September 30, 2010

Donkeys and Serpents

The other night one of the brothers came into the recreation room and tried to test us with a "Final Jeopardy" question he had seen. There are two animals who speak in the Old Testament, went the setup. Between the two of them, how many legs did they have?

The answer that was alleged to be correct was four: Balaam's donkey in Numbers 22 had four legs,* and the serpent from Genesis 3 had none. So they had four between the two of them.

Of course I objected immediately, as it is my contention that the question is unanswerable. Consider the curse God imposes on the serpent: "Because you did this, more cursed shall you be than all cattle and all the wild beasts: On your belly you shall crawl and dirt you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they shall strike at your head, and you shall strike at their heel." (Genesis 3: 14-15, JPS)

Now we are accustomed to moving immediately to the Marian and christological senses of the curse, but we should also notice that the crawling, dirt-eating, and heel-striking are parts of it. Therefore it is my contention that the serpent had legs before being cursed, and God took them away as part of the punishment. If he was crawling about on the ground like a snake before, why should that have been part of the curse?

Therefore, we don't know how many legs there were on the two speaking animals in the Old Testament, because the serpent could have had two, four, six, or a hundred. We just don't know.

*Balaam's poor she-ass raises another curious question; that of the possibility of animals being able to see angels. But that's another topic.


breadgirl said...

Hi Brother Charles

You certainly raise an interesting, and amusing, point. I don't know the answer either but I really enjoyed this great little post!

God bless you Brother Charles.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your blessing, and may God's delight be with you today as well.

Rachel Gray said...

I see how it is with you friars. If you get the riddle wrong, you find a way to argue it away. ;)

Seriously, that's a good point. I saw another Final Jeopardy question that went, "Surprisingly, this word appears only twice in the New Testament." The answer was "Christian". My Protestant mom got it right away.