(a) Was The Talking Serpent Literal, Symbolic, Or Both?
Many interpreters have complained: "What's the big deal about simply eating a forbidden apple?" Others say that the forbidden fruit wasn't a literal piece of fruit, but a symbol of something else. Cardinal Jean Danielou, an expert on early Christian literature and a member of the French Academy, asserts that "a majority of critics underline the fact that the sin [of Adam and Eve] has a sexual character."
One theory that was widespread among the ancient Jews was that Adam and Eve engaged in an orgy with none other than Satan and the demons. According to Professor F. R. Tennant of Cambridge University:
It is beyond question that various stories concerning the monstrous sexual intercourse of Adam and Eve with demons, and especially of Eve with the serpent or Satan, were both widespread and ancient among the Jews (F.R. Tennant, The Sources of the Doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin, Schocken, NY 1968, page 156).Of course, just because such stories were circulated and widespread doesn't necessarily prove they were true. In fact, many reject this interpretation without any serious consideration simply because it is currently held by the Moonies, a term used for members of Sun Myung Moon's Unification Movement. Although I find this theory somewhat persuasive, I must add that I am not a Moonie. But just because the Moonies believe something that mainstream Christianity does not believe, that doesn't necessarily mean the Moonies are wrong and mainstream Christians is right regarding this issue.
There are many things to commend the position that Adam and Eve engaged in intercourse with Satan and his demons. The very fact that such a belief was both ancient and widespread among the ancient Jews by itself has a lot to commend it. Certainly that alone doesn't make the teaching conclusive, but it should cause serious Bible students to stand up and take notice. Rabbi Leo Jung, who made a careful study of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic literature on the fall, maintains that all the stories that speak of the adultery of the "serpent" with Eve have some foundation in the Jewish tradition. (L.Jung, Fallen Angels in Jewish, Christian and Mohammedan Literature. 1974, pp 69-78)
Therefore, since eating a piece of literal fruit cannot contaminate the human race, it is logical to believe that the forbidden fruit was symbolic. However, just because the forbidden fruit was most likely symbolic, that doesn't necessarily mean that the sin of Adam and Eve may not also have involved the partaking of a piece of literal fruit as well. Here's why:
Fruits have had a long history as being aphrodisiacs. Gardens have a long history as being an idyllic place for lovemaking. This is evident from The Song of Songs, as well as other poetic literature. Wealthy people of antiquity planted enclosed gardens which was an ideal setting to lure a lover. The prelude to lovemaking would have been the offering of a fruit to put one in the right mood.
We have a similar ritual today. A man invites a woman into his bachelor pad. The two sit on the sofa. He offers her a drink, hoping to get her into a romantic mood. And if everything goes as planned, they wind up in the bedroom.
Today's bedroom was yesterday's garden. Today's offer of a drink was yesterday's offer of a piece of fruit. Offering a lady a piece of fruit and inviting her into your enclosed garden was the modern-day equivalent of offering a lady a glass of wine and inviting her into your bedroom.
We have an expression today: "I slept with her." We all know what someone means when they say that. However, when we analyze this expression thoroughly, we realize that it's simply a figure of speech. For example, it's entirely possible to have sex with someone without actually sleeping with them. It happens all the time. It's also entirely possible to sleep with someone without having sex with them. Ask any married couple that's been married for a few years. So people have sex all the time without sleeping together. And people sleep together all the time without having sex. Therefore, having sex with someone and sleeping with someone are not necessarily synonymous. Nevertheless, saying, "I slept with her" seems more polite than saying "I had sex with her." Furthermore, it's certainly possible for a man and woman to share a glass of wine without going to bed or having sex.
However, if you watch a movie that is not rated R, X, or NC-17, and the man invites the woman in, they share a glass of wine, they go into the bedroom, and in the next scene, it's morning and our two lovebirds wake up naked under the covers with a great big smile on their face, we assume they had sex; even though, theoretically, it's entirely possible that nothing happened. We recognize this as a modern day literary device.
It's also reasonable that the ancient readers of the Eden account also would have recognized the fruit and the garden also as literary devices. Yes, Eve may have eaten a piece of fruit in a literal garden, but there's more to the story than that; much more.
It's also not unreasonable to conclude that Satan and Eve were both gorgeous creatures who were sexually attracted to each other. Imagine, Satan invited Eve into his enclosed garden, he then offers her a luscious piece of fruit from his nearby fruit tree, and then, one thing leads to another. Since Satan probably appeared as a handsome man-like creature, it's also not unreasonable to conclude that Eve was attracted to Satan. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to conclude that the author of the Eden narrative was using common literary devices of the day to politely say that Eve had sex with the devil. According to F.R. Tennant, it is beyond question that such interpretations were widespread among the Jews of antiquity.