The Fall As A Composite Narrative -- By: William Wallace Martin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 060:237 (Jan 1903)
Article: The Fall As A Composite Narrative
Author: William Wallace Martin


The Fall As A Composite Narrative

Prof. William Wallace Martin

The tradition of Eden as it has been kept in the Hebrew Scriptures, is fraught with the profoundest teachings; at least so it is thought by Christian teachers and theologians. Yet on the face of the narrative, as we read it in Genesis, strangest incongruities obtrude themselves. Dr. Marcus Dods sets them out in clearest language. He says: “The narrative throughout speaks of nothing but the brute serpent; not a word is said of the devil, not the slightest hint is given that the machinations of a fallen angel are signified. The serpent is compared to other beasts of the field, showing that it is the brute serpent that is spoken of. The curse is pronounced on the beast, not on a fallen spirit summoned for the purpose before the Supreme; and not in terms which could apply to a fallen spirit, but in terms that are applicable only to the serpent that crawls.”1 Without question, each characteristic indicated in this quotation is present in the narrative as we have it in Genesis. Expositors require exactly what is not in the narrative, in order to confirm their interpretations; and they are obliged to excuse on various pleas the literal serpent, his change from the upright to the crawling being, his eating of the dust.

Such incongruities would be pardonable in Grimm’s fairy tales, but scarcely commend themselves in the weighty narratives of Scripture. The critical exegete has relegated the Eden-story to the realm “of marvel and myth.” And

the higher critic follows the same path, Wellhausen says: “The garden of Deity is, however, on the whole somewhat naturalized (in the Hebrew narrative). A similar weakening-down of the mythic element is apparent in the matter of the serpent; it is not seen at once that the serpent is a demon. Yet parting with these foreign elements has made the story no poorer, and it has gained in noble simplicity [he should have written, in childlike grotesqueness]. The mythic background gives it a tremendous brightness; we feel that we are in the golden age when heaven was still on earth; and yet unintelligible enchantment is avoided [!], and the limit of a sober chiaroscuro is not transgressed.”2 Lugging all this stuff into this early narrative, makes it evident that the higher critic is no less a special pleader than the accomplished theologian.

Consistency even in a mythic fable requires that the speaking serpent have the crawling mode of locomotion, without any suggestion of an upright form; and a national tradition alone could admit a demon-serpent, having form not unlike that of th...

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