skin, and then, went erect. Perhaps it was a flying serpent which seemed to come from on high, as a messenger from the upper world, one of the seraphim; because the serpent is a subtitle creature. What Eve thought of this serpent speaking to her, we are not likely to tell, and, I believe, she herself did not know what to think of it. At first, perhaps, she supposed it might be a good angel, and yet afterwards might suspect something amiss. The person tempted was a woman, now alone, and at a distance from her husband, but near the forbidden tree. It was the devil's subtlety to assault the weaker vessel with his temptations, as we may suppose her inferior to Adam in knowledge, strength and presence of mind. Some think that Eve received the command not immediately from God, but at second hand from her husband, and might, therefore, be the more easily persuaded to discredit it. It was the policy of the devil to enter into discussion with her when she was alone. He took advantage by finding her near the forbidden tree. God permitted Satan to prevail over Eve, for wise and holy ends. Satan teaches men first to doubt, and then to deny. He makes skeptics first, and by degrees makes them atheists."
We are compelled to admit that nothing could be more attractive to a woman than a snake walking erect, with a "spotted, dappled skin," unless it were a serpent with wings. Is it not humiliating to know that our ancestors believed these things? Why should we object to the Darwinian doctrine of descent after this? Our fathers thought it their duty to believe, thought it a sin to entertain the slightest doubt, and really supposed that their credulity was exceedingly gratifying to God. To them, the story was entirely real. They could see the garden, hear the babble of waters, smell the perfume of flowers. They believed there was a tree where knowledge grew like plums or pears; and they could plainly see the serpent coiled amid its rustling leaves, coaxing Eve to violate the laws of God.
Where did the serpent come from? On which of the six days was he created? Who made him? Is it possible that God would make a successful rival? He must have known that Adam and Eve would fall. He knew what a snake with a "spotted, dappled skin" could do with an inexperienced woman. Why did he not defend his children? He knew that if the serpent got into the garden, Adam and Eve would sin, that he would have to drive them out, that afterwards the world would be destroyed, and that he himself would die upon the cross.
Again, I ask what and who was this serpent? He was not a man, for only one man had been made. He was not a woman. He was not a beast of the field, because "he was more subtitle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made." He was neither fish nor fowl, nor snake, because he had the power of speech, and did not crawl upon his belly until after he was cursed. Where did this serpent come from? Why was he not kept out of the garden? Why did not the Lord God take him by the tail and snap his head off? Why did he not put Adam and Eve on their guard about this serpent? They, of course, were not acquainted in the neighborhood, and knew nothing about the serpent's reputation for truth and veracity among his neighbors. Probably Adam saw him when he was looking for "an helpmeet" and gave him a name, but Eve had never met him before. She was not surprised to hear a serpent talk, as that was the first one she had ever met. Every thing being new to her, and her husband not being with her just at that moment, it need hardly excite our wonder that she tasted the fruit by way of experiment. Neither should we be surprised that when she saw it was good and pleasant to the eye, and a fruit to be desired to make one wise, she had the generosity to divide with her husband.
Theologians have filled thousands of volumes with abuse of this serpent, but it seems that he told the exact truth. We are told that this serpent was, in fact, Satan, the greatest enemy of mankind, and that he entered the serpent, appearing to our first parents in its body. If this is so, why should the serpent have been cursed? Why should God curse the serpent for what had really been done by the devil? Did Satan remain in the body of the serpent, and in some mysterious manner share his punishment? Is it true that when we kill a snake we also destroy an evil spirit, or is there but one devil, and did he perish at the death of the first serpent? Is it on account of that transaction in the Garden of Eden, that all the descendants of Adam and Eve known as Jews and Christians hate serpents?
Do you account for the snake-worship in Mexico, Africa and India in the same way?
What was the form of the serpent when he entered the garden, and in what way did he move from place to place? Did he walk or fly? Certainly he did not crawl, because that mode of locomotion was pronounced upon him as a curse. Upon what food did he subsist before his conversation with Eve? We know that after that he lived upon dust, but what did he eat before? It may be that this is all poetic; and the truest poetry is, according to Touchstone, "the most feigning."
In this same chapter we are informed that "unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them." Where did the Lord God get those skins? He must have taken them from the animals; he was a butcher. Then he had to prepare them; He was a tanner. Then he made them into coats; he was a tailor. How did it happen that they needed coats of skins, when they had been perfectly comfortable in a nude condition? Did the "fall" produce a change in the climate?
Is it really necessary to believe this account in order to be happy here, or hereafter? Does it tend to the elevation of the human race to speak of "God" as a butcher, tanner and tailor?
And here, let me say once for all, that when I speak of God, I mean the being described by Moses; the Jehovah of the Jews. There may be for aught I know, somewhere in the unknown shoreless vast, some being whose dreams are constellations and within whose thought the infinite exists. About this being, if such an one exists, I have nothing to say. He has written no books, inspired no barbarians, required no worship, and has prepared no hell in which to burn the honest seeker after truth.
When I speak of God, I mean that god who prevented man from putting forth his hand and taking also of the fruit of the tree of life that he might live forever; of that god who multiplied the agonies of woman, increased the weary toil of man, and in his anger drowned a world--of that god whose altars reeked with human blood, who butchered babes, violated maidens, enslaved men and filled the earth with cruelty and crime; of that god who made heaven for the few, hell for the many, and who will gloat forever and ever upon the writhing of the lost and damned.