Or was there something more menacing in the Garden of Eden?
We have all seen the paintings. Adam and Eve, naked in the Garden of Eden, conversing with a tiny little snake. The scene is almost comical and the depiction of Satan does not appear to be threatening at all.
Which is interesting, because Adam is silent the entire time the serpent is talking to Eve. He doesn’t utter a sound and just stands there, afraid to interrupt the vile creature.
Is the tiny snake in the Garden an accurate picture? Or was there something more frightening that stopped Adam in his tracks?
The passage under examination is typically translated into English as such: “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1 RSV-CE).
The Latin Vulgate uses the word serpens (serpent/snake), while the Greek uses ὄφις (serpent/snake). What’s interesting is how the ancient Hebrew text uses a word that is much different in meaning.
In Hebrew we see the word נָחָשׁ (nahash), and according to the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, “Throughout the Old Testament nahash is used to refer to powerful, even gigantic, evil creatures. Isaiah calls the nahash a sea dragon, the great Leviathan (see Isaiah 27:1). Job also uses nahash to depict terrible sea monsters (see Job 26:13).”
Additionally, in the New Testament St. John explains how, “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9). In this passage St. John equates a dragon (δράκων) to the serpent (ὄφις) of the Garden. This association appears to confirm the original Hebrew and makes the “snake” much more fearsome.
In Greek mythology dragons were slithering creatures of great size. While similar to a snake, they were shown much larger in size and terrible in appearance.