26 July 2015

Four-Legged Snake Fossil Found. But, Did It Tempt Eve?

11 Menachem Av 5775

It looks like the question of the serpent in the Garden of Eden may be solved, finally, outside the Jewish world. Jonathan Webb, science reporter at BBC News, has the story, published last Friday:

A 113-million-year-old fossil from Brazil is the first four-legged snake that scientists have ever seen. 

Some inquiring minds will want to know whether this snake, or one like it, tempted Eve (Hava haRishona, namesake of this blog). It reminds me of what Rashi says about the nahash in Bereshith (Genesis) 3:14. First, the verse:

יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים | אֶל הַנָּחָשׁ כִּי עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת אָרוּר אַתָּה מִכָּל הַבְּהֵמָה וּמִכֹּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה עַל גְּחֹנְךָ תֵלֵךְ וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ:
 14 And the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed be you more than all the cattle and more than all the beasts of the field; you shall walk on your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.

Now, the salient part: 
 על גחונך תלך: רגלים היו לו ונקצצו:

you shall walk on your belly: It had legs, but they were cut off. — [from Gen. Rabbah 20:5] 
[Source of all Hebrew and English (small type), including translation]

Now, Rashi lived in the 11th C. CE...and I find it funny to think that now we've finally caught up with him and seen with our own eyes (I don't take pictures from the sites I cite; you'll have to go there) that there is such a thing as a snake with legs. I'm not saying that these are the bones of the ophidian body the crafty one used to tempt Hava haRishona; however, they'll have to find at least one more skeleton like that to convince me that they're not.

Fair enough? 


Neshama said...

I just received this email, and here is the link to the author's website. Very interesting how he corrects the ArutzSheva article about your post:


I don't mean to burst your bubble, but this is also interesting.

CDG, Yerushalayim, Eretz Yisrael Shlemah said...

Hi Neshama,

Thanks for pointing out Rav Slifkin's article; I wish I'd seen it before I wrote.

I neither saw the A7 article nor referred to it. My husband sent me the link to the BBC article I did write about. It was more his sense of humor I was going for. And a little making fun of myself for coming up with the name of this blog! ;)

The main thing about this snake fossil is that it is clearly a snake and not something else; and it used its legs; in the scientists' enlightened judgment, they were not vestigial. Did they know they were looking at something that might invoke the thought of Adam and Eve in the garden? Maybe that's the question. Could it have walked upright and been as intelligent as we, or more so? Maybe they'll find another fossil where these questions will become clearer than with this one.

I'm not worried; mainly, I'm watching as HaShem's truth gets revealed. Out of the bones of long-dead snakes in the ground!

The more fascinating to me was that they assigned it a Latin name, Tetrapodophis amplectus, meaning "four-legged hugging snake," making association with the serpent's obsession with seducing Hava more attractive; it suggests means, as well as motive and opportunity, to inveigle and entrap her (words I should have used in the post!).

I have the book The Challenge of Creation, but I haven't read it in a long time and never did get all the way through it. Of course, Rav Slifkin is right and the creature in the garden represents the evil inclination.

However, I have a thought about the literalness (or not) of the reptile. If it is only a metaphor, then evil was always inside the human being, lurking and waiting for an opportunity to get him. Jewish scholarship has always maintained that until the incident with this creature, evil was located outside man. I think R' Pinchas Winston explains that well somewhere. Not to say that I'm right, but that there may be more questions.

Carry on, Neshama!