Snakes eating dust


My twenty-sixth book which will be published in a few weeks in Israel is called “Unusual Bible Interpretations: Five Books of Moses.” It is part of a series of four “Unusual” books. Two of the remaining three are finished and will be published by Gefen Publishing House shortly. They are on the biblical books Joshua and Judges. I am in the middle of writing the fourth book in the series. It discusses three books about three women: Ruth, Esther, and Judith.

I call the series “Unusual” because the interpretations that I offer from rabbis, scholars, and my own are often startling ideas that most people do not think about, ideas that explain difficult passages and which show how to understand other biblical events, phrases, and sentences.

Here is a simple example: after the snake seduced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of good and evil, God punished the snake in Genesis 3:14: “You will eat dust all the days of your life.” Yet we know that snakes do not eat dust. How should we understand this verse?

A proper interpretation teaches several things about the Bible. First we need to read this phrase in the context of the rest of the passage and note that this statement is preceded by “you will go upon your belly.” Second, we need to recognize that the dust statement is a metaphor that should not be taken literally. “Eating dust” is saying exactly what preceded it: you will crawl on your belly with your face in the dust. Third, once one realizes that the phrase is a metaphor saying what preceded it, we also realize that Scripture frequently repeats statements in different ways, sometimes for emphasis and sometimes for the sheer poetic beauty of the phrasing. We should not think that the Bible is offering a new idea.