CTP — Arummim and Arum (a Naked Genesis 2.25–3.8)

CottonGenesisFragment03rGodAdamEve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have just had a vision of Adam’s vision of his Other Half. Now, we are ready to shift into another story.

Genesis 2.25 is the beginning of the passage. This week, we will pick up here and discuss it up until the moment they take the bite out of the “apple.”

As a reminder, try to forget the stories you’ve heard and read the text (Genesis 2.25—3.8) for yourself. Read it slowly, in at least two different translations (Genesis 2.25—3.8NIV). This may help to break up what you know from what you read.

Naked. It’s a term that makes some of us cringe, some of us laugh, and some of us…ashamed. But why? We have this innate sense that nakedness is something to be ashamed of. After all, this story does sorta suggest that, right? But, what if this is a word play? What if nakedness is a metaphor for something else?

Disclaimer. I am not suggesting everyone get naked and carry on daily business. I’m just saying our attitudes about nakedness, skin, flesh, sex, etc… may be due in large part to simply not reading Scripture correctly.

What is the central tree we have to avoid? It is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As I have discussed before, this tree is more than a false dichotomy of right and wrong. It represents the all-in-all of what it means to know, to have wisdom, about everything from good to evil. In this small passage, we are told that this tree would give to the humans the knowledge of all that good-to-evil, making them divine (Genesis 3.5). This wisdom (Genesis 3.6) is what the tree represented. It was not about sin, but about knowing what God knew.

Think of what is the first characteristic “divinity” is given in Scripture. Wisdom. In later uses, Wisdom is personified as an attribute of God (usually female, Proverbs 8; Sirach 24). Even Job has Wisdom featured somewhat as an anthropomorphized image of God. What is this wisdom?

In the Ancient Near East, the serpent represented… life, death, wisdom, and fertility (among other things). Christians have sense given the serpent the title of “Satan.” But, remove that for a moment. In Gilgamesh, a serpent is present to cheat someone out of immorality. Think about how a serpent that cultures would have recognized as meaning “life, death, wisdom, and fertility” brings this story to life.

This brings us back to the nakedness. In Genesis 2.25, the couple is said to be naked (arummim). In Genesis 1, we are introduced to the serpent who is said to be “shrewd” (arum). This wordplay is important, I think.

From the NET Bible (Genesis 2.25–3.8NET):

  • The Hebrew word עָרוּם (’arum) basically means “clever.” This idea then polarizes into the nuances “cunning” (in a negative sense, see Job 5:12; 15:5), and “prudent” in a positive sense (Prov 12:16, 23; 13:16; 14:8, 15, 18; 22:3; 27:12). This same polarization of meaning can be detected in related words derived from the same root (see Exod 21:14; Josh 9:4; 1 Sam 23:22; Job 5:13; Ps 83:3). The negative nuance obviously applies in Gen 3, where the snake attempts to talk the woman into disobeying God by using half-truths and lies.
  • There is a wordplay in Hebrew between the words “naked” (עֲרוּמִּים, ’arummim) in 2:25 and “shrewd” (עָרוּם, ’arum) in 3:1. The point seems to be that the integrity of the man and the woman is the focus of the serpent’s craftiness. At the beginning they are naked and he is shrewd; afterward, they will be covered and he will be cursed.

What does “naked” mean? Some believe it is a word play, with one nakedness highlighted above another’s nakedness. The Targum Jonathan (c. 3rd century) translates Genesis 2.25 like this: “And they were both wise, the man and his wife, but they did not remain in their glory.” Thus, Genesis. 2.25 becomes something like a heading.


But, what we have then is that the serpent is made more crafty than the humans. Or, if we take these words as metaphors, then we see a fear of vulnerability in which case, the serpent (more naked) must work to trick the unsuspecting duo into eating the fruit because it is jealous.

There are a lot of “ifs” about these puns.

Let’s connected “nakedness” to wisdom. What happens when they become wise? Then they realize their nakedness and then work to cover it up.

If Genesis 2.25 is not a heading, but a statement of reality, then why does nakedness bring shame after they eat the fruit? Is this really a lesson about sexual temptation?

But, is there more?

This is a foundational story, especially for Christians. We have a lot of theology based on “the original sin.” But, what if the totality of the story is simply to ask the question, “What happens when humans get their hands on the knowledge of good-and-evil?” Maybe this: “The story … simply says that the knowledge of good and evil, in anybody’s hands other than God’s, will bring death and suffering, that is, expulsion from Paradise.”

Another question… where do you think Adam was during all of this? Why is Eve the only one approached?

Some of the things this story is not about?

  • Evil. Evil pre-exists
  • This is the story of the Fall, a particular important story in Christian theology.  But, does the Fall exist in Judaism?
  • If this is the story of the Fall, what does this say about God?

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5 Replies to “CTP — Arummim and Arum (a Naked Genesis 2.25–3.8)”

  1. JW – Mr. Snake is one of my top ten favorite Bible topics. Not that I know anything about it. This is the best discussion I’ve seen online to date. Rabbi Fohrman over at alephbeta.org, has a very similar reading of our subtle friend in the grass. As you see from my Tootsie-pop video, I do think that this figure is a wise one – and not originally intended to be viewed as the Accuser or the Adversary. A snake has a duality and in some cultures does not only represent the life energies of the earth, but also a resurrective (I made that word up) aspect – it sheds its skin and becomes a new creature. It also contains a healing and hurting power of venom and anti-venom. When Moses makes Nehushtan, he uses the snake as a healing device and Christ makes reference to this in John 3 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[a] 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[b]

    Is Jesus comparing himself to a snake of healing? I really think so. I think that the snake did more to make the Ish and Ishah complete than our current theologies may want to admit. There was one thing that God saw that was not complete, and it was the Adam.

    I think you’re right and the snake was wiser than than our first couple.

    Perhaps humanity’s completion and wholeness can only be realized in the context of both what is complete and what is empty, what is form and what is shattered, what is good and what is distorted. CRUNCH!

    1. here’s my interpretation for right now:

      The people were vulnerable but the snake was not. Thus, the humans were taken care of, but the snake was not. At the end of the story, the people are no longer cared for, but the snake is.

  2. Speaking of snakes, it all sounds like Greek to me.
    Rod of Asklepios anyone?
    Supposedly it came about from a person seeing his friend killed by a snake. He then kills the snake. Then he sees another snake giving the dead snake an herb, which brings the snake back to life. So the person does the same for his dead friend, who is also revived.
    King Hezekiah smashed the bronze snake that Moses had made. Since Moses was the hero of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, it shows the tension of the Samaritan (and Greek influenced) north, and the paranoid, Greek hating southern kingdom. The snake in Genesis is E, actually giving knowledge to Adam and Eve. Hezekiah was the hero of the south, and the Aaron priesthood, who controlled the temple (P).
    Interesting note from Richard Elliott Friedman in “Who Wrote the Bible”,
    “King Josiah, on the other hand, who was the darling of the Shiloh priests, had a different record of the bronze snake. The term in Hebrew for the bronze snake was “Nehushtan”. Josiah married his son to a woman who may have been connected with the Shiloh circle, because she was named Nehushta.” D.
    Gnostics thought the snake was the good guy (or good gal maybe, Wisdom). The proto orthodox priests had a lot in common with the Southern Kingdom’s hate of snakes (as symbols)!

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