Eden’s Winged Serpent
The very first creature we meet once the world has been created is the serpent: “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made” (Genesis 3:1). The polemical nature of the verse is clear: the serpent, this verse teaches, is only one more of God’s creatures. Job says this specifically in the course of his sketch of the creation process: “His hand created the elusive serpent” (26:13). Genesis 3:1 disputes the belief that the snake was an independently divine being whose battle with God marked the beginning of the Creation. An echo of that ancient myth (as we saw in the introduction) can be found mouthed by the prophet Isaiah: “In that day the LORD will punish, with His great, cruel, mighty sword, Leviathan the Elusive Serpent, Leviathan the Twisting Serpent; He will slay the Dragon of the Sea” (27:1).
Placed at the very beginning of the Torah, the story of the Creation and the Garden of Eden teaches us how nothing preceded God’s creating the world and that the snake, who was created by God, sought to ruin God’s plans by tempting the first couple to eat from the Tree of Knowledge so that they would become “like God who knows good and bad” (Genesis 3:5). The serpent’s deed provoked God’s punishment and established that animal’s physical form and most identifying characteristic: “On your belly shall you crawl and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life” (3:14). This image of the snake and its punishment became the symbol of the enemy who was forced to capitulate, as we hear when the prophet Micah speaks about the enemies of Israel: “Let them lick dust like snakes, like crawling things on the ground!”