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The Serpent in the Garden of Eden and its Background

The serpent in the Garden of Eden is popularly equated with the Devil. However, modern scholars agree that this was a later identification and not the original meaning, but there is no consensus as to what the original background of the serpent was. This brief article critiques a number of the proposals that have been made and suggests a possible background for the serpent. More generally it also discusses other questions of interpretation that have arisen in connection with the serpent in Genesis 3, in particular the suggestion that the serpent should be viewed more positively than has been customary and questions associated with the so-called Protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15.

Adapted and expanded from: John Day, From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1-11 (LHBOTS 592; London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 35-37.

By John Day
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament Studies
Lady Margaret Hall
Oxford University
April 2015

For Adam and Eve the serpent in the Garden of Eden represented the voice of temptation but it needs to be noted that for the original writer, the Yahwist (or J) source, the serpent was not equated with Satan (the Devil). The concept of Satan developed only later (first attested as a personal name c. 300 B.C.E. in 1 Chron 21:1[1]), and we find him first equated with the Eden serpent in the apocryphal book of Wisdom (Wis 2:24, “but through the Devil’s envy death entered the world”[2]). We may compare Rev 12:9, 20:2, where we read of “that ancient serpent, who is [called] the Devil and Satan”. Less well known is the fact that the serpent is equated in 1 Enoch 69:6 with Gader’el, one of the wicked angels who descended from heaven to have sex with women on the earth (elaborating the story in Gen 6:1-4). Genesis 3:1, however, refers to the Eden serpent as one of Yahweh’s earthly creatures, a “beast of the field”. It is certainly the case that it is the ancestor of later ordinary serpents known to humanity (cf. Gen 3:14-15), but in its original pre-cursed state the serpent not only has the capacity to speak but also to have supernormal knowledge, which makes it more than an ordinary serpent at that point, a kind of magical animal.[3] We may recall Balaam’s donkey in Num 22:28-30 for the only other example of a talking animal in the Old Testament, one moreover with comparable supernatural awareness, a passage which has likewise been traditionally ascribed to the J source. This attribution gains further support from the fact that the Balaam narrative in Num 24:17, 22 similarly knows a Cain [Kain] and a Seth [Sheth], here with clear ethnic overtones, the names of figures who also appear in the J source in Genesis 4.

Turning to the ancient Near Eastern background, it should be noted that a few scholars have tried to see the Eden serpent as symbolic of Canaanite religion. Thus, F.F. Hvidberg saw it as symbolic of the god Baal, a view recently adopted by B.T. Arnold,[4] while Nick Wyatt[5] understands it rather as symbolic of the god El. Both views are unconvincing. Baal was never symbolized by a serpent in Canaanite religion (or anywhere else in the Old Testament) — indeed, it was Baal who defeated the sea serpent Leviathan in Canaanite mythology — and nor is El, who is universally viewed positively throughout the Old Testament (contra Wyatt), and is actually equated with Yahweh. Again, in a BBC TV programme broadcast in 2011 (episode 3 of The Bible’s Buried Secrets), Francesca Stavrakopoulou claimed that the serpent symbolized snake worship; she seems to be thinking of the bronze serpent Nehushtan. She follows Wyatt in thinking that the expulsion of Adam and Eve symbolized the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of 586 B.C.E. But Nehushtan, which was allegedly made by Moses (cf. Num 21:4-9), had already been destroyed by King Hezekiah a century earlier than the exile (2 Kgs 18:4). Moreover, Genesis 3 does not speak of worship of the serpent. More generally, J. Coppens and J.A. Soggin[6] saw the serpent as symbolic of the Canaanite fertility cult. It is true that there is evidence suggesting that the serpent could symbolize fertility in Canaanite religion[7] but there is no particular reason to find that here. The knowledge of good and evil which the serpent tempts the first humans to acquire is quite unrelated to the fertility cult.[8] Moreover, the fertility cult is not depicted as an important concern of the Yahwist source elsewhere, so it would be surprising to find it represented as the archetypal sin at the time of creation.

Recently a quite different and highly original attempt to find a Canaanite background to the serpent in Genesis 3, indeed to the Garden of Eden story more generally, has been put forward by Marjo Korpel and Johannes de Moor.[9] Basing themselves on their interpretation of the Ugaritic texts KTU 1.100 and 107, they conclude, in the words of their book’s blurb, that “El, the creator deity, and his wife Asherah lived in a vineyard or garden on the slopes of Mt Ararat, known in the Bible as the mountain where Noah’s ark came to rest. The first sinner was not a human being but an evil god called Horon who wanted to depose El. Horon was thrown down from the mountain of the gods, and in revenge he transformed the Tree of Life in the garden into the Tree of Death and enveloped the whole world in a poisonous fog. Adam was sent down to restore life on earth, but failed because Horon in the form of a huge serpent bit him. As a result Adam and his wife lost their immortality.” Their book is erudite and makes fascinating reading, but Korpel and de Moor admit that the basis of their thesis is somewhat fragile. In fact, anyone who reads through the Ugaritic texts in question, say in Dennis Pardee’s excellent edition,[10] will see how virtually everything in Korpel and de Moor’s summary account above is not explicitly in our preserved texts but has to be reconstructed in the gaps. For example, the idea that Horon wished to depose El and in consequence was thrown down from the mountain of the gods is pure supposition, based on what Korpel and de Moor think was referred to in a hypothetical missing tablet preceding KTU 1.107. Again, it should be noted that though KTU 1.100.65 refers to a “tree of death”, nothing in the actual text implies that this had been transformed from a tree of life. But very significantly, I would note that the word ’adm, which Korpel and de Moor understand as a reference to Adam, occurs only once in the whole of the preserved texts, in KTU 1.107.3, and the only other reference to Adam that Korpel and de Moor find has to be two-thirds reconstructed (KTU 1.107.21). Moreover, since ’adm occurs everywhere else in Ugaritic as a word for “man”, rather than a personal name, this is most likely the case here too (Korpel and de Moor’s finding a personal name in KTU 1.179.9 again requires textual reconstruction). As a consequence of all this, I do not feel we can have confidence in the reconstruction, so it is unlikely that it lies behind Genesis 3. Accordingly, the Genesis serpent does not derive from the Canaanite god Horon. What I would agree is that El dwelt on a mountain in Armenia (not necessarily the mountain called Mt Ararat since mediaeval times), and that this is the location of the Garden of Eden in Gen 2:10-14, which derives from El’s dwelling.[11]

If none of the above views is likely, is it still possible that the ancient Near Eastern background can shed light on the origin of the Eden serpent? Possibly it can. In the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic we read that it was a serpent[12] that snatched and ate the plant of life which Gilgamesh had been seeking, thereby rejuvenating itself rather than Gilgamesh (Gilgamesh 11.305-307), just as it was a serpent that tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit, thereby denying them access to the tree of life which granted immortality. But in addition to a life-depriving serpent and a life-giving plant or tree of life, both works imply that immortality is beyond the grasp of humans. It is thus possible that the Garden of Eden narrative represents a reworking of similar elements in the Gilgamesh epic.[13] We have evidence that the Gilgamesh epic was known in Palestine and the Levant from a fragment found at Megiddo dating to the fourteenth century B.C.E. as well as other Late Bronze Age fragments discovered at Ugarit and Emar, and even as late as the third century B.C.E. we find in Eccles 9:7-9 a virtual paraphrase of the words of Shiduri in the Old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic (10.3.6-14) about the purpose of life.[14] However, if Genesis 3 is a reworking of Gilgamesh we must grant that it is a radical reworking, since the plant of life was a source of rejuvenation, not immortality, and was to be found under water, as was the serpent, rather than on land. The dependence of Genesis 3 on the Gilgamesh epic must remain an interesting possibility rather than a certainty.

Recently James Charlesworth has written a massive book entitled The Good and Evil Serpent[15] in which he argues that in the ancient Near East and classical world the serpent was mostly viewed positively, not negatively, and he claims this is also true of the Bible, including the serpent of Genesis 3.[16] However, while his ancient Near Eastern and classical material are fascinating, I would point out that most references in the Bible indicate that the serpent was viewed negatively,[17] and this is certainly the case in Genesis 3. Charlesworth claims that the serpent does not tempt Eve (it merely asks her a question!), it tells the truth (unlike God), is described as wise (not crafty), and is not a symbol of evil. However, if all this is true it becomes difficult to understand why the serpent should be so thoroughly cursed towards the end of the story so as to become the lowliest of creatures (Gen 3:14-15). Again, the fact that Eve declares “the serpent beguiled me” (Gen 3:13) – an assertion accepted by God (Gen 3:14) – indicates that “crafty” rather than “wise” is the better translation of the Hebrew word ‘arum used here to describe the serpent in Gen 3:1.[18] It is difficult to accept that there is no element of temptation in the serpent’s questioning of Eve. Moreover, it is clear that the serpent does not speak the whole truth, since while the eyes of Adam and Eve are indeed opened so as to know good and evil as a result of eating the forbidden fruit, as the serpent had predicted, it fails to inform them that they will also be expelled from the Garden of Eden as a result of their disobedience, thereby denying them access to the tree of life and ensuring their eventual death, even if they do not die immediately (the latter seemingly a consequence of the divine compassion[19]).

Charlesworth also holds that in being cursed so that it had to crawl on its belly and seemingly eat dust (Gen 3:14), the serpent was deprived of its feet and legs by God. This suggestion goes back to antiquity (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 1.1.4; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 3:14; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 20:5), and serpents with feet and legs are attested elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern iconography. However, since nothing explicitly is said of the serpent’s having feet and legs and being deprived of them here it is perhaps preferable to think of the serpent as originally having a good sense of balance so that it could move upright without legs.

At the conclusion of the cursing of the serpent in Gen 3:15 God declares to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; they shall strike your head, and you will strike their heel.” In its original meaning, cohering with character of Gen 3:14-19 as an aetiology of the state of the world as the Israelites knew it, this is clearly referring to the enmity between snakes and human beings, with snakes biting the heels of human beings and humans treading on snakes’ heads. What is here translated “they shall strike” is literally “he shall strike”, the “he” being a collective singular, referring to Eve’s offspring or seed (Hebrew zera‘, a masculine word). There is no indication that one side would be victorious over the other in the ongoing hostilities (even if striking the head sounds more severe than striking the heel) and an eschatological meaning would be completely out of place in this aetiological context. However, for centuries a popular Christian understanding of these words understood them as a prediction of Christ’s victory over Satan, a view first attested c. 180 C.E. in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 3.23.7 and 5.21.1. This passage of Genesis thus became known as the Protoevangelium, the first declaration of the Gospel. While this is an interpretation that very few serious scholars today would entertain, this passage is still read out at some Christmas services with the traditional understanding in view.[20]

It has, however, been suggested that the Greek Septuagint translation in the third century B.C.E. already equated the “he” with the Messiah, in which case this would be the earliest known Messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15.[21] The evidence presented for this view is that the Septuagint still speaks of “he”, although rendering “offspring” or “seed” by the Greek word sperma, which is neuter, despite the fact that everywhere else in the Septuagint of Genesis the Hebrew word hu’, “he”, is translated by a word of the appropriate gender in Greek, whether autos, “he”, aute, “she” or auto, “it”. The Septuagint’s “he”, it has therefore been argued, most naturally does not refer to Eve’s offspring generally but to a specific masculine individual and it has been proposed that this is the Messiah. There is, however, a problem with this view. This is that it would be remarkable if the Septuagint understood the “he” as referring to the Messiah, since such an understanding is completely lacking in subsequent Jewish understanding of the verse. Even though the fulfilment of Gen 3:15 in the Messianic age is attested several centuries later in the Neofiti, Pseudo-Jonathan and Fragment Targums, the “he” is there still interpreted collectively (of the righteous Jews) and not of the Messiah.[22] In the light of all this it seems more likely that the Septuagint’s “he” is simply an over-literal translation of the Hebrew. Nevertheless, the idea of the Protoevangelium did emerge from it in the early church.

Finally, it is interesting to note that in Gen 3:15 the Latin Vulgate reads “she” rather than “he” for whoever is to strike the head of the serpent. This is surprising, since Jerome was generally very concerned to adhere closely to the original Hebrew in his Vulgate translation. Indeed, in his Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim, when commenting on Gen 3:15, Jerome clearly presupposes the reading ipse, “he” and makes no reference to the ipsa, “she” reading. The “she” of the Vulgate, therefore, must be seen as a later scribal alteration of the text, and it was probably intended to equate the one striking the head of the serpent (Satan) with Eve, who has just been mentioned earlier in the verse as being at enmity with the serpent. However, many mediaeval and later exegetes within the Roman Catholic Church understood the Vulgate’s “she” as referring to Mary, who is to join with Jesus in vanquishing the serpent Satan,[23] though modern Catholic critical scholars now rightly reject this understanding of Gen 3:15 and follow the Hebrew text (cf. New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible).


[1] Earlier references in Zech 3:1-2 and Job 1-2 speak of “the Satan” (or the Adversary) but these do no allude to the fully fledged concept of the Devil, the leader of all the host of evil over against God, but refer to the figure in an earlier stage of its development, Thus, in Job 1-2 the Satan is still one of the sons of God, God’s heavenly court.

[2] Sometimes this verse has been understood instead as referring to Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4. But it is more natural to see the reference as alluding to Adam, Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3, since it was already then that death for humanity was instituted (Gen 3:19; Paul in Rom 5:12 [Adam]; Ecclus 25:24 [Eve]), and in the Septuagint the Greek word diabolos, “Devil”, used here, regularly translates “Satan”, with whom the Eden serpent became equated. It is significant that Josephus, Antiquities 1.1.4 similarly attributes the serpent’s temptation of Eve to jealousy, namely jealousy of the blessings which he thought Adam and Eve would receive if they obeyed God. In contrast, it was Cain himself who was envious that Abel’s offering had been preferred by God to his own.

[3] Cf. T.C. Vriezen, Onderzoek naar de Paradijsvoorstelling bij de oude Semietische Volken (Wageningen: H. Veenman, 1937), 177.

[4] F.F. Hvidberg, “The Canaanitic Background of Gen. i-iii”, Vetus Testamentum 10 (1960), 285-94, at 287-90; B.T. Arnold, Genesis (NCBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 62-63.

[5] N. Wyatt, “Interpreting the Creation and Fall Story in Genesis 2-3”, Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93 (1981), 10-21, at 18-20.

[6] J. Coppens, La connaissance du bien et du mal at le péché du Paradis (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1948), passim; J.A. Soggin, “The Fall of Man in the Third chapter of Genesis”, in idem, Old Testament and Oriental Studies (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1975), 88-111, at 94-100.

[7] See the data presented in K.R. Joines, “The Bronze Serpent in the Israelite Cult”, Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1965), 245-58, at 246-50; idem, Serpent Symbolism in the Old Testament (Haddonfield, NJ: Haddonfield House, 1974), 63-73. She points, for example, to the frequent association of the serpent in Canaanite iconography with the nude goddess Qudshu, in addition to bulls and water, all of which were symbolic of fertility or life.

[8] On the meaning of the knowledge of good and evil, see J. Day, From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1-11 (LHBOTS 592; London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 41-44.

[9] M.C.A. Korpel and J.C. de Moor, Adam, Eve, and the Devil: A New Beginning (Hebrew Bible Monographs 65; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014). A summary by Korpel and de Moor of this book can also be found on The Bible and Interpretation website, similarly entitled “Adam, Eve, and the Devil”. An earlier version of this thesis was put forward by de Moor in “East of Eden”, Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 100 (1988), 105-12.

[10] See D. Pardee, Les textes-para-mythologiques de la 24e campagne (1961) (Ras Shamra-Ougarit IV; Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 1988), 193-226, 227-56; idem, Ritual and Cult at Ugarit (Writings from the Biblical World, Society of Biblical Literature; Atlanta: SBL, 2002), 172-79, 179-91.

[11] The Ugaritic texts repeatedly speak of El’s mountain dwelling as being “at the source of the two rivers, amidst the source of the deeps” without indicating precisely where this is. The Canaanite-Hittite Elkunirsha myth, however, specifies that Elkunirsha (= El creator of the earth) dwelt at the source of the river Mala, i.e. Tigris; see J.B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed.; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 519. This can only be the western end of the Tigris in Armenia, which is mountainous, unlike the flat eastern end (cf. Ezek 28: 13, 14, 16, where Eden is set on a mountain, though here seemingly in Phoenicia). Similarly in Gen 2:10-14 the Garden of Eden is set in Armenia, since it is located at the source of four headwaters, including the Tigris and Euphrates, both of which rise in Armenia.

[12] Å.W. Sjöberg, “Eve and the Chameleon”, in W.B. Barrick and J.R. Spencer (eds.), In the Shelter of Elyon: Essays on Ancient Palestinian Life and Literature in Honor of G.W. Ahlström (JSOTSup 31; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 217-25, at 221-23 claimed that the Gilgamesh epic and even perhaps Genesis 3 referred to a chameleon rather than a serpent, but this view has rightly failed to gain acceptance.

[13] Cf. S.G.F. Brandon, Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1963), 130, 135, 139; J.H. Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent (Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 294-96.

[14] See J. Day, “Foreign Semitic Influence on the Wisdom of Israel and its Appropriation in the Book of Proverbs”, in J. Day, R.P. Gordon and H.G.M. Williamson (eds.), Wisdom in Ancient Israel: Essays in Honour of J.A. Emerton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 55-70, at 59-60, which notes six parallels in identical order between Eccles 9:7-9 and the words of Shiduri. However, it is more likely that the flood story in Genesis 6-9 is dependent on the Atrahasis epic rather than on Gilgamesh; see Day, From Creation to Babel, 98-112.

[15] Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent (see above n. 13 for full details).

[16] For Genesis 1 see Charlesworth, The Good and Evil Serpent, 275-324.

[17] Most frequently we read of serpents biting people (Gen 49:17; Prov 23:32; Eccles 10:8, 11; Jer 8:17; Amos 5:19; 9:3); they also symbolize the wicked (Ps. 40:5, ET 3; 58:5, ET 4) and are mentioned in connection with the dreadful wilderness and scorpions (Deut 8:15). In addition, the chaos monster defeated by Yahweh is depicted as a serpent (Job 26:13; Isa 27:1). However, the bronze serpent Nehushtan is viewed positively in Num 21:8-9 (unlike in 2 Kgs 18:4, when it had become idolatrous), as are the apparently partially serpentine heavenly seraphim of Isaiah 6.

[18] The word ‘arum clearly has negative overtones in the book of Job (cf. Job 5:12; 15:5), “crafty”, and positive overtones in Proverbs (cf. Prov 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12), “wise”, “shrewd”, “sensible”, “prudent”, “clever”. Note further the Yahwist’s liking for word play in referring to the first couple as “naked” (‘arummim) in Gen 2:25, the verse immediately preceding the allusion to the serpent as crafty (‘arum). Contrast Gen 3:7, 10, 11, where the word “naked” is spelled ‘erummim and ‘erom.

[19] See Day, From Creation to Babel, 38-41.

[20] For a useful historical survey of the Protoevangelium interpretation throughout the centuries, see J.P. Lewis, “The Woman’s Seed (Gen 3:15”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 (1991), 299-319.

[21] See R.A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15”, Journal of Biblical Literature 84 (1965), 425-27.

[22] See M. McNamara, The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch (Analecta Biblica 27; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1966), 217-21.

[23] See T. Gallus, Interpretatio Mariologica Protoevangelii (3 vols.; Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1949-54); cf. idem, Die “Frau” in Gen 3,15 (Klagenfurt: Carinthia, 1979).

Comments (33)

I haven#t read Charlesworth's book and read of his opinions here with great surprise.
Do we need much explanation of the choice of a serpent for the 'accursed' role beyond the venomous nature of some of them and the way that they sometimes hide and surprise us? Thus they take advantage of our ignorance and inadvertence - Eurydice comes to mind, and Virgil's 'latet anguis in herba'. If you want to tell a story in which the only human characters are in a way victims you have to make the victimiser something non-human.
However, there must be something of the evil spirit about an animal that can talk. But it all fits: if your only human characters are happy, but without knowledge, then the character who interferes with their happiness must be one who knows a bit too much or has acquired knowledge in the wrong way.
#1 - Martin Hughes - 04/28/2015 - 17:16

Reply to Martin Hughes.
Thanks for your comments. It goes without saying that many hated serpents for the reasons you mention, but this alone cannot explain why the serpent was chosen for the figure of temptation in Genesis 3. Also, as I indicated, in the ancient Near East the serpent was often viewed positively. Moreover, it is incorrect to say that the mere fact of talking indicates an evil animal, since this is clearly not the case with Balaam's donkey in Numbers 22:28-30, which is said to have been inspired by God to speak.
#2 - John Day - 04/29/2015 - 08:09

Perhaps the Gan Eden myth is a reinterpretation of an earlier tradition whereby humans received sustenance by consuming the god body, or more appropriately, goddess body. The tree of life is responsible for maintaining chayim and represents the respiratory system of the mother goddess. The esophagus represents the snake and 'hangs' on a branch of the trachea.The trachea connects the pharynx and larynx to the lungs allowing for the passage of air and the ability of the snake to speak. The esophagus is a muscular tube aided by peristaltic contractions to push forbidden fruit through to the stomach. The muscle tissue contracts in sequence to produce a slow wave which propels food along the passageway. Snakes and earthworms move food through their systems similarly. Another peristaltic function is childbirth. The fetus moves through the birth canal in waves of contraction. A later depiction of the nephesh is two snakes on a pole; the second representing childbirth. Since the Hebrews were very concerned with obedience and food choices, the myth became a lesson in which foods to eat. Jesus gave permission for his body to be consumed as if in defiance of the Hebrew tradition. The goddess could plausibly be Elah Yam (Elohim) rather than El because 'Holy Tree' is a part of her moniker.
#3 - Susan Burns - 04/29/2015 - 19:56

Reply to Susan Burns
I am afraid to say that what you suggest consists of fanciful speculation without any supporting evidence. For example, there is no evidence of a pre-biblical ancient Near Eastern myth of eating the goddess body, there is no reason to connect the tree of life with a mother goddess, and we have no evidence of a female deity Elah Yam (Yam was a masculine deity), and the word for God, Elohim, certainly bears no relation to this. If you are interested in pursuing the background of the Garden of Eden story, please see chapter 2 of my book From Creation to Babel.
#4 - John Day - 04/30/2015 - 08:05

Thank you for your reply. It is true that my suggestion is speculation (although not fanciful) and is why I began with perhaps. However, there is much evidence for consumption of the god body (Golden Bough) and tree of life with the feminine (ashura). The Hebrew word Elohim could be read Elah Yam if a space is inserted. Yam as the sea could very well have been feminine (Marija Gimbutas' Gorgoneion). My interest is from an anthropological perspective and not a religious one.
#5 - Susan Burns - 04/30/2015 - 18:04

Reply to Susan Burns
The tree of life was not the same as the Asherah. The Asherah (probably a man-made stylized tree) was a symbol of the goddess Asherah and we never hear of people eating from it. Rather, as I mentioned in my article, the tree of life of Genesis 3 is comparable to the plant of life in the Gilgamesh epic: eating from these gave one respectively immortality or rejuvenation. On Asherah, see the chapter on this in my book Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan.
As I said before, Yam was a god, not a goddess, as you can read in the Ugaritic texts. There is no evidence whatsoever for dividing the word Elohim into Elah Yam.
As you are interested in anthropology you should know that James Frazer's Golden Bough is now widely discredited as out of date by modern anthropologists. I know of no evidence of eating a god or goddess body in the ancient Near East prior to the writing of Genesis 3, which is what you require if you are to argue that the former lies behind the latter.
#6 - John Day - 05/01/2015 - 07:53

This statement is incorrect:

"The concept of Satan developed only later (first attested as a personal name c. 300 B.C.E. in 1 Chron 21:1."

It should be translated "An adversary rose up against Israel and convinced David to number Israel."

The same thing happens in 1 Kings 11:14 & 11:23 where "an adversary" (where it is the name of a human) rises up against King Solomon in punishment.

It seems obvious in this case that an adversary rose up against Israel and David was convinced by the situation that he had to number the forces in order to see how strong he was to oppose this adversary. This certainly should NEVER be transliterated into a proper name "SATAN" here.

#7 - Andrew Harrington - 05/02/2015 - 19:52

I should have said 'something of an evil (or in other circumstances good) spirit about an animal that can talk' - it's not a merely natural animal. There being no recognisable allusion to pagan cult or to the positive views of serpents taken elsewhere shouldn't we conclude that no such allusion is intended and hence that the Serpent is an allegorical figure, the spirit of subtle and seemingly harmless questioning that destroys our obedience to God? In a sense Eve is hearing a voice in her own mind.
#8 - Martin Hughes - 05/02/2015 - 20:10

Reply to Andrew Harrington
I am afraid you are too quick to find error when there is none! Although in theory 'satan' in 1 Chron. 21:1 might mean simply a human 'adversary', this is unlikely in this instance, as most scholars recognize. On the one hand, it would be a bit odd for David to do something on the advice of an enemy. He would be more likely to oppose an enemy. (On the meaning of satan that you advocate, it would be saying precisely this, namely that the adversary incited David to number Israel, not as you would like it to say, that the adversary created a situation of opposition in which David felt he had to number Israel.) On the other hand it makes perfect sense to see here a reference to Satan. You need to bear in mind that the books of Chronicles are largely a rewriting of Samuel and Kings, and in the parallel to 1 Chron. 21 in 2 Samuel 24 (where you will find more or less the identical story) it states in v. 1 that it was the anger of the Lord that incited David to number Israel. Since the story goes on to say that it was the Lord who punished David for numbering Israel, one can understand why the writer of 1 Chronicles felt this to be a bit odd (as it surely does to us), since it was the Lord who had incited David to do so in the first place! It therefore makes sense that the Chronicler substituted "Satan" for "the anger of the Lord". This fits in with the increasingly dualistic tendency in the post-exilic period to attribute evil to forces set over against God, like Satan, rather than directly to God himself.
#9 - John Day - 05/03/2015 - 10:18

Reply to Martin Hughes
You ask whether we should not see the Serpent as an allegorical figure. Here I think we need to distinguish between exegesis (what the text originally meant) and hermeneutics (how intelligent people of faith might try to appropriate the text today). Regarding the latter, you are surely correct: only a fundamentalist would wish to understand the figure of the Serpent literally. To do so would be to go against all the knowledge and understanding that modern Biblical scholars have acquired over the last couple of hundred years. The story of the Garden is clearly a myth (which is not the same as saying it has no religious value for us). On the other hand, there is no reason to doubt that the Serpent, like the rest of the Garden of Eden story, was intended literally by the original writer. In keeping with this, both Jews and Christians tended to take the story literally until the time of the Enlightenment.
#10 - John Day - 05/03/2015 - 10:33

We commenters must be grateful to find a contributor who is prepared to spend some time on us.
My tendency is to think of Genesis as a sophisticated literary work. So is Gilgamesh, where a natural feature of serpents, the shedding of skin, peculiar to them, represents allegorically the immortality that we want but cannot have. I'm not sure that the author of Gilgamesh thought that it was literally the case that serpents are like this because one of them had stolen the immortal flower and all that but he weaves natural observation and allegorical reflection together to beautiful effect. The natural element is enough to explain why a serpent is chosen for the dramatic but unnatural role of flower thief.
In the same way it seems to me that the naturally insidious nature of serpents is quite enough to explain why the author of Genesis chose one of them for the role of deceiver. He does not seem, as I think you show, to be engaging with rival or more positive views of serpents. I am not sure that he thought that real serpents are insidious because of a real conversation, which he recounts literally, between one of their ancestors who could talk and our great ancestress. He did surely use the reptilian character in his drama to represent allegorically certain dangerous, insidious, harmless-seeming questioning of religious authority. That is what gives the story its moral force. I certainly believe as a matter of exegesis that it was intended to have moral force.
#11 - Martin Hughes - 05/03/2015 - 18:31

I have published two books on this subject in 2010. Eden's Serpent: Its Origin in Mesopotamian Myths, and The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths. They are available at Or can be read on-line, via preview, at My research is based on earlier works (1854-2010) appearing in scholarly journals and tomes from European and American Universities. The Serpent book is in part a review of scholarly proposals for the pre-biblical antecedents of the serpent in Ancient Near Eastern Myths made by over 40 scholars like Rawlinson, Sayce, Jastrow, Smith, Ward, Jensen, Zimmern, Tennnant, etc (1854-1900)who argued some individual appearing in pre-biblical myths (Babylonian, Canaanite, Egyptian, Ugaritic) had been recast into Eden's serpent. I quote their arguments. I then studied the Myths and concluded as many as 10 mythical characters were fused into Eden's serpent's persona and its motifs. The Eden book investigates Scholarly proposals for Eden's pre-biblical characters, locations and motifs based on the myths of Canaan, Ugarit, Babylonia, and Egypt. I quote from these texts. I understand the book of Genesis was composed in the Exile, between 562-560 BC, based on scholarly proposals, quoting said arguments. My website explores this at In essence the Hebrews fused together gods and goddesses and motifs associated with polytheism and transformed all this into monotheism and its one god in the book of Genesis. The findings of archaeology are also cited in establishing when Genesis was written. My understanding? The pre-biblical characters behind the edenic serpent were Mesopotamian gods: An/Anu, Enki/Ea, Dumuzi/Tammuz, Gishzida/Ningishzida, Saidu/Sadu,principally, but not exclusively, from two myths: Adapa and the Southwind, and The Epic of Gilgamesh. For more info google "mattfeld Eden's serpent." The Hebrews or Jews, via a series of inversions, are refuting the Mesopotamian myths' explanation for why man was created, allowed to possess wisdom like a god and denied godly immortality.
#12 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/09/2015 - 15:39

Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson by 1854-1860 had proposed that behind Eden's serpent was a Babylonian god which lived at ancient Eridu in Babylonia, whom he called Hea, rendered today as Ea. He identified him as the god who had created mankind, and who had bestowed upon man the knowledge of how to live like a god by building cities and creating laws to create a sense of right of wrong instead of living like a savage or brute animal. Ea, pronounced Ay(y)a, according Gwendolyn Leick, was also famed for a statement he had made about mankind, personified in a priest called Adapa who lived at Eridu, saying "I gave him [godly] wisdom but denied him immortality." In Genesis Adam is allowed to acquire godly knowledge but denied immortality by Yahweh. In 1888 the Adapa and the Southwind myth was found in Egypt, and by 1892, Professor Archibald Henry Sayce was proposing Adapa was the pre-biblical prototype of Adam, and that Adapa might have been alternately rendered as Adama. Scholars expressed doubt about Adapa being once uon a time Adama, but they acknowledged other parallels with Adam. Especially the conferring of godly knowledge and denial of immortality. The problem? None of the characters in the Adapa myth was called a snake or serpent. Another myth did mention a serpent eating a plant denying man (Gilgamesh) a chance at rejuvenation of life so many scholars seized on this snake being behind Eden's serpent, and for over 100 years this is the most popular proposal amongst scholars. The problem? The Gilgamesh snake doesn't speak and doesn't walk. Agreeing with scholars about the Adapa myth being the closest parallel to mans acquiring knowledge but not immortality, I asked myself a question: Given that no snake appears in the Adapa myth, had anyone in Academia sought serpent associations in other myths for any of the characters? The answer appeared to be no. So I investigated various myths looking for any mention of Anu, Ea, Dumuzi, and Gishzida which might reveal a serpent association. I was successful. In other myths Ea, Dumuzi, and Gishzida all bore the Sumerian epithet ushumgal, ushum= serpent, gal= great, or "great serpent." By the 1930's scholars abandoned this terminology and came to render ushumgal as "dragon." The ushumgal is portrayed with four feet, wings, a serpentine head and body, and horns on its head. Here, for me was the _missing_ or rather, _overlooked_ serpent association of a walking talking serpent involved in a story about man obtaining forbidden godly knowledge and denied immortality. Ea (Sumerian: Ushumgal Enki of Eridug) had allowed Adapa to possess godly-forbidden knowledge, how to utter incantations stopping wind from blowing by breaking the southwind's wing. This outraged Anu. Ushumgal Dumuzi and Ushumgal Gishzida as Anu's gate guards' favor was won by Adapa. They convinced Anu to treat Adapa kindly. So on Anu's behalf, the food (bread) of life was urged on Adapa to possess eternal life. He refused having been forwarned by Ushumgal Ea/Enki that it was the food of death and he would die, don't eat it. He lost out on a chance at immortality for obeying his lying god's warning. Eden's serpent is: (1) Anu, (2) Dumuzi, (3) Gishzida because they urged on man (Adapa) the food of death he was warned not to eat. Eden's serpent asked Eve, why not eat? Anu asks Adapa why not eat? (4)Ea is also Eden's serpent as he provides man forbidden knowledge objected to by Anu.
Yahweh-Elohim's pre-biblical prototypes: (1) Ea, as he warns man not to eat the food of death as Yahweh warned Adam; (2) Anu, as he summons Adam to give account of himself for obtaining godly forbidden knowledge; Anu also clothes man before dismissing him like Yahweh dismissed Adam, clothing him. In other myths Dumuzi is turned into a sagkal serpent to slither out the bonds tying his hands and feet to sticks to be carried off to the underworld at Inanna's pleasure. He says "turn my hands and feet into serpent hands and feet that I can escape. His plea is honored. Ningishzida is portrayed in art as human with serpent dragon heads erupting from his shoulders. His name: Nin=Lady, Gish=Tree, Zida=Upright (there are other translations). So, there you have it, some of the characters in the Adapa myth in other myths were associated with serpents bearing the epithet ushumgal.
Rawlings (1854-1860) hit the nail on the head, Ea was indeed behind Eden's serpent, but there were pothers too, Anu, Dumuzi and Gishzida. Adapa's reply as to why he would not eat was that his god told him he would die. This is Eve's reply to the Serpent. Anu's query has become Eden's serpent's query and Adapa's answer, I will die according to my lord Ea has been recast as Eve's reply to the Edenic serpent. My two books mentioned in the previous comment posted above has the details. Rawlings understood the Hea (Ea) was mankind's creator. In myths he creates man at Eridu to be his servant and care for his city garden in Edin (the floodplain).
#13 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/10/2015 - 18:02

A bit more on Rawlinson: To my knowledge he is _the first scholar_ to propose behind Eden's serpent was a pre-biblical Ancient Near Eastern god (1854-1860). If anyone knows of another, earlier, scholar please let me know. Rawlinson built the Edenic serpent association in part on the Arabic word hiya meaning "life" and "serpent," assuming Hea was a form of hiya. His proposal reigned supreme from circa 1854 to 1876. In that year Rawlinson's under-study, George Smith (British Museum Cuneiform Department) challenged his mentor claiming there were no cuneiform inscriptions associating Hea with serpents. He proposed the Babylonian goddess Tiamat who fought Marduk of Babylon in the Enuma Elish as being Eden's serpent's pre-biblical prototype. My research reveals the Sumerian god of Eridug, Enki, bore the epithet ushumgal "great serpent." Later, by 2500 BC (according to Sumeriologist Samuel Noah Kramer) Enki had been recast as the Babylonian god Ea. Only someone aware of Ea's formerly being known as ushumgal Enki would realize serpent associations existed behind the Adapa myth. Mesopotamian scribes would most likely possess this esoteric knowledge. Sumerian words were still being used in the Epic of Gilgamesh down to Neo Babylonian times, often as logograms. As for example logogram edin being used in lieu of Seru, "the plain" that Enkidu meets Shamhat in, recast as Adam meeting Eve in Eden according to Professor Morris Jastrow Jr in publications of 1898-1899.
Professor Sayce 1887-1890s, proposed Gilgamesh's city, Uruk, which appears in the Epic as the Sumerian logogram Unug, was for him the prototype of the city of Enoch built by Cain. Sayce understood Babylonian myths said Eridu was the first city, and Sayce noted that Unug was the largest city in the 4th/3rd milleniums BC. Ea of Eridu sent fishmen to teach the people how to build the walls of Unug/Uruk. In the bible, Jerad (Hebrew Yerad) is the father of Enoch (Ge 5.18). For Sayce this was Eridu the father-city of Unug/Enoch/Uruk. Cain, who built Enoch fears death and becomes a wanderer, perhaps this is wanderer Gilgamesh who fears death like Cain after his companion Enkidu's death? Like Cain, Gilgamesh is associated with building Unug's/Uruk's walls.
The Babylonian Exile would put Jews in contact with Mesopotamian myths which they objected to and recast as a refutation. Enkidu and Shamhat's encounter in Edin (tseru) and leaving for Unug/Uruk became Adam and Eve in Eden, and then Enoch and its fearful-of-dying Gilgamesh/Cain. I mention this as Prof. Day mentions Cain and the Cainites in his book and they are a part of the Eden story. By the way, my two books on all this are free for all to read! Go to, enter "Eden's serpent." A new screen will open showing the book's cover. Click on "more info" and an image of the cover will again appear. Under it is a blue link saying "Preview." Click on Preview and the Cover appears in a very large size. Scroll to the top for controls to enlarge or reduce the book. Arrows at the top turn pages. I have set the Preview controls to let the reader _Read _ALL_ of the book.
#14 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/11/2015 - 00:20

Reply to Walter R. Mattfeld
Thank you for your two communications which I have carefully pondered;I am also familiar with your published work. My considered opinion is that though your published work makes some contribution to the history of interpretation of the Eden serpent over the last century and a half, your own conclusions are implausible and are unlikely to gather support from serious scholars.
You claim that the Eden serpent is dependent on no less than ten different Mesopotamian deities. I regard this as frankly incredible. One source is surely sufficient. Remember the principles in logic: entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity and the simplest hypothesis is to be preferred! As I argued in my article, though certainty is not possible, most likely the Gilgamesh serpent exercised an influence on the Eden serpent, since like Genesis 3 the Gilgamesh epic combines the themes of a serpent depriving humanity of immortality or rejuvenation and a tree or plant of life that grants such. The fact that the Gilgamesh serpent does not speak is not significant. Just consider the fact that the Mesopotamian flood hero speaks, but Noah in Genesis does not speak at all in our narrative. Biblical writers were perfectly capable of transforming ancient Near eastern traditions.
You make much of the fact that various Mesopotamian deities such as Enki! (- the the later Akkadian Ea) are called by the Sumerian word ushumgal (generally rendered dragon rather than serpent by modern scholars, as you acknowledge). However, so far as I can see, the equivalent Akkadian term is not used of Ea and these other deities. Since Akkadian was the dominant language of Mesopotamia after 2000 B.C.E. this is significant, since it would surely have been Akkadian rather than Sumerian sources that could have influenced the Israelites. Thus, for example, in the Adapa myth, to which you attach importance, Ea is not at all referred to as a dragon or serpent.
By the way, you twice refer to "Rawlinson" as "Rawlings" - doubtless a typo!
#15 - John Day - 05/14/2015 - 09:59

Thank you, Professor Day, for having a look at my proposals, and explaining why you find them unlikely. As for your objection to 10 individuals being behind the Edenic serpent, I note that in the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Biblical Flood of Noah, that it is said "the gods" conspired together to send it, under the urging of the Akkadian god Ellil (Sumerian: Enlil). Scholars are aware from cuneiform inscriptions that Mesopotamia's gods numbered in the hundreds. If hundreds of gods are capable of being recast as one god (Yahweh) responsible for sending the flood, why is it that 10 gods are unlikely fused together for the serpent? As for the absence of serpent-dragon epithets in the Adapa myth, it may not have been of any import to the story teller. I cannot say if other Akkadian accounts gave serpent-dragon epithets (Akkadian: basmu) to these gods, but the older Sumerian accounts did (Ushumgal). Sumerian word equivalents to Akkadian words do occur in Akkadian myths. As, for example, Sumerian Edin occurs in the Gilgamesh Epic as a substitute (technically called a logogram) for Akkadian Seru/Tseru, meaning a "grassy plain." You mention your study of my two comments posted to this website. I actually posted three comments. For unknown reasons my third and last comment apparently was not allowed by the moderator?
#16 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/18/2015 - 12:48

Reply to Walter R. Mattfeld
Thank you for your further comments, which I have again pondered carefully.
The fact that you seem unable to produce evidence that Ea and the other deities which you envisage being subsumed into the Genesis 3 serpent were actually called a serpent in Akkadian texts would seem to me to constitute a difficulty for your view. Akkadian was the Mesopotamian language of the Old Testament period (broadly the 1st millennium BCE), not Sumerian.
With regard to your idea of no less than ten Mesopotamian deities being subsumed into the Genesis 3 serpent which I said I found difficult to accept, you raised the subject of the Gilgamesh epic having the gods bringing the flood (though one god, Enlil, is clearly the ringleader) in contrast to Genesis having only Yahweh bring the flood. However, I think there is an important difference between ten distinct, named deities from different sources being taken up into the serpent (which I understand to be your view) and the concept of a largely anonymous mass of deities from one source being subsumed by Yahweh. "Monotheization" with regard to Yahweh was one of the distinctive features of the Old Testament (though in the case of the Flood, I see the underlying source as the Atrahasis epic rather than Gilgamesh [though Atrahasis itself lay behind Gilgamesh epic; see my book From Creation to Babel regarding all this).
By the way, modern OT scholars no longer accept the old idea that Sumerian edin and Akkadian edinu, "steppe, plain" underlie the Hebrew word Eden. You should track down the articles by A.R. Millard and Jonas Greenfield on this subject. Not only does this meaning not seem very appropriate (e.g. in Ezekiel 28 Eden is set on a mountain), but the Akkadian word edinu was incredibly rare; as Millard showed, it occurs only once - in a bilingual text. It is much more likely that Eden is related to the well attested OT Hebrew root 'dn, "luxury, delight", a meaning which fits the OT understanding of Eden much better.
As for certain of your earlier comments not being published you would need to take that up with the Moderator.
#17 - John Day - 05/22/2015 - 08:52

All received comments from Walter R. Mattfeld have been posted.

#18 - Editors - 05/22/2015 - 16:48

You asked if Akkadian basmu, a snake, was associated with any of the characters in the Adapa story, in other myths. According to Black and Green, Ningishzida (a variant of Gishzida) is represented by a basmu: "The symbol and beast of Ningishzida was the horned snake or dragon basmu (see snakes)...p. 140. Jeremy Black and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. An Illustrated Dictionary. 1992.
Gishzida (Ningishzida) offered Adapa bread that he thought had been forbidden him by Ea, as it the bread of death. I have read the Edinu/Eden controversy and believe this research is misdirected. Why? I discovered from PhD scholars that edin was _a common_ logogram substitute for Akkadian Seru, "the steppe." In the Epic of Gilgamesh it appears frequently. Since 1898 Enkidu and Shamhat of that epic have been proposed to have been recast as Adam and Eve, by Professor Morris Jastrow Jr of the Univ. of Penna. They are called by him Eabani and Ukhat. The word seru sometimes appears in their meeting place as seru, and other times as the logogram edin. I understand Jastrow is right and that the edin logogram substitute for seru in the epic became eden in the Hebrew reworking of this myth. See my book The Garden of Eden Myth: Its Pre-biblical Origin in Mesopotamian Myths (2010) available at in preview mode for the details.
#19 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/23/2015 - 21:08

My understanding for the pre-biblical mythical source for Genesis' Eden, is _primarily_ the Epic of Gilgamesh, and its Sumerian edin, used in that epic as a substitute logogram for Akkadian seru "steppe." I refer you to Professor Andrew George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts. Oxford. 2003. He shows the text, in a transliterated form, revealing edin is often used as a logogram substitute for seru. On the 12 clay tablets I have counted edin as appearing 19 times. Alexander Heidel in a scholarly article (1950s?)on the Gilgamesh Epic presented a few lines in transliteration revealing Enkidu to be a man of edin, the transliteration is rendered in all capitals within parentheses: (EDIN). I contacted Dr. Bob Whiting (of Helsinki,Finland), who edits scholarly works on Assyrian cuneiform and was told (EDIN) is a _common_ Akkadian logogram for seru. There is nothing rare about it. So Enkidu (recast as Adam) is introduced to a naked woman, Shamhat (recast as Eve) in (EDIN), and learns from her it is wrong to be naked in (EDIN). She succeeds in her task: Replace the herbivore animal companions: wild cattle and antelope, of Enkidu, with herself, and remove him from (EDIN), taking him to live in Uruk, which is rendered by the Sumerian logogram (UNUG), proposed by Prof. A. H. Sayce in 1887 to be Genesis' city of Enoch. Because scholars are accustomed to "reading" (EDIN) as seru, the association with Genesis' Eden was "missed." See my book The Garden of Eden Myth, pp.18-20 for Professor George's 19(EDIN) transliterations.
#20 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/23/2015 - 21:53

You are correct, Ezekiel has the Garden of Eden on a mountain, not a Sumerian edin steppe. However, before the steppe edin was settled the people lived in the foothills of the Zagros mountains. And built artificial mountains to worship their gods at called ziggurats. So in Mesopotamian myths mountains existed in edin the steppe, man-made mounts for the gods to inhabit, reconciling Ezekiel's notion of Eden's garden with a mountain.
#21 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/23/2015 - 22:00

Some clarifications: I am the only person to claim Genesis' eden is derived from the Epic of Gilgamesh's Sumerian logogram (EDIN) used in lieu of Akkadian seru (at times seru is used too).
As regards my 3rd comment not being received by the moderators. I had some difficulty, the comment was apparently too long, exceeding the word count. 3 attempts were made to post it the first and second attempts after reduction in words failed with the wording prompts "exceeds" the third attempt after further reduction in words did succeed and I assumed it was received and not posted for some reason. My sincere apologies to the moderators.
#22 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/23/2015 - 22:24

Profesorn Day I look forward to acquiring for my personal library the 18 June paperback release of your 2013 book titled From Creation to Babel. Does this release offer corrections, revisions and expansions? My 20 years of research on Eden's pre-biblical origins is done by seeking Eden's motifs in Mesopotamian literature, Sumerian and Akkadian, noting where and who is involved in the recast motifs. Under no circumstance is each of Eden's characters to be traced to just one Mesopotamian character, it is always several for me. Eden's location, is determined via its motifs, and is to be found in multiple sites too, in the myths. Hebrew eden has been determined by scholars to mean "delightful, abundant," etc. And this Hebrew meaning is one of the keys to locating it. Scholars have noted that Genesis' anonymous author erred on his explanations of the meaning of some sites' names, some personal names, some tribal names, and the names of some countries. These false Hebrew explanations are charitably called "folk-etymologies" in the scholarly literature. Perhaps these foreign words were heard wrongly and thus mis-pronounced, misspelled, and given false Hebrew word explanations? Thus, via assonance, (EDIN), a foreign word, became misspelled and mispronounced as Hebrew 'Eden, a place well-watered, or delightful. Thus naked Enkidu's (EDIN) became
a "delightful" place for him and his herbivore companions (wild cattle and antelope) to live in? The myths declare edin is a dangerous place, lions, leopards and snakes inhabit it. I was informed by Professor George that (EDIN) means "back" (as in a person's back)and that by anology the steppe lands surrounding and "backing" the Sumerian cities' walls, came to be associated with the steppe where shepherds grazed their sheep and cattle. Every Sumerian city had a god or goddess who's fields were worked by men on the gods' behalf. Some art forms show food from these gardens, surrounded by edin the steppe, being presented to the god/goddess by naked men, whom I presume to be naked gardeners, for the gods made man to work their city-gardens in edin to provide food for the gods, freeing them of the back-breaking gardening chores: weeding, clearing canals of silt, etc. Ergo, Enkidu's (EDIN) is not the only prototype. Other myths have motifs reappearing in the Garden of Eden account: (1) Enkidu's (EDIN)where he is ensnared by Shamhat and removed from (EDIN), (2) Anu's heavenly abode (Adapa myth) where man is denied immortality, (3) Eridu where Ea warns Adapa don't eat the bread of death, recast as Yahweh warning Adam and Eve, (4) Nippur, where Enlil makes man to work his city-garden to relieve the Igigi gods of the back-breaking gardening toil, (4) Uruk, Sumerian(UNUG)
where Shamhat (recast as Eve)is sent from to ensnare Enkidu, accompanied by Sadu the hunter (Sadu is recast as God presenting Eve to Adam in Eden), (5)A Lebanese cedar mount where Humbaba is slain by a sword-wielding Enkidu and Gilgamesh, a guardian of the gods' aromatic cedar trees (the trees being off-limits to man, as Eden's trees are to Adam),finally, every Sumerian city, and its city-gardens, within and without the walls becomes a prototype of Eden. The Uruk clay map shows gardens within its walls and clay tablets mention that some city gates were called abul-edina, the edin-gate, the way to the edina steppe land surrounding all the cities of Sumer, which bumps the total of pre-biblical Eden locations to well over a dozen locations fused together and recast as one site in Genesis.
#23 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/24/2015 - 15:47

An objection by Professor Day to my identifying Ea, Dumuzi and Gishzidda as bearing the Sumerian epithet ushumgal, "great serpent" or "dragon" was that, Adapa, being an Akkadian composition, they should bear the Akkadian word basmu in the other myths. Today (27 May 2015), I acquired Shlomo Izre'el's _Apapa and the South Wind, Language Has the Power of Death_ and was surprised to discover its earliest recension is Sumerian of the Old Babylonian Period (see p.7):
"A Sumerian version of Adapa from the OB period has been discovered at Tell Haddad (ancient Meturan) and has been announced by Cavigneaux and al-Rawi (1993:92-93). The Sumerian version is reported to be similar to the Akkadian version. It includes 'an incantation-like passage' at the end, as does the Akkadian version represented by Fragment D. Furthermore, the myth is the second part of a longer narrative, the first part of which describes the time just following the deluge and describes the feeding of the gods and the organization of mankind."

For me this discovery, that the Adapa myth was originally a Sumerian Composition that was later recast into an Akkadian version, gives support to my proposal that some of the gods in Sumerian texts bore the epithet ushumgal or great serpent/dragon, and that probably learned scribes were aware of this myth's being originally Sumerian and that these Sumerian gods possessed a walking-talking serpent association, based on the ushumgal epithet appearing in other Sumerian myths.
#24 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/27/2015 - 20:09

Reply to Walter R. Mattfeld
I am sorry to say that I remain unconvinced by your views. You are clearly learned but I find your views overly-speculative.
(1) You claim that no less than ten deities lie behind the serpent of Genesis 3, which seems an incredibly large number. And only for one of them are you able to cite a text in Akkadian (the Mesopotamian language contemporary with the Old Testament) in which the deity in question is attested with serpentine form. That is hardly impressive if the OT is supposed to have appropriated these deities to the Eden serpent when Akkadian, not Sumerian, was the living language of Mesopotamia.
(2) I have already mentioned that in Ezekiel 28:14, 16 Eden is set on a mountain which does not fit your proposed etymology in the Sumerian logogram EDIN, "steppe, plain". Your attempt to get round this problem is unconvincing, since I recall my good friend, the late world famous Assyriologist W.G. Lambert, pointing out to me that it was not a normal Mesopotamian view (unlike in Syria-Palestine) that gods dwelt on mountains (a ziggurat is not itself a mountain but a man-made structure). But the meaning "steppe, plain" meaning does not fit Genesis 2 either, since we read that four "headwaters" (Hebrew ra'shim) flowed from Eden. The Hebrews knew that rivers flowed down, not up. It is implied in Genesis 2 that Eden was therefore also on a height, which fits the western Armenian end rather than the frequently supposed flat eastern end of the rivers by the Persian gulf. Again, according to my dictionary, a steppe is characteristically treeless which does not fit Genesis 2-3 or Ezekiel 31:16, 18. Eden is generally a symbol in the OT of what is lush and fertile, which again does not fit your proposed etymology but fits perfectly the well-attested Hebrew root 'dn, which has to do with luxuriance and delight (cf. the Greek Septuagint translation paradeisos).
As for the Sumerian logogram EDIN found in Gilgamesh, to which you attach great importance, would it have been read as seru or edin by an Akkadian reader? If the latter, it would have essentially become an Akkadian word, but no modern Akkadian dictionaries cite it as such. However, as the Chicago Assurian Dictionary informs us, the related word edinu does occur in Akkadian but only once, so it was extremely rare.
(3) Thank you for buying the forthcoming paperback version of my book From Creation to Babel. It is simply a reprint of the 2013 hardback edition. (I made some expansions specially for this web site that do not appear there. In the fulness of time I shall publish a longer article simple on the Eden serpent.) I have already bought your two books and have learnt a thing or two but without being able to agree with your original views.
#25 - John Day - 05/29/2015 - 10:10

Thank you for the purchase of my two books. I am familiar with Lambert's work, he is a fine scholar. Yet I have to take issue with his claim the Sumerians did not worship their gods on mountains. I would recommend you read the following book: Sumer: Cities of Eden. Time-Life Books,1993.
p. 156: "Mountains that step to heaven: "In your house on high, in your beloved house, I will come to live, up above in your cedar-perfumed mountain, in your citadel, O Nanna, in your mountain of Ur I will come to live" (from a song). The poet is praising the house that the moon-god Nanna (of Ur) lives in as a cedar-perfumed mountain. In the Bible Solomon builds on Mount Zion a cedar-perfumed house (Temple)for his God, Yahweh (1Ki. 5:5,6:14). The poet of Ur (which is in Edin the steppe), twice calls the Moon god's house a cedar-perfumed-mountain (recalling Ezekiel's Cedar mount in Lebanon where he locates Eden 28:13, 31:1-9. From the internet, the British Museum stated ziggurats were likely mountains: "Ziggurat...The mountains to the east of Mesopotamia were thought to be where some gods lived (especially celestial deities which appeared to rise up from them). The ziggurat may therefore have been thought of as bringing the home of the gods to the flat plains of Mesopotamia." See: Again, from Sumer: Cities of Eden (p.156):"The step-like tower known as a ziggurat -the culmination of the platform temple- itself appears to emulate a mountain, and indeed, many of the ziggurats prominent in the important cities of Sumer featured the word _mountain_ in their names." Enkidu of Edin(recast as Adam in Eden) cuts down cedars on a Lebanonese cedar mount to float down river to Uruk to adorn its temples and presumably its ziggurat or cedar-perfumed mountain-house. Uruk's principal god is Anu.
#26 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/31/2015 - 00:34

I agree edinu is a rare word, occurring only once. But Dr. Bob Whiting, editor of the Assyrian State Archives series (of Helsinki Finland) says EDIN is a very common logogram substitute for Seru. Just because Akkadian is the living language of the 1st millennium BC doesn't mean all Sumerian words "vanish." They reappear as logograms in all kinds of Akkadian literary works. Learned scribes would know these "dead" words' meanings even if the common man in the street didn't. Latin as a living language has been dead for over a thousand years but it survives in various words and sentences written down in books by scholars to this day, and they certainly know the words' meanings even if the man in the street is clueless. The Bible sometimes gives false etymologies for foreign words, probably via mishearing it, misprouncing it, misspelling it, and giving it a Hebrew word meaning that is false as regards the word's meaning to the foreigners who use it. If all this applies to Eden, and I believe it does, then eden's Hebrew meaning (lush, well-watered, abundant) is a false etymology. If the word was Sumerian, and meant steppe land, then the search for eden is in vain, seeking a place (Ezekiel's Lebanon) based on a wrong Hebrew etymology. But, if Eden is a false etymology, and it is edin, then the edin should provide us with motifs associated with the Adam and Eve story, and Edin does provide us the motifs in what was formerly Sumer's steppe: a naked man in edin (Enkidu) is separated from his herbivore animal companions by a naked woman (Shamhat of Uruk) and she convinces him to leave edin and replaces his animals with her companionship. She convinces him to eat forbidden food (bread and alcoholic drink) offered by edin's shepards. They leave edin clothed. He ceases to be an animal, now he has knowledge like a god, for in early myths man was naked and hairy (Berossus' account), man ate grass like a beast, had no knowledge of good and evil. Only the gods wore clothes and knew of good and evil, they had laws laying out what was acceptable and non-acceptable conduct. Edin the steppe brings us to Enkidu (Adam), Shamhat (Eve), naked man, later a clothed man, animal companions who are herbivores, knowledge of good and evil. Edin the steppe brings us to Eridu and Ea, and his boast: I gave man wisdom but not immortality", anticipating God's actions in Eden. The motifs associated with Sumer's edin reappear in Genesis' Eden. Another example of a Hebrew false meaning given to a foreign word: Moses, Hebrew Moshe, is said to mean in Hebrew "drawn" as in "drawn from the water," alluding to Moses being drawn from the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter, sparing the infant's life. Egyptologists assure us that Moses is an Egyptian name, Mose, and it means "born of" NOT "drawn". If the Hebrews can provide false etymologies for foreign words like Mose, they can do it for edin.
#27 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/31/2015 - 01:16

You are quite right about a steppe being a treeless plain. However, some steppes do have trees near lakes and rivers, and in our case, the Sumerian Edin did possess trees because of rivers, lakes, and man-made irrigation canals and water-retention ponds for irrigation. Wikipedia on Steppe:"...characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes..." Innana the goddess of Uruk finds an uprooted tree near Uruk, she has it planted in her garden intending to make furniture of it after maturity. A snake that "cannot be charmed" makes a nest at its base preventing its being cut down. Hero Gilgamesh learns of her sorrow and takes an axe, kills the serpent, chops down the tree and makes a throne of it for her. Ezekiel's eden is in Lebanon and the garden is of cedars. Gilgamesh and Enkidu access this Lebanese cedar mountain and after killing its guardian, Humbaba, they chop down cedars to float down the Euphrates to Uruk to refurbish/build a temple for the god Anu and goddess Inanna. And, as Ur's ziggurat was called an aromatic cedar mountain by the ancient poet, and a dwelling for Ur's moon god, Nanna, it makes sense to me that all the ziggurats of Sumer were conceived of in the same way, artificial cedar mountains for the mountain-dwelling gods who inhabited, in myth, the mountains ringing the edin steppe lands: Lebanese cedar mountains in the west as well as the Amanus near Turkey and the pine trees of the Zagros near western Iran. I look forward to reading your future research on Eden's serpent. I understand that there were two Sumerian edins. The oldest was southern Mesopotamia and Sumer. By 3000 BC Sumerian colonies had been established in upper Mesopotamia, and I would assume they called this steppe land edin as well. In the northern area the Euphratyes is mostly one stream, but south of ancient Sippar it subdivides into four streams which subdivide into numerous branches which are tapped as irrigation canals. So an upper Mesopotamian river of edin (principaly today's Syria) becomes four streams south of today's Anah (south of ancient Mari) to become four streams of Genesis. Eden's stream flows downwards from the higher edin steppe land northwest of Mari, to become the four rivers of Genesis eden.
#28 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/31/2015 - 13:00

Professor Henri Frankfort (1897-1954) on Ziggurats being artificial mountains, note: Sumerian Enlil, Akkadian Elill, was the god of Nippur in Sumer (p. 22. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient. Yale University Press. 1970 4th edition, 1st edition 1954 Penguin Books): "...of them were known in later times have been preserved and they indicate that they were intended not merely to resemble, but to be 'mountains'. The ziggurat of the storm god Enlil was, for instance, called 'House of the Mountain', 'Mountain of the Storm', 'Bond between Heaven and Earth'...The significance of the Ziggurat was symbolical...unequivocally expressed in a high artificial mountain..."
As regards Eden's four streams, the Euphrates and Tigris, Pishon and Gihon we are told "a river flowed out of eden to water the garden and there it divided and became four rivers (Ge. 2:10), suggesting the rivers' division is in a place called eden. The Sumerian myths claim before man had been made Enki of Eridu had the gods, using hoes, dig out two rivers' beds (Euphrates and Tigris). Then he came and ejaculated into the empty river beds filling them with his sperm/water (he being the god of the abzu/apsu, the fresh water under the earth (Akkadian Ea means e=house a=of water). So, in Sumerian myth, the source of two of eden's rivers is Eridu lying in the midst Sumer's edin-steppe, near Eridu's ziggurat, an artificial mountain for a god to occupy. Myths speak of Enki's wonderous garden and its orchards and its mesu and gishkin trees, later Enki/Ea makes man to care for his garden at Eridu-in-the-edin. So, Sumer's edin has led us to Eden's pre-biblical origin, Eridu and its god Enki/Ea who boasted of allowing Adapa (symbolizing mankind) to obtain wisdom like a god, but not immortality, a motif picked up later in Genesis. Other myths at Babylon where Ea's son Marduk lives, has the source of the two rivers as flowing out the Tiamat's eyes, conceived of as springs. Babylon like Eridu is in the edin-steppe land and shares the Euphrates water with Eridu.
Technically, your right, Genesis suggests a height for the rivers to flow from, and Ezekiel suggests a garden of cedar on a Lebanon mount, but these are false clues. The real clues are not in the Bible they are in the Sumerian and Akkadian myths regarding edin, its rivers' origins, and explanation how man came to acquire forbidden knowledge but not immortality. The Bible is, via inversions, taking motifs and imaginary events in Mesopotamian works and recasting it all to refute it. To repeat, the real clues to Eden's location and events are not to be found in the Bible, the Bible's clues will only send you on a wild goose hunt, the real clues exist only in the pre-biblical myths of Sumer and Babylonia. The Hebrews are recasting Polytheism's edin myths and making of it a Monotheistic eden mythology.
#29 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 05/31/2015 - 19:22

Out of curiosity had a look (on the internet) at the translation given (in French) of the Old Babylonian Period (2000-1600 BC) version of the Adapa and the South Wind myth. As is to expected, the names the principal characters are in Sumerian, not Akkadian. Akkadian Anu is An, Ea is Enki, Dumuzi is Dumuzi, Gishizda is Ningishzida, and Adapa is Adaba. Eridu is Eridu, but a new name appears not found in the Akkadian recension: Sumerian edin. That is to say, in addition to Eridu, edin is also mentioned (see line 181 in Sumerian: "edin? lubi? kisigani urgia head (ID)be."
French translation: "Dans (?) la steppe, l'endroit silencieux, l'homme (le malade?) dira ainsi..."
(See Anoine Cavigneaux, "Une version Sumerienne de la Legende d'Adapa, pp. 1-41, in Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archaologie. Vol. 104. Issue 1, June 2014. Available in PDF format at
I have argued that Adam's Eden is a recast of Sumer's edin in the Gilgamesh Epic (present as a logogram substitute for Akkadian seru "steppe," where Enkidu (recast as Adam) meets Shamhat (recast as Eve). Now we have Sumerian edin pop-up again, in the Sumerian account of how mankind in the form of Adaba (Akkadian Adapa) loses at a chance for immortality by not eating the food of death for himself and mankind. Adaba being of Eridu located in the midst of the Sumerian edin in myths, and his Sumerian god Enki boasting I gave him wisdom but not immortality, which is a theme reappearing in Genesis' Eden, said boast made by God. As I said before, It is my understanding that Sumer's polytheistic edin, its motifs and characters, have been recast into a monotheistic eden.
#30 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 06/02/2015 - 23:06

Genesis has Eden's serpent associated with events leading to a denial of immortality by God for Adam and Eve. The Sumerian version of Adapa and the Southwind provides a new puzzle piece of the pie, that Adapa's loss at a chance at immortality for himself and mankind occurred after the flood, whereas Genesis has it occurring before the flood. I found no mention of ushumgals or basmu in the Sumerian account.
#31 - Walter R. Mattfeld - 07/14/2015 - 18:36

Professor Day, on the serpent as crafty, rather than wise, how do you read the Targum interpretation/translation of 'arum? And does it make any difference?
#32 - Jim Joyner - 07/31/2015 - 14:22

wow i just wanted to know what it symbolized, there's a bit of misconception with the title on google.... :(
#33 - Harry Power - 09/04/2016 - 01:13

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