The Serpent in Paradise, Solomon’s Error

I continued through Moshe Weinfeld’s Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East, and I also listened to the sermon that I mentioned in my post, Was Solomon Wrong to Ask for Wisdom? Here are some thoughts:

1. For Weinfeld, one of the chapters I read was about eschatological expectations in the ancient Near East: cultures other than Israel believed in a future king who would rule in justice and create paradise on earth. What stood out to me was his discussion of the Sibylline Oracles, which date to the Hellenistic and the Roman periods. Weinfeld cited passages that talk about the serpent. Oracle III, 741-795 affirms that “serpents and asps will sleep with babies and will not harm them,” and Virgil’s fourth Eclogue states that “the serpent too shall perish; and the false poison plant shall perish.” This is similar to Isaiah 11:8, which says that the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp. And Isaiah 65:25 also mentions the serpent in its prediction of a future paradise: dust shall be the serpent’s meat.

Genesis 3:15 says that God will create enmity between the woman and the serpent, and between her seed and his seed, with both sides bruising one another. Christians have interpreted this verse in reference to the battle between Christ and Satan, but others have applied it to the alienation between humans and snakes. The latter is what I get out of the Sibylline Oracles and Isaiah 11:8: snakes made the world unsafe because they poisoned people, but the future paradise will not have that problem.

But could a Christian interpreter embrace both interpretations? I’ve heard Christians say that God punished the snake because he was a vessel of Satan. God made the snake crawl on his belly to symbolize the punishment that Satan will receive, in their view. So maybe Genesis 3:15 can apply to the snake and also to Satan.

2. The sermon I listened to was entitled “Solomon’s Error,” and it was by Lee Stocker. Lee had interesting thoughts. For example, he said that Solomon requested wisdom in I Kings 3 so he’d know how to get rid of his political enemies, namely, Joab, Abiathar, and Shimei. After all, David in I Kings 2:5, 9 instructed Solomon to act according to his wisdom by getting rid of those people. According to Lee, David wanted Solomon to get rid of them through cunning rather than brute force. This reminded me of Looney’s comment under my post, I Kings 1: Abiathar’s Raw Deal? Solomon the Female?: Solomon was tripping his enemies up rather than going for the kill at the outset.

Lee’s thesis was this: Solomon’s wisdom was flawed because it lacked a love for God. Solomon had a high IQ: he could think outside of the box and make good judicial decisions (see the story of the two harlots in I Kings 3), and he knew a lot about nature (I Kings 4:33). He was also able to answer the Queen of Sheba’s hard questions (I Kings 10). Yet, his insatiable appetite for knowledge led to his downfall. Ecclesiastes 2 says that he tasted all the good things of life and found them to be vanity. Lee connects this with I Kings 11, in which Solomon loves many foreign women who turn him from the LORD. Solomon’s wisdom was the “earthly,” “sensual” kind criticized in James 3:15, for it was primarily intelligence and knowledge about things on earth, as well as a desire to learn about all of life’s pleasures. But, as Ecclesiastes relates, Solomon learned (maybe when it was too late) that earthly knowledge couldn’t satisfy him, for only God could do that. For Lee, Solomon should have asked God for both wisdom and the love of God that David his father had.

I wondered how the sermon would interact with Ecclesiastes’ premise that this life is all there is, a big reason that its author believes that all is vanity. Lee didn’t explicitly interact with that, but he did say that “you can’t take it with you.” You can attain wealth and knowledge, but you will still die like everyone else. I’m sure Lee believes in an afterlife, but his point seems to be that knowledge by itself is not what leads to satisfaction in this life and a place in the next: rather, it’s the love of God that does that.

I can identify somewhat with what Lee is saying. It reminds me of the evangelicals at Harvard who prayed that students might find their thirst quenched through Jesus. They often remarked that the students were trying to quench their thirst through knowledge, but were unsuccessful. At the present time, I enjoy learning new things, and I wouldn’t trade that for a “love of God” that says I must limit myself to the usual fundamentalist mindset. Still, knowing a bunch of facts doesn’t satisfy me entirely, for I need the conviction that I am loved by the highest being in the universe.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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