Tag Archives: Garden of Eden

On Jordan Peterson, Religion, & Atheism – Part 2, The Serpent-Satan Synthesis

The Serpent-Satan Synthesis

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In BS2, Jordan stated:

“That’s also echoed by the intimate relationship between the snake in the Garden of Eden and Satan, because that’s a very strange association; like this snake also becomes the adversary of being.”

On Satan’s Evolution

First, if you pay attention to the details in the story of the Garden, you will note the conspicuous absence of any association between the serpent and Satan.

“The identification of the serpent in Genesis 3 with the Devil, without any foundation in the original story, emerged in the final centuries before the common eraNowhere {emphasis added} in the Hebrew Bible is there any identification made between the serpent and the Devil/Satan.”*

Second, there was no concept of Satan, with a capital S, in early Hebrew theology. Satan could not be the serpent, as the concept of Satan “stepping from the shadowy ranks of the heavenly host backstage to emerge front and center as a character in his own right…acting apart from the divine council”* had not been created yet.

Satan’s emergence in biblical literature does not come until the very end of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament tradition:

1 Chronicles 21:1 – “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.”

[Note the editorial liberties exercised by the Chronicler in the creative reimagining of 2 Samuel 24, removing the blame from David and transferring it to the newly evolved scapegoat.]

“Finally we observe the Chronicler’s use of the designation “Satan,” minus the definite article, this is Satan not hassatan {the adversary/obstacle}. For the first time in the canonical Hebrew Bible, Satan appears as a proper noun.”*

* Wray & Mobley, The Birth of Satan

On Christian Reinterpretations

Third, the only way to make this association is to make a backwards attribution, and that is precisely what happened—at the very end of the New Testament, in these, the only two verses in the entire Bible to make this connection:

Revelation 12:9 – “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Revelation 20:2 – “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.”

The Serpent-Satan Synthesis became further embedded in the Christian mentality when Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost entered the collective Western consciousness.

Lewis Black - Interpretations.jpg

On the Original Context

Fourth, and most significant for the original significance of the story, is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with evil, nor did it originate in the Hebrew narrative. The Garden story derives from the much older Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, as does the Noah tale.

Serpent

In Part IV of Jordan’s series on Adam and Eve,  where he delved deeply into the biblical metaphors in the Genesis 3 story, Jordan again overlooked all of this contextual basis for the Serpent. There is no mention of the Genesis 3 story being based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, and given his knowledge of the Sumerian basis of many of the myths which he shares in other talks, I can only surmise that he is selectively choosing what he shares, cherry-picking what he presents; as with the moral values in the Bible and ignoring the inconvenient bits, such as the genocides, rapeincest, the homophobia which fuels so much intolerance in the countries founded on this supposed ethic of Judeo-Christian values, and the condoning of slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. Further, he does not (explicitly) mention that there is no association with Satan in the Hebrew texts, just a passing mention that Christians did it, with zero reference to where or when it happened:

“That’s why the bloody Christians associated the snake in the garden of Eden with Satan. It’s unbelievably brilliant, because you gotta think, what’s the enemy? Well, it’s the snake, and fair enough. But, you know, that’s good if you’re a tree-dwelling primate. If you’re a sophisticated human being with six million years of additional evolution, and you’re really trying to solve the problem of what it is that’s the great enemy of mankind… Well, it’s the human propensity for evil, right? That’s the figure of Satan.”

As to why Christians made this association, Jordan focused on how the evolutionary pressures of predation by snakes on our earliest ancestors shaped our relationship to them, and why they are used as metaphors in the imagery of many cultures. There are two problems with this interpretation.

First, Jordan has no way of knowing what the author of the original tale in the Epic of Gilgamesh was thinking, or what their inspiration was over five thousand years ago.  To impose both a Darwinian and a modern psychological interpretation onto an ancient story, and one filtered through a Christianized lens, is patently absurd. The writer would have had no conception of Darwinian pressures and psychology in their choice of metaphorical representation; though, Jordan would probably make the claim the choice of the snake was subconscious.

Campbell - Poetry of Myth

Second, related to the first, there is nothing so evolutionarily ingrained in the use of the snake in cultural imagery, as Jordan is also ignoring everything that mythologists and cultural anthropologists teach about the basis of the snake as metaphor.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The power of life, because the snake sheds its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The snake in most cultures is positive. Even the most poisonous thing, in India, the cobra, is a sacred animal. And the serpent, Naga, the serpent king, Nagaraga, is the next thing to the Buddha, because the serpent represents the power of life in the field of time to throw off death, and the Buddha represents the power of life in the field of eternity to be eternally alive…

BILL MOYERS: The Christian stories turn it around, because the serpent was the seducer.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, what that amounts to is a refusal to affirm life. Life is evil in this view. Every natural impulse is sinful unless you’ve been baptized or circumcised, in this tradition that we’ve inherited. For heaven’s sakes!

Joseph Campbell & The Power of Myth, Episode 2

Campbell

On the Context of Revelation

In making his assertion, Jordan also overlooks why Christians made the association with Satan. Note, Jordan does not indicate where Christians made the association (in Revelation), he just stated that they did. Understanding where and why this happened in Revelation is very important to understanding the contextual nature of these associations.

First, Revelation almost did not make it into the New Testament, it is rejected by the Eastern Orthodox churches, and it has a long history of debate:

“We could examine the controversies surrounding the inclusion of Revelation at all in the Bible, as argued by several leading church authorities. The canonical nature of this delirious book has always been contested by the likes of the Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, and by Saint Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and oh yeah, the entire Eastern Orthodox Church. Thomas Jefferson removed it completely from his Jefferson Bible. Like a festering sore on the ass of Christianity, Jefferson wrote Revelation off as ‘merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.’”

Manifest Insanity

Second, Revelation, in its entirety, is a veiled political slam at the Romans, and is openly directed to Christian communities being persecuted in modern-day Turkey:

“The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the persecutions and trials of the end of the first century.”

~ Pope Benedict

What was happening in these communities that Revelation addresses?

“John of Patmos was writing at the time of another crackdown. This time it was under Emperor Domitian around 95 CE, and John was addressing his story to the early churches of Asia Minor. These communities were facing persecution for refusing to worship the emperor, as Domitian was trying to establish a cult dedicated to his royal self, which the Christians would have obviously found sacrilegious. The second and third chapters of Revelation specifically list which churches he was writing to, and he spells out in detail the troubles they are encountering at the hands of the Romans and the local Jewish populations, who saw the Christians as a sect of insane nutjobs who were preaching a corrupted form Judaism.

“John’s message to them was not to be led astray by agents of Satan intent on deceiving them, but to stand firm in their beliefs and they would be rewarded for their faith. The whole first half of the book of Revelation, from chapters one through eleven, is a condemnation against anyone who criticizes them for their weird and cultish ways, casting all their detractors as—you guessed it—Satan.

“In the last half of Revelation, from chapters twelve to twenty-two, is where we start to see the descriptions of the cosmic battle of Armageddon that we are familiar with in Christian lore, in what has come to be believed will be the final battle between the forces of good and evil. Again, this end-times battle scenario is written in the context of the hopes and dreams for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The story of Revelation is not the bitch slapping for that upstart, trouble-making, Satan, as it has been made out to be.”

Manifest Insanity

Satan2

Why the character of Satan evolved, how it emerged as a literary character in the decades following the closing of the Hebrew and opening of the Christian canons, and how it came to be used as a political epithet,

“When Paul chooses to use the word Satan he has one particular role in mind, obstructer.  Specifically he uses Satan to refer to those who hinder, usually through undermining his teachings, the fully realized existence that the Christian experience offers…

The second mention of Satan is in reference to Paul’s detractors who seek to denigrate his ministry… So great is Paul’s disdain for these rival apostles, in fact, that he accuses these ambassadors of Christ of being ministers of Satan.” ref: 2 Corinthians 11:3-5, 13

is addressed in Wray & Mobley’s The Birth of Satan, listed above.

Next, Part 3 – The Logos-Trinity Ideation >>

Video References:

Biblical Series I (BS1): Introduction to the Idea of God, (transcript)

Biblical Series II (BS2): Genesis 1: Chaos & Order, (transcript)

Pangburn Philosophy (PP): An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Unbelievable (U): Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore • Do we need God to make sense of life?

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