Traditionally in interpretations or readings of Genesis the snake is regarded as a low deceitful and dangerous creature that brought about the “downfall” of Adam and Eve. This perhaps is a gross oversimplification, of the possibly intended symbolism of the snake. After all the role of the snake could have just as easily been played by the scorpion, but the early Israelites decided that it had to be a snake. What is it about the snake that made it such a prime candidate for such a role?
Genesis and Mesopotamian Mythology
Of course, there is a direct historical connection between Genesis and Mesopotamian mythology, particularly the Epic of Gilgamesh.
A snake also figured prominently with Gilgamesh, when at the very end of all of Gilgamesh’s hardship a snake comes out and eats the plant of immortality that Gilgamesh had found for his friend Enkidu. At first glance, it may appear as though these two stories are somewhat dissimilar, but there is some underlying symbolism in the snake.
The symbolism of the Snake
Perhaps to better understand this symbolism it is necessary to examine the physical and biological characteristics of the snake. Yes, there is the symbolism of its mode of locomotion, but there is also symbolism in the fact that snakes shed their skin in a fairly dramatic way. So then not only is the snake a symbol of sneakiness it is also a symbol of rebirth and change. The snake ate Gilgamesh’s hard-earned spoils to show that change and death were an important part of life, and the whispers of the snake to Eve were whispers that foreshadowed impending change for the future of the human race. G-d s very human reaction towards the action of the snake would seem to show that even G-d has the occasional wild card thrown his way, and that unpredictable change also exists for the divine.