Translation of Biblical Serpent

Taken from The Unknown God by F. J. Mayers

The basis of the Hebrew language is the “sound” and the sign” values attaching to the alphabetic letters. These are most carefully selected and logically graded in certain relationships with one another. The change of any letter in a Hebrew word is quite sufficient to indicate the nature of the change intended in the meaning of it; this meant that each letter had a meaning, just as alpha and omega in Greek mean beginning and end. (This statement needs some qualification in the case of later Hebrew writers who had – lost the knowledge of the “sign” values of the letters, and who often exchanged letters for one another, and “vowel pointing” for letters, so long as the word retained approximately its traditional pronunciation. When that is done the hieroglyphic significance of the language is destroyed. We are, however, not concerned with those writers, but with the writer of Genesis, and he, in any case, well knew the hieroglyphic content of every word he used.) The following examples will serve our purpose : –

1) “aleph,” our “a.” This is the simplest of all linguistic sounds, a mere audible breathing. It appears to be a basic, original “vowel” of all languages. It “symbolises” the begin­ning, or the potentiality of anything. In Hebrew grammar it stands for the first person singular when it is prefixed to a verb.

(2)           “he” (“hai.”) This letter is the same as our aspirated “H.” It adds emphasis, force, life, to any sound it is attached to; therefore, it is used as the symbol of “Life.”

(3)           “cheth.” We do not use the sound of this letter in English, but it is common in Scotland (a legacy from Gaelic) in such words as “loch,” and also in German as in “ich,” “nicht.” It sounds like a strongly aspirated “H” with a faint suggestion of the “K” sound in it. It seems to be half – way between the pure vowel sound “H” and a fully pronounced “K.” It signifies “Life” combined with “effort” of some kind to express itself outwardly. It is “life” showing itself in “activity.” work,” “striving” of some kind.

(4)           “ayin.” The sound of this letter is also not found in English or in any ‘Western language. It seems to be neither a distinct vowel nor a consonant – just a deep, soft, guttural sound that does not pass one’s lips. It approaches most nearly to the “a” sound, but it is an “a” that is born in the throat and never finds utterance. In use it generally coalesces with another letter, merely giving the other letter a somewhat guttural sound. One could not imagine. this sound being the symbol of any form of “life” or “activity,” and quite appropriately it is used only to symbolise what is “material, – “ physical, – “ “low – down,” “de­graded, etc.

The reader will notice that in the above four letters or signs there is a clearly perceptible correspondence between the nature of the sounds themselves and the significations attached to the letters. This “correspondence” gives us a valuable clue to the nature of the Hebrew language – and possibly to all very primitive languages.

We may also mention two or three “consonants” before leav­ing this subject. There are two letters which are “Signs” of two kinds of movement : –

(i)  “Resh.” The pronunciation of this letter is similar to our English “R.” This is the “sign” of direct, forward or straight­forward rectilinear movement (in either a literal or figurative sense) – simply motion or mutation to or from any place or state. We have made many references to the meaning of this sign in previous chapters, so need say no more.

– (ii)       “Shin” or “sin.” This letter has two distinct sounds. If it is pointed with a dot over it, on the right, it sounds as “sh.” In this case it is the sign of “relative movement,” i.e., movement which is controlled or kept in certain relationships with some point or point – such as the elliptical or rather egg – shaped orbit of a planet; a spiral, etc. If the letter is pointed with the dot on the left, it is sounded as “S,” practically the same as the – letter “samech. This letter “samech” (“S” as in Sam) the hieroglyph of which was originally a serpent with its tail in its mouth, represented a “circle” (a line with no beginning or ending) a “cycle,” a “globe,” a “sphere of activity,” “eternity,” an “environment,” and similar ideas. The “Sin” symbolised – similar ideas in movement, such as the circular movement of a fly – wheel on its axis, or any “enclosing” movement. There arc, of course, many forms of movement which combine both direct and relative movement. For instance, there is that of the “screw,” in which the screw advances as it turns; or that of a “pendulum,” or the “tides,” relative and alternating to and fro; there are also “wave” movements. A very typical example of the combination of “sh” and “r” is the ordinary Hebrew word for “snake” or “serpent”: “sheretz.” In that word “Sh” (relat­ive, in this case “sinuous” movement) is followed by “R” (“direct” movement) and the “determinative” sign “tz,” thus denoting that the sinuous movement produced the progressive direct movement which is distinctive of all snake – like creatures. The word also shows clearly that the serpent (in Hebrew) got its name from its “movements.” (We mentioned in an earlier chapter that the Mosaic writer classified all living creatures according to their type of movement.)

In every case when we speak of “movement” we intend the – – word to mean, not only movement in time or space, but equally mental or spiritual movements of a “corresponding” nature.

We will just make a reference to one more letter: – “nun,” our “N.” This letter in Hebrew is symbolic of “produced being,” i.e., of anything which is given a definite existence; a being; a personality; an individuality, etc. “N” is also the distinguishing sign of “passive” verbs, i.e., of something done to – the “subject,” not by it.

We selected the above sign – letters for special notice because they provide us with the information we need in order to under­stand correctly the meaning of the word “Na – hash,” and that is the one word in the whole of Genesis, that it is most important that we – should understand correctly.

The Serpent

We shall find that Na – hash was a “serpent” exceedingly insidious and subtle, – but not a serpent in the sense that old theologies led people to understand. It was no creeping reptile of the earth, but something inherent in every human being. If the writer of Genesis had been concerned with a reptile, he could have used the ordinary name for one mentioned above. There would have been no need for him to have created a new and carefully – thought – out “hieroglyphic” name.

The “serpent,” however, as a religious symbol had been in use thousands of years before the time of Moses, as there is abundant evidence to prove. It was actually an object of worship in ages when it was only too easy for any symbol to become idolised. But in very ancient times – (times which, in the evolution of mankind, corresponded to the state of “Adam” before the change was wrought in his being which was described in our previous chapter) – it was not a symbol of “evil.” It was the symbol of what Genesis describes as the “formative” activi­ties of “Ihoah Elohim.” It was frequently pictured as a serpent with seven heads. A study of very ancient symbology reveals, as one might expect, ideas often differing considerably from those of the Hebrew writer; but at the same time they often reveal an astounding grasp of great cosmic facts. The writer of Genesis views “Creation” as a six – fold manifestation of the Divinity. The ancient Naacal “seers” conceived it as the operation of the seven great “planetary” principles. The serpent was their symbol of the Universal “Living One,” and the seven heads represented the seven principles through which the Cosmic Life found expression. The only essential differ­ence between the ancients and the Mosaic writer was that the ancients – (like most moderns described as “Creation, – ’ what Genesis calls “formation.” The Mosaic writer went farther back – to the spiritual origins of all the “formative” processes that have produced the Universe, and so he has given us the only truly scientific “Cosmogony” that the world has ever received.

But “Na – hash” was something quite unconnected with the Creation ; we are not told that it was ever “created,” “formed,” or “made” like other things. All that was created was described as “good” or “good to the utmost.” Na – hash simply appears on the scene, and the story is silent as to “how” or “whence.” All we are told is that is was “subtle” beyond anything in the whole range of animated creatures. It was, – in fact, – not any “creature” or “being” but an “activity.” Let us see what the name “Na – hash” means in the light of the notes given earlier in this chapter. The root of the word is “hash” or “chash.” We explained that “cheth” denoted “life” seek­ing some outlet; some means of expressing itself; some unrestrained, instinctive impulse to activity of some kind.

The “sh” being the sign of “relative” movement (relation­ship), relates this “impulse” to self – expression, to the inmost being of Adam. It forms the focus or central point of his being, toward which it seeks to draw everything: it denotes activity centred in “self’ and working for the “Self.”

The “n” prefixed to the root gives the word an application to something “individualised.” We saw in our previous chapter that the provision of “Aisha” for Adam brought about a consciousness of himself as an “intelligent being” (Aish). He – realised his own “individuality.” (It was still a spiritual, not – a physical being.)

“Na – hash,” then, is the activity of the very basic element of human personality – “Selfhood.” It does not act as a “moral” – force. It has no “bias” either to what is morally “good” or to what is morally “evil.”

In all sentient creatures, as we know, there is what we call the “instinct of self – preservation.” This was necessary, not only to ‘work for the preservation of the life of each separate creature, but also for the continuation of the species. In the human kingdom, every human being is a “species” in himself, – i.e., an individual Soul. So when the “human” soul was developed, this same “instinct” continued to work, in an intensified and more individualised way. In the animal it is a quite impersonal force ; in man it becomes very personal indeed. It forms as it were a vortex, like a whirlpool which draws into itself all it can grasp. It is a “passion ever seeking satisfac­tion of some kind. It is the potential root of self – love, self – seeking, selfishness; a blind, unconscious force.

The Nature of Na-Hash the Serpent

“Na – hash” contained all the possibilities of evil as well as good, but it was a necessity, and the basis of moral being. Evil and Sin have come from some of its workings and have been the tragedy of mankind: how much more have they been the tragedy of the Heart of God!

Yet “Na – hash,” as we have said, was in itself neither evil nor good. It was really a force working to protect and further everything that seemed to be in the interests of the “Self.” It just worked in and for the “Self.” When Adam was in the state of a universal spirit the activities of Na – hash” did not appear: but when Adam enters the physical state of being they appear at once and are centred in the physical personality, because being of a concentrative nature they are necessarily “material­istic.”

There is one word in this verse which we have omitted to explain. It is the word translated “subtle” in our English Bible: “a – room,” It is a word which brings up some very inter­esting points, but as it is very closely connected with the word in verse 10 translated “naked, – “ we will deal with it when explaining that verse.

There are, however, a few little matters of interest that we may mention while we are discussing the “Serpent”: – There are many references to the “serpent” in the Bible and in every case there is something mysterious in what is related. For instance, in Isaiah VI, verse 2, we have the familiar passage beginning: “Above Him stood the Seraphim, each one had six wings . . . .” Then in Isaiah XIV, verse 29, we read: “Rejoice not Philistia – all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken ; for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a basilisk (an adder), and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Again, in Numbers XXI, verse 6, we read: “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit them” – followed by instructions to Moses to make a “fiery serpent” and put it on a standard that the people might see it and be healed; and how Moses made a “serpent of brass.”

It may surprise those who know and read only the English Bible to learn that the “six – winged Seraphim,” “Seraphim m’ophphim,” the “seraphs” who sing “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, the Seraph who took the live coal from the Altar and touched the lips of Isaiah with it to “cleanse” them, the “fiery flying serpent” of Isaiah XIV, verse 29, the “fiery serpents” of Numbers XXI, and the symbolic “serpent” of brass”* made by Moses – all are given the same name, “Seraphim.” This curious identification of “high angels” with “fiery serpents,” gives us something to think about. But these do not exhaust the different uses that the “serpent” symbol has been put to.

In the “Airjana Vaega,” a scripture of the Ancient Zoroastrian religion – by far the purest and most spiritual of all the very ancient religions that we know anything about, and which ante – dates Genesis, by how many centuries or millennia no one can say – there is another “serpent” story. It tells us that the “serpent Dahaka” was the creature by which “Ahriman” destroyed the “first created land” of “Ormuzd.” “Dahaka,” we are told, had “three heads, three jaws, six eyes, and a thousand senses.” “Ormuzd” and “Ahriman” have been very crudely and incorrectly taken as equivalent to the old conceptions of “God” and “Satan” in Hebrew and Christian thought. They have also been considered as dual “Gods”: “Ormuzd” as the God of Light and Goodness, and “Ahriman” as the God of Darkness and Evil – eternally antagonistic to one another, and each seeking supremacy. That is quite a false idea. Zoroastrianism was purely monotheistic. It taught that the Creator, “Ahura Mazda,” was “One” Eternal Spirit. Ormuzd and Ahriman were two universal principles, polar opposites in their working and purpose, but both proceeding from the One Supreme God.

The Serpent is both Creative and Destructive

There is just one thing in which all the “Serpent” legends agree; that is, in every case the “Serpent” is a symbol of an inward “Life Principle,” which works in an infinite variety of ways, sometimes creatively, sometimes destructively.

Undoubtedly, the most terrible fact of all life and history, the most undeniable and universally acknowledged of all facts, is the presence of “sin” and “evil” in the world. We instinct­ively want to know how they could have originated in a universe which God had “created” good. The answer which is almost invariably given is that “something went wrong with God’s plans,” because some very clever and powerful “Evil Spirit” tempted man to disobey a command of God, and thus brought a Divine curse upon “Adam” and all his descendants; a curse which could only be removed by man’s co – operation in carrying out a new plan designed to replace the plan which had proved a failure.

This “new plan.” Theology calls the “plan of Salvation.” The acceptance of this plan by an act of Faith is to restore man to the state of goodness and blessedness in which he was first made, and to restore also his immortal nature which had been destroyed by sin.

The Original Sin

Taking humanity as a whole, however, “Intellect” is more prominent in men and “Will” in women, and we feel instinct­ively that this is as it should be. We feel that an “effeminate” man or a mannish” woman is contrary to the will of Nature. We naturally look to man for “thinking,” “creating.” “pioneering,” and so on, and to woman for “intuition,” “emotion,” “sympathy,” and so on, although we know that the respective spheres of each sex are often invaded by the other (and oft – times with conspicuous success).

(4) “Na – hash” is the activity of the “Self” principle. Its motive of activity is self – love. It is a centre of attraction, seeking to draw into itself all that the “self” desires. It is neither good nor evil in a moral sense. It is an impulse to preserve the self; to extend its reach and increase its powers and to bring to it all the satisfaction or pleasure it can. It is really a blind force.

– (2) “Aish” is the thinking principle which dictates the direc­tion of the “Na – hash” activity. It is easy to see how this blind force may become very evil in its activities by leading to “selfishness,” “covetousness,” “envy,” “greed,” “injustice,” and all the evils that can arise from self – centred activity. It tends to separate man from man, and the human Will from the Divine Will. The only possible corrective to the evil potentialities of “Na – hash” must come from “Aish” and from the reflection of the thought of “Aish” in “Aisha” – the “Will.”

When “Aish” finds from “experience” (i.e., the eating of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) that this self – centred activity does not turn out as expected, that it defeats its own purpose and brings trouble, disappointment and disillusion, it begins to acquire a little “wisdom” which it brings to control the work of Na – hash. That is the beginning of moral action.

“Adam,” “Aish,” “Aisha” and “Na – hash” are the “dramatis persona” of the drama played out in Eden. They are not four, but one. “Adam” includes the others. So also does each one of us.

With this introduction we may try to see the meaning of the story. We will translate it a little more freely than the English Version to make it more intelligible: verse 1 “And he (Na – hash) said to the Aisha (Will): ‘did Elohim really say that you should not eat of every tree of the garden?”

We said in an earlier chapter that the word to “eat,” “achol,” had a double signification: to “consume” and to “con­summate.” It means – both in a literal and a figurative sense – to take something into ourselves and make it part of ourselves, either for our substance or satisfaction, or for our completion or perfecting in some way.

We said also that the word “tree,” “etz,” denoted “substance” in general – both material and spiritual – especially organic substance, i.e., that which grows and develops. The “garden,” “gan,” we saw, was an enclosure, a sphere of activity in the realm of “time and space” into which Adam was put to work in his spiritual being. As for the “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” its very name tells us perfectly clearly what it is. It is the experience acquired in finding out for ourselves by the process of “trial and error” what is “good” and what is “evil.” When we have found out what “evil” is; it is too late to undo the evil done in the process or to avoid the consequences.

While all the activities of “Adam” were directed by the Divine Will he could not go astray, or do wrong; but when he becomes conscious of having a Will of his own (in complete ignorance of his ignorance) he imagines his own Will to be as infallible as the Will that had hitherto guided him.

God had supremely important reasons for giving Adam a Will of his own and freedom to use it, and having done so He would have defeated his own purposes entirely by any inter­ference with Adam’s freedom. All He could do was to “advise” and point out danger. The one thing God could not do was to “compel” Adam to do right. Adam was quite aware of the advice and warning which he had received in his “conscience” – (verse 2): “And the Aisha said to the Na – hash, From the fruits of the growth of the garden we may eat: (verse 3) but from the fruits of the ‘tree’ which is the inmost of the garden, Elohim said: Eat not any of it and do not touch it, lest ye certainly die.” But he wondered – Why! How was it possible that “knowledge” (experience) could be evil? Elohim knew everything and all Elohim did was always “good”!

Then doubts began to arise in Adam: Did Elohim really mean what He said? Had He, perhaps, some motive of His own behind the advice? Did He wish to keep Adam in a state of ignorance? Was He possibly “jealous” of Adam knowing too much? So, Adam might have wondered and dreamed.

Then Na – hash becomes active. The ideas floating about vaguely in the mind of Adam (Aish), become “desires” for the prohibited thing; the “desires” become uncontrollable, the power of “Aisha” is captured and the thing is “Willed.” The whole action moves in a circle, all within the being of “Adam.”

There is one very significant word in this third verse: the word translated “touch,” “thiggehoo.” (The initial “th” and the final “oo” form the pronoun “ye”). The verb is “gou” which really means “to breathe out,” to “expire,” “to cause one’s soul to pass into another existence,” “to enter into any­thing heart and soul.” It is something much beyond mere “touching” or “contacting.”

This word makes quite clear what it was that Elohim was warning Adam about. Adam, as we know, was put into the material realm to work in it, but he was to retain his spiritual nature; he was not to “materialise” himself in soul and spirit. He was not to breathe out his soul into the material substance of the “garden.”

Verse 4: “And the Na – hash said to the Aisha, Not, dying, shall ye utterly die.”

Verse 5: “but Elohim knows that in the day ye eat (of the “tree”), then your eyes will be opened and ye will be as Elohim, knowing good and evil.” It is quite clear from those verses that all that passes in the inner thoughts of Adam is taken in, so to speak, by the Na – hash principle to use for the purposes of the “Self.” The “Will,” Aisha, is captured by the sugges­tion in the words: “Ye shall be as Elohim.” It seemed to be so true and such an excellent justification for doing what the Na – hash in Adam desired. Was it not the very thing Elohim wanted all along that Adam should became “as” Himself – “in His own likeness”?

The statement made by Na – hash contradicting the words of Elohim: “Dying ye shall die indeed” shows how, when “Aish” (the intelligent part of (Adam) begins to “doubt” or feel uncertainty about the warning, the Na – hash principle turns the doubt into complete unbelief. Aish wishes the words might not be true; Na-hash declares they are not true. The words “dying ye shall die” in Hebrew, – “moth temuthun,” are very suggestive. The first word “moth” is the ordinary word for “dying, a passing from one state to another.” The second word has much more extensive meaning; it means “to die utterly” to the life he had hitherto enjoyed; to pass from the state of an immortal spirit into a mortal existence. Adam cannot comprehend such a change, hence his,, doubts. He believes that “knowledge” will “open his eyes. So far, he was right; but he little thought what they would be opened to!

Verse 6: “And the Aisha considered how good the ‘tree, (the material realm) was for gaining experience ; how delightful the ‘garden’ was to look upon ; how desirable it was as a means of increasing intelligence, for building up knowledge and full understanding of things; and she took of the fruit of it, and ‘ate’ of it; and she gave also to Aish with her, and he ate.”

It will be noticed that the “temptation” is threefold: (1)

The “tree was good for food” – a suggestion that would appeal only to the lowest “animal” nature in Adam. (2) It was a “delight to the eyes” – a suggestion appealing to a “human’ quality, the aesthetic sense. (3) It was “to be desired to make one wise – a suggestion that appeals to the highest faculties of man – his spiritual nature. It was this that “beguiled the “Will” of Adam, because it appeared to be so “good.”

The word “l’hashecchil,” which is translated in the English Version “to make one wise,” we have paraphrased at more length above, in order to make its meaning clearer.

The verb “sh’col” means “to go on towards perfection,” “towards the full achievement of anything.” It is built on the root “chol,” which we have referred to several times before as denoting “completion”; “perfection”; “all”; “every.”

The only other word in the verse needing any explanation is the word “imme – ha,” “with her.” It is curious, because in the English it suggests the idea of a “companion,” “another being”: in the Hebrew it does not. It denotes only something in intimate connection with her – something in the same being. The meaning of the whole sentence is quite plain: Adam having in Na-hash “desired,” in Aisha “Willed” to enter into material experience, now, in Aish (his “Intelligent being”). “approves” what is done.

Man is always able (or at least always tries) to find some mental backing for what he does (especially if his conscience is not quite easy on the matter). If he cannot find any genuine justification – well! – he puts, up with self – deception. Some­times, however, “Conscience mocks his futile efforts. Some­thing hidden away deep down in human nature makes it impossible for man to silence, – or explain away, the voice of Conscience. That “something” is a surviving remnant of the original goodness of man. The doctrine of “original sin” is not to be found in Genesis.


-Aamir Berni 2014-11-15 11:12:43

Wow. U definitely have worked hard. Amazing work! It’s another matter that I’ve my own interpretation but I agree that there’s more to this amazing story than meets the eye. Great work. Keep it up.

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