The Adversary

Concept art for my upcoming Bible Story books.

Since my first book runs from Eden to the Second Coming, it is necessary to unify certain characters who are spoken of in different terms. That is, the Serpent of Eden is the Dragon of Revelation.

But there’s more going on here. The Hebrew that is translated “serpent” is potentially a double- or triple-entendre, implying “serpent,” “false oracle,” or “bronze” or “brass”. Some commentators believe that the description of Goliath, the giant’s bronze armor is a callback to the serpent of Eden… David and Goliath are both armored in their deity.

There are three words used in the Pentateuch to mean “serpent”. You know one of the others. It’s “seraph.” The vipers that sting the children of Israel in their desert wanderings are “seraphim.” (Numbers 21) And of course, Moses casts a seraph of brass, “brass” being derived from the same root as the serpent of Eden.

Of course, the Scriptures do not explicitly tell us to see the serpent of Eden in the brass seraph. Rather, they do explicitly tell us to see Christ lifted up on the cross.

And you didn’t know that the vipers in the desert were seraphim. You know the word because the six-winged throne guardians in Isaiah, which correspond to cherubim in other visions of the throne room of God, are called seraphim.

Eden is cast as the throne room of God on earth. This is not obvious to a modern westerner, who may have a garden in his back yard, but in the Ancient Near East, gardens were the domains of kings and gods, and mountains the domains of gods — and Eden is cast as a mountain in Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 28.) It is obvious to us that New Jerusalem uses Edenic imagery in Revelation, but I am given to understand that the throne room imagery in New Jerusalem was already implied in Eden to the original audience of Genesis.

And a throne room of the gods has throne room guardians, cherubim and seraphim. It is my suspicion that Eden was crawling with what we would consider angelic beings. That the serpent of Eden was a six winged seraph. That Adam and Eve were unsurprised to hear advice from the snake because it was a glowing fire dragon in a garden filled with shining monsters. That when the Serpent said “you will become like God (elohim)” he was not only saying they would become like the Most High, but also like the shining beings they saw all around them (another valid meaning of “elohim.”)

I suspect these things. I am no scholar with strong knowledge of Hebrew and of ancient cultures to make a strong argument for them, nor a prophet to assert them.

But when I draw the serpent of Eden, I will draw him in accordance with my suspicions.

The canon of the Old and New Testaments, discounting the apocrypha, have only two “archangels” (and that term may not be entirely Biblically justified) — Michael and Gabriel. Among Protestants, then, there is this out-there theory that each member of the trinity had an archangel to do his bidding. Gabriel the messenger corresponds to the Holy Spirit, Michael to the Father, and Satan, before his fall, to the Son. This would explain why both Christ and the Devil claim serpent imagery as its own. I consider this theory to be far-fetched. To a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, who admit additional authorities which name additional archangels and have more refined angelologies, it may be on its face a bit absurd. I do not endorse the traditions of Rome or the East, but I do not dismiss them either. I consider them valuable records of what (often) more informed Christians than myself believed and taught.

However, the application of serpent imagery to both Satan and to Christ is not a tradition, nor a wild-eyed Protestant speculation, but the very words of Christ. (John 3).

Death’s Head

The curse of the serpent includes that he will eat the dust of the earth. The curse of Adam includes he will return to dust. In New Testament writings, Satan is identified both with the serpent of Eden, and with death (Hebrews 2:14). In the intertestamental writings of the Jews, the serpent was considered cast into Sheol, the world of the dead, where he rules over an army of the evil spirits of the Nephilim who perished in the flood. 2nd Peter and Jude both quote 1st Enoch, referring to these evil spirits.

Obviously, 1st Enoch is not Scripture, and Hebrews, 2nd Peter, and Jude are all antilegomena — that is, works whose canonicity were disputed when the canon of Scripture was being considered. My tradition, Lutheranism, has a strict rule that all doctrines must be found in the homologoumena, those texts which no one disputed. A doctrine found in the antilegomena may be considered likely, but is not binding on the conscience unless it is also found in the homologoumena. So I do not claim that Satan is definitely a (small ‘g’) death-god with an army of the ghosts of giants in his gloomy throne room. But it is a fact that these ideas were as ubiquitous in the first century church as the red-skinned goat man is in today’s symbolism, and if I do not believe it is thing we can be sure of, I certainly believe it is symbolism we are free to use.

It certainly does no more violence to the text than representing the tempter as a cranky garter snake.

And so, when the serpent is cursed, I intend to turn it into a skeletal zombie dragon in my artwork.

And that is the explanation of my bit of concept art.

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