In elaborating the myth of the Garden of Eden, the biblical author focuses on a single fundamental issue, the authority relationship between God and man. What demands does God make on His creation, archetypal man? Only one, namely, man’s conscious subordination of his will to that of his divine parent and mentor. In Mosaic political thought, this is the primary rule of the road through human history to which the principle of patriarchalism demands compliance. It is this rule that is to be put to an initial test, and the instrument of that test is to be a creature produced by the earth at divine command, a serpent.
In considering the biblical narrative that follows, the reader should bear in mind that myths, by their very nature and purpose, are to be taken not literally but figuratively, as in the case of allegory and metaphor. Thus, when the biblical author speaks of a serpent communicating with a person and cites the conversation that took place, one should automatically insert the qualifier “as if” into the text. That is, the statement should be read “as if” the serpent said such and such. We must constantly remind ourselves that the purpose of myth is to explain the unknowable and inaccessible. Nowhere is this more evident than in the biblical description of the commission of the primal transgression of man against the wishes of the Creator.